Wayne's Gospel: Just what is the allure of the Leica
David Babsky is a regular reader of Macfilos and occasional contributor. A few weeks ago, in a seriously thought-through comment to a Macfilos article covering an appreciative letter from Jose Manuel Serrano Esparza, he posed the question of why on earth Leica has such a strong following? It resulted in a flurry of well-intentioned activity in that comments section, with much well informed, intelligent discourse on the topic. And it set me thinking further about what David said, and examining motives.
Tangibles and Intangibles
Now I reckon David would be a good fisherman. Just cast the fly out there and wait for the trout to rise to the surface. Well, unlike a wily trout, I just can’t help myself…...
But I must start with a disclaimer. I would never suggest that I have even one tenth the technical knowledge of David or Jose Manuel or, probably, the majority of Macfilos aficionados, nor even one hundredth of their historical knowledge.
Above: Friends Tony and Gerald are good fishermen, just like David B, I suspect. Tony just loves his boat and always has success when fishing. Gerald is a land-based fisherman. Here he is on a foul weather rainy day cleaning a bag limit of legal size sand whiting, one of Australia’s best eating fish (iPhone photos both — I never risk carrying a good camera near sea water nor on wet days). Both photos show the importance of smiling when fishing. Smiling is similarly important with photography. (Click on the images to see them full size)
David’s comments were well made. Carefully considered and constructed for sure. Cool, calm, calculating, clinical. He wondered what on earth it is about people who like Leica cameras. He posed possibilities such as the exclusivity that Leica pricing engenders, even maybe a snob value. He did acknowledge that Leica cameras have always been excellent snap shooters. But he was strong in his indications that any rational thinker sometimes wouldn’t choose Leica based on their late pickup of newest camera features. I cannot disagree with any of these propositions – my Leica X2 would have been truly wonderful in 2012 if it just had a viewfinder in the space occupied by the flash unit that I never use.
David finally concluded that it must be the exclusivity factor of the cost that is the key appeal to Leicaphiles. His commentary resulted in some further well-aimed responses from Macfilos readers, and especially from Jose Manuel, the main author in the article that drew David’s original comment. However, I’d venture a further proposition. I’d suggest that there can be other reasons why Leicaphiles like Leica. And they aren’t all tangible and measurable.
An accumulation of indefinable qualities
There might be tangible technical reasons why people like Leica. Any one of those technical factors by itself might not be enough to compel one towards Leica, but they could reinforce into a one-plus-one-equals-three situation.
Or it might be as simple as the great glass. Certainly Leica lenses and their coatings can produce a crisp image and do provide a great “look”. Not always measurable. Now, I know that everyone raves about the Fuji jpeg colours, and I do have some Fuji kit and do like their lively output images. But when considering Leica in the digital photo world, I do wonder whether it isn’t so much the subdued colours in a Leica image, but the whites, through silver, through intensities of grey to final blacks that are rendered beautifully by Leica glass amongst those colours.
But once again, here I am trying to think logically about why many photographers like Leica. Maybe it is simply the overall vibe of the image. Leica cameras are capable of great image quality. Then again, so are many other cameras , so it can’t be that alone.
Above: Daughter-in-law Rachelle travels the world photographing wildlife, for both fun and contract work. She uses top-end Canon gear and gets great images. You can see Canon shots at her website Faunographic.com or @faunographic on Instagram. But she took these three from Kenya, Zanzibar and the Maldives using an old-school Leica V Lux 4. Maybe it’s the photographer that’s important, not the camera. Click on images to see full screen.
Maybe it’s the photographer, not the camera
Let’s get even more abstract. Perhaps Leicaphiles like Leica simply because they have a confidence in their Leica camera. Building on this, they might strive just that bit more to get a good image. And it’s that red dot on the camera that makes them try harder.
Maybe, shock horror, it could be that costly red dot just by itself. My wife knows art far more than I do. She tells me that often the old masters deliberately put a little splash of red in their paintings. Perhaps that red dot makes you like your camera even more - Leica black dot types can ignore that point, I guess. Or, differently, there could be a dose of grudging admiration and affinity for the smaller company who swims with the big fishes, and is still alive and well despite the big bad corporate world that it competes in.
So maybe it is even as intangible as the loyalty that all of these characteristics build in the photographer, rather than the camera alone. Indefinable loyalty, maybe that’s what it is about.
But, finally, perhaps it is totally illogical. It is about “feeling”. Simply feeling good when you pick up the camera. Don’t try to overanalyse it. Feelings are feelings are often subconscious and sometimes quite irrational.
A test for us all
So here’s a test for us all to consider. If you were stranded on a desert island for a year, and were only allowed to have one camera (or camera kit), then what would you choose. What would you feel happiest with? It might be Leica, it could be Sony or Fuji or Olympus or Canon or Nikon. It doesn’t really matter what you choose, so long as you simply choose it on the basis of it making you feel good. No further rationalisation necessary.
For me, I do own both Leica and Fujifilm kit. And I like them both. What would I choose for the desert island? Leica. Why? I don’t really know, not logical, they just make me smile. Actually, specifically, It would be a Leica Q with a 35mm lens, or even better a classic 40mm lens just like the old days of compact film cameras. But that’s a camera that hasn’t even been assembled as yet – will it ever be?
What might our colleague David Babsky choose? I’d guess it would be a Leica. That answer lies in the last sentence of his fisherman’s comment where he admits , “I find it incredible that anyone, in 2018, buys a ‘new’ camera which was designed 66 years ago. Though I did…I couldn’t resist.” I suspect that when he holds it he smiles inwardly.
What camera or system would you choose? No justification necessary. It just has to make you feel good. And smile.