Why Leica Rules by George Sutton
A friend recently commented that the future of photography is the software. I know the marketing people would love hearing that. I like following the new stuff as much as the next person. Without that sites like this would not have a lot to talk about.
But despite the wave after wave of new camera offerings, I am increasingly drawn back to the Leica. It is primitive. The M9 body is ridiculously expensive and lacking in features. It is the anti software camera, which is quixotic to say the least. But I find that increasingly useful (maybe even intentional on Leica’s part) to keep my attention on what remains the truly outstanding quality of the camera–the lenses. It teaches that its the lenses stupid, not just with Leica but with all cameras.
A recent essay on another site discussed the notion that one of photography’s great powers is capturing a kind of hyperreality. Freezing an image gives us an opportunity to see details and things we miss in the flow of perception. Freezing the image reveals how rich reality is. At its best this effect is fascinating and occasionally mesmerizing. The importance of the camera is its ability to capture that effect. An enlarged image doesn’t work if it lacks detail and shows flaws of the lens and the sensor. The flaws are what the viewer sees. The hyperreality effect is directly proportional to the level of detail and depth. That is why lenses are basic followed closely by the camera sensor, and only then does everything else begin to matter.
What differentiates Leica is that it designs a body as an accessory to the lens. Most other systems take the opposite approach designing advanced bodies with accessory lenses. That doesn’t mean the lenses in other systems have to be inferior, but I think only the best professional lenses (Nikon, Canon, Zeiss, etc.) to get close to Leica quality, and even then I think Leica is often better. According to many reports the Nikon D800E may have made medium format cameras obsolete. Imagine putting that sensor in a M9 body. Wow. It would not work as well in other small cameras because the lenses are not good enough.
I was reminded of this after taking some photos of my son and grandson on a recent trip. These were only intended to be snapshots of my family, of no meaning to anyone else. The first is a simple shot of my grandson eating breakfast. Nothing special except it is not posed. The second is a crop of just his face. It is as rich and detailed as if the original was a full frame close up. I can get lost in that face. Of course I am highly biased and this may just be my foolishness but I think it is a good example of this effect.