#1367. Have Leica just given up and surrendered (and sold everyone else down the river)?

By philberphoto | Opinion

Jun 25
 

Who would have thought that the first major camera manufacturer to surrender would be Leica? Leica, with the hallowed history. Leica, whose marketing constantly plug on their legacy. Leica, oh, how the proud, -some say arrogant, even- have fallen! For Leica, it is game over, or rather, game, set and match!

 

What am I prattling about, you ask. Are Leica bankrupt? No, at least not financially, not at all. It is very different. They have just released a phone app, called Leica Lux Pro, for iOS (Apple iPhone). So what, you yawn. Well, Leica actually say that, thanks to this app, you can get a number of famous Leica looks (they clearly mean LUTs), as well as the look of Leica’s most famous lenses! Meaning, you snap a picture with your iPhone, PP it with the app, and -hey, presto!- you have a Leica image, with all its goodness and heritage.

 

The mind boggles. The camera industry has been mauled, almost to extinction, by the tsunamesque rise of the smartphone camera. Not helped by their own refusal to embrace modern technology and young customers’ preferences. That said, there is a common discourse, you could say a united front, to point out the limitations of the smartphone, who just cannot duplicate the “real” performance of a “real” camera. Though all acknowledge that this is ultimately a losing battle, bcause of the speed at which the smartphone images keep getting better, propelled mostly by software, not optics or sensors, up to now the united front was holding, and surrender was unthinkable.

 

Yet that is exactly what Leica have done. They now say that, with an iPhone in your pocket, you essentially have a Leica camera as far as the ability to create images with the Leica look goes. That’s it. Game over. Who now will want to fork out 10K+ € or $ for a Leica system rather than a 8€ or $ a month for an app? Who will want to give up the simplicity, speed and features of a smartphone for the clunk of a camera? No-one, that is who. Game over.

 

The economics are easy to figure out. Say Leica sell 40.000 cameras a year -they don’t publish actual numbers, this is an educated guess- at an average 4.000€ each, this adds up to 160M€ annual sales, with a gross margin of 60%, or a gross margin of 100M€. With the app bringing in 100€ a year (it is freemium, but the free version is very limited, its only purpose to ease you into the paid version). say they can convert one-per-mil of Apple’s 1,46bn users, that would be an income of 146M€, with an estimated 80% gross margin. A huge new avenue for revenue, margin, and profits. Totally logical for a company that has invested a lot in software over the last years.

 

The only issue is that they have cut off any future, for the reasons outlined above…. Today, Leica sell three “things”. The legacy and status, the IQ, and the shooting experience. They have just given up the first two for 8€/mth. A dish of lentils for birthrights sounds like a good trade, by comparison.

 

Of course you will say that no amount of PP can imbue a smartphone image with the DNA of a camera picture. You will denounce the fauxtographers. You could be right, you will be right, but these days, its is not about facts and realities, it is all about storytelling. And the Leica app storytelling is compelling, so….

 

Fact is, Leica will not only sell their app to would-be Leica owners, but also to would-be Canon, Sony and Nikon owners. So their new earnings stream will be everyone else’s loss. Well played, Leica, a modern-day George Monck!

 

Three thoughts to wrap up this post. One, that, of course, no amount of PP will replicate the image and look of a Summilux-equipped M11, Leica’s marketing of the app. notwithstanding. The other, that the shooting experience remains hugely different between a smartphone and and camera-and-lens. The third, that this sellout only works if Leica dominate the app segment. That is very doubtful, compared to the marketing clout of, say, Adobe. Then the sellout would have been for nothing. Unless Leica believe that the present united front is doomed to fail. In which case, if you can’t beat them, join them….

 

PS. None of these images was made with my iPhone and the Leica app. Quite the contrary. Fauxtographers, I say!

 

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  • PaulB says:

    Nay! Nay! I Say! The King is well and truly clothed!

    Leica is merely attempting to bring photographic qualities to the masses the way painting by number brought them fine art.

    OOPS! Sarcasm off.

    Phillipe, well said and well illustrated. Leica has certainly had a cup of the Adobe (subscription) Cool-Aide. A Leica photo App? Sure why not. But a monthly subscription? I have my doubts.

    PaulB

    • Philberphoto says:

      Frankly, Paul, I have my doubts as well. Monetizing software like Leica’s app, when there will soon be countless free “effects” apps ? I don’t think so…. But that is just me.

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    The app is tanking badly in early reviews

    • Philberphoto says:

      Thanks for the info, Ian! I find this disappointing, because Leica are heavily invested in software talent, and their comms app between camera and phone is very good indeed… the mightier they fall….

  • Toni says:

    Commenting as long time lurker here. I find this discussion particularly interesting since also Zeiss has tried sell their different lens designs (Sonnar, Tessar, Biogon etc.) and their look in Vivo smartphones. Personally I don’t buy it and I think it’s a shortsighted strategy as it might devalue their physically existing lenses and their sells (although some might defend the software models that they might bring new customers for the real lenses, I don’t have insight on this, but I find it difficult to believe).

