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Silver Eye

Text 
Hermann Reil

Photos
Michael Agel, Leica Camera AG

Precision, Minimalism, Innovation, Quality

Audi Design applies the same high standards to the products it creates for cooperation partners as it does to its cars. Those partners include the world’s most renowned camera maker, Leica.

Innovation in design –
Leica is also scoring high marks for design with its new camera models. The cooperation with Audi is delivering clear and powerful forms.

1,156 grams of precision you can touch, see and feel. It is a concept of the utmost minimalism, a design with an absolute sense of purpose and a technology that is, of course, state-of-the-art.

We’re not talking about a car here, as is immediately apparent from its weight figures. All other characteristics, however, could very much be describing an Audi – which reveals one of the secrets that make the cooperation between Audi Design and Leica Camera AG so special: They are very much on the same wavelength.

Leica is a big name in the photographic world. This is where the small-size picture format was invented; this is where the finest lenses are produced and this is the birthplace of the M – the legendary rangefinder camera that has captured reportage images from around the world; images that have long established themselves as an inherent part of mankind’s visual recollection. For many people, the M is still, or once again, the benchmark for photography and the single true tool for the creative mind – since Leica took its very own, unique approach to bringing the camera successfully into the digital age.

Transporting a legend such as this into the future, giving it a completely new visual interpreta- tion, while consciously protecting the DNA of the brand and the product; this is one of the toughest tasks a designer can face. But, obviously, it is also one of the most exciting.

Marking the 60th anniversary of the Leica M, this challenge was unquestionably mastered with convincing aplomb by Audi Design – or, to be more precise, the product design department in Munich. The designers there work primarily outside the automotive arena, cooperating with renowned brands the world over. And it goes without saying that they apply exactly the same degree of commitment and quality to their assignments as they do to the automobiles bearing the four rings. do to the automobiles bearing the four rings. “We didn’t want to do something retrospective to mark the anniversary of our M system, but rather apply the core values of our brand in an innovative way,” recalls Stefan Daniel, who is responsible for the Photography function at Leica. He already had one very clear idea – the anniversary model should not have a display. No display! A high-class digital camera without the possibility to check the image immediately after it has been shot? At first, this idea seems utterly absurd.

And yet, argues Stefan Daniel, it simply stands to reason. Leica stands for absolute minimalism. Aside, of course, from the photographer’s eye and his feel for his subject matter, what this means in a photo is focus, aperture, time and speed. Plus, the M also spent the first five decades of its 60-year existence without a display – for the simple reason that photography was an analogue medium shot on film. Leica still produces analogue versions of the M and recently presented a model with absolutely no electronics at all. A consistent approach for purists.

We didn’t want to do something retrospective to mark the anniversary of our M system, but rather apply the core values of our brand in an innovative way.

Stefan Daniel

LEICA M EDITON 60

Anniversary without retro –
the special edition Leica M Edition 60 reinterprets the original form of the small-picture format camera with a new consistency.


Maximum concentration –on/off switch, dial to set the exposure time, shutter release – the Leica M Edition 60 needs no more than that. And an inconspicuous button for the viewfinder read-out …

Those not seeking innovation, those not wanting to take a clear step forward have no business contracting Audi Design in the first place.

André Georgi

The designer –
André Georgi heads up Audi Product Design and is committed to extremely high-quality haptics – as on the Leica T, with its casing made from polished aluminum.


The cameraman –
Stefan Daniel is responsible for photographic products for Leica Camera, building differentiation through quality, design and operation.

Classic merits were therefore the order of the day – with maximum minimalism, but certainly not a design with a retro feel about it. This was an ideal task for the creative minds at Audi Design. “Leica is a dream partner for us,” says André Georgi, who heads up Product Design in Munich. “We are bound together by a feeling for quality and extremely high standards. Both parties have a very clear instinct for how a product has to be.”

And so it was that the team from Audi Design created a new icon for Leica: the Leica M “Edition 60” carries the traditional, fundamental elements of the M into the future, while taking it to its minimalist extreme. On top are only the shutter release with the on/ off switch and the dial for setting the exposure. On the back is the speed setting. Then there’s obviously the viewfinder – but that’s all.

“You have to approach the M very carefully, just like any icon,” says Audi designer André Georgi. “We retained the classic three-way division of metal-leathermetal, albeit with new proportions. The fundamental form is intended to show the precision as clearly as possible. Every single radius is perfectly defined. With a radius of 0.2 millimeters, it feels almost angular. The strip of leather around the outside has no visible joints; it should look like a solid block.”

