Friday, March 16, 2018


An interesting, but relatively unknown fact is that NASA initially had chosen the Leica MDa as the camera to be used on their lunar missions.  The reason was weight.  Of all the systems for the Apollo missions, one could never be tested because of the low gravity of the moon.  That was the take-off module.  To gain as much of a weight advantage as possible, NASA did everything they could to save weight.  That included the camera equipment.  The Leica MDa with 35mm f/1.4 Summilux was definitely lighter than anything Hasselblad, their regular camera of choice, had to offer.  Leitz modified several cameras and lenses to feature large levers to allow camera operation with the bulky gloves of the space suits.  The astronauts chosen for the lunar missions all received extensive training in the use of the camera.



NASA Leica MDa.  Modifications appear to be a soft shutter release, a larger shutter speed dial, an enlarged film wind lever a large rewind knob and an enlarged lever to open the camera.  The top of the camera also has a beefed up plate with an accessory show attached.  There is also an electronic connection of an unknown purpose in place of the PC connection.
Modifications of the lens are large levers for the aperture and focus settings, all designed for easy operation with the gloves of the space suits.

Yet, as is common knowledge, the Leica never made it to the moon.  The credit goes to one engineer who figured out that the interchangeable film backs for the Hasselblad were lighter than the Leica MDa with its Summilux lens.  Subsequently NASA decided to use the Hasselblad after all.  The Saturn 5 rockets had no problem delivering the payload to the moon.  For the return trip it was subsequently decided to remove the film backs from the cameras and to leave the cameras and lenses on the moon where they still reside today.  A total of 12 Hasselblad cameras and lenses are sitting in the lunar dust, ready to be picked up.

An intriguing question is if they might be still able to operate properly after all these years in the extremely harsh environment of the lunar surface.

Since then a few more details about the NASA – Leica connection have emerged.  One virtually unknown fact is that NASA also used the Leicafelx SL.  For what purpose is unknown at this point.  I have also found that in 1966, NASA ordered 150 Leica cameras.  Unfortunately it was not stated which cameras they were.

The camera appears to be without visible modifications other than the deeply knurled shutter speed dial to accommodate the heavy gloves of the space suits.

Already in the earliest stages of the NASA space program, Leica cameras were part of the equation.  One such camera was the Leica Ig.  With this camera astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr., took the first human-shot, color still photographs of the Earth during his three-orbit mission on February 20, 1962. Glenn's pictures paved the way for future Earth photography experiments on American human spaceflight missions.


Because Glenn was wearing a spacesuit, complete with helmet during his February 20, 1962 mission, he could not get his eye close to a built-in viewfinder.  Therefore NASA selected the high-quality Leica Ig camera that allowed them to attach a customized viewfinder on top. This special attachment featured a suction cup on the back side to allow Glenn to easily place the device against the visor when he was required to keep it down. The viewfinder was removable when Glenn did not need his visor down, and a velcro strip on the rounded top let him manage its location inside the spacecraft.  Glenn found the camera easy to use, in part because he could exploit the advantages of zero-gravity.

"When I needed both hands, I just let go of the camera and it floated there in front of me," he said in his later memoir.


The 1957 Leica Ig was the last Leica screwmount model made, with production ending in 1963.  It was the successor to the If and is the only screwmount camera with the word 'Leica' engraved on the front of the camera. This camera had the same profile as the IIIg but without the viewfinder/rangefinder incorporated into the top.  As with both the Ic and If there were two accessory shoes mounted for attaching a separate viewfinder and rangefinder. The rewind knob was partially recessed into the top plate.  As with the Ic and the If, the Ig was intended for scientific or Visoflex use.

A little known fact is that a Leica M3 accompanied the astronauts on a September 1995 Endeavour space shuttle mission.  As reported by the Houston Chronicle…


NASA Photographer Makes History With Trusty Camera


Odds are that Andrew Patnesky, ""Pat" to his colleagues, has used the vintage Leica camera that swings from his leathery neck like an old dog tag to photograph every American astronaut since Alan Shepard.

It was only fitting that the trademark photo gear with the thick rubber band binding its aging components together accompanied a shuttle crew into orbit recently, something the 75-year-old NASA photographer couldn't do.

""I think the world of that camera," said Patnesky, who shuns more modern gear with the automated features that focus and advance film in favor of the all-manual Leica M3.

""I have other cameras, but they don't measure up," he said. ""Anyone can just go shoot. Anyone can be a photographer, but not everyone can be a photojournalist."

Patnesky fretted over the Leica's absence during its orbital journey aboard the shuttle Endeavour last September. The separation was prolonged for several weeks after the shuttle's return so that the Leica could be unpacked and its journey officially documented.