    However, Zeiss has also tried to bring their optical and imaging expertise in the core of the Vivo’s imaging system, not only with T* coatings and Zeiss lenses, but also by licensing things like ‘Zeiss Natural Color System’; ie. trying to bring value into the image processing subsystem. I think this is where a company like Zeiss (with their image modelling knowledge) might bring some added value but they would need to step into the world of computational imaging, computational optics, etc. Maybe they are doing something like this already, at least one would think they would have resources and foundational knowledge to explore this area.

    So, I think Leica is trying to step into software side of imaging, but they don’t have the needed expertise and at least they are a couple of steps behind the Zeiss (it shows with the negative reviews of the new software also). Not sure if Zeiss will succeed either, as they are also steps behind the Apple and Google. But I can definitely see that these two companies have something to offer for the contemporary software aided imaging, I’m just not sure if that’s the direction I would things to evolve. Especially the lens simulations with their broken bokehs are thing that makes everything look cheap and not-worthy. And unfortunately that’s the very thing Leica, a status brand, has decided to step into.

    • Philberphoto says:

      Thanks for your comment, Toni! Leica hired litterally hundreds of software engineers, so I would have thought that they could pull off something like this app. fairly easily. Obviously, their engineers aren’t more successful than Volkswagen’s with their electric car software…:-( My question to you is: does optical expertise, which you quite rightly indicate that Zeiss and Leica have in abundance, translate into an advantage over a purely software-based expertise? I am not so sure, especially over time. We shall see…

  • Ian_S says:

    The alternative perspective is that they are looking for a way to draw in a wider customer base in, in the same way as the Leica Q series did. Many a reviewer suggested the Q was selling Leica heritage down the river but it has proved a great success as an entry route into the M series. Consider their strategy again, this time think a bit harder. I don’t think anybody is going to not going to by a Leica camera because they downloaded this app. They may subscribe to the app never intending to buy a Leica camera, they then either don’t buy a camera or possibly a thought is set running in their mind …

    • Philberphoto says:

      With respect, Ian, a Leica Q is much closer to Leica’s core business than a “special effects” phone app. Actually, you could make a case that the Q is part of Leica’s core business. Even more so if one thinks of the Leica compact cameras, which have been nothing but re-branded and re-priced Panasonic compact cameras. So I personally feel that calling the Q a betrayal of Leica heritage is just an act of nostalgia. Said nostalgia rarely pays the bills, so….

  • Erwin Puts in his “Farewell to the Leica World” posted on 20/10/19 at 18:07 wrote “… I have experienced and discussed in detail with relevant persons in Wetzlar (old), Solms and Wetzlar (again, new) the digital turn and how the company evolved and changed while adopting the digitalization of the photographic process and the changing world of the internet based photography. The most recent event is the evolution from a manufacturing company to a software-based company. While a commercial success, this change of heart has accomplished a, perhaps not intended, impact: the soul of Leica products has been eradicated…”

    I imagine that’s when M.Puts realized the brand was more important than the product. It must’ve been a very sad realization.

    • Philberphoto says:

      Your comment is so appropriate IMHO, Christopher! And it applies to many more than just Leica. But finding a healthy middle-ground between progress (electronics) and heritage is not easy at all… Too much heritage and you become a modern Kodak, too little and you become a nobody-knows-what-the-brand-stands-for-any-more company, and there are lost of those around. Including in photography….

  • John Wilson says:

    Sort of reminds me of BMW back in 80s with their entry level “baby” BMW … horrible little car that died a quick death. Had the displeasure of riding in one owned by an acquaintance of mine. Never understood why he wasted the money. Baffles me why anyone would waste $8/month on a 2nd rate Leica “look” when they already have a first rate I-phone, Pixel8 etc.

    • Philberphoto says:

      Couldn’t agree more, John! In BMW’s defence, they weren’t alone, and Mercedes did exactly the same with their SportCoupé, which didn’t fare any better. And, like you, I have my doubts about the prospects of this app. Either you deliver something special, or you are just milking the brand…

  • Pascal O. says:

    Interesting post first thanks to the pictures. As usual, your macros are spectacular, the inevitable (unescapable?) bicycle shows up, but my favorite is that of the fish (Laowa strikes again?).
    Parallel thoughts, I think it is interesting to see how some manufacturers are trying to lure some clients from the DSLR market and smartphone segments into buying more compact bodies (Fuji which seems to have great success with their latest X100xx and Sony with their upgraded Alpha 7 C range CII and CR which are, respectively, lighter versions of the A7 IV and A7 RV offering the same photographic features if with less buttons.
    Issue for Leica is that their main product is already compact, the M series, so they can only “draw” from the smartphone crowd.
    No way they could lower the price point of their camera system to increase sales ;-).

