The End is Nigh: Leica Edition

The title is somewhat tongue in cheek of all those that have forecast Apple Inc. as going the way of the dinosaur Any Day Now(TM) over the years. However, the sudden change of Leica Camera AG's CEO from Alfred Schopf, who's been in the position since August of 2010 - to Oliver Kaltner effective April 1, 2015 - is just another signal that things are not well currently.

Some might have you believe that Panasonic will buy out Blackstone or that other heads will roll. This is just wild guessing. Doesn't mean it can't happen... Just that neither have any truth to them at this time. In fact, we find it extremely doubtful that Panasonic will get involved.

The Blackstone Group does have an exit clause, as Andreas Kaufmann mentioned in an interview a couple of years ago, however. Now that Leica Camera AG is "internationalized" they might want their 140 million Euros back, or at the very least are sensing their investment devaluing.

What is true however, is that Leica is sitting on a ton of inventory that's not moving. Have you noticed how you can buy pretty much anything now, without the year-long waits of old? That and the weak Euro would explain the waffling on price reductions earlier this year. Now granted, there's been a fair bit of relief thanks to the move back to Wetzlar and improved production.

The flagship stores are hemorrhaging cash badly - which also explains a lot of the shake-ups recently in the sales divisions including Kaltner himself to Head of Marketing. Somewhat interestingly, Schopf came from a background in optics - Kaltner's is marketing - and is essentially an outsider to Leica. That is, no one from within was promoted.

Of course, there are other issues plaguing Leica at this time. Such as the M Monochrom based on the current M (Type 240) model; supposedly it should have been out last September at Photokina... Leica was having problems with the sensor conversion, from what we've heard - it's been in development for some time now. The recent Lenny Kravitz and Safari special editions would usually seem to signal that a new M might be coming... But not until later this year at the earliest, if they follow their three-year cycle. We probably wouldn't expect anything major short of Photokina 2016 though, most likely.

Other recent models also have some scratching their heads. The Leica M "Edition 60" for example, seems to honor the film Leica tradition at its heart by omitting the LCD, but on the other hand is fashioned from stainless steel and only sold in a kit with a matching lens that's priced at an eye-watering $18,500 USD. People are wondering if Leica hasn't lost their photographic mojo and are instead just pushing pricey special editions. In their defense, the M Monochrom was a big gamble, but has sold remarkably well (in Leica terms).

Then there's the whole CCDgate issue affecting virtually all previous versions (M9, M9-P, M-E and M Monochrom) that's sure to put a big dent in the bottom line. They're replacing defective sensors for free while they search for a "permanent solution." Problem is, if one isn't found relatively soon - there will never be one. And eventually many users could be left in the cold with a ticking time bomb.

Despite the recent years seeing an improvement in the Leica financial landscape, including an expensive return to Wetzlar in new headquarters - things seem to have taken a strange turn recently.

Time will tell how this all shakes out... But don't worry, Leica will be fine.