The M Rangefinder continues Leica innovation | So Good News


Leica M11

Leica innovated the camera in 1925 with the Leica 1 and broke new ground with the Leica 2 and then the M3. However, not so much in recent years and I believe that the “classic” M is now really holding back Leica innovation.

To understand what the current “egg” can be, one must understand the genesis of the quintessential Leica rangefinder that began with the Leica 1 (fixed lens). It took the bold step of introducing an ultra-portable, 35mm roll film, camera. . The fields of photojournalism have expanded with possibilities, but Leica defined an era by taking the 2 1 and turning it into an interchangeable lens camera. Suddenly you can use 35mm, 85mm and 24mm along with the original 50mm.

There was still the WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) problem, which was always solved by using a point-and-shoot camera, twin-lens reflex (TLR) or (later) single-lens reflex (SLR). Leica’s elegant solution was an integrated rangefinder, a separate viewfinder that corrected parallax differences with the lens. The Leica M3 took this design to the next level with a built-in viewfinder/rangefinder and switched from a screw mount to a bayonet mount. The transformation is complete for the ultimate handheld camera, perhaps best exemplified by the M6 ​​and its recent resurgence.

The rangefinder was the spiritual father of the mirrorless camera. The bulky, complex, expensive and fog-prone mirror box of an SLR camera was not, the simplicity of the design allowed for a compact camera. More importantly, the focal length of the flange—like today’s mirrorless models—was shorter, allowing for much smaller lenses. It’s no wonder photojournalists have been obsessed with the Leica M for years. The M6 ​​from 1984 gave way to the M7, which introduced automatic modes in 2002, so the analogue ended in 2018 … until the M6 ​​was reintroduced this year!

Digital rangefinder

The M rangefinder’s innovation, or rather lack of it, is an example of what has gradually improved since the M3. Of course, there’s the argument that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but the achievements of Olympus (now OM Digital), Minolta, Nikon, Canon, and Sony have been a willingness to experiment and innovate.

So where has the digital rangefinder gone? The M8 launched in 2006, and image quality issues aside, it was a good start, but it was clear that M-class shooters needed a full-frame sensor, and that arrived with the M9 in 2009. It was an important moment. because it beat the Sony by three years to full-frame and showed that there was a market for such a camera, while also delivering great footage.

Leica M11 | Photo by Matt Williams PetaPixel

So with the release of the Leica M (Typ240) began some of the Leica movement for the better part of a decade, rushing to incorporate more technology, but at the expense of shooting experience and not necessarily producing the best images available in the class. There was a simple version (ME), an upgrade (Typ 262) and versions that avoided the color filter array (Monochrome) and the rear screen (MD). It felt like a period of experimentation, finding its feet, trying to figure out what a digital M-mount rangefinder should look like and what consumers were willing to pay. For example, there’s an argument for the high resolution that monochrome provides, making it a reasonable, if expensive, option. Screen removal seems pretty gratuitous, but to each their own.

However, this period was also marked by the development of Leica’s mirrorless ambitions with the introduction of the T-mount (which became the L-mount), a truly competitive entry into the market. Following Sony’s strategy, it started with APS-C (T) before expanding it to full-frame (SL) and then opening a facility for Panasonic and Sigma as its partners. Both produced cameras that seemed to complement, not compete with, the Leica line. All of this is of course in addition to Leica’s medium format S series.

So Leica seems to have found the perfect blend of old and new by running both rangefinder and mirrorless systems side by side. Or is there?

The death of the rangefinder?

The contradiction of this strategy is perhaps best illustrated by Leica’s announcement that it will stop producing APS-C models: the CL and TL2 have been dropped as they pursue the burgeoning full-frame market. In some ways, this is not surprising; the low value segment is shrinking and manufacturers are exiting. That being said, I don’t think we can call any The Leica camera costs less, but the volume may no longer exist, and the need to simplify and slim down the product range is increasing. So it seems that APS-C models are more likely to be consigned to the bin.

In contrast, what we’ve seen from Sony is that the variant supply model is correct; make the main camera (a7) and make high resolution (a7R) and low noise/high speed (a7S) models. Additionally, we now have a compact version of the a7C. Not only that, but continue to sell older versions at lower prices, getting full value from production lines.

Leica M11
Leica M11 | Photo by Matt Williams PetaPixel

Streamlining production to just four models – all with the same core – makes a lot of sense, but also caters to the broadest market. Leica now seems to have one mirrorless model and four rangefinder models, all aimed at the same target user.

In summing up Leica’s problem, it might be easier to say its absence: a traditional mirrorless M-mount, rangefinder camera. If this is a problem, what is the reason? As I mentioned earlier, the rangefinder lens was an elegant solution to “seeing” what it saw, allowing it to be small and smart. The advent of the mirrorless camera made the optical viewfinder unnecessary: ​​by sending a live “feed” from the sensor, you can actually see what the lens “sees” without complicated optomechanical jigger-poker.

In short, the rangefinder is not only redundant, but also past its sell-by date. This, of course, does not prevent Leica from selling a reasonable number of M rangefinders to desirable customers, although it does have a significant impact on their product line. In particular, they’ve never made a small, full-frame, mirrorless camera because that would compete directly with the M and would likely reduce sales, meaning releasing two different designs for the same number of sales.

Maybe a Leica Sigma fp should be made

Where does this leave Leica moving forward? The L-Mount Alliance, in my opinion, was designed to reduce system development costs and allow affordable cameras and lenses to be built much faster. Sigma (as a lens manufacturer) and Panasonic (as a camera manufacturer) make logical partners for Leica. However, the demise of the CL and TL2 highlights the product line issues facing Leica.

Maybe a camera must Sigma made the fp… well, maybe not exactly because it’s a small, ergonomically unattractive box. It’s aimed at the small-factor, full-frame market, and looks like the M’s spiritual successor, at least to me. Well, I wouldn’t want to shoot with a photojournalistic fp, but the intention is right and, as a result, I prefer to shoot with a frame rather than an M11.

Photo by Ryan Means PetaPixel

Perhaps this is the reason why Leica and Panasonic have jointly developed a new mirrorless model; Either way, Leica remains with a single L-mount full-frame model and a range based around the M10. This does not seem to be a forward-looking strategy based on the development of advanced technology. Could Leica’s future be focused on returning the M to a single model that satisfies its existing clientele? Could it create a true successor to the M in the form of a heritage mirrorless model to offer the next generation camera for photojournalism? After creating the L-mount to help future-proof it, has Leica lost its way while expanding its M catalog?

I look forward to whatever Leica and Panasonic develop together and hope that it foreshadows the future. Of course, Leica could always do the unthinkable and release a mirrorless M-mount camera that uses an electronic viewfinder.

Image credits: Header photo by Matt Williams PetaPixel


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