The Leica SL is not a large mirrorless Sony A7 but a compact, quiet and mirrorless Nikon dSLR. If you understand that, you understand a lot more about where the Leica SL is going to be used.
It's been a trend for a long time that dSLR cameras are becoming the new medium and large format cameras. The Leica S was the first point in that direction. Leica Camera AG changed the box format for medium format to a camera size that is equivivalent to Canon 5D. Now they give them self competition on the Leica S line with an even smaller camera.
The dSLR cameras traditionally has been good for all-round photojournalism of race cars, portraits, reportage, red carpet events, model photography, fashion shows and more. The type of photography where you need a wide in the morning for one job and a long tele lens two hours later for another job.
But for everyday photography in the street and everyday life of most photo enthusiasts the dSLR is a heavy weight to carry all day. Hence the success of the mirrorless small cameras where the Leica Q is the latest and greatest addition.
This photo puts things into perspective. A comparison of the Leica SL with other pro SLR cameras. The Leica SL 90-280/2.8-4.0 lens compared to the other 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. The Leica SL might look a lot like a Sony mirrorless, but it's supposed to take the place of your pro SLR camera.
A dying camera type
The dSLR is a dying camera type. Everything gets smaller in size, faster and yet higher resolution and faster ISO speed.
What's the point in having a large camera with large lenses?
The largest lenses, in fact.
If you do need large tele lenses and the flexibility of auto focus zooms from a wide 24mm to a 280mm or beyond, and a handgrip that can hold them steady while you click away, the dSLR is the answer.
I see pro photographers using their small mirrorless a lot, as much as possible in fact, but for some things the dSLR is the right tool if there has to be a proper balance between the camera body and larger lens.
I will be posting sample photographs from the Leica SL as they become available and they make a point in using the Leica SL instead of the Leica M or Leica Q.
The first one is Linford Toy who is a Leica M user who got his Leica SL just a few days ago. And see what he made out of it!
Photo by Linford Toy. Leica SL with Leica
24-90mm Vario-Elmarit-SL ASPH f/2.8-4.0.
Photo by Linford Toy. Leica SL with Leica
24-90mm Vario-Elmarit-SL ASPH f/2.8-4.0.
I will say that there is not much in my own photographic life that warrants the use of the Leica SL.
In the last month I've done somewhat 25-30 portraits from London to Tokyo for magazines and covers, and all with a Leica M and a 50mm lens. For a few reportage photographs I've used my 28mm and 75mm, so as you can imagine, none of this made me miss a Leica SL with a big 24-90mm zoom lens (which is the only lens available for the camera so far).
It's not that I feel I am missing out on sexy and exotic lenses in the Leica M lineup of lenses. If I did, I could mount some of my Leica R lenses via adapter on the Leica M. But I haven't done that for six months or more. Obviously, I didn't miss a Leica SL to put my R lenses on either.
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In other words, I didn't expect or wait for the Leica SL. But we are all curious about the Leica SL. The question is are we curious enough to buy one when we already have enough?
The reality seems to be that a great deal of the Leica SL cameras will be going into video production because the Leica SL offers a very interesting video sensor with 4K as well as a reasonably priced video body. And you can fit so many interesting lenses onto the body.
Don't underestimate the 4K video ambitions in the Leica SL. Here with the Leica Cine 29mm Summilux-C f/1.4 ($37,500) but perhaps more relevant is the Leica S lenses on the Leica SL for video. Photo: Saul Frank/Camera Electronics
The Leica S lenses have some cool capabilities for video that really haven't been explored yet. So there you go, that should point towards why the Leica SL might be a good idea for Leica Camera AG even you as a Leica M user don't see the great perspectives. It's not a camera for everybody.
Also the Leica S users see the Leica SL as a very interesting camera with a lower price tag, longer battery time and a smaller body that still balances the Leica S lenses very well.
The great unknown is how many of the dSLR users will change to Leica SL. That is, if there is any dSLR users left by the time Leica Camera AG offers a reasonable range of AF-lenses for the Leica SL.
Last but not least is a number of Leica R lens owners that have been longing for a camera body to mount their Leica R lenses onto. At least that's what they say. The Leica M 240 have been available since March 2013 for this, and before that you could mount the R lenses onto the Leica R9 with a digital back, or retrofit the Leica R mount to fit a Nikon camera. In the wide angle to short tele lens range there is not much reason to mount a Leica R lens instead of a Leica M lenses on a camera. So the question is how many of the longer tele lenses are lying around waiting to be mounted onto a Leica SL once the R adapter is available. Not enough to justify the Leica SL research and production, but perhaps enough to make a few hundred safari hunters and bird enthusiasts very happy.
The Leica SL and the first lens was available as of November 20, 2015 and if you do your research, you might find one for delivery. If you dig a little deeper, you may find that the Euro vs the US$ and the Australian $, Yen and so on gives some possibilities for good prices because the Leica SL was priced when released and the prices aren't adjusted for the current prices of currencies.
The Leica 90-280mm APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL f/2.8-4 lens stared shipping April 1, 2016.
A photo posted by Thorsten von Overgaard (@thorstenovergaard) on
Peter Karbe by David Farkas
Photokina 2016 interview with lens designer Peter Karbe
David Farkas of Red Dot Forum and Leica Strore Miami met with Leica Camera AG's lens designer Peter Karbe at Photokina 2016 and they talked for a while about the Leica SL system, and thenew Summicron and Summilux lenses:
Leica Camera AG announced new prime lenses for the Leica SL at Photokina 2016. The one they already announced, the 50/1.4 is available for preorder and others will follow in 2017-2018. Also the Leica HG-SCL 4 multifunctional handgrip was re-announced and ready for preorder.
