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Needed Improvements in Today's Leica M Lineup
A separate profile addressed future marketing strategies and new lines, but what about the present M Lineup?
#1 Titanium Bodies: The incredibly rugged Titanium finished M6's are one of the best M innovations ever. Yet they are now discontinued due to lack of sales. Unfortunately, Solms did not understand their customers and pretty well screwed up a great idea with poor execution. The M6 Titanium was mistakenly marketed as a "luxury" finish, rather than the commercial toughest finish known to man. A more appropriate ad campaign would have featured a photog trapped in the pyramids, digging her way out by knocking the walls down with her M6 Titanium.
What else went wrong? Very simple. Take a look at the Titanium's body covering. For whatever reason, the Titanium's rugged image was destroyed at birth by a fancy ornate Ostrich body covering --- Or is it Emu? The Titanium's fancy body covering is gawd awful and was pivotal into turning a rugged sales success into a marketing disappointment.
What should have been used? The elegant and rugged vulcanite body covering of the M3, M2, M4 era -- not the cheaper covering of the standard M6.
What else was wrong? For a deluxe rugged camera, the top plate stamping is wrong, Take a look at a M3, M2 or M4. For the deluxe Titanium body, Leica needs to return to the elegant engraved top plate. The new M6 TTL with and without the .85 finder should have Titanium as an option.
OH..it feels good writing that. No doubt Barnack is resting easier in his grave now. In my opinion these changes will turn the poor selling Titanium into a strong seller. How much will the market bear for a premium? $300 US.
#2 Black Enamel bodies: That's right. Reintroduce black enamel bodies with the top plate engraving and the wonderful vulcanite body covering as deluxe cameras. All M's should have this as an option. Again, market premium $300 US. No Leica finish has more aesthetic beauty than a black paint finish. Longtime users and collectors alike will flock to the much missed black enamel finish -- especially when matched up to engraved top plates and vulcanite body coverings. 12/99 Leica has announced a new black paint retro style limited edition Millenium M6 with engraved top plate script and M3 rewind knob. It's a great step in the right direction, and I predict a quick sell out. However, aesthetically the Red Leica Dot has to be removed, and the M6 type rewind lever needs to be added, for the next standard production black paint M6.
New Leica M people usually don't realize that the top plate engraving, black enamel finish and vulcanite body covering really are BIG things to experienced M lovers. The cost cutters were allowed to go too far when these trademarks of Leica craftsmanship were retired.
Imagine a Mercedes without the silver star, a BMW without great handling, or Kodak film without the yellow box. Now look at the M without its elegant engraved top plate, rugged vulcanite, and beautiful black enamel finish. The sooner these M trademarks are restored, the better.
#3 The stupid OFF switch on the M6 TTL has to be moved from the shutter dial to the advance lever, so you turn the camera off just by pushing in the lever. Having to always move the switch to OFF to turn off the meter, and then to the shutter speed you want EVERY time you use the camera is a real pain. Leaving the camera ON and letting it eat batteries is even worse. Whoever wanted the OFF switch on the shutter dial should be exiled to Konica or Cosina as Leica's secret weapon.
#4 The M6 TTL .85 finder has to be enlarged so that the 35 finder is visible even if you wear glasses, and improved so there is less flare.
#5 The M6 TTL IB has to be improved so the photog realizes it is NOT necessary to manually set the lens aperture on the flash. That step is only to show the limits of the flash.
#6 The M6 TTL needs a modern powerful flash, with rear curtain sync, manual power ratios, zoom head, a wide angle converter for up to 21mm, wireless multi TTL flash like Canon and Minolta, and most importantly a 360 degree rotatable flash head that also flips upward 90 degrees. Oh yes, don't forget to replace those #@%$& lithium batteries with AA's! I don't care how long the lithium batteries last, trying to get them replaced will be an expensive and most likely very inconvenient mis-adventure
#7 M6 Motor: The present motor works well, but is a disaster from a user friendly standpoint. It desperately needs to be redesigned in the shape of the wonderfully comfortable and easy to use Nikon MD-12 motor, with built in grip and a base which will not make the camera fall over. A speed increase to at least 5 frames per second would also be nice. 12/99 ooops. It seems to be discontinued once again. Perhaps Leica is working on an improved version. A New Improved motor was introduced.
#8 Economy M2N camera: Take the classic M6 non-TTL body, REMOVE THE METER, keep the lower cost top plate and body covering, and put in a simple elegant M2 finder with only the 35, 50 and 90 framelines. Remove the motor coupling too, if the cost savings warrant it. Suggested target market: $1000 retail. This is a take off on Tom Abrahamsson's idea, who told me of his desire to see a new production M2.
#9 Data Back: The M has never had a data back, for date imprinting and frame imprinting. It seems to me that it would be fairly easy to have an optional (removable) data back for the M6 TTL. This would be great for lens testing, that eternal Leicaphile pastime.
#10 Close focusing: Today's M system has a crucial lack of close up capability. A modern version of the SOMKY close up device is very much needed. Ideally, it should have a helical with interchangeable eyepieces for the 35 to 90 lenses. A close up 90/4 was introduced 10/2003
#11 Film Reminder: Horst Schmidt reminded me that the M's dial film reminder is easy to forget. A simple back door label holder would be an improvement. A see through window would be much better, but I am not sure if that would be light tight with the M's drop in film design.
#12 Three Lugs: I find the M5 type three position strap lugs, which allow vertical or horizontal carrying of the camera, MUCH preferable to the standard horizontal only arrangement.
#13 2x and 1.4x Tele-Converters: Leicanuts would pounce on a quality rangefinder coupled teleconverter like a bear on honey. It needs to be made in screw mount and M mount, with an accessory zoom finder from 100 to 270mm.
The suggestions listed here are comparatively easy and inexpensive improvements of the existing lineup. I believe they would prove popular with M photographers and profitable with Leica.
Revised: November 25, 2003 . Copyright © 1998-2002 Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved. This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.