I've been 'chatting' with Chris Handley and others over at the readers group on Google+ and I thought it would be interesting to post here. I wrote a long rambling reply (so what's new?) and thought I would give you the dubious benefit of reading it here.
Yes, Leica built a business around quality cameras and lenses at a time when there was an advantage to be gained through fine craftsmanship, but the world has moved on and Leica bask in former glory.
I'm more interested in which cameras you put on ebay?
I'm also not convinced that the Leica brand means anything to anybody apart from photographers mainly. Rolex is a universally understood statement of 'look how much I'm worth' but a Leica? Certain circles maybe, but I'm not sure it means that much to your average photographic (or non-photographic) consumer. I think big Nikons and Canons are still the aspirational goal of most hobbyist photographers, at least away from the far east.
Apple? well apart from the iPhone, they can at least claim to have put the terms iPod and iPad into our consciousnesses (is that a word?) and those brand names have achieved the same universality as Biro. And I would argue that Leica with the M series do offer originality and a different way of doing things. Whether it's 'better' or not is a matter of opinion.
What has disappointed me about the Leica T is that it is very much a camera that follows rather than leads. The 'twist' is the design and the construction which is obviously striking, but serious photographers (and yes the well-heeled ones) who I would suggest are still Leica's primary market, can see past the design gloss and come to their own judgement about how it works for them. And again I'm unsure about how the Leica 'faithful' will react to a camera so reliant on touch screen and menu implementation of function. And those 'faithful' are surely still the core market for Leica. At these prices exactly how many new customers will they (or in fact can they) attract?
I would also suggest that the only people who would buy a Leica anyway are those who know a fair amount about photography and they are well able to see what the T actually offers. This is after all Leica's version of the Olympus Pens, The Fuji X's, the Sony NEX's and there is no unique signature here. As I'm arguing in my posts it was Fuji and the other mirrorless manufacturers who were the copycats but with the T it's Leica who are fulfilling that role. And surely that must 'diminish' the brand in the same way that the ridiculous Hassleblad Sony clones have. Interesting that Hassleblad have now got rid of the CEO who thought they were a good idea. Unfortunately since Andreas Kauffman bought and baled out Leica with his billions I can't see him going anywhere soon.
And his hand is all over the T. He's even turning up in their ads (Is that really a good move?) and the sight of him holding out the camera in the 'I've got something nasty in my hands' way is somewhat disconcerting to say the least. The whole thing strikes me in much the same way as Politicians who should know better taking selfies. There is a distinct lack of dignity in the whole thing. And some 'old bloke' with unkempt hair and stubble rambling on about 'essence' or some such nonsense, is I suspect, not going to help sales that much.
Finally I am serious about my contention that others, particularly Fuji, could supersede Leica in terms of the 'must-have' photographic brand. They are consistently delivering the goods and seem to be right on the ball in terms of gauging what the photographers who make the most noise on the photographic internet want. It won't happen overnight, but there seems to be a steady upward curve in terms of sales and market share to go with the disproportionately larger share of internet 'buzz' they create. I'm seriously impressed by the gimmick free designs, the superb handling and the build quality of their stuff. The X100s is almost more Leica than Leica in terms of how it feels and Fuji have the confidence to present that camera with no logo on the front. Very Leica.
Because Fuji with their pricing structure will draw people in, rather than exclude them which is what Leica are doing. We all realise that Leica could have gone mass market years ago if they had wanted too but they decided to stick to the made in Germany, hand checked, best quality components way of working. And there is nothing wrong with that. However Kauffman seems to be pushing for mass market products at niche market prices and I'm not sure that will be successful in the long run. And ultimately, from a personal point of view I'm not bothered. It's fun to write about and discuss but if Leica disappear without trace or become the dominant power player in the photographic market, then it will have little impact on me. I suspect I've already owned the Leicas I'll ever want to own and much as I've enjoyed this latest Leica launch and all it attracts, in the same way as I enjoy all Leica launches, ultimately I think I waved goodbye to the brand when my X-Vario was handed over to the Post Office.
I put the A7 and GM1 on ebay.
