Interview: Leica at PPE 2011

Interview: Leica at PPE 2011

Away from the hustle and bustle of Leica's stand, we sat down to chat with Christian Erhardt - Vice President of Marketing in Leica's photographic division, Jesko von Oeynhausen - Product Manager for the Leica M system, and Justin Stailey - product Specialist for the Leica M-System.

Christian Erhardt - Vice President of Marketing in Leica's photographic
division - shows off the Leica M9-P, X1 and medium-format S2 after an
exclusive interview with dpreview.com at the PPE show in New York.

We started by asking the group what sort of feedback M9 and M9-P owners were giving Leica. According to von Oeynhausen, 'in general the feedback is that the M9 is exactly what they expected - the really appreciate that the M9 is a 'real' Leica M product.' He went on: 'people like the full-frame sensor because it's like real 35mm photography - there really aren't a lot of requests for additional features'. Also like the classic M series cameras of old, Erhardt insists 'the shutter lag on the M9 is extremely short'.

'We've been making mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras since the 1920s'

We asked the group what they thought of the current energy in, and growing popularity of the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera market.

Erhardt explained 'when it comes to interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras we have the M system. The M system is perfect'. 'Leica has been making mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras since the 1920s' Stailey pointed out - 'it's our history, it's our heritage'.  

Erhardt went on: 'Leica has always been at the forefront of putting big sensors into small cameras. We were one of the first manufacturers to put an APS-C format sensor into a compact camera (the Leica X1, introduced in 2009), and to this day we still have trouble catching up on demand.' 

Von Oeynhausen went on - 'we see a lot of young customers, infected by the Leica virus and their dream is to own an M9 but they're price-conscious so the X1 is a great opportunity to get into Leica. It's like a small Leica M'.

Speaking of young customers, we pushed Erhardt on how Leica was planning on growing its user-base in such a tough financial climate, and he pointed to the ready availability of M8 and M8.2s on the second-hand market - 'we had a very successful run with the M9, and as a consequence a lot of users put their M8s and M8.2s up for sale, and they retail for about $2800 used, which is allowing a lot of people, including students, to enter the M system'.

'We don't add features for the sake of adding features'

We asked whether Leica had considered adding live view functionality to the M9, given its ubiquity in the market, and the fact that even Leica's first M-mount camera, the M3, offered direct film-plane viewing (via a ground glass screen). Von Oeynhausen told us 'taking pictures with live view, it's not really the style of photography that you use M system products for'.

Ultimately though, the reasons seem to be technical,at least in part. As Stailey told us, 'live view would be impractical with the M9's sensor. It's a full-frame CCD, and we looked into [adding live view] in development, but if we offer a function, it has to be perfect'. One of the challenges of full-frame (which in this context isn't a reference to size, but to a specific sensor technology) CCD sensors is that they require mechanical shutters. Unlike interline CCDs and CMOS sensors, they cannot be electronically shuttered.

Erhardt went on: 'for the future, of course we monitor every new technology that appears and we always wany to make innovative products. If we think of [a new feature] that would fit the M system we're happy to implement it'. But, added Stailey, 'we don't add features just for the sake of adding features'.

'When you buy a Leica you become part of a family'

We asked the group how Leica aimed to distinguish itself from other manufacturers in the consumer digital imaging market. 'When you buy a Leica you become part of a family' explained Erhardt. Even if you come in at the bottom, with a V-Lux compact, 'the customer service, the personalized service, the technical advice […] you might not get that from another manufacturer'. He went on; 'our cameras don't just come with a 90-day warrantee, they come with a minimum of 2 years'. 

Von Oeynhausen explained 'its a decision of design and taste. A Leica is a desirable object'. Unlike buying and owning products from another brand, added Erhardt, 'it's a worry-free experience. We are there for you, and we will be there for you in the future'.

