The Question of Leica

Leica has recently introduced a couple of new cameras and a lens. Now, the large sensor (APS-C sized, 1.5x crop factor, much like those of Nikon DX, Sony NEX, Samsung NX and some other cameras) compact Leica X2 is hardly going to receive all that much attention and admiration, mainly due to some, by today’s standards, rather pitiful specifications. Think about it – the conservative Leica has fitted the X2 with a 6-7 year old LCD screen (2.7″, 230.000 dot), slow 24mm f/2.8 lens (the Fujifilm X100 has a 23mm f/2 lens) and a maximum shutter speed of 1/2000s. All this would not be so bad for those wanting simplicity for photography’s sake – mind you, I’m all for less gadgetry and more photography itself. But then there’s the price of $1,995. Two thousand dollars will get you a fixed focal length lens fitted compact camera, and nothing else. It looks good, yes. It probably feels good, too. And yet it’s a compact camera that doesn’t even have a viewfinder (unless you want the optional EVF, which is likely going to be mighty expensive, too), for a lot of money. In short – probably not worth it, unless you really love that red dot. Fujifilm X100, anyone?

And then there’s the new M.

Leica M-Monochrome Front View

…no. It still doesn’t work as you would expect it to, does it? At least not at first glance – it’s not exactly new as such. Different – yes, new – hardly. Apart from taking sharper B&W only images with no Bayer interpolation, Leica M-Monochrom is the same camera as the M9-P, which is the same camera as the 3-year old M9, which, apart from being digital, is very close to what a film M7 or MP is like. And all of these are mighty expensive. You can buy a D4 for M-Monochrom money, easy. With a AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G lens. And a memory card or two. Want a simple Leica branded lens to put on that brand new M body? A 50mm f/1.4 Summilux will set you back another $3,995.00. Truly, properly expensive.

But then…that is the point. That is the way of Leica. Let me explain.

Modern, conventional DSLR makers mostly strive towards technological advancement and, with that, complexity. We get sophisticated metering systems, sophisticated autofocus systems, sophisticated lenses, sophisticated processors and sophisticated LCD screens. I’m almost sure one could find a sophisticated camera strap. Everything sophisticated. Progress is understandable and very much needed – we use these cameras daily for our pleasure and work – but with it comes an immense amount of both rivalry and similarity between different brands, which sometimes makes things a little bit… well, boring. And we start to focus on the wrong things to stay entertained, forgetting photography itself.

Leica is one of the best known names in photographic history, going head to head with Carl Zeiss, Fujifilm and Kodak. To survive, Fujifilm had to start their X series with the X10, X100 and X-Pro 1, digital cameras focused towards achieving a compromise between functionality and personality. And it seems to have paid off, despite all the niggles you get with their products. Carl Zeiss had to take a niche approach with their manual lenses for modern DSLRs, among other projects (SLR lenses likely make up a very small portion of their business). Kodak has, not so long ago, suffered Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection and continues to produce film which many photographers, myself included, hope will live on. Leica had to make a choice as well, and what they did was make film camera’s that didn’t use film, but felt like they did. Leica focused on pleasure, because film isn’t about quality anymore, it’s about taking it slow, it’s about mastering your gear and enjoying the very process of photography with every feeling that you have. There are no autofocus systems, and no complex settings to choose from. There’s no need to look at the LCD – it just feels out of place. There’s just you and what you see through the viewfinder. Leica never pretends to compete with other manufacturers. Sophisticated simplicity. Why no one else thought about it?

Leica M-Monochrom Back View

It has to be rare. It has to be expensive. Not “look-I-have-a-Leica” expensive, no. “Look, I love photography” kind of expensive. It’s not for everyone, the M-Monochrom – it only takes B&W images, along with other things a Leica body does or doesn’t, depending on your point of view. There are different types of photography and, with that, lets be fair, a D4 and AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G fits a lot more applications than an M. But Leica comes as close to shooting film as you can get, without actually shooting film. All it does is take a photograph. The rest is up to the person holding the camera.

