Leica, my point of view
Updated: Nov 1
The Leica Way
30 Years of experience using Leica gears from a photographer and industrial designer point of view over the Leica cameras, lenses, the design, and photography in general.
Did Leica check enough boxes for the M11-P, the Q3, and the soon-to-come SL3?
October 30, 2023
By today's standards, Leica is a small company that does not require astronomical sales figures to call a commercially successful year. Leica Camera Group finished the 2021/2022 financial year with a 16% increase over the previous year, reaching € 450 million as the best business result in the company's history of more than 100 years. € 450 million is roughly only 27% of Fujifilm's revenue from sales of Instax lines of products (€ 1,670 million), excluding those X & GFX cameras, not to mention the real giants such as Canon and SONY.
Leica has roughly 1% of the worldwide camera market share and seems to project more influence than its actual market shares while it is not such a case by studied statistics; let's say we accept it, for our love of Leica.
Leica is a strong brand in the minds of hardcore photography enthusiasts but it is not as strong as many think. For example, Apple declined the proposal of an alliance with Leica for the cameras on its phone thinking such a direction would not increase its branding position and long-term strategy. Samsung thinks similarly to Apple.
The company with branded "Leica Optics" is the distant 3rd - Huawei and the further distant 5th Xiomi. Another Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus (BBK Electronics which also owns Oppo and Vivo) features Hasselblad-branded cameras. It seemed that two of the most reputed European camera makers found love with the new and aggressive Chinese makers who believed the heritage name would elevate their product credibility even though both Leica and Hasselblad have very limited roles in those phones, pale in comparison to SONY, Omnivision, Largan Precision or Sunny Optical, who control the market and have the say.
Sharp Aquos line of smartphones also featured the "Leitz" branded Summicron lenses, Japanese market only, its sales number insignificant in comparison. Leica earns its royalty with those smartphones, making up a sizeable revenue for the group and some exposure.
Leica's core interest is still keeping its name relevant! In particular, the real camera market, and Leica has done an admirable job given it is such a small company.
Leica's current line of cameras:
Q3/Q2 - the entry to Leicasphere and the most competitive (of its type)
SL2/SL2s - the most precise and technically most-capable, somewhat overpriced
M11 line - the brand carrier, the story-teller, heritage-oriented
S - revamp due late 2024
On the most recent Leica M11-P - the Leica M camera, in general, is like a horse, it will not outrun or outlast a modest and economical model of the automobile, not to mention those top-of-the-line race cars, but all boys dream of having a try to ride the horse regardless having the skill or not. It is something to talk about, it looks elegant, and sometimes never wanting to arrive at the destination. In reality, most people know the dream is a dream.
The M11-P is what the original Leica M11 can be, as Leica did over and over with the previous model iterations for the surface finish, and material used. It is typically a marketing campaign with a good content writer saying the same thing over and over as they are new, and expect the fanboys to propagate, particularly in social media these days, that photographers want to associate themselves with a brand they perceive to have good value, and want to be a part of it.
Engraving on Leica has been available from the original Leica 1(A) designed by Oscar Barnack in 1924 and having it or not has been in cycles since over various Leica models.
Common sense is that without engraving is less costly but when I ordered my first black-enameled Leica MP A-la-carte without any engraving and logo, I had to pay a premium of € 150 (approximately, it was 2006 so I cannot remember exactly) for having no top engraving. My last custom-order A-la-carte model was a silver-chrome MM246, super clean with no engraving and marking, shortly before Leica ended its A-la-carte program in 2019. Eliminating the A-la-cate program paved the way for Leica to play its model release with better clarity, and easier identification, gone is the fun of owning custom-made Leica.
The P model has been an intermediate release with mild upgrades (material) between the serial model since M9 (Note: the previous M4, M4-2, and M4-P for added frame lines) that has its trait to "Press" when Leica was the favorite of the photojournalists and being discreet. Today, anything bigger than a smartphone is not discreet, rendering the "P" a mere marketing gimmick, an old trick that still works for a very small group of people.
The M11-P, however, has integrated the C2PA standard by CAI - Content Authenticity Initiative founded in 2019 by Adobe, the New York Times, and Twitter. CAI promotes an industry standard for provenance metadata defined by the C2PA standard and cites curbing disinformation as one motivation for its activities. The C2PA can be software-based so I have a reservation about needing to integrate the C2PA in the camera because content creation management can be done at many levels, and we are in the age of computational photography and AI, so photography transformation is part of the process. Besides, the New York Times is often linked to misinformation makes me highly suspicious of the hackable, hardware-based authenticity that could be used to the opposite effect.
It is understandable that Leica's intention to want to partner with CAI based on its history, is nothing wrong, and many may support it. It is not a useful feature for me, just me, but I don't mind it being there.
The 256 GB internal memory is better than the 64 GB in my M11, although I rarely use it I feel safe to have it, and for the price of M11-P, at least 512 GB should be adequate.
All other detail from Leica is meticulously pack-shot of the camera with good marketing writing, I might add the question why not use a brass top plate for the black finish rather than aluminum?
Like all the previous P models, Leica did nothing to improve image quality. But unlike the previous serial models, the M11 line of cameras sits on the top end of the sensor resolution and performance, thanks to SONY and Fujitsu, a seasoned M-camera user will find the M11s a highly useful instrument, at least I do.
So what to expect from the next Leica? Leica makes all the recent new lenses capable of focusing closer than the traditional limitation of mechanical rangefinder at 70cm, pointing to the readiness of an M-model solely relying on internal EVF and liberating the hot-shoes for use with flash. And adding electronic contacts to the existing M-bayonet for AF lenses? Leica does not need a full line of new AF lenses, 2 to 3 will do just fine, as a beginning. Many may say the Leica M camera does not need EVF or AF; just like I heard from people saying Leica does not need to change to CMOS, live view, or remove the bottom plate before. It will happen!
The Q3 - the entry camera for Leicasphere, and the most competitive Leica camera today, or one may say the Q2 was the closest competitive after being available for some years, still very strong, and cost less. The 60MP sensor focuses better, higher resolution, and is a worthy update. I don't comment on the articulate rear screen because I don't use it. In fact, for all cameras with good EVF and capable of connecting to smartphones, I do not think a rear screen is that necessary, I prefer no rear screen, like my M10-D.
The SL3 - the most capable Leica camera will get the 60MP SONY sensor support advanced phase-detection AF that will bring the SL3 performance, with the new AF algorithm, to the next level, reducing the gap between the current SL2/SL2S to Nikon Z8 or SONY A1/A7R V. The added internal memory, hopefully, greater than 256 GB will support new data-harnessing with the adaption of CFExpress Type B cards. Improved image stabilization, integration of C2PA standard, and support induction charging. Again, the articulate rear screen is not my concern, some people like it or can't live without it. Still over-priced, but it is a Leica that can run head-to-head against any rivalry.
The mirrorless S camera - is due for introduction in late 2024! The current benchmark is Fujifilm GFX100II, and Hasselblad X2D is slightly out-paced but still very relevant; Phase One XF cameras remain a beast, an old beast. The S system is not a necessary system for Leica, but it is a part of Leica system architecture, one that will pair with the SL system more seamlessly.
Leica has always been a technology-driven company, it is a small company limited by resources but has a big heart to develop a large system camera architecture. One may argue that it is easier to develop a camera today compared to decades ago because of sophisticated computer software and precision machining, and most key components are modulized by specialized manufacturers such as sensors, EVF, processors, electronic motors, displays, IS modules and so on. It is somewhat true that a camera today is more or less a system integration that even a company much smaller than Leica can develop a new camera.
The difficult part is the marketing that Leica seems to dwell quite well. Let's hope Leica continues to be healthy, and stay its course, slowly and surely.
Zenit Zenitar 21mm f/2.8 lens
This lens was gifted to me by a great Russian photographer friend of mine, Yury Chernykh, who our mutual friend Steve McCurry described as "scary good!". Yury and I are both long-time Leica M system users, and Yury gave me his Zenitar 21mm F/2.8 to try and may share my feedback as I also owned and used the Summilux-M 21/1.4 ASPH and the aged Elmarit-M 21/2.8 ASPH that I had since late 1998.
I am not a camera or lens tester, nor do I have such interest, as I would rather go out and shoot real pictures. Most of the historical, iconic photography works by renowned and some unknown masters have made the great masterpieces with cameras or lenses much inferior in specification terms to what the common amateurs use today, not to mention what the modern professional photographers use. It is always the photographer, not the tools. However, boys love tools.
Even as such, I rarely care about the specific lens I use for photography except for curiosity reasons as most lens manufacturers in recent times have reached a point that as long as each adheres to the design specification, could all produce lenses for normal photography with adequate quality.
Of course, there are variations in the particular build material use, external finishing, package design, and branding, including social media exposures, which all contribute to establishing a common perception of a lens. Photographers should let their works speak instead of speaking for their equipment, but if anyone prefers to do the latter, that is their choice.
