Let’s open with a confession. The world’s most prestigious camera brand was opening a dedicated store in Melbourne, my home city, and I was totally unaware of it. Well, not totally unaware of it. I’d seen a post on Leicarumours.com earlier this year that mentioned an upcoming store. I then promptly forgot about it. Until Mike sent me an email a couple of weeks ago suggesting that I may like to go and have a look……
In my defence, I’m not a Leica shooter. But, yes, I’d like to be. And I do own a few Leica-branded micro-four-thirds lenses. So really, I should have been all over this. Be that as it may, I missed the grand opening a few weeks back, which, from my perspective, is a great shame. Mea Culpa.
Mike’s suggestion was still rattling around in the further recesses of my brain when I finished a job in the City and decided to go on an impromptu photo walk. I found myself wandering around Collins Street and figured that this was as good an opportunity as any to go in search of the famous red dot.
Collins Street is regarded as the “big end of town” in Melbourne, particularly the top end towards the eastern side of the CBD. It is a not-inappropriate locale for a company of Leica’s standing, and, as it turned out, the store is located on the first floor of a modern and trendy shopping arcade known as St Collins Lane.
My first impression of the retail store actually began before I saw it and — as it turned out — was somehow fitting. The ground-floor signage was understated, without fanfare, and indeed I wasn’t certain at first that I was in the correct location. This understatement was borne out by the first sighting of the store itself as I was swept upwards by the travelator. Two illuminated signs of the famous logo, but precious little else, adorned a black wall and glass frontage.
And then you step inside, to be greeted by an interior that somehow seems to be an embodiment of how I picture the mythological character of Leica itself. The lines are clean, uncluttered. Simple. Almost ascetically austere, a shade of white, maybe even clinical, but with a hint of red luxury and contrasty history behind it. Glass display cases are free standing like islands in a sea of clean minimalism, with more adorning the periphery, along with bookshelves and a pristine coffee machine.
Josh and Cornelius were on duty, welcomed me warmly and I was invited to sample any of the stock and roam around at my leisure. Which I gratefully did. Not before installing the Panasonic-Leica 15mm Summilux on my camera, mind you. It seemed the least I could do in such surroundings….
One end of the store is given over to a display Gallery, apparently the first dedicated Leica Gallery in Australia although they are fairly common around the world. The inaugural display — the intention is to have a new display every three months — is by the famous Magnum photographer, Bruce Gilden.
This is a very topical showing, since it’s the first time this collection —titled, somewhat ironically, “Untitled” — has been shown anywhere in the world. The subject is an, err, ‘colourful’ local Melbourne businessman called Mick Gatto. He and his associates bear the nickname “The Carlton Crew”. Let’s just say that Mick straddles the construction industry, the debt collection industry and allegedly a few others, and leave it at that. Bruce flew out specifically to document Mick and friends in 2011. Presumably, he used a Leica, and, like most of his work, it is characterised by off-camera flash in a candid style. Incidentally, all the display prints are for sale, if that suits your taste. The black and white prints certainly fit well with the general surroundings.
But the gallery is not only a gallery. Oh no. Apparently, it can be easily and quickly converted to a studio, and the intention is to run Akademie workshops, training and displays in-store for Leica aficionados. I suspect places will be strongly sought-after.
Leicas, Leicas and more Leicas
Of course, the real points of interest here are, naturally, the Leica products held within. And you won’t be disappointed. At least, I wasn’t. The M10 is in residence. So is the M10-P. And even the M10-D. The Q, the SL, the CL, the TL, the C-Lux. Yep, all here. The X series is more or less moribund, but apparently Josh can still source the somewhat weird waterproof X-U if you insist.
And there’s even a special arrival. You see, Dr Kaufmann himself flew out to Australia to attend the launch. And he bought with him, nestled no doubt safely in his pocket, the brand new Leica D-Lux 7 as an opening gift. Yep, that’s right. The Melbourne Leica store currently holds the only D-Lux 7 in the country. And it looks FINE! Resplendent and oh-so-classic in its silver livery. And no, it’s not for sale. Yet. But it IS freely available for handling and inspection. And when it IS on sale, it will cost you around Au$1800, just by the by. Cornelius will happily put you on the waiting list for one…….
There is also an extensive range of Leica binoculars, Leica spotting scopes, classy looking camera bags, a selection of photography books and a lens range that will make your mouth drool and your wallet combust. Oh, and coffee. Which I was very generously allowed to sample during my visit. The boys are doubling as barristas in their idle moments.
There are also a few displays of older Leica gear and photos. If you are into your Leica history, these will be probably be of interest and at the very least this introduces a little Leica heritage to the surroundings.
While I was there, Ian wandered in. Alas, he’d unfortunately dropped his Q, which forthwith had stopped functioning. Paperwork was filled out, the camera bundled up and prepared to be shipped off to the Leica Krankenhaus, wherever that may be. Fingers were crossed from all of us that the repair wouldn’t be too difficult, or too expensive. Naturally, photography conversation ensued over a coffee and by the time I’d left I’d handled the CL, the Q, the new D-Lux 7 and a pair of M10-Ps. I must say, the EVF’s on the CL and the Q are absolutely lovely. Once I’d worked out to take the Q out of Macro setting, that is. Until then, I thought the EVF was faulty! Once sorted, beautiful clarity. Better than my Panasonic G9? I’m not sure. Certainly, better than my Pen-F, which is no slouch. And the M10-P shutter is astonishing. Whisper quiet and amazingly stable. The M8 ‘symphony’ seems many centuries and at least a few worlds away.
One interesting point emerged. One of the Ps was equipped with the extra grip, the other was not. Both Ian and I much preferred the grip-less M10, to Cornelius’ apparent astonishment. If ever I own one (sigh), I may add the hot-shoe thumb grip but that would be all. There’s no right or wrong here, but the optional grip felt uncomfortable for my (smallish) hands and too angular to give me a decent purchase. I couldn’t imagine ever using a lens big enough to require the extra grip anyway. I’ll just take the 35mm Summilux and be happy, thank you Sir.
In the short term, according to Josh, the Store is in the process of applying for a secondhand dealer license. So, you can expect sometime in the New Year that Leica Melbourne will be able to help out with more financially friendly trade-ins and on-selling for those of us not overly flush with funds. It was this info that had me vocally musing that I’ll probably be back.
Josh and Cornelius both smiled knowingly. “Oh, we know you will”.
Many thanks, lads.
All photo’s shot with the Olympus PenF and Panasonic Leica 15mm Summilux. Sincere thanks to both Josh and Cornelius for their hospitality and coffee. And good luck to Ian. May your Q be back in your hands asap.