Here it is. Look at it, for this is the camera that definively made Leica… an underdog in the selling charts. Who’s to blame? Junior. Ludwig Leitz, Ernst Leitz’s son, was really full of himself In Junior’s eyes, ‘flex’ cameras were a trend that wouldn’t last: real men shot rangefinders. Now it’s not the fifties anymore, and we know what happened next. The Leicaflex shows the strong bias towards rangefinders in Wetzlar: they tried to design a SLR that was as little a common-lore-reflex as it could be.
In may ways, it reminds me of the first Contax I: a gorgeous camera with innovative features, just the wrong innovative features. But at least Zeiss made the wonderful Contax II immediately, so…
Besides, guys at Wetzlar failed to implement features that were common at the time, like TTL measuring or interchangeable prisms. If you are one of those who still say that this was made to prevent dust from entering the viewfinder, you are a fool with capital F. Had those people known what they were doing, they would have used interchangeable prisms, or at least a prism wouldn’t be fogged by its own natural glue over time.
Once I saw post in a forum in which some chap asked whether he should buy old glass (actually he mentioned a few models like Pancolar, Super-Takumar, etc.) or stick to the zoom kit lens he got with his brand new DSLR. And you know, opinions are like asses: everybody’s got one; there were all kinds of answers, but one fella made me smile telling the guy that both all those classic lenses and newer ones were better at taking pictures than we are photographers. That is and isn’t true.
To be fair, lenses formulated in and after the 1980’s beat hands down older lenses at key aspects like flare, contrast and resolving power. Coating tech may not look so glamourous as optical design, but the revolution came from there.
What you see above is a Contax G1 camera body. Well, more exactly, this is the part in which you can verify that it was made in Japan by Kyocera, which, if you didn’t know, at the time when this camera was released was known in the West for making copying machines. The system was a flop. Not because the cameras and the lenses were bad: they weren’t. In fact, the lenses are on par with Leica, which is to say that they’re as good as a photographic lens can be. They failed because there was no market for such a product. Them guys at Kyocera failed to understand why they would totally fail at selling “Contax” cameras made in Japan.
You know, when Oscar Barnack, the all-maker, gave the first Leica to us, he had a very specific idea of what he wanted to achieve: he wanted to give us a camera that was small enough to fit in your pocket and light enough to carry it on a sunday hike. That is, of course, the official story by Leitz, first owner of the Leica brand, and as storytelling goes, it is probably bullshit. More or less. Because you can’t trust someone who’s trying to sell you something. Except for me, the most honorable of merchants. You can trust me head-on because I love you more than I love my business. I like this creation myth though; just in the sense that it is so stereotypically German that it is almost hilarious. I see the eyes of Doktor B wide open in a closeup, the plane slowly travelling out and showing a demented grin: “Eureka! I vill kreate a kamera für zee hikers!”; all this in b&w 1930’s cinema film. Just sublime.
Why do I distrust the hiking camera myth? My two cents: too politically correct in its context to be true. Because, let’s admit it: if you build cameras, or cars, or battleships, your primary goal is selling them and everything else you’re going to add to this is just marketing.Baron I, is an exception to that, of course.
Now that I am complaining about trends, I can tell you something else that pisses me off besides gear reviewers calling us idiots for looking at their work.
Now there are those who say that gear doesn’t matter, that you can take perfect pictures without a Leica or five grand lens.
In fact, this trend goes back many years ago. There is an urban legend about photojournalist Ernst Haas saying ‘Leica, schmeica, the camera doesn’t make a difference’ to a couple of leicaphiles trying to coax a statement about Leica being inherently superior to other brands from him. This is still the trend this days. Both things, I mean: leicaphiles and leica-schmeicas.
There are some guys who are even more shameless than Baron I, by veiledly asking for free samples for reviews. Baron I is true and asks directly: buy me a Leica MP and make me happy. No subliminal trickery here: Baron I is so much alpha that he goes superliminal: buy it to me.
This above is the Leica-à-la-carte of my dreams: an MP, glossy black paint, because black is the new chrome; and vulkanite cover, because vulkanite is eternal. Well, not that eternal, but truer to the original. Oh, black paint, you age so gently.
I mean, why all those guys, who make sure that you have who make MONEY by being sure that you have access to all the specs of any given camera call you an idiot for wanting to know? Isn’t that stupid? I mean, calling your readers, those who ultimately are to blame for you being paid, idiots for caring about the info you give is the most idiotic, stupid, suicide move you can do.
Now, now, what do we have here? If you said “evidence that Leica trolls us photogs”, bingo, you’re right. Yes, ladies and gents, this is a Leica Digital Modul R, the meanest, baddest, most cumbersome, method of taking digital images around, and your guess is correct: it’s for sale at you know where. You thought there is a direct link between price and performance in photo gear? It’s Leica: think twice.
Sure, for a six grand release price, you would expect something better than a 10MP crop-image sensor that shows noticeable noise from ISO 400 onwards (it isn’t that there is too far to go at a max of ISO 1600). But hey, you can have it much cheaper now. From me. Yes I want your money. No, do not complain; this is an awful lot of moolah, but it’s collector stuff.
…and the Zorki led to the Dark Side. Or to the Zenit, which is the same thing for all of us who own one.
We were saying in the last article about Zenits that they basically came from the Leica. Let’s see how.
In the 1930s imports in the Soviet Union were scarce and the official economic doctrine put great emphasis on autarchy, so the great plan of the commies became to produce everything at home… by breaking any patent laws if necessary. Many implements of Soviet manufacture, especially consumer goods were close copies of Western models, and cameras were no exception. Well, as close as the Soviet production model, which clearly didn’t favor quality, allowed.
…and God (Oskar Barnack) saw that it was good, but it had no rangefinder, so in the second day He created the Leica II… It was more or less like that.
What? Leica? Barnack? Weren’t we talking about Zenits? Fear not, for everything will become clear… as Lynda Blair said in The Exorcist, in time.
Serious now. Why did I put the Leica here? Because the Leica is a not-so distant relative to the Zenit. Genealogically we could put it all like this: the Zenit comes from the Zorki, which comes from the FED, which in turn comes from the Leica II. In other words, the Zenit is the grandson of the FED, Leica’s Soviet evil twin.