Michael Reichmann at The Luminous-Landscape website has published an Open Letter to Leica outlining some of his ideas for the future industrial design of Leica's lead product. At one point he calls himself a "complainer," but of course he isn't that at all—what he's doing is thinking creatively about what a smart future direction for Leica might be, from the standpoint of a photographer who is both very sympathetic to Leica's past and has owned, used, and reviewed many different cameras from the dawn of digital to the present moment.
I love "newthink," and habitually approve. But one thought nagging at me from the back of my mind is that efforts at blank-sheet rethinks of classic German products haven't always gone so well. One example was the front-engined Porsche 928, which basically never sold well enough to justify its design and tooling costs. Even the New Beetle sold beyond all reasonable expectations. At Leica, further examples can be found in the M5, innovative (and actually a very nice camera to use) but rejected by the market in its day, and the DMR, which was exactly what people said they wanted...except when it came time to buy one. The more conservatively-conceived M8 and M9, by contrast, essentially digital replicas of M film rangefinders, have both been rewarded with healthier sales.
Then again, the S2 is a fresh rethink if ever there was one (in fact, one that puts Nikon and Canon to shame), and might well prove to be a counterexample. Maybe Michael's proposals could be another. But in any event, ultimate viability isn't the immediate point of the article. The point is Michael's analysis, observations, and ideas.
MikeFeatured Comment by Gordon Lewis: "If the success of the M9 has taught Leica anything it's that radical innovation is not the path to success. The M9 is essentially an M7 that uses a full-frame digital sensor. The only thing 'radical' about the M7 was that it was the first Leica rangefinder to have automatic, aperture-preferred metering—an innovation that appeared on other cameras back in the mid-seventies.
"What I suspect M9 users like so much about it is that it's a high-performing old-school alternative to today's over-engineered, menu-driven, bulky DSLRs. Leica's best bet, assuming they can afford the tooling costs, is to offer a Leica R-series DSLR that has a full-frame sensor and uses Leica's existing line of R-lenses. 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. The only thing keeping me from hyperventilating is the realization of how much such a simple and elegant camera would cost."