Erwin Puts has written many Leica books I have experienced and discussed in detail with relevant persons in Wetzlar old , Solms and Wetzlar again, new the digital turn and how the company evolved and changed while adopting the digitalization of the photographic process and the changing world of the internet based photography. The most recent event is the evolution from a manufacturing company to a software-based company. While a commercial success, this change of heart has accomplished a, perhaps not intended, impact: the soul of Leica products has been eradicated. A renewed interest in classical products is the result. The SL and Q are currently the hopeful products for the future. The ghosts of Huawei and Panasonic can be seen all over the campus and while the M-system is still being promoted as the true heir of the Leica lineage, it is now sidelined.
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Buy one of my books! The look and feel has been changed to a minimalistic design. Some paragraphs have been deleted or upgraded to reflect current thinking. Towards a modern paradigm for Leica CRF photography According to Plato and his disciple Aristotle all things in nature possess an original ideal form and the visible phenomena we can see in reality are in fact more or less distorted copies of the original.
It is the goal and function of art to accomplish what nature could not achieve: perfection. This ancient Aristotelean vision has been actualized in the current digitally manipulated photography. Photoshop is capable of producing every shape one wishes and one can compose a picture with carefully selected and manipulated parts and components. In the usual reviews of cameras and software programs there is always a listing of likes and dislikes where the dislikes is often an enumeration of lacking features that the presumed competition offers.
The first hidden assumption is the idea that the sum of all features of all cameras will make the perfect camera. The second hidden assumption is the idea that the camera should complement the lack of skills of the operator. And the third no longer hidden assumption is the idea that a failed photograph is no longer the fault of the operator but of the camera and the software that are not up-to-date or up-to-the-task.
The relation between the photographer and reality has dramatically changed in the last twenty years, partly under the influence of the powerful post-processing programs. The photographer no longer feels himself to be a slave of the camera faithfully recording aspects of reality, but has become a visionary who does want to show new vistas where others keep their eyes closed.
The most remarkable transformation that has occurred with the acceptance of the digital workflow is the role and position of the photographer. In the days of silver halide capture and chemical processing the technique was rather simple, but the mastering of the details of this technique was not.
But photographers accepted the limitations and accumulated knowledge and expertise to complement the limits of the tools. The Zone System is an excellent example of such an approach. The limits of the material are recorded and a technique is developed to tackle the problem. Ansel Adams did not write to the manufacturers to create better emulsions and chemicals but studied the available products and added his knowledge to the process.
The same attitude can be seen in the guild of photographers. The cameras and lenses of the past were far from perfect and this is true of Leica cameras and lenses too. Leica pictures have always had the distinction of an honest and detailed record of the world and the Leica lenses have been designed with that goal in mind: reality should be fixed on film or sensor with lenses that faithfully capture what is in front of the camera.
One might say that the origin of Leica photography is the honest and realistic fix of a visual memory. Manipulation and artistic distortion are out of the question. There should be nothing between the recording lens and the final print. In such a view the final result is the work of the photographer and if the result is not as hoped for then the photographer takes the blame. I would propose that this approach might become the new paradigm for Leica photography in the digital age.
The current generation of lenses is exemplary and do not require post processing improvements. If there is some vignetting or distortion, one should work with these characteristics because it is a property of the lens.
It is far too easy to blame the camera or the computer for the lack of quality of the picture. So what? Grain was visible in Tri-X too and yet no one felt inhibited to use this film and make beautiful images. Leica photographers should take their responsibility and start using the tools, exploring the limits and try to accumulate experience and knowledge to extend the capabilities.
It is a bit too simple to assume that the pictures will be better when the M has all the features of the current competition. Photography shares at least one characteristic with sex: it all happens in the mind.
It is very simple and reminds one of the wet darkroom in its options and character. And it is straightforward and discourages manipulations.
The processed images are as good as what one gets with other more feature-laden programs. The choice of RAW developers has all characteristics of the old discussion between film types and developers: fine grain or acutance or all-purpose.
Technically highly interesting, but for the final image not that relevant. The classical advice: stick to a combination that suits your purposes and try to maximize results in stead of trying every possible combination hoping to find the holy grail is still valid. I would like to see the photographer return as key player in the imaging chain, and not the software as the decisive factor.
Your Leica lenses will feel good again. Man Ray and his assistant, Lee Miller, considered the darkroom their laboratory and considered the magic of the developing image on the negative and the print the greatest creative emotion that the process of photography could provide. Commercially the darkroom may be dead who wants to wait for more than a second to see and distribute his image?
