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Wednesday, 25 February 2015


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"I've always liked the idea of keeping a car for a very long time."

That was my intention with my old E-class estate. Unfortunately, it was stolen never to be seen again. The police reckoned it would have been broken up for spares to service old taxis in Africa. Very sad. I love that car.

How would you keep selling Leicas?
I very much agree with your appreciation regarding a photography tool but from a business point of view... you have to find ways to keep selling an updated version of a tool that doesn't change at its core... It could be the perfect digital rangefinder, they can achieve a whole user base upgrade to their latest model and then... what? How are they going to keep the business alive?

Agree with your comment about things that age well. That's why cities are often so ugly, because everything is now made of plastic, which is nice when new, and looks like crap once it's 2-month old. Take bus stops for instance, old wooden ones are often worth a picture, plastic ones are so depressing.

Well I must say that this pre-worn Leica certainly seems to fit with contemporary culture standards. Society seem to be very accepting, even encouraging, of masquerades and pretense. It seems to be an outgrowth of the ever-bursting world of "entertainment", from which this Kravitz fellow has emerged. (Sorry for my ignorance but I don't follow pop culture closely.) Here in the colonies, for example, we've recently seen a popular NBC network news reader suspended for apparently exaggerating his experiences on a war story. People love good common theater like this!

Writing as someone with more than a couple of Leicas (bought new, none brassed) no, I'm not offended at all by this "brassed-up" camera. If someone wants to wear a camera that suggests a fictional history or prefab provenance that's fine with me. Construction workers in America take grief from peers if their shoes, utility belts, or hard hats look too new. But in the end all that really matters is not how your gear looks, or even how old it is. All that really counts is what you can do with it, eh?

I think you just put your finger on why I like leather. Leather jackets, leather briefcase, leather wallet, leather belt. Yeah, I'm well aware that modern fabrics are in fact much more suitable for many conditions, and I wear them when I expect those conditions. But they're disposable. Patagonia's old-school line not withstanding, there's no cachet in a 25 year old fleece jacket. It's not as good as a new one - heavier and less effective. I like that modern outdoor clothing keeps getting better every year, and every few years I donate the old and get better, lighter gear to carry back into the wild.

A new leather jacket is stiff and uncomfortable and shiny. The way you turn it into a good leather jacket is by wearing it until the grain comes out and the finish starts to rub off on the sleeves and elbows. You can look around and find recommendations about how to speed the process with salt water and heat and whatnot, but that's just sad. The right way to do it is wear it. Wear it in the wet, wear it in the cold, fall asleep in it, spill beer on it, throw it in the back of the truck (or airplane if you're so lucky), toss it on the floor, hang it on the back of a chair. In a year or two, you'll have the great fit of a jacket molded to you. It might see you out.

My D700 is starting to brass, or whatever the equivalent is for plastic. I love it.

A well worn camera by itself is not suggestive of war. A Purple Heart means only one thing. Romanticizing a battered camera and brand by association to war is a disservice to those correspondents you respect. I would suggest you consider the actual photographs made by war photojournalists as badges of honor.

I have the same distaste for fake wear and tear, but there's something honest about it in a roundabout way. They're upfront about the fact that the buyer is not the kind of person who would use them laboriously, but value the idealized myth of the people who did. There is a fetishistic attitude in "honest wear," as if to draw an analogy between a contemporary amateur who likes expensive cameras and a professional from the past who bought the "same" camera for less taste-driven reasons.

Relax a bit. I consider a new worn camera in the same league as new "distressed" faded jeans, just more expensive.

I'm not sure it's entirely fair to lay all the blame at the feet of the people running Leica now. The marque has a long tradition of catering to the serious photographer on one hand and the collector on the other by means of scarily expensive and,in my view, occasionally vulgar limited editions which they know will probably never see much photographic action to begin with. Leikravitz is just the latest version.
Must dash; these pigs won't lipstick themselves, you know!

