I Just Don’t Get It

Above is a limited edition “Correspondent” version of the Leica M-P digital rangefinder, “designed by Lenny Kravitz”, currently for sale on Ebay for 15k. The special edition is “strictly limited” to 125 sets worldwide. This is 029/125.

It’s not a bad looking camera if one simply takes it for what it is. The ‘artificial’ weathering is fairly tasteful if that’s your thing, and it doesn’t have Lenny’s signature, which would irrevocably mar an otherwise nice camera body. My question is: Why would Leica think that Lenny Kravitz would have any significance for a Leicaphile…or for a collector for that matter? I’m truly stumped. The incongruity of calling it a Lenny Kravitz “Correspondent” Leica is even weirder. Leica could have simply released the camera without the Kravitz designation – a limited edition “Correspondent” MP. Price it accordingly.

This is not to denigrate Lenny Kravitz. He’s a talented guy doing what he does. Let’s not confuse him with Robert Capa or Susan Meiselas however. The whole thing reflects poorly on both Leica and Kravitz. The irony is that the digital MP is a really nice camera – I’ve been playing around with one for a few weeks, and I like it. And, while I’m not that up on Lenny Kravitz, the one thing he does that I’m familiar with evidences some musical chops. But, given gimmicks like this, it sort of creeps me out to be seen in public with a digital Leica. Being out and about with a Leica used to give you massive street cred back in the day – then, a beat-up M4 with a ratty 35mm Summicron. Now it conjures up rich poseurs and clueless dilettantes, which is a shame. And Leica has no one but themselves to blame.

So, what’s in it for Leica in naming it after a B-grade rock star? And what’s in it for Lenny Kravitz?

I’d love to hear your thoughts…..

Hits: 30

11 thoughts on “I Just Don’t Get It

  1. Stephen J

    So Mr. Kravitz is a “B-grade rock star”, I previously thought that he was a representative of Magnum… or something.

    I used to own one of those cameras (Leica M-P 240), I thought that it did too much. Apart from that I kept smearing my fingers all over the nice screen and buttons that are so inconveniently arranged on the back.

    What is wrong with DNG and leave it at that? My current digital, Leica M-D only does that, the only user variable is the date, which you set (with difficulty) and forget.

    “Development” takes place elsewhere, and as such is more than enough.

  2. Phill Holland

    This reminds me of walking around an photography art market such as Photo London, I recognise the images on the wall and the artists, but the world surrounding it makes no sense to me.

    I’m not sure what happened to Leica marketing, one point is was the tool of the master photographer, than it became a status symbol and clique cool, for people to collect and keep on their shelves. It become an “undefined sense of magic” rather than being explained in terms of practical and functional ability.

  3. Rob Campbell

    It just doesn’t look right.

    If you want to suggest lots of wear’n’tear (tear as in rip, not in the sense of wet – but then I don’t know…), you can’t have pristine shiny bits too: life ain’t like that: I have plenty of wear and tear, and believe me, none of my bits are pristine, none. I’d look silly with a mixture – just like a faux used Leica.

    What some muso has to do with the design of photographic equipment, really, I have no idea. Bryan Adams is another such musical celestial body in orbit around the great planet Photography, though he keeps it to the pictures, as far as I can tell. Maybe Mr L.K. knows where some bodies are buried? Maybe that’s how he got his “correspondent” credentials? I’m sure there must be brief meetings in dingy pubs, with the surreptious handing over of plump brown envelopes in the Gents. Make of that what you will.

    On the other hand, it may be totally innocent after all: if we exchange letters, we have become “correspondents” too, which has no journalistic, investigative significance worth squat, so perhaps something has become lost or found in translations fom English into German and vice versa.

    “The irony is that the digital MP is a really nice camera – I’ve been playing around with one for a few weeks, and I like it.” – Tim

    Tim, why are you doing such serious flirting with the demise of your credibility as a film Leica cat? There’s no good future in it for you.

  4. Stephen J

    It seems to me that the game being played by Leica is to create a collectibles market. They release more such variants than original models.

    The originals are for the great unwashed, those who may find some sort of use for them as a tool, whilst the others are for the collector to decide whether they will become collectible at the time of release.

    I can think of several good recent Leica products, the M-D variant being one, a digital camera that works like a film camera. The MonoChrom that gives the black and white film photographer, a digital option. The Q series that gives users the ability to learn how to use the manual controls of a camera, but don’t want to carry bags of heavy armament around all the time, a great tourist camera for the generalist.

    It is the collectibles market that in my view has added to detractors accusations of “Veblen goods” and they have been doing this for years, one model that stands out is the M6J which is an M6 version celebrating the anniversary of the introduction of the M3.

