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Sunday, 24 January 2010


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"'Only a few people really want a digital rangefinder. What people want is a Leica. It's not the same thing.'

It's the juxtaposition of the two sentences I take issue with.

You say yourself, that with a cheaper alternative rangefinder sales could multiply 5x-20x. I suspect Cosina or Sony may be very happy with that. Who knows where it might lead in terms of customer loyalty and other product interest. It may not be a large proportion of all photographic products, but nor are the absolute sales of any professional DSLRs.

As to your claim that it is a Leica that people want, how is it that R sales were always so disappointing? There may be caché in the name Leica, but in the digital age that is not enough - these are no longer lifetime products. It would surprise me if people are paying so much for a digital electronic instrument (as opposed to a fine, mechanical MP) just to stick in a cabinet - they want to use the thing, and so it has to work effectively and ergonomically. So then a manual focus rangefinder is, perhaps, the tool of their choice.

Given the amount of user feedback on the web praising what Leica has got right, and complaining about what they have not done well, it seems people are engaging with the 'form' of the camera. Many are also being pretty clear about the improvements they would like to see to enable them to work with that form more effectively.

So many pundits claimed that there was no market for an ff Rangefinder, yet the M9 is selling very well. It seems to me that no one knows how much market demand there is for a particular product until that product is available to buy and until 'the market' can see how that product has been realised.

Not so long ago you were lamenting the absence of a DMD, which if remember correctly you, at one time, despaired would ever be made, the niche for such a product being too small. Well now we have the GF1 and E-P1 which you seem to have deemed close enough to your vision to have bought one of them.

"Leica wants it to cost more than most people can afford..."

Hah - the first thing that came to mind was Apple. I see another reader (Mark Sperry) had a similar thought regarding Apple and the iPhone, but I was thinking about their computers and laptops.

Disclaimer: I own more than one Apple.

Alas, I don't own any Leicas.

Do you not find it interesting that many of those who argue for lower priced LEICAS have bought one any way? Which makes their point moot.Apparently they thought the LEICA was worth it,or they would not have bought it in the first place.All the more so if they thought they could get a camera
"just as good" for half the price.They bought the LEICA simply because it is worth it!

"After years of listening to various kinds of interconnects..."

So tell me, how does an interconnect sound?
(Sarcasm, directed at the manufacturers of this magical thinking rather than at you, Mike, of course.)

As to your claim that it is a Leica that people want, how is it that R sales were always so disappointing?

Actually, it looks very simple. Cartier-Bresson et alia didn't shoot with Leica-Rs, but with Ms. Not nearly as much charisma for Rs.

And as far as I've read, Leica-R's couldn't really compete with other DSLRs. R4, bugs. R6, all mechanical when others had electronics. Even if they had some Leica-name charisma, it didn't help.

R8, R9 better but huge plus still manual focus. In 1996 and 2000. You know why OM died about the same time? Lack of autofocus. So Leica... Three strikes - out.

Pity the R lenses are so expensive now, though. :)

Eh. Of course, it's SLRs, not DSLRs...

A related mistaken belief is that "one of the big camera companies should make an affordable digital rangefinder that takes M-mount lenses."** Actually, they shouldn't. Know why? Because there's no market for that. (Well, there is, but it's a very small one.)

Considering the success of the GF1 and E-P2 it doesn't look that small. Given the possibility I, an amateur and a GF1/E-P2 buyer, would prefer a FF sensor, a very good EVF and an M mount on a rangefinder sized and shaped camera. No art filters and auto focus. It's more about gestalt than status: the aperture ring on the lens, manual focus, unobtrusive shape. I think I'm not alone.

Regarding hi-fi cables, try a twisted pair in silver plated copper insulated in teflon for the mid/high, thick good copper wire for the woofers, and avoid coax. I think I'm not alone here either ;)

Here's another link, so I guess it's true:

Wonder if there are plans for other totalitarian themed limited editions ?

"So tell me, how does an interconnect sound?"

Well, they definitely sound different, if that's what you mean. But I'm not sure any global generalities can be derived from the differences I've heard. About all I can tell is that specific interconnects, in particular systems, with particular sources, at particular times, in specific rooms, seem to sound a certain way...to me. As with connoisseurship of any subtlety, a) suggestibility cannot be ruled out, b) differences are easier to hear if and when they are more greatly divergent, and c) similar results can't be assumed to exist under different test conditions or for different people.

