Category Archives: Leica Advertisements

Modern Advertising for a Modern Camera

Leica IIIf

Leica advertising has always been stylish. Here’s two in particular that I admire. The first, above, is an early ’50s Modernist advert. Angular orientation with embedded triangles, sans serif typefaces coupled with old school italic script typeface…and the Piccadilly Circus Eros Statute. Eros is one of the primordial gods that emerged from Chaos when the world began, and is the driving force behind the unions of the primordial gods that initiated creation. Subtle. Well done. Someone was familiar with classic Greek mythology who expected his target audience to be so as well.

As for the camera, this “automatic focusing” Leica is an IIIa with a 50mm Summar. Beautiful.

Leica Monochrom
Leica Advertisement

Sixty years later and this ad for the M Monochrom. Monochrome (as in black and white) design can easily appear dull. But it’s perfect here (it is a Monochrom camera after all). This one cleverly uses font-weight to bold certain letters and make them stand out against the monochrome design. The bold camera and letters give a point of focus, while the small text does two things: It draws the reader in and helps align the bolded text. It’s “edgy”. It works.

In between these two are any number of inspired advertising designs. Here are a few more I like, all of them graphically simple while drawing your eye to where it needs to go:

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With the exception of the Monochrom ad (a nice throw back to the glory days), the advertising wonks at Leitz who designed these are long gone, replaced by a new, hip generation of 20 something Parsons Design grads who have no conception of the incredibly rich history of Leitz they could draw on. Who’ve been educated, not with the Greek classics, but via Facebook and social media.

So we get the argument from authority sublimated via the cult of personality: famous people achieving their photographic vision with their newest Leica, Lenny Kravitz stalking his prey in the East Village while rocking his rosta hat and a camera designed by Jackson Pollock.

Photo by Lenny Kravitz. Leica gave This Guy a Show at a NYC Gallery. This was the Photo they Used to Advertise It. Seriously.

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Erik van Straten. Exceptional.

Meanwhile, there are more than a few Leica users quietly producing stunning work. Look hard enough on the net and you’ll find them – not, mind you in some curated corner where money is looking to be made, or amongst the beautiful people of NYC or some self-appointed expert shill man looking to make a buck off the low-hanging Leicaphile fruit – but everyday people who’ve been using Leicas forever, producing bodies of work that should humble the “Leica Photographers” producing the banal shit above. Leica needs to start recognizing them, because they’re why Leica is famous. Leica should think about returning the favor.

Dragan Novakovac. Just a Guy With a Leica.

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Leica: “You’re a Hunter!….err, Maybe Not”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNX2GmF6Zbw&feature=youtu.be

True Story: The word “Leica” is currently banned on Chinese internet searches, thanks to the Leica promotional video above, which is a shame, as Chinese plutocrats will henceforth find it difficult if not impossible to purchase Thorsten von Overgaard elephant skin bags for their Lenny Kravitz War Correspondent Leicas. The video in question depicts brave Leica toting photojournalists, who they refer to as “hunters”, confronting malevolent powers in far-flung dark-skinned war zones. Buy that M10 with 35mm Summilux, Leica is saying, and you can be a hunter too, a man of moral in addition to aesthetic integrity, heir to this noble tradition, even if you’re just taking photos for the wonderful bokeh.

The promotional video starts with the year and location of the student-led protests displayed prominently: Beijing 1989. The last shot of the video shows a photojournalist raising his Leica R6 and a reflection of the anonymous “Tank Man” in his Leitz telephoto lens. The actual photo was taken by Stuart Franklin of Magnum and came to be one of the most famous photos of the 20th century***.

There’s only one problem: The current Chinese government doesn’t particularly like being reminded of Tiananmen Square and their role in massacring their own citizens, and have blocked all internet searches referencing the word “Leica” until further notice i.e. until Leica AG makes this video disappear and comes groveling for forgiveness.