Back to the Zenitar 21/2.8 M-Mount, with a retail price of €821.53, is not a particularly cheap lens but rather an affordable wide-angle lens for the M system. The build quality and finish is clearly reflect its budget approach, but not poor. It is obviously not on the same level as my Summilux-M 21/1.4 ASPH or even the old Elmarit-M 21/2.8 ASPH, nor some of the Zeiss ZM or Voigtländer VM lenses I owned, that is not a surprise. I cannot compare it to some Chinese-made lenses that have gained some traction in recent years because I never owned one, I would assume they are on a similar level although Chinese makers seemed to pay more attention to engraved marking on the lens instead of screen.
In practical use, the 500g 10 Elements/7 Groups lens is smooth with precise tactile feedback and can focus to 50cm, stepless/clickless iris (8-blades) control similar to a cine lens, compact size (50,5X52,5mm), the focusing ring is a tab too narrow for my liking, but overall acceptable, or more than acceptable.
The stepless/clickless iris control could be a little problem in exposure-bracketing or similar operations, which I don't do often with the M system therefore, I do not care, but it is a bit less intuitive if I fixate myself on the electronic viewfinder for shots and wanting to adjust the depth-of-field when taking portrait shots at closer distances then it could be an issue, however, this is a 21mm lens, so I can care less.
The optical performance is better than I expected and a pleasant surprise. I have yet to need to use the 21mm to cover a particular expanse for a short period of time since I have the lens and for example, at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, I did use the Zenitar 21/2.8 for some shots but I preferred using my Q2 or use SONY A7R V with FE 24-70/.28 GM II set between 50-70mm for multi-row stitched panoramics.
That said, for the limited shots I made at the Transfiguration Cathedral in Rybinsk, Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia, and at the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi, the lens delivered sharp images, good contrast, and detail in low light (ISO 3,200) situation inside the cathedral, tone separation, and well-controlled shading and distortion. It is in fact a very good wide-angle lens! (Note: The Zenitar has no 6-bit coding and I manually set the lens as Elamrit-M 21/2.8 on my M11.)
Will I get the lens if I have to buy it? No, as I have the Sumilux-M 21/1.4 ASPH and Elmarit-M 21/2.8 ASPH already and it is a lens I don't use often, and if I do need for wide-angle applications then the lens such as Canon TS-E 17/4 L or TS-E 24/3.5L II is my preference. If I don't have any 21mm M-mount lenses then my preference, at the same budget, is to look for a good condition used Zeiss Biogon 21/2.8 ZM. Not that I know the ZM is better than Zenitar, I don't, but I prefer to use one in the same lens family for familiarity. If not, I will consider, it after knowing how good it is now.
The Leica M10-R
Leica M system camera was in an awkward situation after the SL2 introduction in late 2019 as the brand's crown jewel, having the lowest sensor resolution in the company's full-frame portfolio.
Although some users may swear that the M system is as great as ever, and no need to release new models with higher resolution or other features, such as those resist Leica to move from CCD to CMOS and offering live-view to Typ 240 and then M10 and eventually M11 - technically and camera capability speaking, they have been proven wrong again and again.
The logic is that Leca will continue to adopt new technology, higher-resolution sensors, and other means to stay competitive. Today's users can make their decision, but don't make decisions for future users! Leica can only exist by continue selling new cameras and lenses.
Leica can make the next camera better than it replaces or its day is numbered.
I got my Leica M10-R almost a year after its release because Covid-19 slows down travel, and I have little interest in shooting street with everyone wearing masks. Besides, my SL2, Q2, and other cameras are more than enough for my need, and to have M10-R is more curiosity than a practical need. But boy loves toys.
The 40mp sensor was an odd choice and the best M color sensor before the release of M11. With the 40mp sensor, the M10-R further exposed the weakness of the traditional rangefinder system that was designed slightly over a century ago to solve the problem of focusing; it was a solution, not a purpose, as many rangefinder photographers insisted it was. They could, however, decide that the style and use of the rangefinder was their choice to use the camera to photograph; that is fine, but make sure to distinguish with history.
Soldiers used bows and arrows hundreds of years ago as the best choice; today, soldiers use rifles and automatic firearms, although they can still use the weapon system from hundreds of years ago.
I love rangefinder cameras, and I also love modern mirrorless autofocus cameras; there is no conflict. Leica has proven with all the various M cameras over the decades and has plenty of models for Leica enthusiasts to fall in love with. I am curious what Leica can do for the future, knowing some of my MP and other film M cameras will still be working decades later, regardless Leica as a company still exists or not.
My M10-R, as excellent as it is, got little use! 40mp sensor shows the traditional rangefinder's limitation, further revealing that the Visoflex 020 is disastrously out of date and slow, making large aperture prime M lenses less useful. However, the DNG from M10-R reproduces excellent color and tonal transition.
M10-R has the potential to be a more fantastic camera which is decidedly limited by the company that designed it.
After my M11 arrived, the M10-R got used even less often!
The Zeiss Distagon 35/1.4 ZM on my M10-R is a stellar lens, one of my all-time favorites, and a superb lens to use in winter when wearing thick gloves to avoid accidentally turning the aperture ring while focusing. One of the best 35mm lenses I have ever used on any camera.
The Leica M10 Monochrom ( October 2020)
Monochrome capture was only a rare occasion for me in those days with film cameras as I did not develop and make prints by myself. I chose Agfa Scala black and white transparency film, so I can use my custom light table with magnifiers or run them with my slide projectors. I preferred color photography then, and I still do today.
The situation changed entering into digital photography because almost all the cameras could switch to shooting black and white or with color simutaneously, or those capable of raw file capture enabled the options of color or black and white in conversion. As a photographer, I finally took back control of raw file development (as film development, so to speak), so I was no longer annoyed that my intended exposure was stupidly manipulated by automatic machine settings or surrendered the control to the technicians who thought they knew photography better.
My computer became "darkroom" and my laptop adds mobility that was never available before solid state capture.
The raw format became a decision-maker when I selected a new camera - a lesson I learned from my beloved Contax N Digital, which was one of my favorites but I was forced to sell it after roughly just a year of use, frustrating with no reliable raw developer to support.
While I was happily exploring the raw conversion capabilities of my digital backs and DSLR cameras, I came to witness and briefly test the Phase One P45+ Achromatic back, owned by a close friend of mine, Pom, in 2009. The tonal transition and crisp to pixel-level performance of the P45+ Achromatic was mind-blowing but was too expensive to justify a purchase.
However, a few years later, in 2012 came the Leica M Monochrom that answered my wish, and I got one to explore true black and white photography. It was an exciting camera capable of delivering rich black-and-white images, although I still shoot mostly color and prefer color pictures in general.
Since the original MM, I added the MM246 and now the M10 Monochrom, for the battery is more manageable with my M10 series cameras.
The M10 Monochrom is the best Leica Monochrom camera (except Q2 Monochrom) with the highest resolving sensor and dynamic range, as of this writing, January 2022. With a proprietary monochrome sensor, gone are the usual color demosaicing required for a typical Bayer color sensor, which gives acute clarity on the individual pixel level.
Pure grey-scale gradient and tone transition trump the color-converted images. The color noise is also gone, and typical color-shading and fringing from the lens are also gone, making many vintage lenses works brilliantly on the monochrome sensor. The residual luminous noise, if any, is much easier to clean through software if so wish, or barely noticeable on print!
Technically, the Leica M10 Monochrom and the previous Monochrom models represent the best black-and-white photography tools and will probably always be relevant.
However, the color sensor and raw conversion software also improve significantly over the years, especially those high-megapixel cameras that can achieve a high standard of black-and-white images with the flexibility of color-based tonal adjustments.
Statistically, most of the black-and-white pictures we view online are color-converted, including some of the very best. This proves one does not need a genuine Monochrom camera to create masterpiece-class black-and-white images.
I love my M Monochom cameras, but truthfully, most of my black-and-white images are color-converted because I prefer color photography, and black and white is always an option. Using the Monochrom camera requires a higher intensity close to meditation in photography. The world also seemed different and tranquil when I was with my Monochrom. That is when the man and camera bond.
The Summilux-M 24/1.4 ASPH FLE mounted on my M10 Monochrom is less popular but a great lens that I often use when I shoot portraits in tight spaces. The images I got from my Summilux-M 24/1.4 ASPH FLE always remind me of those days I used my Contax RTS III with Carl Zeiss Distagon 28/2 T MM for portraits; they seemed so much alike even at the different focal lengths.
We live in a great time with many good cameras and lenses; they all blend into fond memories!
The Leica M10-D
Most photographers get asked, "what is your favorite camera"? It is a simple question yet involves many conditions to constitute an answer, usually not conclusive because of different purpose, use, time, and sometimes purchase or collectible value.
It would be a struggle for me to pick one, but if the question is "what is your favorite Leica" or "my two favorite Leica" then my two Leica M10-D are the answer.
My first Leica M10-D arrived in January 2019, and my second one in April 2019; they quickly became my most-used Leica cameras ever!
The M Edition 60 was my previous favorite Leica for its design simplicity and instantaneous responsiveness, but it lacks exposure compensation and auto ISO, which I am accustomed to using on all my cameras. As a result, my M60 only got some uses that require a less spontaneous shoot.
