Why Leica Decided to Leave Its Beloved R Series Behind

Interesting insights from the Washington Post: why Leica decided to leave its popular R series behind. R lenses could be used on almost any SLR camera. In the end, we learn, it was a strategic decision about capabilities, about a method of winning, about a system in markets… BTW, one of the best all-rounder lenses on a Leica M? The Vario-Elmarit-R 28-90mm F2.8-4.5. Not easy to find an affordable one on eBay, that lens is so popular among many Leica M photographers…:

The big idea: In 2008, Leica Camera faced an issue that many organizations face today: how to decide whether product lines are strategically critical. The firm was preparing to make a decision on the company’s well-loved but anachronistic R series. The line included expensive analogue SLR cameras and an array of high-end R lenses that Leica’s diehard fans had amassed since its introduction in 1976. The choices were simple with varying complications — Leica was a small company, and investing resources would be a trade-off. Should Leica invest capital in a product line extension for the R series lenses?

Dearly missed by many -- the Leica R series. Even though out of production, some of its lenses fetch great prices for sellers to this day, but less so for buyers...
Dearly missed by many — the Leica R series. Even though out of production, some of its lenses fetch great prices for sellers to this day, but less so for buyers…
The scenario: Under pressure to compete with Nikon, Leica introduced its own SLR — the Leicaflex — in 1964. This led to a line of SLR cameras that was eventually dubbed the R series.

Even as the industry moved toward digital cameras in the mid-1990s, a subset of traditionalists resisted the move for aesthetic and philosophical reasons, and Leica was there to serve them with R series SLRs. The Leica R series and its world class quality and precision made it the camera for professionals, enthusiasts and hobby photographers.

Throughout its SLR camera development, Leica designed an array of R series lenses that many photographers favored. Each Leica camera body series had a dedicated lens mount; with the use of camera-specific adapters, R lenses could be used on almost any SLR camera.

When Leica stopped production of its R series cameras and lenses, customers protested. For the company, there was uncertainty about how much sales volume the R series lenses could achieve, as well as where Leica fit in the market as new and less expensive products from competitors gained popularity.

The resolution: Despite the outcry from loyalists, Leica did not invest in the R series any further. Instead it created an adapter that allows the R series lenses to be used on its M 240 digital camera.

The lesson: Leica was not just making a choice about whether to reinstate a lens. It was deciding what to do with an entire camera system (a product class). If the next model, the R10, was to be produced, would it be compatible with other systems? These decisions have implications on manufacturing capabilities, competing in open or exclusive markets (which in turn have implications for historical legacy) and even values.

This is not just about a product, competition or a particular market segment; it’s about capabilities, about a method of winning, about a system in markets — these considerations make the decision strategic, as opposed to being about finance or manufacturing.

What if… Leica R series would still be around.

(via Washington Post)

  • bad writing would kill admiration for any product.

  • Bengt Nyman

    Leica is not worth mentioning or writing about.

  • Andy Umbo

    Interesting to note, the SL2 is what most of the Leica reflex photographers I know wanted, followed by the R6.2. Their SLR range was product of the typical Leica methodology, i.e. lenses changed (with 2 cams, 3 cams, etc.) to increase function as the series was developed, with no way to upgrade. Lenses could use a bunch of different filters, they never designed a range of lenses that would all use the same filter screw. In many camera magazine tests, at least for sharpness, there was no advantage to buying the Leica product (except for the unfortunate fall-back position: the “Leica Look”, which of course, was unmeasurable). The R6.2 was about their pinnacle, with the later series just becoming, big and weirdly shaped, and hard to handle. Again, as with so much equipment “Leica”, once you bought it, you had to ascribe to it mythic and unmeasurable performance that could not be cataloged, so that you felt good about buying something that was 3 or 4 times the price of a similar NiCanon. Oh, well, Leica, something had to give. I think they did what they had to, concentrate on the rangefinder, which is what Leica was about anyway. Still not buying one…

  • Jorge

    Between dropping the R and announcing the M240 with an R-adapter, 3 years passed during which customers were left in the dark. Not a “recommendable strategy”, despite what the article might imply.

  • Dillan

    Your opinion only.

  • Bengt Nyman

    Agreed. The reason why I have no respect for Leica is that in spite of their once excellent lenses their lens evolution has stopped.
    Today Leica lenses do not measure up to Zeiss or even to Sigma, Tamron or Nikon.
    Leica camera development died even earlier. They are now resorting to private labeling other manufacturers cameras.
    I would have liked to see Leica make the worlds best prime lenses for Canikon. Better yet, the worlds best autofocus prime lenses for Canikon.
    In the world of lenses Leica is quickly being replaced by Sigma and Tamron.
    In the world of cameras Leica is no longer even on the map.
    It’s sad and it’s quickly becoming irreversible.

  • Dillan

    I agree with what you are saying. I too would love to see Leica making prime lenses for Nikon, Canon and even Sony cameras. I think they’re missing out on a real money making opportunity. They have the brand power to make a big splash doing something like this. I also like to think that they have the technical ability to pull something like this off as well.

    My objection to your original comment was that I do like what they’re doing with the M series rangefinders. The Monochrom in particular was such a unique and bold move, I wish that other manufacturers would give something like this a try too. Sadly for me, everything made by Leica is priced well out of my reach. That does make them somewhat irrelevant to me, and probably for a large proportion of their potential customers too. I hate to see a company with such a wonderful legacy of excellent lenses and cameras stumble stubbornly down a dead end road like they seem to be doing. What this means is that if I’m perfectly honest with myself, I have to agree with your original statement. Leica is becoming quite irrelevant.

  • Bengt Nyman

    I appreciate your observation about B&W. With the light loss suffered by all Bayer filter cameras I would like to have access to a camera with a Bayer free, unfiltered B&W image sensor.

    For a while it looked like Ricoh, with its modular lens and image sensor design, were considering to offer that. Unfortunately that still hasn’t happened. I have, however been in contact with an outfit that removes the Bayer filter from Nikon D800 cameras. Unfortunately, it’s a risky procedure.

    Another camera that would lend itself superbly to a Bayer-filter-free B&W version is the new Sony R7s which already breaks records in low light. If they made an R7m available I would be early in line.