'If you stand still, someone will take your spot'

Speaking of the future, we asked the group what the next few years held for Leica. Erhardt stressed that he doesn't have any cause to worry: 'the Leica brand is very popular - we still can't build M9s fast enough, although we're catching up.' We asked the group whether Leica was encouraged by the popularity of 'classic'  styled cameras like Fujifilm's X100 among today's enthusiasts - 'it's a good sign for us that the market reacted [with excitement]' said von Oeynhausen, 'but we're not a 'retro' brand - we make premium products'. 

One of these products of course is the medium format S2 - Leica's 37.5MP flagship. According to Erhardt, the S2 has received a lot of interest from 'working professionals' and gave the example of Annie Liebowitz - 'she used to use M7s and she wAs one of our first customers for an S2'. Von Oeyenhausen went on: 'we're in the same position now as we were in the 1980s when we brought out the M6 - the potential to grow is huge'.

We asked Erhardt whether he saw the Leica brand changing significantly in the medium-term: 'of course you have to reinvent yourself' he said, adding 'it's just a question of how you do it. if you stand still, someone will take your spot, and we have no intention of letting that happen'. 

Comments

Total comments: 33
molerat
By molerat (Dec 30, 2011)

I must be the black sheep of the Leica "family". When I walked my brand-new camera in to be serviced at the Leica facility in New Jersey, I was met by a hatchet-faced b___h who treated me like I was trying to rip them off, even denying that my camera was under warranty despite my having shown the warranty and sales receipt. When I insisted, she sullenly agreed that it was indeed under warranty and I was delighted that it was examined immediately, while I waited. I was less than delighted when they couldn't find what was making it shoot without pressing the shutter-release, repeatedly. My Leica "family" sent me packing without repairing my camera- my LEICA LEMON Customer service stinks and they are NOT "there for you", it's just a lie.

0 upvotes
xtoph
By xtoph (Oct 31, 2011)

i am a bit disappointed with the presentation of the interview here. i would have liked if you had challenged them more instead of simply repeating dubious marketing pablum.
two examples: Erhardt may 'insist' that the m9 shutter lag is 'extremely short', but that is a completely meaningless statement in the absence of either a time in milliseconds, or a comparison to previous m cameras. is it exactly as fast as an m6ttl? [no, it isn't, or at least my m9 isn't as fast as my m6.] is it faster than the m8, which leica used to state on their website had a shutter lag of 80ms (that's 4x slower than an old mechanical leica m)?
second example: it is well and good for leica to suggest that you become one of the family through purchase of a leica, and to note their warrantee coverage terms (excellent). but what are they doing to shorten repair times, currently projected as 6-8 weeks even for minor repairs--that's /if/ they have the parts in stock?

it's a start, but hope you follow up.

1 upvote
Vadimka
By Vadimka (Oct 30, 2011)

I love how Erhardt saying that students should easily afford to buy a used M8 for $2800 :)) He forgot to mention that, adding few lenses to that body, would barely make a dent in any student's budget. (so in the best case we are looking at $4k-$6K system, show me a student who can't afford that) I like Leica lenses, but I like their sense of humor much better. ;)

1 upvote
starwolfy
By starwolfy (Oct 31, 2011)

Just a matter how you decide to spend your money...Many students can find a way to get money! They can work part time during the weekend and holidays...save from birthday/christmas things...do private teaching for children...welll...Most of then do not need to pay for food or rent...parents do.

Comment edited 37 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (Oct 29, 2011)

Leica gets it. I am NOT against innovation, I totally embraced digital and autofocus and through-the-lens meters before that, but I for one am sick of companies focusing on gimmicks that aren't about photography, ESPECIALLY putting a YouTube mode in SLRs. (Leica cameras may have a YouTube mode, I may not have done my homework, but I BELIEVE they're YouTube free.)

Although I love Nikon overall, I'm still upset 3 years later that Nikon added video functionality in the Nikon D90 & now every d-SLR out there practically has a YouTube mode on it, because God forbid the soccer moms accept that SLRs should NOT be designed for someone who merely wants a Coolpix on steroids.

