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Saturday, 23 January 2010

Comments

MR's musings about the incorporation of an EVF interest me after having worked with an Olympus EP-2 and enjoying the process. The EVF continues to evolve.

I skimmed Reichmann's piece earlier this past week, shrugged, and moved along. I really don't know "what the point" was. Just 'cuz, I suppose. I agree with some (mostly the self-evident points) and wagged my noggin at others (live view?). Mostly I just forgot about it.

Your reminder here prompted me to peek over at the Leica M forums to see their reactions. Before peeking I predicted finding multi-page threads of wandering diatribes over the Reichmann article. I was neither surprised not disappointed.

I agree with you. The M7 and now the M9 designs are classics of their own. MR complains about focusing... well, the Leica rangefinder focusing is what the design is all about, and one of its key advantages - rapid manual focusing. If changed, it's no longer an M-series camera.

Only request for me would be asking for CF card operation. I just absurditly hateto death the smaller cards. Please leave anything else. It just about perfect. MR is asking Porsche to convert the 911 into a Jag XF.

I read that article not so much as "newthink" and more as "Leica, please make a version of the Panasonic GF1 or Olympus Pen EP-2, with a full frame sensor and M lens mount."

Michael seems to be more of a landscape photographer than a street photographer. That might be why the Leica is not a perfect camera for him. When you have been using a Leica for many years there is nothing faster. The rangefinder also makes you previsualize your images and that is a way of seeing that never leaves you after no matter which camera you use.

An M9 with live view and scripting a la CHDK would be just about perfect for me.

I thought it was a fine article.

But his ideas might be better realized by a mainstream manufacturer like Panasonic (and then the rest of us could afford the results).

I have stopped reading these blogs where people offer their advice on how to run businesses. I always ended up with the unanswered question: "If the guy is so clever why isn't he rich?"

Of course, if Leica now implements any of MR's suggestions, possibly because they themselves thought of them long ago, it will still always be MR's ideas in the public's eye.

Another recent "classic German redesign" springs to mind with the Bessa III folding rangefinder. Hailed widely in magazines and forums for it's retro-modern design and features when introduced, then spurned by the RF masses because of the relatively high price required of a limited production unit, it seems to have dropped off the inter-babble landscape.

As far as the Porsche 928 goes, it only "lost" to the 911 in terms of sales figures. It was quite a successful car by any other measure when taken on it's own terms. It's not the fault of Porsche's engineers that sales didn't surpass those of the 911.


"I always ended up with the unanswered question: 'If the guy is so clever why isn't he rich?'"

Uh, well, MR *is* rich.

Mike

Eduardo, different strokes for different folks - I am finally considering a D300s because Nikon finally put in an SD card slot! Using SD cards allows the manufacturer to make smaller DSLR's (Pentax for example).

Tom, Porsche mechanics called the 928 "double trouble" as compared to the 968, which was merely "trouble". BTW,I went to test drive a 928 and couldn't even sit in it! Which is unfortunately true for most European cars which have a sunroof :(

My responses to the articles are posted in the LL discussion groups and I won't repeat them here, just note that I am quite happy with my M8.

Keep the viewfinder optical, remove the screen on the back completely and allow me to check focus and exposure on my iPhone (via WiFi) after the fact when I couldn't be bothered setting them properly on the camera, or want to fine tune the results.

Oh, and reduce the selling price otherwise no matter how attractive I won't buy one.

I'm please to see someone openly criticize the practicality of the coincident image focusing in rangefinder cameras. This eponymous method of focusing was not an initial feature of this type of camera, and remains something of a technologically obsolete fudge. Modern technology can easily devise a more practical and robust method of measuring distance and coupling it to the focus ring. Perhaps just a focus confirmation light coupled to a single central point in the viewfinder (focus then compose)? Even autofocus, should not be dismissed, on a camera type famed for capturing the “decisive moment”. Perhaps as a clear option, that doesn’t compromise the use of manual focus lenses?

It is the viewfinder that is to me the heart of the “rangefinder” camera. Much more than the SLR, it lets you see the scene as it is. On an SLR the image is not only unclear, but constrained to the plane of focus with the lens fully open (I’m assuming that no one really uses the DOF preview to compose their image). Michael suggest a focusing method that would clutter that image making it more like a SLR and is a little pessimistic over the limitation of viewfinders. Yet, Voigtlander have shown us a 1:1 magnification viewfinder and others that accommodate lenses as wide as 21mm. On my Zeiss Ikon only the 85mm frame gives me a smaller image area than on my SLRs. Therefore, perhaps interchangeable viewfinders (remember no actual rangefinder mechanism) is something Michael should have included?

I couldn't make it to the end, it just sounded like another gear-head essay on why feature X is needed on camera Z so I can take amazing photographs.

It looks like Mr Reichmann just wants to make the Leica more complicated; add an extra video viewfinder or two, a molded grip in the front and another around back, a bunch of electronic aids, more menu options than Photoshop, etc, etc. The only thing he doesn't want to keep is the optical viewfinder, that little window that is the only thing between you and your subject.

Don't Canon, Nikon, Panasonic already sell near approximations of his ideal Leica?