I'm constantly surprised by how switched on and product aware people are. I have a watch of which only 500 pcs were made, not expensive, just limited production. I've had strangers comment upon it and know what it is and with regard to Leica I've had office ladies (marketing term) comment on my Leica's and ask why I didn't buy a Hasselblad.
For Leica to continue it needs to grow and find new customers, brand allies. Traditional users of Leica will die off (literally), so where do the new Leica users come from? It has to be a new generation of camera users who buy into lifestyle products especially when the competition can beat them hands down when it comes to new technology. Lifestyle means brand identity, both the product you own and your own identity, who you are, where you go, what you wear. Have you seen the Leica T video on Vimo? Leica aren't selling a camera, it's a dream rubbed in with 45 mins of "BS", or polishing.
I live in a part of the world which now accounts for 50% of the luxury brand market and this share will increase. To put this into context and what this means below are two quotes.
"The luxury brand cult is so powerful that Asian consumers account for half of the US$80 billion global luxe industry. Europeans have more money and Americans are among the wealthiest consumers in the world, but it is Asians who are the world’s biggest consumers of luxury brands".
"The prospect of attracting wealth with a show of wealth is probably more important to younger people. A report on the luxe industry in China by KPMG found that consumers tend to be between 20 and 40, while in western countries, typical luxe consumers are over 40. In 2005, three of the top five richest men in China were still in their 30s. Luxury brands are a modern set of symbols that Asians are wearing to redefine their identity and social position, and signal their readiness to do business. It is a way of doing things that older generations, who may have grown up wearing Mao suits or working hard to provide bare essentials, may not appreciate".
I regularly ask staff at camera shops I frequent what sells - Leica, Leica and Leica. Who buys Leica? Not enthusiasts, just people with money to spend. I think I mentioned previously about the man who bought an M9 and several lenses. When he got home he complained about the autofocus not working. Also After the first Hasselblad/Sony/Frankenstein cameras appeared I was told by one shop they had already sold 25pcs!! I don't think any of these were enthusiasts, just people with an objective to buy a top brand.
So coming back to the T. A company which launches a camera by firstly telling you how long it's taken to polish the casing and very little about the cameras ability to capture images does not really have the likes of you and I in mind even though we like to think they had.
The T, it's not intended for you, I, or the faithful. We're too old, wise and fussy!
Not so long ago Leica were on the brink of failing and by a stroke of luck the success of the M9 became it's savior. Many great brands have seen great success, then fallen from grace due to a lack of foresight and in a world dominated by technology this could happen far quicker than we might think. Motorola and Nokia come to mind.
Incidentally I bought my M9 because I saw some images which were truly inspiring and looked so different to anything I had seen before. Yes, they were taken with an M9/Noctilux, and very creative. I was aware of the Leica brand and had been for years and I also knew Leica's were expensive and out of my budget. Did I aspire to own a Leica? No.'
The brand issue and what constitutes a successful luxury brand must surely have something to back it up. The Leica history, the whole Magnum/Capa/Cartier-Bresson/Social Doc. etc. thing gives it its reputation and without that consistent reinforcement, what do we have? This camera is famous and luxurious because famous people who buy luxury items own them. Now thats a house of cards. And what makes something cool one week is notoriously fickle. There has to be something of substance.
Ferrari and formula 1. Apple and computers, phones and tablets etc. Designer jeans do actually keep your legs warm, Chanel No 5 makes you smell nice. What happens when people buy Leicas and they find that cameras a fraction of their cost take better pictures? Do people still buy them just because they are made by Leica. Surely at some point the charade is exposed. and all the polished aluminium in the world can't make up for a product that doesn't deliver.
Plus I wonder how many people would buy them if they saw some of the depictions of what constitutes a Leica owner on the internet. It may be envy, it may be reverse snobbery, but most of it isn't in any way complementary.
I think Michael Reichmann sums it well - "In its target market – affluent amateurs who want simplicity of operation combined with great image quality, prestigious look, feel, and branding, the Leica T satisfies - to a T"
And do affluent amateurs really want to look like everybody else. Don't forget from a distance it's not that easy to see the red dot and the Leica Logo. Whereas with a D4s.........'
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