The M10-D is a superior camera in operation that adds quick exposure compensation over auto-ISO setting and custom setting through the sloppy Leica FOTOS, which includes the sequential shoot, better suits my need for digital Leica M cameras. The Leica M10-D could be better but based on what Leica was offering at the same time was the one most close to perfect, IMHO.
The basic design of the M10-D is simple, and the camera becomes more elegant by getting rid of the rear screen, which I turn off on all my mirrorless cameras with EVF. I wish for the next "D" version of the Leica M camera to have built-in EVF and perhaps to add an "advance mode dial" underneath the winder/camera support.
The built-in EVF looks like an inevitable direction that Leica has to adopt, given the recent M lenses are designed to lift the 70cm rangefinder limitation leaving image stabilization the next challenge for Leica to implement on the M camera.
The solution is not that difficult - the extra room required to integrate the in-body image stabilization is available, with the space for the rear screen re-allocated while retaining the existing M11 size.
The M10-D is the only 24mp camera I used in 2022, except for a few occasions with MM246 to ensure they are still functional. I made many memorable shots with the M10-D over almost four years, and it is likely the very few 24mp cameras I will continue to use unless there is an M11-D.
Megapixel is not everything, but as technology advances, more megapixel is better than less in most, if not all, situations, at least for me.
Leica laid out the plan with the introduction of the M11 and the recent new M lenses, hinting at two directions: A. classic rangefinder limitation of 70cm lifted; B. further electronic integration.
The purpose is to allow the next generation of M lenses to focus closer. Hence, the overall M system stays competitive and makes way for possibly, selected M camera models with built-in EVF to come soon.
The classic model may retain the mechanical coupling and require auxiliary EVF for close-focus application, which in reality, won't work, at least for me. You cannot ask a consumer to use EVF for focusing close range and switch back to the traditional rangefinder window and do so back and forth. Technically possible, practically silly.
I am sure some users would insist on using the mechanical rangefinder, and some are even willing to compromise with possibly missing critical focusing; that is fine with them; Leica will have the classic model for them, but for how long? I doubt.
However, it is not worth worrying about as the current M11 with mechanical rangefinder will last at least another decade still being somewhat competitive.
My first 60MP camera was the Phase One P65+ (36X48mm CCD sensor) I bought in 2008, and it took more than a decade for the full-frame 60mp SONY A7R IV to appear, with overall better image quality, albeit at 1/2 the sensor size.
With the M11, Leica also modernized the M chassis by removing the removable bottom plate and adding a USB-C data port. I hope Leica would make it compatible with a USB-C radio trigger for wireless flashlights when the EVF occupies the hot shoe.
The internal SSD will likely become the standard feature in the future, paving the way for additional functions that Wetzlar is busy working on. At least 256G, please.
M11 is capable of the best image quality of all the current 24x36mm full-frame cameras I use, including M cameras, Q2, and SL2, thanks to its 60mp sensor and some optimization applied to the sensor. However, M11 is not superior in image quality to the almost four years old SONY A7R IV, which is my most-used camera of 2022.
In truth, M11 and SONY A7R IV both use the same sensor, so the potential image quality should be comparable, which is the case. In practical use, SONY focuses much faster and more accurately, and with image stabilized both in lenses and in the camera body, it can work at ISO setting several stops lower or gives flexibility in various settings as a technical gain over the M11.
Leica M lenses are exceptionally well made, but its optical performance can only be exemplified with accurate focus, hopefully in time. If the critical focus is not essential, the lens is not important, so to speak. Contemporary high-end Japanese optics are competitive with the German counterpart, further optimized through a sophisticated correction algorithm through system integration. They are not playing catch up; they are the standard.
So the next challenge for the M system will likely be image stabilization which Leica is reluctant to commit to if at the cost of thickening the M body. Or Leica will wait until technology advances, and the impossible becomes possible.
My previous most-used Leica, the M10-D, could be a solution by freeing up the screen electronics and spaces to make room for an image stabilization module and using the EVF module to free up additional space from removing the complicated mechanical rangefinder. But I don't run Leica product development.
With all the scrutinizations, it is without double that the M11 is the most polished M camera to date in terms of performance. Leica will not stop here. I hope my wishes will be answered!
Leica is like a friend; it feels good in the hand and inspires one to go out and shoot. I have shot with Leica since the late 80s with M6 and many other film models; I have no problem with Leica being old-fashioned. But I also hope Leica is ready for the next challenge.
The photography journey will be a lot less fun without it!
Note: 2023.02.25 - with 60MP sensor, the B&W conversion from original 14-bit DNG (approx. 53MB) can now output 93-96MB 16-bit TIFF files that compare comfortably with the monochrome files from my Leica M10 Monochrome, in terms of sharpness and tonal transition, while having better highlight control and manipulation, and color filter application. With the looming release of 60MB M11 Monochrom will likely push the file resolution alike to those of 100MP color cameras such as my Fujifilm GFX100S and Hasselblad X2D 100C - based on my experience that M Monochrom files, similar to those from Foven X3 sensors to achieve approx. 50% more resolution from sensors of same/similar pixel pitch of the same generation.
The biggest attraction for me for a possible upgrade my existing M10 M to M11 M would be the same battery, better EVF and internal memory (hopefully at least 256G) than sensor resolution. I am placing the priority of getting an EVF-built-in M11 over the M11 Monochrome! Finger crossed!
The rainy day brings extra dimension into pictures and it would be a shame not to take the opportunity. No, I don't mind if it's a Leica or anything else. I trust my experience in using them over the years on countless rainy days. Proper care after use is more important than fearing the rain may damage the camera and deliberately miss the opportunity; it is not what I buy the camera for.
October 5 2022
ISO 64 VS ISO 100
It is a rather interesting engineering approach to a European mirrorless camera versus a Japanese one in system development, even based on the same image sensor.
SONY A7R IV vs. Leica M11 & Fujifilm GFX 100S vs. Hasselblad X2D 100C, which share the same sensor, while the Japanese tuned the native ISO to 100 and European prefers ISO 64.
The practical difference may not mean much to ordinary users or even most professional users, but it signifies a difference on a philosophical level. Its contribution to image quality in practice is small and probably only visible when compared the images on the pixel level using high-quality studio displays; they are indistinguishable on prints.
Japanese engineer prefers the claim of technology and on specification sheets, which reflects faster, multi-purpose, and the number of functions. By that, when Leica M11 adapted the same sensor as SONY A7R IV and Hasselblad X2D 100S shares the same sensor as Fujifilm GFX100S - we see the European camera set the native ISO at 64 instead of 100, strip the video function, minimize the number of buttons and a simplified camera operation menu.
The industrial design of the European cameras saw more emphasis on the camera's character as an instrument for an artist, while the Japanese focused on making the tool for everyone. When judged on the final attainable quality, they are essentially the same in measurable terms. The approach is very different.
The decision to go native ISO 64 comes with a set of technical development that is more than just a marketing message, but it sends a signal that the camera is focused on the concentration of the artwork making instead of how quickly and how fast. The photographer used to European cameras, such as the Leica M camera and Hasselblad X camera, can still use the comparable Japanese counterpart the way they used to and get the same result.
Conversely, those used to using Japanese cameras may be frustrated with European ones.
The approach and the philosophical differences are there, but one thing is undisputed, the European cameras have the looks and craftsmanship which draw a higher appreciation.
September 19 2022
Leica Summilux-M 35mm F1.4 ASPH FLE II
Leica has a steady upgrade cycle for most of its production lenses, some more often than others. I am lucky enough to own some Leica lenses that cover various focal lengths, but I am inclined to use 35mm and 50mm for most of my pictures taken with M cameras. The Summilux-M 35/1.4 ASPH FLE and Summicron-M 35/2 are my most frequent 35mm lenses, and I might add Zeiss Distagon 35/1.4 ZM, which I love no less than any Leica.
Camera development in recent years has made making poor pictures inexcusable from a technical standpoint. Gaining more experience and integrating hardware and software to the current level makes the new camera and lens announcement less exciting to me compared to the past.
The upgrades with autofocus lenses typically have more appeal than manual focus lenses because of electronic improvements in focusing motors and mechanisms, image stabilization components and weather seal built, and so on, which in combination offer a more significant upgrade and value. It is more pronounced when pairing with cameras which usually also get the corresponding firmware updates to work with new lenses.
Typical Leica manual lens update has few practical improvements no matter what marketing material trying to beautify the new one. On the print, at least.
The new Summiux-M 35mm ASPH is different, most notably in the ability to go beyond the typical limitation of a rangefinder focusing at 70cm.
Apart from being the user of all the Summilux-M 35mm Aspherical/ASPH versions from the original one introduced in 1989 - a new design by Walter Watz, which due to the high production cost of the two ground-and-polish aspherical elements, replaced with a more economical version - the Summilux-M 35 ASPH v.1 in 1994 of the same optical construction of 9 element in 5 groups and reduced to only one aspherical surface using blank-pressing manufacturing technique.