This pretty much follows the release-strategy for the Leica S was was announced way before it was available. A large R&D invetment to be released and monetized over the long haul.
The Leica SL is almost waterproof. Rain should not be a problem. When the product managers from Leica Camera AG presented the Leica SL in Singapore, they dipped the lens in water and poured a bottle of water over the Leica SL body.
Obviously, with the lens off the open camera body and the open lens bayonet is not water proof.
The first lens available for the Leica SL is the Leica
24-90mm Vario-Elmarit-SL ASPH f/2.8-4.0 and we probably won't see any other for several months.
The idea from Leica Camera AG was to introduce variable a range in one lens till we start seeing prime lenses in autumn 2016. A 50mm and a 35mm Summilux has been designed, amongst others, but only the 50mm Summilux-SL ASPH f/1.4 has been presented in the lineup.
Traditionally Leica zoom lenses (for the Leica R system) have been designed so that they were just as good in each focal length as a Leica prime lens. I don't know what this takes in lens design, but it's remarkable to see zoom lenses that aren't a compromize. The Leica SL zoom lenses are made with the same intent and the lens designers even dare to challenge the users by saying that there will not be much of an image improvement in stopping the aperture down!
24-90mm Vario-Elmarit-SL ASPH f/2.8-4.0 is made for close focus, making it into almost a macro lens. So when Leica Camera AG said they wanted to make the first lenses very versatile, they actually did it.
The Leica SL has a so fast and quiet autofocus you might not notice, unless you are used to other types of autofocus. Combined with the mirrorless and (almost) shutterless sensor it makes a quiet camera all together which will often make people not notice that the photo was taken.
The reason for the fast and quiet autofocus, as far as the Leica
24-90mm Vario-Elmarit-SL ASPH f/2.8-4.0 goes, is that there is only one relatively small lens that moves inside the zoom to achieve focus. Considering the zoom lens consist of 18 lenses in six groups with 5 aspherical surfaces(!), that is a very simple solution!
It's very Leica to apply the simplest solution in a complex construction. It reminds me of the Leica 400mm APO-Telyt-R f/6.8 that is a two feet long lens with just one button for focusing and one, single lens in the front. Very light-weight too. An amazing lens that accomplishes great photographs without much fuzz.
The six lens groups in the Leica
24-90mm Vario-Elmarit-SL ASPH f/2.8-4.0 moves individually when you zoom, and that is also what makes the front extrude. I am personally split as to if I like the look of this extruded lens; but I guess that if I would prefer one unit that stays the same size all the time (with internal zooming and focusing), it would have to be a longer lens all together.
Lock'n'Roll with Leica SL and macro: Leica SL 601 and Leica 24-90mm Vario-Elmarit-SL ASPH f/2.8-4.0 at closest distance at 90mm f/5.6, 1/160 sec and 200 ISO.
The built-in optical image stabilization in the Leica
24-90mm Vario-Elmarit-SL ASPH f/2.8-4.0 gives about 3.5 stops of stabilization (according to tests performed by CIPA). That means that if you were to photograph with the lens at 1/500 second to get an image without motion blur (caused from moving the camera as in wobbling or for example from following a moving subject), the 3.5 stops improvement means that you should be able to go as low as 1/45 seconds and still get a frozen image without blur!
Though, if you shoot at 1/45 you might have motion blur from the subject in the photo moving; persons making gestures with their arms, talking and so on (while the lens movements are in fact stabilized).
For video that is always made at 1/50 sec shutter speed, the image stabilization is quite useful. It's not that you cannot make video at other shutter speeds, but the correct way to make video is to set the shutter to 1/50 second and then reduce the light by using aperture or ND filter, or changing the ISO.
I haven't heard or tested if the image stabilization affects the image quality in stills.
The image stabilization obviously is not inside the camera as it is in some other cameras. I tend to think this is a more true image stabilization; optical adjusted. And also, if the sensor moves, what else moves.
It is also possible to remove motion blur in Photoshop. It works, but it's not as true as optical stabilization.
Why I don't do comparisons
I don't believe in doing comparisons between the past and future. I believe in staying with what works, and then eventually making a decision to make something new work. And then I don't look back, unless I actually still use something of the past. The Leica DMR and the Leica M9 are still very usable and I will occasionally use them, but mostly I use newer things because it makes more sense.
I don't compare sensor sharpness, colors or anything. I look at what a piece of equipment does and then I decide either to use it or not. Of course I make some sort of mental comparison, but I would never perform a technical comparison in detail.
If you noticed, I only write about equipment I use myself. I don't get equipment for test but buy what I need for my work, and then I write about how I use it. Only occasionally you will find that I bought something, wrote about it and then decided to not use it anymore (as it has been the case with the Leica M 246 and the Lumu lightmeter for the iPhone).
I don't borrow and I don't get sponsorships. I buy what I need myself. My freedom and integrity is more important than a few thousand dollars. I am first and foremost an artist who need to be able to express my own ideas and thoughts. There is nothing wrong with being sponsored reviewer if that is what you want to do. I just don't do it.
Like the Leica S was never a low light camera due to the f/2.5 lenses and the large mirror in the Leica S (which means that any exposure slower than 1/250 results in minor camera shake from the mirror slap), the Leica SL is not currently a low light camera.
I'm talking about the current only available kit of the 24-90mm Vario-Elmarit-SL ASPH f/2.8-4.0 and the Leica SL.
