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Wednesday, 19 September 2012


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I'm not defending the Mormons, since I'm not one. But don't blame them for Tom Cruise. He's a Scientologist.

I agree entirely, well almost. Tom Cruise isn't a Mormon. But then maybe I missed the joke.

Hey Mike. I believe it's the Scientologists, not the Mormons... but good line nevertheless...

Cult of Leica, cult of Apple, cult of (you name it). Those within the fold always appear to have a distorted view of reality.

Totally agree with you on all things faux. Retro walks close.

Fabulous post and I agree heartily to your stated point of view about Leica. I have always lusted for almost any iteration of film "M"s but have no interest whatsoever for any digital version of "M"...........P.S. Tom Cruise is a Scientologist, not a Mormon. A major difference.

I, for one, will appreciate your comments without even a hint of L-Libel inching to the fore. But then, I tend to agree with you about digital Ms.

The issue for me, I think, comes down to price. I know that someone, somewhere, does use them for work. But to me, because of the way they're priced, they're not work cameras, or even enthusiast cameras. They're boutique pieces that trade on name rather than capability to place themselves at the priciest end of what is already a pricey hobby.

The film Ms, and the Leica lenses, I suppose are the same way -- positioned at the high end of the market. But even new, an M7 doesn't carry the same kind of stratospheric price tag as the m9. And there's a whole range of perfectly serviceable Zeiss / Voigtlander equipment out there to fill in the bottom half of the market.

It isn't too long ago that I discovered the joys of rangefinders. And now, frankly, I don't see how I ever lived with a split prism focusing aid. But that discovery means that I've (largely happily) gone back to film. Because until there's a FF digital rangefinder that's priced in (or even near) the same neighborhood as the 5d/d800/A99, they just don't make sense.

(Cosina/Voigtlander people -- I hope you're listening to me!)

"Hey Mike. I believe it's the Scientologists, not the Mormons... but good line nevertheless..."

Dave, Chad, Ken, and Steve,
Oops! Sorry. Fixed. And thanks.

Told you celebrities just aren't my thing....


I only have one objection to Leica, and that is cost. I'm a grad student (read: no money) working on a project that would greatly benefit from a compact, rugged, full-frame, interchangeable lens digital camera. I made do with film when I could dedicate the time, and now I am having to resort to less effective APS-C solutions. Much of the Leica's reputation as a photographic tool stands on the shoulders of, for example, Magnum photographers who made use of the camera. I wonder how Leica will continue to justify that reputation ten or twenty years from now, when a generation of photographers will have grown up with more "affordable" (usually SLR) options.

Gee, Mike, for someone who neither loves nor hates Leica, you sure spent a lot of time and words on it. Now if you had been talking about Zeiss or Hasselblad,,,,,,

For me, DSLRs escape inauthenticity by being technologically forward-looking. While there are compatibility compromises in some systems, they're not as far-reaching.

(It's interesting to compare all-new DSLR systems with compatible ones. What are they, anyway? 4/3, Leica S, Sigma SA, did I miss any? Possibly excepting S, they are not so different from other mounts.)

"I'm a grad student working on a project that would greatly benefit from a compact, rugged, full-frame, interchangeable lens digital camera."

No you wouldn't. You just want a Leica.

I'll let you in on a secret: nobody really likes rangefinders. Or very few, anyway. That's why there aren't any others: nobody buys 'em. What people want is the camera with the #1 status ranking, and that's Leica.

And another secret: the reason Leica enjoys such a storied reputation is because a whole generation of impoverished student types bought them. Why'd they buy them? Because in the late '60s and '70s everybody and his uncle had moved to SLRs (see: above), and every camera store had a case or a shelf of well-built, still working, cool-looking'50s/early '60s rangefinders that were going begging for not very much money.

Now go buy yourself a used Canon Rebel and get to work.


Is Leica a manufacturing company or a fashion company? It should build enough of these special cameras so that actual customers can buy them. Otherwise what's the point?

I'm with you on the Leica M thing Mike, though I'm not sure I agree with Adam totally....

I moved to RFs before digital was truly affordable after I had my EOS 1 film set up stolen. It changed the way I shot and I became a much better photographer. In time, my Canonet was relegated to "fun" camera as I bought a DSLR. It was big and heavy and I just could not get the pictures I wanted with something so conspicuous. I sold it and 4 lenses to buy a Leica M4-P and 35mm Voigtlander f2. I loved everything except the scanning.

For me, a Leica is the perfect way for a photographer to shoot film. Not anyone....a photographer. By that, I mean someone who is fluent in shutter, aperture and focussing. I couldn't afford an M6 for a built in meter....no bother, Tri-X, sunny 16, zone focusing....BANG! For me, it is the fastest way to shoot.

But Leica missed the point with the M8, it is not a good way to shoot digital. Firstly, it was way too late, then, didn't work so well, and finally, the design gestalt was wrong. We lived with the base plate for film because it kept it flat and in focus but it was a bugger to change film whilst running from police/sheltering from rain. To hid an SD card, so it felt all old skool? No thanks. I just want to get the pictures with the minimum of fuss, that is what I Leica M was about, now, now it seems to exist BECAUSE of the price. They always were expensive but at the same time, if not affordable, at least attainable. Even on a modest salary, if it was something you really needed in your life, you could starve for a while to pay for it. They seem to have about tripled in price in real terms and I'm not at all convinced that even, money no object, I would choose to own one because I'm not convinced they remain the best way for me to photograph in the digital age. For what it's worth, I'm now starving myself for a NEX 7 (or 6) because I miss the convenience of digital. If Leica really wanted to play in this market for the benefit of photography as well as their balance sheet, they would develop a micro 4/3 camera rather like the Fuji with it's hybrid viewfinder.

