An Open Letter to Leica

There’s a rather interesting open Letter to Leica on Luminous Landscape; well worth a read.

(Via http://leicarumors.com/.)


But I can’t say I quite agree.

Part of the reason I don’t quite agree is because I am a recalcitrant traditionalist; I would rather not have some ‘future-minded’ Engineers tamper with a fundamentally well-evolved camera system, in the same way that I would rather not have any zealous-minded dipshit cause Morgan to cease production of the +4 because it doesn’t conform to modern “standards” (whatever those are).

Another reason is that I’m not convinced that the M system is necessarily a dead end.

Quite aside from the small, but noticeable resurgence in the use of film, even in a professional context, there are roles that a manual focused rangefinder camera (digital or not) can fulfill that DSLRs and EVILs cannot (though the EVIL cameras are closer to the M aesthetic than a DSLR will ever be).

The Leica — initially the “Barnack” Leicas, and later the M family — became a mainstay of photojournalists because it was simple, compact, very reliable and robust, with excellent lenses and other accessories. It’s clear that Leica is marketing the M9 by appealing to the “behold how awesome Ms have always been” trope, and Mr Reichmann is right to point out that that is not enough.

I would submit that the future M series needs to be re-thought not in terms of making it more “current” or “modern”, but in terms of making it more useful to professional photographers, in particular photojournalists, by adding and enhancing features that make it easier for a skilled photog to take pictures, and stripping away nonsense and fluff.

Safe in the knowledge that nobody who reads this blog works for Leica, here are a few thoughts.

The Lenses

Leave the damn lenses alone. Seriously, they’re perfect. OK fine, do R&D, make ’em better, smoother, tougher, sharper. But leave the attitude alone.

Extend the 6-bit coding to embrace every lens Leica has ever produced.

In fact, perhaps open up the 6-bit system (perhaps making it a 7- or 8-bit system to allow for more information), or modify it to allow for 3rd party lens manufacturers. If Olympus can get a couple of other players on board the 4/3 system, then Leica can cut a deal with Zeiss and Voigtländer.

That way, if it should occur to Zeiss or Voigtländer (i.e., Cosina in both cases) to produce a digital M-compatible system, the users of this system can aspire to Leica lenses.

One thing I’d personally like is a return to 11-bladed aperture diaphragms. 5-blades? What are you, cheap? No you aren’t, so stop acting cheap.

Autofocus can’t be done with the M system, so let’s forget about that. Lots of PJs shoot wide angles hyperfocal anyway.

The Bodies

The basic form factor, which makes the Leica what it is, should also be basically left alone, at least from the front.

But instead of adding fluff, make it useful.

PJs shoot under stressful situations, often needing to remain very discreet. The shutter needs to be even quieter. The cocking mechanism, even if delayed by the ‘discreet mode’ of the M9, is still teeth-grittingly noisy when you’re trying to take a furtive pic.

What’s stopping us from researching alternatives to physically moving a cloth or metal curtain back and forth across the sensor? Does a digital sensor really need a shutter in the conventional sense?

How about a shutter made from some kind of glass that can control its translucency, perhaps with liquid crystals?

Thumbrest, please. The Epson RD-1 even had a real shutter cocking lever, which might be a useful alternative to a noisy motor!

The baseplate

Everybody agrees that making the user pull the baseplate off a digital camera in order to swap the SD card is completely brain dead, and possibly even dangerous.

Let me elaborate.

PJs sometimes need to hide their SD cards from officials/militants/insurgents/obsequious cops preventing “terrorism”/your mom, so that they don’t confiscate pictures of things the public viewability of which PJs and the above-mentioned people don’t see eye to eye about.

So it would be a killer feature to have a substantial internal buffer, and two SD card slots; One is easily accessible and ‘sacrificial’, the inner one is the backup, and the internal buffer is backup-backup. Maybe even a user-accessible un-delete function!

An option for the baseplate is a Leicavit-style battery pack. I’m envisioning superior battery endurance, the various SD slots and possibly a bluetooth transmitter or similar for tethering to a small storage device off-body.

The display

Finest quality, please, and cover it in anti-glare sapphire glass, and please let me operate the camera without the display at all if I need to; if I’m in the dark somewhere, I don’t want an expensive camera to give away my position.

To sum up

I haven’t really been as coherent as the Luminous Landscape article, but I have voiced a few thoughts. That counts for something. I’ll write a more concisely-argued version of this another time.

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About lidlesseye

Mouthing off about photography, and occasionally important things too.

Posted on January 26, 2010, in leica, Photography and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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