With a f/2.8 wide angle lens and a f/4.0 90mm lens the camera requires quite some available light or a high ISO setting to capture photographs. Especially if you come from Leica M 240 with a f/0.95 Noctilux as I do.
If you wonder what the f/2.8-4.0 means, it is a common thing in "cheap" lens design that a zoom lens changes the widest open aperture (or 'hole through the lens') when you zoom.
A black and white JPG from the Leica SL 601 from restaurant "Bread in Common" in Fremantle, Australia. Leica SL 601with Leica 24-90mm Vario-Elmarit-SL ASPH f/2.8-4.0, 90mm f/4.0 at ISO 200, 1/50 sec.
Only in expensive zoom lenses the design is so advanced (and complicated) that a zoom manages to stay the same f-stop no matter the focal length you zoom to.
I used the "worlds best zoom ever made" for some years with the Leica R9, the Leica 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R ASPH f/2.8 which for reasons of quality and availability sells fro $10,000 - $18,000 second-hand. I had it refurbished when the Leica M 240 came out and then tested if I would use it on the Leica M 240. I decided it was too big and sold it before I would bang it up again. And obviously the Leica SL have made me consider if I should get it again. It is an amazing lens in terms of details, Leica look and colors, as well as in the engineering. The aperture consists of 32 parts (!) to make the aperture smooth and round at all f-stops and all focal lengths. The most complicated aperture in any Leica lens.
I wouldn't say I have decided on it, but I have considered the advantages of this vs. the 24-90mm Vario-Elmarit-SL ASPH f/2.8-4.0: In terms of f-stop, the difference between f/4.0 and f/2.8 in the 90mm range is not essential; and the 35-70 is only covering that focal length, not from 24-35 and 70-90mm that the new SL zoom does. And it is manual focus. So maybe I will let the idea of re-acquiring the "worlds best ever made zoom" rest.
The most important feature of any camera is the portability. If you can't carry it, you won't be using it. That is why the strap is important. You need to be able to carry a camera all day, every day. Even if it is your work to carry one or two cameras, it has to work in a way so it's not a pain and thee camera(s) doesn't bang into things or each other.
I don't like the strap that the Leica SL comes with. Too many plastic pieces and cheap design. So I ordered it with the original Leica leather strap. That wasn't a success because it is simply to short. I don't think Leica make any camera straps that are long enough. They have to be minimum 110 cm, and often 125 cm to be long enough for me. For taller and larger persons even more.
Nah, this doesn't work! Whoever thought of this probably thought of the camera as a display piece.
This is a good position, except the camera turns on all the time again when the shutter release butting touches something. And it isn't ready for photographing because you can't just sling it up and shoot and let it fall back (you have to take it off to turn it around).
In the case of the Leica SL I turned to TIE HER UP in Greece who have done some amazing straps for the Leica M 240. I wasn't the only one. Jono had also asked him, so he he is making a special strap model or two for the Leica SL.
You can't use any strap with the Leica SL. The ones with metal rings, as the ones we use for the Leica M, won't fit because it has to be a leather or nylon strap that goes thought the strap lugs on the sides.
In my opinion the strap lugs should have been mounted in a 45 degree angle, or on the back side of the Leica SL so that the lens hangs down and doesn't stick out. It will hit tings; people and tables and all.
I experimented with turning the camera around and that is a good resting point. Except that you then press the shutter button all the time, which wakes up the camera and uses battery. And the camera should actually be on at all times for the GPS to work properly (going to sleep after two minutes that is; this will keep the GPS awake but the camera asleep till you press the shutter release slightly).
What are the different Leica SL buttons and symbols for?
Bayonet lock and red dot
There is a bayonet un-lock button on the Leica SL that is pressed to release the lens or adapter.
If an adapter is attached, that too has a silver button that is pressed to release the lens from the adapter.
The Leica lenses all have a red dot on them. It has to be positioned so that it "meets" the silver button on the camera or adaptor, then turn the lens clockwise till it locks.
When using one or two adaptors on the camera you will likely press the wrong button a few times but then you will get the hang of it.
ROM contacts on the lenses
The metal contacts inside the bayonet of the Leica SL and Leica T lenses and the adapters are for communication with the camera. For Leica T and Leica SL lenses they power the aperture and the autofocus motor inside the lens from the camera battery, and in the case of T and SL lenses they tell the camera the focus distance and zoom position as well. In all lens combinations they supply the camera with info about which lens is used.
For Leica M lenses there is no AF and there is no info about the aperture going to the camera. For Leica R lenses it is (un-)likely that the R lenses with ROM contacts will give info to the Leica SL about which lens is attached. We will know when that adapter is available in 2016.
ROM contacts in the Leica SL
Inside the bayonet of the Leica SL is the contacts to communicate with the lens' or adapter's contacts.
And yes, that is the sensor you see below and behind it. It is unprotected like this, though it has a glass surface.
When you release the shutter, a shutter curtain will go over the sensor and back in hiding again; after it has cleaned the sensor for digital signals and made the sensor ready to record the next picture.
The strap lug
The strap lug on the Leica SL has a square shape and doesn't take metal rings as the Leica M and other cameras. It has to be a nylon strap or leather strap that goes around it.
The diopter adjustment
You can turn the diopter on the viewfinder to adjust to your eyesight.
The GPS unit
To the left of the top of the camera is the plastic roof that seals the GPS unit. It needs a plastic roof to be able to communicate with the satellites.
The two sets of four small holes on top of the camera are the stereo microphones for video.
