Leica May Have Missed An Opportunity With Their New Film Camera
By Michael Ernest Sweet
It is rumored that Leica will release a new film camera this autumn. Digging around, I also see that more detailed rumors suggest an October release of a new version of the old M6. Now, while I am a huge fan of the M6 (I’ve owned a couple over the years) I think Leica is going to miss the mark on this one. Allow me to explain.
Perhaps the biggest reason I think the new Leica will flop is that there are still many, many, many M6 cameras in good working order for sale out in the world. There are also M7 (not too much different) as well as the newer versions of Leica film cameras, most notably the MP. As of this writing, there are in excess of 300 Leica M6 cameras for sale on eBay in “excellent” or better condition. Dozens are new and still wrapped. Why so many? One reason is that most photographers that do work serious enough for an M6 are dumping film and going digital. There will be comments from people who disagree. I can hear them now, “I still shoot film and I am serious…. Etc”. Fair enough. You exist. But you are a dying animal! I guarantee it.
Film is expensive. The pandemic has made things worse – a lot worse. Most color films are now over US $10 a roll and some are US $20 and above. Black and white remains (for the moment) somewhat cheaper. Developing is another kettle of “expensive” fish. “Mom and pop” film developers are finally dwindling down to the last few and big box places are closing daily. Try developing a roll of film at CVS in the USA. I dare you! Yes, there are still many labs that offer film developing and are dedicated to remaining alive, but they will charge you a lot for this neat trick. New York City still has a typewriter store too. The writing is on the wall for film outside of being a very “niche” experience. Even some of the last remaining holdouts are now switching to digital citing the enormous expense of film photography. Google and see for yourself.
Now that we have all of this out of the way, the question that it begs is, why is Leica releasing a new version of the M6? The answer: I don’t know. Leica only produced 412 Leica MP cameras (their most recent film camera release). That shows that new film cameras that are very high-end are in very low demand. To put this in perspective, there are over twice as many Matisse paintings in the world! 412 is a really small number in this context but not a surprising one. There are nearly as many M6 cameras for sale in great condition at this very moment. Put differently, there is no need or real market for an M6 re-release. Yes, the camera will sell some. I mean, it’s a Leica. Leica fanboys would buy a Fuji QuickSnap for US $1000 if it had a red dot on it. That doesn’t mean that it is a practical business decision or even something to celebrate in the film community. All this is going to amount to is a bunch of cameras that will hardly see more than a dozen rolls of film through them. Something along the lines of the Leica Series O. In other words, a flop.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a need out there for new film cameras, as I really do think there is a market to be had. Unfortunately, it’s not for a camera that will sell for thousands of US dollars sans lens. The market that exists is for a solid, affordable, fixed lens film camera. A new Contex T3 kind of thing. Or, to put it in the language of Leica fanboys, a new version of the Leica Minilux. This kind of high-end point and shoot is harder to come by in excellent or better condition. They remain scarce and they sell for crazy money. Imagine, a new Leica Minilux in the box sold for about $400 in 2008. Now, they are north of $1500 USD in mint condition or better. FYI, the Contax is a lot more! Yet, I am still not sure this would have been a winner, either. Even though most high-end point and shoots are now on their second and third owners and are experiencing electronic issues as a matter of routine, they are still a point and shoot. I mean, how many photographers really yearn for a point and shoot? Even so, I think this re-release would have sold with more success than a new M6. I’m being serious.
If Leica really wanted to win the lottery, they would have produced something new and exciting. A film camera that was not a re-release but something truly new and innovative and affordable (at least in the Leica universe). What would that be? Well, I’m thinking something along the lines of a 35mm film version of the Leica Q. Now, how cool would that be? A fixed lens 35mm film camera from Leica with a good prime in 28mm (or maybe 35mm) and at a price point around $3000 USD and they would have hit the jackpot! I think this could have been totally doable and would have hit a sweet spot that would have satisfied both “snapshot” shooters (with some extra cash to burn) as well as those more “serious” types who also want a new film release from Leica. A film version of the Leica Q would have been a middle ground, a camera all could have reasoned with. More importantly, it would have put a serious 35mm “newly made” film camera on the market. A camera that could have really rivaled all the second-hand sales of the Contax T3s, for example. I mean, if you could spend $2500 on a twenty-year-old Contax T3 with a motor, or electronic, or gear train issue looming, or you could buy a brand spanking new Leica Q-A (A for analogue) for the same (or nearly the same) money, what would you do?
If film is to truly survive we will need some new rather serious film cameras. Those Contax T3s are no longer coming from “grandma’s cupboard”. Most film cameras on the market today have been through the hands of at least one millennial beard-wearing, latte drinking, Brooklyn-based film shooting photographer. They are wearing down. Yet, if you want something new to shoot film you are limited to real junk. Just pop over to B&H and take a look at new 35mm film cameras. They are all, essentially, reloadable “disposable” cameras. No serious option exists. No “luxury” fixed lens film camera is on offer. And, despite this gaping hole in the market, Leica has chosen to reissue a camera that is flooding (literally) the secondary market. Go figure.
PS: Just to clarify as We have had some comments. The Photo f the M6 in the article, is just a Feature Photo. It is nOT a photo of the Possible New Leica. We do not know what it will look like or what it will b called. Just a Photo of one of our cameras.