"Relics" have been a thing in the guitar world for over a decade now, so not only does this not surprise me, it makes perfect sense that Lenny Kravitz is the guy to come up with the idea.

For the record, I think buying new things that look old is ridiculous. For me, any wear on my gear, be they guitars or camera, are mementos of the work and reminders of our journey together.

Some years ago, the NYT Magazine had a piece about status in various trades; the thesis was, status came from something you had to earn; you couldn't buy it. For long-haul truckers, a shiny new rig didn't produce status, because you could, you know, buy one. No, status was a cheap windbreaker that you got for driving (I think) a million accident-free miles.

Your friend (well he's talked admiringly of you at least) Grant Peterson of Rivendell Bicycles coined the term beausage (byoo-saj) which describes the quality of something that has attained beauty through usage. Many of my own things have acquired this beauty, and indeed things I have been passed down or purchased from complete strangers have come with this feature pre-installed. To me, these objects/tools have their own implied wisdom through experience whether the experience was mine or not.

I used to think when factory distressed and ripped jeans were in fashion, "What a great way for a company to sell products that had gone through a machine the wrong way and got horribly mangled." Makes me think something went wrong at the Leica factory and the marketing guys picked up the fumble, knowing just how to sucker the world into over-paying for their factory seconds...

I wonder how someone would take to a 'preworn' new car? Covered in fake rust and dents.

I know people build rat customs, but I couldn't see it catch on at Fords.

Isn't that what this Leica is all about? Frankly, if you buy one you are very likely to be laughed at.

I can readily believe that most Leica users are using them because that's the kind of camera they like to use. I could also readily believe that a lot of Leicas are sold to people who are not, by any reasonable standard, Leica users.

I thought about the people back in the day who took steel wool or sand paper to their black cameras when I read the earlier post. Mostly, as I recall, it was college photojournalists attacking Nikons.

The only black Leica I ever owned, an M4, was black anodized. It was beginning to show a little metal - silver color, not brass - on the edges by the time I sold it. All honest wear, no faking.

I did own a number of black A-series Canons which, as I recall, were plastic and black all the way through. No style at all, but they made me a living for several years.

I disagree that the LK Leica kit will ever fool anybody. The people who collect this type of thing know exactly what they are, which serial number range they fall in, how many were made, etc, etc.

Frankly, I love the idea of a pre-scuffed Leica limited edition. It's a breath of fresh air compared to some of the the gold-plated abominations they've made in the past. You could use the LK Leica every day for a year, put it back in its box and sell it as "mint."

So just war correspondence had old worn brass showing Leicas? You're not saying that I know, but the Purple Heart thing only works (or works best) if you were. Right? So some folks (me included I guess) do think it's a bit of a stretch. Tho not a big deal in any case. And the Leica in question, hideous. But how long have they been selling (new) faded worn and torn Levis to folks. Same stupidity.


Ray H.

I had almost commented that my dad used to own a Mercedes like, or very similar, to the one in the picture. Then looking at it again I noticed the license plate and it's the old style Icelandic plate. So, it could actually be my dad's old Mercedes, although I doubt it is.

Mike, you're really only talking about "Patina", it's been around for a very long time and is a thing amongst vintage items of value.

I once met Jim Marshall, he was in an airport lounge checking out his gear before boarding a flight to do an assignment.
As soon as he started pulling out those wonderful brassed beauties I knew who he was.
I chatted with him for some time as he showed me his tools of the trade.

I will always remember those cameras. As a photo enthusiast, they were the best examples of Patina I have ever seen.

Re scratching the OM: I strongly believe that you never fully own a new bicycle until you have fallen off it the first time.

A friend of mine used to advise a sacrifice to the New Car Gods upon acquisition of a new vehicle. He would take a small glass of water and dump it ceremonially on the floor of the vehicle. Thus satisfied, the Driving Deities would not see fit to upend the first latte onto the upholstery or crack a bottle in the case of wine in the trunk.