The rubber thing in the bottom
The soft rubber field under the camera is not GPS or WiFi. The rubber seals the contacts that are used when the battery handgrip is attached.
The rubber thing on the side
This is not a handgrip but a rubber cover of the contacts for HDMI, remote control, USB3 and external sound recorder.
The scan code and two holes
The screw mount hole in the bottom of the Leica SL 601 is for attaching it to a tripod, and the other hole is for keeping the camera firmly in place on the tripod so it doesn't rotate.
This plate also contains the serial number as well as a scan bar that can't be read by the iPhone. It is likely for factory internal use.
The rubber ring on the battery
The Leica SL batteries have a rubber band that is for weather-sealing the camera in that department as well. The rubber ring feels loose when your finger moves over it, but is actually pretty well attached to the battery.
Leica 180mm APO-Telyt-R f/3.4 on the Leica SL Type 601 via T to M adapter and M to R adapter.
Firmware 1.10 (November 20, 2015):
This is the firmware the camera came out with when released. Previous versions has been for beta testers and factory use only.
Firmware 1.20 (December 14, 2015):
1) This firmware version offered improved handling of Manual Focus lenses: The AE/AF lock button now zooms into 100%.
2) Image quality improved for the 50 - 400 ISO range.
3) Improved image quality in the EVF (Electronic ViewFinder).
4) Improved L-log courve for internal 8-bit video recording.
5) Bug fix of EXIF data for R-lenses.
6) WiFi passwords can now be longer.
Firmware 2.0 (April 14, 2016):
1) Direct Exposure Compensation: Enabling exposure compensation via top and rear dials in P, T and A mode. Additional shutter speeds.
2) Longer manual shutter speed added (up to 30min) and improved power saving during long exposure and interval shots.
3) New electronic shutter speed added (up to 1/16000 sec).
4) Improved Autofocus. Improved AF tracking. Higher precision. Improved 1-Point AF (with 529 AF-Points).AF-frame is shown in continuous low and medium speed. Improved focus peaking, option for sensitivity and new icon for live view added.
5) Full support for all Leica flashes, improved TTL/HSS mode. Flash exposure compensation added to favorite list and to customized buttons
6) DNG only mode (so no JPG is necessary) and ability to zoom in on DNGs on the display.
7) List of M- and R-lenses are customizable when used on the Leica SL 601.
8) Improved image quality of JPEG files and noise reduction options added for JPEG files (low, medium, high).
9) Improved white balance.
10) First letter of file name can be changed (to for example S100xxx so you can distinguish from M cameras and Leica Q if you also use those).
11) Title of user profiles may contain up to 10 letters.
12) Rating is now compatible to Adobe software.
13) Compatibility added for UHS-2 SD cards (SANDISK EXTREME PRO UHS2 CLASS3 [16GB] [32GB] [64GB], LEXAR PROFESSIONAL 1000x UHS2 CLASS3 [16GB] [32GB] [64GB] [128GB] [256GB], LEXAR PROFESSIONAL 2000x UHS2 CLASS3 [32GB] [64GB], TOSHIBA EXCERIA PRO CLASS1 [16GB] [32GB] [64GB] [128GB], TOSHIBA EXCERIA PRO CLASS3 [16GB] [32GB] [64GB] [128GB], TRANSCEND ULTIMATE UHS2 CLASS3 [32GB] [64GB].
How to install a Leica SL Type 601 Firmware updates
Put the downloaded file in the "root" of the SD card. This update is the 1.2
1. Insert a fully charged battery into the camera.
2. Download the firmware file to your computer (601__20_.lfu)
3. Copy the firmware file to the root directory on your SD card (outside the folders; on the "desktop of the SD card. Not in any folders. If you drag and drop the file to the symbol for the SD-card on your desktop it will land the right place).
4. Insert the SD into the camera and switch on the camera.
(5. Export your User Profiles, if you made any such, to your SD card for backup purposes).
6. Go to camera menu: SETUP > Camera Information > Firmware > Start Update.
7. Turn the camea off and on (restarts the camera).
(8. If an update for your lens is available, the camera will ask to start the lens firmware process).
9. Once the updates are done, turn the camera off and on (restarts the camera).
(10. In case your User Profiles are not appearing in the camera, go to Import Profiles to import the preferred settings you made a backup of in point 5 above).
The Leica SL offer space for two SD-cards at the same time.
The 1st slot has a writing speed of 30MB/sec and will take any UHS-1 memory card.
The 2nd slot has a writing speed of up to 100MB/sec (UHS-II) when you use Toshiba Exceria Pro (16, 32, 64 or 128GB cards) but will take any SD cards but will take any SD card as well.
I’ve been using the same SanDisk 64GB cards that I use in the Leica M 240 and Leica M 246, which has a writing speed of 95mb/sec. How fast it actually writes in the Leica SL 601 I haven’t tested. I use it in slot 1 which I guess should be able to write very fast to it.
I haven’t had any problems with filling up the 2GB buffer in the camera and having to wait for the camera to be ready (when the buffer fills up, the camera will not be able to take more photos before some of the buffer has cleared). Based on this I haven’t felt the urge to invest in new untried SD-cards and prefer to use the SanDisk 64GB 95/sec, which have proven to work very well for me in the last 3-4 years, I have been using them.
What is UHS-I and UHS-II ..?
UHS stands for “Ultra High Speed” which makes me smile because “ultra high” speed of course improves over time. Which is why we get different UHS standards.
On the memory card you see a U with a number in it. If it is 1, it's obviously UHS-1 and if 2 it is obviously UHS-2.