Leica AG, which has a large presence in China through a partnership with Huawei building lenses for its smartphones,  has gone into full existential panic mode and is now claiming that the video was not “officially sanctioned” in spite of the Leica Red Dot logo plastered over the film’s ending. According to Emily Anderson, spokesperson for Leica, “Leica Camera AG must distance itself from the content shown in the video and regrets any misunderstandings or false conclusions that may have been drawn”, the “false conclusions” apparently being that Leica AG would actually let a moral principle prevail over making money (as opposed to cynically manipulating such a suggestion to sell things) and would have any real allegiance to anything other than its bottom line. Well done, Leica.

Postscript: In the time it took me to draft this post, Leica has taken down the video. So much for being a hunter. It’s hard not having a good chuckle at this, the discrepancy between the idealized image Leica AG hawks and the more cynical reality behind the facade being hilariously obvious (ironically because Leica themselves initiated the entire debacle by creating an ad insinuating they possessed admirable ethics and you could too if you just bought one of their cameras). And never mind that, as pointed out by Leicaphilia reader Lee Rust, the iconic “tankman” photo was taken with a Nikon. Think of Leica AG as the gang who couldn’t shoot straight.

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*** Mr. Franklin, a Magnum photographer on assignment to Time magazine, was shooting from the rooftop with Charlie Cole, a reporter for Actuel in France:I woke up in the Beijing Hotel to find Changan Avenue occupied by a line of students facing a line of soldiers and a column of tanks. I was hunched down on a balcony on the fifth floor (I think). Three others were also on the balcony: Charlie Cole, a reporter for Actuel in France and one from Vanity Fair. I tried to photograph the whole series of events, but like any photographer working in film, I was always fearful of running out on frame 36. At some point, shots were fired and the tanks carried on down the road toward us, leaving Tiananmen Square behind, until blocked by a lone protester. I photographed the protester. He carried two shopping bags and remonstrated with the driver of the tank in an act of defiance. He then disappeared into the crowd after being led away from the tank by two bystanders. The remainder of the day was spent trying to gain access to hospitals to determine how many had died or were wounded. In the two hospitals I could get access to, I found young Chinese — probably students — being treated on the floor of hospital corridors. It was mysterious that there were no dead. I understood later that the majority of the fatalities were taken to children’s hospitals in the city to avoid media attention. Chinese officials worked very hard obscure evidence of the massacre. The film was smuggled out in a packet of tea by a French student and delivered to the Magnum office in Paris.”

 

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A Review Worthy of the Thambar [Critically Annotated]

“Angelica”. Eolo Perfido. Leica M10 and Thambar-M 90 mm f/2.2


When asked, “why do you need a lens like this?”, I feel like answering that this object requires an elective affinity to be forged, and thus by its very nature, does not fall within the choices made solely for practical use.

[Oh Boy.]


Leica reviews, even the good ones, tend to be built on an edifice of words, given the ineffability of the subtle enjoyments Leica mechanical cameras have [legitimately] provided discerning lovers of photographic craft. We love our M3’s and M6’s, not because of their technical specifications but because of the ways they provide a unique enjoyment of the fundamentals of the craft of photography, that enjoyment being ergonomic, functional, aesthetic, all subjective things difficult to quantify. Even way back when, reviews of traditional mechanical film Leicas tended to have a poetic quality missing in more pedestrian camera brands because, frankly, the elusive, yet tangible characteristics that set them apart from other cameras were found at the margins of descriptive language, best described via emotional response and metaphor (hence the “buttery-smooth” description of an M’s wind-on. I’ve seen people mock that description; they shouldn’t. It is buttery-smooth. If you can think of a better way to describe it, I’m all ears.)

That sort of review, for better or worse, has followed Leica into the digital age. Now that cameras are computers – the M10 being a computer housed in the form factor of the iconic M cameras, sharing not much else – Leica reviews are now all too often over-the-top reflexive nonsense, vain attempts to justify modern Leica’s luxury pricing model. Sometimes bullshit is just that – bullshit.

