Well, I should have thought the "compromise" was obvious: f/2.5. This slower speed apparently allows Leica standards of image quality to be achieved without the use of expensive aspherical lenses and floating-element mechanisms, permitting the cheaper prices.
Originally Posted by copake_ham
I think this is exactly what Leica needs. If Leica cameras and lenses cost $500 it would be hard to find a photographer without one. The problem is the price, and that problem dramatically worsened in the last few years. Reducing the prices will attract new customers. And of course the established Leica tifosi will buy a couple of these for their M8 as an impulse purchase.
I think the sales success of the M8 despite its high price surprised Leica, putting a bit of fight back into the company and making it realise that the game isn't up just yet. There is no natural law that says Leica must inevitably die a slow, graceful death, with prices spiralling and collectors replacing photographers. The 28 mm Elmarit-M Asph and these new lenses make the company once again interesting to the photographer of strong interest but moderate means.
It's also great for film lovers because, even though I assume most new Leica lenses will eventually sell to digital owners, the lenses will work fine with all those used and affordable M2/3/4/6/7/P bodies out there, of which there are enough to last us several lifetimes even if Leica pulled the plug on film camera production today. A $1k M6 and a brand new 50 mm Summarit-M would be a very pleasant introduction to rangefinder photography, and the price of that combo isn't wildly out of reach of the determined amateur.
My only concern is that the new lenses may cannibalise sales of the faster designs to the point that some of them become untenable. I don't think Leica has ever in its history had such a fat lens catalogue, and while that diversity is wonderful for us, I wonder if it is sustainable. It seems that Leica keeps adding lenses while rarely discontinuing old ones. In November there will be five 50 mm lenses alone!
Anyway, I'm looking forward to the MTF and distortion curves for these new lenses.
P.S. I would caution against viewing the nods to "heritage" -- the red button and traditional font -- as a lack of serious market intent on Leica's part. Similarly retro design elements form the basis of the entire high-street fashion scene and many other current successful products like the BMW Mini. I think the prices of these new lenses demonstrate that Leica means business this time.