UHS I has a writing speed of theoretically 104 MB/second maximum.
UHS II raises the data transfer rate to a theoretical maximum of 156 MB/s (half duplex) or 312 MB/s (full duplex) using an additional row of pins.
If you really want to understand everything there is to know about SD-cards, I can recommend the book Data Protection for Photographers by Patrick H. Corrigan. It deals with all sorts of things like tape, hard drives, and more.
Finding deleted files on a SD card
If you have accidentially deleted a SD card, you can use Data Rescue 4 from Prosoft Engineering to find it again. It's a good thing to have on your computer.
The software offers a "Quick Scan" that will some times find the files, but else "Deep Scan" will usually do it. It is rather easy to use and to find the files, and mostly it is just a matter of time to scan and recover the files.
The 2GB recovery is free. For more you buy the $49 license.
What the software will find is basically everything. This means that if you have used the same SD-card for some months or years, you will get layers of information: First you will get all the files written to the card in the recent days. Then you will get other layers of data that has been written previously but haven’t been written over by new data since then.
Once the card has been scanned, the recovery itself is as fast as copying files.
In other words, if you recover a 64GB card you are likely to recover 64GB of data because the card has likely been written all over, over a period of time.
This should get an alarm bell ringing in the backhead that anyone can recover data from your SD-card that you have written to it at any time. If you want to make sure data is erased from the card completely, use the deep formatting in the camera or the free software SDFormatter which is the standard for formatting SD-cards.
Storing data on SD-cards (backup)
If you store your images on SD-cards,or never delete SD-cards with the intention to keep them as back-ups, you should be aware that there is a limited period for storage on them.
SD-cards, like SSD hard drives, Flash Memory, Memory Sticks and magnetic tape, it needs to be fired up with some power from time to time to remain active. It’s an electronic device and only survives with electricity (re-magnetized). For SD-cards the time is usually rated to 3-5 years without being active. If you stick the SD-card into a camera or computer once in a while, it should work.
Leica SL Specifications:
24 MP full-frame Max CMOS sensor with Ultrasonic Sensor Cleaning.
Weather sealed body and lenses.
4K video 24 - 120 fps. - Ungraded
Autofocus (and joystick AF pointer).
4.4K pixel Eye-res Viewfinder with +2/–4 diopter.
Maestro II Processor.
2 GB Buffer.
2 x SD card.
Built-in GPS and WiFi.
Up to 11 fps. JPG Fine and DNG 14-bit
3" touch screen.
50 - 50,000 ISO.
Shutter 60 sec to 1/8000 sec.
Works with Leica SL AF-lenses, Leica T AF-lenses(APS-crop on the Leica SL, but without adaptor as it is the same bayonet mount), and Leica M (via Leica M-Adapter T), Leica screw mount, Leica S (via Leica S-Adapter L), Leica R (via Leica R-Adapter L) and Leica Cine lenses (via Leica PL-Adapter).A total of143 lenses (not counting the screw-mount lenses)
Price $7.450 / €6,900 (Order no 10850, ships from November 20, 2015)
New Leica SL autofocus weather-sealed lenses available:
Leica T mount full frame lenses:
24-90mm Vario-Elmarit-SL ASPH f/2.8-4.0 ($4,950 / €4,300). No. 11176. 1140 g
Leica 90-280mm APO Vario-Elmar-SL f/2.8-4.0 (for delivery in April 2016).
Leica 50mm Summilux-SL ASPH f/1.4 (for delivery in Oct 2016).
In a demonstration in Singapore of the Leica SL in November 2015, product manager from Leica Camera AG Stephan Schulz emptied a bottle of water over the Leica SL weather-sealed body and dipped a lens in water.
Bet you never had it like this before. That's one big mother-bazooka of a lens. The Leica SL 90-280mm.
A cut-through of the new Leica SL
Leica SL (Leica Mini S)
By: Thorsten Overgaard (September 29, 2015)
It's evident that Leica Camera AG is coming up with a new camera on October 20, 2015 and most likely it could be summarized as a Leica Mini S, a remake of the Leica R based on the Leica S technology, with a hint of Leica Q technology and design, and using old and new lenses.
Or I could be wrong and it is a new Leica Watch.
My take on it is that it will be a system camera that has taken all possible technology into account and simplified it to be a Leica solution using only the elements that makes sense for a basic camera.
Not that many years ago Leica Camera AG announced the end of the Leica R system. The simply didn't have the resources to keep several camera systems running with R&D, marketing, production capacity and all. The Leica M would be the cornerstone, and the Leica S and the small cameras with fixed lenses (often made with Panasonic) would be what was offered in the future.
But that strategy clearly changed.
If you paid attention around April 2014, you might have knows something had changed. The Leica T was released, introducing a new bayonet mount and a new camera body developed entirely by Leica and for Leica only (no Panasonic version of this camera).
If you didn't get the idea in April 2014 that the writing on the wall had changed, then the introduction of the Leica Q in June 2015 should have given you a hint that Leica isn't the same Leica as five years ago.
Without many knowing, Leica Camera AG had hired a very young talented designer Vincent Laine who seem to have a pretty good grasp of Scandinavian design, German know-how and Japanese technology, and how to mix it. It's not that he made the camera all by himself, but he made what you see when you first look at the camera and what your fingers touch when you use it.
The statement of cutting down the camera line few years ago clearly isn't in effect anymore. Further, how many would have thought Leica Camera AG able to gather the resources and foresight to make a mirrorless full frame new Leica that was ahead of the big Japanese competitors Sony, Fuji and Olympus?