The cameras continue to improve still image capture, the D7000 is as ground-breaking as the D300 was 3 years before it, but I STILL say--stay out of video, Nikon. Your slogan years ago was "We Take the World's Greatest Pictures." Yes, PICTURES--not YouTube clips.

Again, Leica gets it.

1 upvote
chlamchowder
By chlamchowder (Oct 29, 2011)

But the capability to take video doesn't negatively affect the camera's ability to take pictures. There's nothing forcing you to use the camera's video functionality.

And there are people interested in using DSLRs for video.

5 upvotes
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (Oct 29, 2011)

(chlamchowder) I disagree. On the D5100 for instance, the red button for YouTube could instead be a hot button for ISO, focus-mode or something similar & thus make it better controls-wise for still imaging. And as for people who are interested in d-SLRs for video--screw them. Their wishes are irrelevant & should be ignored, they don't like it that an SLR is for images, who cares what they think.

Besides, I have no problem with accepting that a pro-grade video machine isn't going to be tailor-made for taking stills or rant "I have to tote two machines because that video camera can't take stills, that's outrageous," instead I would ACCEPT it as a video-only machine that's customized for that usage. Why can't d-SLRs be left alone that way rather than placating YouTubers OR "serious" videographers who already have machines for them?

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Redteg94
By Redteg94 (Oct 29, 2011)

How much more shortsighted can you be? Video and/or LV does nothing but enhance the experience of photography. Video capability in DSLRs also provide a totally unique experience unavailable this side of a $50k cine cam.

You complain about making life easier for soccer moms; AF, TTL metering, Program modes and other innovations were primarily aimed at neophytes, yet you're happy they exist. Truth is, these innovations probably benefit professional photographers even more than they did the aforementioned soccer moms.

2 upvotes
chlamchowder
By chlamchowder (Oct 30, 2011)

Why do we have to accept that DSLRs can't take advantage of their sensors' video capabilities and professional video cameras can't take advantage of their sensors' ability to take still images when the need arises? To me, video in DSLRs is an example of taking full advantage of the capabilities present in the hardware you paid for. Again, there's no compromise in imaging capability that comes with video functionality (with the possible exception of the Sony SLT cams, but we're talking about DSLRs here), and there's nothing forcing you to take videos. If seeing a red movie button on your DSLR causes you to suffer from PTSD, I won't object if you decide to put masking tape over it (I promise!) :)

1 upvote
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (Oct 30, 2011)

Leica and I are right, everyone else is wrong. What is "shortsighted" is refusing to accept that SLRs just aren't meant for video because it's disrespectful of their tradition. For the longest time people who posted in the forums "it makes no sense why a point & shoot can shoot video but an SLR can't" were laughed out of the room. Now suddenly you have to explain the obvious.

It's also understanding that SLRs aren't smartphones or swiss-army-knives. They're like that restaurant that makes Italian food & NOTHING ELSE as opposed to Italian-Chinese-Mexican, the best ones are ALWAYS the ones that only do that one.

That is what an SLR is--that's not opinion, it's FACT. If you disagree, you're just as wrong as if you argued 2+5=12.

I could care less what a neophyte wants. SLRs aren't for neophytes, they're for people who know what they're doing, scene modes etc notwithstanding. Yes I consider myself fully qualified to say that, I reject all "who are you to say that" rebuttals.

0 upvotes
chlamchowder
By chlamchowder (Oct 30, 2011)

"everyone else is wrong..." Well, you are certainly entitled to your views, and so are the rest of us. I don't think Leica has it right (I apparently draw the line between elegant and primitive differently than you do) but I'm fine if you disagree.
You can argue that a SLR is not suited to movies, but there are differences between SLRs and DSLRs. And people have used DSLRs for movie production. If disrespecting tradition means spending less money for more functionality and better results, I'm all for it.
I rarely use anything other than 'A' or 'M', but seeing a 'P' there doesn't disturb me. I use a Sony a580, which pays no respect to tradition and has plenty of fluff (which I don't like), but I can't complain given its relatively low price, output quality, performance, and battery life. It gets the job done. If tradition is more important to you than results, you can get a Leica for $6000 more, but there is no right or wrong way - that depends on subjective values and goals.