A Leica M body with a Summilux on it is like your grandmother’s frying pan (yes, a rather strange comparison, but bear with me). It’s nowhere near as sophisticated (that word again) as your wife’s new frying pan (the D4 pan, if you like), it’s not as shiny or as lightweight and easy to clean, possibly. And you put the same ingredients when you cook in both. It’s very hard to screw up your meal in the new pan. But why do pancakes taste so much better when you cook them in the old one?

Yes, it is a bold move. It is niche. But in the end, we would all want one, right?

Comments

  1. July 4, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Wonderful Roman. Keep it up, thanks!
    Allan Wood

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      ) Romanas Naryškin
      July 4, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      Thank you, Allan!

      • 22
        ) Luis C.
        July 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm

        Hahaha the women in the kitchen analogy is truly hilarious!

  2. July 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    In the article there are many issues I have pondered over often. Not least of all “look-I-have-a-Leica” and “Look, I love photography”! There are occasions when I’m not out and about with my dSLR + weighty kit taking wildlife and landscapes that I ask myself “am I a photographer and if I am then it’s what I can make with the camera I have” it’s all about what I can achieve through the viewfinder with my photographers eye, the camera is purely a means of achieving exactly that. So I totally agree with “All it does is take a photograph. The rest is up to the person holding the camera”.

    No, wildlife and birds in flight is not viable with anything other than a dSLR, long lenses, monopods and tripods, but maybe landscapes are! Can I capture more acceptable images with a Leica, possibly, but I’m darned sure I can too with a Canon G12 or Nikon Coolpix P7100. This is thought provoking and by coincidence very timely. I am now more serious about trying a small advanced compact, so thanks for the input. However, it won’t be a Leica as I feel digitally it will feel good, look good but won’t give anymore than many less expensive pocket cameras.

    Just a few thoughts.

    Richard

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      ) Romanas Naryškin
      July 4, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      Although digital Leica M cameras are capable of stunning technical quality, I don’t think it’s really about the result – it’s the process with these cameras, I think, the pleasure of the actual image taking, not just seeing it on your computer screen or printed. But, again, such an approach is not for everyone, hence the price.

  3. 3
    ) Stoyan
    July 4, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Will be more professional article if you compare at least jpg samples from Leica M body + a Summilux with other bodies&lenses that you mention.

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      ) Romanas Naryškin
      July 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      Hi, Stoyan, thank you for reading!

      More technical – yes, but it has nothing to do with professional, I think, nor is it about samples and quality, really.

      Still, thank you for your input, I’m sure there will be such a comparison when the time comes to review a Leica M camera!

  4. 7
    ) John Richardson
    July 4, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    My first 33mm was an old M3. I was told by my friend that after lugging the 8×10 around I will think this very small and yet still understand the whole process of photography. Back then, we did our own B&W in the darkroom as well as Extachrome slides. I shot with the M3 as well as a Asahi Pentax and a Nikon F. It never occurred to me other than the fact that some of the past masters shot Leica that I had anything special.

    It was about composition, and getting exposure right the first time. I liked the Leica, if I needed to be extra careful I had to use a Gossen Luna 6 light meter. I liked the Asahi and the Nikon also, and to be honest, in the Army PX it was easier to get lenses for those two and I put the M3 away and went Nikon.

    Now some 40 years later you remind me of the old days, a well written article, Roman. Some might also enjoy Ken Rockwell’s tongue ‘n cheek article about the Leica Man, buried somewhere in his site. But I think my attitude is, no matter the price, “you can’t buy nostalgia”, and that is what Leica is selling. And at a hefty price.

    I know, many photographers today extol the virtues of the pure photographic experience and art and say a Leica is the bee’s knees. In truth, many of them never shot a M3, or spent countless hours in a darkroom (except that may have been forced to do it in school, I however, did it for money). But, no, I have to disagree with all of them. Because the price of Leica’s nostalgia is simply; way, too, high. In this day and age it boils down to disposable income and where and what you what to throw it away on, and I am sad to say that.

    If I want nostalgia I still have a F2 and F3 a Busch Pressman and a load of manual 30 year old Nikon lenses. So I dutifully set my camera to ASA(ISO) 200 or 400, set it to monochrome, manual, get my Sekonic L-398M, take just one manual short prime lens (no autofocus) and take off for a few hours, limit myself to 100 photos (roughly 4 rolls of film) and NO chimping (I almost never chimp anyway so the LCD is not an issue).There you go instant old skool world, minus the smelly chemicals. (Hurrah for Nik Software’s Silver Efx Pro 2!!!!) I do not do this often enough though, because in truth, I am lazy and sometimes the closest thing I want to get to old skool photography is Aperture Priority.