The car I drive every day is an '88 Volvo 240. Believe me, its worn, but the damn thing just won't die. I refuse to get another car as long as it still runs.

Fender has been selling pre-worn (relic) guitars for a while now. I wouldn't dream of telling anyone what to spend their money on, but I think it kinda dumb. People also take belt sanders to new instruments so they look worn. Sigh.

I'm surprised you're finally offended by one of these ludicrous jokes. I'm offended by nearly everything they do, but I mostly just ignore them with occasional head shaking. They are a camera company who make cameras for almost no-one. Take the M60, what would be a marvelous tool for serious story tellers is rendered impotent by a luxury price tag. Even their only reasonable camera, the M240, is beyond expensive. My Mac was expensive. My 58mm 1.4G was expensive. The Leica M240 with a lens is totally beyond what a working photographer could justify. Their company reached it's current heights in the same climate of rampant inequality, of which they are a poster child. If that's the way Mr. Kaufmann wants to do business, fine.

How do you grade the condition of a secondhand Leikravitz? "Really, this is like new!"

I use Leica lenses on M4 and Monochrome bodies. These are important tools for my work and I value them greatly. For my purposes there are no substitutes. While a pre-worn body strikes me as a bit odd and I can't imagine buying one, I'm glad to see Leica do anything it can to stay financially healthy. I want them to continue to create new products and, more importantly, stay viable enough to supply spare parts for the items I have. Compared to the competition, they are a tiny little boutique company that defies market odds even to exist.

This is why I prefer to buy used (but not abused) equipment. You don't worry about the next scratch or nick. I've had lenses too pretty to use. Bought a pristine 40mm f2 OM mount Zuiko for $200 and sold it for $500, although I still have the OM-2Sp that was serving as a back cap for it, still works too. That lens was worth more sold that kept. All my 'users' are users, like comfortable old shoes.

Well, I have a 75f1.4 with the focusing ring ridges slightly worn. From long use. Maybe I can sell it to Mr. Kravitz.

On the other hand, in world where people wear "distressed jeans" as part of professional attire, and sometimes jeans with holes in them on purpose, well....

But hey, when your flagship product routinely gets dated between updates, and folks like Fuji are starting to offer a real alternative, what do you expect?

Yes, it’s completely silly. It is a shabby-chic camera. I abhor shabby-chic.

But you know what? We’ve been buying “stone-washed” and pre-distressed jeans for decades now. So I won’t judge the collectors and hedge-fund managers who decide to buy this set. Especially if it keeps Leica profitable as a company: Leica will never see oil-company or bank profits. Ever. So whatever they feel they need to do in order to have the cash on hand to keep their engineers busy with new projects, I’m fine with.

I’ll just smile to myself about the silliness of the whole thing as I slowly add my own (natural) brassing to my own Leica gear. The people who buy this camera can pretend all they want that they now are just like Jim Marshall.

Mike, I fully agree with your point and analogies to support the point.
I have first scratch syndrome with cars, cameras, maybe some other things (watches,...). But they usually last for a day. Ah shit, now there is a scratch. But after a day of that I get over it and start to think, ok, now that it is used, I don't need to worry about it, I can just use it without worrying about more scratches. To me, the dents and scratches also remind me where I got them. I prefer it that way rather than buying them from a shop.

Interesting that you should mention an old car. Patina, both real and fake, is something that is becoming valued on old cars. The Icon Derelict series is one example. One of them showed up at Jay Leno's garage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQVpSFoROg4

As pretty as "brassing" can be, it isn't guaranteed to make the camera more valuable. Case in point: my Panasonic Lumix GF1 is nicely brassed in a few spots (although it isn't brass underneath... "steeled?"). But I can't *give* that thing away. Two perspectives on it:

It's valuable because it's a first-generation Micro Four-thirds camera (collector's item!) that is nicely "steeled" (one of a kind!).