As with any other component (most recently, tube rolling in my new-ish amp) I just tweak until I get it to sound about like I like it, and then I forget about it and listen to the music. I know that there are a certain number of characteristics of recorded sound that I can detect that drive me batty, there are certain characteristics I recognize as flaws but don't mind, and I know about what I can live with and what I can't.

In my amp I went through a fairly small number of tubes until I found a combination I liked, and I'm not really interested in exploring further. Same way with interconnects. I get a combination I like and then I forget about it. With stereo I really don't pay attention to prices, because I've proven to myself, to my own satisfaction, that there's little correlation. Years ago I worked briefly in a high-end audio store, so I was able to do enough direct experimentation to satisfy myself of a number of things. Can't say any of my tastes or conclusions would would be true for anybody else, but I know myself.


"As to your claim that it is a Leica that people want, how is it that R sales were always so disappointing?"

They weren't always. They were pretty good for a decent stretch. It's just as the cameras got further and further behind the times that the sales suffered. The R8 would have sold very well if it had come out in 1976, even though it wasn't autofocus and AF was the coming thing in 1976. It's just that it came out in 1996. That was a problem. The first Leica film SLR was maybe 3-5 years behind the times, but the last one was 15-20 years behind the times. That was just too much to overcome.


"Considering the success of the GF1 and E-P2 it doesn't look that small."

To paraphrase "The Princess Bride," "people keep saying that. I do not think that word means what you think it means." The GF1 and E-P2 are not rangefinder cameras!

By "rangefinder" we mean a mechanical coincident-image triangulating rangefinder/viewfinder linked to a cammed manual-focus lens. Of course there are many type of devices for finding range, but "rangefinder" has a specific meaning when it comes to still cameras. The GF1 and E-P2 do not fit the accepted definition.


"Fun and profitable warping of reality!"

Like "digital" antennas for HDTV. Well, the marketing borders on fraud, IMO. Even electronics dealers seemed genuinely flabbergasted when I suggested that there is nothing digital about RF or RF antennas, and that a $5 bow tie antenna will work as well as most $100 "digital" gizmos.

I am glad there are much fewer bogus claims in photography compared to high-end audio.

I concluded that high end audio was mostly about the emperor's new clothes around 1988 in college. There was a well-rated, under $1,000 tube preamp (for the warm, lush sound), so I went to a high-end audio dealer in midtown Manhattan to compare. The salesman proceeded to tell me why the tube model (which they did not carry) was inferior, distorting, etc., that no one could make a quality tube preamp under $1000. Of course, he showed me a solid state preamp. Anyway, I found the tube preamp elsewhere and was very happy (I still have it). Six months later, I get a flyer from that shop announcing that was carrying the greatest preamp under $1,000--the preamp I just bought. I later met another salesman from that high-end shop in one of my college classes, who admitted that it was all marketing. I learned two things--trust my ears, and don't trust salesmen and marketing claims.

>>The GF1 and E-P2 do not fit the accepted definition.<<

But didn't all this kick off with MR's open letter to Leica ?

A FF version of either, with a little tweaking, could provide what he's suggesting, and sooner or later, probably will. At which point Leica might become a lens manufacturer. :)

I just wish that Leica would do a run of some of their R lenses, never mind the cameras.

A batch of apo summicron r 90mm f/2 asp lenses, in EOS mount like Zeiss makes. Or in M42 or T-mount. Preset apertures would be nice. Manual focus is great, and manual exposure is great, but counting clicks on the aperture is a pain.

Mike, what you're ignoring about the m43 bodies is that they're replacing Rangefinders in function, not form. They're small, discreet cameras with SLR-level IQ and well suited to street photography. They also have the ability to easily mount M or LTM lenses (along with some COntax G and Contax/Nikon RF lenses).

As to whether a M mount Digital rangefinder from one of the big makers would sell well, I suspect it wouldn't sell well by their definition, but would outsell the M9 by a massive amount. If they were smart and made it a Live View camera with AF support as well as a rangefinder, which wouldn't be significantly more difficult) it might even do well as part of a Live View product lineup.

You're not asking me to justify the $16,000 interconnects, are you?

No. I don't think anyone can justify that - Unless they want to buy them from me!

Featured Commenter Jim: "For all people tested, MP3 audio files achieve transparency against the original material at around 160kbps."

