OpEd: The camera as a luxury item – or, a tale of two cameras

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Here’s a question I’ve been pondering for some time: how is it possible that these cameras (and others) are so similar in some ways, yet wildly different in terms of commercial success? And moreover, what can we deign from our crystal balls about the state of the camera industry? Read on for a little analysis from a photographer and a businessperson’s point of view.

I’ve specifically chosen these two models (or what they represent) precisely because they are not the latest and greatest and have been around for some time. Thus, we are able to see how successful (or not) they have been in the market. It’s pretty plain: one was sold out not long after announcement and trades well above launch price (if you can find them); the other has been on 75% discount at B&H for half a year. I hear they still have stock. The question we have to ask is why?

On the face of it, both are uber-luxe versions of rather pedestrian objects for no other purpose than conspicuous consumption; you might need or want to make photographs but in most situations, an iPhone will probably do a better job than either of these two*. Both versions replace optimally functional materials with alternatives less well-suited for the task and less durable; there are touches that are there for no other reason than aesthetics**. The Leica came in two versions – one with just one lens, and one with three lenses and a bag; the latter sold out faster than the former despite the formidably enormous price tag north of US$50,000. The Hasselblad could be ordered in many combinations, and pretty much built to order – some combinations are so…erm…unique I doubt that they made more than a few.

*And won’t draw attention to yourself.
**Jewelled buttons, anybody?

In this kind of rarefied price environment, the purchase becomes an irrational want over anything else. It’s like any other luxury good – watches or cars, for instance – you are as much buying into the experience, the bragging rights, and the perceived image as much as anything else. I’m sure both come with equally fancy boxes, expensive leathers and and temperamental electronics, so it can’t be the first item. It’s probably not the second item because Hasselblad arguably carries as much weight as Leica to the uninitiated; mention either and there’s a sort of iconic shape that comes to mind. If you shoot with either, people assume you both know what you’re doing and you are the latest inheritor to a lineage of distinguished pros. And then we come to the final point: image. The M9-P Hermes still looks like an M, and therefore a Leica. The Lunar…looks like a bit of a disaster. And nothing at all like a V series, which is what most people imagine a Hasselblad to be.

I think this is the crux of the problem: the product is just too different from the expectations of the consumer, and worse still, in a bad way. Personally, I think luxury is really defined by freedom of choice – not the amount of gold or jewels you can vajazzle your camera with. The same thing goes with watches: more bling isn’t necessarily better. But the majority of the buying audience – monied or otherwise – has certain expectations that have been conditioned through years of social interaction or existing product or simply a lack of imagination. A certain type of person buys a Rolls Royce, and another type of person buys a Lamborghini – and the two infrequently intersect.

And here is where Leica gets it right: they deliver on the expectation of both what a Leica should be, and what a luxury camera should be. Hasseblad didn’t hit either target. There is little deviation or wild innovation in the Leica stable precisely because this formula has been established and upheld for decades; in some ways, they can’t change it. Even some aspects of the digital Ms provoke irrationality amongst their diehards: “Video?! In an M?” Hasselblad should really have kept their DNA intact: sadly, the H series only looks like the V series without the prism and grip, and then you don’t have a workable camera. And none of the rebadged Sony stuff looks like a Hasselblad at all – what were the designers thinking^?

^Obviously they weren’t, because they’ve all since been fired.

The real question is, what does all of this have to do with the price of fish? The camera industry has been in decline for the last couple of years: total number of units shipped is decreasing; the bottom has been cannibalised by cameraphones, and the top end has passed both the point of stable saturation amongst people who can afford to buy, as well as technical sufficiency. It’s all well and good to have more performance, but much harder to make that performance accessible to the average Joe – and if they’re not seeing (and able to deploy) the difference, then you don’t have a sale. Pros won’t buy unless it’s clear how the change can help increase revenue or get new work. That’s a vanishingly small segment compared to the serious enthusiasts, and they’re small compared to the masses who wouldn’t know the difference between a D100 and a D810.

What is left is really only two strategies: innovate, or luxuriate. Oddly, we can actually draw a parallel with the Swiss watch industry around the late 70s/early 80s; the ‘traditional’ product (DSLR) was all but dead, killed off by low cost quartz/digital (cameraphones). A watch, like a camera, was a luxury not a necessity; people used to buy Swiss mechanical because they needed to know the time to some accuracy – so as not to miss trains and the like – and buying a good one was cheaper in the long run than buying many crappy ones. Quartz delivered not only sufficiency and convenience, but also lower cost. Everybody had one, then most people lost interest, high end horology went through the dark ages and re-emerged as a luxury play in the mid to late ’90s. Now we are in an era of both innovation and luxury – with experimentally new materials and designs; unconventional forms and the kind of opulence and price points that were previously unheard of.

The photographic industry as a whole is going to get worse before it gets better. But for those who are trying to stay in the hardware business, there are really only two choices: firstly, innovate: make something so different and game changing that people will at least buy one out of curiosity (quartz, unusual forms, X100s etc.), or use that innovation to drive down price (Swatch, really cheap DSLR/mirrorless) and shift a lot of them as a fashion accessory rather than a tool. The only other option is traditionalism (Patek, Leica, etc.) – do the same damn thing you’ve been doing since the year dot, but make it incrementally better and still recognizable as the best of the best. You obviously can’t do that unless you’ve got some sort of lineage to ride on; that option would be out for Sigma, for instance.

There’s probably room for niche players, too – look at the emergence of Red and Blackmagic in the cine industry – we’re still lacking that kind of thing for stills. As much as it pains me to admit it, I think the financial battles will be won on the basis of design and emotional appeal rather than quality as a tool. ‘Functionally ugly’ only appeals to a very small segment of the population; a good example is the Leica T: it got rave reviews from the society darlings and hipsters because of the way it looked, but pretty much every serious photograph agreed that whilst there were germs of a good thing there, some more development work (not least in ergonomics) was required. A camera that is a superior tool, like the 645Z or D810, has zero ‘want factor’ outside of serious photographers, but at least there is some respect for it as an imaging tool. Interestingly though Leica seems to have managed to bridge the two again recently with the Q, but less so with the SL; the former is a superlative tool, and there’s very strong lust factor at work.