    Would I like a new M9? Maybe just once to see how it feels, but in truth, no, I can spend my hard earned money elsewhere in photography. I can however whip out my 30 year old iron skillet I brought to Ukraine and have my mother-in-law make scratch pancakes in it, slather them with homemade sweet butter and honey from my neighbor’s bees … that’s instant nostalgia today I can’t put a price on … unlike Leica.

    • 8
      ) francisco
      July 5, 2012 at 12:14 am

      well said, sir, well said…

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      ) Romanas Naryškin
      July 5, 2012 at 12:34 am

      Thank you, John, I enjoyed reading that very much. There are two points I’d like to make, though.

      A price is a very personal matter, I think, and it also often doesn’t have all that much to do with quality, though Leica offers plenty of it. A certain price is set to target a very specific group of people. Leica targets rich people, it’s prestigious, and I don’t like that just as much as anyone else, but that’s their marketing strategy. I’ve seen a lot of wedding photographers,who, while not being creatively or technically better than me in my opinion, charge twice what I charge. It’s not because they are better, it’s because they target people who can pay that amount of money, and thus have much bigger budgets for their weddings. If a person is a having a 100 thousand dollar wedding, he’s not going to hire a photographer who costs $2000 simply because he’s too cheap, no matter how good he is. Leica is doing the same thing with their price policy.

      Now, when it comes to nostalgia, you can’t buy it, no. But Leica, with their M series, has decided to remain loyal to film experience even after going digital. Those cameras aren’t fast and aren’t designed to be fast, and so photographing takes time, which I’d enjoy. They are manual focus, which I’d enjoy, not having to stare at focus points in the cluttered viewfinder. And they are small(ish), and discreet, which I’d enjoy for my photography very much. While not faking to be film, they seem to offer at least some of the experience. Shooting with a D700 with all the automatic functions turned off at single frame speed isn’t the same, not even close – I do that during every wedding, I never shoot automatic. Yet it’s not the same. Not even close. And when I want nostalgia, I grab my Kiev 4am or Mamiya RZ67 and go out shooting, and then work in the darkroom developing my film. Because Silver Efex Pro is faking it. It’s good faking, but still faking.

      If I want nostalgia, I grab my film gear. If I wanted as close to that as I could get with digital, I’d go M (and I do, just can’t afford it). Not because it’s a Leica, but because of the choices they made, because of sophisticated simplicity.

      • 12
        ) John Richardson
        July 5, 2012 at 12:58 am

        I know, it isn’t the same, and sometimes I think back to the old days.

        But as far as Software faking it, I have a different view. To what purpose, other than personal satisfaction does working in the darkroom serve? Software may fake the experience but it clearly blows away what almost anyone can do in a dark room with one button bush. Scott Kelby said on the The Grid a few months ago, (paraphrase) “Take your best shot, go into the darkroom and filddle with the chemicals and give me your best B&W and I can beat it in 5 seconds in Silver Efx Pro 2.” True, but the guy in the darkroom is attempting to preserve a dead art form, while the guy in the digital darkroom is cranking out work.

        I am guilty of the pricing myself. I was asked to photograph a wedding here of a wealthy Ukrainian industrialist, I asked an outrageous amount of money, and he asked me why? I said, “I can take the photos, but to make everyone look good, I have to go beyond the lighting and the moment and sit down on the computer and examine each shot and tweak it, and make no mistake, no one doesn’t tweak their images.” In truth his daughter was in dire need of skin work, and I gave it to them, not over done, but enough to save a few years off. I could not do that in the darkroom in color. I would have hung myself if I had to do it in B&W.

        I am one for preserving art forms, but not in the case of photography, just disposing of the chemicals is a PITA.

        Hey those Kievs rock, I see them at the flea market here in my moderately small town of 200,000. They work, usually have decent glass with them (for old Soviet Stuff) and average about $20-100. I need to take a weekend out and pay close attention to what is on the tables and pick through. Yes, there is a B&W lab here…

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          ) Romanas Naryškin
          July 9, 2012 at 2:17 am

          Weddings are not art, John :) They can be artistic. They are not art.

