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Reader Comments: Leica S System Promises

See my Leica SL wish list and Leica M wish list B&H Photo.

NEW! the Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-SL ASPH is available for pre-order.

See my review of the Leica S system.

Leica S

Reader Bob H from the UK asked me to publish the letter that follows

Hot on the heels of Photokina, I decided it time to write the attached “Open Letter” to Leica and wonder if you would be interested in publishing it given that they appear to be on the brink of complete annihilation by the likes of Fujifilm and about to abandon the S system much as they did in 2009 to the R system?

The S Typ 007 was introduced at Photokina 2014 and there has been no new hardware since then. I took delivery of mine in the second half of 2015 but it was rolled out as the new, cutting edge Leica product at Photokina in September 2014. I suspect the delay in actual release was because it was not the "real deal" at the time of Photokina 2014 and needed further testing and refining despite images of it and images taken by it were on display at Photokina 2014.

My “beef” is that Leica has not carried out what they said they would do 8 years ago when the system was launched and make it a true “system” camera with the lenses mentioned.
They appear to be doing what they did with the R system in 2009.

Here is the letter:

An Open Letter to Leica [by Bob Hamilton]

Dear Leica,

It’s no coincidence that I compose this letter to you hot on the heels of a disappointing Photokina, itself the culmination of an increasingly bemusing and frustrating period of years as a Leica S system owner.

I have been a user and lover of Leica imaging equipment for many years and moved to the “Pro Format” S system following a period of ownership of a Hasselblad H3D-50 and H4D-50 system remarkable only for the fragility of the equipment which, despite being cared for lovingly and treated with kid gloves, refused repeatedly to function – usually, as per Murphy’s Law, at the most inopportune moment when a memorable image was developing in front of my eyes. A series of such events, in late 2010 and early 2011, along with the “promise” made by Leica at the S system’s launch at Photokina 2008, of the development of the system to truly make it a “system”, persuaded me that a move to a system which was much more robust and suited to my needs would be the best way forward and, at no small cost, I sold off my Hasselblad system of digital camera and 7 lenses and purchased an S2 along with the 35mm, 70mm, 120mm macro and 180mm lenses. The 30mm soon followed and, when the 30-90mm zoom lens, which had been on the advertised development list since 2008, became available in December 2012, I acquired it and sold off my 30mm and 35mm lenses. Two further lenses were acquired as soon as they became available – the 24mm and the 120mm PC – and the S2 body was replaced by the S Typ 006 and S Typ 007 as soon as they became available, both of which I still own.

And that’s where this story ends or, should I say, the kernel of my increasing frustration grows into something which has made me pen this letter.

Since Photokina 2014, other than the occasional firmware update, most of which I would describe as essentially “cosmetic” and akin to “moving the deck chairs around the Titanic”, the S system has seen no development at all while it would appear that the lion’s share of the R&D budget has gone towards developing the new kid on the block – the SL system - which is in grave danger, after, in Leica terms, a “mere” 2 years or so of life since its announcement in October 2015, of becoming a true “system” with a raft of lenses covering the needs of most amateur and professional users.

To put it bluntly, Leica made “promises” at the S system’s launch in September 2008 which have not been kept and, in doing so, lured loyal, long-term customers into a system which appears, ultimately, to have gone only part of the way to meeting those “promises” and their customers’ needs. I wonder how many S system owners bought into the system, as I did, on the back of the September 2008 promise of lenses such as a 30mm tilt and shift and a 350mm telephoto, the promise of which even included serial numbers in the images of the lenses published at the time. Needless to say, neither of these lenses has been forthcoming and no further mention has been made of them. My (several) pleas made over the last couple of years to Leica UK and Germany to, at the very least, produce an APO tele-converter matched to the superb 180mm lens, to give S owners access to a native focal length longer than the current maximum of 145mm full frame equivalent, have fallen on deaf ears.

Come on Leica, treat your loyal S customers fairly and either advise them honestly that the S system is no longer central to the corporate strategy and has entered its “end of life phase” or do as other manufacturers, such as Fuji, do and give us a road map of system development which you intend to honour.

Yours sincerely,
Bob Hamilton

Leica M240

DIGLLOYD: I have more severe gripes of how Leica has dead-ended my M240, offering no useful firmware updates, no improved EVF and the system is wedged at 24 megapixels . I have no idea of whether the M system is history or not and I don’t see the modernized SL as a suitable platform.

The M system was the biggest investment in camera gear I ever made. As Leica rapidly devalued my investment with lens discounts lasting over a year and failed to offer any value over several years, I began to feel that I had bought into a dead system, all while Leica produces boutique special run editions for collectors along with assorted trinkets, ignoring the M system (and S system, where is the mirrorless S?).

The extreme prices that Leica charges represent poor value, both in the immediate term and in the long term committment to maintaining system viability and value.

Gary M writes:

First, the S System will get a lot of pressure over the next year. With the continuing sales of the Pentax 645, the new Hasselblad X1 and maybe something from Fuji (showing a mule and selling a product are two different things… Fuji has their work cut out). The next year will be a make or break year for the S System. At the very least, Leica will need to update the sensor size to stay competitive. And a few f4 lenses to shave some weight would be nice.

Next, I was dismayed at the SL lens road map. Not until sometime in 2018 will a 35mm f2 lens become available?!? Leica has been making lenses for 100 years… even for a small boutique operation such as Leica you’d think they would have the lens thing more or less down by now. The SL lens road map was nice, but four lenses over nearly 2 years does not make a professional system… it makes a tiny little camera family, NOT a system (think Canon EOS M or Nikon 1)!

Finally, you will NEVER have an updated, higher resolution EVF for the M240. First and foremost, I was told (and also saw this in print) that the processor in the M240 could not handle the throughput of the little EVF that was produced for the now discontinued T. The M240 would have to have an updated processor (the Maestro II) to work with the T, EVF. At that point, it would be a new camera (M250?). My beef with the M240 (and it’s derivatives) is that at the very least, the optical viewfinder should have a diopter adjustment and maybe a built-in magnifier (the focus patch is pathetically small). Currently it has nothing. I don’t think that would be too much to ask (Leica has the whole Oskar Barnack mojo going and if Oskar did not need a diopter adjustment, then neither do you).

Overall, after reading the press releases from most of the exhibitors (Fuji, Olympus, etc.), I find the 2016 version of this show underwhelming. I guess the demise of the point and shoot and is cheap and easy revenue and the rise of the cell/mobile phone has really cut into revenue so much that there is little money left (once salaries are paid and earthquake damage repaired) for any company to do big stuff.

DIGLLOYD: the SL lenses have to be all-new designs with AF, so there is real R&D cost there and Leica is probably trying to spread out the costs.

The truth about the M240 is that a higher-res EVF is possible, but would probably be something like 15 fps (I got this directly from an engineer over at Leica some time ago). So it's a misleading statement from Leica to say it’s not possible. 15 fps would be just fine with me, but Leica's attitude is that if it can't be 30 fps, it's not worth doing. Leica is clueless about the needs of eyes over 40 years old, a subject near and dear to my decade-older than that eyes.

Photokina: two mirrorless medium format cameras with 9 total lenses between them sounds pretty good to me. Some good Sigma lenses, a Loxia 85/2.4, one all-new Zeiss Milvus 18/2.8 — there is a fair amount of good stuff. Presumably Sony was delayed in some announcements by the factory earthquake last spring.

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