The S series though? I've not used them, not touched them, not sure I've even clapped eyes on them....but it strikes me that Leica got this right because it was designed around the sensor rather than around the gestalt of technology 90 years old.

Good lord. I used to like/respect Leica. They, lately, seem intent on making a joke of themselves.


How utterly pointless, unless they are whorshipping (not a typo) themselves as creators of ART. A special project for the most important industrial designer of our time.... Okay. But, how about making his efforts actually relevant in the world. Let him contribute to Leica functionality which can be applied to the photographic efforts of The People, not just a sultan.


As I type this note I am watching the "Farr 40 World Championship" sailing race being held at the Chicago Yacht Club (CYC) this year. Despite having a home overlooking the CYC and Monroe Harbor for nearly 20 years, and despite having several good friends who are life-long sailing enthusiasts, I know virtually nothing about sailing. But even my ignorant eyes can discern that this is a special event. The ultra-sleek racing yachts, all of the same design, 40 feet long and with apparently the same sail designs, are crewed by very serious-looking men from around the world. Several days before the boats themselves arrived their crews appeared with very professional-looking trailers full of gear and accessories for these yachts.

Farr 40 Racers in Action

These are absolutely beautiful yachts, certainly extremely expensive to buy and maintain, not to mention to move around the world for races. Watching these things in action is a real joy. So graceful, so thoughtful, so meditative. Just the boat, the crew and the wind.

Well, almost. They all have motors, radios, some have weather radar, GPS navigation, and other modern accoutrements. Chris Columbus would be baffled if faced with today's modern sailing yachts. They just look quaint.

But even with all their high-tech gear sailboats have no real purpose beyond the experience of their use. After all, sailing has long been surpassed as a practical means of travel or commerce. While these racing yachts may be very fast (in the right winds) they are snails by any comparisons to even a weekend putt-putt fishing boat.

But that's irrelevant to the people who love sailing. They are some of the most devoted folks I've ever known. They all seem to understand not "getting it" but their enthusiasm and enjoyment is utterly unfazed by bewildered "land-lubbers" or motorized yachters.

(Oh, by the way, the race is sponsored by Rolex.)

Oh, sorry, I didn't get around to mentioning the Leica cameras. Next time. ;->

Mike, I enjoyed this post. I've had in some ways an opposite experience... I shot out the viability of film (for me) with film Ms, then really just did not enjoy the switch to DSLRs. I found myself to have an aversion to them, and though I've tried and had some success with various models, I have never bonded with any DSLR I've used. Maybe it's an aversion to auto focus, I'm not sure, and the fly-by-night feeling of manual focus in dslrs, but I just can't enjoy them.

The M8, on the other hand, I purchased after it was an entirely known quantity, and being thusly prepared by the collective mind of the internet I found no major surprises, and the camera continues to feel just right. I shoot with some mirrorless options but really my favorite camera, the one I've best bonded with, is the M8, still these five years after I purchased it. Sure it has limitations that one must work around, but so does every camera, and being someone like yourself (I presume) who has the luxury of using a particular camera because he or she enjoys it, I thoroughly enjoy the DRF experience. I hope there will be more options in the future, and regardless of whether I can afford an 'M' I think that the updates, particularly advanced metering and more easy controls, seem right on.

But it's funny–I could care less about brand... for me it's all about the rf viewfinder.

As I say, you're allowed to like what you like and not like what you don't like. Just the fact that I didn't cotton to the M8 is no reason someone else shouldn't, and I'm perfectly well aware that there are people who love that camera and people who have done great work with them. No contradiction as far as I can tell.


In 1969 I could have bought a used but mint M3 with a 50mm f2 Summicron for $275 at Brown's Camera in Miami. Instead, I bought a Nikon F (also used) with a pair of lenses for a little less money. I have always wondered how my career would have been different if I had started down the rangefinder track instead of the SLR track early on.

Charlotte -- You may not agree with me, totally. But I pretty much totally agree with you. You've articulated most of what I meant to say.

My only quibble is with the NEX/m43 turn in digital. I don't care if my next digital camera says Leica, or Sony, or whatever on it, whether it's a rangefinder or not. But I would like it to be able to take advantage of all this neat glass I've accumulated -- especially the 50s. And to me, that means FF.

Mike, perhaps if you weren't so familiar with film Leica-M's you wouldn't find the digital M's so faux. While Leica's digital M's are not as elegant as their S2, they do have a unique aesthetic in the pricey-camera universe. In fact, I would argue that that aesthetic does reflect the Leicas' functional differences from other full-frame digital cameras.

Compare for example the Leica MM to the Nikon D800. Besides the smoother/cleaner design of the Leica, you'll notice that the Leica body is shaped (as Apple products are) like an unused bar of soap, while much of the Nikon body is shaped more like a used bar of soap. The latter is a direct requirement of a 50% heavier camera with 100-500% heavier lenses cantilevered off the front. (In the digital era, the smaller/lighter the camera, the less attention given to making the grip ergonomically friendly.) So the digital Leica M's simpler form isn't necessarily untrue to its function even though (or maybe because) it echoes the form-factor of its film predecessors from Leica.

