Speaking of Leica, I'm afraid that one rare photography book I should have alerted you to has come and gone. It is Leica Compendium: The Company, the Camera, the Lenses, by Erwin Puts of Tao of Leica.
The 602-page tome is simply one of the most astonishing books on cameras I have ever encountered. Erwin is one of the most knowledgable and dedicated Leica scholars in the world. I use the word "tome" advisedly: it is not only 602 pages long (I have the original edition), but the book is large (8.5x12"), and the pages are dense with small type and plenitudinous illustrations. It contains a lifetime of information, experimentation, and investigation on Erwin's part.
The sections include a history of the company, which I found particularly detailed and valuable; "Construction and manufacture of precision cameras"; "The Leica Cameras"; "The quest for image quality"; "Optical aberrations and engineering"; "Image evaluation"; and—the crowning glory—"Leica lens reports." The lens report section is 221 pages long and includes, by rough count, detailed profiles of 150 lenses, modern and historical, with many more covered adequately but in groupings (such as "Early Zoom Lenses").
I cannot claim to have "read" this vast book (although readable and engaging, it's a reference work). It did strike me that several of the sections I did read could stand on their own as books by themselves.
Impressively, Erwin not only self-published but also set the book himself, on a MacBook Pro using InDesign. Yet the result doesn't look homemade—it's professional in appearance. Leica Camera AG did not sponsor the publication.
Unfortunately, two limited editions have so far come and gone, and I don't know whether Erwin is planning a third. You might still be able to find copies on eBay.
Altogether a most impressive and beautiful achievement, sure to be prized and greatly valued among Leica fans of all sorts for many years. It takes its place alongside things like Jim Lager's trilogy and Gunter Osterloh's practical guide as one of the great books about this legendary camera marque.
UPDATE: Stop presses! Erwin informs me that the first edition (labeled "Limited Edition" on the cover, the one I have) which was published in April 2011, was limited to 1250 copies, and sold out in three weeks. The demand was such that Erwin published a second edition of an additional 1000 copies in August 2011, which again sold out in a few weeks. A third and apparently final edition of another 700 copies has just been published! So there's one more chance for Leica fans.
UPDATE #2 (Tuesday morning): Erwin is now sold out of the third edition; he has been swamped with orders. The sellers who might have some unspoken for are Camerabooks in the U.S., Riceball in Singapore, and LFI-Online and Lindemanns Buchhandlung in Germany. (I haven't been able to find a website for Riceball and I didn't find the book at LFI-Online; they might be sold out—although I should stop making assumptions.)
Erwin tells me he has stuck to small editions because he has to pay for the printing himself, and also because his space for storage is limited. I wonder why an enterprising publisher doesn't pick this up and make a commercial reprint of it. The work is already done, and there's certainly a market for it.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.