My response to “An Open Letter To Leica” – This week the Leica community has become all riled up in heated discussions about an “open letter to Leica” posted on The Luminous Landscape website. The owner of LL, Michael Reichman wrote a public letter to Leica with his ideas for the future of the Leica M camera. Specifically, the evolution of the Leica M9, or the future Leica M10 (If you have not read this you can do so here). After I read the article in its entirety I have to say that I 100% disagree with what Mr. Reichman had to say about the current and future state of the Leica M camera. I also found it odd that he would write this article just as Leica is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence with the huge demand of the Leica M9!
Build it and they will come. The full frame M9 is a success.
I must have 200+ e-mails in my inbox from people who are wanting to switch from their big bulky DSLR’s to the Leica M9 because they like the fact that it is a rangefinder. The fact that it is precision engineered, the fact that it remains true to its M heritage and also because of the size and superb image quality. Yes, the Leica M9 has caused a huge influx of orders to Leica and my main Leica dealer has a waiting list of over 140+ on his M9 list (as I was told just today buy someone who was looking to buy one from him). Why on earth would Leica want to change their M design when they are having a huge success with the M9? They are getting so many orders for the camera that it if you placed an order for an M9 today, it may be 3 months before you get a camera, maybe longer.
It’s no longer just for the old timers.
Yes, Leica has a winner with the M9, no doubt about it. The main challenge Leica has right now is to ramp up production so the cameras can get delivered. The more photographers shooting the M9, the more images are spread around online. The more images are spread around online, the more others will start to realize what an amazing tool the M9 is. The really cool thing about all of this is there are even younger shooters now working with Leica M cameras. It’s not just for the old timers! I just spoke with an 18 year old photographer today who shoots with an M8 and she loves it. I plan on having an interview with her on this site VERY soon, so be on the lookout for that. 🙂
Since the M9 was released many who have been curious about the M cameras have bought an M8 since there are so many on the used market. At $2000 you can grab an M8 for less than many mid-grade DSLR kits. This is driving many new shooters to Leica, even the younger crowd and they are enjoying this “new to them” way of shooting. It’s a liberating experience for many, including me.
I’ll say it again. The M is having sort of a resurgence right now and it is because of its simplicity, quality and manual nature!
I am an M shooter and have been shooting them since the Leica M7. I have enjoyed them all but without question my favorite is the M9. Leica have finally created a digital version of the M truly worthy of its name. Yes, the M9 is a full frame sensor 35mm digital with what I feel has the best image quality of any digital 35mm camera available today. I do not want an EVF or Live View on my M9. The M tradition is all about SIMPLICITY. I can turn on my M9 and shoot without having to worry or stress about live view, about menus, about buttons, or about dodgy AF. I enjoy looking through that bright rangefinder and manually focusing my lens using the RF patch. It is not only the image I am after, it is the experience of shooting the M that makes my daily shooting adventures so pleasurable.
An M camera without a RF viewfinder would kill the M series camera because it would no longer be an M camera.
Also, changing the body design or style would not be a smart move. The M camera has remained the same since the M3 and it needs to stay the same. In a world where everything is constantly evolving, and most of the times NOT for the better, it is nice to be able to own something like an M9 that oozes with quality workmanship and performs like a real camera. Yes Leica, I want my M to keep the same body shape, the same baseplate, and of course, the same RF viewfinder. The only area I would like to see improved with the digital M are with the rear LCD, some light weather sealing and maybe a price reduction 🙂 Modifying and changing the M would make it a different camera. The death of the M as we know it.
We get it.
As I have already stated, Leica is enjoying a whole new breed of photographers switching over to M8’s and M9’s. Yes, the people are starting to get it. To take great photos with an M we do not need 100 features built into a menu. Leica, keep it simple. Anything else just would not be an M, and it certainly would not be a rangefinder which is what many Leica shooters enjoy the M camera for most of all. If we want zoom lenses or 11FPS we can choose the DSLR route. No, Leica M buyers are not looking for that type of camera. If they were, they would not be a Leica M buyer! Yes, it is true the M is limited with no macro and no real telephoto but that is not what the M is about and those who want one already know this. They love it for what it is. They get it. While I respect Mr. Reichmann and his suggestions I just wanted to share my feelings on this subject.
Dear Leica, What I suggest
I thank you for creating the M9. To those who own it, the M9 is the perfect digital camera and I certainly had to make quite a few sacrifices to buy one. I have no regrets. But, there is an audience out there you are leaving out and they deserve to be able to shoot with a Leica! I suggest you build a smaller version of the M camera with M lens compatibility and yes, call it the CM (compact M). Use an APS-C sensor, add live view and even an EVF (built in would be preferable). Price it at about $3000 and there you go! An easy entry into the M series without breaking the bank for an M9, and without taking sales away from the full frame M9.