The SL is an interesting discussion in itself: whilst there’s been a lot of technical admiration for some aspects of the camera’s performance, a quick scan through comments on my review and other sites reveals there is zero lust factor at work. In fact, I don’t recall a single person on my site saying they wanted one, even in an ‘if-I-could-afford-it’ (and many of my readers could) situation. It may well be one of the least desirable cameras I’ve seen if the comments are anything to go by. There is no aesthetic factor, there is minimal technical factor, there’s no status factor, and it doesn’t really fill any niche as a pure specialist tool, either.

It is at least one – and preferably more – of these ‘want factors’ that manufacturers need to aim for to survive: either through offering us some capabilities we didn’t think were possible (or never imagined), or by appealing to the emotional side. Every photographer suffers from equipmentitis – myself included – but we’re getting to the point that there’s actually nothing lustworthy, that you immediately want to buy, or even interests you hypothetically. After the exponential improvements of the last decade, the fixes have to get bigger, better, nicer. You buy an X100 not because it’s cheap or because it has the best 35mm lens, but because it pushes the right buttons and has mechanical control dials. Then you buy a GM5 because it’s ridiculously small, has interchangeable lenses, a large sensor and an EVF! You buy a 645Z because of the pixel count and shooting envelope. You go on to add a Leica M246 because it looks sexy. You buy a Q because it’s an incredible tool, but change the leather because it’s sexy. You buy a Digital Rebel or D5500 or Ixus because…see my point? MT

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Comments

  1. I’ve struggled all my career with this business of Wunderlust over cameras.
    It’s not just the LTD Edition Commemorative and gold plated Leica or Hasselblads, but simply the unattainable premium models too.
    The Doctors and Lawyers (Solicitors) simply dangled thier Hasselblads on weekends, while I had to shoot with a crappy ZenitB since that was all I could afford.
    Ironically, it didn’t matter. My pictures earned me the income and credibility to own Hasselblads and Sinar later on.
    The Überlux models are simply faux prestige baubles, more suitable as high class paperweights on some lawyer’s desk than as part of any meaningful collection.
    Still. The world is littered with small egos in possession of vast financial endowments.
    These are thier toys.
    I can out shoot them with my smart phone any day.

  2. It was Leica, I think, who began all this camera bling. The Luxus from 1929/30 was gold plated with lizard skin covering.

  3. Samuel Jessop says:

    An interesting post, and the world of luxury goods is largely alien to me. I do however desire nicer things, and see the 645Z at the current cost no object camera purchase. It’s a tool which would enlarge the possibilities of my photography, and is a tool that would test my technique. I can’t imagine spending so much money on something that wasn’t state of the art in terms of output quality and build.

    Watches fascinate me though. I have a couple of Swatches and long for something simple and in metal along the lines of my Skin. I admire the craft of watchmakers but mere baubles are not for me, and I am aware that I am increasingly the exception if a glance at fellow commuters on the London Underground is anything to go by. Perhaps by the time I can afford to invest in something nicer then a really thin and minimal watch will be easier to find.

  4. Ming, any thoughts on the relaunch of Seagull camera late last year? They do an exact version of the Leica D-Lux 6 (also made by panasonic) but with proprietary firmware and at half Leica’s price – http://www.seagull-digital.com/seagull/product/cf100.html

    This camera looks great too with its metal and leather – http://www.seagull-digital.com/seagull/node/115

    And would this be the first digital TLR in history? – http://www.seagull-digital.com/seagull/node/138

    Apparently they have even more innovative stuff in the works….

  5. Hi Ming – another really good, thought provoking post. I agree with your core thesis, but would like to add a couple of comments:

    (1) the biggest difference between the Hermes M9P and the Hasselblad Lunar is that the M9P was a desirable camera in the first place, and the Hermes edition was issued by Leica themselves; conversely, the Lunar was just a Sony NEX-7 with wood on it.

    (2) in relation to the SL, yes there is a lot of negative comment, but I’m not sure it is really representative. I do like it, and I do intend to buy one. Why? Well, I have a number of M cameras and M lenses, but the M camera is based around the optical viewfinder, which is fundamentally limited in its range and functionality (the enhancements of the M(240) – EVF, video etc – I view as flawed, and I don’t think they enhance the camera one little bit). So, I have been looking for some time for a complementary system to me M cameras.

    I tried the A7r with the 24-70 zoom – boy, that was a mistake. It looked so good on paper, and was rubbish in practice. What people frequently forget is the image taking experience and the image you end up with is what photography is about. What’s on paper means nothing – the woeful AF, dreadful menu system, horrible haptics and indifferent image output didn’t do it for me.

    On your recommendation (no blame), I tried the D800E with the 80-400 zoom and the 60 macro (I can’t remember the codes and other descriptions for the lenses). This time, the menus didn’t defeat me, and I came to grips with the buttons and the camera, but for me the Nikon magic was gone. One day I took the camera and zoom out of my bag to take a picture and a woman standing next to me said – “Gosh, that’s a big camera”. What she meant was “You must have a very small penis!” I looked at the camera, and really felt out of love with it – all just too much, and it didn’t take my M lenses. So I sold the lot.

    Then came the SL. My first reaction was “it’s huge!”, then I realised that the model holding it was a Hobbit, and actually it isn’t that big compared to the M or the A7 (I always found the A7 too small in my hands). I read your review, and thought it was fair and informative. I have since read Kristian Dowling’s, Sean Reid’s and Jono Slack’s and all are complimentary of the SL’s abilities. 24MP is, I think, the sweet spot for full frame – combined with good dynamic range and good ISO performance, I think this camera really does with the right spot. With the excellent EVF (the blackout on the T drove me nuts) and AF, I do think this camera leap frogs into an empty space left by Canon & Nikon with their fixation for dSLR (like an All Black first 5/8).

    So, what’s not to like? The price (pretty much the same spot as the M(240) and M(246) – it’s a Leica); the size (bigger, but then size was not a driver for this camera – it’s smaller than my d800E was); slow zoom (not really – in this range, the only zoom which is actually any faster is the Canon 24-70 IS etc etc and that is one stop faster at the top with its fixed aperture of f/2.8 and it doesn’t have the top range); weight (it is what it is, and it is in the range of dSLRs). What else?

