I have this routine of buying Leicas. On a summers day I drive down to Gloucestershire to Clifton Cameras, which is my nearest dealer, look at the camera I'm pretending to check out (since I already know I'm going to buy it) hammer the the credit card and head back north to somewhere in the Cotswolds and use whatever is left in the battery to take a few pictures with my new treasure.
It's like buying a camera should be, an event not an Internet transaction. And last summer I came away with a Leica Q (Typ 116.) Despite my singing it's praises, the Leica T (Typ 701) hasn't been commercially successful and the new SL (Typ 601) seems to be struggling to find a receptive audience, though it's too early to write it off since it hadn't reached the shops yet. But the Q got a very warm reception right from the off and apparently Leica are struggling to keep up with demand.
The combination of classic Leica looks, an incredible lens and lots of Panasonic tech. inside seems to have found a market that extends beyond the Leica faithful. It's light, it's small and it's simple. It also has astonishing image quality and surprisingly good video. So it seems that the more warmly a new Leica is received, the better it sells. Which of course is a bit worrying for the SL, since it seems to be being met with a luke warm reception at best.
Now whether I buy the SL or not (and that decision will be pretty much dictated by my heart rather than my head) I admire Leica for pursuing the direction they started with the T, i.e. that Leica cameras don't have to confirm to an outdated stereotype that insists every camera they make has to be a descendant of the M series rangefinders. But maybe the writing is on the wall. The R series of film SLR's never really threatened the sales of the M's, the X-Vario was roundly rubbished (wrongly in my opinion) and the T never caught the imagination of those who could have liked it if they gave it a chance.
But the Q seems to tick a lot of boxes and it is indeed a great camera. An excellent EVF and fast AF have contributed to it's success and the image quality is simply stunning. However, much as I love using it, I can't help feeling that it is a bit of a cop out. For me it panders to a notion of what Leicas should be like, rather than what they could be. Now I'm not immune to to that sensibility either, which is why I bought it. But I still think that the Leica T is a great attempt to move camera design on, with the minimalist body, touch screen control and the best live view screen ever to be part of a camera. Sure it's far from perfect, but I love it just the same and every time I use it I don't feel I'm stuck in a time warp.
The SL strikes me as much the same and if it was cheaper I would have had my pre-order in already. But in the meantime, while I um and ahh about whether I'm going to sell a whole lot of gear and indulge myself, I can content myself with using the reassuring Q. Because that's what it is. Despite all that Panasonic tech. 'under the hood' it's still an 'old school' camera with 'old school' values and while there is nothing wrong with that, I can't shake the feeling that there's something missing. Maybe it's something to do with the fact that I seem to take 'old school' pictures with it. However, there's nothing wrong with that either and it is a very enjoyable camera to work with. Though as I've written many times before, how leaving the house with a Leica in my bag to attempt to come back with some decent images can be described as 'work' is beyond me. It's a rotten job, but somebody has to do it!!!