I expect a lot of flak over this opinion piece. However, I am speaking as a former Leica owner that was vested in several M bodies and quite an assortment of Leica M lenses. Hell, I even owned the R9 and DMR with an impressive collection of R lenses. Having stated that, I feel I have earned the right to voice my opinion as an actual user of Leica gear with experience.
The great camera company which Oskar Barnack helped bring to prominence with the advent of the first mass produced 35mm camera has gone through quite a few changes in its history. With a history of cameras ranging from the Leica I, to today’s M, Leica has been providing the camera so many photographers relied on for so many years. There is no denying that Leica is one of the corner stones in the world of photography. Along with their cameras, Leica earned high respect for their optics. To this date, Leica lenses are considered some of the best in the world of photography and other industries where optics are involved. But what happened? A camera company which was responsible for the first mass produced 35mm camera for the masses has become a company for the few.
While other companies like Sony, Fuji, Olympus etc… introduce cameras with advancements in technology and features that are actually useful to photographers at a price point most can afford, Leica seems to have lost its focus and sense of what photography is. Although they still manufacture in limited production some great cameras, their attention seems to have shifted towards the collectors and Badge wearers. Let’s face it, when you’re marketing a new camera like the Leica T and your selling point is a video of a technician polishing the body for 45 minutes or the Fedrigoni X2 covered in fancy white paper, you have to ask yourself who is Leica targeting here? We can rule out the working photographer or the amateur photographer needing a camera to earn his or her living. What is Leica thinking? How on earth are these types of cameras supposed to make me a better photographer or capture a better picture? Even more importantly for Leica, how is the company going to earn the respect of the pros and amateurs that are serious about photography when they continue to introduce fashion statements rather than working tools.
As a real photographers tool, the M cameras along with their lenses are undeniably the choice for many; especially the street photographer. However, at what cost? Not all photographers can afford six or seven thousand dollars for a camera with limited capabilities, poor quality control and long waiting times for repair while others surpass in both deliverability of a product and customer service. Is the M or its variants really worth the dollars they command when the competition can offer so much more for far less?
There is something to be said about shooting with a rangefinder camera. The stealth approach, quiet shutter, size, etc … which allows you to approach your subjects without notice or intimidation. However, thanks to Sony and others, this is no longer an excuse for anyone defending a rangefinder camera solely on the basis of the above notes. The size, electronic shutters, superior sensors, image quality, video capabilities, NFC and the ability to use M lenses on a Sony or Fuji, debunk the underlying reasoning for using a rangefinder camera. By no means am I saying they should not be used. I still have an MP with a 50 lux that I shoot now and then with film. I am just saying one needs to come up with a better excuses for spending 7000.00 vs 1500.00
But why? Are we simply paying for the bragging rights to display the Iconic red dot and forgetting about photography? Take for example the electronic view finder for the Leica M240. It is a $250.00 Olympus VF-2 viewfinder. However, after rebranding it and replacing the words Olympus with Leica, the price doubled to $500.00. Now that you know this, would you still buy the Leica viewfinder or the Olympus one? If you choose to buy the Leica viewfinder, then you might as well stop reading this short article. It would be like discussing politics or religion. No matter who is right or wrong, no one will see any truth in an opposing opinions.
Leica has lost its ability to be pioneers in the industry. Yes they have the S2 which is 10 times the cost of a Nikon D800 or Sony A7R both of which can perform equally if not better than the S. But still, it seems that Leica cannot think beyond the M. They actually had a fantastic idea with the DMR for the R8 and R9. I personally owned one and think the DMR could have been a game changer in the industry by giving photographers an upgrade path to newer sensors without throwing away a perfectly good body. They could have set the standard for Nikon and Canon to follow. But they dropped that idea like a hot potato.
What did they do instead? They Introduced the M8, a great step in the right direction, then the M9, a logical step forward. However, since the first M8, they have exploited every possible combination of cosmetic changes while offering little to a photographer in terms of technical advancements. Let’s look at this from a realistic and factual perspective. We had an M8, then an M8.2 to address the short comings and IR issues of the M8. We then get the M9 with a full size sensor. To this point all looks good with the expected continuous improvements. But wait. We have then seen the likes of a white M9, a Titanium M9 with no strap lugs, an M9 without a red dot, an M9P, an M9 with different skin and an ME. I may have missed one or two. All of these variants introduced in the span of a few years without any real major feature which justify an upgrade and cost hike. Now take the Sony A7. The A7 was a revolutionary camera which packed a solid punch for around 1600.00. Not only was it a full size 35mm sensor camera that could take M lenses or just about any other type of lens, but it was a camera that delivered. Fast forward a year to the A7II. Better auto focus, better build, and yes, in body image stabilization for the same price as the original A7. True upgrades to a camera worthy of mentioning. If the A7 was a Leica product, we would have gotten the cosmetic changes of the speckled paint, a video of a technician creating the speckled finish and a hefty price hike.
What next? Leica forward thinkers have stalled without a sense of new direction. The M needs no further gimmicks to improve it aside from the usual sensor upgrades in the industry. It was god at the first M9. What Leica needs to do is get rid of their fashion statement mentality and focus on what Sony and Fuji are doing. Be innovative, daring and most of all a supplier. Come up with ideas that will take off and benefit the photographer in volumes and not just a few. Hire engineers and designers which will spark ideas worth bringing to fruition. Forget about cameras like the T. There are some things that others do MUCH better and at a fraction of the price. i.e Sony A6000. Don’t insult us by showing us boring videos of a camera being polished. If you feel that showing us such mundane advertising adds value to your product, at least tell us how it makes it better than the competition. If Leica wishes to justify their astronomical pricing do so with something unique. How about Leica M lenses with native E or X mounts.