16 March, 2015

Peeking over the fence at Leica

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Mt Tamborine, Queensland [click to enlarge]

To my mind, in the sixties there were two "real" camera choices: the Nikon F or the Leica M3. Of course, I couldn't afford either, so I "settled" for a used Minolta.

In that hypothetical, even though my head told me that Nikon was the more flexible choice, Leica won on romance. A friend had a pretty full Leica kit, including the Visoflex — Leica's way of dealing with SLR envy. But, my needs were few. I would have settled for the M3 and the 35, 50 and 90mm lenses.

But enough of a walk down memory lane.

Leica lenses have never been toppled from their perch at the top of the optical tree. And, until the introduction of mirrorless cameras, Leica cameras were the main avenue for using those lenses.

But, times are changing. Computer modelling, cheaper aspheric lenses, new coatings, and in-camera correction of distortion and chromatic aberrations have narrowed the distance between Leica and the other high end players. I don't think there's enough in it to justify anything like the differences in cost.

There's no question that rangefinder mechanisms have inherent benefits. You can compose more easily, seeing more of the scene. They're quiet(er), with no mirror to slap around, They are less subject to vibration, with no mirror to slap around. They are compact, with no mirror to slap around. You get the idea: There's no mirror box.

And, until more recently, Leicas were the most compact way to access full-frame sensors. But there are some negatives: There are parallax problems, limits on the length of lenses, and rangefinders need the occasional adjustments of their complex mechanisms.

Over these many, intervening years I would have been willing trade my cameras and lenses in an even swap for Leica gear — until fairly recently. I wouldn't have swapped my NEX-7 for a Leica. And now, there's no way I'd swap my A7II for either an M9 or a 240.

I hope that Leica can reinvent itself. And, I hope it can do it in a way that won't disappoint its devotees.

When I was a boy, I thought a car phone would be the coolest thing. Now I have a phone / computer / music player / camera in my pocket, and I don't want a car phone anymore.

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