          And I fully agree that digital can’t be beaten when it comes to commercial work – there’s no denying it. But for my personal work, I’d always choose film.

          And – the whole point of working in a darkroom these days is personal satisfaction you will never get using someone else’s digital means, where you just click a button and see if it looks good. The fact Scott Kelby didn’t mention is that almost anyone can make a stunning B&W conversion with Silver Efex Pro, you don’t need to be a genius, you certainly don’t need to have all that many skills. Darkroom? That’s where it’s just you and what you are capable of. Which photograph do you think would be worth more?

          • 32
            ) John Richardson
            July 9, 2012 at 2:49 am

            Yeah, weddings are not art, that is true.

            You are right about that personal satisfaction aspect, and I do understand. I spent way too many years in the darkroom, I really don’t miss the darkroom at all anymore. I honestly think I got sick of it when I hit the color processing, a few years of that and I was done! But with software, it is different and it does go beyond just pushing a button. I do like the ability to do my trial and error in color at a hugely reduced cost in time and money, in the end though, I hardly share anything with anyone, I have posted so little on 500px :-(

            I can’t recall if Scott mentioned that anybody can , I will have to go back and look for that episode to see, but if not, then it was implied, as even that pet monkey I soooo badly want could hit that right button too. So with banana I hand, I also punch resets when I am super lazy.

            Now for me photography is for fun, if I make a few bucks on the side then that is a plus, though not my preferred method of employment. Heck, I turned a hobby into a business once and I am not to inclined to repeat that process full time again.

  5. 9
    ) francisco
    July 5, 2012 at 12:24 am

    Nice article Roman… the X2 is tempting!

  6. 11
    ) Mike
    July 5, 2012 at 12:47 am

    I have a D800 with some pro lenses. It’s a fantastic camera capable of amazing images. If the M was more affordable, I would be tempted. It would be nice to carry around a lightweight camera with a 50mm lens to take photos in the city. Maybe one day when I have more dollars than sense.

  7. 13
    ) Marco
    July 5, 2012 at 1:34 am

    I’m sorry, but I have always been staunchly critical of Leica. The thought of spending so much money for a “pure” experience is utterly ridiculous to me. Their cameras are limiting. Rather than experience all the wonderful possibilities that photography has to offer, you are left struggling with a less than capable piece of equipment which costs as much as a car.

    I am dumbfounded by the love for the brand. And for those who say that one must experience it to understand it, I say no thank you. I would rather concentrate on taking good photographs than struggle with my equipment. For the record, I have a Nikon D3100 which I believe is far superior to an M9 in every way.

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      ) Romanas Naryškin
      July 9, 2012 at 2:22 am

      Thank you for your opinion, Marco!

      I urge you, however, to keep a more open mind – remember the saying “less is more”? Yes, you need to pay a hefty price for less these days, but that’s because Leica is exclusive. An M9 has very different strengths than a D3100, they are almost completely incomparable. :)

      • 33
        ) Ray
        July 10, 2012 at 8:12 am

        “less is more” can be had with the flip of a switch or a change in a setting. Hardly exclusive. And help me understand how exclusivity in a tool affects my photography? If this is a gadget forum, please ignore my post.

        • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin
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          ) Romanas Naryškin
          July 10, 2012 at 8:18 am

          I understand your opinion and respect it, but disagree with it at the same time for when it comes to non-commercial work. It would be nice if you could respect my opinion as well.

          If you try to be a little more polite, we can continue the discussion, Ray, and I will try to explain you what I mean, but do know – we try to do our best to avoid any kind of offensive edge here.

  8. 14
    ) Matrox
    July 5, 2012 at 1:36 am

    Oh, c’mon. You can experience mastering your gear and have big pleasure even on your DSLR. You don’t need fancy and in some ways trendy Leica :) I really don’t understand why they put b&w sensor in M-Monochrome. If someone really likes shooting in b&w, then he just needs to setup camera to given picture style. I know that Leica is very portable and oldschool, but the price is really frightful.