We’re starting to see the first “reviews” of the new Leica Thambar lens, one in particular by an Italian photographer Eolo Perfido**, who apparently advertises himself as, among other things, a “Leica Ambassador” (You can find the “review at https://eoloperfido.com/blog/leica-thambar). I will note that Perfido in Italian is Perfidious in English, Perfidious in English meaning duplicitous, deceitful, unfaithful, untrustworthy, which pretty much sums up Mr. Perfido’s “review” from a critical perspective.

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In reviewing Mr. Perfido’s review, I’ve annotated some of his claims with my responses:

“Thambar means “something that arouses wonder” and never has the name of a lens been more inspired.” [Our respective capacities for “wonder” obviously differ considerably. It’s a soft-focus lens that has almost no practical application that can’t be met with a jar of vasoline and a $30 Soviet made Jupiter. The only thing that might arouse something close to “wonder” for me is that Leica have the cojones to market this thing for $6995.]

“I decided to let myself be amazed and started clicking less with my head and more from the heart.” [What the hell does this mean? “Amazed” by what in particular, or is this simply free-floating amazement, something like giddiness after an expensive bottle of Prosecco? Please define a shooting technique that mirrors this new “from the heart approach” and how it might differ from “clicking with your head.” This is a review, not surrealist prose].

“The shutter speeds, the perfect focus, and the classic ratio between times and diaphragms I was used to, were totally usurped by an instinctive approach throughout the session. There were just me, the model, and a lens that responded unobtrusively to all my solicitations. Yet, precisely this lack of control meant I experienced a form of photographing, which will very likely become increasingly relevant in my personal development.” [The Thambar “responds unobtrusively to all [your] solicitations” producing “a lack of control” characterised by “an instinctive approach”? Ok. Totally get it.]

“It is a lens for those wishing to take creative portraits by adding a lens with a great personality to their artistic journey. You will understand if this tool is for you by simply going to a Leica Store and trying it in person. It will be akin to being in love, so if something clicks, this lens will definitely become an indispensable part of your kit.” [But only if I “forge an elective affinity with it,” apparently. Right? I’m confused.]

I enjoyed myself so much that when it came to returning the prototype I felt a sense of inner sorrow.” [Damn right you did. You could have turned around and sold it to some idiot on Ebay for $6000.]

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Footnote**: In his defense, Mr. Perfido has photographed some really cool people, as shown on his blog. Valentino Rossi, perhaps the coolest human being alive, and Jorge Lorenzo, another legendary MotoGP rider, among them. Bravo. My advice: stick to photography and leave the reviews to someone else.

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Who “Invented” Photography?

I expected I wouldn’t like this video, given that I ran across it while visiting figitalrevolution.com, wherein it was reviewed as such:

While watching this video the word Photography did not come to mind…. the words pretentious, obnoxious, stupid and misleading did. Over-the-top promotions like this are nothing but porn for the cult of Leica and make me fear for their survival as a viable tool.

The lie that runs at the heart of this video is offensive: Leica invented “photography”? What kind of revisionist history is that? Many of the images featured here were shot using 4×5 cameras- which came out of the studio LONG before Leica came on the scene.

It’s too bad, because recreating these iconic images from photographic history is an interesting idea. But twisted to their own ends, Leica just ends up tipping their hand: they’re looking desperate.

I watched it and liked it, thinking it was pretty much spot on in addition to being well done.

As for the reviewer: I get it. You don’t like Leica, apparently for some of the same reasons I’m critical of them. However, the claims made in this video – certainly hyperbole from a strictly true/false perspective – are, in my humble opinion, pretty much on point. Love em or hate em, Leica “invented” photography as we know it today. You can argue around the specifics, but the basic claim is correct. Credit where credit due….

 

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A Thinking Man’s Camera

“This “pro” doesn’t boast electronic circuitry. It doesn’t have photocells to select the area of interest. No little indicators to tell you there’s not enough light. The Leica M4 is strictly for those of you who prefer to do your own thinking, your own creating.” – Leitz Advertisement, Popular Photography, 1968

Still a valid claim today. It’s interesting to think how far camera technology has come in the last 50 years, and yet, the same claims of simplicity of design and function can be made for a 65 year old design, Leica M film cameras still being enthusiastically used by photographers around the world.