Sorry, you've lost me. What does it mean to say that thing X "achieves transparency against" thing Y?


If you believe in basic economics, it's very clear that the M9 is not too expensive - it's too cheap.

The camera has been backordered everywhere since day one, and it is still backordered everywhere. In other words, at the current price, Leica cannot produce as many cameras as the market wants to buy. In other words, demand exceeds supply at the current price.

Econ 101 says the price is too low if demand exceeds supply - regardless of whether or not the M9 is a Veblen good.

I truly don't get the thinking that goes into saying a camera that's always sold out is too expensive.

"If you believe in basic economics, it's very clear that the M9 is not too expensive - it's too cheap."

That's what I think. It should cost at least $10,000.


Mike, I'm somewhat disappointed to see that you don't appear to be taking this subject entirely seriously. As someone who's now heavily committed to the M-system (in lenses and bodies) I'm very worried by the price increases. I enjoy and love the cameras incomparably more than any DSLR that I own or have owned, and I genuinely don't want future versions to be financially out of my reach.
As for the M-system being a so-called 'Veblen good' - while status seekers may constitute a higher proportion of Leica's customers than other camera brands, I know from my own experience that there are a lot of people who love the system for its immediacy, simplicity and humanity - and by this I mean that the minimum amount of computing power stands between me and my subject when I click through the exposure dial on my M8, and gently pull an image into focus in that brilliantly clear and unmediated window on the world, before taking my shot.

You have nothing to fear. Leica pays no attention to me, I'm sure.

There also seems to be some conflation of "status symbol" and "Veblen good." Separate concepts. A Veblen good is simply one for which demand increases as price increases. That could be explained in part by status-seeking, but it could also be explained by other factors: exclusivity, uniqueness, luxurious build, look'n'feel, distinctive capabilities, historical significance, etc.


Your featured commenter wrote: "The reason that there are so many bogus products in the high-end audio world compared to the digital imaging world is because hearing audio is basically a psychological experience."

As is vision, actually. We learn how to recognise faces and figures, process perspective on a 2D plane and read photographs. It does not come "naturally". The difference is that people are much more educated through their existence in Western society in the vagaries of visual perception. Whereas sound hardly gets a look-in. (And note that figure of speech. Like so many others it is visual.)

"You can't freeze-frame a piece of audio and examine it."

Yes you can. The problem is that an audiophile will tell you all that matters is their ears, and ignore the evidence of spectrographs, frequency curves, polar patterns, phase diagrams, distortion figures, etc.

"For all people tested, MP3 audio files achieve transparency against the original material at around 160kbps. Most so-called audio 'experts' refuse to believe this, but we've demonstrated it over and over again in blind ABX testing."

This certainly depends on the sound source, as previously noted. For the electroacoustic material I work with, a 320 rate with VBR is optimal. I prefer to stay safe with FLAC. Yes, I have done the listening tests -- starting from when one had to buy the CODEC from Germany and use command-line tools to encode.

I agree with the gist of what you are saying but some people -- and some music -- are exceptions.

Robin, Jim, Mike, anyone: I can't find this usage in any dictionary, but you guys & girls obviously understand it.

What does it mean to say that A "achieves transparency against" B?


>>There also seems to be some conflation of "status symbol" and "Veblen good." Separate concepts.<<

Also linked concepts, as they both owe their existence to those with more money than sense.

"Separate concepts.<< Also linked concepts, as they both owe their existence to those with more money than sense."

...And this old saw could be called a self-protective reaction formation from those who have more sense than money. I'm just sayin'.


>>self-protective reaction formation from those who have more sense than money<<

Protective of what: their wallets, or their sense of self worth ?

Neither case negates my point, I think.

>What does it mean to say that A "achieves transparency against" B?<

This following is simplified, but probably a good way to understand the concept.

Imagine that you are looking through a window at a real object or scene. The window glass is dirty, foggy or smudged, and the glass represents a codec (which is simply a way of representing audio or video with fewer bits of information). The smudges or dirt on the glass represent imperfections in the codec's rendering of the scene caused by not enough bits being available to represent reality.

As you raise the bit rate of the codec, the window become easier and easier to see through until you reach the point that the window glass disappears nearly completely, and you swear you are looking at the actual scene and not through a glass. The codec now has enough bits to accurately render the scene without adding any coloration or artifacts of its own.

This is when the codec, just like the window glass, achieves transparency.

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