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      ) Romanas Naryškin
      July 9, 2012 at 2:28 am

      b&w only sensor gives superior sharpness as there’s no need for Beyer interpolation, that’s why they made such a choice. It’s a niche product, like the Canon 60Da.

      As for the pleasure, of course, you can have lots of it with a regular DSLR. But for me, when doing photography for my own pleasure, DSLR are just too… sophisticated and feature-packed. Leica’s like a Classic Mini (only very expensive). It’s uncomfortable, has a manual gearbox, it’s slow and flashy at times, but very, very fun. Yes, you can drive your brand new Jaguar XK (say, a D4) slowly (if you put enough effort and remember you need to drive slowly), but it won’t be quite the same, will it? Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Too different to be compared :)

  9. July 5, 2012 at 2:23 am

    “What’s in the name” a largely inflated price usually! It’s the old argument and just like anything else it’s often the brand name that sells the product. I actually met a guy on a cruise who had a Leica digital, he admitted to knowing nothing about photography, but needed a good camera for the cruise, so he said “well it had to be Leica of course”. Some have more money than sense.

    • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin
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      ) Romanas Naryškin
      July 9, 2012 at 2:31 am

      There are quite a bit more bashing going on about whether Nikon, Canon, Pentax or Sony is the best DSLR company. You can find silly people using any of the brands :)

  10. 16
    ) Scott McLoughlin
    July 5, 2012 at 4:29 am

    Alongside digital, I shoot film with 2 Leica M6TTL’s with 28/2, 50/2 and 90/2.8 Leica lenses, and a few Voightlander lenses (21/4, 35/2.5, 50/1.5). I also shoot a Nikon FM3a with the 28/2.8, 105/2.5 and a few other manual focus lenses.

    A great deal of the cost of Leica gear stems from a few mutually reinforcing factors. I won’t write a treatise on how meeting various quality criteria require meeting many of the others, but here is a list off the top of my head. First, precise mechanical operation and performance standards requiring tight manufacturing tolerances. Second, designs for extremely high performing lenses, with stellar wide open performance, within a classic form factor constraint. Third, robust build quality. Fourth, extensive quality control with the rejection of a large percentage of individual lens and body components and even finished cameras. Fifth, the ability to repair almost all parts of the camera, and not just replace entire prefabricated subassemblies. Sixth, backward compatibility and support going back to some gear more decades older than I am.

    Finally seventh, there is a limited market for cameras enjoying the prior six quality criteria. Leica must move slowly and carefully to survive and continue to support the small market for the cameras and lenses enjoying their particular strengths.

    Just to use a recent example, Leica took a brilliant 50/2 lens design and up’ed the ante by designing a recent apochromatic version. Yes, its price causes nosebleeds, but designing a 50mm apochromatic lens, a focal lenth much shorter than the more typical telephoto focal lengths for such lenses is extremely challenging, much less at the size and build quality that Leica produced theirs. So many of the many above listed pricey quality criteria listed above factor into the production of such a lens.

    I too wish that Leica cameras and lenses were available for fewer dollars, and Voightlander provides a very credible rangefinder shooting experience, with some compromises, at a lower price. But Leica cameras are not priced as they are because they are mere fashion items. People wrongly focus on the collector edition cameras, which mostly cater to the Far East, where collecting such cameras is part of their photo culture. The Hermes edition cameras deserve special note, as Hermes is simply a major investor in Leica. These collector cameras, silly for my photographic aims as well, actually do accrue in value over time, and even Nikon has produced such collector edition cameras as well from time to time. But this is not the raison d’etre of Leica’s camera manufacturing enterprise.

    Indeed, rangefinder shooting is not for everyone, and nearly any camera made today can take a great picture in the right hands and in front of the right eyes. But let’s not fetishize Leica’s prices when discussing their cameras. We can wish their costs were lower, but also understand that this is not possible in today’s camera market. There is no cause for anger.

    Folks far wiser than I am point out that Nikon could easily produce similarly sized and performing lenses, with nearly no “bad samples” and of equal build quality… and they too would cost a mint. Perhaps less than Leica’s given Nikon’s giant market share, but then the market for such high priced lenses would be limited. Indeed, Nikon’s limited edition Nikon S3 2000 now costs $5,500 for their rangefinder film body.

