LEICA

Alternative views on the Leica world by Erwin Puts

Digital is becoming boring?

There is global indignation about the greed of managers in finance, services and industry. Indeed there is no valid argument for receiving a salary package of 20 million dollar for failure (see Yahoo’s CEO). And when the amount exceeds a hundred million one may ask what someone would do with such an amount. Not pay taxes (see the panama papers) for sure. You could buy three months worth of the output of the Leica company for instance. Remarkably enough this attitude that it is never enough combined with a simple rule of addiction (more demands even more) is still effective in the camera industry. The car industry has left the “more is better” rule and starts to change into a more sober attitude, preaching now environmental responsibility and electric engines as the solution to all evils.
The camera industry and the consumers are still in a more infantile attitude: here the more-is-better rule thrives. As soon as a 135 format sensor has 20 millions pixels, the demand is for 40 million and when there is 40 million, the consumers cry for an eighty million pixel. What you could do with this amount is unclear. Technically it will reduce moiré for sure and will eliminate the lowpass filter, but the photographic advantages are limited. The parallel is the classical Kodak Technical Pan: an emulsion of very high capabilities but it failed in the market because there were too few motives that could benefit of this performance. Of course one will say that a high amount of pixels and a high speed will allow for sectional enlargements of pictures made in complex situations. And this is undoubtedly true. There are always limits to push and even cross. For most photographers (see Facebook, Instagram and a host of other websites where the daily output of the average photographer can be studied) the middle of the road situation is the usual experience. Modern camera technology makes it very easy to cope with almost every complicated condition.
There is hardly anything meaningful to say about digital technology. The ‘fine print’ of digital technology is there to be read but who does and who cares.
A few bloggers perhaps, whose verbose stories mask the obvious content. One can write easily twenty pages about the Leica SL, but the main message is simple: it is an excellent camera, that does not excel as an innovator and au fond matches (most features) or slightly exceeds (some features) the relevant competition, where ‘relevant’ means cameras with the same level of features and/or performance.
The reviewer in a German daily paper who wrote that the new Olympus Pen is a marvel of nostalgic design and an excellent performer also noted that Olympus (against their own statement) did join the pixel race. The result: more detail in clear day photography but less performance in low light photography.
This is the obvious conclusion: technological progress is always a balance between conflicting characteristics. Now that Leica wants to play in the same league as the main digital competitors with appropriate features and performance, the rule of the common denominator becomes unavoidable.
Much more interesting is the analogue domain. Like the vinyl music industry, there is a revival in film emulsion use. While Leica lenses loose some of their interesting features when coupled with a solid-state sensor, the same lenses get personality and increased quality when they function as image projectors on a film loading camera (from M3 to M-A or MP/M7).