My ideal Leica would have a shutter speed dial, an ISO dial and two arrows in the viewfinder to help me meter. I don't even want a rear screen. Heck, now that I think of it, the ISO dial isn't strictly necessary if you're shooting raw.

You all know that Leica invented the autofocus SLR as we know it, then decided that it wasn't good enough for their customers and sold all the tech to Minolta right? (I share their opinion BTW)

Bernard: I think that you are slightly missing the point. The real issue he raises is that perennial question - is where does Leica's future lie? In oblivion as the last of the SLR-hating, D-76 in their veins old-timers fade away, or can they secure their future by making themselves relevant to another generation of consumers?

I'm 26 and a committed photographer, ergo I have heard of Leica. The overwhelming number of my 20/30-something friends (interested in photography to the same or lesser degree) have little or no knowledge of the company or their products. Of those one or two who have, none own a M8 or M9. Why? Largely on account of the extraordinary cost of a) the bodies, and b) the lenses. So Leica find themselves doubly marginalised - they offer a niche product with limited appeal at the same time as being stratospherically priced. We aren't talking of impecunious young people here; I was able to comfortably afford a Nikon D700 when it came out - there is no way that I could do so for an M9.

Little mass-market appeal combined with pricing which discourages a huge portion of those who might be interested in the product. Leica have long since been reduced to the periphery in photography - the M9 and S2 are outstanding instruments, but the company continues to show no sign that it has any strategy for the long-term.

There is an update commentary to the original article by Mark Dubovoy with suggestions on how to keep the optical viewfinder. It would be interesting if there was a way to keep the optical finder and merge in the benefits of manual SLR focusing , i.e. no need to reframe. What I think really needs to be considered is the form factor. Mark emphasizes the point, which I appreciate.

I thought the article was curious, to be charitable. Take the rangefinder out of a rangefinder camera. Huh?

MR seems to want to use Leica 35mm frame glass on an EVF camera, entirely different in execution from a Leica. Leica won't go near that.

I'm with Gordon Lewis:
The very thought of manual-focus lenses with aperture rings and depth-of-field scales, mounted onto camera bodies with usable focusing screens and direct controls instead of deep menus is making me perspire.
Good heavens, yes! *Gestures in the direction of beloved Nikon FG.* *Mutters about the perfidy of Nikon for not making a fortune on such a thing.*

I do agree with M.R. that something should be done with hyperfocal distance indicators. The minimalist, Leica approach would be a single, small, red led in the viewfinder that turns on when hyperfocal distance has been achieved.

I don't even have a driving license, but I'd get one *just* to be able to buy a 928.

It's one of the best-looking cars ever, pure and simple. It's more modern than most cars that *followed* it. Put one in an auto show today and I'll bet you good money you can convince many that it's a concept car, not a 35-year-old design.

(OK maybe fit it with 18" wheels first :))

I think Leica should consider figuring out how to make a digital camera and lens combo that doesn't cost as much as a small car. Then maybe people would get a bit more excited about their stuff.

Bernard asks: "Don't Canon, Nikon, Panasonic already sell near approximations of [Reichmann's] ideal Leica?"

Answer: yes, they do, but they do not cost nearly enough money to be worth Mr. Reichmann's time.

Ah, actually the Reichmann name in Canada is all about money.

Maybe that's one reason Michael chose to do the in-depth coverage of the products that he does use and review. He also is a darn good photographer. His views are his alone, and he has the credentials.

Bottom line I take his commentary with a large grain of salt; he does what he does because he is able to do $o, unlike so many of the rest of us here in Canada, and elsewhere.

The key issue is NOT about many, if not all of, us. As HK has arisen to the 80+ (not age but born after 1980), one must know that whilst the post WW2 generation has dominated and still will dominate for quite a while, the baton has to be passed somehow.

Any tradition that does not fit with the current generation cannot survive. (A kind of evolution vs god debate I hope I am not in. But it is a tautology that those cannot do x (say evolve or favour by god) cannot survive.) The tradition die. Of course you might have something like shark which game plan does not evolve that much, if it cannot find a niche somehow.

Leica has a future. The reality is that I have carried my M8 all the time in a bag with me (but not as always like iPhone) says something to me. My wife has to "book" my D300 + 70-200 two weeks in advance to photo a X'mas card and the has to reminded me the day to bring it to my holiday home say something about what use of SLR. You do not see SLR everywhere (like today on the street or in the park). The small camera and the good lens always win.

The issue is not to change to something you are best on. The evf vs optical is key here. I hope the optical view finder can remain. But the CCD vs CMOS I am not sure is key, as it is just another kind of film. If they can have live view, it might be a better plan. One can have the occasional use of a 400mm M Lens ;-) for birdy shoot but Leica shall concentrate on 12-90 mm market. Light weight. Very good quality. Some cheap lens using old Leica or CV 12/15mm.

Branch out to S2 is crazy. They shall not evolve to a biggie. That is an evolution dead end. Leica shall concentrate on the small size market. Even a 3/4 Leica make sense, plus its current digicam can be better (just ask for $600 whilst panasonic can do with $400 for the same box). We all like T-rex but it did not survive.

It might be a surprise but the fact is dinosaur did not extinct, it just flies away.

I have not used an M camera and probably will never own one but I cannot imagine having to remove the base plate to get to the battery. If this is an indication of things that need updating, then I think MR has some good points.

