Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Film’s not dead: Leica confirms commitment to film cameras

Film’s not dead: Leica confirms commitment to film cameras

5604
16

Stefan Daniel, Leica’s global production director, confirmed the company’s commitment to continuing the manufacture of film cameras during Friday’s discussion with members of the LHSA – the International Leica Society. Together with the chairman of the supervisory board, Dr Andreas Kaufmann, he was taking part in a wide-ranging overview of current and future plans.

Back to basics: The “new” Leica M-A, harking back to the days of the original M3. Here is is wearing a collapsible 50mm Elmar fitted with a chrome hood. Image by Adam Lee

Over the past year, there have been rumours that film camera production would cease. However, Mr Daniel said that Leica was committed to continued manufacturing of film cameras. He emphasised that there is a huge growth in demand for second-hand Leica film bodies and new cameras are on backorder. This level of interest in film cameras was something that he hadn’t seen since the arrival of the digital Ms over ten years ago.

Highly skilled

He went on to say that the manufacture of film cameras is a highly skilled process and has to be undertaken by trained staff. “They don’t grow on trees”, he said. A film camera contains 1,100 to 1,200 parts and is far more complex than a digital camera. Tooling from the 1960s and 1970s has to be maintained and it isn’t easy simply to ramp up production.

The M-A was introduced at Photokina in 2014, It is a mainstay of the current two-model range and costs £3,800 in the UK

Dr Kaufmann confirmed that demand for film cameras is greater than the production capacity. He pointed out that this interest is largely coming from younger photographers up to, probably, the age of 35. Older customers tend to be “more happy shooting digital”.

Following the discontinuance of the M7, there are just two film bodies currently in production. The metered MP, which is available in black lacquer or silver chrome finish, costs £3,900 in the UK. The un-metered M-A continues the purist approach of the M3 and M4 ranges. It comes in black chrome or silver chrome and costs £3,800 in the UK.

If you are interested in joining the International Leica Society follow this link.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Silver nitrare once had a common name of Luna caustic and was used as a wart remover. I used it almost daily in the histology lab to stain nerve fibres and mostly had black fingers.
    The use of analgesics as film developers is quite old. XTol that wonderful Kodak (who?) developer is based on aspirin (acetyl salicylic acid) and is still my favourite B&W developer.
    I love to be left in the dark.
    Cheers
    Philip

    • My left eye nearly fell out two days after using a Silver Nitrate bath. I don’t know if the two things were connected, but I had to have a patch up job on an old detached retina situation a few days later and it healed just in time for a trip to Wetzlar where I met yourself, Philip. My real reason for not going back to wet plate was that I was lousy at it, particularly the bit where you have to cover a glass plate with collodion. All those chaps arguing over APS-C don’t know what they are missing.

      William

  2. Whilst it is true that at the root, composition is king, film… particularly black and white film has distinct appeal. There are things that yield artistic expression that is not possible with digital. Pushing and pulling and the effects such things have on your chosen emulsion being just one. That process is used because on the face of it, film emulsions do not have the latitude that a sensor has, particularly a modern one. There is also the greater bandwidth with film, as opposed to dynamic range that is described with digital cameras. When a digital camera gets to a particular point at the white end, everything is just white, somehow film looks different under such circumstances.

    Even though the old darkroom is on the wane, there is much fun to be had from messing with development techniques and chemicals, I am only just beginning to understand some of this. My latest venture was making a sort of Rodinal using Paracetomol (thirty to be precise), and guess what, it gives excellent results.

    There is also the point that Mike makes that younger people cannot afford the newer digital Leicas, so an old second hand model is a good place to start now, rather than saving for years, or overextending the credit card. Even so, the two cameras that Leica do make new, are just over half the price of an M10, so even though they are precision tools, they are still more affordable.

    But as William says, I am in the older age group, and I have great fun with film, somehow, one feels as though the mistakes are more personal, than when made using a digital camera, which apart from the MD versions, seem to want to do everything for you, except tell you where to stand and when to press the button.

    It sure would be nice if Leica would produce a new M3, with the .91 viewfinder, which is a work of art on its own, and the M3’s are getting harder to find, without spending another wedge on service.

    Lastly, there are quite a good number of people, including Mike (your last piece), that are appreciative of the older glass, particularly from Zeiss, so much so that there is a thriving business in restoring old German, Japanese and Russian designs, or in the case of Skyllaney setting out on a route to reproduce the Bertele designs from the 1930’s.

    Zeiss neither exist any longer, nor the company that makes lenses under the Zeiss name seem to be able to make a camera that is as useful or adaptable as the M cameras.

