Leica… Welcome To The Master Race?

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leica Leica... Welcome To The Master Race?

by Gavin Seim: I’ve given thought what I would say about Leica. I was even told I should not write about this. In the end decided that I would give my honest thoughts on this brand.

Let me first say that I’ve never owned a Leica personally. I’m fairly confident they make a good camera and I confess I have felt the draw of owning a Leica. Their fairly small, high end and retro. I’ve felt that voice that says “If you own me, you’ll be way cooler than you are now”. So while at PMA 09 I decided to stop by and give Leica the chance to convince me why I should pay more for one of their cameras.

I was escorted to the Leica PR guy who was more than a little defensive about the my question, which was essentially this. Why Leica? Why should we photographers spend 6k on a rangefinder body and 4k for a 50mm lens? Understand I don’t mind saving and paying thru the nose for gear that’s worth it. I wanted Leica to show me why theirs was.

Leica gave me shallow answers. Responses ranged from things like, our firmware is different (not kidding), to it’s a whole different experience, to how good their low light focusing is. I was told however that this $6000 body can only shoot to about ISO 1250. That’s a far cry from the latest pro offerings of the big boys. Now I’m getting skeptical.

Eventually I pointed to the little red logo and stated. “Sounds like mainly people are paying for this” This was met with uncomfortable denial. “Look at our pictures I was told as they pointed to some great shots on the wall. Yep they looked good, but did Leica notice they were at PMA. Their was very large images everywhere the were BREATHTAKING. Theirs did not seem to stand above the rest.

What they really seemed to say was that we should buy them just because they are Leica.  About the only factual advantage they showed was their 3yr warranty vs others 1yr. Good? Yes. Worth all that extra money? No.

Before long the reasons started sounding more like lines from Spongebob Squarepants, rather than real reasons to get a Leica. The rep told me that by comparison, images from other cameras “Look Plasticy”  Naturally I asked if they could direct me to a side by side evidence of this. I was skeptical but eager to be shown.

“We’re a German company” he replied with an air of derision. Stating that in Germany they don’t do such comparisons. Moments later he turned without so much as a good bye and walked away.

The Straight Dope. Never have I interacted with a company so arrogant and self-worshiping. Even before I questioned their perfection the Leica team seemed to eye me with an air of disdain. Perhaps they sensed I use Canon.

I have spoke with few reps who were worse at convincing me their product was worthy of my dollar. Leica raved to me about their service, but even their own pre-sales people were jerks. Not a good sign. Leica feels they don’t have to offer consumers an explanation. I believe they think their better than the rest simply because their Leica.

I welcome comments from Leica lovers or haters who have thoughts,  but based on what I’ve seen, I think I’ll walk away. This German company seems rooted in they’re nationality and acts as if their the master race of the photo world. I came in with polite questions and an open mind to see if Leica is truly better. In the end Leica’s lips moved, but they said very very little.

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  • Eugene

    Next please… Insightful post Gav.

  • http://www.seraphicimago.com Robert

    Humm… that’s pretty lame… and for that Price I think a 1Ds MkIII any day -

  • Chetnikk

    Not to mention the green ghosting and the incredibly lame workaround for the purple-blacks problem (giving people $50 filters to go on their $4,000 lenses…); if I’m going to pay $9,000 for a rangefinder and lens, the darn thing had better be bloody well *perfect* in terms of these QC issues.

    I’d defy anyone to show me an image that can be obtained with a Leica M8 that can’t be had for one-half the price with commensurate Nikon or Canon gear.

  • Wade

    If I were to judge companies by their booth staff, I’d probably have missed out on some great stuff.

    I love my M8. Its a great camera. I love my 5d too. Its also a great camera. They are just tools. To be fair though, you can’t judge anything by just looking at it thru a glass case. You need to use it.

    My Summicron 50 is the best lens I’ve ever used. Its one of the all time great primes and you gotta put a lot of light thru it to know…

  • http://www.flickr.com/ricardopickman/ Álvaro Sendra González

    Este artículo está muy mal traducido, apenas he podido comprender nada.

    • http://www.prophotoshow.net Gavin Seim

      Lo sentimos, se hace automáticamente por el traductor Google. Es lo mejor que puedo hacer por ahora. Gavin

  • Carey

    Thanks for the straight talk Gavin. Its refreshing to see a professional in the industry step up and say “show me why”.

  • http://studioclausen.com James

    Let me say that I won’t be buying a Leica any time soon; but I think I might understand a little about why their reps are like they are.

    I do a certain amount of studio/commercial work. Most of what I do could probably be accomplished with Alien Bees, Smith Victor, or Impact lights. As a photographer you might ask the same question of a Pro Photo or Elinchrom rep: “why should I pay $1499 for Elinchrom when I can get the same from Alien Bees for $499?” But for some photographers it’s worth it. It’s worth it to pay for the “Elinchrom difference.”

    There continues to be world-class photographers that keep choosing Leica. That says to me that Leica offers something. Maybe It’s not enough for me. I’d choose a D3x over an M8; but I’ll stop short of throwing sticks at a company that has a different sales pitch due to social/cultural tendencies. Leica isn’t for Gavin. Leica isn’t for me (right now). Leica isn’t for us. Pro Photo isn’t for some of us. Chimera isn’t for some of us. Even the 50D isn’t for some of us (based on price alone). Let’s not be too quick to judge a company simply because one product offering doesn’t fit our purposes.

    There are a lot of gorgeous images by industry-leading photographers that have chosen Leica. They must be doing something right.

  • William Horsley

    I think James is exactly right. Gavin and I are Mac users. We could do what we do with Windows, but yuck, why not use the better but more expensive tool? Leica must be the same thing — compared to others they offer fewer, more expensive choices, but worth it to someone.