"You all know that Leica invented the autofocus SLR as we know it, then decided that it wasn't good enough for their customers and sold all the tech to Minolta right?"

Not really--that's an old wives' tale. (Old forumer's tale?) Leica invented an early AF technology that is mostly unrelated to what eventually came to be implemented, and opted not to pursue it (sensibly, because it wasn't very practical). The company that won the big patent suits against Minolta was Honeywell. (And the first AF camera was a Konica.) Eventually we'll get around to doing a researched post on the history of autofocus, but it's not very high on the list so don't hold your breath....

Mike

"they do not cost nearly enough money to be worth Mr. Reichmann's time."

That's not fair. Michael was an early adopter of the Panasonic G1, among other (relatively inexpensive) things.

Mike

" the ISO dial isn't strictly necessary if you're shooting raw."

...WHAT?

Dear Christer,

Along with what Mike said, that Michael Reichmann *IS* rich, there's another fact.

Many, many clever people are not hugely interested in being rich. At least, not if it involves working too hard (my case) or pursuing the corporate dream (many folks I know). I know lots of clever folks who are rich. I know lots of clever folks (including moi) who aren't and will never be-- we've had it dangled in our faces and just don't care.

As I think about it, the cleverest person I know, by far, has always had trouble making ends meet because he's got so damned many good ideas (truth! they really are good) that holding down a tightly focussed job has often been difficult for him.

pax / Ctein

I've never used a rangefinder nor been closer than a few feet to an M-series so I don't have an opinion on it as a system. The point I think matters most, however, regards Leica's long-term future.

I've seen other people bring this up: many have been waiting a long time for a proper digital M and they finally have their chance. This pent-up demand is most likely the primary reason why there's a wait time for the M9, some accessories, and a few lenses. However, once that demand is met and sales begin to decline, will there be a large enough market for Leica's products to keep them profitable? If that's a viable question, then they have to decide whether to add significant new features to the M, substantially cut its price, or introduce a modern and more-automated camera system to earn sales from a different market.

I very much doubt it was Mr. Reichmann's intent to muse about improvements and additional features simply to clutter up the ergonomics or user interface, nor do I think he offers his suggestions because he thinks without them the photographer is unable to shoot well.

"Gear headedness" is a major pitfall that I (working at a camera store) see people fall into way too often. Mike (I think) made a comment in one of his camera reviews to the point of image quality being almost secondary to the user experience of the camera. This is really making more and more sense to me.

The open letter to Leica should be an appeal to lower their "red dot premium" so emerging photographers can realize their vision. Lets not end up with another M5.

The M10 has to be closer to the MP rather than anything MR has suggested. What will really sell is a slimmer, faster processing M9 with longer battery life and weather sealing. Please Leica, don't mess with the focussing or the viewfinder.

"As I think about it, the cleverest person I know, by far, has always had trouble making ends meet because he's got so damned many good ideas (truth! they really are good) that holding down a tightly focussed job has often been difficult for him."

Ctein,
The Johnson O'Conner Research Foundation has found that being "many aptituded" (a.k.a. multi-talented) actually correlates negatively to job success and satisfaction. The story seems to be that if you have a strong aptitude in any given area, you won't be happy at work unless your job utilizes your aptitude in some way or other. People who have many aptitudes find it all that much more difficult to find jobs that make use of all their abilities. And if one or another of their strong aptitudes are not being touched in their daily work, eventually they get dissatisfied and have to find some way to go satisfy their need to use that aptitude. So multi-aptituded people tend to be job-skippers, among other things.

Mike

P.S. their career advice for me, when I was college-aged? "Writer, photographer, or forester." (g)

All that makes me think that a digital Zeiss Ikon is overdue.

An ideal digital rangefinder, in my eyes, contains:

1 an optical viewfinder
2 an ON/OFF switch
3 a shutter release button
4 a dial to control shutter speed, with an AUTO setting
5 a dial to control ISO, with an AUTO setting
6 a dial to control WB, with an AUTO setting

On the lens, there are
1 an aperture ring, with an AUTO setting
2 a focus ring, with an AF on/off switch, but with full-time manual over-ride

Each picture captured will be stored in a DNG format raw file together with a JPG file, and you cannot set anything about the JPG file (besides those with ISO dial and WB dial).

Simple, direct control, fast -- It's all an ideal digital rangefinder is about.

Oh, yes, it should be financially within the reach of average photographers.

People talk about a backlog of M9 orders as if that's a sign of success. In fact, I think it's more of a sign that Leica can't produce cameras very quickly. I expect when the backlog is wiped out, sales rates will drop very quickly...so the real success of the M9 is not how it's performing right now, shortly after introduction, but in two years.

A good part of Leica's market is the traditionalist. I think Leica would be foolish not to service that market with more traditional M-line cameras, though I can't exactly see where they would go after the M9. The traditionalists even reject focus confirmation schemes as cluttering up the purity of their vision.

