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Surviving the horrors of 9/9/M9

On September 9, 2009 (also an auspicious day for Beatles fans), Leica will announce the M9 camera.  It will be just like an M8.2, but it will have an 18mp sensor that measures 24x36mm. (these specs are based on the infamous "leaked" brochure).  The M9 will have some other minor improvements (like an 80 ISO setting and an ISO button) and some minor faults (no shot counter or battery indicator on the top).  It will be very expensive ($7,000).  But all of that is a footnote to the undignified sideshow that characterizes every Leica product launch.  Here are the players that you will see on online discussion fora (and it is possible to be more than one at the same time):

1.  The Rich.  These are really the only people who buy a Leica product on the first day without thinking twice about whether or not it actually works.  And why worry?  at 1/3 the price of a Rolex, a typical Leica digital M is dirt cheap (actually, an M9 is about the price of a midrange Panerai).  Repair costs don't faze them a bit.  They probably don't even use cameras for more than a week after they come out.

2.  The Pros.  They don't understand what the price issue is for the same reason you don't wonder why there is a problem with buying a $2,000 computer every three years: because the item is a useful tool.  On the one hand, pros struggling to find work (or sell it) to justify an expensive camera (M9, S2, H1).  On the other, they can write off the depreciation using your tax money and then effectively sell the equipment for a profit after a few years.  This is probably the only group that unequivocably benefits from being first-on for product launches.  To paraphrase Carlito Brigante, though,"they have a bright future... if their businesses can make it until next week."

3.  The Marxists.  This is a group that remembers that Leica prices hit the floor in the early 2000s when Leica did not have a digital offering and everyone thought the company was finished.  The Marxists believe that because Leica prices were briefly accessible (consider that in 2002, you could buy a 35/1.4 Summilux ASPH for $1,300 new), they have always been and should always be.  They don't remember that from the 1930s to the 1990s, Leicas were unbelievably expensive (in the 1950s, Nikkor 50/1.4s were packaged with Leicas to make the price of an outfit more attractive).  And this group refuses to believe that Leica is a low-volume producer that is currently positioning itself as an ultra-luxury good used by celebrities (like, say, a Bentley).  Leica might show pictures of Che and Cuba in its brochures, but if you think there's any ideological affinity, you're just dead wrong.

4.  The M8ters.  These people hated Leica for releasing the M8 because it devalued their film Leicas.  Or because they hate digital.  Or maybe they just like to hate in general.  They now attack people who own M8s, essentially intimating that they are "fools" because the M9 is now out.  They also like to intimate that M8s are now worthless (contrary to the economics of a fixed supply of used M8s and the high price of a new M9).  Of course, M8ters won't buy M9s either.  After all, the M10 will make M9 owners look foolish.  There is no better place to be than sitting on the sidelines heckling other people.  The parallel for car sites is the guy with a rusty Honda Civic telling someone with a Mercedes SLR McLaren that it's not as good as someone else's Audi R8.

5.  The Full-Frame, Empty Wallet People.  These people have historically used the excuse that they were waiting for a "full-frame M" to (fill in the blank): get true widenangles/shoot as God (er... Barnack) intended/get the full image circle out of the lens.  Never mind that wide-angle on DX and 18x27 sensors can be accommodated by using slightly wider lenses at the wide end.  Or that it's anachronistic to build sensors to the exact size of two frames of movie film in 1924.  Or that using the entire image circle doesn't have any affirmative benefit (and in fact has many detriments).  Logic never enters the picture because the real issue is likely that people in this group find it a lot easier to afford a 35mm film camera than a "35mm" digital camera.  Some just don't want to afford it.  In any case, their [Leica M]essianic desires will go unfulfilled.

6.  The M8 Martyrs.  This is the group that kept Leica alive long enough to get the M9 to production ("these men bought time for you with their lives..").  Told that old lenses worked as-is, 24x36 sensors would never work, and that IR wasn't an issue, most suffered through lengthy repairs, 486 filters, recollimation of lenses, sketchy initial firmware, and all manner of other issues.  They aren't that upset about a camera with a bigger sensor - most bought 28mm lenses a while ago and moved on.  Many even enjoy taking pictures with M8s.  They secretly resent being "beta testers" but are consoled by schadenfreude for M9 owners who will undoubtly discover the kinks that Leica engineers didn't.  We're still going to confiscate their belts and shoelaces.

7.  The Rationalists.   This group professes to be watching and waiting to see if the M9 is going to work, is delaying based on "amortizing" their existing equipment, is worried that M8 foibles will still be there, or is making some other quasi-intellectual justification for not buying an M9, despite the facts that the M9 is really, really appealing to them and that they could afford the camera if they truly wanted to.  Secretly, though, people in this group are mentally calculating what they could get for every piece of equipment they currently own (because it's irrational to have extra money tied up in extra cameras - even if they serve a purpose) or how much they could get for selling a child or a kidney (because it's silly to budget around an expensive piece of hardware).  As for me?  Rather than rebudgeting office lunches or selling my disused equipment, I have targeted selling my wife.  A guy in Egypt said he would trade me 300 camels for her, and I figure that a camel is worth at least $200, so it should be a good deal for everyone involved.  Then I can take the $7,000 in out-of-pocket cash I would have otherwise spent on an M9, donate it to charity, and take a fat tax writeoff.  See?  Problem solved.

Well, the above may not be everyone, but it's nearly everyone.  These seven types will reappear, just like in The Matrix, every third year.  See you next time!