2 upvotes
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (Oct 30, 2011)

Again, right is right & wrong is wrong. I consider video on SLRs to be no different than going into a Catholic Church on Christmas Eve mass & urinating on a picture of the Pope. It's just flat-out indecent and vulgar & a lack of respect that things belong where they belong & shouldn't be where they DON'T belong.

Next thing you know we'll have boys demanding to be let into the Girl Scouts--oops, it's actually reality now, TOTALLY a lack of respect of tradition. Things belong where they belong, & don't belong where they DON'T belong. You're a boy, you have no place in the Girl Scouts; in the same regard, you're a stills camera, you have no business proliferating into YouTube.

Besides that, though, it's about how when you don't focus on one thing only but instead try & do more than 1 thing you compromise your excellence--it may still be high, but it's compromised. To me an SLR is a no-compromise camera, unlike a point & shoot which is ALL about that, which is fine, but NOT in a d-SLR.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (Oct 30, 2011)

My apologies if I'm over-commenting, but again, I don't have a problem with multi-use items in the RIGHT PLACE. I use a smartphone, talk about a "jack of all trades-master of none." I don't gripe about my phone's capability to, say, download an alarm clock application & scream that it's compromising its excellence.

But a smartphone isn't an item that tries to do one thing only & do it at that level of excellence, it's a device that tries to a LOT of things & do them pretty good, the idea being you'll always have your phone with you thus you'll never be totally without. But you STILL can buy a stand-alone clock radio, a stand-alone calculator, a stand-alone game console, and heck you can still buy a cell phone that only makes calls.

SLRs aren't smartphones, but I think people are trying to make them that, which is wrong. SLRs are like the corner Mexican place that only makes Mexican & that is why they do it better than anyone else. No one screams "what about selling hamburgers too?"

0 upvotes
chlamchowder
By chlamchowder (Oct 30, 2011)

DSLRs are still primarily still image taking machines, and they give a combination of speed, versitality, and high quality results that can't be matched by anything else. Video hasn't changed that. Can you point to a DSLR without video or live view that can match the a580/D7000/K-5's output quality? Anyways, this argument isn't going anywhere. it'll probably be better if we go back to enjoying our own cameras. And isn't this a thread for discussing Leica? I feel like I'm digressing.

1 upvote
Redteg94
By Redteg94 (Nov 3, 2011)

Sorry, but I had to reply again. You speak about SLRs as if they should be traditional. I partially agree that Leica can keep to their tradition if they want, but SLR aren't and never were about tradition. They've introduced so many new technologies to Professional photography (TTL viewing, metering, AF, Programed AE, digital, etc.) that LV and video are no-brainers. They improve the photography experience and move forward as they always have.

Your smartphone analogy is irrelevant, since still and moving pictures are both photography. SLRs are already capable of a wide range of different photograpic genres, why not add another?

In case you haven't noticed, the "video" mode in SLRs require one to know what they're doing, as MF are necessary to use it. Experienced photographers are using video mode much more than your average joe does.

Lastly, your D5000 is aimed directly at soccer moms and other people who don't know anything about photography, so how can you argue otherwise?

0 upvotes
increments
By increments (Oct 29, 2011)

Is it just me or did that guy sound a touch arrogant? I'm not a Leica user but I can't believe they're not getting requests for an updated sensor, or other incremental improvements.

But I do like the philosophy of not adding features for the sake of it.