The Leica Q points into the future, but perhaps even more interesting: The solutions and simplicity of it is all made in Wetzlar without Audi or Apple designers involved. It's an in house product.
It's hard to summarize what the right position for a camera producer is in the future, but there are trends.
SLR cameras are going down, mirrorless is going up and smart phones are taking over what small tourist cameras used to do.
Maybe it doesn't matter that much when you are Leica Camera AG and cater a relatively small market of users who require a luxor-branded product of high quality.
It's not a numbers game for Leica Camera AG in the same way as it is for Canon, Sony, Fuji and Nikon. The large trend of camera phones cleaning out the need for small cameras, and the mirrorless cameras cleaning out the need for SLR cameras ... not very important for Leica really.
If there's a few thousand people who will spend on the branded quality Leica offer, that's all what is needed.
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History Lesson: The Leica R solution
Before I get into what is coming, here is a short Leica History Lesson for the new arrivals in the class:
1964: The Leica R cameras started out with the Leicaflex cameras in 1964 as an answer to the Japanese SLR-cameras (Single Lens Reflex) that threatened their Leica M rangefinder camera, that had so far been the de facto standard for photo journalism around the world. Nikon, Canon, Yashica and many others had tried to copy the rangefinder concept with their own rangefinder cameras, but then suddenly they came up with the SLR camera that had many advantages over rangefinder.
Leica was the grandfather of the 35mm system but they didn't invent the SLR. The world's first true 35mm SLR was the Soviet "Sport" camera in 1936, but that might confuse the story. The actual breakthrough of 35mm SLR happened from the Contax S of 1948 that had a prism viewfinder - thus seeing through the lens [Single Lens Reflex] from eyelevel via a prism and not from above the camera looking down at a matte screen. This set off the real SLR takeover in the 1950s where the Japanese camera producers introduced SLR cameras such as the 1959 Nikon F.
With the introduction of the Leicaflex SLR camera as an answer to others technology and their own sliding sales figures, Leica Camera AG had to become the copycat.
The first in the line, the 1964 Leicaflex has a feel exactly like a mechanical Leica M made into a SLR camera. With the most sexy shutter sound ever heard. A remarkable camera, well-built with mechanical precision, but with much less automatic features than the Japanese produced SLR-cameras.
One can almost imagine the forces raging back and forth inside the factory in Wetzlar at that time of history. On one side you have the traditionalists that refuse to see that the position as the most popular camera in the world is being taken over by lesser deserving (technological speaking) camera models. On the other side you have a management that sees the trend in the sales figures.
So obviously, the answer to the Japanese popularizations of SLR system won't be a full-blown advance with the introduction of a camera that is ahead of technology.
No, instead the answer was a traditional Leica in the well-known hand built quality, without the modern automatic features. Too little, too late. As if the SLR was just a temporarily state of insanity that would go over so Leica Camera AG could return to making real cameras. Which everyone knows is the Leica M.
The life and death of the Leica R system, and much of Leica Camera AG's history up till around 2008 has that feel of German stubbornness and not wanting to accept that the world would dare change. Yet with a half-hearted attempt to move on and please the customers.
The Leica R system was never up to par with anything else. It was the best lenses, probably the best built cameras, and Made in Germany.
With the limited visibility of view from Wetzlar in Germany to the rest of the world, the Leica R remained the best camera in the world for a long time.
The Leica R system just never made it to become SLR cameras in the sense of speed and reliability that a professional users wanted.
Quality is good, but speed is more important. That was the reality in the periods where Nikon and Canon shifted positions in the SLR market every time one of them came up with faster speed of the film forward and the auto focus. And when digital came about, the two major brands Nikon and Canon shifted position again and again whenever one of them came out with faster ISO or faster buffer and auto focus.
It is ridiculous to keep ones stand on quality first in a world obsessed with speed. To illustrate this, when the Canon 1Ds was what many photojournalist would carry around, they would almost never use the RAW format or the full resolution the cameras offered. Instead they would shoot JPG files in smaller size; because that is what is the fastest to review and send off to the newspaper, television station or website. So they never utilized the possible quality or real power of those cameras. Which explains also why they never desired or missed what Leica R had to offer.
When a new generation started working as photojournalists, they seemed to prefer the much smaller Canon 5D to he Canon 1D.
In recent years size started to matter more - just as much as speed - so the smaller and faster, the better. We're talking mirrorless cameras now.
It's a confusing concept because the Leica M was born mirrorless 100 years ago. But it basically illustrates the hump from simplicity to a bulky professional looking camera with mirrors and all ... and then the downsizing to a smaller, simpler and more quiet camera.
A game you should think Leica could easily play.
The Fuji X100 camera was - apart from being very complicated to use - the first really smart combination of the analog viewfinder, combined with an LCD screen for preview of what the sensor saw, as well as focusing. The LCD would zoom in on a detail of the image so you could focus, then return to the full image so you could frame it correctly. It was a really awful smart idea! In the Leica Q and other mirrorless cameras the analog view has since been omitted and the small LCD screen is all you see.
The period from the first Leica SLR to the end of the Leica R system in 2009 is quite a downfall from the market leader in everyday tools for photojournalists to becoming an exotic brand with - granted - the best lenses.
Leica invented AF but the management decided to sell the patents. "Our customers don't want AF".
Leica invented the AF (Auto-Focus) in the 70's but management in Germany decided to sell it as "nobody want's auto focus", and only God knows how many opportunities the Leica brand missed in this awkward and surreal period of camera history where the "grandfather of 35mm" slid down from market leader to becoming an exotic brand everybody knew, but only eccentrics used.
