Regardless of if you own a Leica, own 50 Leica’s, wish you owned a Leica or don’t give a shit about Leica cameras, the prolific camera maker’s recent announcement of a new film camera is important news for the film, and maybe even the photography community as a whole.
Last year, I published an article on Petapixel making a number of detailed predictions as to the shape that a new Leica M film camera might take. I factored in current market interest and Leica’s design and construction habits and history into these guesses. This week, I talked to some friends about their thoughts. Dan Tamarkin, of Tamarkin Camera, America’s premiere Leica dealer and Jason Nicholson, Leica film and digital (but almost always b&w) rock photographer weighed in.
Despite Tamarkin Camera selling Leica products for over fifty years, Dan doesn’t have any inside scoop on what the company has in store for us. You see, the guys at Wetzlar have been very very tight-lipped about this exciting new product.
Jason has been an avid Leica collector and photographer for over thirty years. He uses everything from 1920 and 30’s 35mm camera and lenses to the contemporary digital M’s, and a lot of cool stuff in between. You might remember the interview with him that I posted a few years back.
(the following has been copied and edited for clarity, in part, from my Petapixel article, with Mr. Tamarkin’s and Mr. Nicholson’s reactions to my previous statements added)
A REINVENTED LEICA M6?
The popular Leica Rumors website predicts a reinvented M6. A critical point about the M6 that I didn’t state in my Petapixel article is that it’s the most affordable, most direct alternative to the MP, but prices have more than doubled on it in the past decade. So Leica may be releasing a new M6-type camera to compete with and take advantage of the enthusiastic used market.
Jason Nicholson: “Probably a cheaper MP ie, no brass top etc. they have most of the parts etc. Maybe they’ll make the parts in Portugal to control costs.”
Johnny Martyr: “The new 35mm Leica will have to be appreciably different from the MP and MA in order to squash their eye-watering price without destroying the surprisingly strong market for those cameras. But the new Leica will also have to be appreciably similar to the MP and MA, or perhaps the still-popular M6, in order to inspire sales to begin with.”
And Tamarkin: “I especially like the idea that ‘The new 35mm Leica will have to be appreciably different from the MP …. [but] also have to be appreciably similar to the MP and MA, or perhaps the still-popular M6, in order to inspire sales to begin with.’ Bingo.”
TAKING CUES FROM THE VOIGTLANDER BESSA R SERIES
Johnny Martyr: “The finely engraved brass top plate of Leica cameras is cherished by classic camera enthusiasts. But decades of M5 and M6 models featured a molded zinc top plate and I think that we can expect to see the same for this new Leica M. They may even choose to use magnesium alloy such as Cosina did with the Voigtlander Bessa series. This move on materials would not only reduce the cost of the new M but it would maintain an important distinction between Leica’s premium and budget 35mm cameras. Leica has experimented with this before when they released special edition M6 TTLs with brass top plates instead of their conventional zinc ones.
Many new Leica shooters would probably like to see conventional film loading such as the Voigtlander Bessa series offered. This threatens the iconic Leica rangefinder silhouette and handling though.
Leica could even save money by returning to the loading style of its earliest products. They might exclude the rear film door altogether.”
And Tamarkin: “I also cannot help but wonder if the new film “M” camera wouldn’t have a hinged back door film loading style… and it goes without saying that the top plate will be zinc and not brass.”
A TRUE, ALBIET SHORTER, RANGEFINDER
Johnny Martyr: “I imagine that Leica will shorten the rangefinder baselength and/or magnification as a further distinction from the MP and MA and because they can use parts from their digital rangefinders where they’ve already made this trade-off. Doing so saves not only on the assembly cost but also in providing service because the adjustments will be less fine. Because the top plate will not be shared with the MP or MA (because it won’t be made of brass), Leica is free to install whatever VF/RF inside it that they see fit. Shortening the baselength and/or magnification would result in a prettier viewfinder (shorter baselength finders can results in brighter optics) but less accurate rangefinder. Leica used short baselengths and high magnification on their early screw mount cameras and Voigtlander sold many 35mm rangefinders in the early 2000s which had short EBL’s, mostly because the viewfinders were so bright and clear. For photographers using a 50mm f2 or 35mm f2 as go-to lenses, a shorter effective baselength will be totally adequate and impress the eye on an enjoyment-of-use level.