    Leica is slightly different in this regard, since their business model has for many years been aimed at sharpness, rather than what some call the painterly effect that Zeiss was so good at. Leica’s lenses just keep getting better, but there is something to be said for those old designs.

    Long may they continue the line.

    • Thanks, Stephen, a good summary. Stefan Daniel and Andreas Kaufmann spent some time on Friday discussing the relative merits of older and newer M lenses. I will be weaving this into a further story but, essentially, if photographers wish to take full advantage of the new sensors, such as that in the Monochrom, it is advisable to use more recent lens designs such as the 50mm Apo Summicron in order to resolve all the detail that can be captured.. That said, vintage lenses have a softer rendering that many find attractive.

      • I must pass on that paracetamol trick, but I would advise against taking Rodinal for a headache. The chances of a normal young person buying a 50 APO are zero and even some of the gems from the 1950s like the Rigid or DR 50 Summicrons (only ‘beaten’ by the modern Summilux) are getting rather expensive these days, but there are plenty of other wonderful and cheaper lenses like the collapsible 50 Summicron, the Summitar, and in LTM, the Summar and the lens that made Leica, the humble Elmar. On the digital front we have reached ‘good enough’ some time ago and, having been on Instagram for past couple of months, I can safely say that most young people are more into the ‘soul’ rather than the ‘science’ of photography. Pixel peeping is generally done by older folk, whereas I see young people doing things like posting pinhole photos on Instagram. I have no doubt that Dr Kaufmann and his team are monitoring such developments with interest.

        William

    • I tried buying two boxed of paracetamol before we went in to lockdown, just to top up my medicine cabinet. I was stopped from buying them, as apparently I am only allowed to buy one box at a time. hmmm! The one box contained 16 tablets.

      To make this nice chemical concoction I would need two visits to the shops, under social distancing and covid rules – that’ll be fun. 🙂

      • My wife is retired now, but she has been caring for a 98 year old man, who lives locally for last 18 months.

        He asked her to clear out his medicine cupboard one day, and there were some paraceltamol that had been for his wife, who died five years earlier, she knew that I was planning to make the “parodinal” so she broght them home, they were not good for their original use anyway, but they worked a treat for me.

        I have also made a c-41 process, but I haven’t managed to source the right type of bleach yet. So when I tried it with some old Ilford bleach, I had some negative negatives (as it were), so it was a good job that the film did not have anything other than pictures of my greenhouse on it.

        I will try again sometime soon.

      • Be glad you were not planning to do wet plate stuff. That silver nitrate bath is deadly, and you would be messing with that after you had put collodion on a glass or metal plate. I would recommend full PPE of mask, goggles and gloves for anyone wishing to try that. It’s great fun though and seeing the image coming up on the plate is magical.

        William

  3. “Digital Natives” have for some time taken an interest in vinyl, tube amps etc., recognizing there is more “personality” and presence to the music in this format. Yes they can still listen on their phones, but music on vinyl is an almost ritualistic experience that requires a different sort of attention. It’s good to see this generation being attracted to film – the convenience of digital is not everything.

  4. I have been mentioning this trend here for some time to some disbelief from readers. Dr Kaufmann mentioned that ‘Digital Natives’ in the 20 to 35 age group had been going for film photography rather than digital cameras. For them film is something different with more soul and individuality than digital. If you can already do everything you want with photos on your smartphone, then moving to a large digital camera is not anything different, but film is an altogether different experience. The point about higher skills at the manufacturing end which was made by Dr Kaufmann and Stefan is a good one. There have been some signs of Leica struggling with manufacturing QC for film cameras and they are no longer able to supply parts or even service older film cameras.

    New Leica film cameras are too expensive for most in the younger age group, but they may be able to pick up older Leicas more cheaply and have them serviced by a local repair person. The service guys are in short supply too. Leica could consider a buy back and servicing business for older Leica cameras, but the final cost would be likely to be too expensive for the younger users, who can pick up nice cameras from other makers for two figure sums. I have recently donated some old Nikon film gear (camera and lenses) to the Darkroom, which I mentioned in a recent article, for use by young students of film photography.

    Some older fellows like myself are also getting into film photography or exploring new avenues with it. If people who use film nowadays are ‘hipsters’ I must be at least two times a hipster given the age brackets given to us last Friday by Dr Kaufmann. My question about the Leica Museum also got through moderation to Dr Kaufmann and I was glad to hear him say that plans for that are due to progress further after a few delays along the way. I am giving a Zoom webinar for LHSA later in the Summer on ‘Choosing and Using Old Leicas’ and will give Mike the details when they are available. Paul Henry Van Hasbroeck is giving a Zoom talk next Thursday on Leica’s Most Collectable Cameras which I am sure will feature more exotic models than are in my more humble collection. I will send the details of that to Mike, but I am sure that he already has them.

