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Tuesday, 09 August 2022

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M cameras are a profitable niche for the company. It's not to be sniffed at.

i am not sure if i read it here but catering to the carriage trade has its drawbacks if your business is the large scale production of carriage whips when the carriage is supplanted by cars!

I have tried a leica m7 but could not master the trick of manual focus especially at the moment. otherwise loved it. critical focus cannot be fixed in post. zone focus does not produce critical sharp images. i have better luck manual focusing my nikon fm3a and good exposure as well.

"I've only bought cameras that cost close to $3k twice in my life, and both times it just drove me crazy to have that much cash hanging from a strap."

Try a better strap.

Mike,

Did you realize you were channeling Spiro Agnew when you referred to "nattering nabobs?"

--Charlie

A friend once rented an apartment that had the kitchen floor painted brown. It had a trail of newspaper across it. The previous tenant painted himself into a corner then laid newspaper ahead of himself on the wet paint so he could walk across it. The tenant moved on the newspaper was still there. Your method seems more satisfactory.

I suppose that another German product that has not changed much visually (although it has internally) is the Porsche 911.

So are Porsche simply slaves to audience capture - continually putting out a compromised design just to assuage the nostalgic feelings of their loyal customer base - or is the 911 a fundamentally great design that has simply been improved with every new release? You decide!

[I personally think they're a bunch of different cars with the same name, but maybe that's just me. --Mike]

I think the Leica Monochrome is revolutionary even if it's still in the same Leica M shape. The concept of capturing pictures in just three colours - Black & White & Grey - has never been copied by their competitors (even though they can easily do that). Who dares wins!

re: "I actually think Leica is the one company that has not been captured by its audience." I respectfully disagree. Leica did try to build a different / better rangefinder camera: the M5. The Leica M audience rejected the camera. Leica had to drop back and issue a more M3-ish design: the M6. The audience rejected the M5 and demanded the M6. Leica did what the captured audience demanded.


@Malcolm Myers: Porsche has tried to replace the 911 with a better design (for some value of "better"): the 928. Although the 928 has some success, the captured audience of 911 fans rejected the 928. The 928 was made for 1978 to 1995, but the captured audience demanded that the 911 continue through today and who knows how long in the future.

?When was the last time you read and mastered a whole camera instruction book?"

Three days ago, when my OM-1 arrived. The book packed with the camera is nearly 300 pages long, with the same material repeated, if I counted correctly, in 28 different languages. That gives about 10 pages per language (actually 12 for the English language section) in very un-dense form. For instance, one full page is devoted to inserting SD cards and attaching a lens, with most of the page occupied with drawings. Oh - you meant the full-form manual? That's a download of more than 300 pages. I didn't read that one.

"I hear objections like this a lot, and in some ways of course they're valid"

As a build-your-own-camera fantasy, simple cameras sound good. But Leica (especially the b/w version) and Miata are low-volume, high-margin niche products. So are you just asking for a Leica-like niche camera but priced at a more affordable level? Doesn't Fuji already make something close to that with the X-100 and the X-pro? Their market share is, I believe, in the low single digits. And I think XH-2 is their tacit admission that they need to reach a bigger audience, even with Fuji's deep pockets.

How much more room is there in the market for additional "simple" camera(s) from other makers? How many camera makers can remain profitable and survive in a shrinking market if they spend their limited R&D and manufacturing resources for mid-priced (i.e. low margin) niche products that will sell in smaller numbers?

That said, if we're going to be wishing for simple cameras, I want one that's optimally designed for bird and wildlife photography.

I think a big part of the problem is the lack of filters. In the past feature requests would be filtered through various layers, the dealer, the regional manager, the national distributor and so on. Nowadays anyone can make a YouTube video and spam numerous forums with any crazy idea that comes into their head

It is part of the information overload that we all experience these days. And so much of that information is in need of editing at a whole range of levels - should it be written in the first place and if it is, is it written well enough.

Writing was never my strong point, but these days I so often find myself thinking that things could be written better (here is one of the exceptions and is really well written). That applies across a range of media - books, newspapers as well as the internet.

I'm sympathetic to your view. It brings up just a few questions; how much of a success were the Cosina/Voigtlander rangefinders? The only modern feature I'm married to is IBIS. Could I live with manual-focus with focus-peaking, fine jpeg output and a superior EVF? With a modest form and a modest price I think I'd have to try one.

I’m sorry. I’m a self-employed businessman, and in more than one field (including, recently, as a photographer). Are you suggesting there is something wrong with my delivering what my client seek (assuming, of course, that there I no ethical objection to what they seek)? I doubt it very much. If that is “audience capture”, so be it. Lead on McDuff.

[Well, I'm not saying something is wrong with in specific cases, or in your particular case, but broadly speaking, of course there is something wrong with it. We do all kinds of things wrong by pandering to the lowest common denominator of what people demand. As just one example, we have a food industry that strenuously works toward ruining our bodies and our health, for one. All you have to do to see that is look around. There are a great many cases demonstrating that market capitalism encourages catastrophic unintended consequences, such as ruining the weather. --Mike]

I think the missing piece of the conversation is to know what information, if any, camera companies receive back from the world, other than sales figures. We all crave those little dopamine hits of approval, but the camera companies aren't unitary entities. Even to the extent that you want to personify the decision-makers as the companies themselves, it isn't clear that they are good analogues for that fellow in the linked article who is eating himself to death. It is an interesting thought, but I think Ken T. has it right in his observation.

By the way, wasn't it always the case that most companies copy their with-whiches* rather than innovate brilliantly in their own modes? Kodak made T-Grain films, Ilford responded with Detla. Rodenstock made Sironar lenses, Schneider made their APO-Componons. Coke made Diet Coke, and Pepsi made. . . well you get the idea. When the trend was hard-focus, you didn't see companies saying, let's bring back soft-focus lenses. Or if they did, they remained niches within the niche.