The 2010 Summilux-M 35/1.4 ASPH FLE, which is the version I am currently using, is still the same optical construction but the rear 5 elements group into a floating element which significantly improves performance in closer focus distance.
The 2022 version carries the same optical construction as the previous generations, with an adaptation of the floating element foundation of the earlier version added with the new patent-pending double cam gear unit, allowing the lens to focus down to 40cm while maintaining excellent optical performance. As a user, I may not need to focus down to 40mm, but I often want to get closer to my subject only to find it is outside the traditional limit of 70cm, which is frustrating. It is different from simply cropping the image as the subject as the background relationship remains the same. Getting closer to the subject changes the subject background ratio and appears a bit more dynamic. This is the fundamental difference between using a prime lens versus a zoom lens, in which optical performance may get very close but the approach of dramatization in composition.
Apparently, the focus will require the EVF, which I use often, and use all the time with my M11. Leica also suggests focusing on using live view or the FOTOS app; no thanks.
Similar to the recently introduced Leitz Hugo T1.5 cine lenses, a tribute to Hugo Wehrenfennig, the esteemed engineer who created the iconic Leica M bayonet still in use today, turning the existing M glass for cinematic production with close focus capability. The new, patent-pending double cam gear unit enables the new lens to focus down to 40cm with a rotation angle of the focusing ring of 176°, compared to, for example, Leitz-Hugo 35mm T1.5 can focus to 36cm with a rotation angle of 270°.
Leica is clearly on a mission to gradually update its M lenses to focus closer, paving the way for introducing an M digital camera with built-in EVF. It is a logical, productive direction that many old and die-hard Leica rangefinder users will critique and many go-out-and-shoot users will welcome. Hey, life has to go on!
The new approach also opens the M lenses to become a candidate for some independent videographers and filmmaking artists who want the M glass but are taken back by its limited focusing range.
The original Summilux-M 35/1.4 Aspherical 1989-1994 is a genuinely magnificent lens that I bought mine, used, already a small fortune in 2002 in Bangkok. I did not use that lens often because the Contax N1 & Contax 645 were my most used system then, and the M6 I used then was more for recreational shoots.
I have been in recent years using more digital M cameras and look forward to adding the new Summilux-M 35 F.14 ASPH FLE II as my go-to M lens.
June 9, 2022
Leica M-A Titan
Ti - atomic number 22, named after the Titans of Greek mythology, is corrosion resistance, as strong as some steels at half of the dense. It is the material choice for tactical and high-quality instruments or ornaments, including cameras. It is the boy's material, and I love Titanium.
My first so-called Titanium camera was the M6 Titanium which has the look but is not precisely a Titanium camera as it is just a surface plating finish. The first Titanium camera I own is the Contax S2 which I love and still have with me, then the T-2, T3, and TV-S, and G2 all with Titanium built.
My first genuine Titanium Leica is the M7 Titan, which I still keep, although not been shooting with it since around 2007. My most used Titanium Leica is the MP Titan (M-P Typ 240), which I still use occasionally.
Then comes the M-A Titan, which makes much sense except for making it a limited numbered run. M-A is a timeless instrument long overdue for such an edition, but given all Leica M cameras' asking price, they should all be Titanium.
My favorite all-mechanical M camera is the M-P, and I have a few of them, each with different finishes or finder magnifications. I have a couple of a la carte M-P and would love to have a Titanium edition.
The matched Apo-Summicron-M 50/2 ASPH Titan is an ideal lens, and the barrel design akin to M-A's pure mechanical character. My Apo-Summicron-M 50/2 ASPH Titanium comes with my MP Titan looks pedestrian in comparison.
It is a lovely camera although it is not on my wish list. I am happy with my M cameras now. The calling for pure Titanium custom objects is strong, and it comes from Moots, Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
A small step forward!
January 13, 2022
Leica Camera AG has followed most companies for new camera releases- the rumor campaign! Nothing is quite newsworthy by the time of its official announcement, nor the excitement. The rumor mills keep the consumer engaged for what is to come, and Leica is typically more incremental than revolution, predictable than surprise.
Leica plays its game methodically, and it works to the specific group of consumers that value style over practicability, mythical over reality, and sentiment over measurement.
Leica reminds us that this is a big world, everyone could have their place! 1% of the camera market share could keep Leica busy. Leica Camera AG in 2011 aimed to capture 1% of the global camera market within ten years, and a decade later, in 2021, Leica is hanging around such a goal, albeit a bit short. 1% was once the goal Steve Jobs set when he introduced iPhone to the world in 2007, which Apple reached in 2008 and went far beyond! Leica is not Apple!
As an industrial designer, my interest is how Leica reached the engineering and design decision on the M11! As a photographer, I am curious about the new possibilities while dealing with adherent limitations.
And as a boy, boy loves toys!
Now! My take on the new Leica M11 (Typ 2416)
The BSI CMOS sensor - pixel pitch 3.76 µm, 9528 x 6328 pixels (60.3 MP) manage through the Leica Maestro III processor. The 14-bit L-DNG records full 60.3 MP 9528 x 6328 pixels is very close to the 3.76 µm, 9568 x 6380 pixels (Effective 9504 X 6336 61.2 MP) SONY IMX 451 BSI-CMOS sensor on my SONY A7R IV with 14-bit RAW and 15 stop dynamic range. If the RAW files I got from my SONY A7R IV indicate the quality of L-DNG from M11, it is very competitive capable of pleasing results based on my own experience.
Leica's processor development partner in Langen, Land Hessen, Germany - Fujitsu (FSEU GmbH) has been an experienced image processor specialist and decade-long relationship with Leica. The Maestro III, proven on the SL2/SL2S, is class-leading in managing color, noise reduction, and Affine Transformation, should service the M11 well. The potential is there, and the final quality is up to the individual user!
With M11, Leica also introduces the new ISO 64 (native,15-stops dynamic range) to its ISO range (60-50,000), and for those heartfelt nostalgias with the iconic Kodachrome 64 - here we go! About high-ISO performance? I have my reservation before extended use, but I have little concern. The user needs to learn about every camera and take control. If I can use the cameras of yesterday, then I am sure I can use the camera today and tomorrow, while DNG/raw format development software becomes smarter.
Or, the photographer can benefit from the Triple Resolution Technology to shoot at 36mp or 18mp resolution on the go than to deal with down-sampling in post-processing.
Flash sync is the same as my M10/M10-R at 1/180s, not good enough, but acceptable as a Leica M camera. For studio use or on location that requires the artificial light to balance - with the added USB-C port at the bottom, it is now at least possible to use the new Visoflex 2 and a radio trigger simultaneously. Better yet, a third-party battery pack maker could offer such an option with an integrated sync port! Hello, hello, my friends at Dee Van!
The long exposure also increases from 16min on the M10 cameras to 60min on M11, which should please those who shoot timed exposure and further indicate Maestro III noise handling capabilities.
Added also the options of electronic shutter 50s - 1/16000s long available on most modern digital cameras including SL2 and Q2, and finally M11 can claim true silent shutter. Hybrid options also available, as most cameras, for users to judge best applicable situations.
The USB-C port would support tethered shoot, for example, Capture One Pro 22, to make the M11 a more flexible production tool that some photographers, me included, would prefer. Leica M11 can connect wirelessly with Wi-Fi 5GHz 11a/n/ac: channel 149-165 (5745-5825MHz) or 2.4 GHz 11b/g/n: channel 1-11 (2412-2462 MHz) that could potentially work with Capture One Pro wireless tethering, if those engineers in Copenhagen decided to support.
Following the Leica T and TL2, the M11 offers a 64G internal memory; it would be great to double as a memory buffer - 3Gb for the M11 - improved from the 2Gb on M10 models - enough for a sequential shoot of 15 DNG. Leica claims shooting at the 36MP DGN "nearly endless" suggests sport/wild-life options. The internal memory will allow photographers to save images files simultaneously (Dual Memory Concept) onto removable and internal storage - this is an excellent approach and silence those who don't accept cameras without dual storage.
Power management - with Leica M11 - Leica did it AGAIN! Yet another new BP-SCL7 7.4V 1,800mAh - the only good news is that the USB-C charging cradle is compact, re-charging more conveniently, but it makes taking a trip with Q2/SL2 - BP-SCL4 8.4V 1,860mAh - and the previous M10 cameras (M10M in particular) - BP-SCL5 7.4V 1,100mAh - a nightmare in management. And as a reminder - the user will need to purchase a battery of the correct finish (black or silver) to match the camera body!! Common Leica, there must be a better solution!
The clumsy button cover is gone! I understand it is a recognizable feature of Leica, but it was never exclusive of Leica. Many older cameras have it and develop over it. It has nothing to do with photography and no need for digital cameras. As proven on SL and Q2 cameras, changing the battery is a breeze with an improved weather seal.
And of course, there will be consumers who may be upset about abandoning the bottom plate; they still have their old M cameras, if they do! My advice, get over it, place focus on the photography!
The bottom plate (Black) weighs 49.9g while the M11 Black 530g (with battery) is 130g lighter than my black M10-R (660g with battery), indicating Leica did some extra trimming on the body mass, making it the most lightweight digital M camera to date. Not necessarily bad news.