I think Leica needs to come up with another line of cameras, call it the "N" line, which would be a native M mount implementation of a G1F-type camera with internal IS, focus-confirm with the rangefinder, Live View, optional clip-on electronic viewfinder, and a good, high-ISO D3-level CMOS sensor, for $2,000. I bet 60% of the traditionalists would buy one (calling it a "backup") and that a whole new market would discover Leica lenses. I think of Leica as a lens maker which also happens to produce a now-obsolete camera; if they could widen their lens market, why not do it?

(Why the optional TTL viewfinder? To make possible Leica-quality macro and telephoto shots.)

(Also, Mike Reichmann may be rich, or whatever, but he makes and posts more excellent photographs than any owner of a larger photo blog on the net...at least, that I know of. Some of them are, indeed, calendar photos, but a reasonably high percentage of them are simply excellent photos. And it's not because he can afford the cameras.)

JC

Leica's a photographic company?

I started taking photographs in 1962. I had my first Nikon (an F) in 1971 and presently I’m still at my fist DSLR, a D70s. I also used a studio LF camera. I never used Leica Ms, though I still have two screw-mount Leicas with four lenses (all screw-mount, of course). I’ve been reading MR’s Luminous Landscape, and with it MJ’s column ‘The Sunday Photographer’, since 2005. I found MR’s ‘open letter’ good, logical and technically sound, but I disagree about how the Leica M should/could evolve. To me, the Leica M is at a dead end. While the S2 may be one way of evolution, the other only way should be to becoming an FX AF DSLR, with a full line of AF zooms. IF done with really affordable prices, this could appeal to more photographers and possibly result in more sales (I’m not playing the smart guy giving smart suggestions here, I’m just giving my opinion as a photographer-amateur, but still a photographer, that is, as a camera user).

As a fine arts photographer by profession, and at age 50, perhaps half of my portfolios over the years have been shot with Leica cameras—none more central to my work then the Leica M.

That said, at the moment I am photographing with the Nikon D3x. My opinion is that it is likely the pinnacle camera in this time frame and much of what is inside will propagate forward into a whole family of amazing products from Nikon.

But I truly miss the simplicity of the Leica M and optics designed for manual focus. The length of the "throw" as well as the quality of feel of the optics is inspiring, and the immediacy of the camera bodies is compelling. At the right moment, I will likely return to the Leica M.

I understand Michael's thoughts, but I don't agree with his conclusions. There is a critical issue that was skipped over in his analysis and it truly is the "blind side" of the industry---chromatic aberration (CA).

CA robs an image of its detail. Many photographers assume that CA can be "corrected" by math and software, and this is entirely rubbish. At best, the effects can be minimized with math and software in the focal plane, as the cost of fine detail. Further, the out of focus areas cannot be reconstructed.

Rangefinder lenses have the advantage of nearly symmetrical design and construction. This combination allows for cancellation of many forms of aberrations, including chromatic.

Retrofocus lenses, as used with dSLRs are much more subject to having aberrations occur due to the projection of the image through the mirror box from the associated optics.

Long retrofocus lenses can be designed to APO or near APO performance readily, whereas wide-angle lenses routinely are subject to extreme aberrations.

In theory, a rangefinder camera therefore presents the opportunity to use symmetrical wide-angle lenses with near APO performance, and hence no image robbing chromatic aberration. In practice, it’s a bit more difficult then that and the Leica M9 has not fully proven this advantage yet.

Leica recently came out with a 50mm f0.95 lens, which is a marvel of engineering. But what would have helped the likes of me is coming out with a 35mm f4 M series lens with essentially no chromatic aberration. It can be done. If image quality can be brought central to sales, then such a lens has far more value then an exotic f0.95.

I only have had a brief test period wit the M9, and not with the correct optics, so my testing was shear nonsense. But I felt the potential in the camera. My biggest annoyance was not having a full display histogram for those us with older eyes—the current version is too small and faint in bright sun to be of use. This is a tuning issue and could even be addressed as a firmware update.

Leica is not far off from making a 24mp version I would guess---likely in the M10. With the performance levels we are slowly seeing out of Leica, it will be a camera that many photographers---even nit picky fine arts photographers the likes of me---will find capable for a decade or more. This is especially true if CA-free wide angle optics are introduced to support the image quality.

I am heartened by the robust sales of the M9. I think it will provide the cash flow that Leica needs to continue the REFINEMENT of the M series camera. Unlike Reichmann, I see a point in the future wherein the M will once again rise to a special place in photography and it will continue to be the tool of choice for the ART of photography. Less is more.

Pete

I don't have a dog in this, and have never owned a Leica (not that I'd turn one down), but MR's basic premise seems correct. The M9 is an evolutionary masterpiece that fulfills a very real need for those who grew up on RF's, or a simply nostalgic. It is also an evolutionary dead end- minor tweaks and refinements in the future will only result in diminishing returns. Younger generations require and demand their own way of viewing, and Leica would be wise to incorporate their legacy lenses into an innovative package for this century, as they did in the last.

I believe that Leica should continue to provide Incremental upgrades to the m system in order to stay alive. They are not big enough to compete directly against Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic et all.

Big changes will affect the current customers who would be in the market to upgrade.

If the M10 was similar to the m9, crystal glass screen, oled VGA screen (won't cost much, every semi pro slr has something similar), weatherproof and sealed electrics, slightly slimmer dimensions, improve ISO noise by 1 stop and add 6400, I think they would sell loads. Sell it with a 5y guarantee to back up your quality, command the same premium price.