EDIT:

Also where do all the special editions fit in? (Given the stated desire not to do stuff for the sake of it.) ;)

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Photomonkey
By Photomonkey (Oct 29, 2011)

The preoccupation with Live View is beyond me. I guess I am just getting old but waving a camera in front of me while squinting to see the image is not photography but snapping.
Leica is about sharp lenses that demand careful focus. Live view (as opposed to an EVF) is useless for this except on a tripod in a dark room. This not what Leica was made for.
I am not a Luddite but adding this "feature" does not move Leica forward but just inches it closer to being a homogeneous product for the masses.
A Leica presumes an active role by the photographer. Manual focus rather than auto-focus.An EVF would be in keeping with Leica's character, video would not.Adding stuff in a desperate attempt to catch a fickle consumer is a losers game. They are correct to guard their image.
It is a valid criticism to say it is a posers camera as so many buy them but it is also true that it is one of the finest tools for image making available.

Comment edited 8 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
f_stops
By f_stops (Oct 30, 2011)

Sounds like you have never used Live View. Basically, it turns the camera into a view camera for tripod use - and and can also be used to check focus shift (some rangefinder lenses, especially pre-asph lenses shift dramatically when stopped down).

I agree that 'live view' snap shooting is not good technique. However another big (BIG) use is for macro work. Add live view (and extension tubes) and the M9 becomes much more versatile.

Liveview would also allow for precise framing prior to taking the shot.

I enjoy shooting with my M9, however it can't replace my 5dII primarily due to minimum focus distances. Better low-light response would also be helpful.

Comment edited 35 seconds after posting
1 upvote
schaki
By schaki (Oct 29, 2011)

"Unlike buying and owning products from another brand, added Erhardt, 'it's a worry-free experience."
I would guess not, even though the reliability certainly are better now than for the M7 and M8.
http://web.mac.com/kamberm/Leica_M8_Field_Test,_Iraq/Page_6.html

Erhardt goes on to tell about the S2. That's not anything to brag about and as far as I know, not even medium format full frame compared to the Phase one P65 back.

0 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (Oct 29, 2011)

Can one mount Leica S lenses on a Phase One P65 back?

0 upvotes
schaki
By schaki (Oct 29, 2011)

No. Probably not. The S2 have not interchangeable back.
Though I don't know if there is a possibility of using lenses for S2 on some other medium format with adapter and through P65 that way.

0 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (Oct 29, 2011)

Some problems with the M9: the shutter is still too loud, there have been past film M mount rangefinders with metal blade shutters; they were much quieter than the M9--film advance included. ISO 2500 isn't really usable.

Other than those problems, it's an amazing camera, with even more amazing lenses.

The capacity to see just outside the image frame on rangefinder is really helpful.

0 upvotes
le_alain
By le_alain (Oct 29, 2011)

But Leica is not to make "Sony like" cameras ..... !

0 upvotes
robert1955
By robert1955 (Oct 29, 2011)

Being tight-lipped is a message in it self, and of course being conservative is part of the image they want to project. But there is a bit too much of it here.
The claim 'we've been making mirrorless cameras for ages' is a bit limited, because most users consider Live View an essential part of that package.

If a company does not have access to a great CMOS sensor and LV technology, they are in trouble. The digital part is not Leica's strength anyway, the lenses are, and they are increasingly being used on mirrorless cameras from other makers.

It remains to be seen how much future rangefinder focussing has left. Still, Leica may be one of those companies that keep saying users don't need a new technology till they are ready with their own implementation.

0 upvotes
JPnyc
By JPnyc (Oct 29, 2011)

I used to own a Leica M4 back in the days when they were actually REALLY amazing. As a matter of fact, I sold my beloved car to buy one, this is how much I wanted it. And it was worth it.

Sadly, today Leica is a pathetic shadow of its former self, a brand for posers and brand whores.

No one rebadges more shamelessly, no one is more stuck in its own past and no one is fuller of themselves than Leica.

Ernst Leitz would turn around in his grave, if he could see his company today.
No more innovation, no more avant garde, just a brand trying to play catch up with the competition and copying itself over and over again at the same time.
Yes, the design is nice, but that's about the only thing they didn't have to change for the last 20 years.