Something new for Leica is the handgrip for M11, which integrated a dovetail plate compatible with Acra Swiss typed quick release platform. Leica is typically slow in adaptation to market standards; this is one example. Better late than never. I have been using the Arca Swiss ball head for over two decades; this is a welcome addition. With the USB-C port at the bottom, hopefully, it leaves an option of a future smart handgrip open.
All the noticeable external physical changes on M11 over the M10 series happened at the bottom of the camera; therefore, the overall appearance is the same familiar look. The rear control panel gets cleaned up while still maintaining the same consistency from SL2-Q2-M10 with added customization function. The control buttons with independent positioning shall make control easier when wearing a glove - something I found to be a bit difficult when I was with my M10 and Q2 in Russian winter.
The M11 annotation coined on the accessory shoe gives the camera its serial and model identification, a better and more elegant execution than most other cameras.
The 3.7-megapixel Visoflex 2 - at last!
The rangefinder mechanism was originally developed for focusing when there is no convenient option. It has its limitation of applicable distance (> 70cm), choice of lenses, the precision of focusing and framing. Leica was the leader in the market during the time M3/M4 was the professional choice and fell behind when the reflex system delivered better focusing performance and flexibility in application and won the professionals. Leica has never reclaimed its leadership in the market since.
Leica SL2 and Q2 are the perfect examples of how Leica understands the market and offers practical tools best benefit from modern technologies! Leica SL 601, claimed by Leica, was the first professional camera fitted with an electronic viewfinder to match the professional requirement.
It is without question that some very good photographers use Leica M system today while most top professional photographers don't. Some professionals may possess the Leica M camera for their personal and casual shoot, but not the paid jobs requiring strict controls for quality of the highest order. Those top professionals understand the quality of the tool and finished works better than most common users, and they make the right choice, Leica or not.
The rangefinder was a solution, not a purpose!
I have been using Leica M cameras non-stop since the late '80s with M6, MP to M8, and almost all the models till M10-R. The rangefinder mechanism on the M camera is well-engineered, meticulously manufactured. Still, I prefer a higher precision of focus and frame composition on every lens and not limited by 70cm focus distance and to work in very dark situations when the mechanical rangefinder does less good.
Don't tell me the critical focus should compromise over the so-called rangefinder-style on a 60MP camera and the high-resolution optics many sought after. Unless for artistic reasons, there is no excuse for a misfocused image in 2022.
Stabilized EVF & rear LCD for an un-stabilized image? Not a very good logic, I supposed. Will the photographer be falsified? Quite possible. Is Leica trying to prepare the M users for an IBIS Leica M camera to come? Hmmm?
The M11 is here, and I look forward to seeing an M11 iteration with the built-in EVF, perhaps also with the IBIS? I mean the real IBIS.
The two Leica M10-D I use have become my most-used Leica M cameras of all time, and I could imagine having it as a base for M11 with EVF, eliminating the rear screen to make room for IBIS, adding drive mode underneath the advance lever that improves handling when using the heavier lens. Leica M10-D Journal & Leica cameras and the Leica pictures
A camera does not become a legend by itself; those brilliant minds who created the masterpieces made it one.
Talk about the Leica M System
The road ahead - original published on March 25, 2019
It is already over a century after the first rangefinder camera to the market, the 3A Kodak Autographic Special of 1916. After a decade, in 1925 with the Leica I to make the "telemeters" rangefinder popular and further success and adaptation seen in 1932 by the Leica II and Contax 1 and by 1936 the rangefinder integrated in the center of the viewfinder of Contax II. The fundamental mechanism has been evolved and improved over the decades, but the principle of the concept remains the same, best represented by Leica's M series of cameras.
The love of classic, mechanical rangefinder cameras by photographers, in general, has not been faded; however, the costs and practicability keep most of them away from it. As an industrial designer, I love the simplicity of Leica M cameras design and precision mechanical quality that works like a well-oiled machine, but as a photographer, I would not lie that there are no better choices for varies applications. I am lucky enough to own and collect some of the Leica cameras and lenses since more than two decades ago, so I have the opportunities to use many different models (film and solid-state capture) over time with a good number of M lenses and R lenses; while I am also shooting with varies different camera system of different brands.
I have to admit that I love Leica cameras and use them for my personal projects and travel pictures, but rarely for paid commercial assignments - a decision made on efficiency, flexibility and of course quality.
Leica had seen its glorious day back in the time when the M3 and M4 were the envy of every other brand on all measurements. As the camera industries evolved, the reflex system took the dominance role with the broader selection of lenses and automation features. Leica has been working hard playing catch up since and slowly becomes a niche choice and status symbol for many hobbyists who can afford it and want to associate their photography with legendary and iconic cameras or sometimes as a lifestyle accessory. Very few professionals use Leica as their only or the main camera even they could easily afford it.
But of course, the Leica M and R cameras are nothing less than fantastic, well capable of producing beautiful images competitively in the analog era with some professional photographers depend on them.
Into digital, Leica is always somewhat hesitant. R system had no success in adapting to solid-state capture and silenced quietly. M system had some early struggle, but with M9 the Leica M has again re-established its position - still a niche, but competitive enough in certain regards of photography. But in the digital era, the development is fast-paced, and while the overall industry embraced CMOS over CCD sensors - even the digital back makers, Leica has again become the last to adapt.
Leica is a small camera company, a small company with a big ego. But they have to, and the general photography public expects Leica to have a big ego and continue to carry the heritage. And within a few years, Leica is a company with a portfolio of S, SL, M, T system cameras, Q and a line up of luxury compacts cameras, as no one else. The overstretched line up could be a fantastic idea for top-down vertical and horizontal system integration, but the legendary M system sits in the middle as the crown jewel of Leica yet its adherence to the mechanical lens mount and M manual lenses keep the total integration from reality.
Imagine a modernized M mount with full electronic communication and swift autofocus can do? Never say never.
The move to simply M camera with Typ 240 destination back in 2012 was not a bad one, with the adaptation of CMOS sensor adds the live-view and electronic viewfinder to M camera also liberates the M camera to accept former R lenses in practical terms. Leica did not push it further, instead retracted to its conservative core with the release of M10. The M10 is superior to the Typ 240 in most ways while eliminating the video function is not necessary, although not many people missed it, Leica could have left it alone. I don't miss it, not really desire it but do not mind if it is there as I did use once with my M-P Typ 240 and a few times with Typ 246 Monochrom for curiosity causes.
In Leica's words, the multi-task role will be the responsibility of the SL system introduced in 2015 as the M system will remain true to its old core aiming to bring to the unique experience of analog photography back into the digital world. The best example is the most recent M camera, the M10-D, which introduced about 18 months after the launch of original M10.
Strategy and marketing plan aside, the currently most popular cameras bearing the name of Leica are the M10/M10-P and Q - a clear indication of who the Leica users are and what to expect. Q camera resembled the classic "Messucher" look with a built-in brilliant Summilux 28/1.7 ASPH lens is one of the modern Leica with automation features comparable to the competition and the camera I often use as "The 28mm" when I shoot with the M camera. It is an efficient and logical combination. For many, Q is the entry to the Leica ecosystem.
But, as of late February 2019, as rumors mounting on a soon-to-be-released Q2 model to feature a new sensor with a significant increase in resolution - from 24 to 47 megapixels (+95.83%) will make the M camera and Q2 combination somewhat awkward.
The M10/M10-P/M10-D are without question the most important cameras and the center of all attention and deserve the best of Leica. The decision to equip Q2 the highest resolution and latest sensor of Leica is not an illogical one and quite a safe move. The Summilux 28/1.7 ASPH is a fixed lens on Q2 so the digital profiling and optimization will work much better on a sensor that is more demanding, assisted with optical image stabilizer and coupled with fast autofocusing - that ensure the result of image benefitted with the new sensor.
It could be an entirely different scenario to have the new 47-megapixel sensor on M10. The tolerance of accuracy of mechanical rangefinder will be further compressed and a tall order to control the image blurring in rangefinder shooting: spontaneous and handheld - a challenge to the very foundation of the Leica M system. The digital optimization across the entire line up of M lenses is another challenge and pressure to the dated 6-bit coding system.
I have both Leica M10 and M10-D with me on my recent two-weeks-trip in Russia and shot both cameras side by side and as a result around 85% of shots made with M10-D. It is nothing to do with image quality but the M10-D is the kind of camera that is more fun and addicted to shooting. For photography the pair of M10 and M10-D is not a better option than the SONY A7RIII and Fujifilm GFX50R I also carried with me for the trip. But fun is not replaceable.
So what is ahead of Leica? In particular the Leica M system? The advancement in the sensor will not stop! The electronic viewfinder and the AI-powered AF system will only become faster, more accurate and smarter! Sensor-based image stabilizer will become more effective! The camera was hardware in the past, but today it needs to be part of the solution - the visual material eco-system. Total integration is the main-stream expectation in the coming future, and electronic is at the moment the most efficient way for complete integration. At the moment, the development of the M system seemed stagnated!