    I am somewhat intimidated by the 90-280 for its sheer size. I’m extremely reluctant to go back to that size of lens, so I will be waiting to see what fast primes Leica produces. From past experience, I know that I prefer a good mid-range AF zoom (I had the Nikkor 17-35? something like that; it was very good) and the fabulous Nikkor 180/2.8 IFED telephoto in days gone by and that combination worked really well for me.

    So, we’ll see. In terms of opinions, I value yours, along with Sean, Jono and Kristian and they are not serving up the criticisms you read here and elsewhere.

    Cheers
    John

    • THanks for the detailed thoughts, John.

      1) Agreed.
      2) Which agrees with my initial hypothesis of the SL: it will appeal to M-owners for all of those reasons.
      3) Agreed on the whole Sony experience, too.

      But remember the SL’s lens is massive, too: that 24-90 is the size and weight of a 55 Otus – with the hood on. The 90-280 has no tripod collar (!)

      My criticisms of the SL were mostly firmware/user interface related. The core bones are there, but tweaks are need to make it rise above the pool.

      • I’m hoping the firmware issues will be resolved (a few have been identified already).

        Right now, I think I’m comfortable with M lens performance on the SL – the performance issues off axis look like dancing on the head of a pin, where the issues with the A7 weren’t. Sean Reid, Jono Slack and Kristian Dowling are doing further testing, apparently; and I am waiting for more in-depth reviews of the performance of the 24-90.

        I take on board your comments about the size of the zooms, and it is a concern. The mid-range zoom, I can cope with, but the 90-280? maybe not … I have no Canon, Nikon or Sony alternatives – just 4 M cameras (don’t ask) and 8 lenses, so if size is an issue, I have alternatives.

    • Charles says:

      John, I looked at the Leica SL very seriously. It has hit a lot of home-runs as a MILC. For me, the body is functionally and ergonomically close to my ideal Full Frame MILC.
      However, I went with the M 240 system instead.
      Possibly to the horror of others who see the rangefinder focussing aid as the heart of the M system, I used it as both rangefinder and mirrorless camera (with LiveView) interchangeably, as seems appropriate to the shot. Its old sensor and crappy EVF notwithstanding, the M 240 in LiveView makes for a pretty good mirrorless camera.
      Why the M 240 rather than the demonstrably superior SL body? The glass.
      I have no doubt that the glass for the SL is superb. But, just as you fell out of love with the Nikon DSLR, I am having a trial separation from my Canon EOS for reasons of sheer bulk.
      The Leica M is a true liberation is this regard, and the SL system is not.
      I could’ve used M glass on the SL, but couldn’t be bothered dealing with opening and stopping down the aperture with each shot.
      It seems to me that Leica nailed the design of a great MILC body, but then lumbered it with all the disadvantages of competing DSLRs. They could instead have done something more imaginative with the lenses. After all, sixty years ago the M system was built around superb, small lenses for which the rangefinder was only ever a focussing aid.

      • There’s one big problem with the SL: the price is crazy for what you’re actually getting image-quality wise…not to mention the massive size and serious focus shift problem on the kit lens.

  6. Fantastic piece, Ming. A great business case study in branding and product design. The comparison to the watch industry’s past crisis/transition is apt.

    When it comes to innovation, my hunch is that the smart players will move from innovating with lenses and sensors to innovating with CPUs and processing power, applied to the imaging pipeline and more. Your examination of the Leica SL shows Leica is investing in this power with fast refreshes, fast readouts, etc. (I’d be curious to know the architecture they’re using.) As Panasonic and Sony push harder with 4k and high frame rate capabilities, I’ll be interested to see how this bandwidth is applied to the UX of cameras. The first awkward steps are coming with 4K photo mode or Sony’s high speed video shutter, which starts recording 4 seconds before you press it.

    As a punchline to the ‘blad woes: thanks to undersold inventory, rebadged Sony lens are now *cheaper* than their Sony counterparts: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1165361-REG/hasselblad_1100277_18_200mm_for_3_5_6_3_lens.html

    • Sensors, certainly – the development cost is very high and the lifecycle short. Lenses? Less so.

      So far, it appears little processing power has been applied to UX; though the iPhones are good examples of how processing power can overcome a very mediocre sensor.

      Sonyblad: Now they’re worth buying, in spite of the badge, not because of it!

  7. “A certain type of person buys a Rolls Royce, and another type of person buys a Lamborghini – and the two infrequently intersect.”

    Analysis done in the past has shown this not to be the case. The substantial majority of RR buyers already have a stable of such cars.

    Not sure if this is true of ‘luxury’ cameras though. 🙂

    • In my experience, it is…frequently students will have pretty much one of everything if they have one at all 🙂

      For some odd reason I saw the intersections of the RR and Lambo as a traffic accident or a clumsy valet…

      • Hi Ming, Furthermore, Ferrari and Lamborghini, Aston Martin, etc are often mistaken as competitors. Again, in the context of the ‘rich’ it seems they are often competing against a yacht purchase or an apartment in Monaco etc. First world problems…. Some lucky people wake up and think, “New pair of bespoke shoes or new Leica M?” Hmmm, can’t decide. “Darling, there are crumbs in the butter again.”

    • If one was a Rolls Royce one was a Lexus with a mahgoney spoiler and carbon fiber steering wheel.

  8. Very good points. In my way of thinking, ‘luxury’ comes in three flavours. There is a product that is very well made, from very good materials, better than a normal product, but still just a normal product. Leica MP would be an example. A Merceded Benz car, at least in most Asian countries would be similar. It is more expensive than a normal car or camera, and can be beautiful in a utility sort of way. Then there is luxury that goes over the top in the sense that they use more expensive, more fancy, material just for the sake of them being expensive, but still make a usable product. They use hand engraving etc that does not really add usable value but makes it prettier and costs a lot more. Hermes Leica would be that, or a Rolls Royce car. Much more expensive but still usable though maybe not as good in real world as a MB or MP. And then there is luxury just for the sake of making something as expensive as possible and who cares about usability. Many watches are in this category with so complicated and visible movements that seeing the time is intentionally difficult. The Hasselblad stellar falls at least partly into this with its conical buttons, more so when you put a diamond on top just because you can. Why not cover the whole top plate with diamonds, like some watches do?