Especially if the next gen 28 35 50 90 summicrons and summiluxes were weather and dustproof...

In the end what saved Porsche was the Cayenne, an SUV. S2 is Leica's SUV. Leica probably cannot survive relying on Kodak to supply with sensors alone when Nikon, Canon or Sony decide to start making S2 competitors with significantly better sensor technology while Kodak again falls behind.

Just like VW bought out Porsche in a reverse take over, I predict that Leica will either have to acquire a company or be bought out.

The only change I would make is having the framing lines somehow electronic and more precise.

I'd say that there is an inherent conservativeness in the populace in general. Who had had the most successful camera business? Canon, with their approach of "more of the same". Who apparently replaced them? Nikon, who got better at that.

Porsche is a good example. They are successful in selling their cars, and what they've been mostly selling all these years since 911 first appeared? 911 in many incarnations. Panamera is a 911 as a saloon (sedan). Cayenne is a 911 as an off-road car. This year they will have a 911 cabriolet and 911 as a racing car ie another GT3.

S2 might really succeed* because it offers a (semi-)medium format in a familiar guise. But then, the price would probably have to drop down closer to what the top DSLRs are selling for. And I'd agree that Leica cannot do that. They are a boutique manufacturer with a corresponding price. But, on the other hand, they are a successful boutique manufacturer.

While I may think M9 is revolutionary in a way, it really is evolutionary. It "just" offered 36x24 sensor in a body smaller than your garden-variety big black DSLR. It doesn't have the advantages of a big black DSLR -- AF, the immediacy of a mirror-viewfinder, burst. Therefore, as it is a step back from comfort, the inherent conservativeness is against it.

Anyway, the asterisk: what is the real success for a serious pro DSLR or a camera in that category? It's certainly not the numbers of entry-level cameras. So even if S2 was really successful, it wouldn't sell tens of thousands per year and even less hundreds of thousands. A year or two ago their bestseller was D-Lux 4 sold somewhere over 100,000.

By the way, what were the sales numbers for the mechanical Leicas? I found that Bessa sold about 1.1 million cameras in thirty years (1930-1960), and that apparently were the folding 120-film cameras.

Michael Reichmann is definitely on to something. The M9 takes good pictures, but apart from it's size, it's not that different from a DSLR. In fact, the 3/4 and APS-C compact cameras are smaller, lighter and take decent pictures, so why would anyone still want a Leica M9?

The queue for the M9 may be long, but Leica should not see this is as a success. For one, it's still a headache to use with so many buttons to press. Let's face it, the M3 body has only 3 moving parts, the film advance lever, the shutter speed dial and the rewind knob. That's it. It takes great pictures and doesn't even need a battery.

Perhaps what Leica should do is rethink the whole concept of digital camera. Why is it so complicated to use than a film camera? Their difference should only be the ways for capturing and storing an image. Do they know how distracting it is if you have a LCD at the back of a camera? That screen is where all the problems are. Get rid of that and all the problems solved. How about that for the M10?

As other's have said, the M9 is a dead end. What more can Leica do with it while keeping it an M? There are many of us old RF codgers who delight in holding Leica's feet to the fire with our unwillingness to buy anything from them that doesn't look and feel pretty much like a 50 year old M3.

Some day we are going to nod our heads approvingly at the writing on Leica's gravestone: "We made the best camera in the world."

Presumably the sticky out thing that drives the rangefinder could be worked in reverse to auto-focus the lens? Perhaps Epson/Cosina would like another foray into the camera market to make something interesting with an M mount and not have to worry about all the historical baggage that goes along with Leica.

Tony Collins

One of these days "experts" will stop arguing where the "Leica future lies" and simply let us enjoy their products in peace and quiet!

There is nothing wrong with rangefinders, Leica gear or their systems.
Don't like it? Move on.
Like it? Use it.
One would think it's rather simple...

I've always admired Michael Reichman' vision regarding camera guear. I admire his experience and open-minded approach to new cameras. I may even say that I trust more a M.R. two-line sentence opinion of a camera that a complete dpreview camera review.

I understand the feeling of many people that experienced rangefinders in the past regarding the open letter, but I have to agree with it. As a person that entered photography just some 4 years ago, the rangefinder concept like it is, doesn't seem practical or attractive. I feel that the digital Ms are just a homage to a camera system and it's users.

It's hard to ignore the practical usefulness of some new technologies, like the so controversial live-view. Just as an example, I've learned in a much more enjoyable, practical and effective way in a month about focal lenghts and DOF with a 5D mkII with live-view and some MF lenses than in a year with old film cameras on a photography school.

So maybe, M.R. ideas will take the rangefinder philosophy out of the M's, but I don't see it like a bad thing, I prefer to watch a system evolute than see it's extinction.

PS: For the digital Leica-R wishes, just buy a 5D MkII, use the R lenses with Leitax adapters and be happy (at least I am):)

Mike,

Didn't we hear the same debate when the M6 came out? "They'll go bankrupt in 6 months, they're too expensive, I would buy one if it had (insert name of feature)."

The M6 had a good 25 year run with minimal (though much debated) changes, and the same people (or their kids) are saying those things about the M9.