As far as the Jonathan Ive commission is concerned, it's harmless PR and is not an announcement that should offend anyone. The worst that happens is that Leica gets a lot of publicity and does a shapely spinoff ("inspired by") design or two. Maybe Sir Ive will think of something no one's thought of before, but it seems to me that if you combine "the Apple look" with "the digital M" you'll get something that looks a lot like the Nikon J1. We'll see.

Frankly, I'm not sure how much room even the greatest designer can have to be daringly different in light of a camera's goals and functions. Photographers often criticize what they see as unimaginative digital camera form-factors ("Camera design has hardly changed at all since the film era!"). But there's probably a good reason for the lack of basic changes in shape: you need a box that is able to be gripped by two hands while occupying minimum volume (and every millimeter in increased size will be counted against you); you need a large flat surface on the user's side of the box; and you need a large tube of glass affixed to the subject's side of the box. I haven't seen any sketches of "what a digital camera should look like" that would be more appealing in real-world use than are the best real-world camera offerings already on the market.

Thanks, Mike, but I can assure you that it is not a matter of simply wanting a Leica. I've owned a couple of the film ones. With film, I had the option of moving to something even smaller and faster. With digital, at least for now, Leica remains the smallest full-frame digital option. If Sony's proposals are effective, that may change. It would be great to have digital equivalents of what I had with film: fast, tough, full-frame cameras of different focal lengths that fit in my hand pockets. Of course, I've made the compromises. A Canon Rebel wouldn't fit in a cargo pocket, and so it is, for the current project, simply not an option. A Leica M would. Hence the problem: not with naming practices or the ridiculous decorative offerings, but the pricing.

What's that old saying, never mess with politics or religion? Camera choice these days looks to be a little of both...

It reminds me of the design heuristic I first encountered in Edward Weston's Daybooks, "Form follows function." It was a discussion of his photography, but I think it is apropos to this discussion. Herman Miller, the high-end furniture manufacturer that is highly esteemed in the world of design, takes it a a step further and says, Form is function."

Even though I never owned a Leica, this form/function challenge strikes me is at the heart of the problem with the design of the 'M.' Their M design "competes" with function.

Now, the Sony Nex 7, that is a better example of form following function for a camera today.

I think it is interesting how photographers can be slaved to one company's products. How many print collectors collect only Canon taken images, or Nikon, or Leica? Perhaps in the future, due to the quality of the inkjet printing, there will arise collectors dedicated to only HP printed images, or Epson. And to be purists the prints can only be on OEM papers so there is a clear manufacturer's lineage. So I guess Leica should come out with its own line of papers and printers to complete that exclusivity lineage. Just watch out for the cost of replacement Leica ink.

random thoughts:

it seems like a waste of talent. sir ive could have redesigned the m, m-e, and x2 instead!

i think the faux feeling that the digital m has could be easily eliminated with a new design. something like the motordriven rangefinders of the late 90s and early 00s would work for digital. in my dreamworld, leica would abandon the classic body shape for the aps-c mirrorless system.

there's a cult forming around fuji these days, too. you can't dislike any poor man's leicas either.

lastly, if i knew how, i would machine a sculpture of the ideal leica and put it on a shelf to look at. it would be a perfect replica, painted and chromed and all of that, but completely nonfunctional. then i'd post the files online for free so anybody could tweak it as they liked. it'd be cheap and fun. =)

of course, de gustibus non disputandum est.

everyone is - and should be - entitled to his/her opinion, and i actually 'get it' completely when you talk about 'bonding' with a camera.
i do feel the same exact way, and that is PRECISELY why i am a rangefinder user/lover (not a cult member, of any cult!).
over the years, i have been switching back and forth between cameras, and i must have tried and/or owned most of the new ones that came out in the last few years.
while i do appreciate that there are inherent advantages in different systems, and i also fully believe that nowadays almost ANY camera is more than capable of handling most situation we want to throw at them, i have always ended up going back to Leicas.
i still have my old screw mount III, made in the 1940s (do not use it though!), my film M4 (agree, probably THE best film camera), and my main work horse, the much maligned M8 (i got about 80k clicks on it, it is so much better than people think/assume ... sorry about your bad experience!).
i have owned other models too, from the rebadged panasonics (excellent cameras in their own right, debatable value for money), the X1 (a truly GREAT little camera), the fantastic CL, and so on.

i have not tried the S2 yet, and i will probably never own one, but i am sure it is a sensational tool for certain types of professional photography.

i have never felt a bond for any DSLR camera ever (although i did thoroughly enjoy some of my old film SLRs), on the contrary, i feel 'just right' when i am shooting my rangefinders (i will not even walk into the landmine of image quality).
it is a personal thing, i do not expect other people to agree, nor do i care whether they do or not.

what I photograph with is MY own choice.

i love the product; i am not sure about the company anymore, they seem to have taken the direction of catering for the 1% only, and, considering they are a small company without ambition of competing against the likes of nikon, canon, panasonic, olympus, etc., i cannot entirely blame them for staying in a wealthy niche. too bad for the rest of us.

i do not understand their choices when it comes to what they choose to portray their product, the photographers and images shown on their sites and stores are rarely up to the expectations one has, but so be it.

it bothers me that they are trying so hard to be 'hip and cool.' one cannot try to be cool, you either are or you aren't. Leica actually would be, no need to try too hard!

i do wish that Leica would produce a digital version of the CL (i am thinking something like an X1 or 2, APS-C sensor, VF and M mount... it WOULD sell like hot cakes if it was priced reasonably, but the company is not geared to manufacture volume, so it will probably never happen).

my other wish would be for an updated Epson R-D1, which to date is probably the best digital rangefinder ever built; unfortunately, 6 MP do not 'cut it' nowadays.
if they were to make a revised version of it, with more modern sensor, i think they could have a market.

the new cameras shown at photokina are fine, nothing earth shattering, they will keep their sales going and their margins growing.

i personally could not care less about having video or liveview in my camera, and therefore will probably skip the new "M" entirely.
luckily, there will be plenty of M9 owners who cannot wait to get the latest and greatest, and that will make used M9s finally affordable!