""I feel kind of naked without it," he joked recently, clearly relieved that the old camera was available once again for his patrols of the space center's astronaut training facilities.

Patnesky staked his claim to the government-owned gear when he spotted it in an equipment closet soon after he joined NASA in 1961. The Johnson Space Center, then known as the Manned Spacecraft Center, was just beginning to take shape in Houston.

""None of the other dingbats would use it. So I said, `Hey, give it to me,' " recalled Patnesky, who spares no one, least of all himself, from his playful verbal digs.

Relying on his 21 years of experience as a photographer with the old U.S. Army Air Corps and then its successor, the Air Force, Patnesky began to chronicle, with the trusty Leica, the personalities who led America to the moon.

In those days, he said, the news media was thirsty for a steady stream of photographs of astronauts as they trained for their Apollo flights in exotic locales, from the Gulf of Mexico where they rehearsed post-splashdown procedures in rough seas to the deserts of Mexico.

During one of the Mexican excursions - it was a training jaunt by Shepard and astronaut Edgar Mitchell to prepare for their Apollo 14 flight - an instructor-geologist challenged Patnesky to descend into a rocky crater for photographs.

As he made his way to the crater floor, Patnesky slipped between the boulders. The Leica's fragile view finder broke away, disappearing between the rocks. Rather than replace the camera, though, he obtained a new view finder and lashed it in place with the first of a succession of wide rubber bands, lending the camera its rag tag character.

To this day Patnesky finds the Leica perfect for his needs, rubber bands and all.

With its precise mechanics and acute optics, the old camera makes little shutter noise and requires no flash when its operator is photographing in the Mission Control Center, the space shuttle simulator or the administrative offices.

""I like to shoot on a noninterference basis," he said. ""That is how you get the best shots."

The strategy has permitted Patnesky to photograph all of the American presidents with astronauts from John Kennedy to Bill Clinton. It allowed him to capture the drama of the Challenger accident as it was reflected in the faces of the personnel in Mission Control, as well as the majesty of Anwar Sadat, the late president of Egypt, during a state visit.

His favorite subjects, though, are the astronauts, from the original Mercury explorers to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first lunar explorers, and now the shuttle astronauts and their recent Russian cosmonaut guests.

""My friendship with the astronauts means a helluva lot to me. I admire those guys for all the hours they put in," said Patnesky. ""One way or another I've photographed every one of them."

One of 10 children born to a Pennsylvania coal mining family, he commutes 110 miles to work each day from a home north of Houston and shares time with his wife in a second home near San Antonio.

Wiry and healthy, Patnesky will log his 56th complete year of government service on Oct. 1. He is coy about his retirement plans.

But he feels so strongly about his association with the astronauts that he is willing to part with his Leica when he leaves NASA. He wants it to go on display at the Astronaut Hall of Fame, just outside the gates of the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Fla.

My continued research into Leica cameras that were used by NASA has yielded another interesting result.  This Leica camera was used in conjunction with a spectrograph and was used on the Gemini V and VIII missions. Longer missions during the Gemini program gave astronauts more time for scientific experiments, often created and monitored by other government agencies or academic institutions. Scientists at the U.S. Weather Bureau (now NOAA) created this camera attachment so it could simultaneously record a spectrum and an infrared image to determine cloud heights.

The camera appears to be a model M3.  It is unknown if any special modification were necessary for this specialized use.

It is not known if any current Leica equipment is being used by NASA.  The delay by Leica to introduce top level digital cameras leads me to believe that other manufacturers might have been chosen.  However, this is an ongoing research project and should new information become available, you will read about here.

To comment or to read comments please scroll past the ads below.

All ads present items of interest to Leica owners.




Buy vintage Leica cameras from 
America's premier Leica specialist 



Click on image to enlarge

Please make payment via PayPal to GMP Photography

Click on image to enlarge
Please make payment via PayPal to GMP Photography

Click on image to enlarge
Please make payment via PayPal to GMP Photography

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


                                                                                                                                                     Photo by Mark Duncan

By Frank Breithaupt
Reprinted by permission
From News Photographer
December 1978

It was early morning, one hour before the vacationing President was scheduled to make his way by raft down the Salmon River.  Around a bend, half-mile downstream were several photographer on a swinging footbridge.

When the President’s raft came into view, Harry Cabluck started making exposures with his hand made 800mm Leitz f/6.3 lens at 1/125th of a second with his tripod mounted camera on a swaying bridge.

Cabluck, a 10 year veteran of the Associated Press, insists that the shot shouldn’t have worked.

Instead, he captured a classic last august – a tight photo of President Carter’s raft floating down the river with the President standing monumentally in the bow like the famous Leutze painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware.