The fact is that Leica Ms are passion cameras. It doesn't matter if 99.9% of photographers don't like them, because the other .1% like them a lot. I've never seen people fall so hard for a camera as they do for Leica Ms. One day they are normal photographers, and the next they are selling-off all non-essentials just to get one more Summilux. It's a weird addiction where you get all your money back on the way out.

I never drank from the Leica fountain myself, but now that mint M8s are under 3Gs, I may just be tempted...

Frank wrote:

An ideal digital rangefinder, in my eyes, contains:
 
1 an optical viewfinder
2 an ON/OFF switch
3 a shutter release button
4 a dial to control shutter speed, with an AUTO setting
5 a dial to control ISO, with an AUTO setting
6 a dial to control WB, with an AUTO setting
 
On the lens, there are
1 an aperture ring, with an AUTO setting
2 a focus ring, with an AF on/off switch, but with full-time manual over-ride
 
Each picture captured will be stored in a DNG format raw file together with a JPG file, and you cannot set anything about the JPG file (besides those with ISO dial and WB dial).

This is all reasonable. Next, specify Leica M lens mount, maximum dimensions, and contract the design and production to Apple.

As usual a fine set of interesting comments so typical of the TOP readership.
JC's comments in particular caught my eye -

"Also, Mike Reichmann may be rich, or whatever, but he makes and posts more excellent photographs than any owner of a larger photo blog on the net..."
Hear, hear!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hear,_hear

"Some of them are, indeed, calendar photos"
Oh, so "calendar photos" has a negative connotation? Damn!, the driving force behind my amateur photography hobby is the set of 3 or 4 different calendars I produce for friends and family every Christmas. Thanks JC you've belittled my efforts (g).

Never used a Leica so why is all this stuff interesting? - because I've used SLRs, TLRs and rangefinders (still continue with all 3) and the highest proportion of photos that I print for display has always been the rangefinder shots, must be something in it...

Cheers, Robin

If Reichmann had directed his comments to the X1 then I could have taken them at face value. But the Leica M? His argument is too consciously provocative for me and it diminishes, in my mind, the value of his comments. For one, the rangefinder design is perfect for a certain kind of photography--any for which the gestalt of the moment should not be interrupted. In the rangefinder, the entire images slides into place; technology which is suggested to correct this places emphasis on the detail to attain focus, moving the eye from the general to the particular. Although different, this could hardly be considered an improvement on the rangefinder since the approach is categorically different.

To look at Reichmann's argument from a more common-sense position, if the goal of his essay is Leica's long-term position amongst Millennials the biggest obstacle to acceptance to the M9 is not technical in any way, it is financial. 20-somethings cannot afford 7k cameras, whether they have an innovative EVF or not.

Furthermore, prognostications such as these end up imagining a future more bland and homogeneous than the one way have now. It's a good thing, for example, that an evolutionary dead-end like the 8x10 view camera still has practitioners-and our visual culture today is richer for it.

It is certainly ironic that the kings who once lorded it over from their thrones--like Leica and Kodak--are today representatives of photographic diversity. History makes unexpected maneuvers and it seems odd to suggest that the most radical thing they could each do is be themselves, not a cheap imitation of their erstwhile competitors. But there you go.

I think the old saying is still true for the M9: you don't buy a Leica because of the body. You buy it to be able to use Leica lenses.
What drives the sales of the M9 is that you can now use the Leica lenses on a sensor the same size as 135mm film.

I agree with Reichmann that it would be highly desirable to have an entirely new kind of camera (in terms of usage paradigms) that still keeps the M mount.
If Leica doesn't do it may Epson or Cosina?

In one of last month's weekly issues, the staff of British publication Amateur Photographer interviewed numerous camera store owners in England, all of who reported phenomenal sales of the new M9 and quick depletion of their inventories of it, resulting in waiting lists in all stores. The store owners also reported numerous wedding photographers trading in their bulky, expensive Nikon and Canon rigs and related gizmos for the M9 and many M9 buyers reported that their wives were happy to see all the Nikon and Canon rigs gone from home desks and counters.

We live in a 'more' obsessed society, and so we can all get caught up in the quest for the best, which is, of course, illusory.

The M9 seems to me to be a superbly designed instrument, building on a foundation of ergonomic purity laid down by the M3. Naturally, there are many other ways to approach the challenge of camera design, as taken up by other companies, but Leica is sticking to a refining evolution, which suits many users.

The M9 has weaknesses as well as many strengths - write time is too slow, the LCD screen is poor, high ISO could be better, and it should have better weather sealing. Michael wonders where Leica should go next, well why not begin by improving those weaknesses. They could also introduce a high ISO, live view CMOS sensor version as an alternative option.

If there is concern about future customers, then, as others have suggested, they could also work on a cheaper body entry price. Get this small, ergonomic marvel into the hands of the next generation by promoting its small size/high-quality premium in relation to ff DSLRs, its speed, its ergonomic simplicity, and its lenses.

Well, "rich" IS a relative term, but other than that general statement, I'll leave the rest of that discussion for another site.

After reading The piece on Luminous Landscape, I kept thinking about Leica making a digital CL with an EVF in place of the rangefinder.