If Jonathan Ive does his usual job, meaning designing not just a Look, but a real camera, then it's criminal waste to just make one of them. He is not some flavor-of-the-month celebrity designer, he's a genius tool maker. Why not use Lady Gaga instead if you're only gonna make one camera (which will surely never be used).

At a minimum, Leica will get publicity whose value exceeds the cost of building a one-off camera. At best, the ideas in Ives' design will influence future cameras and we'll all benefit. Look at old 1950s rangefinders from around the world: 3 out of 4 look like the Leica III series. So I have great hopes that people will be lnfluenced by Ives' design ideas.

Leicas were Always expensive for two very good reasons: a) superb quality of craftsmanship, b) superb image quality. A number of much lower priced cameras now equal or surpass their image quality, and their legendary craftsmanship currently applies only to their lenses.

I am not a Leica-fan, I cannot be a fan of any corporation (that's politically impossible for me), but I am rangefinder fan, so much that a camera with mirror or without a window-finder feels broken to me.
So thank Leica in that sense, that they stick to the replica-paradigm, I (and a few others) don't want something new in that regard. Speaking of transparency, only a window-finder is transparent.
If Canon would make a digital Canonet with a nice 35mm sensor I would buy it immediately.

Btw., can Jack's work with the S2 be seen online?

"Btw., can Jack's work with the S2 be seen online?"

Sort of--here's his website:


But I don't think he has anything labeled by camera. Most of the pictures online I think were taken with Canons.

And you can see a few here:


Maybe we'll hear from Jack himself here....


Mike: You're not an L-hater. You do, however, like to tweak L-devotees. That's OK. They, like many fundamentalists, tend to have beliefs that outsiders find quaint and ripe for satire. I'm a reasonably ecumenical L-user, and I sometimes laugh at them, too.

That said, some of us *do* actually like Leicas. I'm one of those formerly impovererished students who got one in the 70s. But I did so only after failing to "bond" with the SLRs available then. For some reason, my eyes just see and focus better with a rangefinder. And I quickly learned to love the lenses. I know the camera has an association with bling, neck jewelry and the "one percent." But the fact is that I use it because I do like it, and it works for me.

Yes, things have changed since the 70s. Autofocus and face recognition, live view, image stabilization and manual focus magnification have mitigated some of the reasons for my rangefinder preference. But those features come at a price.

Live view is still a few tens of milliseconds later than "live," enough to just miss your subject's revealing expression. DSLRs are still mostly big and heavy, have mirror blackout, and unless you go to full frame, small viewfinder images.

Most current cameras are more like computers than cameras. Instead of directly manipulating the basic controls that make a picture, you in effect program the computer to (you hope) make the decisions you would make yourself. Sometimes that's a great time-saver, but sometimes the programming is more fiddly than it is to just do it yourself. And even in manual mode, the controls feel virtual, not real.

Of course, a digital M is not the same thing as a classic film M. But within limits, it handles much the same way as a film M did, uses the same wonderful lenses, and still gives us direct contact with discrete manual controls. I like that. That doesn't mean I don't use other cameras with more up-to-date features--I do. But my now-ancient M8 is still my go-to camera. It's not a "pure" mechanical experience like a film M, but I don't find it "faux" at all. I bought it after reviewers such as youself told me everything that was wrong with it, and I decided that it still was right for me. I am willing to put up with its quirks and shortcomings for the images and the shooting experience it gives me.

For fleeting moments of human interaction, the Leica M still shines. And the new "M" announced yesterday looks like it will add the ability to play in DSLR and Micro 4/3 territory, but still keep its character. And yeah, finally give decent noise performance at ISOs higher than "Tri-X at 800."


I dunno Mike, I think a rangefinder is my favorite form of manual focus. Manual focus on a mirror/glass always felt so vague to me, unless it's a view camera and you can really take your time with it. And I'm saying this as a Mamiya 7 fanboy, not as a Leica one, lol. Anyway, while the digital M's are expensive, I'm glad they are being made and that Leica has stayed loyal to rangefinders.

People get like that about Nikons too. In fact, they get like that about anything that they use to prop up their identities. Connoisseurship of any kind is an especially handy way of propping up a fragile identity, as it doesn't demand any particular level of hard work, talent or intelligence, just a suitably fastidious erotic involvement combined with a false sense of social status (the power counterpart to the erotic.)

Camera brand fetishists have always struck me as having inherently officer-class mentalities, believing their devices are the finely-crafted pistol to the ordinary grunt's rifle (especially true of Leica owners, in my experience.) They serve to distinguish their owners from the herd. (Serious working photographers are exempt from this: they choose the best tools as they can't afford not to. Sometimes Leicas, often something else.)

Paradoxically, however, the officer class has a clear distinguishing characteristic: deeply conformist thinking. So the threat that your Leica-agnosticism (or Nikon-agnosticism, or Pentax agnosticism or whatever it is) presents is twofold: both to the fragile personal identify, and to social norms. Hence the vituperation. They are damaged both ways by genuinely independent, autonomous, democratic thought.

