Another Open Letter to Leica
By Ashwin Rao
It’s me again, Ashwin (from my last letter about a year back… I hope you had a chance to read it). Well, it’s that time of year to read the tea leaves of wish aloud on the interwebs, Thus, here I am again, thinking it’s time to write a letter and get your attention….
With the new year upon us, the photography world has seen many interesting developments. Last year, there was the Fuji X100, copying your style and going toe to toe with the X1, sporting new innovations and a friendlier price tag. It was nominated as one of the most innovative cameras of the year, despite the X1 before it….
Later in the year came the announcement of the Sony NEX7 and the release of the Ricoh GXR. Both are remarkable cameras, Leica, and you should be taking notice….after all, demand for Leica, Zeiss, and Voigtlander glass is at an all time high, as many folks are adapting these lenses for use on these bodies as well as Micro 4/3 cameras such as the Panasonic GX-1 and the Olympus EP-3….
There is a veritable plethora of choices for using Leica lenses. Focus peaking, hybrid viewfinders, and other tech have made it quite feasible to adeptly manually focus rangefinder lenses, which have been notoriously moody lenses to focus in the first place….
Now comes a new announcement….the Fuji interchangeable lens camera, the Fuji X-Pro1. It’s not yet official, but by the time you read this article, it may well be. I’m sure that your insiders have whispered in your ears about this camera (and the threat that it could pose to your install base. It will arrive, apparently, with capable and tiny 28 mm f/2, 50 mm f/1.4, and 90 mm f/2.5 equivalent lenses (when accounting for its APS-C sized sensor). It will have a refined hybrid viewfinder. It will be autofocus (and hopefully improve upon the design of the X100’s AF system). Companies like Novoflex and Fotodiox will surely make adapters for it, so that all Leica M mount lenses will be useable on it. I suspect that the X-Pro1 will have a high “lust factor” for photographers such as myself…..I am already telling myself to look away….look away (likely in vain)….
So why am I writing this letter, you may ask? To brag about other systems, new cameras, and fascinating innovations? To rave about focus peaking and novel uses for M mount lenses? To blather on about 2 MP EVF’s, cross utilization of lenses, and flexibility of systems. No, I am writing to coax you to stay relevant to your target market: folks like me who love photography and who love innovation….folks like me who want to see Leica lead the way, as you did with the M9. Folks, unlike me, who haven’t yet invested in a system, and who would love to try a Leica, but can’t as it is too pricy. It’s time to do grow into new markets, leica, or risk further cornering yourself into a niche.
Now, Leica, I know that you have big aspirations. All of this talk of staying small, refining your base, um….I’m not so sure that I believe you. Why else would you partner with Blackstone to provide more funds for growth and development? Why else would you build new plants to produce lenses and cameras? Why else would your CEO speak in LFI about expanding your production base to meet future demands that the market is setting?
The time of large sensor compact cameras with high performance is upon us. DSLR’s will continue to thrive, but less than in the past decade, as smaller cameras become more capable. Smaller cameras will lead the way through this decade.
Is it possible that the time of the Rangefinder and getting back to the roots of photography are in front of us? Is it possible, Leica, that your greatest days are in front of you? As a fan of your work, I hope so. But I think you need to continue to innovate and refine….
…and if you do, the Rangefinder will thrive. And if you don’t, the RF way could die (well, not really, I wrote that to rhyme and for dramatic effect …)
So, here’s what I hope, Leica. I hope again, against all odds, for a digital CL solution. My prior arguments, essentially remain the same. I think that the time is upon us for you to develop a product that sits between the X1 and the the M9 as a interchangeable lens camera that brings forth and tests Leica’s best innovations.
What should this camera be? It should be a rangefinder, first and foremost. Leica, this is what you are good at, but we need more from you. I feel that the hybrid VF idea is great, if properly implemented, and I suspect that you feel similarly. Having the best of both worlds, a true optical rangefinder focusing mechanism while carrying forth some added ideas such as focus peaking, which has worked wonders on the NEX and GXR camera lines…would be a great way to explore new tech that you can eventually bring to your top teir cameras such as the Leica M10.
The camera should be priced to compete too…Yes, Leica, we all know that you are vain. Your vanity is both the best and worst part of you…it’s why we cherish you and at the same time sneer and mutter at your prices….but once again, in order to win over more market share rather than lose some of your base to Sony, the M4/3 consortium, and Ricoh, you need to compete at their level. You still need to enforce a slight air of superiority by pricing the camera bit more than Sony, Ricoh or Panasonic/Olympus would feel comfortable with. But you need to price a digital CL in such a way as to the Leica brand and pricing structure…how about a $2500 solution, with an APS-H or APS-C sized sensor?
How would this camera be different form what’s out there, and what’s coming? Well, you gotta keep the rangefinder focusing mechanism intact. The manual focus that defines Leica is why I buy into the system. The lenses are now good on many systems, so the Rangefinder focusing system will distinguish you.
The camera’s gotta keep Leica’s style and substance! Metal build, vulcanite, old school looks, and new school technology. Like a German Car (Beemers, Mercedes, you know the ropes)…..
I am sure that from now on, Leica will remain relevant for its lenses. But the lenses work best with the system that they were designed for: The Rangefinder system. And it’s that system that is endangered by cameras like the new Fuji, which looks a lot like a Leica, but has Autofocus as an option, and at a price less than 1/3 of an M9….
So Leica, it’s time to stay relevant with your cameras. I know that you can innovate. You certainly did so with the M9 and the M8 before it (and for all of each cameras flaws, they are great cameras)….But you need to keep those cameras great by refining them and pricing them in the stratosphere for all of the longtime Leica customers. However, there are so many people out there who deserve to be part of the experience. The students, the newbies, the artists, who cant afford such a pricey body as the M9.
So design something for those people, a little sister to the M9, with a lower price, with a rangefinder focusing scheme, and with an M mount….oh yeah, and focus peaking would be nice too if there’s a hybrid VF in the works…
You’ll win over a lot more customers, and you and Blackstone will both be happy for a long while to come!
Your friend, fanboy, and voice of both content and discontent,