We can almost sure that a universal adaptation to the new sensor will happen after the introduction of Q2. Technically Leica could use the new sensor on the existing chassis of M10 and call it a new M camera, but that is not likely enough for the long run.
The communication between lens and camera needs reconsideration - AF without abandoning the M Bayonet is not impossible. Classic rangefinder lenses have no conflict with electronic viewfinder has been proven. Sensor-based stabilizer system is almost necessary for the high-resolution sensor for practical use.
Hardware? Or a part of the solution?
Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6
The Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 is my least used Leica lens, albeit 28mm is the focal length I use often. I have the excellent Sumicron-M 28/2 ASPH and the beautiful Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH before I picked up the Summaron-M 28/5.6, probably on a dizzy day, attracted by its nostalgic charm. Sure enough, the nostalgic charm alone did not carry the lens far enough for me. I care more about getting the picture in practical terms than making a styling statement. The lens is compact to a fault that it does not offer the kind of fluid operation of the Summicron or Summilux, hardly useful if wearing a glove in winter shooting.
The Leica M camera is not that small compared to the contemporary, a factor recognized decades ago but not so much today. The logic for reintroduction a compact lens makes Leica marketing sense but offers little in actual photography means. For those who sought after a compact or pancake lens, well, good for them. I prefer a lens that balances well with the camera it is attched to, is efficient to operate, and is useful even when wearing a glove - a factor that is important to me because I love winter.
However, as of today's Leica 28mm offering - I will also include the Summilux 28/1.7 on the Q/Q2 cameras as I often use my Q2 as the 28mm when shooting with M cameras to reduce having to have to change the lens of different focal length.
Understandably, Leica is a small company with limited resources that has little to offer original technology or mechanical innovations, so niche and exotic offerings are what it takes to keep the Leica eco-system enthusiasm and appears lively. Not everyone who owns a camera can engage in photographic talks, but most of them can talk about gear and accessories. Leica does the trick!
The screen-less M
The way backward - original published on January 28, 2019
Leica is the master at the art of subtraction, doing so while commanding a premium.
One of my favorite Leica in my collection is M Edition 60 which Leica describes "The essence of photography" to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the legendary Leica M system. The Audi designed M60 is a handsome camera to look at, the only Leica M camera made from milling off a solid stainless steel billet, pleasant to shoot with, which I enjoy a lot.
M Edition 60 is the first digital system camera without a rear screen, so the photographer has to concentrate on the fundamental of photography - shutter speed, aperture value, and ISO setting - digital negative only! It is one of my more often use M cameras for personal projects. M Edition 60 remains, IMHO, the most beautiful digital M camera in term of design and build in modern time probably matched only by the M9 Titanium. It works exactly like the old M7 cameras without needing to advance the shutter and change film cassette every 36 exposures. And of course missing the familiar celluloid film smell.
Leica must have got encouraged by the overwhelmed praise of the screen-less digital camera and public demand so almost two years later, in late 2016, released the Leica M-D Typ 262, a serial production version of screen-less M digital camera.
Without a rear screen and not able to connect to an electronic viewfinder nullify the video function which IMHO no hurt to have it, I did use a couple of times, but I could not care less. And that paved the way to the release of M10 without the video function.
Disable the video function is a philosophical decision. The M10 continues to use the same CMOS sensor from M-P 240 which support modest video function which M10 is fully capable of inheriting, but Leica decided otherwise. Added to that, Leica further simplified the layout on the back of the camera, trim the camera, so it goes back to the familiar M camera size of the past established from M3 through M-P, except M5. In an attempt to bring back the nostalgic look, Leica reintroduced the M3 and M2 type of film rewind knob and made it into a selector for ISO setting.
And the sales of M10 proves Leica is not wrong. The argument per Leica, except than bringing the charm of the nostalgic look back to the glorious day of its past, is a refocusing on ‘Das Wesentliche’ is immediately recognizable in the design of the camera.
All is true except as a user I still miss the type of exposure compensation implemented on the Leica M7 which is essential for autoexposure in rapid light-changing situations and particularly solid-state capture that over-exposed highlight can be challenging to handle. An option to accept an electronic viewfinder would be welcome for situations that require precise framing and object separation.
The release of Leica M10-D answered the call, which Leica describes it "Digital Body. Analog Soul." by incorporating a film advance lever from its past to use as additional camera support - similar to a Thumbs-Up which I hate to use because it takes away the hot shoe function that I use often. My Leica M Edition 60 is my only Leica I have ever put on a Thumbs-Up because what it is and without a strap to secure the camera in shooting.
Along the announcement of Leica M10-D is a new application - Leica Fotos - still somewhat sluggish, requires several attempts in each successful connection to the Wi-Fi-abled M10-D (and the other Leica digital cameras with Wi-Fi) but it does allow elementary custom settings on M10-D and convenience to share images on the go.
No more chimping, that's for sure. The M10-D although accepts electronic viewfinder but it does not allow image review on demand.
Place it against my a-la-carte black paint MP - the Leica M10-D has almost completed the backward resemblance of what the old-fashioned perceived what Leica once was, the loyal wish it is.
Now, it is interesting to see what influence this would be for the successive models and the rest of industries. Refer to my Leica M10-D Journal.
Note January 17, 2021 - as it turned out, Leica M10-D indeed is my most use Leica M camera since January 2019.
Not all cameras are created equal however it is fair for photography that better-crafted cameras do not warrant better images. Often, the better-crafted camera becomes the limiting factor in picture-taking as the photographer divided the concentration between caring for the camera and missing shots.
Leica is well-known for producing edition cameras, usually more exotic material, finishes, or collaborations with artists or industrial designers. They are generally commanding higher cost for how its make and rarity from strickly numbering and limited run.
They are excellent objects to collect for those who appreciate good crafts, hard to say they are art, but they are useful tools. However, they are the same as the standard mass-production model as far as picture-taking capability is concerned.
As Philippe Starck says best for his Salif Lemon Squeezer for Alessi - "It's not meant to squeeze lemons, it is meant to start conversations.”
The Edition M Cameras
January 21, 2021 - the introduction of Leica M10-P 'Reporter'
Finished in a scratch-resistant "NATO Green" paint and Kevlar camera trim, the edition M10-P looks more like a military camera than what Leica names it "reporter"!
Ironically, the M10-P 'Reporter' officially released one day after the US presidential inauguration day, which drew a hectic social media suppression, biased if not distorted coverage, and a disputed election resulting in no justice. Where is the real reporter?
Perhaps the term of reporter requires a new definition, maybe so for the so-called reporter camera! Leica released the M10-P 'Reporter' as a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Leica Oskar Barnack Award, for the memory of Leica 250 of 1933. MP of 1956, M3 with the Leicavit rapid winder, following the suggestion of iconic photographers such as Alfred Eisenstaedt and David Douglas Duncan. Indeed, the M10-P camera today is far beyond the dreams of the reporters' generations earlier. Today's reporter may have other ideas.
The Edition 'Reporter' camera is without a doubt beautiful and capable by its mean. A limited run of 450 is not an ambitious goal. But the external finish is just an exterior finish, making the a-la-carte program very much missed.
The Optics of desire
the retune of Noctilux-M 50/1.2 ASPH
January 28, 2021
Leica did the best Leica do best - to remind us of yesterday!
The most recent feat - the reintroduction of the much-sought-after original Noctilux-M 50/1.2 Aspherical in a modern presentation.
Those who argue that the modern cameras can capture such high-quality image in near darkness makes less need of fast prime such as this Noctilux-M 50/1.2 ASPH that costs $7,695 for black edition and a special edition silver limited to 100 lenses for $16,395 apiece; they are not speaking the same language! The lens has sold out before the release!
It is not for discussing how good the lens is and its CP value; it is about the premium of prestige ownership and rarity. Or maybe for people to buy and sell that expect the lens to appreciate over time and profit will come, they are sometimes right and sometimes wrong. This is a big world, and someone needs to do something to service for those who do not care about price. Most photographers should care about photography.
I would not imagine a company like Leica will produce a poor lens; certainly no this one. Will it be an optical performance breakthrough? Will that matter to the final artwork? It is about doing something with something you genuinely love. Many photographers love to shoot with the camera they love; for example, Leica, such experience weighs more than producing a fantastic print. Love what you do is what mattered!
Apo-Summicron-M 35/2 ASPH
March 4, 2021
The latest lens from Leica, following the lens roadmap of L mount APO Primes and the price index of premium M lenses, the Apo-Summicron-M 35/2 ASPH is an exciting and one that can focus close down to 30cm, breaking the 70cm barrier of the tradition range-finder system lenses! It probably signals something more significant change to follow.
Leica engineered a detent at 0.7m on the focus ring to make the user aware when the lens steps into the close-focus range using the Live View on the screen or EVF.
Not quite as expensive as the Apo-Summicron-M 50/2 ASPH, which I enjoy using but less often than the Summilux-M 50/1,4 ASPH, but at USD 8,195, I would expect nothing less than exceptional.
The ten-lens elements are divided into five groups; three elements feature aspherical surfaces including one with both-side aspherical surface. Six elements are made of glasses with anomalous partial dispersion, which not only minimizing chromatic aberrations but also provide apochromatic correction, the first for a 35mm lens in the M-System.