    • That sound about right. There is an appreciable difference between a Perodua and a Mercedes, but Mercedes and RR is on the very steep slope of diminishing returns.

  9. While it serves well as an example here, I think the HB Sony-rebrands don’t have much to do with designers. It looks more like a bad strategy to increase profits without actually doing any work: “We will leverage our brand strengths to expand into higher volume segments while maintaining a price premium.” Looks nice on management powerpoint, but I can’t think of a single succesful example from any industry outside of sports/entertainment fan products.

    Leica probably missed the best opportunity with SL due to similar thinking. At their prices it probably makes sense to double the marginal unit cost if it allows surpassing everyone else (e.g. by adding an evf that is clearly too expensive for others). That adds a “rational” justification for the status seekers to spend the money (they will actually have a better camera than anyone else), and could draw in some pros, too, which together could easily multiply the sales volume. If the hypothesis in your review is correct, they sort of watered down the product (and positioned it too far from the common needs) to avoid cannibalisation, and missed the big opportunity in the process.

    Too bad the camera industry has high entry barriers, otherwise we would see a lot of punishment for such mistakes happening.

    • Well, as hideous as those cameras were, somebody still had to do the decision and CAD work for the shells…that is design, even if not good…

      I actually see the SL as being fixable – and made very good indeed – with a firmware update.

      • I’m not sure the HB designers ever had a chance given they were working with a Sony firmware (mostly) and control setup. I probably forgot what was said in your review of the SL and what was said elsewhere. Out of curiosity: would you add one to your setup if the software parts were fixed? Resolution sounds kinda low for you (though adequate for most).

  10. Brett Patching says:

    Excellent article Ming! I’ll try to stand up a bit for the designers: if they’re given a shitty brief, then it’s likely that they will design shit. If Vorndran Mannheims Capital (in Hasselblad’s case) and the directors the board put in place can’t nurture honest innovation or luxury with respect to & for the brand, then the brand becomes diluted. I think the most exciting thing for a designer to see is a CEO and key people in the company that are real product people. Like a Steve Jobs, or Andreas Kaufmann perhaps (both rescued their companies from the brink), or Kazuto Yamaki, who are deeply passionate about what they do. It’s been “interesting” to see the direction Hassy has been taken in while Phase One focused on the development of the XF system …

  11. The first time I saw the Hasselblad, it reminded me of Hans Landa’s ridiculous pipe in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds.

    • It’s an odd beast, I’ll grant you that. You start with revulsion, then confusion, then minor misunderstanding, then one day it all clicks. It wasn’t til my third serious sojourn with one of these things that it started to become fluid to me.

  12. Martin Fritter says:

    The problems facing the camera business are well known. I wonder how many companies will survive. I haven’t found anything about the _lens_ business, however. Do lenses have a better margins than cameras? Is the R&D cheaper? Zeiss and Sigma seem to be rolling out very attractive products at a variety of price points. Sony seems to have a relationship to Zeiss very similar to the one Hasselblad and Rolleiflex did back in the day. Where would Sony be without those lenses.

    The indolence of Canon and Nikon regarding lenses is very strange.

    In terms of camera lust, well, I’d like a Q but I’d also like a Fuji X-Pan.

    • The lens business is a much better one than body hardware – R&D costs are lower, depreciation periods are longer, and the same optics can be used on many mounts. A camera body might go completely out of date in five years; Zeiss still have designs from the Contax/Yashica era that do just fine today with minor tweaks…

      I’d really love to see a digital X-pan too.

      • Martin Fritter says:

        Thanks. But I want a film X-pan! Or a good Noblex. I’ve been mesmerized by the pano work of Pentti Sammallahti. And why a digital pano? The cameras have built-in panoramic modes and raw files can be stitched with software. Serious question.

        I’m trying to like digital, but the Alpha 7 makes it hard. The tactile, embodied part of photography is very important and, even though I’m 69, I still prefer an optical range finder to an EVF or SLR.

  13. Both the Leica and the Hassy have a mythical history filled with iconic images and legendary photographers. Very different but the same. Leica history is a tale of two cameras (not really) and two owners (profoundly so) while the Hasselblad is “just” a camera. Leica’s have been, and always will be, equally at home in the context of the rough and ready photographers of 1970’s Cambodia and in the context of Singapore real estate investments. In the first the Leica is legendary because it’s beat up and filthy, in the second it’s valued because the package has never been opened. In the right hands both brands have been responsible for some of the most iconic images in photographic history. They are tools for serious photographers and a bit of a joke in the hands of those who dream of being Robert Capa or Ansel Adams while on holiday with the family.

    Now that I have all the iconic and legendary stuff out of my system. A limited run special edition Leica can be viewed as an investment vehicle. Sought after and collectable. Something to put in a safe deposit box. I don’t think the Hasselblad was ever valued beyond it’s abilities as a tool to make pictures. The limited edition Leica maintains some intangible “magic” qualities while a new Hasselblad is a good tool for serious work (in the studio tethered to a laptop). In terms of market perception the Leica is a hollywood movie while the Hasselblad is for camera geeks.

    I’ve owned three M6’s and a 501C. I took a beating when I got rid of all of them. The Leica Q seams relevant to todays market. It brings a level of accessibility and quality (quality of the camera, not just quality of the image) to the space between a 1” sensor compact and a high resolution DSLR. For those who value such things it’s a compelling purchase and it supports Leica’s less practical markets. A digital Hasselblad is also relevant. It slaves away anonymously producing magazine covers. Hasselblad needs to learn it’s hard to sell limited edition anonymity.

    • On the plus side, it’s possible to get pretty close to the film experience digitally with the modern Ms, which is more than can be said for any other camera. The Df was a failure for so many reasons. The Hasselblad/CFV combo never really worked because of the crop factor and non-square format. That said, the Hassy V still remains one of the most enjoyable cameras to shoot – if only they’d do a full 6×6 back for it…

  14. Fujifilm are trying this added intangible value technique . . .

    http://www.fujifilm.eu/uk/products/digital-cameras/interchangeable-lens-cameras/model/fujifilm-x-t1-graphite-silver-limited-edition-globe-trotter-kit-1/

    Only available from Harrods apparently.