    Leica is a cool company, especially in such an industrial field a camera manufacture. I’m an amateur jazz guitar player, and many guitar folks will also pay nosebleed prices for hand carved, assembled, lacquered and “tap tuned” guitars or point-to-point hand wired boutique amplifiers using only “mil spec” electronic components.

    And as we get even farther away from consumer markets and mass manufacture (yes, of some very nice cameras), we get folks like my musician friend who actually traveled to Germany to pick out by hand a clarinet from the small companies best stock. It’s all very relative by market, and within each market, it’s very relative to one’s quality criteria for and individual expectations from one’s gear choices.

    Hope that helps provide some perspective.

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      29
      ) Romanas Naryškin
      July 9, 2012 at 2:30 am

      Thanks, Scott, very well put!

  11. 17
    ) Paul Corsa
    July 5, 2012 at 6:00 am

    I admire the craftsmanship of Bugatti vehicles, but I would never covet one. I feel the same way about Leica. My Nikon D300 meets my needs and is backwards compatable with all of my manual Nikor optics too. When I find its weight a burden for casual vacation and family photography I will consider the Nikon N1 or one of the Sony interchangable lens offerings. When I was working in photography the availability of Nikon equipment and service were what kept me loyal to the brand. I have not lost that feeling

  12. 18
    ) Chris
    July 5, 2012 at 9:54 am

    I like Leica, I have an old IIIf with 50mm f2 Summicron and 35mm f3.5 Summaron lenses. My old Leica is just like an precious antique/art . The new M is below my reach. I think what Leica famous for is the quality of their lenses. All their lenses could produce stunning good images, because of these, they all can keep their value. The new M electronic digital body is just a 21th century invention, it is way over priced. I prefer to invest my money to their lenses instead. That is why I have a new Fuji X Pro1 as the substitiution.

  13. 19
    ) Abu Hayat Khan
    July 6, 2012 at 1:26 am

    Hi Roman,

    I always enjoy your artistic wording.

    :-)

  14. 20
    ) johny wong
    July 6, 2012 at 7:55 am

    if I have $100k for buying any leica product, I will not buy any leica body, but surely I will buy 1 or 2 leica lens &
    put it in my dslr body. Because for me lens is the most important gear in photography.

  15. 21
    ) Eric
    July 6, 2012 at 8:50 am

    I work with a Leica M9. There are 2 reasons why. First, the real life printed image quality at low ISO is as good as if not better than high end Canon and Nikon cams (my last camera was a Canon IDs II with L glass). I don’t shoot much over ISO 400. If you do, then its not the camera for you. Secondly, the camera is a fraction of the weight of higher end DSLR. If you drive your camera around then that’s unimportant. If you’re young or burley and don’t mind schlepping around 3-5 kilos of camera equipment then this advantage is irrelevant. But if you walk a lot with your camera then the relatively low weight of an M9 is a god send, esp., given point 1, the image quality. On the IQ/weight ratio an M9 is as good as it gets right now.

    There are 2 principle reasons why Leicas are very expensive. The first is that unlike the big manufacturers which have industrial strength robotic assembly lines, Leicas are assembled by real people at work benches. This is expensive, esp. as they are assembled in Germany where labour costs are relatively high. Obviously to hand assemble a camera with the complexity of a Leica requires well trained staff. While this gives Leica reasonably good quality control but at a high cost. The second reason is that overall production numbers from Leica are tiny compared to Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc. This means that not only buying parts in relatively low numbers and the actual unit manufacturing costs are high but all the ancillary costs like marketing, distribution, advertising, running Leica shops, managing a dealer network, managing the business and all the fixed costs like site, taxes, lights, heating etc are amortised over a far smaller number of units raising the individual unit cost. Leica only recently started making a profit so while they’re expensive, its not like the people who own and run Leica are laughing all the way to the bank.

    The decision to market Leicas as a premium product is thus down to necessity. That people with more money than camera knowledge buy Leicas to show that they can or that collectors buy overpriced Hermes editions or all white cameras is just part of running a premium product and doesn’t reflect on the serious artists who shoot with Leica (do I have to name names?)

