Leica Fans - A Question of Product or Brand Preference
Everyone seems to be disappointed over the series finale of the hit HBO program Game of Thrones. The build up after an eighteen month hiatus to the final six episodes did not meet the expectations of loyal fans. But why is that? In my opinion, the series did end in what I believe was the most logical conclusion. However, it just did not seem very satisfying to most. Fans were just too invested in the narrative for eight seasons over nine years to fathom that they had been unceremoniously played by the bean counters at Warner Media.
What many neglect to remember is that Game of Thrones is a television program on HBO. For that reason, the manner in which HBO generates revenue is completely related to the way the series ended. You see, HBO is a premium subscription service. Its business model relies on subscribers, not ad revenue per show. Because of that, it made little sense for HBO to trudge along with ten episodes per season - like the first six years. All HBO had to do was produce enough shows to string along their loyal subscribers to the series finale.
Fact is, the show was coming to an end. Investing more financial resources on the last two seasons for a more satisfying ending would have been a bad business decision. After all, fans were going to stick it through to the end. And if fans were willing to keep their subscription, despite losing seven episodes (or five by runtime) over the last two seasons, then why would HBO pony up the episodes needed to wrap up the series for a satisfying ending? I mean, they already skipped an entire year to squeeze out an extra year of subscription.
That was truly gangsta of HBO to profit off us by getting us to subscribe an extra year without a single episode in return for our continued loyalty. It is not as if many of us subscribe to HBO to watch any other program. Then again, is that not the way of big business, once they have sunk their claws into us. When we become loyal fans of any media or brand identity, the hold our fixation has to follow makes us ripe for corporate indifference. This is why HBO only budgeted enough to produce six episodes to draw every narrative arc to a close.
Generally, business as usual tends to be disappointing for fans. As such, I seldom go off the deep end with my enjoyment of idle distraction. Of course, some might point out my documented preference for Leica M-mount rangefinders as an obsession. After all, I do have many M-mount cameras and lenses. But in truth, I am neither obsessed or a fan of the Leica brand. To many longtime readers of this blog, this statement may seem to be at odds with what I present of myself, seeing how I almost always favor a Leica MP on my photowalks.
However, that does not mean I am brand obsessive. The fact I prefer Leica rangefinders is a testament to what the Leica system offers photographers. That said, it does not mean that the Leica system is better than Canon, Nikon, or any other systems. I mean, it is not like Canon and Nikon make second rate cameras and lenses. And to be completely fair, the user experience of their cameras and the performance and rendering of their lenses are not significantly better or worse than a Leica. The thing is, Leica does not make the best system.
For diehard Leica fans, what I am declaring will likely be met with doubt, if not outright hostility. To them, Leica makes the best camera system. In their minds, no other camera system could possibly hold a candle next to a Leica. That said, I actually find the Nikon F4 to be the best camera ever designed. And in terms of optics, I also believe Nikon optics are better in actual use because of the certainty offered by through-the-lens framing and the flexibility in framing offered by their catalog of variable focal length lenses.
As inconceivable as my declaration may sound, I really love the Nikon F4. As a tool for documentation, there is nothing more satisfying than the F4. In the design of its user interface, it offers the best of both worlds in terms of combining automation with the full tactile experience of a proper manual camera. Unlike all automated SLR cameras, only the Nikon F4 preserved the use of an analog shutter speed dial and film speed dial on the body, while still relying on a lens system dependent on a functioning aperture ring.
Moreover, one really cannot say that Nikon optics lag behind Leica in observable rendering. In blind testing of properly captured photos taken by Nikon or Leica lenses, can anyone really perceive any difference? As much as Leica optics excel in performance on MTF testing, the naked eye can never fully appreciate the increments in superiority rendered by these lenses. For that reason and my obvious love of the Nikon F4, why do I not pick the Nikon F-mount system over the Leica M-mount system in day to day use?
Again, my reason has to do with what the Leica M-mount system offers photographers and what my selection set in choosing a camera system prioritizes. For me, I am willing to forgo automation for more compactness in size. You see, I am not a working photographer anymore. I do not need the certainty in composition offered by through-the-lens framing, nor do I need the flexibility in range offered by an extensive catalog of essential and exotic lenses spanning from the very wide to the very tight in fixed and variable focal lengths.
