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Leica removes leader of camera business

Steven Lee has been replaced as leader of Leica Camera, a maker of prestigious but pricey cameras.

The Leica M8, the company's first digital rangefinder camera, costs $5,500 without a lens. Leica

Leica Camera, the German manufacturer of high-prestige but high-price photography equipment, has replaced its top executive, Steven Lee.

"The supervisory board of Leica Camera AG today removed Steven K. Lee as member and chairman of the board of management of Leica Camera AG with immediate effect," the company said in a brief statement Friday.

The board also named Andreas Kaufmann to be chairman of Leica Camera's board of management until February 28, 2009. He and Andreas Lobejaeger will lead the company jointly, the company said.

Leica was an influential brand in the 20th century, pioneering the use of 35mm film and supplying cameras to notable figures such as Henri Cartier-Bresson. However, the company has had some missteps making the transition from film to digital photography.

Leica has a cultlike following for its equipment, and the company sets prices accordingly. The M8, its first digital member of its decades-old M family, costs about $5,500 with no lens. And though its core components are upgradable, the price tag for a new shutter and LCD cover upgrade announced recently is $1,775--about the price of an entire Nikon D300 SLR.

According to a Leica representative quoted in Amateur Photographer, one of Kaufmann's first priorities will be to "review all options for the M system's future."

In an interview earlier this month with Amateur Photographer, Lee hinted that Leica is working on an M8 upgrade that would give it a full-frame image sensor, which is the size of a 35mm film image. Leica's M8 today, as well as most entry-level and midrange SLRs, use sensors about two thirds that size.

(Via 1001 Noisy Cameras.)