    It is a beautiful camera, but for most of its existence, it was deemed by collectors to be not worth it, and one could be bought for not much more than a standard M6 with Elmar. In the last couple of years though the market price has rocketed and they are well over double the price of such an M6.

    Among the recent introductions, I suspect that the Kravitz one stands out more than others, such as those that have been directly commissioned by fashion houses or collector organisations like the LHSA, so it is attracting “collector interest” quite early, same goes for the “safari” variants.

    However, in my view, they do not do Leica any favours, if they just stuck to the brief of making useful tools for photographers, they would probably do even better than they currently do.

    It would be great to have a re-release of the M3 complete with .91 viewfinder, it would sell like hotcakes. Instead we have the M-A and the M-P which merely ape the totality of the M series film cameras, without any of the advantages that simply buying an old variant from the Bay gives, mainly a much more affordable price and a choice of one favourite variant over another.

    Or how about as Tim suggested some time back, they produce a good quality negative scanner…? Yes an actual “new product” that enhances the use of the excellent analogue tools that they already produce.

    As for their lenses, they don’t seem to do affordable ones any more, the rangefinder photographer has to buy better, more creatively capable versions second hand, or from Japanese enthusiasts like Zeiss and Voigtlander. Of course, Russian and pre-war German lenses that fit are also very useful as creative tools.

    The latest and greatest f/2 50mm Summicron is £6000 more than the previous and wonderful Mandler version, which at £2000 is not exactly cheap, even if it is worth it, so much so that it was and is in continous production since the mid 1960’s.

  5. Kenneth Wajda

    I’m happy with my KW correspondent version–a decent shape but not mint M2 with 35mm Summilux and 50mm f1.5 Summarit for $1100 bought off a guy in Boulder. I’d rather wait til the deal shows up than buy new. That’s been my way my whole photographic life, going back to when I was a NJ photojournalist and I’d shop for Nikon gear at camera shows at some hotel (maybe Ramada) in King of Prussia PA. Never understood the need to buy new. And for used, Leica is one of the few cameras that if you don’t overpay (yes, I know I got a steal on that M2), but if you pay about what they’re going for used, you can always get out what you have into it, at least for the film Ms. Good luck getting a third of the price for digital bodies in 5 years.

  6. JamesP

    I don’t get it, either. Why not just make a black paint version, and let me put the “patina” on it? I’m a musician and some of the guitar companies, mainly Fender, make “pre-aged” guitars. Who wants that? My 20+ year-old guitars that I bought new and shiny now have dents and dings and wear on them from many miles of road and gigs, and that wear is honest and uniquely mine.

    Pre-distressed stuff looks like it belongs to someone else. And if I buy used, where it *did* belong to someone else, at least the existing wear came from a person *using* it, rather than a machine at a factory.

  7. Lee Rust

    The whole celebrity thing goes right over my head, but there’s no denying that it’s a very powerful force in contemporary culture, particularly in the USA. Just look at who we elected President.

    Lenny Kravitz is a thoroughly faded rock & roll star who has channeled his dwindling notoriety into a mid-life career as a salon photographer and general-purpose celebrity. Certainly he enjoys playing with Leicas just as much as the rest of us, so why would Lenny not be open to a long-term relationship with the manufacturer to promote “special-edition” cameras? Leitz and Leica have been marketing these things for many decades, and no matter how bizarre or absurd they may appear to us regular folks, they have always been effective at promoting the brand and maintaining the Leica mystique. At least there’s more substance in a dolled-up camera than there is in yet another a semi-nude selfie of Kim Kardashian.

    I’ve been using Leicas since 1998, red dot and all, and in all those years there has only been ONE instance in which anybody went out of their way to compliment me on my camera. Perhaps the conversation would have been a bit longer if I had been carrying one of the beat-up Kravitz editions or maybe one of the brightly colored Kinderlachen versions, but I’ve never sought that kind of attention.

    In the end, a Leica of any age or description is nothing more (or less) than a very well-made camera with excellent lenses that’s always a pleasure to use.

  8. Rob Campbell

    In the end, not that I guess that’s even close, whether or not Leica pruduces “specials” shouldn’t concern any of us: we should simply buy what we can affored and/or like from them and just ignore the rest. After all, it’s not as if the “celebrity” models hinder us fom buying the normal versions, is it? If it does hinder us, then the problem lies in our own heads and we may not be the the cool, dispassionate photographers we imagine, and are just as prone to worrying about what others think of us as we assume the blingistas (come here for the latest neologisms, folks!) to be.