    Leicas offer other unique advantages, I’m currently shooting with a 1954 50mm lens that draws beautifully and happily lacks that antiseptic intense micro contrast that so many photographers use as a yardstick to quality these days. The lens cost me a fraction of what a Canon L lens let alone a Summichron 50 f/2 costs.

    Horses for courses but its not about the slow and deliberate shooting process for me personally that draws me to shoot M9s.

  16. 23
    ) FF
    July 7, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    The author asked: “But in the end, we would all want one, right?”

    Well let’s see.
    I used M4 and R3s with many lenses. The results from F2 and Nikon lenses were always picked by my customers as “better” looking. The only visibly superior results were with Leica Apo’s, provided the camera was used on tripod. Since neither Canon nor Nikon offer Apo’s, it is impossible to judge how would they compare to Leica’s. But this is history.

    The current issue for Leica is its application.
    In the past, Leica was a fast action camera. Today some who believe in Leica lens superiority are trying it for the landscape and find problems. The 70 yrs. old Leica mechanical focusing system simply lacks precision which digital sensor demands and absence of the LV makes it impossible to focus with precision. I will not review other problems with the M9. Anyone can find long lists of issues, and letters to Leica, on the Net published by many frustrated users.
    So, we have a paradox. The Leica collectors, and those who want “a piece of legend”, demand as much adherence to the past design as possible, while on the other side there are photographers. Since it is impossible to satisfy these contradictory demands, the Leica will have to choose which group of customers to satisfy.

    For me it boils down to: “which problems Leica would solve for me vis a vis my current gear?
    Unfortunately not many. Mainly the size, weight and simple menus at huge expense. There is also much longer list of problems Leica would create for me at the same time. Even the Leica “solutions” will be questionable as soon as someone offers a full size sensor camera with a set of quality optics. The Fuji X Pro-1 would fit the bill, if it was not a prototype camera plagued with bugs and elementary design omissions (e.g lack of VF diopter adjustments).

    So, in the end it is not so obvious who would want it.

  17. July 8, 2012 at 3:01 am

    Well written, nice use of words. Though I don’t really agree with the rationale presented. However what can’t be denied is the author is quite passionate about Leica and his passion shows, das is gutt :)

    Now, as noted by the author in one of the comments, price indeed is personal. Simple economics can be used to prove that the Lecia M Monochrome for some is underpriced and for others it is overpriced.

    “But in the end, we would all want one, right?” – Not necessarily, certainly not necessarily for me. I could be just as happy or perhaps even happier with any other camera which sports a 50mm 1.2-1.8 and shoots clean images at high ISOs. When I remove the battery grip off my D7000 and mount a 35mm/1.8 on it, it comes pretty close to being the perfect walk around camera. Other people could argue just as effectively for their camera setups.

    My nostalgia takes me back to my film bodies, which I still have: Nikon F100,F90, Mamiya and Pentona (oh yeah, lens and body in one monobloc, parallax error et al). All of these bodies are still in perfect condition. However I won’t pay any kind of premium for a new camera which digitally emulates the experience I have had with these above mentioned film cameras. I’d rather put a film roll in one of them and shot or fall back upon my option of my D7000 sans the grip with a 35mm/1.8 and then develop in Lightroom. Further if this camera costs the same as a fantastic new D4 with 70-200/2.8 then it would pretty much have to be the world’s best camera and have technology which is scaleable and relevant for the next decade and a half for me to consider it.

    I know that the Leica M Monochrome is a pretty fantastic camera, I don’t think anybody really disputes that, it’s just about the extra ordinarily high premium that is being charged for it. Having said that, it is fair to observe that I am not much into other luxury products either (cars, watches etc.) so perhaps I feature no where in the intended consumer group for this product for a good reason.

    Even if one hypothetically agrees that the meal does taste better when cooked in my grandmother’s pan then perhaps the difference is not in the pans but in the cooking styles of my grandmother and my wife, or perhaps in which ingredients they choose or perhaps………

    • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin
      31
      ) Romanas Naryškin
      July 9, 2012 at 2:35 am

      I can’t say I adore Leica – I don’t. If I had to choose between an M7 and Zeiss Ikon, I’d take the latter. But Leica is exclusive. If Nikon were to make a digital rangefinder for a more reasonable price, I’d be happy to own one and would never look back at Leica. I’d love it if Fujifilm made one. It’s not the brand I love, it’s the concept of those camera’s – simplicity and lack of features other than ones necessary to take a photo.

