Here’s something that’s a bit strange: Leica filed a trademark application for “M11″ this past May, just a few months before announcing the Leica M — a camera that did away with the company’s number-based naming strategy used since 1954.
Watts Martin of Coyote Tracks has an interesting piece titled “Iconic” that discusses the idea of trade dress — the reason why Apple doesn’t have any branding on the front face of the iPhone:
You don’t need to see the name plate on a Ford Mustang or a Corvette or a Porsche 911 to recognize one. Or a Coke bottle. Or, once you’ve seen one, a Tivoli Audio tabletop radio. Or a McIntosh amp. These products have a design language that’s become part of their brand identity [...] That’s what Apple wants, too: products that look like Apple. They’ve nailed it. You can look at a computer or a tablet or a phone being used in a coffee shop and you can immediately tell Apple or not Apple even if you can’t see the logo. And this is virtually unique in their industry: you’ll usually need the logo to know exactly what the not Apple product is.
This is why trade dress battles are so important to Apple. Try introducing a soda in a container that’s easily mistaken for a Coke bottle and see how far “har har har, you can’t patent curved glass!” gets you as a defense. If somebody makes a product that can be easily mistaken for an Apple device, then Apple is going to do whatever they can to get that product either off the market or changed.
DSLRs are pretty uniform in their appearance, so we don’t see much fuss about trade dress in that sector, but it’s interesting that there isn’t more tension between Leica and Fujifilm — two companies that both offer cameras without front branding.
When Leica announced at Photokina last week that future M and S cameras won’t have numbers attached to the model name (e.g. Leica M), I wrote that the company seemed to be taking a page from Apple’s book by having generations rather than models. Turns out that’s not the case. Leica doesn’t want to be what Apple is to the gadget industry, but what Porsche is to the automobile industry.
Wealthy people who want to flaunt their wealth are attracted to shiny and pricey things. It’s no surprise then, that more and more Hollywood celebrities are gravitating toward one particular brand for their photographic needs: Leica. Alex Williams of The New York Times writes that the stars aren’t simply adopting the revered marque — some are learning how to use it too:
“If celebrities are going to be seen with a camera, for better or for worse, Leica does lend a certain cachet,” said Michael Holve [...] “It seems a Canon or Nikon is somehow bourgeois, or even pedestrian, by comparison.”
The swelling ranks of famous M-system devotees reach beyond those with a well-chronicled affection for the camera, like Brad Pitt. In recent years, Daniel Craig, Jude Law, Louis C. K., Miley Cyrus and many other celebrities have popped up in paparazzi shots toting Leicas.
[...] It is easy for cynics to sniff, but many Leica-toting celebrities take their photography seriously. Brendan Fraser, an aficionado, has had his work featured in the prestigious Leica Gallery in New York. And Mr. Pitt, who has appeared on the cover of Interview magazine holding a Leica M7, earns praise from photographers in Leica forums for his work, including a cover shoot of Angelina Jolie for W a few years ago.
Williams also makes the observation that the camera’s minimal features and manual controls naturally divide the celebrity owners into serious photo enthusiasts and posers.
Click if You Can Afford It [New York Times]
Some weeks ago, I received an invitation from Leica for a special launch party they were planning to hold the day before Photokina 2012 opened. The event was titled LEICA – DAS WESENTLICHE, which translates to “The Essentials”. Aside from stating that there would be product premieres and “photographic and musical highlights”, the invitation did not reveal much else about the event, which went down this past Monday. Here’s a first-hand account of what it’s like to attend one of these Leica parties.
Do you love the design of Apple products? Do you have infinitely deep pockets? If you said yes to both questions, then I have some good news for you.
At Leica’s special event last night, after the new Leica M was announced, company owner Dr. Andreas Kaufmann revealed that they’ve got a very special limited edition version of the camera planned — one that’s designed by legendary Apple designer Sir Jonathan Ive.
Ever wonder why Leica lenses cost so much? Among the many reasons are two big ones: the lenses are all handmade, and are produced in very small batches. Joe Minihane of Humans Invent has a great interview with Leica’s Director of Product Management, Stefan Daniel, who shares some interesting facts about how their manufacturing process works:
First of all, we do our production in batches, not in serial production. So, we do batches of 50 or 100 lenses and that requires a lot of work by hand. You cannot automate production of a single lens element, or the lacquering of the rim of a lens for only 50 lenses. It doesn’t make any sense. So we use hand work because it’s more efficient. Also, in doing it by hand, our skilled people know exactly what they’re doing and they can assure perfect quality. Doing it by machine, you have to do control checks afterwards and maybe that’s not getting the result that everybody wants.
Something else you might not know is that material used in lens production is also a bottleneck. The special glass that’s melted for Leica lenses is only supplied once or twice a year, limiting the number of lenses that can be assembled.
Pursuit of perfection: Hand-crafting a Leica lens [Humans Invent]
P.S. Also be sure to check out this video that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the production facilities.
Remember those leaked “spy” shots that supposedly show someone using the upcoming Leica M10 digital rangefinder? Leica Rumors took those images and everything that we know about the camera so far, and created some mockups showing what the camera will likely look like. The most striking feature is the special port on the back that allows for an electronic viewfinder attachment on the hot shoe.