Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape has written, IMHO, the first ever honest (and courageous) Leica article [not that other Leica articles are not honest, just too unabashedly and embarassingly gushing in their praises that they overlook major weaknesses in this venerable model] casting a non-judgemental but critical look at how the next version Leica M can be improved in this digital age.
Thank you, Michael, for the courage to say that the rangefinder should probably be laid to rest. That it does not make sense to design a flat camera and then have users buy plastic add-ons for better handling. That one should not have to screw off the base plate to change battery and memory card… In other words, let common sense rule!
Read Michael Reichmann’s article at: Luminous Landscape
There is also quite a reaction, mostly negative, to the article from new converts to the Leica M9. Most of the responses are the classic “fan boy” knee-jerk reaction we see so much of whenever someone criticizes [positively or negatively] “our” camera. Especially so if we have agonized long and have sacrificed much [monetarily] to buy such an expensive — and superb — camera. The mental contortions that we put ourselves through to justify buying this camera [or any other camera or product] make us rise up in outrage to any hint that someone is disparaging “our” camera. [Read more reactions here and here.]
How do we know we are over-reacting? Simple. When we review a camera, we always list the good points and the bad points. No camera, including the Leica M9, is perfect. So if we get angry when someone points out the bad points in our camera, we need to take a step back to get a more objective perspective.
The addition of a plastic thumb rest is a perfect example of common sense thrown out the window. On any other camera, we would be laughed out of the room if we added a plastic thumb rest to our camera, never mind that camera costs an arm and a leg. Yet, those shouting the loudest to leave the M design alone are also the first to purchase and add the cheapo plastic thumb atachment. If the Leica M camera needs a handgrip and a thumb rest, why not let the famed Leica designers do their job and give us a knock-out design? Have to screw off the base plate to change memory card? Guess at what we are taking with a long focal length lens? Match two images to focus [try doing this in low light]? Rangefinder focusing is quaint but passé. Just like film is passé. And Polaroid is passé.
A few responses are well thought out arguments and basically say, “Leave the M design alone. We like it as it is. It has endured through the ages and is legendary.”
Let’s get one thing clear: The Leica M9 is a collector’s item so its value will never diminish, but will probably increase with time. It is also a superb camera. For those who desire the legendary M design, the Leica M9 will always be available for purchase.
But what does Leica, as a brand, stand for?
Leica introduced the first practical 35mm camera, the Leica I, in 1925. It used standard 35mm cinema film but extended it to 24x36mm instead of the standard 18x24mm used by cinema cameras. The rangefinder was added to the Leica II in 1932; it was separate from the viewfinder. The Leica M3 combined the rangefinder and the viewfinder in 1954.
In 1964 and onward, Leica introduced a number of SLR cameras, but they never quite caught on as the M series did. The SLR line was discontinued in 2009, but a promising larger format S2 introduced in a SLR body.
Asking Leica to add an electronic viewfinder to the M is not a far-fetched idea. Leica is fully aware of the limitations of the rangefinder in their M cameras. In 1960, it introduced the Visoflex system which was a mirror-reflex attachment that allowed longer focal-length lenses to be used on the M.[ Historical source: Wikipedia ]
The Leica brand has always stood for innovation and its cameras always included the best of what’s available in technology. That Leica chose to introduce its own digital X1 instead of branding a Panasonic G camera says a lot. It knows the future belongs to the high resolution electronic viewfinder, fast focusing contrast-detect AF, and high performance cameras, and has chosen to come to grasp with it instead of simply rebranding someone else’s cameras. Future M cameras, if there are any more [can the “9” be the end of a series?], will [eventually have to] “modernize” with electronic viewfinders, autofocus, even [gasp!] HD movie. It’s only natural, because Leica has always stood for innovation and the best of the best. The next Leica digital M cannot be anything else.