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Leica-Park Opening 2018 - A report by Marc Swadel

22 Jul 2018 9:42 AM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

Marc Swadle is a cinematographer member of both he NZCS and the ACS. He is also one of our valued NZCS committee members.

On the 14th of June, I jumped on a plane from London to Frankfurt with an invite from cine lens manufacturer CW Sonderoptic, for the launch of The Leitz-Park, in Wetzlar, Germany. 

To celebrate the event, 1,200 guests, photographers, cinematographers and journalists were invited from all over the world to witness the inauguration and experience the completed park, and to take part in a weekend programme of talks, seminars, exhibitions, tours, concerts and hands on areas where you could try your hand at food, automotive, sport, wildlife, portrait, macro, and cinematic, photography.

So what is the Leitz-Park?

The Leitz-Park is (mind the pun) the focal point of Leitz/Leica: a complex that contains The Leica Museum and shop, company archives, photo studios, the factories for CW Sonderoptic/Leitz Cine Wetzlar, Via Optic, Uwe Weller, the Leica Camera AG headquarters, luxury hotel, restaurant and café.

CW Sonderoptic – becomes – Leitz Cine Wetzlar!

The change makes a bit more sense when you realise that ‘CW’ stands for ‘Cine Wetzlar’, and the business has moved into a brand new high tech facility.

After the logo unveiling, I had a talk to Seth Emmons, Director of Communications, and Gerhard Baier, Managing Director, about the move and name change.

Seth: ‘The building started 18 months ago when we broke ground, and here we are. The CW factory was based in Via Optic over the road, where we were for the last ten years – we just outgrew it. We did the move in a week, first production, then the office staff, and here we are!

Gerhard: ‘Our rebranding to Leitz marks a natural evolution - until the late 80’s all Leica lenses carried the name ‘Ernst Leitz Wetzlar‘. Our new name carries the weight and responsibility of this heritage.’

A recap on the company:

CW Sonderoptic GmbH was founded in 2008 to design, manufacture and market Leica-branded cine lenses for film, television and commercial production.  
The game-plan was to design and develop what became the Leica Summilux-C cine lenses, for them to be the most advanced cinema lenses yet created in regards to size, performance, mechanical precision, and optical characteristics. The first sets delivered in early 2012, and the following year they, began working on a new product line, the Leica Summicron-C cine lenses – which offer a smaller, lighter, and a top slower lens. 

In 2015, underlining this development, and pursuit of quality, Iain Neil and André de Winter (optical and mechanical design, respectively) received technical Oscars for the Leica Summilux-C lenses from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Leitz as a whole has a pretty cool history. A specialty microscope manufacturer since the mid-1800s, in 1914, in Wetzlar, the company invented the 35mm photography film which is the standard for stills photography, and the original compact photography camera. Some of the most iconic images in the world have been shot on Leica cameras – that of Che Guevara, the famous kiss of the sailor and nurse at the end of World War 2, and the harrowing Vietnam picture of the child napalm victim to name a few. 

90% of what Leitz Camera (renamed from Leitz in the mid-1980s) makes is exported, and 1200 people work in the Leitz-Park optic industry cluster - which has a 2.8 billion euro turnover in the Wetzlar region – making not only cameras and lenses, but automotive sensors, and aeronautic, military and industrial products.

The Launch Event

To kick it all off, a Launch event was held in a giant purpose built marquee, on site, with many speakers from the company, government and local government.

Wolfgang Kisselbach, managing director of Leitz-Park:
‘In order to make the possible emerge the impossible must be dreamed’

Andreas Kaufmann Chairman of Leitz:
'About the buildings style – quoting Goethe – Architecture is frozen music’.

After the formalities we headed for the Leitz Cine Wetzlar hospitality area, which had all manner of goodies to sample (of the food/drink and camera/lens variety), where I found my old mates Louis-Phillipe Capelle SBC, Richard Andry AFC and Alfredo Altamirano AMC.

We all then went off on a tour of the lens manufacturing facilities – a rare chance for us camera types to experience. 

First up, Seth Emmon took us on a tour of the Sumilux plant.

As we saw, all production elements happen in one room, that is totally sealed - it is a faster process to make lenses, and cleaner. The clean rooms have positive pressure.. so if a door is opened the air blows outwards.

The question was asked – ‘How many lenses do you make a year?’ 

Seth relates: ‘In the last year we’ve manufactured over 300 Thalia Lenses and more each of the Summilux-C and Summicron-C lenses. In the new factory our production output is near 20% improved and we’re still refining and improving it. To date we’ve produced nearly 3000 Summilux-C lenses and over 3000 Summicron-C lenses’.

The lenses optics themselves are from Leica Camera, and Leica Portugal (where the M series of stills lenses are made). The Summilux-C lenses are individually focus tested on a 16 metre long bench – and the focus markings are dead accurate, and bespoke marked for each lens.

We then crossed the road to Uwe Weller Feinwerktechnik - where the lens housings are made, and where taken on a tour by Michael Weller, Chief of Operations.

Each lens is amazingly complex – there are 30 parts (none plastic!) in a 135mm Summilux (excluding glass) 80% of which is aluminium in various alloys – the outer alloy is optimised for anodising, other alloys come from the Aviation and Military worlds, and is stress tested and x-rayed before delivery.

The factory is ultra-clean – the air is filtered, and every scrap of waste metal is carefully collected and recycled. I counted more than 40 CNC machines – each working to multiple passes, milling specific parts. Each machine can cost as much as 700K Euro, and will last at least 20 years on the job.
Finally, we came to the engraving department – where they still do the classic deep milled engraving after the lens housing is anodised, then the markings are filled with paint, then the excess rubbed off with alcohol.

After the tour, I have a much deeper appreciation for the lenses – the sheer quality that arises from taking the path to be the best.

The weekend was a great one – I got to try other photographic disciplines, enjoyed the gallery and museum, had some great food, met Ed Lachman ASC, Guillermo Navarro ASC AMC and ASC President, Kees van Oostrum ASC, and photographer Bruce Davidson.

A huge thanks for Seth and his team for making the weekend what is was – a model of German efficiency and hospitality.

If any of you are in the Frankfurt area

I definitely suggest taking the 40- minute trip to the Leitz-Park and immersing yourself in all things Leica at the Leica Experience Centre.

Drop them a line on the link below to on in

- Marc Swadel

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