Smartphones have eaten into entry- and mid-level sales of camera manufacturers across the world. But a company like Leica, which manufactures premium cameras aimed at purists, can’t be hassled too much by the phenomenon gripping the world. The German company, which has forayed into the Indian market, does not even consider tech-heavy cameras as photography; smartphones are far lower on the food chain.
Sitting in the bright new showroom the company has set up in Delhi’s Connaught Place, Leica Asia-Pacific MD Sunil Kaul rues how affordable smartphones have made everyone a photographer. “The content that is generated on a daily basis is very, very average. There is no filtration process, no rules and regulations; a lot of stuff is created post processed, because everybody wants to have more followers and likes,” he says. Below, the walls of the new showroom showcase the best cameras and optics from the European company as well as some great photographs from those who use it. These are photos, according to Kaul. Smartphones, in contrast, end up taking images. Photos tell stories, images don’t.
India is one of the growing camera markets, but for Leica it’s not mature enough. The company looks at photography as an art. It hopes to engage and convince people about the right benefits its ‘tools’ give them. It is clear Leica is not here to play the numbers game, and frankly with an effective starting price north of `80,000, it can’t really be in that game.
But for a camera company in India to say it won’t be looking at the booming wedding photography sector is bold. “If I separate camera industry market and photography market, I don’t think there is a photography market (in India),” says Kaul, expressing his displeasure at how most camera companies are “functioning like a commodity business”, pushing products and “moving boxes” to reach a certain revenue figure. Leica will be different, being the “iconic brand” it is in the world of photography—its camera business alone is over a century old. “Being a company that was always associated with a very high level of quality images, I see that there is a great potential for us in this area. Because we have a lot to share in terms of education and inform people about what photography really means.”
Leica won’t be spending much on advertising either. It will work on engaging with photographers who align with the brand’s philosophy and vision. “Automatically, these people become my magazines, and my advertisements, and they are doing the job for me.”
Selling premium in India has always been an uphill task. Leica makes its own task tougher by filtering out buyers who it thinks won’t help the brand much. “We don’t hesitate to say no, when I know a certain customer is just talking about showing his wealth to people,” he says. Leica team members are educated to subtly ask open-ended questions to determine if the camera is just going to end up as a trophy in someone’s house.
With those who love photography and understand Leica, the company will have to fight the perception that its cameras are pricey. “We use the best materials money can buy. That is the reason it is more expensive,” Kaul says. But Leica does see the opportunity in a country where a lot of people have found immense purchasing power. It will go through the tedious process of going through luxury car purchase lists and golf club memberships to narrow down on potential buyers. “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it,” Kaul quips.
The other, small, barrier is the fact that these cameras are different from what people are used to. Kaul agrees it might be intimidating if you compare it against top-end cameras “with 27,000 buttons”. “You don’t need more than three things on a camera—aperture, shutter speed, ISO,” he says, underlining Leica’s approach that the camera is a medium, a tool for you to create what your purpose was. “Our customers are those who have realised that for my kind of photography, I need something which is as simple as that, and does really that which is easy, durable, long-lasting and delivers outstanding pictures every day.”