Alternative views on the Leica world by Erwin Puts

Leica and innovation

Based on its own product portfolio, the Leica Camera AG Wetzlar can not realize substantial growth figures. According to the reports in the German Bundesanzeiger, the Leica CAmera AG Wetzlar had a total turnover of 304 Million Euro over 2015 (287 and 299 in 2014 and 2013). The system cameras and compact cameras had a turnover of 160, 176, 152 and 80, 60, 81). The figures of
the cameras indicate an up and down trend, reflecting the introduction of new models. The growth of both segments has reached a limiting potential of about Euro (million) 200 and 80. The photographic market is no longer a strong growth market and with the smart phones getting more and more capable, there is hardly rom for expansion. The focus of Leica on the high end and luxury market for the camera segment does limit its appeal.
If the Leica Company will want to reach the strategic turnover of 1 Billion Euro, more product categories have to be added. The cooperation with Huawei (lenses for smart phones) and now Novacel (spectacle glasses) are elements of this growth strategy. It is clear from these market movements that Leica will not be able to reach the stated goal with the reliance on camera products alone. New models will not add much inventiveness to the existing product lines. Basically the current M10 is no different from the M8 and the SL, TL and Q are hardly different from the Japanese competition. In the 1950s. new products from the Leitz Company were anticipated with great eagerness by other camera manufacturers, because the company then was at the leading edge of photographic innovation. With the exception of a small group of enthusiasts, new Leica products are nowadays hardly taken seriously by the leading camera manufacturers. (Note the reluctance of buying the Blackstone stake in the Leica company).
Leica aficionados may discuss in detail the differences between different camera models. This is trivial but fun. Introducing a new 75-mm-lens with an aperture of f/1.2 (previously f/1.4) is hardly innovative, even when the performance is much enhanced. And a different sensor-architecture in the M10 compared to the previous models will presumably change (in subtle terms) the image quality and certainly change the production efficiency. This is an element of technical evolution, not part of an innovation.
A truly innovative design, like the Leica M5, failed to impress the market and its production ended soon. The original Leicaflex was an engineering masterpiece, but as a camera tool it lacked the innovative characteristics of many Japanese models. The M-models, from M6 to M10, are based on the same design that goes back to the M3. Crawley once stated that the M-design had remained in a kind of goldfish bowl, an apt metaphor for todays design strategy of the M-line. Undoubtedly there will be sometime in the future an M11 with an increased number of pixels, to get even with the Sony, Canon and Nikon models of today. Such a ‘new’ model may even sport a reduced number of functions to enhance the feeling of minimalism and improve the direct relation with the core of photographic technique. A really innovative optical finder combining elements of the Fuji X-100 and the (now) classical Contax G series is far away. Incorporating an SL type of viewfinder in the M would not count as innovation, only as product integration.