Erhardt, no one will take your spot, and you know why? Because YOU take your own spot, you ARE standing still.

And no, I don't hate german products, quite the opposite - I am german.
I just feel this demise of a once great brand is a real shame.

Comment edited 13 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Goodmeme
By Goodmeme (Oct 29, 2011)

I'm not a Leica user, but probably will be one day. A company is allowd to reinvent itself and I'm delighted some manufacturer out there cares about te photographic experience. I use 5d and 35mmf2; my 24-70L goes unused most of the tme as its too large.

I got a G9 for its size but do you know what? I hate it, not just because thee sensor size is so detrimental to image quality, but because the shutter button feels like a spring and doesn't give me feedback like my 5D shutter.

Sure the M9 is expensive so you might feel upset about that. It's not Leica's fault as manufacturing quantities and therefore economies of scale are so much lower than e.g. Canon or Nikon or Sony.

The reason I think I will have a Leica is when my kids are older and I don't need autofocus, I will only care about the feel and experience of the camera. I expect by then most other cameras will have touch-screen shutter buttons and 1001 autofocus points, along with bags of dust in the viewfinder. Ugh.

1 upvote
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (Oct 29, 2011)

Are you saying that you think the high quality of the lenses has been compromised?

0 upvotes
JPnyc
By JPnyc (Oct 29, 2011)

Leica has always made high quality lenses - and still does, I agree.
And of course one must acknowledge this industry changed completely in the last 20 years. Camera manufacturers went from being manufacturers of lasting mechanical products, almost high end craftsmen, to mass producers of electronics.
A camera used to have a lifespan of many years, my first camera came from my dad and I was thrilled! Today, this is unimaginable. Cameras have become 'consumer products', made to be 'consumed'. Who has a 5 year old digital camera?
Leica should have come up with a way to thoughtfully digitize their cameras without compromising, outsourcing and badge engineering. If anyone is expensive enough to do it, then it's them.

The sensitive way to go about this would be to engineer upgradeable electronic modules (display unit, sensor unit, chip unit) and separate these from the housing, switches, viewfinder and other pricey but more constant components (like they already do the lenses).

2 upvotes
f_stops
By f_stops (Oct 30, 2011)

Despite your ranting, the M9 is still the only compact full frame with compact, quality lenses.

The silly 'special editions' have been going on for decades, nothing new there.

The M9, updated lenses, and the S2 are all being sold as fast as they can be made - hopefully the financial success will be used for investment in innovation. I think the real test will be the M10. The M9 compares favorably with everything (up to the D3x).

0 upvotes
Debankur Mukherjee
By Debankur Mukherjee (Oct 29, 2011)

That’s Leica – Slow but steady wins the race.......

0 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (Oct 29, 2011)

Really now, put a 85mm f1.4 Japanese made Zeiss on a Nikon D3s and images shot at ISO 12800 are amazing.

Sure the Nikon is audibly louder and heavier, but it won that high ISO race, and that's certainly a race the M9 should have been in.

0 upvotes
f_stops
By f_stops (Oct 30, 2011)

The next sensor choice will be interesting. There is a Kodak interline (live view capable) CCD, 28MP full frame chip available. But Kodak may not be the best company to rely on at this point. Does Leica then source from Sony?

A 28-32 MP M10, with liveview and clean 6400 would be a significant step up, and probably needed to keep the M competitive.

0 upvotes
steven_k
By steven_k (Oct 31, 2011)

My M10 would be a 24mp sensor, with a EVF with focus peaking like sony has on there newer a77 nex 5n /7
I owned a M9 for almost a year and loved it but...
since I don't have 20/20 vision focusing became to difficult when using the 75 and 90mm lenses.
I can dream I guess
steven
ps I purchased a 5n and couple cv lenses nice little setup, but no where near a leica

0 upvotes
Total comments: 33