Voigtländer APO-LANTHAR 50mm F2.0 Asph. VM
March 5, 2021
There are currently the only two Apochromatic F/2 standard lenses in Leica M bayonet mount. I have two Apo-Summicron-M 50/2 ASPH; another is the titanium finish from the M-P 240 Titan set. The titanium finish App-Summicron-M 50/2 ASPH is more compact and lightweight that does not get much use because my favorite lens for my M camera remains the Summilux-M 50/1.4 ASPH which balances with the camera very well.
It is difficult to explain that I have little curiosity to test for comparing the Leica Apo-Summicron-M 50/2 ASPH and the Voigtländer APO-LANTHAR 50mm F2.0 VM. I don't do lens tests unless paid very well for. These are all very well-made lenses, and it is really up to the photographer to study the lens and bring the best out of it. My images shot with the Voigtländer APO-LANTHAR 50mm F2.0 VM to be found here!
Carl Zeiss Tele-superachromat T* 2.8/300 FE TPP
February 22, 2021
The Carl Zeiss TPP - Telephoto Power Pack - consisted of the rare Carl Zeiss Tele-Superapochromat 2.8/300 with a paired, individually calibrated Apo-Mutar 1.7X, which Zeiss described as an extender with matched serial number; hence it becomes a powerful 500/4.8 while maintaining the highest, uncompromising optical performance.
It was designed for Hasselblad 200 series medium format cameras, announced in 1999, only by custom order for delivery pending the availability that Zeiss could get the glass elements able to meet the design specification and manufacture accordingly. The original goal of limited production of 300 units makes this lens an exclusivity to own and is an extremely privilege of ownership because Zeiss did not even produce that many.
I took my delivery in 2000 for my Hasselblad 205 FCC. Over the years, it went on my Contax 645 through mount adapter, my Canon and Nikon DSLRs, my SONY A7 series cameras, and finally, to the Leica M camera capable of using EVF.
It has to be the most versatile lens in my collection, with a long list of cameras ever paired. It is one of my all-time favorite lenses.
The adapted Apochromat Kinoptik Paris 50mm F2 Focale
November 17, 2021
The use of the mirror for the camera was not ideal but a solution to avoid constant attaching and reattaching film plate/magazine to allow focus during the photography process. The mirror came to enable focusing while requiring an extra optical solution for convenient viewing and rapid-return mechanics for the mirror between shots. The mirror plays no role in final photograph, except those cameras with fixed beamsplitter pellicle mirrors which require exposure compensation and theoretically loss of resolution, although the camera makers claimed otherwise. Not an issue nowadays anyway!
The mirrorless was how the cameras were built from the beginning and the dominant form today! The use of a mirror was a temporary solution; some may argue that it is a compromise one, albeit functional if the industries allow one more decade to analyze the development of the cameras. As the technology started to stack-up sensors as the computer chips, further integration is what the consumers will be getting from now on.
Leica's rangefinder system, similarly, was designed as a solution for focusing, not a purpose. It was necessary when there was no other way to focus conveniently, and it is still helpful today when absolute accuracy and speed are not a priority.
Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1998, at 90, swore by his Leica, said to Helmut Newton: "... sharpness is a bourgeois concept.." is a valid argument, however with limited application. Absolute sharpness is not more important than the concept, style, and personality of an image. When one has the concept, style, and personality, he would probably prefer his image is focused accurately and sharp than missing it. Not being sharp enough may not kill an image, but focusing on the wrong area would undoubtedly upset those looking at the image. Conversely, an ultra-sharp image with nothing else is boring, if not torture. Abstract art is a subject of another discussion.
Many camera users are obsessed with older optics, and I am not among them, but I have some old lenses in possession from the past that I keep for sentimental reasons. I can use any lens, I don't mind old lenses, but I prefer newer ones from reputable makers. The man was able to make excellent optics in the past, and they can still improve them. If some prefer older lenses, good for them, and they should enjoy whatever they choose.
This adapted Apochromat Kinoptik Paris 50mm F2 Focale on either my Leica M10-R or a la carte MP is a fine lens with the original lens elements in a milled AA 7050 housing, hard-anodized, assembled to the helical cam barrel of Leica Summicron-M 50/2 to allow it to focus like a regular M lens. The rosewood focusing tab adds some cosmetic finish to give some crafts appearance. It is not a good economic approach because it took two lenses to make one that performs the same. But it helps solve the boy's curiosity.
The result? Focusing is as accurate as a well-maintained M lens! The optical performance? It's an Apochromat Kinoptik Paris 50mm F2 Focale cine lens with a character of its own that is subjective to each individual's preference. I love it, but I won't use it more often than my Summilux-M 50/1.4 ASPH or the Apo-Summicron-M 50/2 ASPH., not for better or worse performance; the lens adaptation is for fun and personal collection.
The Carl Zeiss Distagon 35/1.4 ZM
The Carl Zeiss Distagon 35/1.4 ZM is the lens I will go out with an M camera when I get bored and shoot anything just to be amazed again just how sharp and beautiful images it can create.
It is optically flawless, IMHO, well crafted, but a bit large for an M camera, albeit it is lightweight, considered its size, so it balances well on the camera. Like all ZM lenses, I prefer the lens aperture away from the focusing barrel to avoid accidentally turning it while wearing a thick glove in winter shooting.
This is one of the few lenses that I prefer to use over a Leica of the same focal length.
The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2,8/15 ZM
It is one of the rarest used M mount lenses I own because I do not particularly love the rendering of ultra-wide-angle lenses. Suppose I do need to capture a wide-angle image. In that case, I typically go to my Canon TS-E lenses, such as the TS-17/4L, which on a camera stationary position can result in a stitched image equal to 12mm with a corrective perspective.
Alternatively, I can do stitched panorama using standard or short telephoto lenses, which I often do more than single-shot wide-angle lenses.
So why do I buy the Zeiss Distagon 2,8/15 ZM? Well, I bought it before Canon TS-E 17/4 became available, and I wanted a wide-angle lens for my M system, even knowing I may not use it often. It is about the desire, not needing it. And I love Zeiss lenses.
The EVF option for the M camera is excellent news for a lens such as the Distagon 2,8/15 ZM T* for precise focus and composition and can review the use of the center filter, PL or graduation filter. It is a shame to keep this lens as a collection than to photograph with it, and I owe it some images!
M camera - the system approach
Leica made several attempts to keep the M system camera to meet the challenges and the reflex camera system's capability without resounding success until the arrival of electronic live-view of CMOS-based cameras that united the mirrorless and reflex system.
My new Leica M10 Monochrom attached with Visoflex 020 and one of my favorites close-up lenses, Nikkor PC 85/2.8D, will join my new project "Cycle of Life" something I have always wanted to shoot with Leica M cameras.
Thanks to digital development, the M system is somewhat liberated and became a more flexible choice as the brand has envisioned and wish it to be. Leica appeared well-acknowledged in the technology and where the market is moving to, evidently introducing the T/SL system and the Q cameras. Time to bring the EVF to the M camera.
"If there were no beginnings and if there were no endings, we would have the absence of inertia and the presence of stagnation."
~ Craig D. Lounsbrough
The Leica M10-D is certainly not the most effective camera for making shots for my "Cycle of Life" project, it is slow, it requires more nerve for each of the moment, it requires me to hold my breath even the camera is on a tripod. It is like meditation!
Adding mirror to the mirrorless
Stretching the range of my M cameras!
February 27, 2021 Snow Moon
The 2nd full moon in 2021 is also known as the Snow Moon, due to typically heavy snow in February, indicating such term did not come from tropical countries.
It is also celebrated by the Chinese as the "Spring Lantern Festival" - on the 15th day of the first month in the lunisolar Chinese calendar. It is considered the final day of the traditional Chinese Spring Festival, such tradition traced back to Emperor Ming (28-75 AD) of the Han Dynasty, close to two millennia ago.
The Leica M10 Monochrom with its monochrome sensor theoretically can reproduce an image with cleaner and higher resolution than cameras with a Bayer RGB sensor of the same pixel pitch, for free of color and pattern noise.
Not in the case of the Moon shot! The thick Earth atmosphere softens the spatial frequency so the monochrome sensor is basically recording an image blurred by thick air and tropical humidity. It would work much better on the surface of the moon or on Mars, as some of the cameras with bandpass filters on the Mars Perseverance.
This shot is more fun than useful! This shot made with Leica M10 Monochrom at 2:41AM, almost 30min after those shots made with Fujifilm GFX100 using the exact same lens, Minolta RF 800mm 1:8 of the exact reproduction scale albeit on the different sensor. The GFX100 easily out-resolve the M10M in this situation, even without the Pixel Shift Multi-Shot.
Other shots may be different! (ref: Fujifilm GFX100 Moon shot)
Beautiful Irina Kornia with the Leica M2 Button - one of the earlier Leica M cameras with less publicity, probably because it was introduced as a budget version of M3 with the removal of self-timer and an external film counter, which requires manually reset. In reality, the M2 is more stylish with its cleaner and elegant appearance and the unique film counter not seen in later M cameras.