Just think of a GF-1 or CL sized cameras with an M mount and full frame sensor. I'd buy one in a heartbeat.

Gordon, most Nikon cameras will take at least some the Nikkor manual focus lenses. Put the camera in manual, shoot RAW, adjust the shutter speed with a thumb wheel, set the function button to adjust the ISO. Set focus with the DoF marks on the lens. Shoot all day never touch a menu. Have lots of fun. A D40 and a 35mm or 24mm pre AI lens shouldn't cost too much

"Why I despise false modesty" is my suggestion for a future Ctein article. (That isn't an oblique criticism—I'm a huge fan—but would, I think, be genuinely interesting.)

I'm waiting for a DSLR (or similar) that allows me to choose my active focal point using a trackpad where my thumb touches the camera (and deals elegantly with the problems of moisture and temperature). A newish Nikon has 51 focus points—neither the current rocker switch nor the control-dial alternative are up to the task.

Also, whether optical-with-overlay or pure EVIL, please show us in the viewfinder exactly which areas of the picture would clip black or white to let us choose what information we keep and which we discard. Sort out those histograms, too—shooting raw, we shouldn't be subject to three-colour histograms that are dependent on settings like contrast, colour space and (most appallingly) white balance, even though the resulting files aren't affected by any of these things. If half the people shooting digital knew what a joke current histograms were, there'd be huge unhappiness. It's cruelty by product design!

One last thing: a shutter release for vertical ("portrait") orientation built in—without needing to bolt on a battery pack or buy a camera the size of suitcase! (Longer term… decent remote viewfinders but sort out the current ergonomics first.)

"I predict that Leica will either have to acquire a company or be bought out."

I'm not even sure how that statement makes sense...are you suggesting that Leica would be bought WITH its angel? "We'll buy the company, provided Dr. Kaufmann keeps spending millions of Euros to support it?"

Mike

"Let's face it, the M3 body has only 3 moving parts, the film advance lever, the shutter speed dial and the rewind knob. That's it."

There are moving parts on the inside. You just can't see them.

Mike

I'm surprised that there hasn't been more talk of a heads-up display style of 21st Century electronic/optical viewfinder. It would allow all sorts of things- zooming framelines, more (or less, depending on preference) exposure information, whilst still maintaining that wonderful plain window on the world that a rangefinder allows.

I've never owned a Leica RF product but I've spent a little time with one now and then over the years and I'd jump at the chance to shoot with an M9 and a couple of lenses. That said, my early morning outing today was pleasantly spent with my plebian entry-level DSLR and a 20mm prime for landscapes. I can select a low ISO before leaving home and then use a moderate aperture to get everything I want in focus to be so thanks to the friendly sun. Add to that a modest need to focus for landscapes and I get a very simple kit with little interrupting me from the view I'm trying to record. The fact my concentration is momentarily shattered by my view being blocked by the mirror means my camera is intruding as little as possible in regard to its type.

It seems folks are often inherently encouraged to offer advice on improving Leicas. Something so simple must be in need of improvement afterall if it is to acheive a higher status. A lot of good suggestions have been made over what are now stacking up to be decades but the central theme survives. A decent photograph can be recorded by just the manipulation of aperture and shutter speed. It is not without lament that a select few simply ask that some of what is simple be left so. I suppose the "put your money where your mouth is" mantra dictates I purchase an M-camera at some point.

Besides, everything else is done in Photoshop these days.

The article did not recommend dif pricing. I have never seen anyone using a Leica digital camera, so I assume their sales volume is low... Perhaps best advice to Leica is that they lower their price so they appeal to more of us that are satisfied by cheaper offerings from Panasonic and Canon, and increase their sales volume. Of course, if they are meeting their goals at current pricing, more power to them.

I have Leica binoculars, and found in shopping for binos Leica prices their binos quite near their competition.

Some excellent thoughts posted here.

I basically agree with Umberto Morandi. That is, I think that the basic M camera design has reached its end, not that Leica is unlikely to introduce an M10. But to cram any 21st century features into an M body seems a folly.

John Camp hit the proverbial nail head with his suggestion that a new camera body is the right course forward. Yes, a body that could fit M-mount lenses but that has features similar to the micro four-thirds cameras. I know that many folks were hoping that the Leica X1 would be that camera but, unfortunately but not surprisingly, it turned out to be a dud.

My M9 will probably be the last Leica M I'll be buying. It features everything I really want or need from this camera. I could be enticed to spring for a Leica "N" if it offered a good value proposition. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for it.

"If the guy is so clever why isn't he rich?"

David Beckham is far richer than Stephen Hawking.

To me, there wasn't much to the essay, and it boiled down to a few nit-picks plus "Leica should make an EVIL camera." But there's already Micro 4/3rds, and Samsung's releasing an EVIL camera soon, and I'll guess that within two years Canon & Nikon & Sony will as well.

Leica would just be another one in a crowd, doing the exact same thing as the others, but without benefit of auto-focus or being able to go fully auto, and inevitably selling at a much higher price.

Leica's lenses aren't designed by magical German gnomes. They're better because they're not SLR lenses. Canon and Nikon will match them, and have autofocus, and be much, much cheaper.

"Leica would just be another one in a crowd, doing the exact same thing as the others, but without benefit of auto-focus or being able to go fully auto, and inevitably selling at a much higher price."