What Georgi describes in just a few words is the result of a hard-fought struggle, between designers and engineers, between design requirements and manufacturing feasibility, between consistency and costs. And, in this case, also between the service provider (design) and the customer (manufacturer). “We obviously fight for our ideas,” states André Georgi. “Those not seeking innovation, those not wanting to take a clear step forward have no business contracting Audi Design in the first place.” In the case of the Leica cooperation, however, the customer is grateful for this debate because, as Leica manager Stefan Daniel says, “Only with friction, with lengthy discussion, do we arrive at the best solution.”

Leica Camera is very vertically integrated; even the casing components are made largely at the new factory in Wetzlar. And production of the Leica M Edition 60 sets considerable demands: The casing parts and the metal components in the lens are machined from stainless steel. This is far more complex and, of course, a lot more expensive than machining from aluminum or brass. “Fortunately, we have a highly qualified team,well able to deal with this kind of task,” says Daniel. It also goes without saying for a high-end brand like Leica that the Edition 60 is a limited-edition collectors’ item that comes at a price. At 15,000 euros including the lens and a range of accessories, the camera is around 25 percent more expensive than a standard model – which nevertheless seems fair, given its exclusivity and the extensive effort involved.

Because we come from the world of cars, we are not only well versed in the design issues, but we also know how best to work with the materials – especially aluminum.

André Georgi

LEICA T

From one piece –
with the T, Leica occupies the still very new segment of mirrorless system cameras. The casing created by Audi Design is machined from a single block of aluminum.


Clear logic –
the Leica T has a new operating system with a touch screen. There are a minimal number of switches and buttons.

A further joint project was at least as ambitious. This one, however, was about the Leica brand taking a major step into the future with an additional product range. A mirrorless system camera was the plan, with interchangeable lenses and a comparatively large sensor for high image quality. “We’re in a highly competitive field here,” says Stefan Daniel. “Naturally, a new Leica model must have the highest possible image quality, but differentiation in technical content alone is not enough. It also calls for factors such as innovative and intuitive operation – as well as a strong design. We have to be on a completely different level from our competitors.”

“This is no different for Audi,” comments André Georgi. “For our cars, too, what matters is the coherent concept and the systematically high level of quality. These standards must always be apparent to the customer.” Which, of course, always calls for a clear fundamental idea. In the case of the Leica project, which went by the code name Typhoon, this was the unibody – a casing machined entirely from a single block of aluminum and then polished meticulously by hand. “This is the ultimate in quality,” smiles Georgi. “Everything fits perfectly and the feeling you get when you hold the camera in your hand is almost indescribable.”

As a pioneer in lightweight design and aluminum, this material is proverbial home territory for Audi. “Because we come from the world of cars, we are not only well versed in the design issues, but we also know how best to work with the materials – especially aluminum. This is definitely a further strength of Audi Design,” stresses André Georgi. The production team at Leica likewise has previous experience in working with this metal, but had to undergo extensive “re-equipment” with new machines and processes.

“Fewer joints, no screws, minimal radii – those are the basics we implement with every one of our partners,” says André Georgi. Obviously, minimalism and concentration were also key issues for the Leica T, as the production model is now called – not only in terms of design, but also its operation. Only the core functions have switches; everything else is controlled via the touch-sensitive display. “A development like this provides us with new experiences that we can also feed back into our own company,” explains André Georgi. “The design of clear interfaces is a key factor in the automotive business, too.”

The cooperation between the designers in Munich and the camera specialists in Wetzlar has since become something of a friendship. And work is already in full swing on the next top products – with maximum minimalism, of course.

Naturally, a new Leica model must have the highest possible image quality, but differentiation in technical content alone is not enough. It also calls for factors such as innovative and intuitive operation – as well as a strong design.

Stefan Daniel

LEICA M9 TITANIUM

The foundation for the cooperation with Leica was laid in 2010 with the M9 Titanium, now a highly desirable collectors’ edition of the legendary Leica M. The design was conceived by Walter de Silva, Head of Group Design for Volkswagen, and implemented by Audi Design in Munich. A further cooperation product is the Leica C compact camera.

LEICA CAMERA AG

At the start of the last century, cameras were large, awkward and inoperable by laypeople. The real breakthrough in the creation of a practical, inconspicuous cameras for everyday and journalistic use came from engineer Oskar Barnack in 1914 with the Leitz camera, known as the Leica. When the camera finally entered series production in 1925 it was a huge success. The Leica M was presented in 1954. In place of the previous screw thread, the lens was now attached using a bayonet fixing, which made changing the lens a great deal faster. For many years, the Leica M was the tool of choice for the world’s leading photo journalists. The digital era began in 2006 with the Leica M8. Today, the M is used primarily by ambitious amateurs and professionals who want to work particularly inconspicuously.