Leica, the famous fashion powerhouse in photography, known for its amazing optics and once very famous for producing rangefinder photo-cameras that could take a beating, just released another another one of those ‘collector sets’: The Correspondent. This one is designed by Leica user Lenny Kravitz (yeah, the musician) and features a Leica M-P (240) with two lenses: a 50mm f/1.4 and a 35mm f/2.0. Only 125 sets will be produced, all in pretty black. The set comes in a lovely case made of black leather and will retail for apx. Euro 25.000. Yeah, 25K … not a typo. Without doubt a beautiful set, but given Leica’s persisting production problems I really wonder whether they got their priorities right.
I applaud Leica for this wink to their glorious past, in which top correspondents took their Leica’s to every hotspot in the world. They often captured the news under the most brutal conditions and lots of the most famous photos ever were taken with a Leica. Below four examples:
Through the years I studied lots of those pictures and read everything I could on Leica photographers. I studied light, technology and techniques. I kind of fell in love with that typical Leica look and knew that someday I would to buy my own Leica M. It would actually take a couple of years. I moved my way up from a simple compact camera onwards to Canon Digital ending up with 5D and 1D series. I still love the Canon’s 5D. But then I finally had the guts (and the money) to get myself a real Leica and the time to learn how to use it. My first one was a used M9 Rangefinder with a 50mm lens. I still have it. I was thrilled but kept the news all to myself. I think I was kind of intimidated by the greatness of the brand, its glorious past and famous users. It took me close to a year before I had the courage to post a picture taken with a Leica on this blog and even a few months more before I actually dared to tell someone I was using a Leica.
That was some years ago. Fast forward to today. I’m still deeply in love with the equipment and my Leica collection has grown. From the stuff I own, my weapon of choice mostly is the Monochrom. The rangefinder has definitely helped me to become a better photographer, although I still have much to learn. But I wonder if I will be doing that using Leica. I sense troubles ahead and my love for the brand is slowly eroding. Let me explain.
Dive into the average Leica user group and you will notice three types of messages:
1. Members posting pictures.
2. Members reporting major hardware issues or software issues: cracked sensors, white dot issues, lens issues, software freezes, etc.
3. Members posting new fashion add ons they have bought for their Leica’s: Louis Vutton straps, fancy holster cases, etc.
The balance between those postings is unfortunately slowly but steadily moving from posts with pictures to posts with issue reports and complaints as Leica clearly doesn’t have its quality control im griff. Things are starting to get really nasty with some Leica users currently reporting waiting times of over 7 months. Mind you, we are talking about a product that costs over 7.000 in Euros and is often being used by people that earn their living with it. That’s not good and I regularly see Leica’s chairman Dr. Andreas Kaufman personally interfering in user groups in an attempt to avoid further brand damage. It’s great to see that he doesn’t hide, but it’s a shame that he has to participate in these kind of online discussions.
I personally haven’t had any problems with my Leica camera (Update May 2015: Ooops), but had to return two brand new lenses for repairs as the front ring gave away. Leica repaired them free of charge (warranty, lenses less then 2 months old, figures) but turnaround time was over 6 weeks each. I didn’t need them for my income otherwise I would have been totally pissed. Now I was just disappointed and annoyed. But ignoring my personal feelings, it’s another sign that quality control is lacking and again on products that are as expensive as a decent second-hand car. Not good.
My own real problem is dust. It’s amazing how much dust that Leica sensor attracts compared to other systems. Even without changing lenses you have to blow the sensor every day to keep it clean so you can shoot a clear blue sky. I was used to changing lenses on my Canon 5D while riding a camel through a desert without suffering from dust (yeah, that took some practice), but using Leica I won’t even change a lens outside in a wind free area unless I really, really, really have to.
And that brings me back to this lovely Kravitz designed M-P (240). It’s clearly aimed at a collector’s market that buys this kits to put them in a safe in order to sell it at a nice price in 20 years. So these cameras won’t be seeing much active use. Thinking about Leica’s epic 35mm film Camera’s I understand this business model. I see lots of Leica photographers posting amazing pictures recently made with cameras made in the 50’s and even 30’s. We are talking about analogue hardware that doesn’t need a battery. With good care, they will keep on working forever. But a digital Leica? With Leica’s current track record? Brrrrr! Can’t see one working in 10 years, let alone in 20 years. I guess lots of collectors won’t be very happy when learning that they have to send in their unique piece for sensor repairs. Can you imagine that Ebay entry for Februari 2034: “Selling a brand new Kravitz designed Leica M-P (240). In original snake leather case, including official invoice from 2014 and documents. Kind of mint condition: did have its two obligatory sensor replacements.” What will that do on that resale value?
The really sad thing of this beautiful set is that brass that is shining through the black paint. It emulates heavy use where paint wears off because of something (tripod, bag, wall, camel, armored car, whatever) touching the camera. On a camera that won’t be seeing any action at all. Hilarious. Must have been tongue in cheek. Pure satire. Let’s call it art. It’s like one of those torn up “worker’s” jeans you buy from Diesel for your next party. And the really bad thing: there is no digital Leica around that will survive usage resulting in that kind of brass markings.
And it’s not that Leica seldom releases collector’s items. The previous one was released two weeks ago: an olive green M-P (240) “Safari edition”. Before that we saw the “60 years of Leica M” camera and Summer 2014 brought us the “100 years of Leica” edition. I can’t even come close to imagining the feelings of someone that has been checking his inbox for a Leica service message at least 8 times a day for 7 months in a row, only finding announcements of newly released collector’s items. Beautiful cameras that will never be used. Like his own broken one. Snif.
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly love some of these collector’s items and I do think this Kravitz’ designed M 240 is nothing less than gorgeous, but what is the use of pretty if the thing doesn’t work? Leica should fix its quality control and get rid of that backlog one way or another. Or fade away. There is no other option. In the meantime I will happily and with full dedication continu using my M’s …
Then again, that’s not saying much as I just might be a lover of fading great brands. After all, I was a fanatical user of those aluminum Olivetti notebooks in the 90’s, not to mention the Atari ST. And was an avid Palm/Handspring addict until the very end. Did I mention Apple’s Newton? Some brands are simply not meant to last and maybe, just maybe, Leica’s time is up too.
More Leica: A new CEO, so what?