Leica: luxury, bankruptcy and digital

#Leica #luxury #bankruptcy #digital

Nearing bankruptcy for forgetting to go digital, the iconic brand of photography is now found on millions of smartphones.

“Firing a Leica is like a long and tender kiss, like shooting an automatic pistol, like an hour on the analyst’s couch.” The words of the sacred monster of photography Henri Cartier-Bresson perfectly sum up the feeling that photography enthusiasts and professionals feel when using a Leica camera.

Iconic brand of the sector par excellence, its devices are now as popular among professionals as amateurs.. Some Leica cameras have even become fashion accessories worn like a trophy, like a luxury watch.

Some Leica cameras have even become fashion accessories worn like a trophy, like a luxury watch.

Since its beginnings in 1849 in the German town of Wetzlar, the brand has positioned itself in the high range, but not yet in the cameras. At that time, Leica was an optical institute that did not yet bear his name and produced microscopes.

It is with the arrival of Ernst Leitz, hired as a technician, that the story will take another turn. He will buy the company in 1869, develop a full range of products related to optical instruments and give it his name, which is a contraction of Leitz and Camera. After the First World War, his son took up the torch and with the help of his engineer Oskar Barnack, they imagined reducing the size of the negative used at the time and obtaining prints by enlargement. It is this idea that will mark the initial success of the company in the world of photography.

Thanks to the portability of its first models marketed in 1925, Leica will revolutionize the sector, because its competitors have not yet managed to manufacture light and compact cameras. The iconic Leica III model, launched in 1933, would go on to be one of the company’s greatest commercial successes. and will long remain a standard regularly copied but rarely equaled. For a century, the brand will triumph with its various models with professionals praising the accuracy, reliability and maneuverability of the devices. It will become the working tool of photojournalists and will be associated with some of the most famous photographs of the 20th century..

the lost turn

The digital shift of the 2000s will be nearly fatal to business. Overwhelmed by the arrival on the market of digital devices considered more practical, Leica refuses to accept the current digital revolution. The boss at the time, Ralph Coenen, went so far as to declare that digital technology “doesn’t fit us or our customers.” At the height of his blindness in 2004, the company is on the verge of bankruptcy with a turnover at half mast that went from 158 million euros to 93.5 million euros in three years.

In the early 2000s, then-chief Ralph Coenen said that digital technology “didn’t fit us or our customers”.

Hermès, then owner of the company, threw in the towel and handed over the torch to a certain Andreas Kaufmann, heir to a great Austrian family. In 2005, he officially entered the capital of the German brand by taking over half of the company’s shares. Resolutely future-oriented, the new owner wants to make Leica a modern brand and is diving headfirst into digital. He won’t do it alone sincewill partner Leica with Panasonic, Fujitsu and Kodak to quickly catch up on the backlog. The result is a first model, the M8, in 2006 that received a timid reception and numerous criticisms, in particular about the reproduction of images that left much to be desired. The return is somewhat missed, but heralds better times.

The time to take off again will be in 2009 with the launch of the M9, the S2 and a modern version of the first Leica, the X1. With its 18 megapixels, the M9 will mark the end of Leica’s dark period by being a real success in terms of sales.

Leica is back at the best time. Digital photography has given birth to thousands of amateur photographers in search of quality devices to immortalize the small and big moments of their lives. With its history and its illustrious ambassadors such as Robert Capa, an icon of photojournalism, the German brand once again seduces and ups the ante with models that reach several tens of thousands of euros.

From the box to the smartphone

With the digital change underway, the German company has decided to speed up so as not to fall behind again. Being a high-end brand has always given it a special status in its field.a true marketing asset, but one that has the weakness of not being available to everyone.

In 2014, Leica secured its digital future by partnering with Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei.

To remedy this and secure your digital future, Leica was dealt a double whammy in 2014 when it partnered with Chinese smartphone maker Huawei., then at the height of its popularity. In order to integrate its technology with that of a smartphone, the German manufacturer had to make concessions. Known for its glass lenses, Leica had to adapt to an industry where plastic is king. For the launch of the Huawei P9 in 2016, the first model of the Chinese brand to be equipped with a Leica lens and to display the famous logo on its case, Leica offered lower-quality glass lenses, cheaper, but refuses to use plastic. .

And if Leica is used to producing everything in its German factory, it had to decide to outsource lens manufacturing. Huawei, for example, has sold six million P20 models, each with two or three Leica lenses. An impossible rhythm to follow.

This partnership has made Leica more accessible. It has also somewhat tarnished its premium brand image. Huawei’s setbacks since the US sanctions did not help and led Leica to end the partnership in 2021. Since it is with Xiaomi, another Chinese manufacturer, that Leica has linked up. The first models resulting from this association have just been presented and they are clearly high-end, we can’t get over it. They will only be available in China for now before being released worldwide. Leica is counting on this partnership to ensure a significant future and sales volumes, along with its in-house models reserved for an elite, allowing it to avoid reliving its dark period of the early 2000s.

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