Cross-sections of Leica lenses

Hefting and peering through a high-end camera lens, you get a sense of the craft, the precision engineering, and the thoughtful design that went into it. But look at it in cross-section, as with this photo a neatly bisected Leica Tri-Elmar-M 28-35-50mm lens and the hellish, gorgeous complexity is revealed in a visceral way: "These were actually made by Leica students as a graduation project and boxed as a 'cutaway model' of the lens."

Cross Section Views of Leica Lenses (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)


  1. 1) $995 for a half a lens? Where do you get the half a camera? And won’t the film always be fogged?

    2) Me, I’d like to see how they grind aspheric lenses.

  2. laser?
    diamond saw?
    ninja wielded katana?

    drat. text reveals that it’s hours of work by industrious technicians to chop the lens in half.
    still über cool for all us camera geeks though

  3. Given that a used Tri-Elmar 28-35-50 sells for about $4000, half of one for $995 seems like a bargain. Buy two and you’ve got the real thing!

    More seriously, there were only 360 of the actual Tri-Elmar 28-35-50 made, and a used one sells in the $4000 range. The glass used in the front element is no longer available from the 3 big optical glass manufacturers so there will never be any more of them. Leica is the land where mass production has never been heard of, with many lenses that were only produced in three or four figure batches.

    A cutaway like this is an exceedingly rare art object, depicting an extremely rare industrial tool, and collectors will buy it.

  4. That is something. I’ve never really wondered how a lense was constructed beyond a hazy thought about tubes and glass lenses. Seeing this cutaway brightened my day.

  5. While working on cruise ships in the photography dept (I made the video) we used to sell some of the lower end point-n-shoot Leica cameras. When passengers would bring us their personal cameras with jamed lenses, wondering what was wrong, I’d show them the Leica promotional book with a cross-section like this, so they could begin to understand how delicate the inside of their lenses are.

  6. I now understand why a little grain of sand can mess one of these things up so badly.

  7. Lots of stuff in there. Note how the two types of glass in the achromatic groups have different appearance. (follow the link!)

    Making cross sections is fun. I’ve only ever made one, of a tiny gear motor.

  8. I’ve seen one of these in person, and its quite a sight. Pictures don’t do it justice.

  9. And then think of a zoom lens that has 20-24 lenses in it so that one will have the right focus for the magnification. That’s 40 to 48 air-to-glass surfaces to show lens flare and so lowers contrast. This is a “simple” lens but elegant.

  10. “A cutaway like this is an exceedingly rare art object, depicting an extremely rare industrial tool, and collectors will buy it.”

    Leicas in general have moved from the “for photographers” category into the “for posers and collectors” world over the last couple of decades.

    Doesn’t particularly bother me that so much of their current production is now “special editions” destined to go into glass cases and never see so much as a single frame of film, other than (grrrrr) it pulls up the prices on the used market too….that M4 with Summilux I’ve always wanted seems forever just out of reach.

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