  15. Patric Gordon says:

    Leicable enough, though.

  16. Patric Gordon says:
  17. nice topic well articulated. probably why i would prefer the nikon over the canon

  18. When a company has invested in a production facility they have no choice but to keep a steady stream of products flowing. It is impossible to make significant technical or scientific discoveries or ground breaking industrial designs on a schedule. Therefore companies must rely on marketing hype to convince consumers they need or want “vajazzaled” models that can be produced easily and on a regular schedule. They rely on our primate fascination with shiny objects and live in fear of the “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The decision makers at camera companies know exactly how to make better cameras. But if they do what incentive is there for consumers to upgrade in 2 years? If my job was to keep the production line at Leica busy in perpetuity the last thing I would do is make a Q+M-mount. We would all buy one and keep it forever. So when people comment “why don’t they just _____” it assumes the manufacturer’s and the photographers goals are the same. They are not. “Sufficiency” has a profoundly differently meaning to the camera manufacturer and the photographer.

    • Sure – but there’s one fundamental problem here. If you make something people don’t want, no matter how busy it keeps your production line, you’re going to go out of business. Companies that survive are the ones that adapt to what people want…or make something they want which they might not have considered previously.

      • Of course that’s true but the fine point is that companies strive to make something people want “just badly enough” to buy it. That is a different objective than making the best possible camera.

        • I don’t think they are – either different objectives or trying to make something people want badly enough…

          • I think the corporate values that motivate the Lenny Kravitz edition likely judge R&D return on investment as maximized well short of designing “ideal” cameras for photographers. To suggest otherwise supposes the camera companies are incompetent bumblers who simply do not know what to make. I give them more credit. I believe they understand precisely the types of cameras we want but thinner profit margins and the loss of recurring revenue secondary to longer upgrade cycles makes the proposition unattractive.

            • There is a thin line between ‘we’ll get there eventually’ and ‘we’re to lazy to fix one line in the firmware’…the former implies goodwill, the latter takes us for idiots.

      • Patric Gordon says:

        I believe that competition in the future will not be only an advertising competition between individual products or between big associations, but that it will in addition be a competition of propaganda.
        Edward Bernays
        The father of modern advertisement and nephew of Sigmund Freud

      • Ming, even if you don’t want their crappy-fast-food-tasteless but expensive products, they’ll make you want it, they’re creating your need for it! They exactly know how to archive that, it’s a science, it’s mathematical, certain and proven (look at Apple). And when you’re sold on it, you’re not even buying the product, you’re buying the Marketing of it. It’s a deceptive tactic because your product suck, at you’ll want to replace it as soon as the next one comes out, expecting that this time, this is for good, this is what you’ve been waiting for…

        • Frans Richard says:

          Good marketing can sell anything… at least once. But if the product is crap, yes, you’ll want to replace it as soon as the next big thing comes out… from a different brand. A company that wants to survive can’t afford to make crappy products. Survival is all about brand loyalty and brand loyalty requires products that fulfill the expectations the marketing created.

    • The electronic assemblers and poor plastic lens makers will never even want to create the best camera, they only exist to create the most efficient and profitable line of products. All the best cameras in the world already exist and all have been made : Leica M, Hasselblad 5x, Ebony, Alpa, Nikon F, Rolleiflex, Linhof, Sinar, Deardoff… but this is it! some of them are so superior that they still exist and are still made today!
      But Digital is here to make it almooooost as good as them on paper (if only it had…). The technical instruments of excellence have all been turned into outrageous consumerism. You’ll need to buy your “perfect” gadget camera every 2 years.
      That’s the reason why the manufacturers want to kill film and the reason why a good, fast and efficient scanner is impossible to find for the common crowd.

  19. different stroke for different folks, i suppose, sifu. the typical shooter wanting form and function and with a certain budget will go for a product which meet their needs, compromises withstanding. for those going for the totally luxurious and esoteric either for show or bragging rights, and form and function is secondary, it’s a totally irrational acquisition, the higher the price the better! i suppose the hasselblad was catering to this very niche market demand.
    regards, ken

  20. The most significant difference between the Leica and Hasselblad is that the Leica Hermes Edition is actually a Leica, whereas the Hasselblad Lunar was a $7,000 Sony NEX 7. A normal Leica M is in itself something of a luxury camera primarily aimed at a certain income bracket. It’s a no compromise mechanical camera with no compromise lenses. The Lunar was nothing but a sad joke. If the Leica is like a limited edition Patek, then the Hasselblad is like a quartz Timex movement in a Rolex casing. Also, wasn’t the Leica limited to a few hundred units?

    As for the Leica / Panasonic cameras, they aren’t as ridiculously priced. The Leica versions are about 40% more and come out at the same time as the Panasonics. I still think you’d have to be silly to buy a Leica version over the Panny, but it’s not nearly as ridiculous as choosing the Lunar which was a year-old camera and cost 600% more.

    • I’m not sure I agree there. An M was not a compromise in its time because the technology was the best available; today there are better options. I’d consider the Q to be the modern evolution of that: it has the tactility, the design pedigree, and uses technology to get the result – putting the result first over the tech. (I feel Sony goes the other way around – tech first, result second). On top of that, there are compromises even given the pricing: A Zeiss Otus is $5,000 give or take. Even the design team admits there are compromises there – some performance aspects, size and weight. There are even more compromises in a similarly priced Leica Summilux.

      As for the Leica/Panasonic argument: the Leica version used to not make sense, but as I wrote in the D-Lux 109 review – I’m not so sure, since they also come with a) extended warranties, b) more accessories, c) a full version of Lightroom, and d) arguably nicer aesthetics. Price those out separately and the difference isn’t really that much anymore.

