This is the story of a city, a river, a region, wine, craftsmanship, transportation, lenses and cameras. They are all connected.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, a 3-hour drive north of Lisbon. Seventy miles upstream by boat or car, vineyards cling to the terraced hills of the Douro Valley. For centuries, boats called barcos rabelos carried the wine for aging in the famous port houses of Porto. In the 18th century, Portuguese merchants figured out that adding brandy to the local wines would ensure an unspoilable trip two miles downstream to the Atlantic Ocean and then on to the lucrative markets of London.
Porto is stunningly photogenic. If you crave a new camera, walk back across the double-decker Luis I Bridge to Portugal’s new Leica Store and Gallery near the main railway station. Here, you can enjoy the gallery’s latest selection of photographs and then choose from Leica’s complete line of cameras and lenses.
But the cameras we’re here to see are 25 miles north in the recently expanded Leica Aparelhos Opticos de Precisão SA, Leica Camera’s precision optics subsidiary in Vila Nova de Famalicão. With fine universities, a skilled workforce, gentle climate and pleasant landscapes, the area has long been a center for technology, fine mechanics, optics and electronics. The original Leica factory was established here in 1973. Forty years later, the new 52,000 m2 (about 10 football fields) facility was opened in March 2013.
A whimsical Leica M-like gate house greets the visitor. Beyond is the modern factory of Leica Aparelhos Opticos de Precisão SA. It is the size of several football fields. Many Leica cameras, lenses and sport optics are made here. It’s one of the most high-tech, impeccable places in the industry, with a highly skilled, enthusiastic workforce. More than 720 people work in the new factory which is about 30% larger than the original one. Inside, the layout and the machines themselves are almost identical to the ones in Wetzlar.