Leica MP - The best Leica camera ever made as far as chemical-based photography is concerned, IMHO. The original MP introduced in 2003, about 50 years after the Leica's M3 (1954). The MP stands for a rather bold claim "Mechanical Perfection" which 16 years later still stands strong and remains in production as of today (April 2019).
Some might argue that the newer M-A introduced in 2014 is, the better example of a purer mechanical example than the original MP but except the slightly brighter rangefinder viewfinder by eliminating the part that is reflecting the metering diodes into the frame, all else are basically the same. My preference for original MP over M-A is that both are essentially a purely mechanical camera with the MP has the option of using a battery to power the meter or remove it, so it is no different than an M-A.
The MP, held in the hand of lovely Latvian model Katerian, is an à la carte edition of MP I commissioned Leica to custom-make for my birthday, black-paint MP with the removal of front and top engraving to make the camera looks as essential as it works.
The unmistakable acoustic signature of the shutter release of such purely mechanical camera immediately reveals the precision-engineered excellence of a photography tool that bears the claim of "Mechanical Perfection"!
More educational and interesting review by Erwin Puts.
My Leica SL cameras
The original Leica SL is Leica's answer to the industries in the transition to mirrorless system cameras. It is one of the first mirrorless cameras to challenge the reflex camera systems' shooting experience that it is to replace and successfully, IMHO, delivered. The Leica SL gave me the highest accuracy rate of focus among all the cameras I use until the arrival of my SONY A9 and the A7R IV. Still an excellent camera today.
My Leica S cameras
My least used Leica Camera in the digital age. The S camera inherited the design from my beloved Leica R8 & R9 which were my main cameras for sometime in the old days. Focus is not super snappy, although accurate, but the sluggish tethering performance constitutes the main reason for its lack of use. The image quality is first class but not special enough in the studio in modern digital age.
My Leica Q Cameras
The Way Forward - original published on January 16, 2019
The luxury compact camera sector was once very popular back in the film days and entering into digital age such kind of range and competition has not seen until SONY introduced the original RX1 back in September 2012 and followed up with RX1R in June 2013. The RX1 & RX1R camera featured a razor-sharp Zeiss Sonnar 35/2 lens and SONY's 24mp sensor that to this date still a competent camera except it requires an external EVF which makes the compact camera less compact and convenient, but it is still capable of producing beautiful images even by today's standard.
Taken the note from RX1/RX1R, in June 2015 Leica introduced its own Leica Q (Type 116) featured a beautiful Summilux 28/1.7 ASPH lens with a CMOSIS designed MAX 24MP CMOS sensor with beautiful built-in EVF and more responsive AF system, 10 fps burst. Albeit not inexpensive, at USD 4,495 - it is still considered a bargain Leica, particularly an M mount Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH will set one back at USD 6,595 - lens only. It is not the same lens, of course, the M mount Summilux-M 28/1.4 certainly worth its asking price, IMHO, and retains its value very well and indeed an excellent lens, without doubt, the Summilux 28/1.7 ASPH on Q is also quite good, capable of producing spectacular images.
Price aside, Leica Q seemed to have upper hand against SONY RX1/RX1R camera until a few months later, in October 2015, SONY released a fantastic upgrade model RX1RII featured a more precisely paired Zeiss Sonnar 35/2 with the new SONY BSI 42MP sensor and improved AF performance. EVF is now a pop-up option; although still not as brilliant as the one on Leica Q, it is enough and much better than the shoe-mount external EVF of the previous generation.
Now, in January 2019, both Leica Q and SONY RX1RII are well over three years and I personally owned and used both of them since introduction till now, so perhaps a brief wrap up will be good personal journal before the eventual replacement.
The debate of megapixel race got heated up since the larger sensor (larger than 1") digital camera eclipsed 6 million pixels and many articles declared it had matched the resolution of scanned 135mm film, but the scientists and engineers continued to push forward, partially by the market demand as well as driven by the nature of human curiosity, for scientist and engineer especially. Just similar to the automobile industry to equip the car with the more powerful engine a better braking system, the camera industry gives sets of solutions both to hardware and software to the image quality while the pixels count rises. That for me, the SONY RX1RII is a more favorable camera to use over Leica Q because it produces sharper and larger print when all other things equal which they seldom are, besides my style of shoot benefitted more from 35mm than 28mm. And that is why I use both cameras on choices.
It's a simple pick on 42.4MP over 24MP which many may disagree but I buy my camera, and others buy their camera or to own and shoot both to have a fair conversation.
The choice of camera is one of the essential tools in the social media age when people connected mostly by pictures, and many users branded together with the camera or the equipment they use and some social groups formed following such alliance, like clubs. By that, some heated debate between social groups over patronage and loyalty on their investment surfaced and showing no sign of an end.
Realistically, all current cameras are relatively good cameras! What we have today, even a bargain camera, is something most people did not even dream of decades ago and of course, not those masters whose work introduced to us photography as serious art. And photography is about the photographer and his artworks, not about his camera. But the commercial mechanism gets into everywhere, making everyone part of the campaign, and very much so on just about anything today.
Back on the Leica Q and SONY RX1RII - as an industrial designer the Leica Q is more pleasant to look at, modern and stylish, handling is a subjective matter. Many may argue over ergonomics issues, yet it is an issue to many, not a problem to others. The ergonomic concern to me is a combination of geometry, scale, texture, ready-to-use-weight and how will the camera be used. SONY RX1RII is the typical Japanese engineer-driven design that tries to put as many functions as possible onto smallest space possible, and we can't fault them, they are Japanese and Japanese consumer figure those things out more naturally than people outside Japan. My take - get used to the tool if I decided to master it, then learn it and make it work for me. The battery life on RX1RII is not great but still enough to give about 300 exposures with one charge, and the rest is management. It does produce image quality compares comfortably to the very best of today, up to the realm of cameras with 33x44mm sensor, as of January 2019.
Leica Q, as heavy rumors pointed a coming upgrade in 2019, is likely to gain a big boost in sensor resolution will undoubtedly change the equation here. People who swear that 24MP is sufficient for them should stay with what they have that already satisfied them, and I am looking for what the brilliant minds of scientists and engineers capable of delivering what is next.
Note: In March 2019, I finally get the delivery of the highly anticipated Leica Q2, which is an elevation of all aspects from the original Q. Further information "The Q2 Factor"
January 17, 2021 - I sold my SONY RX1RII a couple of months after I started shooting with Q2. I still prefer 35mm focal length and wish Leica would do one eventually. SONY RX1RII was one of my favorite cameras, a great camera, but I cannot keep everything!
Using the Q2 for my "Cycle of Life" project
Leica Q2 is, IMHO, the best travel camera Leica has ever produced so dar! It is a perfect example of how should do a camera! As of January 2021, Q2 is still one of the Leica capable of the highest image quality.
August 15, 2021 Leica IIIf RD ST Reimagined
I have used many Leica cameras over the years and am lucky enough to collect some of them. Leica is a company committed to the pursuit of excellence, honor its heritage, endeavoring the future.
Many photographers love the Leica cameras, and some probably love the camera more than what the camera is supposed to do - photography! The love for Leica cameras can often be related to its connection to the rich history. Some may take such a heritage as a part of the credit as a photographer using a Leica that is as false as believing Leo Tolstoy can be an even greater writer if he uses a better pen. Some love the camera, an exquisitely crafted instrument, whether to use it or not. Some wish Leica never change and believe Leica manufactured better cameras yesterday than they are capable of today!
I love my old cameras, such as this Leica IIIf RD ST and the a la carte MP; each represents the state of the art of its time as well as many serial models during the progression of camera making. I also believe today's camera is better than yesterday's; it is common sense and scientific logic. However, I also think a better camera does not warrant a better image, or photography can be so simple that the wealthiest person who affords the best camera would be the best photographer! And it is not!
The style of the camera also evolved, and the love of such fashion is very subjective. I will not compare my IIIf or IIIg with my M3, MP, the current M10R, or my most used M10-D because each camera represents the best the camera maker has to offer at a different time. They all proved to deliver masterpieces by the capable hands of the photographers over the generations.
It is nothing wrong that some photographer prefers the nostalgic look of cameras of the past. However, such a look is not the purpose of the design; instead, it is the result of necessity. Each of the knobs and dials on the Leica IIIf corresponding to a set of mechanisms to deliver a specific function and the press of the shutter has the sense of hundreds of parts moving with a rhythmic response. In the modern-day, it is carried out with an integrated circuit aided with an interactive touch panel and a few knobs, dials or joystick for a quick override. I missed such an experience with today's camera, but the gain is precision and efficiency. It depends on how much I want for the result of an image to pick the camera to use. Old cameras are not obsolete; they are slower, less precise, and prone to mechanical inaccuracy, but still capable as a camera.
Can the camera makers retract to make the camera of the past? Of course, they could and could do it better, except such a market is often more wish talks than actual business.
I won't mind a 50mm Leica Q2 in a classic Leica IIIf package, that I am sure!