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Leica Interview: “'we don’t add features just for the sake of adding features”

Over at dpreview.com is an interview with Leica representatives.

One section of the interview caught my eye:

We asked whether Leica had considered adding live view functionality to the M9, given its ubiquity in the market, and the fact that even Leica's first M-mount camera, the M3, offered direct film-plane viewing (via a ground glass screen). Von Oeynhausen told us 'taking pictures with live view, it's not really the style of photography that you use M system products for'.

Ultimately though, the reasons seem to be technical,at least in part. As Stailey told us, 'live view would be impractical with the M9's sensor. It's a full-frame CCD, and we looked into [adding live view] in development, but if we offer a function, it has to be perfect'. One of the challenges of full-frame (which in this context isn't a reference to size, but to a specific sensor technology) CCD sensors is that they require mechanical shutters. Unlike interline CCDs and CMOS sensors, they cannot be electronically shuttered.

Erhardt went on: 'for the future, of course we monitor every new technology that appears and we always want to make innovative products. If we think of [a new feature] that would fit the M system we're happy to implement it'. But, added Stailey, 'we don't add features just for the sake of adding features'.

I certainly agree with the general sentiment: piling on features is bad design. Each feature must pay its own way, so to speak, in real usability gains.

But there lies the problem: Mr. Oeynhausen just does not understand— Live View is about delivering that world class optical quality of the famed Leica M glass by allowing accurate focus. Focusing is simply impossible for many users (eyesight, dim lighting, etc), and often difficult at times even under the best of conditions— try focusing the Noctilux accurately and consistently. Even composing is a real challenge due to the wildly inaccurate frame lines, as one user attests just recently (“forget about precise composition with the M9. I consider it to be a 12 megapixel camera because I always have to allow for the large margin for error and crop the image”).

I regularly hear from readers baffled by just how “challenging” (to put it nicely) the Leica M9 is to operate. They expect a $20,000 system to be usable by mortals. They are not expecting to hold the camera at arm’s length like any point and shoot. They are expecting to be able to compose and focus accurately. So please, Leica, get a clue. I detailed these issues and more, two years ago in my Guide to Leica.

As for the “if we offer a function it has to be perfect” gambit, Mr. Stailey is welcome to call me for my comments on the image review functionality which is so poorly implemented that it cannot be used to check focus. Stailey also appears to be of the same thinking about the real value of Live View as does Oeynhausen. This does not bode well for the future of M-camera usability, but Mr. Erhardt does hold out an olive branch of some hope, it seems.

I go into all the usability issues with the M9 in my Guide to Leica. Don’t get me wrong— I just sold my M9 and bought a new M9P and I have a lot of M glass now— I love the system within carefully proscribed boundaries, but it has serious shortcomings that could be fixed at no downside to the alleged (!) market, making it a “killer” camera.

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