“It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever planned something and executed it just the way I thought it would be,” Cabluck said.  “Hell, even getting married wasn’t planned out that way.”Cabluck has a history of getting pictures no one else does because of his planning and his 800mm prototype: the “agony and the ecstasy” at the 1976 Olympics, the Carter family after the Inauguration walking down Pennsylvania Avenue with the Capitol dome in the background, and key plays in baseball games where his attachment to the lens began.

With AP in Pittsburg, Cabluck borrowed the prototype from Walter Heun, technical director for E. Leitz, Inc., for use in the 1974 All-Star game in Pittsburg.

In Heun’s hands, the lens had been used to photograph the Apollo 8 launch on December 21, 1968, of Borman, Anders and Lovell on a 147 hour lunar flight.

Once in Cabluck’s hands, it was lost to Leitz.  “They figured it would be better to sell it to me than to just let me have it,” Cabluck explained.

With his 800, Cabluck said that getting the picture is not all that difficult.  “It’s not so much me as the lens,” he said.  “A lot of people think that it’s me, but anybody with that lens in their hands is going to make a good picture.”

Well, not quite.

As Hal Buell, AP’s assistant general manager for news photos put it, “Harry knows how to use that lens.  And when to use it.  It’s an excellent piece of glass and the whole thing comes out to nice pictures because Harry’s a very talented buy.”

Putting himself into a situation where he can use his lens is where Cabluck”s real talent comes in.

With a call to The Idaho Statesman, Cabluck checked lighting, distances and angles.  He talked to the White House people.  The weight of the lens – 32 pounds – was a factor.  “I figured, what the heck, I’d carry the 800 out there.  It’s a pain in the neck, but I just live with it.”

The white House said he wouldn’t have to carry his equipment – two Halliburtons, one for the camera, the other for the 800 – more than 50 yards from the helicopter landing area to the footbridge.  “I said great!  I can carry everything 50 yards.”

But then surprise.  The helicopter left and Cabluck had to lug his two cases a mile to the pickup point.  “It seemed like five in that altitude.  And I am just cussing myself all the way – you idiot, I said, the pictures won’t work, they’re soft, the film is all bad, the light was so bad… an 800 from a swinging bridge, the raft is moving right at us, the bridge is moving, my heart is beating and it shouldn’t have worked.  Who would shoot an 800 on a tripod at a moving raft even if the camera was bolted to the earth?”

But after processing it was all worthwhile.  Weeks later he was still doctoring his elbows from carrying his cases that Idaho mile.


During his decade years with AP, Cabluck has been sent as far north as the Montreal Olympics, as far east as Yankee Stadium, as far south as San Juan, P.R., and as far west as Beijing, China.

Cabluck has become known as “Dancing Bear and his Magic Lens.”

“There’s just a certain superstition I have about it – I’m not superstitious, ordinarily, except when it comes to that lens.”

Cabluck was a staff photographer at the Fort Worth TX Star-Telegram for 11 years (his brother, Jarrold, is a Fort Worth freelancer).  Harry Cabluck recalled the first shot he sent fro AP over the Star-Telegram transmitter – the aftermath of an unconfirmed tornado in 1958:

“It was just a cop standing on the side of a building.  A crummy picture.  But I got all caught up in the excitement of having my picture transmitted.  I was the guy that made the print, wrote the caption, wrapped it around the drum and watched the thing go.  It was a big thrill.”

Cabluck’s superstition may be a gag with AP staffers.  Nevertheless the say, “This looks like a job for Harry and his magic lens.”

And Harry does the job.


The Leitz 800mm f/6.3 Telyt-S  was of a similar optical design as its shorter companions, the 560mm f/6.8 Telyt and the 400mm f/6.8 Telyt with one definite difference.  While the two shorter lenses had only two elements in one group, the 800mm lens was designed to consist of three elements, also in one group.  That offered the additional optical corrections needed for such a long lens.

For easier carrying, the lens had a built-in handgrip,which also contained a gun type sigt for easier initial aiming.

Technical Data:

Lens construction:3 elements in 1 group
Focal length: 800 mm
Diagonal angle of view:3.1°
Aperture: ƒ/6.3...32
Min. Focus:41 ft (12.5 m)
Length: 31.1 in (79 cm)
Weight: 15.12 pound (6860 g)

To comment or to read comments please scroll past the ads below.

All ads present items of interest to Leica owners.




Buy vintage Leica cameras from 
America's premier Leica specialist 



Click on image to enlarge

Please make payment via PayPal to GMP Photography

Click on image to enlarge
Please make payment via PayPal to GMP Photography

Click on image to enlarge
Please make payment via PayPal to GMP Photography