Jeff,
But presumably with an M mount, which a lot of people would really enjoy.

Mike

leicas are to me the pop3 of photography. photography is simple: you take a picture, and store it. same with email: one person sends, another receives.

of course you can argue for imap, push, wave and whatever. but thats from a manufacturers perspective, who wants you to stay excited, and use loads of bandwidth / buy lots of stuff.

so i suggest to leica: keep on making the m9 for 30 years, until it is super affordable for me to buy a second hand one.

p.s.: i like my comments to be exactly 50% off topic + i have no idea about economics, and don't pretend to have ...

cheers
g

"Gordon, most Nikon cameras will take at least some the Nikkor manual focus lenses. "

I know. That's why I own and use a Nikon FM3A with three AI lenses (50mm, 85mm, 100mm) and a 35mm f/2 AF Nikkor. It's not digital, but it's as close to a small, lightweight, durable, high-quality, direct-control, full-frame SLR as I'm likely to get these days. Any Nikon DSLR I buy would either be significantly larger, heavier and more expensive (D700, D3, etc.) or would add a 1.5X multiplication factor.

"Leica's lenses aren't designed by magical German gnomes. They're better because they're not SLR lenses. Canon and Nikon will match them, and have autofocus, and be much, much cheaper."

Well, they're also made to tighter tolerances and put in better hardware than (most of) the C and N lenses, espcecially the consumer-grade ones. When C or N make very high-standard lenses, they charge for it: bought a Nikon or Canon 300/2.8 recently?

Really good optics that are well-corrected and assembled to high specification just aren't cheap. A 60X Plan Apo microscope lens from Leica, Olympus, Nikon or Zeiss costs about the same amount - about $8,000. A stepper from Nikon or Zeiss costs perhaps 100 times that much.

I took the Johnson O'Conner tests when I was a teenager. They just threw up their hands and shook their heads.

I used an M3 for a while and really took to the camera, eventually buying an M6 classic, which is the same dimensions as the M3. Just the perfect size and feel. Of course I was interested in a digital M, so I went to the shop to handle the M8, but it turned out to be much bigger, a Frankensteinian monster parody of a film M, all forehead and torso, more than a handful. The M9 was virtually the same, albeit with a little notch on the side of one corner. I have a hard time believing all of the descriptions online of how the digital M's are "just like" the M3 except digital. To my eyes and hands, they are completely different. If I want a frankencamera for full-frame digital imaging, I'll just use my 5D.

The 928 is an extremely bad example, it sold very well for what it was, a Grand Tourer. While it did outperform the same-generation 911 for much of its 18 year production life, it was marketed to a different niche which was somewhat outside Porsche's core market. Given that, its sales numbers were excellent and it most certainly paid off its design and tooling costs.

Note the new Panamera is little more than a 4-door modern 928 and if the rumoured sports coupe derivative of the Panamera arrives it will likely be called a 928.

As to the DMR and M5, both were cases of too little, too late for too much money. The DMR might have survived if it didn't cost as much as a 1DsmII while being outperformed in most regards by a 30D mounting R lenses via an adapter, it just wasn't very good. The M5 was awkward and had limited lens compatibility.

Leica simply isn't very good at innovation, when they try, they usually produce something that's both over-ambitious and underperforming. The one time they pulled off a raging success via innovation (the CL) they killed it because of its impact on M sales.

Erlik: Canon, with their approach of "more of the same".

You mean, the company that cut off their entire existing user base (and pissed them off pretty royally) in 1987 and brought out a completely new series of SLR bodies and lenses with a new lens mount? That "more of the same"?

"You mean, the company that cut off their entire existing user base (and pissed them off pretty royally) in 1987 and brought out a completely new series of SLR bodies and lenses with a new lens mount? That 'more of the same'?"

Probably, he meant that: since the (early, thank you, Canon) introduction of affordable DSLRs they hardly invented anything anymore. Their DSLRs are basically their SLRs from the late 90s combined with the necessary digicam electronics. In this sense, this is indeed more of the same.

Still no positionable backscreen, still the same mount, the same mirror style approach.

I don't say Canons would be bad (I own two DSLRs from them myself and consider these to be useful). But up to now, they hardly pushed the technology besides the introduction of DSLRs itself.

Rangefinder might slowly become the past, but Leica could still go strong. Thinking about Leica as THE small street camera I am looking at their X1 with interest... No need for FF, APS has already passed film in quite a few ways.
Slap an M-mount on the X1, add a rather simple optical viewfinder (raising the body height a bit or using a smaller back-screen) and do some software tinkering (showing distance and depth of field). AF assistance maybe, as long as I can switch it off.

I see Thom Hogan has now weighed in at LL.

His B&W sensor idea is a non starter, I think.
First off, there is little or no resolution benefit (LL showed that recently with their comparison of a B&W medium format back with the (no AA filter) Bayer version); secondly, everyone would have to start carrying around a bag of colour filters again; finally, too many folks want colour.

The viewfinder suggestion is more interesting. An internal flip up display is silly, but we're probably not far off from being able to produce a high quality see through display, which would achieve the same end.

As long as lenses, and photography in general, continue to advance our photos will become increasingly better.

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