      • That’s true. No compromise wasn’t an accurate description. I guess what I should have said is that the Leica M is a niche camera built to a very high standard, even if the technology inside isn’t necessarily up-to-date. As for the D-Lux 109, it’s true that they give you some extras for the additional $300, but what I find strange is the way they bundle it with LR. I would think at least half the people who want a camera like this already have LR or similar software. It’s probably part of the agreement with Panasonic that they must be priced differently and Leica wants to offer something to justify their price.

    • I love my M-P and M lenses. However, Leica M cameras and lenses definitely have technical compromises, lots of them, despite being very, very good generally. The cameras still lag behind Nikon, Canon and Sony for sensor resolution. The EVF accessory on the current M 240 series is low-res, deceptively permissive of error in its focus peaking, blacks out for a long time after taking a shot, and sticks backward too far. You cannot magnify anything but the exact middle in the EVF or LV for critical focusing. The M lenses generally have a lot of field curvature, which makes it impossible to precisely focus on anything but the middle of the frame with the existing digital M cameras. Some Zeiss ZM lenses are better than their Leica counterparts, but Leica doesn’t make camera lens profiles for them, so post-processing is sometimes needed to remove color casts in the corners. Worse, the camera lens profiles for Leica’s own lenses don’t always work for every body-lens combo, so extra post-processing is often needed for shots with Leica lenses too. This is a technical limitation of having non-telecentric lens designs with extreme ray angles that isn’t perfectly corrected by the offset microlenses of the M9 series or the aspheric microlenses of the M240 series. Making these compromises keeps the lenses quite compact, which is very desireable, despite the problems this makes in the digital age. The Adobe Flat Field Plugin for Lightroom and reference shots of a white target make correcting color fairly easy, but it’s an annoying thing that this can’t be sorted better in-camera. It would be nice if you could shoot a series of flatfield correction images with each camera and lens you use, storing them in the camera and having it apply them automatically. Analogous to AF Fine Tuning lenses with AF DSLRs, this would be tedious, but would improve results considerably and save time in the long run using a Leica M digital camera.

  21. Ming, to me it is all down to pedigree. The Leica has it, and the Lunar doesn’t. Hasselblad’s pedigree is in 6×6. Underneath, with one, you still have a genuine Leica M9-P, with the other a Sony (not knocking Sony, by the way) and, boy, is the Hassie UGLY! Now I happen to like their other re-working of another Sony, the Stellar II, which I think is really cute, and IS an advance on the Sony base model.

    From reading the other posts here, it is clear that photographers also seem to have an affinity with mechanical watches. I do, too. My oldest is a trench watch dating back to 1918, so may have seen service during WWI. My other watches mainly date from the late 1940’s to the 1980’s and I have a penchant for sub-dial seconds. The thing is, with routine servicing every four years, all are working as they should. Even the little trench watch is within 60 seconds a day. Now that is something considering it is 97 years old!

    • Interestingly, the timing mechanics of some of the older cameras aren’t that different from mechanical watches…

      What is pedigree though? Why does the M9-P have it, but perhaps the modern Canons and Nikons don’t? There’s got to be both some visual/design references in there and the right tactility too…

      • To be fair… Canon did ditch their FD mount. Nikon made the Df and the Nikon F pedigree is definitely there. Sony’s pedigree of pushing flawed but technologically extreme(Sony Qualias, anyone?) is also there in their camera line.

        The thing about Leica is that, you can still get film Leicas for a low price. And a Leica M3 with a regular Summicron is not that bad a buy, seeing that film, like vinyl, is gaining more popularity.

  22. hehe I got a laugh out of your use of the word vajazzle (bedazzle + vagina – vajazzle). A slightly more licentious commentary than normal : – )

  23. Michiel953 says:

    Interesting discussion, started off by an essay, written by one who an F2 Titan over a “normal”, bread and butter, F2… 😉
    Collector or user? Pro photographer or hobbyist? Using inaminate objects combined with just that little bit of emotion that maybe, maybe, could be called “love”? How can one love an object?

    I “love” my FM2n, which I’ve had for 25 years, and maybe even more because of those 25 years. Would I love a mint FM2T (no functional difference, just titanium top and bottom covers) even more? It’s a limited edition, so…

    I received a Swatch (we all did) as a parting gift after a week long cycling tour from Marseille to Geneve in 1985; they had just been brought to market and were all the fashion thing. I don’t have that watch anymore, but I do have a Chopard L.U.C. since ’98, and a Heuer Carrera classic reissue since ’96… They perform well but require maintenance.

    So in consumer goods (as there is in services) there is an ever increasing gap between “bulk”, “commodity” (cheap and cheerful) on one side and (perceived) high end on the other. Creating both form one chassis (Leicaa, Hasselblad) is pretty rare though; a Blancpain, Chopard, Jaeger-Le Coultre etc is a totally different animal from any ETA movement equipped watch, for instance, although even there there is stratification.

    It’s an eternal struggle I guess between the rational and the irrational sides of our personalities, although the fact alone that I am able to write this down probably points to an irrational extreme…

    • I owned and used a regular F2 also, and in today’s age of cameras, that STILL feels head and shoulders above the current bunch in build and solidity. The Titan was bought as an investment more than anything else. I do use it, but not often.

      What you’re describing boils down to the simple fact that our irrational brains want something more when we’re paying good money for something that isn’t necessary, but we’re not always getting it. The tradeoffs are par for the course: a supercar can be amazing, but requires a lot of maintenance and very specific conditions to do its best work. I suppose the same is true of photographic hardware: the Otuses are a great example.

      • Michiel953 says:

        One explanation (not the one that pleases me most though) is that having, owning, using, handling, a “special” inanimate object makes us feel more special ourselves; it makes us stand out from those that, by necessity or choice, make do with the normal stuff.

        This line of thought will probably end with me retreating to a mountaintop convent, repeating the same prayer hour after hour, whilst gardening.

        • Michiel,

          You are being too hard on yourself. The joy and pleasure one can get in owning such equipment may arise after years of desiring it when it was priced beyond one’s financial means. Then when it is finally in one’s hands, oh, what joy. As a youngster, starting out on our hobby, it was the Leica M3 and Rolleiflex 3.5f, with meter. I eventually got them 15 or so years later and there is still, to this day, an indescribable feeling when I hold them.