Incidentally, the conformist thinking is just as true as that officer-class-in-disguise, the hipsters, who are often reluctant to use wonder-plastic Japanese DSLRs as they are just not cool enough to win approval, nor finicky enough to prop up identity as a skilled artist/engineer able to manage complex machinery. The Ive Leica is ideal for one very wealthy uber-hipster (actually, to be that kind of rich person may be ever so slightly uncool, so the ideal hipster camera is probably the de'Silva Leica. Expensive, finicky, design-led, and in titanium to boot. Orgasmic for the right kind of connoisseur.)

For the avoidance of doubt: words like "connoisseurship" and "officer class" should be spoken with an appropriate curl of the lip and/or sardonically raised eyebrow.

Two points. One is a word of thanks to Ken Tanaka for sharing such a wonderful image. I have been looking at it for several minutes and it just grows on me.

Two, Ive's design of a one-off camera might benefit to camera design in general, but what kinds of experience does he have in photography? I am sure the he can create a sleek looking device, but what works in the computer/iPad/iPhone world (touch screen menus, etc.) may not be effective form factors for photographers who must react to fleeting moments of light and action.

He clearly understands computer/handheld devices, and surely his camera will suit him, but it remains to be seen whether he understands the needs of other photographers.


Exactly-my experience was intended to be illustrative of your point, simply from a different angle. I think some of the interesting takeaways are that initial impressions count for a lot and that your idea of bonding versus aversion is very important and useful when evaluating how one relates to a camera. We can learn to live with a lot, but the bond is something beyond that, a trust combined with fluency of use.

Anyway, I think that the biggest takeaway from the last couple of years are that we live in very interesting times for camera design, and the near-term holds a lot of potential for new and interesting design. Hopefully interesting for lovers of optical rangefinder cameras on limited budgets, too ;)

And one comment about the Jonathan Ive thing: It's absolutely ludicrous. Ive designs for mass production and mass sales, a phenomenal talent that is very different than a one-off kind of thing. So it strikes me as an odd juxtaposition-the premier industrial designer working on something so niche that likely fewer than a few hundred people will actually ever see it in person. Bizarre.

I love shooting with rangefinders. My M6 ruined SLRs for me, I can no longer shoot with blinders on, looking through a keyhole with selective focus. Having that big, bright view with everything in focus, being able to see outside of the frame, and still be able to adjust focus is the beauty of rangefinder shooting. Unfortunately, Leica seems to be the only game in town for that kind of shooting.

The sony camera with the 35mm lens and the Fujis to me are the faux cameras. They are appealing to the crowd that likes the idea of Leicas, but those folks don't really understand what made them different. Yes, the lenses were great, and the size was too, but the rangefinder is what dictated how you used it. Can't do that with the Sony no matter how good the image quality is.

I hear you on the whole "replica" look and feel of the Digital M Leicas. I'm not the owner of a digital M, but I have owned an M6 and loved every minute of it. I am still firmly entrenched in the film domain, but have move away from 35mm into larger formats.

I think someone said this already, but I believe this is the reason for your dislike of the DMs. It's the same as mine. The M4 (and M3, M6, MP, etc.), which are all 'classic' Leicas to be sure and which all share the distinctive, desirable and much admired design - of FILM cameras. The digital M, as you already remarked, seems 'faux' because of that very reason.

The film Ms are so perfect because of just that. They were designed for film. Form follows function. Digital cameras can look pretty much any way their makers want them to look.

Yes, the design of the M is legendary and yes, they are still expensive because of that design, that gestalt and the inherent German quality built into each one. It was the best, most elegant, simplest and most functional design (of its day), which by definition had to accommodate a rangefinder, a lensmount, shutter, and a fully MECHANICAL film transport.

Most of the shape and the dimensions of the M are, aside from simple ergonomics, designed to be able to accommodate a roll of 35mm film and the mechanical workings that allow it to function. Digicams have little in common, except that they are still cameras with many of the essentials that make a camera what it is. Lens, shutter, sensor. And they no longer need a 35mm film canister to fit! And they are primarily electronic devices, with almost none of the limitations imposed by the mechanical necessities of their film brethren.

Oscar Barnak didn't build the first Leica camera because it was destined to become an icon, he built it because it had everything needed to be able to expose 35mm film. And nothing else. Fortunately for us, the designers of the M3 on up saw the elegance and simplicity in this notion and managed to do the same thing, only better with the enduring M3.

The digital M has almost none of the requirements of the original M, other than room for the anachronistic (for a digicam) rangefinder, a place for a sensor, an electronic screen and a lensmount.

There was no reason at all - other than to try to hang onto the now obsolete design of the film M - to build the M8 and future DMs as close as possible in looks to their venerable film predecessors. I'll cite the S2 here.

Digital cameras can look just about any way the designer wants them to these days and many of them have much more appropriate new designs, befitting of the newer technology and time, which are far more functional IMO.

Making the M8, M9 and future DMs to look as much like the film Leicas as possible is a mistake I think and the result is a camera that appears to be a replica of something that was once great. Or still is great if you like to shoot film!

When I'm out with my Leica M8, most people ignore me. Occasionally, someone will ask: "Why are you using an antique camera?"

"When I'm out with my Leica M8, most people ignore me. Occasionally, someone will ask: 'Why are you using an antique camera?'"

I'll bite. Why are you?


(I don't mean it, I'm just kidding you Gordon.)

But wait, there's more...

Celebrities with Leicas...


Saying to the L-ists that you like some of their cameras but not others is, they think, like saying you don't like one of your own kids!