The crown jewel of the Leica camera, the Leica M had been going strong since it was introduced in 1925, and in the 1940s and 1950's it was the camera system for photojournalists.
In the period where Leica Camera AG was trying to save them self with a Leica SLR system, they also tried to make changes to the Leica M system so as to answer the quest for more technology. The Leica M5 that was introduced in 1971 was the horror of the Leica M system. A clumsy camera that in an attempt to implement internal light metering changed the dimensions of the popular and well-known Leica M. It sold really bad, and if Leica hadn't introduced the Leica M4-2 in 1978, they wouldn't have survived. The M4-2 was a return to the well-known Leica, but made in a less expensive edition. Also in that period Leica Camera AG introduced the Leica CL "miniature Leica M" with Minolta that was also an attempt to meet expectations, but didn't really cut it in terms of sale and profit.
Much could be added to this, including that the Leitz family eventually had to sell out and get in new money. It's all in my Leica History article. Let's concentrate on the Leica R her, and the numbers will explain a lot:
The Leica R cameras raise and fall
These are the numbers for how many Leica R cameras were made. This may give an insight into why the Leica R system was terminated.
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Fast forward to the digital age with dSLR cameras (digital SLR cameras, hence the dSLR). After trying to keep the pace with the SLR market for 30 years, then came digital cameras. The first Nikon/Kodak dSLR cameras in the end of the 1991 had a 1MP sensor (and a Digital Storage Unit the size of a camera bag) which was not exactly a threat to the Leica film quality.
As late as 2002-03, Leica management officially stated that film was still superior and implied that by continuing to offer only film solutions the world of photography would come to their senses sooner or later and realize it too. Leica did not see a need to go digital but would rather sit and wait for the times to turn.
But that changed! In 2006 Leica finally came up with the digital solution for their Leica R8 and Leica R9 cameras: An interchangeable digital back. In a few seconds one could take off the film back of the Leica R8 or Leica R9 and mount a digital back on the camera.
Voila! 10MP CCD sensor made with the world's leading sensor company Kodak and the worlds leading scanner company, Imacon. The Leica DMR Digital Module R.
A superior solution, in terms of image quality. A not even close to professional demand for speed. Very symptomatic for Leica Camera AG so far.
However, the joy was short lived. A couple of years after the introduction, Imacon in Copenhagen was sold to Hasselblad in Sweden who wanted the unique Imacon knowledge deployed in the digital Hasselblad units.
That put a stop to the further production of the Leica DMR digital back. Rumor has it that the owner of Leica Camera AG, Dr. Andreas Kaufmann had wanted to buy Hasselblad, and if so, this may be the reason that the owner of Hasselblad didn't want to share Imacon knowledge with Leica. In any case, the Leica DMR digital back was history.
By the end of 2009 there had been produced 3,000 units of the Leica DMR Digital Module R and now Leica Camera AG was unexpectedly without a digital R camera!
Leica R8/DMR with 35-70/2.8 @ f/2.8, 1/90, 200 ISO, Processed via Lightroom 2
The new Leica SLR
The obvious answer would be to develop a Leica R10 dSLR camera that was fully digital like the competitors. But instead of announcing a Leica R10, Leica announced that they would stop production of Leica R lenses and Leica R cameras.
Almost in the same breath they presented the Leica M9 as a surprise on September 9, 2009 at 9.09 AM in New York, and promised that Leica Camera AG would produce "some solution" for Leica R lens owners. A camera that they could mount their precious lenses on, without stating if it would be a pocket camera, a medium format camera, and certainly not that it would one day fit on a Leica M digital rangefinder.
As it turned out, that promised solution was the Leica M 240 with Live View and EVF-2 electronic viewfinder that was made available in 2013.
As the rumored attempt to buy Hasselblad had failed, the rumor also had it that Dr. Andreas Kaufmann then decided to make his own medium format system.
True or not, Leica Camera AG did develop the Leica S medium format SLR system which was introduced several times from 2009 and onward, indicating how troublesome it can be to create a complete new camera system from bottom up.
The Leica S was aimed at professionals in the fashion and studios. A whole new sales and support organization was part of the creation of the Leica S system. People who had previously worked for Capture One, Hasselblad and so forth was moving to Solms and Wetzlar to make the new Leica S a success.
It also had to, because the Leica S was such a bold move that if it didn't succeed, Leica Camera AG had invested so many resources that the factory wouldn't be able to survive.
The key market would be professionals, but with usual Leica-ish stubbornness the factory realized that none of the existing central shutter systems was good enough for the Leica S. This set back the introduction of the Leica S lenses with CS shutter (Central Shutter inside the lens) with a couple of years, making the professional market wait a similar time before they would even consider the system.
Luckily for Leica Camera AG enough people around the world who wasn't fashion photographers or professional studio photographers found the idea of a superior made SLR system with superior lenses so tempting that they bought it all. And that alone was enough to make the Leica S sustainable even before the professionals started using it.
While this drama played out in Germany, Leica R users around the world sat at home and polished their R lenses in eager expectations of a the future Leica solution that would take their precious Leica R lenses. Nobody knew what it could be at that time. Maybe a Mini S, maybe an adapter for the Leica S, or perhaps a small mirrorless camera with Leica R adapter.
While there is much we don't know about the future, here's a few things I can summarize that might get you thinking.
There is a general trend that large cameras get replaced by smaller ones. SLR cameras gets replaced by mirrorless full-frame cameras. Leica made the Leica S medium format and reduced it's size to that of a SLR camera and bought the Sinar factory in Switzerland as their large format offering (4x5").