This way many would buy one as an M9 backup and it would also attract MANY new buyers. Throw some HD video in there and you can have a camera for every audience. The X series for the compact crowd. The CM line for those who want to use M glass in a less expensive body with some bells and whistles, the M line for those who desire the simple RF way of shooting and uncompromising quality and the S series for those who want the best of the best. This would cover all areas but let me also make one last suggestion! Hire more workers and get these cameras out faster! The demand is there and it seems to only be increasing!
The concept of the rangefinder is very unique to the world of photography and an aesthetic that I, as a younger photographer (I started with rangefinders 4 years ago, when I was 29), embrace fully. I would hate to see it disappear or even be called outdated. Some of prefer the Leica way of shooting, as Leicas have been shot for 60+ years. Others like SLR’s. Even others like point and shoots or M4/3. Leica is unique in offering a digital rangefinder, and now a full frame digial option. That’s unique and this uniqueness will always find a certain market among photographers. Not necessarily a huge market, but one that may be scaled to Leica’s size and economic goals.
It seems that Michael is hoping for another type of camera, one that is closer to the Panasonic GF-1/EP-1 (as mentioned above), but with M roots. There may certainly be room for such a product in the marketpace as a true entry level for the rangefinder-curious, but it should not supplant the M9 or its follow ups, as that type of camera would have a completely different feel entirely.
To me, it seems that the M system has yet a ways to grow. Leica would be served well to continue to improve its pixel quality, dynamic range, and low light/higher ISO capabilities. At some point, we’ll reach the limits of this technology and come upon a true digital Leica MP, but Leica is not there yet (nor, dare I say, are Canon, Sony, Nikon, or Olympus/Panny with m4/3). Some of the details that Michael refers to as antiquities, such as the baseplate, can be interpreted as part of the Leica aesthetic, rather than some antiquated detriment to camera useability.For me, there’s no need to add tons of features like live view, an electronic viewfinder, or video to an M body…I could use a 5DII for that….
In my mind, The X1 will be an interesting (and possibly worthwhile experiment), but it seems that Leica would be better served (and maybe better served in terms of profit margins) in designing a smaller profile, M-style camera (like a digital CL that so many talk about), with some form of sensor (be it cropped or not) that has an M mount, but have more of the GF-1/EP-1/2 focussing concept. Such a product, if marketted appropriately, and priced right, would be a better entry into rangefinder photography and could make Leica some $$$. People would be able to use the legendary Leica glass and heritage lenses (which will be around long after we are) on such a camera, sans adapter, and the sensor could be optimized to make use of whatever fraction of the lenses field that Leica sees fit. This could be a true Leica entry drug, moreso than the x1 and its fixed lens.
Once people enter into this world, the more elemental (I laugh to write that), path to the digital M would be logical, if they chose to proceed that way. It’s all about how Leica would care to market such a product. But I don’t think such a product would be a replacement M.
Ultimately, as sensor technology gets cheaper, I see tiny sensor cameras such as the D-Lux 4, which I love and own, to fade into the past (or into entry level point and shoot-only status), while larger sensor portables such as the X1/EP 1/2/GF 1/GXR replace it. Leica should focus their efforts on this market if they want to further increase their profitability….BUT….
Leica is a small company…and seem set on staying that way…so they may not feel the need to do any of this….
And truth be told, I personally enjoy the rangefinder experience in its current incarnation. Having just spent a ton o’ cash on the M9, I ain’t goin’ nowhere, and I suspect Leica’s better goal should be to continue to recruit more people into RF photography by offering a cheaper option….
Time will tell, and until then, I am going to enjoy my M9….
As others have mentioned, the rangefinder experience is all about simplicity … of learning to use the kit that you have to the point that it becomes a part of your curiosity for the world around you. For some, that means zoom lenses, machine gun auto focus, 128,000 ISO, 65mp files, electronic viewfinder, multiple focus points and/or 1001 menu items. For others, it’s the simplicity of using a few great lenses on a digital rangefinder body (M8 and M9 users) with minimal operational distractions.
With the M9, I simply put a 35mm or 50mm lens on my M9 and step outside for the afternoon. It’s a zen-like experience. If I want to zoom in on something, I take a few steps forward. If I want a wider angle of view, I take a few steps back. I don’t want to think about focus confirmation, live view and other distractions. I simply want to look for what is interesting to me, compose and shoot … often, before I understand what I am shooting.
Then, when I get home, I want that image to make me smile because of its image quality … image quality that is delivered because it was taken with gear that provides a fantastic combination of digital sensor and the best glass available. Kudos to Leica and its introduction of the M9 for rekindling interest in rangefinder shooting as its simple origins and emphasis in technique provide shooters with the experience of what it is to be a… photographer.