PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux

23May/080

OP-ed: to survive Leica must build the best DMD

Or fall into the dustbin of history.

The term “DMD” in this case doesn’t refer to a degree in dentistry, no, but the Decisive Moment Digicam concept. If you’ve spent any amount of time reading the essays of influential web columnists like Mike Johnston, Thom Hogan and Sean Reid, you should be aware of the DMD movement by now. The DMD is digital photography’s prophesized missing link, destined to bring balance to the force between quality and portability, to sit between SLRs and P&S and draw design elements from both.

In Mike Johnston’s words:

The P&S mantra: small sensor, slow zoom.
The DMD mantra: large sensor, fast prime.

At this point in the history of digital photography, advanced photographers are downright begging for anyone to take on the DMD concept. The demands vary somewhat depending who’s asking – some ask for a short zoom and others insist on a fast prime, some are concerned with the price and others aren’t (within reason), some want it to be automatic and others want it to be fully manual. The variety of the demands should tell you that not only is there room in the market for a DMD, there is probably room for several different DMDs, at various price points.

The community’s recent hopes were of course pinned on the Sigma DP1. Although the DP1 hit many of the right notes, it misses out on the “Decisive Moment” part of the DMD (2/3 of the letters ;^). DpReview sums it up well in one sentence:

Always think twice before you press the shutter, it'll be a while before you'll be able to take the next shot.

Mike is understandably worried. Let’s hope that this doesn’t torpedo the whole movement, but rather that Nikon/Canon see the opportunity that’s opened for their take on the concept.

Enter Leica, and my DMD hope

In my opinion Leica is lost in the woods at the moment, indulging in deep denial about what the world is like now. I suppose one can selectively target the opulent and vain as a market, but I don’t believe there is enough total money flowing there to keep up with the core technology essential to digital photography. Their choice now is essentially this: they can keep doing what they’ve been doing and become a footnote of ever-shrinking font size, or get in touch with the amateur community once again and be reborn as The New Leica(tm).

Leica claims that the M8 follows in the footsteps of the true M lineage and represents a future-proof investment. I simply don’t see how this can be true in this rapidly-evolving digital world unless you can cheaply swap the sensor and imaging ASICs (as it was trivial with film). If you think the M8 is an “investment” you’re desperately short on money sense. You can buy it because you want it, but need to understand that the Japanese will turn it into an expensive toy in the span of just a couple of years, quite unlike the destiny reserved to a film M I would say.

My proposal for Leica is simple: they must revisit the Leica CL concept as soon as possible. Yes, the Leica gestalt is in reference to high image quality and great workmanship… but with its core essence the M-type camera truly embodies the Decisive Moment. What argument supports this opinion better than that HCB both coined the term “Decisive Moment” and shot exclusively with a Leica M? A CL Digital would come dangerously close to a DMD in my opinion, if probably one at the top end of that market.

Imagine for a moment a CL-D that sells between $2599 and $2799 with a choice of one Summarit-M lens included, or $1699 body-only. You could get a few Summarits with your CL-D for less than the price of the M8. If the CL-D has a 1.5x crop factor, add one special kit with the itsy tiny 28mm Elmarit-M for $2999.

What other DMD attempt could best a CL-D on image quality?

What better way to get started in the M system than an "affordable" Digital M?
The expansion of the user base has to be a #1 priority at Leica, and this is the best way to achieve this – even if it cuts the legs from under the M8 in my opinion. If Leica doesn't take care of its ecosystem, then I suspect Zeiss will in the next couple of years. A that point Leica might as well be playing in the Zeiss ecosystem in the eyes of the community.
My dilemma
Seriously, if Leica or Zeiss were to ship a CL-D in a time frame vaguely around the Nikon D300+FX... well I would have a very difficult decision ahead of me.
The Zeiss ZMs are reportedly excellent lenses, at least on par with the ZFs, and their fair price makes them the most attractive options for the M mount in my opinion. A trio of some of the best lenses in the world, the 2.8/21 Biogon-ZM, 2/35 Biogon-ZM and 2/50 Planar-ZM would make an excellent kit for any sensor format (1.0x, 1.3x, 1.5x). If you want to add a short telephoto to this kit (or perhaps substitute away the 2/50), then Leica makes the only reasonably-priced option, the 75mm Summarit.


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