And Tamarkin: “Your VF/RF section is right on the money, I think. Shortening the base is a very astute observation – I think that would not be a deterrent for most potential buyers.”
LEICA CM OR MINILUX
And Tamarkin: “I would not be surprised if the next Leica film camera weren’t a point-and-shoot, like the Leica CM, for example, or Leica Minilux.”
I asked Dan if there are any specific reasons he makes this prediction and he responded “The only reason I think it could be a P&S is that Leica never does what I think they’ll do, and so I let my imagination run friggin’ wild , and that’s what I came up with!”
Imaginative as it is, Dan and I could BOTH be right according to Jason.
WHAT ABOUT A REINVENTED LEICA MINOLTA CL?
Jason Nicholson: “By a P&S I mean possibly in the spirit of the Leica CL film camera that accepts M lenses; ie the old Minolta/Leica camera effort. But a Panasonic/Leica collab, definitely an M series. I think they need to hit the sub $3.5K level but still maintain their brand. There’s a good market out there similar to the vinyl record renaissance. Especially with all the recent marketing Leica is hinting at. It’s leverage for their brand with the 100th anniversary around the corner of the Barnack launch as well. Given the demand and lead time it my be 2024/25 by the time they fill the orders.”
Jason’s got a good point here. Current, German-built Leica MP’s and M-A’s are often on back-order. So a collaborative effort might take the manufacturing pressure as well as cost down. A CL type camera would take my idea of an M rangefinder with reduced Effective Baselength as well as Dan’s electronics-driven speculation into account. Maybe a CL with a hinged film door and modern metering? Not a professional camera but a very small one that accepts M lenses? That sounds pretty damn cool actually.
As a working 35mm film photographer, I’d most like to see a full bodied, manual rangefinder camera in Leica tradition – that I can afford! But Dan and Jason are right. Leica have previously produced plenty of point-and-shoot cameras, and whatever the CL was (!) for weekend warriors and vacationing professionals. For the sake of manufacturing practicality and due to the popularity of used, high-end, p&s film cameras cameras like the Contax T2 Leica could take another stab at this market. Given that electronics-based film p&s cameras are getting older and rarer in working condition, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to drop a new product for the shooters who are into these kind of rigs.
Okay, so why should we care? Maybe you own Leica cameras, you may already own as many as you need, or you prefer collectible classics to modern newbies. Maybe you don’t care for Leica as a company be it because you think it’s a classist institution or you just can’t afford their products personally.
Even if you’re not planning on buying this new Leica film camera, whatever form it takes, I think it’ll be good for the market as a whole. New film cameras keep service departments open at their respective manufacturers as well as provide work for third party camera repairers. New film cameras also, eventually, trickle down into the used market, usually falling in price and providing opportunities for ownership of new-ER used cameras.
Following very limited service on their older film cameras, Nikon stopped making film cameras two years ago and Voigtlander began ending production in 2015. Leica is really the only company making new 35mm cameras if you don’t count toy offerings by Lomo and RETO (such as as their cool new Kodak half frame camera.) Meanwhile, competent used camera repair shops are closing all the time.
Whatever Leica has in store for us next month, I think it’s going to be cool, interesting and will stir things up. What do you think of Jason’s, Dan’s and my predictions? What are your predictions? What camera do you hope that Leica produces?
Finally, I’ve got to plug the good work of my friends. If you are in the market for a new or used Leica camera, lens or accessory, I highly recommend checking out Tamarkin Camera in Chicago. And if you enjoy music from performers like Billy Idol, The Psychedelic Furs, Morrissey, Bauhaus, Garbage, Sting and many others, I think you’ll be very impressed by Jason Nicholson’s concert photography. To me, his photos prove that our cool, funky old cameras can be used for meaningful work.
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!
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