        • It ends for me when Zeiss builds lenses to my spec, and I build my own camera. Or when I go bankrupt trying – probably the latter…

  24. But in my country, my 6d is considered a luxury.

    • It is now, much as an Apple laptop is – but the same product in two years won’t be. It only has value because of perception of currency and awareness of price.

  25. Talking about camera as a luxury item and at the same time wonderful and functional design certainly nothing beats Jeager LeCoultre made Compas from 1937. Of course seconded by their Reverso watch on photographers wrist.

    • Oh yes – that JLC camera is an absolute jewel; I had the fortune of handling one once. But I’d be afraid to use it because I’d probably scratch it!

      Have to agree about the Reverso – but I’m biased because I own one 🙂

  26. I would like to add the point of intrinsic quality. Buying an expensive camera (or any luxury item for that matter) the question of quality never should be asked. The Lunar may have the Hasselblad label, but is really nothing more than a pimped up Sony. Nobody will ask questions about the real Hasselblad products. Remember the discussions were Leica used Minolta camera’s as the basis for their R series camera? They came away with it I think, because it had enough aspects of the Leica heritage and the quality and service was beyond reproach. And it helped of course that the lenses were from Leica.

    Especially for cameras (or e.g. computers) you are also buying into a system and/or the (perceived) quality of the after sales service of the company. The rest of that system and/or service should also be of outstanding quality. See the discussions around the perceived quality of the Sony after sales service vs the quality of the Nikon service.

    Thank you for your commitment to quality!

    • Agreed: and it has to be real, field-tested, demonstrable reliability and quality, not perception only. It’s the difference between an FM3a and an F2 – not easily tangible, but felt and proven. My F2 still has accurate shutter speeds with regular exercise and no service 30 years after it was built. My ‘pro grade’ D2H was dead three years after I bought it.

      On service: it isn’t even perceived quality of service; it’s actual service (or the lack of it). I did enquire: if I have to get something repaired on the A7RII, it’s a 2-week wait here. At best. That’s just not acceptable for a product of this price and aspiration. Nikon: NPS is next day, if not same day, and you get a loaner. I suspect the same is true for Canon, too.

  27. I think you’re right watches, with the event of quartz stopped being a necessity item that you found the budget for based on your requirements, job in the city, train to catch, you needed an accurate time piece. Professional sat diver? Well it had to be rugged, waterproof and dependable, after all, your life was on the line. Now I think watches are sold based somewhat on the heritage of these past times, but also because of the longevity… You buy a solar powered, radio controlled watch if you need 100% accurate time. You buy Patek, for ahem the next generation…

    But Cameras don’t have this draw…. When image improvements came for improved films, the high end camera was a justifiable choice, it would last you years, and if you broke it, then repair rather than replacement was a better option.

    Now of course a camera lives or dies by it’s electronics, it’s sensor. These things not only have a short life in terms of being industry leaders, but also electronics are effectively disposable consumer goods. Encasing a circuit board and sesnor in exotic alloys (or even jewels or precious metals) does nothing for the shelf life of the internals.

    I think the only way a modern camera can be a luxuary item is too recapture the longevity of old…. And that means the highest quality practical materials, the most robust weather sealing, the nicest tactile feelings possible with the buttons etc

    But most importantly it means a manufacturer offering a body with upgradable internals. A 42mp FF sensor and 3gb buffer today, upgradable to a organic sensor and collosal buffer and processor ‘tomorrow’

    Of course creating a product designed to exceed the standard shelf life for an electronics device might be a very, very tough sell to the board as it’s a risky business model.

    Thanks once again for a thought provoking piece of prose to accompany my breakfast!

    • My £15 Casio keeps time as accurately as a £15,000 Rolex.

    • Agreed – upgradeable internals or not. Even basic a) logical controls and b) quality materials are thin on the ground unless you’re going to spend a fortune. The thing is, even if the premium for this was moderate – cost of materials plus margin, let’s say – I think such a product will still do very well in today’s market.

      • I’ve been thinking more about this… I’ve been thinking about Rolexes! What’s the difference between a SS Submariner and a gold Submariner?!! Functionally = nothing (let’s forget the practical properties of each metal).

        The SS model can be seen as a unnecessary, yet functional tool for the diving professional (who likely wears a dive computer, but I digress)

        The gold model would likely not interest the professional diver, beyond the desire to own something shiny – much the same as a landlubber’s desire for a gold watch

        Now back to cameras…!

        Is there any luxury mileage in a precious metal camera? Personally I think not – except to quell an individual’s desire to own an unnecessarily expensive item

        So a luxury camera, IMO, needs to offer something more akin to a SS Rolex, than a bling-bling one

        It would have to be something beyond the ‘mere’ functionality of taking a good picture, but equally be something that consumers felt would be supremely dependable and something that would last….

        Or put another way….

        Suppose I obtained a supply of Leica sensors. Now suppose I put them in some ghastly plastic body, with an M mount, and started punting them out at a $1k a pop… How many Leica owners would jump ship to ‘my’ camera and forsake the build quality of the M for the cheapness of ‘my’ camera (which for the sake of the example has exactly the same IQ as an M)? Some/none/many? (imo some)

        The essence of what makes the 2 cameras differ is the seed of luxuriant photographical tools… and that’s what OEMs would need to define and deliver in order to offer such a product!

        Not entirely sure that makes sense… and there’s been a ton of other comments since this morning, so maybe this has been covered?

        • Probably no jumpers, but lots of new customers. We’re not even talking SS to gold here; it’s more like plastic to magnesium or magnesium to thicker magnesium (e.g. the tangible difference between the D810 body and the D4 body in terms of solidness and feel) – or in the extreme, perhaps titanium. All are still very much functional choices: more body rigidity and thermal stability is good, as is lightness.

