September 18, 2012

Photokina 2012: The Leica event

Leica Hall of Fame award ceremony, with Nick Ut, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, Karin Rehn-Kaufmann and Markus Lanz all on stage.
On September 17 at the Photokina 2012 Leica event, Nick Ut was awarded with the Leica Hall of Fame Award 2012 by Karin Rehn-Kaufmann. The price was for his famous "Napalm Girl" photo depicting Phan Thi Kim Phuc who became victim of the Vietnam war 1972.

In other words, Leica created enormous suspense to all awaiting Leica's new products. I almost thought the prize award would be what the event is all about. After all, it is quite an iconic photography and having both Nick and Kim Phuc on stage made it an impressive event. Even for people waiting for the whatever Leica would reveal. Like me ;)

So, it wasn't until 9:00 PM that Leica would launch their new products. And then it was pretty fast.

Four new Leica cameras

Andreas Kaufmann during product presentation of the new M
Leica revealed four new Leica cameras within just 30 minutes ... quite like a fireworks ;) :
  • The Leica X2 in full color
  • The Leica S3, called "new Leica S"
  • The Leica M9mkII, called Leica M-E
  • The Leica M10, called "new Leica M"
  • Additional lenses (e.g., 3 new S lenses)
  • An R mount to M adapter
The new S triggering interest on stage

The new M behind glass

First thoughts

Well, my very first thought has been, nice, but it isn't the Leica mirrorless many were expecting.

But this thing is bigger than one may think at first sight. Both the S and M are now CMOS, supporting live view and video. And Leica is making use of this.

The presentation has been rather short on details. But I grasped some additional material and a press kit on CD. So, there are some additional observations I'd like to share. As there are:

  1. The M has no autofocus. But it has focus peeking and magnification, aiding in manual focus thru the lens, a novelty for rangefinder users. And yes, the M remains a true rangefinder camera!
  2. The electronic manual focus is further assisted by the known EVF which can be attached.
  3. Adaptability of R lenses means macro and tele applications are now quite feasible.
  4. The broschure for the new M includes a text about a special microlens design avoiding color casts towards the edges with the new 24 MP sensor. This is a known problem with the 24MP NEX-7. Leica calls it the "Leica Max 24-MP sensor". I don't know if it is the same technique already known from the M9 or an improved one. But at least, it may mean that most (other) mirrorless cameras will be no competitor for M lens users.
  5. The supplier for the new M CMOS sensor is CMOSIS in Belgium.
  6. The new S has the same CCD sensor as the S2, no changes except for the sensor board. Both infos given to me at the Photokina Leica booth.
So, the new M is pretty close to a true mirrorless. It almost is the only full frame compact mirrorless camera. However, I consider autofocus to be a mandatory requirement for a mirrorless, without it it remains an almost pure rangefinder.

But Leica is now close. They deliver autofocus (S) and contrast AF (the X1 and X2) already. They even improved AF in the new S (added predictive AF). Therefore I think it is a matter of one more iteration of the M series, introducing AF-capable M series lenses. Leica probably fears to devaluate existing M lenses too much. So, it is better to deploy EVF (with peeking and manual focusing) and a true AF in two installments. At least, that's my interpretation of Leica's strategy here. It implies that there won't be a separate mirrorless line. Only yet another new M ;)

Of course, with the Sony RX-1 and anticipated NEX-9 which now most probably will become the first true full frame mirrorless,  Leica has only a given window of opportunity to populate this niche.

The main act

And then came the main act. At least, I heard organizers calling it this way ... ;)


Thanks for stopping by,


Updated September 18 (the original version contained some doubts that the new S sensor still is a CCD sensor. Meanwhile, I clarified with Leica and it is the same sensor as used as in the S2.)

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