I am willing to go without autofocus, and I am willing to go without automatic frame advance. Often times, I do miss those creature comforts. But, the Leica MP (or any other analog Leica M-mount rangefinder with a meter) can essentially do everything else the Nikon F4 can do, without the extra burden of carrying around more bulk in both its body and an accompanying lens. And though I will need to carry multiple prime lenses to equal the range offered by a fast variable focal length F-mount lens, my Leica setup is still less bulky.
With the weight and size savings of using a Leica M-mount rangefinder, I can carry two camera bodies. I know this sounds excessive, given that I went to such great lengths to shed excessive bulk. However, I really believe that greater vigilance in preparedness is worth the trouble of enduring. In practice, you never know when your primary camera body will malfunction or when your backup camera body will be necessary to document from a different focal length or on a different film type, based on your shooting situation and needs.
If wanting to be prepared for all documentary situation is a goal worth pursuing, then why not switch back to a digital system? With the Canon EOS R and a variable focal length lens, most common documentary situations can be faced without much issue. How can it not, with high ISO capabilities, flexibility in variable focal lengths, and through-the-lens electronic viewing. And if black and white images is what you need, a backup camera is not necessary. All you need to do is desaturate the image file, in-camera or in post processing.
Then again, the Canon EOS R, the Nikon F4, or any other through-the-lens camera system is significantly more enormous than my preferred Leica M-mount system. And though I do not have the convenience of adjustable ISO or the justification to desaturate color image files when shooting film - which requires me to bring along a backup camera body. That said, bringing along a second camera body is still much less burdensome than the enormous lenses offered by Canon, Nikon, or any high quality through-the-lens camera system.
Intrinsically, it is the lenses that makes me favor the Leica M-mount system. For the compactness provided by this system, I lose none of the optical performance standard to more substantially sized premium lenses. With that being the case, it is only logical for me to favor the Leica M-mount system over any other system. In short, a Leica MP (or any other M-mount analog rangefinder) satisfies 95% of my daily documentary needs. But most importantly, it is compact enough for me to carry around with a duplicate in tow - in case I need it.
Still, how do I justify my large collection of analog M-mount rangefinders and lenses? Obviously, I must be the biggest Leica fan ever. Thing is, having more of something does not necessarily indicate that one is obsessed over something. More than half the lenses in my inventory were obtained for the sake of testing, comparisons, and curiosity. As for the cost invested in collecting rare editions and modifying analog M-mount rangefinders, I only did that for the very practical reasons of value retention.
In other words, a rarer camera - whether collectable or unique - will have a better chance of retaining its value over the passage of time. And even if the camera shows noticeable signs of use or has been modified beyond the taste of Leica traditionalists, the prospect of interest found in others will likely be more substantial than the demand for anything commoditized in the marketplace. Consequently, it is no wonder that the folks at Wetzlar have released the Lenny Kravitz “Drifter” M Typ 246 edition set.
Seriously, how can I be a fan of the Leica brand after that? It is not even a monochrome variant of a newer M10 sensor. But, I digress. There are very serious collectors for special edition digital M cameras and sets. After all, they do sell out rather quickly. Still, it does not change the fact that Leica takes for granted their core M-mount camera customer - seeing how ripe we are for corporate indifference. I mean, business as usual will inevitably prevail. So, the release of special edition sets will be the norm.
Besides, it is not as if I follow Leica on any social media platforms, have joined any Leica groups, or participate in any Leica functions like a store opening just five minutes from my place of work. That said, I do not believe it is right or wrong to take part in the culture of Leica. If it brings you joy, no one should take that away from you - least of all me. For my sake, I prefer their analog M-mount rangefinders and lenses because their system does suit my needs. To that extent, I am a fan of their product. But, does that make me a fan of their brand?
Again, there is a difference. Just like watching the series finale of Game of Thrones does not mean I am a loyal fan of the series, preferring M-mount rangefinders does not mean I am a loyal fan of the Leica brand either. So at most, it just means I like Game of Thrones as a program and Leica products as a camera system.
If I am obsessed over anything, it is stocking up on discontinued film with reasonably decent expiration dates. So on this blog entry, a modest sampling of Agfa CT Precisa 100, Kodak Ektachrome 100VS, and Fujifilm Velvia 100 has are been included . #FilmIsWorthFollowing
All images were tweaked on Adobe Lightroom and digitized on a Fujifilm S5 Pro + Nikon AF-S DX Micro 40mm f/2.8G + Bolt VM-210 + Nikon ES-2. Some images were leveled and cropped for the sake of presentation.