  28. Can’t believe H makes such cameras at all. What were they thinking?

  29. tunisiaxxx says:

    Interesting commentary. I agree. Was waiting with bated breath for the new Leica to come out. Was wanting for some time to plunge into the Leica system. Loved the Q but needed it to be interchangeable. Need EVF or a quality Optical Viewfinder like in the Pentax or Leica MF cameras because of weakening vision. But want something lighter and stealthier as well as you rightly pointed out above. But no, the SL is a good substitute for my DSLR if that is what I was looking for which it isn’t. It just isn’t an interchangeable Q or even, dare I say, an M with a functional EFV built in! Those I’d lust after and would have sprung for at the price asked. My personal bias is to shoot manually and only manually. That is what I care for: a system that allows this easily, gracefully, and elegantly. That’s primary, then comes size, weight, and, certainly, ergonomics. Sorry to sound as if I’m in a rant, which I guess I am, but Leica’s new camera, while I can see it’s good points, was a major let-down for me. I like Leica; I hope this is not a huge let-down for them as well.

    • You’re not the only one. We are left wondering why they just put an M mount on the Q, and add the SL’s joystick? Sure, we’d give up AF, but it would tick both sexy and functional boxes. And they’d have sold a boatload even if it was priced the same as the Q (without a lens, making production margins higher).

  30. 1000wordpics says:

    Luxury products as conspicuous consumption need some combination of the following,either speacializing in one or blending all three:

    – Conspicuous precision
    – Conspicuous heritage
    – Conspicuous excess

    The M cameras tick the 1st two checkboxes, and only go for the third on special editions (the M60, the Lenny Kravitz set, etc). The Hasselblad cameras went for the third tickbox, hoping that they had enough in the tank for the second tickbox, and ignored the 1st.

    • I’d argue that the Leicas actually tick all three of your boxes – there is no reason even the standard Summicron 50/2 should cost several times that of the (IMO, better) Zeiss 2/50 ZM Planar. I’m not referring to the APO version here, either.

      Hasselblad would have worked if they actually did a proper redesign of the Sony, including UI, and not just stuck some wood on…it was such a bad job that you can see where the original body still exists underneath in compartment doors, connectors etc. That is worse than even the Leica-Panasonic reshells (which actually do pretty well sales-wise).

      • IMO the LX100 / D-Lux is rather well done as far as re-branding goes. The D-Lux is affordable but feels and looks like a quality product. There’s a clear family resemblance with the Q. Where I live, the D-Lux was only 50 euros more than the LX100 but came with Lightroom 5 and longer warranty, so the choice would’ve been obvious. It’s no wonder the D-Lux sells well.

  31. “But for those who are trying to stay in the hardware business, there are really only two choices: firstly, innovate: make something so different and game changing that people will at least buy one out of curiosity”

    Just my very humble opinion on this and in total agreement with you on this statement. The good old X-T1, with its paltry 16mp sensor, coupled to the now-ancient (in this day and age) Xf 35mm/1.4 R is lightweight, comparatively inexpensive and is silly sharp when used with skill. Yeah, I could have gone further up the food chain, but where do most photos end up? Online at 72DPI, usually 1000px on the long end. Fuji and its proprietary sensor, like the Foveon are indeed innovative. Your beloved Ricoh GR? Same thing. They aren’t wallet killers either… If I worked at ‘Blad, I’d be the first one to go and hide my head in the toilet with the release of the Lunar. First reaction? “You’ve got to be kidding, right?” And the camera as a status symbol? Whoops, wrong guy here; no yacht, no interest.

    Stealth is where its at and the Q does nicely in that department, with the addition of some black nail polish or a well-trimmed circular piece of black electrical tape 🙂 Your article on this one actually sent me off to check my credit card balance in wonder, however, given my year+ of loving experiences with the X100S.

    Hats off to Sony as well as a few others for at least making a solid effort in the performance and innovation department. And thanks as always for your keen objectivity…

    • One day, somebody will get it all correct – or the base line of technology will get to the point where the small differences aren’t wroth chasing. That day is already here for most of us, I think.

      • I keep saying it…I’ll say it again; Sony needs to introduce a pro camera (ILC – A9) with a big comfortable grip (with a big ass battery), solve the remainder of the niggles eg 14 bit lossless compressed, joystick and whatever else pros want BUT don’t call it a Sony! Honda>Acura, Toyota>Lexus etc. If this camera that I am suggesting has the highest MP count with BIG FAT GORGEOUS FILES, best ISO, cleanest low ISO, fastest AF, best EVF, longest battery life and best lens selection native and non-native – AND A NAME PLATE YOU WON’T WANT TO PUT A PIECE OF TAPE OVER, – Sony Wins. Oh and make it pretty like a D750 😉 Maybe not the point of your article but it would sure solve my problem 🙂

        • Not just yours, I think.

        • Sony could bring back the Konica name, after all they bought Konica/Minolta, and Konica as a name has much more cachet than for photography Sony. Or perhaps Sony could partner with Zeiss to learn about how to design stuff for actual photography enthusiasts, not just gear-heads, and produce the next generation under one of Zeiss’ fallow old marques like Ikon, Ikonta, Ikonette, Icarex, Contina, or Contessa.

          • Oops. I should have wrote: “As a name in photography, Konica has much more cachet than Sony!”

          • The impression I got of the Sony-Zeiss relationship is that it’s very much one way supplier-principal rather than being a collaboration, which is sad…

            • Indeed, the photography division of Zeiss is clearly full of people who love good cameras to put their better than good lenses on, and I’m sure they would make good advisors to Sony on what a camera should do easily and quickly, how to organize controls, ergonomics, and what features deserve to be at the top of menus, and what features can be at the bottom of the menu because they get use less (with the ability to be put in a custom list for say the astrophotographer, who has a different set of needs to the street photographer). Of course there are other design firms they could consult too, but it’s a missed opportunity not to actually consult Zeiss, since the people who designed nice cameras like the Hexar RF are obviously long gone.

              • They would, and there are even plenty of photographers offering input for free – if only Sony wasn’t too arrogant to listen…

                • Heh. Well Sony probably is getting plenty of opinions from all sorts of photographers, some of whom have radically different goals, desires, and skill levels. It should be easy to sort the dross from the gold, if you have a discerning lead product designer, but some of these cameras like the A7 series or more so the Lunars look to be the work of committees where no one had a clear vision of what makes a camera functional. It’s more like they had a list of features to be included, but no process for assigning priority to essential features, and little thought was given to how function should guide form in crafting a tool or machine.

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