Two thoughts
1) Of course all the Leica M cameras from the M2 to the M4 were form follows function designs. The nice round ends to fit the nice round film. The shutter button that was part of the shutter mechanism sticking out through the top. Ergonomics seemed to be a happy accident. The M1 was shaped that way because it was designed to be cheap and making it look like the M3 was the cheapest way to use existing tooling. Then Leica made the M5, form followed function even more and the 2 or 3 news photographers I met that used them thought they were great with side lugs , that swinging light meter etc.

Whoops, it turned out that one of the functions of a Leica was to look and feel "Leica like", the M5 bombed and Leica cranked out a few M4 variations in Canada, then a variety of M6 cameras.

Come the digital era and the the chief function for Leicas is to be something that Leica buyers would buy. The M8 and M9 cameras saved the company, they were transitional devices looked like what the customers wanted and the customers bought them faster than Leica could build them. Now that Leica is not only back from it's near death experience but seems to have a pretty rosy foreseeable future that brings us to point 2.

2)Leica (the company that invented autofocusing and then had an earlier near death experience rejecting autofocusing much like Kodak inventing the digital camera) seems to have gotten the inside bits of the camera good enough to take a breath and try to get ahead of the game.

Enter Sir Jon who has had a pretty good run designing things that nobody wanted and didn't even look like what they wanted. Pre iPhone everyone wanted the smallest phone possible with as many buttons as would fit. A big slab with two buttons? His work is about as "form follows function" as it gets but it is also arguably an example of "form allows function that no one was expecting"

Leica has the opportunity to get a totally out of the box design, unlike Luigi Colani's blobafying of Canon. By building only one they are free of manufacturing constraints. By offering it for sale they are committing to making it useable by at least one customer and elevating it from being a mere concept camera.

On the other hand, it could be another Titanium M9 type reskin which would be unfortunate.

Agree that there may be something irrational and illogical in the likes vs dislikes that you and all of us express. I think it can be easy to transfer some likes and dislikes to the cameras based on the image of the company.

I happen to love the digital M series for three very simple reasons:

1. With a lens, the kit is WAY smaller than any digital SLR kit, even the pentax that I bought to avoid having to pay for a Leica

2. They let you use fantastic Zeiss and Leica glass. Even better than the pentax glass that I bought to avoid having to pay for a Leica

3. They allow you to take photos without wading through lots of menus and settings. All one does is set the iso, shutter speed, aperture, and then focus. I've spent ages mucking around with this Pentax trying to get it to work like a simple camera, installed manual focus screens, read two entire BOOKS on how to get all the settings turned off, and I still can't get the hang of it. I actually found myself shooting with a Zeiss Ikon instead, not because I care for film, but because I don't want to mess around with a morass of complex menus and settings just to take a simple picture - but I do want to choose the aperture and shutter speed myself, thanks very much. But then you have that nightmare of scanning it all.

I'd love to find such a camera from another source, but as the m8 and m9 came to market, they were completely alone in the field. I think that a lot of buyers jumped sheepishly into the Leica fold for these reasons, DESPITE rather than BECAUSE OF the prestige factor.

I think Mike's instinct a few years ago on what would make an ideal digital camera was very good - a digital Leica CL. The marketing departments are hell bent on cramming every possible feature that appeals to non-photographers into the current crop of cameras, whereas a camera that did the basics extremely well would be welcomed by many of us. Excellent lens(es), clear viewfinder with just the right amount of useful information, quiet operation, unpretentious look, excellent ergonomics, adequate solidity. Note that the CL did not make any effort to mimic the traditional Leica M form factor. They rethought many things about what a rangefinder camera could be in the early 1970s, including that very natural-to-use vertical shutter speed dial and the "on" button built into the film advance lever. These are the kinds of operational re-think approaches that Ive is a master at. I am afraid his M will be cosmetic, but if they really allow him to develop a fresh paradigm to how a user operates a camera as he did with how one operates a cell phone, then what he shows the world could be a game changer for the camera makers. I've got my fingers crossed. I enjoy the pictures I get from my M4/3 camera, but the user experience is so fiddly. I'd rather by operating my CL and getting "already scanned" image files.

I hear ya Mike. I keep trying to come up with an analogy that describes Leica. So far it's the Grateful Dead making a music video, or, in a more flattering light, Bob Dylan with an electric guitar, or maybe a Porsche 911 powered by batteries? My broken metaphor machine aside, but my cliche facility intact, "something is rotten in Denmark".

I agree with Alex about Ken Tanaka's photo in his post. Wonderful shot! There's a balance of somekind in there that "pleases" my eyes.


Why do we buy certain cameras anyway?

(Warning, satire alert;).

All comes down to the same things: Brand, value, styling, (build) quality, ergonomics, performance, features.

Brand. Still the top reason. BS, but it works, whether it's the safety blanket of familiarity or the team tee-shirt and baseball cap. A few won't buy major brands because they want to be different, but it still matters. Only the truly brave buy into the unknown.

Value is different for everyone. For the truly cheap it's just the joy of a real bargain, for others it's getting the best brand or quality they can afford, and for the truly well off, it's the priceless assurance that normal folk won't have one.

Styling wiggles its hips and makes us wonder if we are happy at home. We pretend it doesn't matter, but it does. Apple proved it. If you want to generate a new market overnight, your product has to look really really cool. That's it.

Real build quality only matters to warzone PJs. What matters to the rest of us (as long as it works) is "perceived quality". That means nice materials where we can see them and feel them - on the outside. Inside they are all the same. Nearly.