It's worth nothing because it's a first-generation Micro Four-thirds camera (obsolete!) that is nicely "steeled" (damaged!).

Any offers?

I'll earn my own battle scars, thank you. I don't need 'em faked up for me.

I agree. It's the difference between "beausage" and "doucheage."

It's still not a good analogy. A purple heart specifically denotes heroic service. Displaying a fake purple heart explicitly makes a false claim -- there is no other significance to a purple heart. A well worn Leica may hint at some kind of brave contribution to journalism, but it does not necessarily follow from owning such a camera. The Leica may be pretentious, or tacky, but it is not inherently fraudulent.

I suggest that we never buy objects solely for their utility, but also for what they say about us to others real or imagined. Thus, what makes us so annoyed at the Leikravitz is the possibility that others might not be honest with their messages, while we always are, aren't we.

Cars: My first car was a 1960 Jaguar Mark2, white with red leather.
I purchased it in 1968 for $800, I sold it for about the same when I moved into a student apartment in Manhattan. I never had a nicer car and probably won"t.
Cameras: That Leica reminds me of the torn jeans that sell for more than pristine.

"I'm comparing war veterans to war correspondents."

Re-read what you wrote. You are comparing a pre-distressed camera to someone who claims to be someone who was injured in combat.

You seem to be saying journalists under fire are the ones that have earned the right to carry a distressed camera.

What they did with the camera is the important part, not the condition of the camera.

[I'm not the one who made the connection--Leica calls the camera the "Correspondent." See the page at the link. --Mike]

People today buy stuff like this all the time - like brand new "destroyed" blue jeans - they have holes in the knees put there by the manufacturer - and priced higher than un-destroyed jeans. Ridiculous, I know, but there you have it. Leica will sell out the entire batch, if they haven't already.

That camera would go well with these $200 pre-aged jeans:


Speaking about your OM-4T, I just picked up a very lightly worn body (the ugly champagne painted one) at a second hand store for $30, works great. My how times have changed, what did they cost new? This is one good thing about digital, you can find good film cameras for coffee money.

I can't help but think that Umberto Eco has been proven correct. His "Travels in Hyperreality" written in 1975 predicts a future where the simulated real replaces the real and is more highly valued than the real. Bravo, Umberto.

I don't agree that a brassed camera "when real, can be a legitimate badge of honor." It's still just a camera, albeit a very nice and expensive one. The brassing isn't all that hard to do. The paint on Leicas brasses rather easily. You can brass it under grueling conditions, but you can also brass it under nice and comfortable conditions if you just handle it enough, don't put it in a case, and don't baby it too much. As I see it, this special edition is about style, not fakery.

Mike, was that a Mercedes Benz 180, 190, 220 or 300? I speculate it must have been one of the latter, since the 180 was strictly sold in Europe only.

Not to diminish those who serve and are wounded, but the criteria for awarding Purple Heart medals are amongst the broadest of any military award in the US. From the gravest wound to the merest scratch or bruise (but one that requires medical attention and is a result of enemy action or actions against the enemy), nearly two million Purple Hearts have been awarded.

This is because, in war, the difference between the slightest wound and a death dealing injury is usually merely a matter of chance and luck. The Purple Heart recognizes this.

I would venture to speculate that there are far fewer War Correspondents than Purple Heart winners. But they are mostly just as brave in exposing themselves to the risk of injury or death in the course of work.

Back in the days o' film

I wish people would stop using that phrase. For some of us it is still the days of film!

Key word: integrity. No disagreement there; either you've got it or something's being faked.

I like your idea of deliberating scratching something new (wouldn't have to be a camera) so as not to have to worry about it getting scratched.

Here's a different example:

A lot of people who paint in watercolors are at least sometimes intimidated by that beautiful blank piece of paper in front of them, especially if it's a ridiculously expensive sheet of Frabriano Exportatione (no longer made) and have trouble bringing themselves to actually paint on it.

