DP1 Siphoning Leica M8 Sales?

6 01 2008

Mason Resnick makes an extraordinary statement in his list of photo industry predictions for 2008. In his prediction that “The Leica M8 will have company,” he says:

Sigma will likely introduce its long-awaited DP1, with a 14MP Foveon full-frame sensor (…), zoom lens that starts at 28mm, and likely lower price, and this model will siphon off potential M8 buyers.

Huh?

Leica M8

Leica M8: top end professional rangefinder.

Let’s put aside the error about the zoom lens (in fact, the DP1 will have a fixed focal length “prime” 28mm lens) and ignore the “likely lower price” bit (it will “likely” cost about one-sixth the price of an M8) and take a closer look at that zinger about it siphoning off M8 buyers.

As you may know, the M8 is Leica’s flagship camera, a very expensive, true rangefinder camera based on Leica’s long line of M-series mechanical cameras that date back to the 1950s. It appeals to photographers who pine for classical mechanical cameras with German engineering, but who want the convenience and workflow of digital. It is a major investment for any photographer, and would be considered by none to be a “backup” or “second” camera.

DP1

DP1: point & shoot that looks a bit like a rangefinder.

Contrast that with the DP1, an autofocus pocket camera with few, if any mechanical parts. The DP1, while certainly targeting advanced users, would never be the cornerstone of a professional’s repertoire of gear. It is not a rangefinder camera, and has neither a zoom lens, nor the ability to interchange lenses. Its “manual” exposure settings will be applied via push-buttons, not classic mechanical dials.

The image quality of the DP1 is expected to be very high, perhaps rivaling the M8. But that doesn’t make it a contender for anyone seeking a serious, professional rangefinder camera. The DP1 will appeal to professional street and news photographers who want a backup unit that is small, reliable, and offers outstanding image quality. It will also appeal to advanced amateurs who want to transcend the gimmickery of the majority of point & shoot cameras on the market; people who already understand photography and will gladly sacrifice gizmos like “face recognition” in favor of a camera that provides high image quality and a good hands-on user experience.

But the DP1 will never siphon even a single person away from choosing a Leica M8. Those who want, and can afford, a Leica will buy a Leica. Those who want a rangefinder will buy a rangefinder (and as I said in an earlier post, the DP1 is not a rangefinder).

The Hyundai Sonata (L) borrows design elements from the Jaguar X-Type (R), but nobody who can afford a Jaguar will be “siphoned away” by the Hyundai.

The example above, regarding cars, is parallel to the DP1 vs. M8 question only on the matter of quality and cost. But when you take a closer look at the DP1 and the M8 you realize you’re comparing very different kinds of cameras, and very different kinds of potential buyers. If you’re still not convinced, here is a brief recap:

Leica M8

  • Absurdly expensive (more than $5000 for the body, and another $1000+ for a lens).
  • Leica; the highest pedigree, with a long and distinguished history and a cult-like following.
  • True rangefinder camera, with interchangeable lenses, manual (rangefinder) focus, old-fashioned dials for setting shutter speed and aperture, and a classical, mechanical look and feel.
  • Appeals to Leica fetishists, professional photographers, and wealthy amateurs.

Sigma DP1

  • Relatively inexpensive (compared with M8), but still expensive by “point & shoot” standards. (Expected retail price will be in the range of $1000.)
  • No pedigree. Sigma is known primarily as a lens maker. The fact that the camera is a Sigma means very little to most people; if Nikon or Canon or Olympus had come up with the same design, the appeal would be no different. People like this camera for what it is, not for how it’s branded.
  • Compact and automatic. Make no mistake, this is a point & shoot camera. It will have an optional optical viewfinder (but that does not make it a rangefinder), and it will presumably have well-designed functions for manual overrides of the automatic functions. But it will still always be a push-button electronic camera.
  • Appeals to professional photographers looking for a compact backup camera, advanced amateurs who are tired of the whiz-bang gimmickery so prevalent in contemporary point & shoot camera design, and “pixel peepers” who will go to almost any length to get better image quality (as defined by noise, resolution, and other technical aspects).

Make no mistake, I’m a huge fan of the DP1 even though it isn’t even on the market yet. But there’s no way it is in the same category as the Leica M8.





News from Sigma!

30 11 2007

Sigma has put out a press release today regarding its enigmatic DP1 camera. It apologizes for its silence on the project since PMA in March 2007, and says they’ve been having trouble achieving the kind of image quality they’re after. After a lot of work, they ended up completely revising “image processing pipeline.”

It’s more of a letter than a press release; it takes a personal, first-person tone and is refreshingly light on the usual PR gobbledygook. It is signed by Kazuto Yamaki, the Chief Operating Officer of Sigma Corporation.

According to the letter, Sigma recently began beta testing what they believe will be the final design. I suspect that most, if not all of the design changes since PMA are internal; the focus of work (according to the letter) seems to be entirely on the imaging pipeline. In other words, the final product will likely look exactly like the prototype we saw at PMA.

There is no release date posted for the camera, although the letter says they feel they’re on the right track.

(Heads-up via The Online Photographer and some kind souls who emailed me via the contact form on the “About” page. Thanks!)