    William

    • Hello William, film M millennial shooter here (I’m an IT professional in my 20s). Read this article months ago, but your comment really struck a chord with me so I wanted to reply.

      I think that you articulated the appeal of film to my generation perfectly. As a digital native (my first camera was digital), the first time I had a roll of film developed years ago at the suggestion of a film-shooting friend, it left a huge impression on me and I haven’t looked back to digital since. Even putting aside just how different and beautiful film looks, the difference was that digital (no matter how good the camera) produces computer files, which are immediately dated due to the endless release of better digital cameras, but film cameras produce physical negatives and slides on a timeless medium- in fact the same medium used by Robert Frank, HCB, etc. As you said, the process is “altogether different,” but the product is also altogether different as well. In our modern world of endless digital manipulation, my generation craves for hands-on authenticity that digital increasingly cannot provide.

      As time goes on, for the following three reasons among others I expect the demand for new Leica film M bodies to continue to grow:
      1. Used film camera shooting Millennials and GenZs will become older and more financially-stable- they will transition from being broke students who fell in love with film in university but could only afford second-hand cameras, to established adults who have worked and saved enough funds to finally buy a new film Leica. I think the vast majority of film-shooting millennial/GenZs would buy a new film camera if they could only afford it. as they grow older, many will. Other than Nikon and the F6, since Leica is the only company left still producing non-toy/disposable/pinhole 35mm film cameras, and Leica M cameras are the most revered 35mm cameras, this will increasingly be a big business opportunity for them.

      2. Old model film M bodies are quickly becoming rarer and more expensive as the pristine ones are held by collectors, the ones used by shooters wear down and become unrepairable, and interest in film increases. This change has been especially striking in the past 3 or 4 years- I’ve seen some models literally double in price since 2016. For the metered Ms (M6 being the most popular amongst my generation), if the meter electronics break, the camera becomes unusable to many shooters. I have been told that M4-2s, M4-ps, and M5s cannot be serviced in many cases, and used M7s are priced similarly to the current models. That mostly just leaves the classic M3, M2, M4, but these have other limitations. (For example M3 users have trouble shooting 35mm lenses, non-chrome bodies are out of reach, and being the oldest, these models also are likely to suffer from more age problems).

      3. Digital photography is increasingly becoming more computational and this transformation will only continue as years and decades pass, producing more and more interest in film. A smartphone 20 years from now may produce better-looking images than a digital Leica today, but it will do so due to advances in AI and electronics, with very little input from the photographer other than post-processing software usage. To those who seek timelessness (a camera that can last a lifetime, as opposed to a couple of years) and are attracted to photography as a hands-on creative process that the photographer controls, film cameras, and in particular the high-quality, all-manual Leica film cameras, will become increasingly more appealing.

      I am glad to hear that Leica recognizes the demand from younger customers that will only increase as they become older and more financially capable of buying new film Leicas, and as digital photography becomes increasingly the product of computers, as opposed to their human operators.

      • A thoughtful and thought provoking response; I think you are on the money with your comments.

        The film M cameras (and the digital ones too for that matter) are financially out of my reach. However, the R range of SLRs is much more affordable. As are the R lenses.

        Yes I shoot digital, and use the R lenses via an adapter on the TL2, but now I also greatly enjoy my Leicaflex, R4 and R5. M is not the only way with Leica 🙂

        • Thank you for your reply Steve.
          Your insight about the R lenses and TL2 is good to hear. Camera/lens choice is very subjective, and indeed digital cameras are much better-suited for most applications over film, just as the SLR offers many advantages over the rangefinder.
          I think the ideal situation is simply one where anyone who loves photography has access to the tools that best serve their tastes, and digital technology develops to make those tools better and more accessible to the people who need them. (Even for film fans, there is endless potential for benefits offered by digital/AI technology! In fact, it is probably largely thanks to advancements in mostly smartphone-based social media digital technology that film is experiencing such a revival amongst millennials and Gen Z. in the first place).

      • Mike, thank you for the article and reply.
        I will send you an email.
        Good also to hear about the ability to service the old cameras. I realized that old film cameras are sort of similar to old lenses in the sense that they can be serviced for decades, but that doesn’t mean new ones aren’t in demand.

        • Mike, apologizes for the late response, but after thinking it over a bit, I think I am still a bit too self-conscious to put out an article! (Thank you for the kind offer though. I will continue participating as a reader, as you have a lot of very insightful content here).

          • No problem, Matt. I’m always ready to edit and help turn out a good article whenever you feel you can manage it. In the meantime, welcome as a reader and enjoy. Comments from time to time will be much appreciated.

            Mike

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.