I was just wondering about what happened to this project over the weekend. Then lo and behold, there it is on my news feed.
Jonathan Ive (you know, that Apple British design-guy) has been reported about a year (if not, a couple of years) ago that he was going to design a Leica M camera, alongside fellow product designer Marc Newson. And like any recent work of Ive (e.g. iOS 7, the "trash can" Mac Pro), seems like it drew a lot of hatred. I like to pick on The Verge a lot, especially their comments sections on articles (I love them though, no hate, man), but man this one's a total nuclear fallout. In spite of all that however, I have absolutely nothing to fault that I can currently think of.
The first thing I noticed about the camera is that you get a sense of simplicity you just don't usually expect from a Leica. Now, I haven't ever owned or even used a Leica before. In fact I don't think I've ever even touched one before, so I'm probably just talking straight out of my rear end right now. But from what I've seen, Leica cameras seem to be popular mainly for their vintage/retro feel and aesthetic. Many features like the leather, the rigid edges and corners, and of course, the numerous manual controls you might not see in modern SLR's (or at least many compacts) anymore create products that contribute to a continuing legacy, a legacy built around evoking sentimental and emotional value and of course, stunning, honest photos.
This product disregards that Leica legacy almost entirely. Almost. It's a camera that doesn't look like it came out of the 70's or 80's, this is a camera with a much-needed modern context. The leather and rigidness you'd normally see has been stripped away for soft, monotone yet minimal aluminium. But the form factor, and more importantly, the heart of the product remains. It may look quite bulbous at first glance from the promotional photos you might've seen popping around, but man...just imagining using this thing is like a dream.
There's definitely less going on here visually than you'd see with your usual Leica M. If there's one word to describe Ive and Newson's design in comparison to the original, it's cohesive. Bits and pieces don't pop out from the main shape of the device. A look at the little comparison above should be able to illustrate what I mean.
Ive's influence is probably more apparent than Newson's. Of course, the use of matte aluminium is the biggest draw from Ive, but I think the cohesiveness of the device is also something you'd expect to be inspired by him. Its sense of density and the plain aluminium finish makes it seem utilitarian, which is always a good thing. After all, form should follow function, like Apple products do. I also like the use of small holes in the aluminium over leather, which erases the problem of having to replace the leather with a different material. Singular material used equals, again, a more cohesive product. Intentional or not, I think it's kinda clever.
Getting rid of the leather also meant getting rid of the second color in the camera's main color palette. When a Leica comes to mind, so do two colors: the top metal bit (silver) and the bottom leather bit (black, brown, etc.). Since only aluminium's used, the device in its entirety is synonymous with only one color, silver. Another step towards a more minimal approach.
Then enter Marc Newson. If the camera was made out of his signature colorful plastic (or rubber...whatever it is) instead of aluminium, you'd think it would be totally his design. Why? Because not only would it be plastic, it's got that round, playful shape. As far as I can tell, almost every corner and every edge on the body has been rounded, even on the camera lens! While it may be a little too playful for the eyes, I think where it would really win is with the feel of the body. Nothing will feel like a protrusion from the main camera body, not the manual controls, and not even the minute physical features such as the corners and edges. That's probably why if you look closely, the controls on top are indented into the aluminium body.
One thing they didn't show that I'd like to see is the user interface for the display; photos show it only as a blank screen. Perhaps the software isn't ready yet, just the hardware…hmm. Anyways, like the design or not, at least some thought's been put into it. Unlike that other rounded device...
So I suppose this concludes another design-based blog post. Stay tuned for something that hopefully doesn't evoke a need to format graphics again. Ugh.
PS: First AM post is now more than a week overdue. This weekend. I promise.
PSS: More photos of the camera can be found on Leica's Flickr page.