One has to accept that there is progress and that the force of evolution will kill the unadapted, but one has also to accept that it is not enough to be different or new to count as truly evolutionary. Even the CEO of Leica see the recent interview with Bloomberg media is succumbing to the force of the social media when he noted that future Leica cameras may have social media integration.
Globally more and more attention is being paid to environmental sustainability and an economy that will shift from growth to durability. The classical high-precision mechanical cameras could and can be used for at least fifty years with a modicum of maintenance. My Leica M3 from is still fully functional in its 52nd year and will function flawlessly for another thirty years.
Digital photographers will claim that chemical processes are environmentally hazardous which is true, but with care the impact can be minimized. Who ponders about the piles of batteries and plastics and sensors that pollute the environment? The year was not a good year in this respect. The drive of the industry to produce successor models for every camera may we include smart phones?
So what are the intentions for the near future? Do not buy a new camera for at least two years, but invest time and energy in exploiting the possibilities of the current one. If you think you need a new one, carefully compare existing camera with new camera and see if your photography really will improve in the direction you want to move. Buy yourself a spot-meter, learn the basics of the Zone System it exists for digital photographers too!
Adapt your workflow such that the time spend with Lightroom or Photoshop can be eliminated. Go from RAW file to print in one step. Spend the time not sitting in front of a computer screen with taking pictures slowly and creatively. Make a real paper print of your best pictures and do not upload them to Facebook or whatever sharing site.
Share it with your friends. Study the pictures of Renger-Patsch to see how a technically perfect picture can have deep meaning. Do what you can do best: be yourself. Remember those old advertisements in which the manufacturer boasted about the number of parts in the camera body.
A camera was supposed to be better when the number of parts was higher! This was the time that a camera could be compared to a high-precision watch and was seen as a precision-engineered mechanical marvel. Now cameras are effectively computer devices for image capture in which printed circuit boards and software are rapidly replacing moving parts.
This trend is perfectly logical. The speed and intensity of product announcements and product updates is costly and investments have to be recouped already at the start of a product cycle.
Witness the significant price drops of a product at the end of its commercial lifecycle. With less components and a smart system of recombinations of existing components you can reduce costs and introduce many products that seem to be new.
The mirrorless camera is now very popular, but removing the mirror box or fixing the moving mirror is also very cost-efficient: less components to take care of. The next component to get rid off will be the shutter unit. The reflex viewfinder is already being replaced by an electronic finder system and when this process of component elimination will have reached its natural finale, cameras and smart phones will have converged.
Objections will be raised of course! There will presumably be a market for the classical SLR type of camera, but for how long? The Hasselblad body was simply a metal box with attachable filmholder, finder system and lens unit with shutter.
Look at the current mirrorless system camera and you see the same construction: a simple box with a sensor and shutter, attachable lens and attachable finder. The original Leica camera was also a metal box with a shutter, but without a finder. History and design seem to repeat themselves.
Truly innovative products are lacking and the tsunami of improved and upgraded products in ever shorter product cycles can no longer hide the fact that the engine of innovation is running on low power. This is logical because of a basic fact of industrial production. Any new part that is required for whatever product goes through a cycle of production design, planning, testing, manufacture and quality control.
Even with sophisticated statistical methods and machine control, one needs a certain time for the manufacture to settle to a state of high reliability. And constantly changing the production line is costly and error prone.
A large range of components also increases the cost of stocking all those components. Therefore companies try to reduce cost by re-using as many components as possible. Volkswagen has its platform strategy, Ikea only uses three types of screws for all its products, Apple has a small range of products with a reduction of options.
Compare these approaches with the wide range of products offered by Olympus, Canon and Nikon that are also entangled in a competition with ever-shorter product cycles. It is logical to assume that there can be no true innovation because all creativity goes into upgrading existing products, based on cost reduction by re-using existing parts with proven reliability. An outsider company like Fuji is able to astonish with an innovative product range like the X-series, because the engineers could use their creativity to study the market and think of new solutions in their own time frame.
It is safe to state that unless the pace of product introduction slows significantly one will not see much innovation in the world of photographic cameras. Recently I spoke to a magazine editor who runs every product through the test cycle of Imatest.
One may question the ultimate validity of this approach, but the basic fact is that it has become quite difficult to find significant differences in performance between products. This makes testing a boring proposition. This is also underscored by the endless list of tests by the German magazine Color-Foto that in its most recent issue shows that different cameras and systems converge to the same level of performance and that the differences that can be found are increasingly irrelevant for the average user.
It makes sense to question the global tend to product differentiation and short product cycle and to note the stifling of true innovation that is the necessary correlation of this strategy.
Erwin Puts Says "Auf Wiedersehen" To Leica?