I knew someone once who taught watercolor at an art school who told me that he had his students bring a sheet of Arches paper (expensive, but not as nearly expensive as the Fabriano) to the first class. He then gave the students a pair of scissors and told them to punch a big hole right in the middle of the paper they'd brought. After they'd done that, he'd tell them "ok, good, now that you've already ruined the paper, you won't have to worry about ruining it by painting on it."

Setting aside the Purple Heart 'controversy', the attraction of visible wear on an aged object is surely its evidencing how that object has been retained despite the ravages of time; a manifestation of commitment, even love for that object.

Hence the perversity of pre-worn cameras.

"Most Leica users, it's important to keep in mind, are neither poseurs nor jerks. Those who are are just a small minority."

Unfortunately a loud, obnoxious, visible and only too vocal minority. They give life to the derogatory term "Leica Whore".

I think Brian Williams bought one of those Leikas

220 from the late 50s, roughly?

If you were still driving it today, you'd be doing without anti-lock brakes, air bags, and traction control, to name a few important safety features. Probably without seatbelts, too (our 1958 180 didn't come with seatbelts, the 1966 200 had weird shoulder-only belts that were probably terribly dangerous).

I think it partly reflects the way the economy has changed so much over the past 20 years. There are many, many more millionaires to buy things like this, somewhere around 8.9 million of them at last count. I subscribe to the Sunday NYTimes (I'll cancel soon, too much paper) and the advertisements are almost all for multi-million dollar apartments, jewelry, and Rolex watches. This Leica is jewelry for the uncaring rich, I suppose, and bait for the obsessed collector, and it does look better than some of those diamond studded camera things that have been sold in the past.

Seems to me that griping about a pre-worn camera is about as silly as griping about pre-washed/distressed denim. Fashions come and go, participate if you like, live and let live,...

And is Leica even relevant to 99% of camera owners? I have rarely seen anyone with a Leica.

Eh? Who is Lenny Kravitz again?
Sorry, this all seems much ado about very little.

Aren't these "things" (Kravitz and the pre-brassed Leica) what the term "wanker" was created for? (will that get past the censors? is there a ToP censor?).

But one cannot deny that both things are beautiful. And isn't that enough?

From the military perspective, a wound is a wound. The Purple Heart is no difference from the Nazi Iron Cross, as a medal. Likewise, reporters belong here, too.

I was wondering if you knew how Eric Clapton got to name his album Old Sock; David Bowie 'handed' it to him while congratulating him on his birthday, so:
From one loyal reader (born 1962) to you Mike: "Happy birthday, old sock ! Hope you got loads of pleasant surprises."

Go figure:


Best Regards,


Well, it seems Mr. Grifee (see Selected Omments) has found out how Leikravitzes are manufactured. No wonder they are so expensive!

Some people value things based on what they do -- a Leica camera for example. Others value them based on what they are -- Henri Cartier-Bresson's Leica camera. Leica believes (probably correctly) that some people will pay a premium for a camera that looks in some small way like Henri Cartier-Bresson's camera and has Lenny Kravitz's name attached. But they're betting that only 150 people will.

To me, rubbing paint off of a new camera is like making a "distressed" table from new oak. It is set dressing.

What's truely frustrating about this camera is my 80's M6 would be sooooo fashionable now if they had kept with a brass top plate. Sigh. But heck, I bought a black F2 10 or so years back as it was already artistically beat up, so hey - if your buying a new Leica, money's not a primary concern , so get what you want.

But it does highlight the great tragedy of the last great 35mm cameras - My 20 year Canon A2 has no sexy patina to gather, and a battered F100 is just battered.

Simon Griffee,

Just curious, if you look closely at the Kravitz Leica, does the top plate seem familiar?

Someone should make a film about one of the "brassers" Leica hires to "distress" one of these cameras, how they develop such an emotional attachment to the camera so that they rebel against having to return it for sale to some rich dentist, but in the end they do, because they need the money. End with touching scene of the camera being put into a glass case.

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