You can't advertise ergonomics and it doesn't attract new customers so gets little investment. Even so it's the main reason most people stick to the same brand for years, mainly because they are so badly designed we have to develop muscle memory to become proficient. After that, it's impossible to switch.

Performance (including IQ) and features? We think they really matter, but they don't, except to a very few obsessives. Magazines don't want to lose ad revenue and stores don't want to lose a sale so by the time someone buys one they will be convinced it's great and be "liking" it on Facebook. If a few aforementioned obsessives point out the DXOmark score or any other objective irrelevance they will simply join an online community forum for reassurance.

So, actually very few of us are really choosing cameras based on objective performance, IQ or features at all. We care far more about the badge, how it looks and feels, and what it costs.

No different from Leica users then ;)

The digital M8, M9, M Type 240 are in relation to the classic M3 or M4 what Ive's Apple designs are to Dieter Rams' Braun classics: A revival. A very skilled one, but still not the original revolutionary design of the real deal.


I'm totally positive towards something done for charity.
Taking into account the total lack of innovation or creativity shown by Apple in the last years, probabily it will be white and resembling an iPhone with an expensive lens sticked on its back, with a touchscreen and no viewfinder...

Reading your article, I wonder out aloud: "How would one cleansheet design a digital rangefinder?" (I too am an owner of an M6, but I've lent it more or less away to a friend on a permanent basis)

I guess the problem is that it is so steeped in legacy, especially the lenses, that it would preclude any sort of real innovation. Like autofocus. Or different sensor sizes.

But for me what really irks me is when you look at an M and say, a GF3 or an X10, you just think there's not a lot of innovation going on here. The body is thicker than it should be. It's louder than it should be -- Leica's used to be quiet but a compact camera with a leaf shutter is probably now a better option. And I just can't justify blowing 5 big ones on something that isn't great ...


Ives camera will be auctioned off and the proceeds will be donated to charity... i fail to see the problem with that...

Thanks, Mike. I could tell from the beginning this was going to be a post to savor. This is what you do best.

Now I'll always see "Tara columns" in the faux-film rounded sides of M's.

I'm surprised nobody mentioned Harley-Davidson.

And, I think saying Mormons was much funnier than Scientologists, and we still know what you mean.

Phil, it is true that film cameras were built around the film canister and transport, but that's half the story, if at all. Because they were also built around (or inside) the human hand, in front of the photographer's eye, to mount a lens, and to be intuitively operated. Short, to allow the photographer to frame, focus and shoot without fuss.
Despite that a sensor is replacing the film, there isn't (or shouldn't) be any difference in camera design, and the difference between film and sensor is greatly overrated. Both are somewhat flat and need to sit behind the lens.
In my opinion, the only way to experience photography in a purer form than with a Leica-like rangefinder is to photograph without a camera and only blink with the eye-leds.
So please don't encourage designers to go overboard with "cool" ideas ;)

Scientology, Leica, Apple, Mormon. All in ONE post. Perfect storm. Looks like a record number of comments.

I too bought a used M3 in '69 for $190. Used it for 35 years until I damaged it.

Went out and bought a used Contax G1. Still have it, still use it. At least until I run out of my current batch of Tri-X.

I think all of this speaks, to a great extent, about the pivotal role one person can have. Maitani at Olympus, Ive at Apple, Barnack (and, happily, his successors,) etc. When they depart the company, it is hard to carry on. Not that change is to always be resisted, but there are things that are best continued. And the continuation of design philosophy, it seems to me, is a core component of a company's presence.

I have had a Leica kit (M3 + 3 lenses) which I very much liked and used heavily. I will probably acquire an M4-x kit to return to Leica, but I have no interest in a digital Leica (even if I could afford it) precisely because it seems that Leica is not really innovating, but keeping the legacy of form even when function has changed.

And to address the issue of cost, when current M models were the M3, M4, etc., many more people could afford them. The cost differential between an M and a "professional grade" Nikon, Pentax, etc., if I not mistaken, was not insignificant, but also not prohibitive. Leica has entered the "premium goods" sector some years ago, and that is a loss to the photographic community.

@Ben | Wednesday, 19 September 2012 at 03:16 PM

Couldn't agree more sir...

I might, in a few years, buy myself an M9/9P/ME, whichever is the best deal at the time... the idea of FF attracts me, not sure whether it is really worth it though...

In the meantime, I will remain welded to my M8 (mate).

The jewellery aspect of these cameras, does not attract me in the slightest, they are just really fast and easy to use, even though it took a few months of occasional "difficulties" at first.

The rest of course is up to me, and I reckon that maybe, just once in about 50 shots, I get something that "I" like.

No camera is perfect. All cameras are derivative.

The "standard serious camera" shape is a bit obnoxious. Every camera needs to fit a battery, so nearly all "serious" cameras have a bulkifying built-in grip, even relatively small Panasonic u4/3 cameras. Someone already mentioned the fake prism hump. Pretentious codswallop.

Why do so many cameras have self-important "mode dials" that look like a shutter speed dial, all too often sitting where a shutter speed dial belongs? (Make a bleating sheep sound here). A defacto standard bites the dust, to our user interface detriment.

Aperture on the lens is mostly gone, and depth of field scales became useless on short-focus-throw AF lenses, so are mostly gone. Unfortunately, functional mapping (where lens-related functions are accessed on the lens) also is largely gone.

Viewfinders? Please. No DSLR I've seen has a viewfinder that is as good for photography as a Nikon FM2's. Thankfully they're finally dispensing with the worthless optical viewfinder on compact digital cameras.