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1930’s German Leica Advertisement

Mid-30’s Leica Advertisement. Given what was going on in the Fatherland at the time, one can only surmise what these women were fleeing from (tracer fire possibly?).

That looks to be a Leica III, Model F (not to be confused with the IIIf), made between 1933-39, although it might also be IIIa, Model G, the only difference being the IIIa had a 1/1000th shutter. The lens is a 5cm F2 Summar.

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Leica Liking and Other Matters of Faith

 

Famous leica james Dean

Michael Sweet is a Canadian writer and photographer. He lives in New York City.

I recently stumbled into a Facebook conversation about Leica and how great they are. How perfect the photographs from a Leica camera are etc. You know how this goes, right? We’ve all seen these rants. Well, here is a counter rant. Leica is a good camera, perhaps even a really good camera, but certainly nothing like it’s mythologized status.

After my recent article, Street Photography Has No Clothes, I figured I might as well tackle another controversial issue in the world of photography, and street photography more particularly – “Leica liking” and the mythology that surrounds it. So here goes, for better or for worse. Mostly worse, I expect. Keep in mind that writers present a point of view, an opinion, and good writers do this unapologetically. It doesn’t, however, mean that my opinion is not open to debate.

Leica is a luxury brand (and arguably a camera company) which manufactures very good, but certainly not perfect or “best in existence” cameras. What they are truly good at, these days, is cashing in on the Leica myth – that if you own a Leica you have arrived as a photographer. This works nicely these days with everyone aspiring to be some form of “photographer”.

27 Purist! Leica The professional 35 - 1967

Leica Was The Best – In The Analog Era

Leica was the best. It was. In the analog era, Leica had it nailed because they figured out how to make a camera body (a mechanical thing in those days) that would not wear out. Try it. You can’t wear out a Leica M if you try. This was a huge plus in the era of the Nikon F, which one could easily wear out with heavy use. So Leica made a name (a history, a myth) for itself by building a great camera body and adding (let us not forget) amazing glass. Now, considering how many people, especially street photographers, shoot these analog cameras, one would be hard pressed to tell the resulting photographs apart – Nikon F versus Leica M. I mean how much definition do you really get when you zone focus and push Tri-X two stops! Besides, who’s making gallery-sized prints of street photography anyway?

Furthermore, this analog-era argument for Leica superiority doesn’t hold up anymore, despite Leica’s best efforts to keep it alive. How well-built do you really need your digital camera? Won’t it out date itself in five years (ten at the very most) anyway? But those lenses you say, don’t forget those great Leica lenses. Okay, Leica makes great lenses, pop one on a Sony and save yourself five grand. And, get using the lens in a way that you can actually tell the difference. If I made a website where you could go and look at photographs made with Leica glass and photographs made with say Sony glass, you’d be scratching your head to tell the difference. Especially given how the vast majority of users use these lenses. Okay, maybe you could tell the difference, because I don’t want to get into an argument with you, but most people could not. Someone should set up this experiment and give it a go.

I digress. Back to the story here. So in this Facebook chat someone is trying to convince me that Leica cameras represent photographic perfection. They make better photographs than a Canon or a Fuji, or an Olympus or a Sony. Hard argument at the best of times. I offered a little resistance and then the conversation changed to: Well, I can make comparable photographs with my Sony or Nikon, but ask me which camera inspires me to shoot, which camera I love to hold and use – it’s hands down Leica. Fair enough. You like the feel of a Leica. I can buy that, they are still very well made cameras which provide a luxury tactile experience. It doesn’t hurt to also know in the back of your mind that your holding onto 10K.

