Nick Bilton’s New York Times Piece On Leica Is Probably The Best, And Certainly The Most Important Thing Written About Them In The Modern Era

In today’s New York Times, Nick Bilton has a pretty terrific piece on Leica’s cameras and lenses.  In fact, we’re prepared to argue that, whether you read the piece online, or on their iPad app, or in the terrific one-page spread in the print edition, this is the best and most important piece written about Leica since they started manufacturing digital cameras.

Sure, Popular Photography has written about the M9 and the Monochrom, with an editorial frame that matches the headline that Bilton’s editors put on his piece: “Eye-Popping Prices, With Photos To Match.”  But even in most photo magazines, there’s a bit of snark reflecting just how much Leica is, in the current era, an outsider.  Leica is a challenge to the photographic establishment, by (still) producing rangefinders with manual focus and a comparatively simple user interface.  To use a Leica can be a refutation of the current photographic zeitgeist, which — the ILC revolution notwithstanding — holds that serious photographers need to use massive cameras that have 14-point automatic focus and 12-point spot metering, or is it the other way around? Photography magazines too often have to prove the freakishness of using a Leica which “has an LCD display with half the resolution of a compact camera” and so many other obvious deficiencies, even as it costs an arm and a leg.  There’s always a reference to how great the lenses are, and sometimes a reference to the “Leica look,” but the praise is often contained within the notion that Leica photography is an expensive anachronism.

Interestingly, the publications that often have gotten it right are the online tech sites, because some tech writers appreciate classic engineering, intuitive user interfaces, and high-end technology that is built to last, not just win this month’s features competition.  Some of those tech writers also seem to like Apple products, even though they may not win the features competition.  Apple just seems to do certain things better, even if they’re a bit more expensive. In fact, when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone 4, he compared its classic design to “an old Leica camera.” Hmmm. Which brings us to Nick Bilton.

Nick is a photographer, who happens to have a gig as a New York Times technology reporter.  The photography used to illustrate his story is quite good.  We’d bet he got as much pleasure being able to display his photographs to the huge NYT audience as he did writing the piece.  (We have one, pretty minor complaint: in the Lens slideshow that accompanies the article, he references digital images as often having souped-up color compared to film.  Not really our experience, given saturation comparisons between, say, Kodachrome and what generally comes out of a raw digital file, even from a Canon.)

But that’s a trifle.  A serious photographer in a perfect perch to introduce Leica to a broad and serious audience has now done so with a smart and loving write-up in the most prestigious forum possible.  This is a great moment for Leica.  Not too long ago, under management influenced by its owners (in which French luxury brand Hermes played a big role), Leica was almost at the brink, heading towards extinction.  It really was an anachronism, resisting the shift to digital, or at least seeming to.  Today they seem poised at a different tipping point, selling all the cameras and lenses they can make to an eager new generation of users.  Thankfully, Nick Bilton is among them.

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