Tri-navi? Try again. The dials have no markings at all, and have different functions at different times. Thanks a lot, I can't remember to put in my hearing aids in the morning (why's it so quiet, anyway?), now I have to remember if that right hand dial is exposure comp or shutter speed? Since when is the pinnacle of engineering to say "we actually can't figure out why we put this control here, let the customers figure it out." At least it gave us those inexplicable weird alien nipples on the top of the Hasselblad Lunar.

Canon, why is aperture on that little dial under my index finger in "A" mode but it becomes shutter speed in "M" mode? Maybe this camera has a custom setting for that...better sit down, this is going to take a while.

At last there are signs of better sensors going into smaller cameras. That only took a decade to figure out. Fuji rediscovered the shutter speed dial, and put the aperture back on the lens (c'mon, you can do half stops, can't you?). Fuji, in fact, is making cameras that look kinda like Leicas. That makes them derivative of a derivative. Maybe that's why they seem a little creepy to me.

Sorry, what were we talking about again?

I think I feel the same way towards Leica. Although sometimes I use R lenses on my DSLR, I never have a desire towards M Series.

When I was a young boy, I had a cheap Yashica RF which I always wanted to throw away. RF doesn't allow me to change lenses, look through the lens and control the image. It's simply a prehistoric technology. Gosh, I can recall how I really wanted an SLR. And I felt ashamed going around with an RF on my neck.

Now I see people walking around with RF proudly. Some of my friends pursue me to buy a Leica M. The basic rationale is always the same: "because you can afford it"

It's like paying premium for a neanderthaler animal skin clothes or working using sharp stone instead of stainless knife. And you feel cool and have "bond" with your clique

I don't understand the world anymore.

They're cultural dilemmas, both Leicas and celebrities. There is this persistent pervasive "force", which is trying to get us to like and want them, that is battling with our internal common sense compass, which is telling us to completely ignore them.

If we weren't social animals that "force" would have no effect, that is, you could ignore both Leicas and celebrities, but we feel obligated to take a stand, because others are watching.

Also, because we're (mostly) guys, and celebrities are (mostly) hot babes, we want to look at them. Same with Leicas.

I still put a roll of film through my Bessa's now and then, just because I like the view and handling. Also, in really, really low light I think RF focusing is still more reliable under certain circumstances, but since I've never used one of those uber camera's (i.e. the D4's and Canon 1D's of the world) maybe that's just my lack of experience talking. An EVF has the potential to be the best at low-light since the image can be gained-up, but the technology just isn't there to produce great results just yet.

What I don't like: loading, developing, and scanning. Being limited to really ugly ISO1600 negative film without having to learn how to develop traditional B/W myself. Had I been born 10 years earlier there's a good chance I would know how to do this, but right now, I don't see the point in taking the time to learn how to become competent at developing and pushing B/W film in a tank. There's no future in it beyond a niche whereas digital is continuing to improve by leaps and bounds. I'd shoot film and send it out for development but that's getting harder and harder (not to mention more expensive) as well.

"Sorry, what were we talking about again?"

No worries, you're right on topic.


Why only one Ive designed Leica camera?

Aside from the charity gimmick that looks good for Leica.

Ives is still employed by Apple Inc. I'm pretty sure that short of a partnership with Leica to jointly design and produce cameras Apple are not going to allow their senior designer to design another company's product for it.

Given that Apple isn't mentioned I suspect this might be a form of sabbatical for Ives to make sure he's happy and doesn't leave Apple. Designing one camera gives Ives everything he needs in the challange of designing a non-Apple product.

I think some people have a rather narrow view of product design ("What does Ive know about cameras?").

What did Dieter Rams know about shelving systems, radios, record players, slide projectors, alarm clocks and calculators? He seemed to do quite well at Braun.

Ives is heavily influenced by Dieter Rams so expect to see Rams' ten principles of "good design" in this product.


"Weniger, aber besser" -- "Less, but better"

"The latest status symbol in Hollywood, it seems, is not the 8 p.m. reservation at the Tower Bar, but the Leica M-system range finder, a retro-chic camera that has become the accessory of choice for the celebrity class on red carpets, film sets or vacation.”


Well then, that explains it.

Jonathan Ive designing a Leica! I'm guessing it'll be a rectangle with rounded corners, and have a single button to access all functions?

Wow, Jeff!

What I notice in those pictures of celebrities carrying Leicas is, they have lens caps on.

Hi Mike, i agree with evrything said about L. I only know this because since buying an X1 (a love/hate camera with rather questionable quality control and slow AF but one great feature, zone focus) I have been hanging out at the Leica Forum. I have learned that you can say almost anything there, except something negative about the 'M' and if you dare the most polite response would be that you just don't 'get' Leica...

Following on from the comment by David grad student and your response.

An interesting post and response thread would be to ask for your readers to nominate the best *used* digital camera for someone who wants to move on from the $90 point and shot digital to something with more possibilities, not unlike the various film cameras that some of you cut your photographic eyeteeth on.

With my own interest in such a topic and thread, I would add one requirement -- some sort of image stabilization would be a must have.

>I should have just said: "The Jonathan Ive Leica M? Don't care."<

Agree. They should have asked Damian Dinning or Juha Alakarhu instead.

I mean, what exactly has Jonathan Ive done for imaging?


Meanwhile, the Nokia folks I named above came up with the most revolutionary phonecam, ever!


I know it's revolutionary for a fact, cause I own one. Click on my name for some samples, as they came out of the Nokia 808 PureView, only shrunk them for the web. You want full resolution, email me.


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