    But having said that, aren’t some mac fanboys/mac employees a bit insufferable about it? Not that I’ve ever said, “Get a mac!” to someone whose computer just crashed, had driver issues, had spawned earth destroying viruses, etc. Would we really be disdainful of others because they used a different/inferior brand of computer? Probably, just like Leica.

  • http://www.prophotoshow.net Gavin Seim

    I think the difference is that Mac lovers start using Mac and discover real reasons why Mac is better for them. Reasons far more than “It’s just a Mac”

    That’s not to say that PC’s can’t do as good of work, but PC users switch to Mac all the time and love it far more. They also have real reasons they like it. I don’t see the real reasons when looking at Leica.

    I expected more people who were Leica users to stick up for them. The fact that nobody is does not speak well for their being a real reason to use them over the competition.

  • http://studioclausen.com James

    Wade makes a fair point in his “sticking up” for the M8. You would need to pick one up and use it at the very least in order to pass adequate judgment. And how much better to shoot an entire project or two before passing judgment on a camera. Looking at specs and talking to a seemingly arrogant sales rep isn’t the fairest means of evaluation.

    Technically the only “real reason” that a photographer needs to pay more for a Leica is: “It frees me up to create excellent images.” The M8 might have lesser low-light performance than a MkII or D700; but let’s face it, most of us have Noise Ninja for that.

    I mean if we’re quite frank, people do fine work with cameras that seem really inferior to the two big names. I’m a little surprised that anyone would use Olympus digital SLRs in a professional context; but people do. A talented photographer just won Kerry Garrison’s photo contest with an E-3. Go figure.

    If Leica isn’t a good fit for you, use a camera system that is. Lambasting a camera company that clearly produces phenomenal images seems silly to me.

  • http://www.makeitez.co.uk Bernie

    In my reading Gavin wasn’t knocking the product but the PR guy and sales people. Those guys didn’t answer his question about why he should choose a Leica with anything along the lines that Wade said.

    In the 80s I had two Olympus OM2 bodies and they were great. I wouldn’t use an Olympus today because their 4/3 system and apparent policy of not moving toward full frame seems nuts to me. I recently bought a new body… a Sony.

  • http://vividphotography.blogspot.com/ Neil Gaudet

    I use an Olympus E3, and I love it. As far as I know, it is the most weathersealed dslr on the market, and up to ISO 800 it produces superb images. Olympus makes great lenses as well. Does it have shortfalls? Yes, absolutely. So does the Leica. As far as I can tell, there are very few cameras that are great for every type of photography.

    I have been pulled into wanting a Leica. So much so that my first dslr was a Panasonic L1 which was a Leica clone as it was as close as I could get to affording one. There is something romantic about them and after using Leica lenses I can say they are special.

    Now, having said all that. I’m currently saving my pennies for a D700 as it does something that my current gear simply does not. It is too bad that a Leica rep was so obnoxious. If I were his boss and saw him talking to a potential customer like that I’d fire him on the spot. Gavin, go pick one of them up and use one. I think you’ll love it if you can get past the specs. We all tend to get too focused on megapixels, ISO and such things sometimes I think. When you are done trying it, go back to your Canon. It is also a great camera.

  • Hugo Barrera

    Thanks for the comments but really, check your “their” and “they’re” – I think you have them all mixed up – it’s a little distracting.

  • NS

    I’m shocked and a little surprised at this article. No I don’t own a Leica, I’m just a consumer that’s been looking up comparison reviews to understand which camera would be best suited to me.

    What shocks me at this article is the tone. Clearly it seems that Gavin has felt his ego a little bruised. It’s a show, the reps have many people to deal with and I’m sure for them it can also be quite annoying to have ‘professionals’ asking them all kinds of questions without an open mind, simply to gather data to prove a point. I contest that you truly went in with an open mind because if you had, you’d have asked more specific questions in how the product suited you. I’m sure if you went to any sales rep, say even Lamborghini and asked them “Why Lambo?” they’d show you the front door pretty quick.

    I’m a Mac user, so I can relate to the comments made about the system. I’ve been a Mac and windows user for many many years. Yet in all honesty, if someone asked me why Mac… I’d stumble! Yes I can roll out, no viruses e.t.c e.t.c but they aren’t the real reasons we own a Mac. The real reasons are far more subtle and we tend to describe those reasons to other people based on Apple marketing. The only way someone will understand, is by using it. Yes there are fanboys but shouldn’t everyone ask why, why do people love something so much they are willing to become social exiles in order for someone else to enjoy that same happiness?

    If Leica can have people that do the same, for the same reasons that Mac users do, then maybe it should be something that you consider. Try it, use it, then decide.

  • jason gold

    Thank you! I am a Leica user.I own a system. All you said was true! The sheer arrogance and foolishness has left their development so far behind. I had a new Leica delivered to me(when it was still Leitz 1967) that had not been fully assembled! The rangefinder lacked basic parts. Was there an exchange? Ya gotta be kidding. The final assembly done in my country. Yes a letter of regret. When Mamiya supplied a TLR with a 220 back and there were no 220 films where i lived, i was given a 40% discount on my already discounted price,for a 180mm lens. The Porrofinder and Parramender,both free. The 120 back supplied a few months later, also no charge.
    I mentioned on one Leica forum, the M-digital giving me the highest amount of wrong focus ever!
    All the forum members blamed me. I guess as I’ve used Leica-M’s since the 50′s as a kid, i obviously did not know how to use a Rngfdr.. It was a “Test camera with 90mm lens”.If Leica can’t get it right, who can?
    Use on and you may fall in love! Go for a film version. Be prepared to be on 1st name terms with technicians.
    Can you use a Canon with a Leica. Yes. Most controls sort of similar. If one of the cameras breaks down,you’ve always got your Canon to finish the job.