    • Philberphoto says:

      Good points, Pascal! There are a few possible outcomes from this move. (a), they fail. The market just yawns and moves on. Or (b), the develop some sort of following, make money, but without positive spillover for the rest of the Leica business. Or (c) they succeed, with their app becoming an entry point for some into the Leica word, and they sell more cameras. Or (d), they actually cheapen the brand. The jury is still out, take you pick.

      • pascaljappy says:

        This is becoming fascinating 🙂 It’s hard to imagine them deliberately going for a cheapening of the brand, though it can always happen by “accident”. Being one of the very few here to enjoy phones for serious photography, I’d like to venture an e) option. I feel more and more that the phone is what the first M was: a small, “immediate” camera. At the time, it wasn’t so much about image quality (on the contrary, it was less good than medium format alternatives) as about stealth and the ability to get into the rough of it, which larger cameras made a lot harder. Today, compared to bigger cameras laden with large lenses and large menu systems, the phone is the spiritual successor that doesn’t get noticed or leave too much image quality on the table, for most daily uses.

        Where I do see a strategic oddity is in the choice of iOS. Yes, the luxury equation is far more obvious with Apple but te iPhone already has a very strong look of its own and its app interface is excellent. Whereas a phone such as my Pixel 8 is more neutral and the app is, well, quite perfectible 😉

        Anyway, there might even be an option f) we haven’t thought of and will pan out, but I really hope this doesn’t fizzle out and it leads to something new and fresh, as even phones are beginning to smell a little stale 😉

        Cheers

        • Ian Varkevisser says:

          At this stage it looks like Leica would be best exiting left stage and claiming their account has been hacked by scammers hell bent on damaging their reputation 🙂

          Blame it on Putin everyone else does LOL

        • Ian Varkevisser says:

          However the temptation of money for jam is probably to good to turn down

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    Leica jumping on the subscription bandwagon so they to somewhere down the line can EULA roofy subscription holders.

    If adobe can do we can to say Leica

    Hint – Avoid a subscription product like the plague.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Adobe has a serious attitudinal problem and I am progressively phasing them out of my life altogether. The end.

  • Jens says:

    I have a more positive view on the release of that app. Lacking an apple phone I have no option to test it unfortunately. Leica has had cooperations with smartphone manufacturers for years and on the Japanese market are even Leica branded smartphones – currently it’s the ‘Leitz Phone 3’ (which is basically the Sharp Aquos R8 Pro). Besides there were always point and shoot cameras by Leica that had little to do with their interchangeable lens lines even in the film days. However a focus on colours (even if it’s only a LUT effectively) is welcome and if the fake Bokeh manages to emulate partially the looks of some of their lenses it’s a positive in my book. Both of these things are more about artistic expression instead of clinical quality that most modern lens designs put too much focus on. If this feature of the app should prove popular maybe our larger camera/lens manufacturers get the hint and users give it more value too and increase their awareness of such things. I enjoyed the pictures and in particular like the one with the fish statue.

    • pascaljappy says:

      For the full experience, Leica would need to release a little printer. Something that connects properly to an iPhone and automatically prints 5×7 on very nice paper. The resolution of a phone would be perfect for a small size, and the Leica look plus the “instamatic” ergonomics of a phone, would create full circle fun that could give film photographers a run for their money. And young photographers would love it.

      I think it would give Leica some precious feedback on app development and on the desires of a new, younger, market. Leica seems to understand the future lies far away from the boring mainstream cameras, and experimenting in various directions seems like the clever thing to do.

    • Philberphoto says:

      I am sure many people in Wetzlar hope you are right, Jens. For me, I am not so hopeful, but I have misjudged such calls before…

      • Jens says:

        Mind you – I don’t think we are the target audience for such an app and I’d only give it a try out of curiosity. It’s rather someone who has a smartphone and enjoys taking pictures and doesn’t have a dedicated camera. The ‘lens simulations’ of such an app don’t have to be really true to the ‘real thing’. But in a way it educates these people and it might spark desire and interest to pursue this further. Besides they get introduced to the brand as such – younger people in particular are likely not aware of Leica. And I doubt owners of a M camera or such will mind the existence of the app – it doesn’t make the camera / lenses any worse and if it’s bragging rights that made someone purchase it, they rather have a larger audience now.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    WAUOH !! Leica being controversial – now THAT is controversial. All my life they have been ultra conservative. And now they’ve flipped?

    But wait – what’s this got to do with me? Absolutely nothing. I’ve never had or wanted to have a Leica camera. And I don’t own an iPhone, nor do I intend to.

    Oh well, I guess they thought it was worth a try. Maybe somebody else will succumb, and take the slot I should have.

    But at the risk of being snotty – I think precious little of substituting cellphones for cameras, and even less of substituting AI for “photography”.

    So it’s more likely that the Devil will arrive at work on ice skates, than it is that I’ll ever know what it’s like to experience this APP, Philipe.

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