Valbray-Leica-watch-camera

The “I Like A Leica Argument”

I don’t mind the “I like a Leica” argument. Everyone is entitled to like what they want and to spend their money as they see fit. But get the argument straight. Stop trying to sell Leica as the best performing camera ever made because you look silly. No one believes you, not even Leica. I know what’s going on in your mind, I’ve been there. When I began in photography I dreamed of owning a Leica. I lived and breathed Leica – all the greats had one, or so I thought at the time. Finally, after many years, I got one…then another and another. I’ve owned four or five now, both digital and analog. M6, M9, X, X2, and some re-branded Panasonic models. All have been less than impressive for me, personally. They are big, heavy, draw attention and are expensive. Do they take good photographs, likely, when used properly by a competent user. Are they the best cameras on earth? Not a chance. Most expensive, maybe. Most luxurious, likely. Once again, we see praise or hate being dished up in the photography world not based on facts and objective opinion, but rather passion, emotion, and “mob mentality”.

Leica provides an experience and a name and a legacy. This is what people are buying into. It’s like a nice watch. My Rolex is beautiful and feels nice and tells the world I have money and appreciate fine watches. Does it tell time better than my Swatch? No. In fact, well, you know the rest. If I were to go around trying to convince people that I were a better time keeper because I’m wearing a Rolex I’d be laughed out of the room. So what’s the difference? Yes, I know, just opened a door for the Leica likers to try every possible tactic they can to tear this argument to shreds. Go at it.

Before you write and tell me to “bugger off”, or that I am “jealous of better photographers than me” and a bunch of other stuff your mother raised you not to say out loud, think it over. Do you really believe, in the truest place within yourself, that you are making superior photographs because you are using a Leica… or is there just some small part of you that is longing to own a piece of that great legend that is Leica? Oh, and if you’d be so kind as to attack the argument, rather than me, as this is not, I repeat, NOT, aimed at any individual …. it’s aimed at a phenomenon… a “thing” I see out in the world of photography. Please, do not take this rant personally.

Famous Leica 1

Leica Is Better Than Sony, But Not Really

So, was there a time when the “Leica is better” argument could have held water? Yes, but it doesn’t hold up well anymore. Leica runs a marketing machine to beat out the others, who make perfectly equivalent digital cameras. Often better cameras. For example, the Leica X didn’t impress me at all. Slow, fussy, and your choice of a $500 ugly hump of a viewfinder or a $300 useless brightline finder. Same or better photographs from a Sony RX100 and far superior user experience with nearly 2G in savings. How technically “perfect” does an image need to be, anyway? Where, or rather when, should I focus shift away from technical perfection and gear to content and composition?

Not convinced? Go out into the Leica wilderness and see some of these arguments for yourself. It’s great comedy. You can easily find someone with a re-branded Panasonic telling you not only that it takes better pictures than any other camera, but also not knowing that they are holding a Panasonic and not a Leica. It’s great stuff. Then there are those that have the cheapest German made Leica they could get their hands on telling us how great the camera is because it’s not a Panasonic. Seriously?

This post will get both positive and negative reactions, which helps prove my point. If I were arguing the difference between say, a Ricoh GR and a Sony RX100, this article would die a quick death. But where Leica is concerned there is fire. It’s almost taboo to critique a Leica product and this alone should raise a few eyebrows.

Leica As Religion

Leica likers cannot be reasoned with. They run on faith, an almost religious faith. It’s like trying to rationalize the non-existence of god to a Christian. And, I guess that’s okay. I just wish a few more photographers out there would fess up and admit that we buy a Leica because they are an expensive, cool, luxury status symbol that you have finally arrived in the world of photography, or that you simply have money to burn – like my Rolex (which I don’t own, for the record) – or that you are trying to get just a little closer to Winogrand’s ghost. It’s okay to buy into an idea, a culture, we all do it. But if you’re going to lay out 10 large for a camera, just know what you’re really buying, and it ain’t better photographs. What some people seem to have missed is that the great photographers were great photographers, and they happened to use a Leica. Not that the great photographers were great photographers because they used a Leica.

Here’s how the Facebook conversation ended:

Person 1: So, are you saying I should buy a Leica? That it will make me look cool?

Person 2: Yes. No.

Me: No. Yes.

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