May 022014

Leica T System

German Humor



Leica T Aluminum block.

Leica T Aluminum block.


As a frequent traveller, I have developed expectations of different countries around the globe.  Every country has its strengths and weaknesses.  Germany is no exception.  They are known for the relentless pursuit of precision, delicious beer, mediocre cuisine, and a sense of humor that will leave you scratching your head saying, “THAT was the punchline?!”

There are a lot of things we can count on our German friends for…they are punctual in arrival, direct when they speak and phenomenal in their production.  From cars to watches to cameras, the Germans know how to build things well.  But they have not quite captivated the world with their sense of humor, until now.  Whoever says that Germans have no sense of humor has obviously not seen their recent video for the Leica T.

Who watches Conceptual Art 

When Leica announced the Leica T with an image of a solid block of aluminum, they seemed to be making a statement about the physical production of a camera body of strength and precision.  The ironic thing is that the body is rarely the selling point of a camera.  Over the last century camera bodies have been made out of everything from waxed paper to titanium.  A good camera body is, in effect, one you don’t notice.  It should sit in the background in a supporting role to the fluid mechanics, glass, or electronics of a camera.  If you notice the body, something has usually gone wrong.  Whether it’s the heavy case of a Nikon D, the plastic feel of a compact camera, or the near idiotic covering of the Hasselblad Lunars, when it comes to bodies they should feel good in the hand and express a balance between strength and weight.

Leica T-System

Leica T-System

Perfect to the point of absurd

The opening announcement in the new Leica video is bold and dare I say inaccurate.  The narrator says, “THIS is the most boring video ever…”  Well Leica has obviously not seen the art world in the last 50 years.  If you want to witness the far ends of absurdity, let me introduce you to the art world.  A few years ago I watched an “artist” cast her own foot into a bucket of concrete.  She proceeded to spend over an hour hammering it out, whimpering in pain and exhaustion because she failed to realize the properties of concrete.

One, concrete possesses lyme which will burn your skin and give you a week long rash that will make you feel as if your leg had sex with a port-hopping sailor.  Secondly, properly mixed concrete will transfer the vibrating force of a hammer right through to your foot.  So every hammer blow to break the concrete will feel like you are hammering your own foot.  So, much to the surprise of this video/conceptual artist, the process of breaking her foot out of the concrete was as painful for her as it was for me to watch this spectacle.  In hindsight I can safely say that I may never see a film so boring or so absurd in my life….Leica don’t worry, you produced a slow film, but it’s definitely not the most boring film ever.

Leica T Silver detail.

Leica T Silver detail.

Are you still watching

In the new forty five minute long film by Leica, the narrator taunts us by asking, “Are you still watching?”  All the while, a Leica technician is hand-sanding the body of a new Leica T.  If you skip ahead in the video, you only discover more sanding…in fact it never really stops until we reach the end of the video.  This is, in my opinion, a hysterical joke on the part of, and one of the reasons why I love the folks at Leica.  What is going on here?

Leica has a handmade history.  The do it yourself approach of Oskar Barnak put 35mm film on the global map.  Born in an era when “handmade” was the best that could be, Leica has been carrying this banner around since 1849.  Quality products are their greatest strength and have also nearly bankrupted them on a number of occasions.  They remain dedicated to this type of production, even at the near loss of the company, which is admirable.

With the release of the T, Leica could have given us a video with more slow motion rotating camera shots backed by Magnum Photographs with all the weight of a Wagner opera and a brochure written by Nietzsche.  That approach would be expected.  What I was not counting on was Leica to poke fun at their own seriousness.

The Leica T System and compatible lenses.

The Leica T System and compatible lenses.

Ultimately, I think this was an interesting decision for a few reasons:

  1. Leica has acknowledged the absurdity of their finishing.  It’s great, it’s high end, it’s time consuming, but when you look at it, in real time, with a narrator just waiting for you to give up…it’s down right hilarious.  Who is more mental, them for filming it or us for watching?  (we are a collective of photographic mental patients fixed on ludicrous details that are completely nonsensical, but that does not keep us from loving every minute of it.)
  2. They have come out with a camera that’s selling point is the body, arguably the least important part of the camera.  Name me the last time that the magnesium mix of a camera body was the “dealbreaker”.  While most of the photographic forums will rail on Leica for their outdated sensors, high price tags and Japanese collaborated lenses, they have opted to market the camera based on its body…if this doesn’t have you laughing at the computer, you might be German.
  3. Lastly, Leica has shown us that they have a sense of humor.  They are not just these German glass wizards seducing the bank accounts of photographers around the world.  They understand that aside from producing unique (and sometimes archaic) digital products they have the ability to say, “Come on guys, you wanted quality, so here it is!  Isn’t it boring!”
Leica T in black...this would be my preferred model.

Leica T in black…this would be my preferred model.


There is a difficult balance between the pursuit of perfection and turning refinement into a mental disorder.  The line is not always clear and there are plus sides to both dysfunctions.  But in the end, whether we are camera makers, picture makers, or image consumers, we should be able to look at ourselves and laugh.  We humans do some pretty silly things and no matter how meaningful they may be, it does not hurt to look at them and smile.

For a different take on the Leica T, I will be using one during my workshop in Florence with David Farkas, so I will put my serious face back on and let you guys know what I think of the new Leica T in a few weeks.

Read David Farkas’s Leica T review here: 


Best-Adam Marelli 

  3 Responses to “Leica T System”

  1. I find this video fascinating for the reasons you do, and one more.

    I used to race sailboats. Something sailboat racers do is obsessively polish the bottoms of their boats. While a smoother bottom is faster, we take it far past the point of reason.

    Why? It does not make the boat faster. It makes us faster. The boat is only part of the puzzle. The team in the boat is a much larger determinant of races won than the boat. Polishing the bottom makes the team faster, not the boat, for a bunch of interlocking reasons.

  2. I was strangely captivated by the video and watched from beginning to end. I suppose the repetition had a meditative element to it.

  3. Did you know that those Leica are made in Portugal.
    So the person you see is a Portuguese craftsman in the Leica factory at Famalicão.

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