Capture One and Hasselblad cameras are large, but as technology move forward, for no real reason. They should have been made more compact, and Leica S was the way to do it.
But how compact can a high-resolution camera be? That is a good question.
The sensors have basically reached a level where it is not a megapixels race anymore. It's the compactness and speed of operation. And often the flexibility. Some times 4K video.
Leica offers a range of cameras with high quality lenses from 18mm to 135mm (for Leica M and 180mm for Leica S), but if you want to photograph birds or go on a safari in Africa, there are no tele lenses from Leica offering that possibility. You would have to go back in Leica history and use some of the R lenses. Or wait for the 350mm Leica S lens that has been promised since 2009.
The technology from the Leica S has been used in both the Leica M and the Leica Q. Obviously the Leica S, despite the many delays, was actually scaled for handling large amounts of data from the very beginning. In the Leica Q the power of the Leica S technology results in almost endless buffer capacity with no delays.
The key in the recent years of success for Leica has been to be Leica rather than trying to be Fuji or Sony . What it means to be Leica is to use the backcatalog of technology and knowledge to make simplified high-quality products for a small group of users who appreciate simplicity and are willing to pay the price for something nobody else offers.
There is still some way to go to get back into the position of the pro-active inventions Leica was known for in the beginning of the 1900's where most new products was way ahead of the market and set the standard so high nobody could really do anything else than try to make a less expensive copy.
I wouldn't expect that level again anytime soon. Leitz was a bold and daring genius surrounded by genious in mechanics and optics, in a very changing world, and Leica was an entrepreneur company. Almost a Silicon Valley company placed in what was known as one of the centers of machine production, Wetzlar, Germany.
Leica experience with Auto Focus
The Leica S has AF but fairly good room to make it work. The Leica M doesn't. But with the Leica T lenses, Leica Camera AG had to make AF work in even smaller lenses.
Peter Karbe and head of Leica R&D Oliver Giesenberg makes some interesting notes about this in this 2014-interview in Wetzlar Network.
Peter Karbe consider the Leica T lenses as very good lenses, and he is right in doing so. The concept may or may not be my favorite, but the lenses are unarguably very good. In some photographs they could even be mistaken for Leica S lenses in terms of sharpness and details.
But more importantly, they are small and they have AF.
Playing with stuff
There is no doubt that Leica Camera AG is playing with interesting stuff. In a recent article in PC Magazin head of the digital imaging department Dr. Volker Zimmer talks about future change of micro-lenses on sensors, courved sensors and other things that will allow smaller design and higher quality. Including more dynamic range, more accurate colors and higher ISO.
We're talking a 10 year range, so don't get all exited this Christmas. It was evident already back in 2010 that Leica had been looking hard at the electronic viewfinder technology for a couple of years as a future for the Leica cameras. Now, 5 years later we see Leica Camera AG implement a quality EVF in the Leica Q and the future M.
The "Max" sensor in the Leica M 240 hasn't been fully utilized yet, as it is implied in this 2013-article in The.me. Clearly they were aware of 4K video and other future possibilities.
For me, the interesting overall picture is that the brains at Leica works towards simplicity. That is not the direction the camera R&D generally takes in our world today.
Just look at the name Leica Q compared to the name Sony RX1 R II. I mean, even before getting to the specifications I'm confused: Who the heck comes up with a name as RX1 R II for a piece of consumer electronics?
Why can't they just make something that makes sense?
Now it's coming
A new camera is coming. Nobody knows if the new Leica will take R lenses. The only thing I would say is that it is a new system based on the accumulated experience of the Leica R and Leica S and that it will implement auto focus on a full-frame sensor.
It might take Leica S lenses and it might not. It might take M lenses or it might not. And it might take R lenses or not. Nobody knows.
The best basis for further speculation is oddly enough an image of a new binocular that Dr. Andreas Kaufmann posted on his Facebook profile on September 4, 2015.
An elegant spill meant to go viral or a Freudian slip? As always in Leica products, it's the bokeh that makes the picture interesting. Photo by Andreas Kaufmann, September 4, 2015.
The binocular is well worth noticing in that it is a limited edition binocular that sells for almost 4,000 Euro. That alone tells ample about the boldness, design and ability to make new products at Leica Camera AG.
But look further and you shall sense the new Leica camera.
What the image tells is not much. It's not a Leica S, and it's not as large as the Leica S. The lens might or might not be a Leica S lens, but is clearly a tele lens inspired in design by the Leica S lenses.
It could be a Leica M based camera with a built-in EVF in reflex-type prism. The Leica S might be a good camera, but the Leica M is the crown jewel and the Leicaflex that was based on the Leica M was the most sexy SLR camera ever made. What I mean is, let's not rule out the Leica M.
It could be a useless system base on Leica S technology but with as vague concept as the Leica T (the smartphone camera without smartphone) or the Leica M5. Or the genius of the Leica Q (the best-looking and most advanced mirrorless full-frame camera existing) or the Ur-Leica (the 35mm camera that set the standard for all other camera systems for more than 100 years).
Both possibilities exist.
And that is so far all we know.
But not for long.
Another camera I don't need
One thing I know is that the camera will be one I don't need.
Which is not the same as to say that I won't buy one.
I hope you enjoyed this history tour and the insight into the dominance and downfall of Leica, and more interestingly the rebirth of Leica Camera AG. As always, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com for comments, suggestions, ideas and questions.
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator.
Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.
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