    Buying new: I would always buy new if I could afford it. My very few adventures into buying anything used have not always been raving successes. My guiding principle is this: if I can’t afford to buy it new, I can’t afford it. Like buying an old Mercedes or BMW etc. you quickly discover that TLC comes graded with the new product. Yachts? The greatest truth is that if you even need to ask the price – then you most certainly can’t afford to buy or even own it as a gift, never mind use or TLC it.

    K.W stated: “Good luck getting a third of the price for digital bodies in 5 years.” I agree, and that’s another reason why I think we should buy new, and the most advanced model that we can, in the hope of not wanting to trade it any time in the future, to replace it only when it’s physically worn out. One thing that I discovered a bit late in my career was this: had I waited and saved up enough to buy my ‘blads, I would have actually saved money by not buying the cheaper alternatives that filled the gap until the time came that I could buy the Swede. She made me very happy.

    Funny thing about photography: it constantly strives to split camera owners into groups of “real” photographers, of charlatans, of shamateurs and of exhibitionists.

    Boy, we do love our niches in photography!


  9. Jon

    I’m not sure what’s in it for Leica, other than a lifestyle marketing angle and charging some extra dollars for it. Not uncommon for a lot of brands and products now, including ‘relic-ing’ or ‘heavy aging’ a product to make it look used. In the guitar world, for example, this is because a genuine 1959 Gibson Les Paul is about $400,000, so Gibson (and others) does reissues, and the aging process can be more complicated (despite the mythology, for guitars it’s not as simple as making scratches but replicating original nitrocellulose finish materials, etc.) so they charge a premium.

    Which then leads us to the ongoing angered posts that ‘only rich dentists can afford them’ and my favourite, the always-classic ‘this only deserves to be played by a REAL musician’ (which is code for ‘my personal guitar hero’) and the suggestion that enjoyment of music is a private sidewalk only to be walked upon by ‘professionals’. I’d remind everyone of HCB’s views on professionals vs. amateurs; amateur is now used in a very pejorative sense, when its root and original meaning was doing something for joy vs. pay. The comment above about photography constantly striving to split camera owners into groups (or rather, judged groups…) really resonates. As for Lenny Kravitz, I’m not going to put him in any category…he’s been a very successful musician at times (vs. some ‘also-ran’), and an actor and model. I know he deeply enjoys photography. So what’s in it for him is likely a fee, but also being associated with a camera brand he likes. Andy Summers is another musician who is very passionate about photography; his work is good. Sometimes we’re rather edgy towards famous people, as though any genuine interest they have is a lark or fashion of the moment. The truth is that a lot of people involved in the arts…simply really like aspects of the arts. Miles Davis was also a painter; if you tried to tell him he was a dilettante and not a ‘real’ painter, he’d probably have bludgeoned you with his trumpet…and rightfully so.

    We’re probably always going to have this ongoing tension regarding the myth of the Leica (the tool exclusively of the Great Masters who earned their brassing by producing Great Art, or at the very least the tool exclusively of only those, self-appointed I might add, who deserve one because they ‘get it’). People can buy new jeans and put holes in them through wear, or they can buy jeans (strangely costing more lol) with fades and holes. In the end, I use Leica because I just really enjoy them. Using something that is well-crafted, feels good, has substance…brings its own experience. We also forget to look back on all of Leica’s marketing history – we mistakenly think they never marketed to the masses. Most of the posters and ads I’ve seen, going back to the 1930s, were all about selling this camera to the average person who simply wanted ‘the best camera’, vs suggestions that only combat photographers apply. For some that meant saving for a year; others were wealthier and could buy it outright. Leica had to make money – if it was only Magnum (or similar) who bought them, they’d be out of business.

    Leica…..it’s just a nice camera. I won’t buy the Lenny Kravitz edition…but I don’t care too much who does.

    1. George

      Jon – I had an eye-opening experience with one of my favorite bands. I was at a concert in LA and they came back out for an encore of one of my favorite, guitar-heavy songs. The lead guitarist hit those first bars as normal, but I noticed it wasn’t his regular Stratocaster – It was a Squire Strat. I was able to talk my way into the after-show hang out and asked him about it. He said “Oh! One of our tech crew guys bought it today at Guitar center and asked me if it was any good. So I tried it out for him.” I told him that he just did an incredible rendition of my favorite song on a guitar that is sold as a kit with amp in a gift box for Christmas for $100. He said “Oh. Cool. Yeah it’s not a bad little guitar.” I love when this point is hammered into my brain that the gear really doesn’t matter that much. (Minus my 50mm ‘lux ASPH with is my cold, dead fingers lens).

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