      Though I fully understand such an approach is not for everyone due to different needs and goals. :)

  18. 25
    ) Tony
    July 8, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Nice article, Roman. I’ve played with M9, but the rangefinder focusing simply does not agree with me. I think many of those enamored with it should try it. It is a very different way of doing things. In the end, I would love a digital FM2. One day it will come, but that day is still far away.

    Oh, not to be too anally-retentive, but it’s “bear with me”, unless you are making a suggestion to a fairer sex.

  19. 35
    ) Jared
    July 11, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Ahhh the Leica argument. Points (and arguments) of nostalgia so closely intertwined with Diana, Holga, Polaroid instant and other manual cameras shooting film always draws the crowds.

    I shoot a Voightlander R2 with a Zeiss 50mm F/2 and a couple of Nikon FE2 with different 50mm lenses for some odd reason. Maybe 2 in 24 or even 36 frames are keepers, it is expensive beyond belief by today’s standards, focusing in low light or even in general is spotty, and it is slow. I do not like most of the developed shots, to be honest. All that said, I still like shooting them.

    Artistic for “Art sake” aside (as that argument has to do with something outside of logic), the digital Leica’s do have a lot going for them – Glass that renders images in a unique way (like Zeiss) and a great image quality. The monochrome M – wow. If people don’t understand the Tech behind the abilities of an Only B&W sensor shame on them. They really, are not that useful for most photographers desire of what photographers want to shoot. They fill a niche, and fill it really well.

    The key, at least to me, paid and personal work is the ability to capture a moment, create the image that I have in my mind, and render that image in a unique way. Choosing a system that can execute all that is impossible – that is why so many of us buy dozens of lenses, light modifiers, various bodies, different software, iphone apps, that just sits in the “bag”, but is there when we need that “one” capture. Leica fills a “unique look” tool to people’s amazement. The Photographers who know how to utilize that look or who are just “built” for that tool far exceed what I sure most Leica engineers ever had in mind. Because of it’s price and the drawbacks of the system, leaves most to choose something else but are always wondering what they could do with it. That is why so many are drawn to it, it is a unique tool that you just can’t justify owning. Those who do, spent too much to say they actually don’t like it.

    On my side, I have a X100, and that has filled this nich for me better than film ever did. I am more satisfied with it than any film camera. I still shoot my Voight because of the Zeiss, but really film is dead for me. Last summer I shot 20 rolls of film trying to do a personal project of friends and life. That failed miserably. It cost about $250 in film, developing, scanning, another $200 for a OneStep Polaroid and a used 24mm lens. In the end, I was use to getting usable shots, with film the rate of success is much, much lower. With 4 beers in me, the AF still works fine. After the X100 hit my hand, I knew that was my future to fulfill this need. An X-pro 1 will be in the other hand soon. They work like film, but incorporate advantages made that the last 20 years that Leica has chosen to leave out.

    So, $6,900 for a body, $5,000 for a 50mm f1.4, $3,200 for a 35mm f2, $4,000 for a 28mm f2 and all of that comes to just shy of $20,000. I don’t care who you are, prices at that level are not relative- that is expensive! When you can buy the whole X-pro 1 with a X100 for $4,000, and honestly get a similar experience that they were looking for in the first place, that premium reaches a bit too far. If they sold the bodies for 50% less, I think that would bring it more in line. Digital bodies just are not worth that cost.

    Are there places for Leica? Of course. Is the price justified for the work that goes into making them, Probably. Is it “worth” the price? Not a chance. Why do people want them? Because they can’t afford them. (It really is that simple.) Would I take one if someone offered it, Hell yeah!

    • November 11, 2012 at 8:02 pm

      Dear Jared,
      I agree on most things that you said – and Roman, your writing style is absolutely admirable.
      However, there is one argument that hasn’t been mentioned in the whole thread of conversation, and it is important for me.
      The only reason I would like a Leica M (Not the monochrome) is that I consider it the most beautiful camera ever made, and one of the most beautiful objects on the world for me.

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