Thursday, October 10, 2013

I Now Understand Those Who Shoot Leica

I have often made fun of Leica and Leica users. Their products are wildly overpriced and philosophically rooted in the photographic dark ages. That said, as time has gone on, I've begun to understand them more and more. Now, I'm not about to go out and buy Leica — that's likely (Leicaly?) never going to happen — but I am completely stopping my mockery.

In fairness to me, I mostly stopped mocking Leica some time ago. My reasoning for this was that Leica, price and all, was a way for truly serious photogs to differentiate themselves from the Best-Buy-shopping, APS-C shooting, photographic hoi-polloi. The rise of digital, and Instagram, and everything else that has resulted in the majority of photos ever taken having been taken in the past five years, has concomitantly caused a severe drop-off in the work required and the prestigiousness of photography as an art.

Fifty years ago, walk in to a county fair and only a few people had SLR cameras. Go now and half the damned crowd is rocking Nikon or Canon. It's very difficult to feel in the slightest bit special in the face of that. It's hard to feel as though you are doing something that others are not.

How absurdly elitist and pretentious! you may be yelling. And there is a degree of that going on, I'm sure. But who cares!? Of course there is! We all want to feel as though our chosen hobby is something a bit unique. We want to feel as though we're doing something that separates from the crowd enough to be a part of an identity. Otherwise, what the hell will one person have to talk about with another person when they are all doing and thinking the same damned thing?

Moreover, I have heard too many stories of photogs showing up for work with standard gear only to see palpable disappointment on the faces of their employers. This disappointment immediately disappears when the Leica or Hasselblad comes out. Pretentious? Yes. But it's also good business.

This is also the reason why I think that both medium format and Leica have seen huge sales increases in the past few years. Leica went from nearly dead to the best sales of its history. Hell, even wacky, scanning backs have seen sales increases every year for the past ten years!

The second reason for my ceasing Leica-hate, and the reason for this article, is that Leica is the only company out there that doesn't fuck around. No, Mamiya, Phase One, and Leaf aren't fuckin around either, but they are medium format companies aimed and high-end professionals. Of course they aren't fucking around. I'm talking about SLR companies and companies that cater to enthusiasts as well as professionals.

What do I mean by not fucking around. I mean that Leica doesn't release a product and immediately orphan it. Leica doesn't release crap lenses for high prices to protect their higher-end products, or in many cases not release lenses at all! Leica doesn't release crap anything. Leica's design and philosophy is simple and well-known. They never create a bad lens. They never create a bad product for their philosophy. Leica is always good.

You have to pay through the nose for it, yes, but it is always good. It is never bad. Leica's philosophy may not be compatible with what you want or need, but you must admit that vis-a-vis Leica and its history, its products are always good.

No other camera company is doing that. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, all of them fuck around to no end. They release MOUNDS of garbage: crap lenses, shitty cameras, stupid products; and even if they release a good product, like the EOS 7D or NEX-7, they abandon them! Fuji is the only other company that even comes close, which, again, is why I give them a pass for their failings.

An example that sticks in my mind because it is in the news is lenses for current mirrorless cameras. Digital cameras presented a new opportunity for camera companies: software correction. In camera, previously destructive things such as aberration, distortion, vignetting, and flare could be reduced via software tuned to the characteristics of a particular lens. Olympus and Panasonic have taken this philosophy and run like Forrest Gump with it.

On its face, this sounds great. A poor lens can be made to seem like a better lens. But as Panasonic and Olympus have proven, they take this ability and then try to charge the same amount for their lenses. Go to a website that measures raw distortion of the 12mm, the 12-35mm, the 35-100mm, or any other of their laughably overpriced pieces of shit. The distortion is mind-blowing. I'm talking 6%. Back in the days before software correction, a 6% distortion would be considered a broken lens.

But with software, these companies have completely abandoned fixing these problems via in-lens corrections. They now rely on software. If we received a discount on the lens price, then this would fine. But we don't. They create a shitty lens, hide the shit with software, and then try to charge full price for the lens.

No. Fuck you.

Leica would never do this. Leica would never correct in software. If someone ever even floated the idea, that engineer would be forced to commit seppuku.

Make no mistake, this is a conscious choice on the part of these companies to best rip you off. For example, there are two 12mm prime lenses for the Micro 4/3 system: the SLR Magic f/1.6 and the Olympus f/2.0. The SLR Magic has distortion of 1.26% and costs $500. The Olympus has distortion of 5.4% and costs $800! Moreover, the SLR Magic is nearly a full stop brighter. In fairness, the Olympus is sharper and does correct aberrations in-lens, but in the battle of optical quality, the SLR Magic wins... and does it for cheaper.

This makes me angry and it should make you angry. They are tricking you into buying something of lower-quality. Abandoning systems should make you angry because the value of a lens is at least partially dependent on how much I can sell it for in the future. Crap lenses should make you angry because if other lenses are much better, the value of my purchased lens will drop as better lenses are released. Why do you think Leica lenses frequently increase in value after they are released.

Because, again, Leica has never released a bad product.

So, after all is said and done, I would never buy Leica. I respect Leica and their history, and respect those dedicated enough to deal with the system, but I just could never buy it. They are incompatible with the way I shoot and what I want to shoot. But I will not longer hate on them and those who use them. They may be expensive, but they are also unique.

And how do you put a price on that?

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