My sense is that camera complexity is driven as much by the fact that its all software and not hard-engineering. This is all really digital signal processing you are talking about, not optics or engineering. You have a fixed hardware cost for the body and circuit boards, and you want to re-use that work as many times as you can so that you don't have to re-invent the wheel in cameras-as-fashion land of yearly upgrades. We do the same thing with legislation too: we tend to add laws rather than do a good housekeeping for what's not used any more. That's why my little Vermont town has elected positions for "Weigher of the Coal," "Fence Viewer" and Constable, even though the original functions of those jobs are all lost to the mists of time.


Ben

* my wife teaches at a small liberal-arts college, and when they want to see what other small liberal-arts colleges are doing on curriculum or tuition, or some other policy, they look at their "with whiches." That is, the institutions with which they compare themselves. Useful if amusing concept.

I tend to agree about the over-complication of cameras. I don’t totally accept that umpteen af and/or exposure methods are essential for happy ownership. I’ve never even used that little exposure compensation button on my cameras: what’s so difficult about simply looking at the exposure information bar and just using your thumb or forefinger on one of the control wheels to modify your exposure a smidgen to either left or right?

If you work a scene, chances are that the basic exposure remains pretty static between shots; only when you change your direction relative to the light, or to the type of background tonality, do you run into probable exposure changes that require you to tweak in a little less or more exposure, and that new situation usually remains much the same until the next radical change of shooting zone.

I remember using Kodachrom 64 Pro for my work. The exposure would remain remarkable constant for much of the day; that kind of film was not noted for its ability to capture a massive range of tones: if it could handle most of what I did outdoors, then I think it’s ludicrous to imagine that digital needs constant tweaking to get good files. It really is crowding angels on the head of a pin: the viewer will never know if you worked with a team of fifteen of them, or could muster only a lowly twelve.

Complexity tends to equate with confusion, and the urge to appear to have an answer for everything, including questions never yet asked.

Leica and its M bodies? I wish the company luck, and laud it for the way in which it involves and includes its clients by virtue of all those exhibitions it sponsors, the many videos it supports, creating the concept of some kind of a family, however bogus or not that may actually be. Of course the inevitable bottom line is shifting boxes; but hey, there are nice ways and less than nice ways of doing that. If you can afford it, go enjoy it! I have never felt any kind of manufacturer/user bond between myself and any camera brand other than, perhaps just a little bit, with Hasselblad-as-was.

"It's the only company that has the cojones to go against the crowd and make fundamentally simple cameras."

Isn't Leica known for relatively simple cameras? I've never even held one in my hands, but I don't remember them having models that were cluttered with features, so while they may be going against the crowd, they are continuing to make their type of camera. [I see Kevin W.'s comment about the M5. Will investigate.]

Pierce-Arrow; pretty fancy. One of the "three P's" of motordom -- the others being Packard and Cleveland's Peerless. The Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum had one of the 16-cylinder Peerless models and IIRC one of the Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow models. Sadly, it appears they sold off some of their cars a number of years ago. But they still have the Thunderbird and Continental with stainless steel bodies.

( https://www.wrhs.org/crawford/autos/ )

After Pierce-Arrow went bankrupt, you would still find the Pierce name on the front of certain fire engines. Seagrave bought the tooling for the V-12 engine at the bankruptcy auction.

Now you'll probably dig into Pierce-Arrow and become a member of the Pierce Arrow Society!

I recently sold a GRIII, a G9 body, 7 M43 lenses, a drum kit and a watch, and got a new Q2. It's joyous. I've given up reading all gear / review sites. What surprises me is how little I cosset it - it's the first camera I've owned that I feel no need to cosset. Because I'm done buying?

I am going to make a rare second comment here, which is that I don't use more than a small percentage of my cameras' settings. I use them all the same way: I need access to the ISO, aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation settings. That's it. Even the feature heavy Pentax K-1 and Olympus OM-1 allow you to do this without too much hassle. The Fuji X-1 Pro always takes me a moment to figure out. But my go-to cameras, including the M-9 all operate on the same basic principles. So yeah, there are a huge number of potential settings. But most cameras I use let you ignore these 99% if the time. And it is the ability to ignore options that kinda-sorta lets you claw back to some Leica-like simplicity.

Deyan Sudjic devoted a page to the Leica M3 in Cult Objects: The complete guide to having it all, and that's how I think of Leica rangefinder cameras.

https://archive.org/details/cultobjectscompl0000sudj/page/n163/mode/2up
(refer to back cover for Sudjic's definition)

Today's cameras accommodate many possible definitions of Simplicity, and the narrower the definition, the more niche (niche-ier?) it is. Olympus did a clever thing with the Pen-F: You can have your LCD or not simply by flipping the thing around.

The example of Leica is maybe a poor one. Those of us that have used a Leica M, in my case for film photography, know that it is (they all are, M5 excluded) a superb tool for a specific purpose. Exactly the same is true for me in the case of the OM1 and OM2 and their n-suffixed descendants but then I would say that wouldn't I?

My reponse to sroyon: why change something that works really, really, well? Just to remind you, Leica did try to change the M range with the M5. It went down like a lead balloon with the market although it has a niche following, especially in the post-film, digital era for user/collectors.

If memory serves, Leica did not build the M5 differently because they were trying to make a better, different rangefinder- they simply couldn’t fit a behind the lens meter into the confines of a classic M body. Practically had not kept pace with technology. I thought of that when they introduced their M8, where their current tech (crop sensor) had yet to catch up with the practicality of using ff lenses.

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