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Medium Format Hasselblad X1D and Fujifilm GFX vs Leica S & M and Leica SL

See my Hasselblad X1D-50C wish list and Fujifilm GFX wish list.

Somehow, those two letters in the title ring true with the brand.

The 24-megapixel Leica SL will surely feel pressure from a medium format system costing almost exactly the same (about $13K with lens). The competition in its price range now has a 66% larger sensor, 2X the pixels, superior image quality and dynamic range, and a superior lens lineup*. The Leica SL would have to sell for half of what it does to make any sense at all.

* The way I count, two shipping primes and one more coming (Hasselblad) is better than zero shipping primes. We should hear on Jan 19 about 5 lenses for the Fujifilm GFX. Even if Fujifilm delays until June, there isn’t even a debate here.

Speaking of size and weight: the Leica SL weighs 847g with battery, but the Hasselblad X1D weighs only 725g with battery! A sensor 66% larger and the X1D weighs 14% less.

Thought problem: you have roughly $14K to spend. Take your pick:

The SL image quality is not likely to even be in the same league as the Hasselblad X1D or Fujifilm GFX. And then there is delivery: Leica SL lens promises are farts in the wind as far as delivery goes (the 50/1.4 has yet to ship as I write this). Leica has gone astray, neglected and ignored its core customer base (M shooters), and simply fails to deliver on every front. My M240 has been forgotten (nothing useful in firmware except a few fixes that should never have shipped the screwed up way to start with). No new high-res body. Toy-grade EVF. Etcetera.

It’s game over for Leica as far as I can see, except as a purveyor of gilded toys (so to speak). But see my comments at the end for possible salvation.

Roy P writes:

[See Roy P’s comments on the Leica S system in this post, he has owned a large S system].

It looks like Hasselblad has a lot of internal turmoil, and it may be a long time before the X1D really comes together as a solid, reliable system.

I also heard that the Leica S is a basket case. The S line has not done well for Leica (OMG, really??!), and Leica has now tossed it in the lap of Sinar, and told them to use the guts of the S to make a digital back out of it. I have now heard this from three different, independent sources.

The previous R&D resources related to the S line has been put on the SL, which is having moderate success. Although not flying off the shelves, it’s showing a pulse. So officially, the S system is not dead, but for all practical purposes, it is. The support for the S system was already bad, and now, it is practically non-existent. Leica is an incredibly sloppy company. European customers must be a lot more forgiving or fatalistic than we are in the U.S. I think they are resigned to whatever crap happens to them – maybe a psyche developed by centuries of wars and displacements, and socialistic governments that foster and conditions people to be less demanding.

I was just amazed to see the difference in the settlement that Volkswagen was dished out in Europe vs. in the US, for the emissions fraud scandal. In Europe, the settlement amounted to a plastic tube, some software update and instructions. In the U.S., VW paid $20,000 to each customer. This article in the NYT is really hilarious and worth a quick scan.

My sense is, Leica (and likely, Hasselblad) are old school artisans given to excellence in hand-crafted mechanical things. They are culturally the same as Swiss watch makers, with the only difference being the end product. They had a nice trade, but the tidal wave of electronics and software blew them away and derailed their applecart. The same way digital watches dealt a body blow to the Swiss and other mechanical watchmakers who once ruled the earth. But at least, the high-end mechanical watchmakers were able to move further upstream and continue to exist today as boutique but solid businesses. The mass-market mechanical watchmakers are mostly gone.

The problem for Leica and Hasselblad is, they don’t have an equivalent all-mechanical universe to exist in, since film has died. They have to deal with electronics and software for almost everything, and they just can’t culturally make that transition any more than Patek Philippe, Audemars, Blancpain, Jaeger, Rolex, etc. can compete head on with Apple Watch.

That’s why every time Leica tries to put itself into a higher orbit, it fizzles out, and keeps dropping back to the M, and that’s also why even with the M, progress is painfully slow. We measure the progress of the M system in digital terms, but the oxen at Leica with the mechanical DNA in them can’t handle the digital yolk we keep placing on their necks!

Leica would be better off sticking to its knitting – the M system, and doing everything to make it the best it could be – and there are a lot of things they could do to make the M system more useful and pleasurable to use for people who appreciate M mount lenses.

DIGLLOYD: it’s insane not to see a mirrorless Leica S. The Leica SL should have been the Leica S system in mirrorless form.

There is possible salvation: Leica has only to make an M360 with a 36-megapixel sensor and 4MP EVF that takes M lenses and laugh all the way to the bank with suckers like me buying one. Leave the rangefinder OUT, make it smaller and add sensor stabilization and pixel shift for a home run. That of course is just for giggles.

Instead Leica delivers a a brick called the SL with ergonomics that frustrate me, and that leaves M users like me hung out to dry. It’s a kick in the groin in at least two ways: (a) no decent EVF or sensor resolution and (b) devaluation of my M-lens investment by apparent abandonment of any meaningful move forward on the M line. It is shows awesomely bad judgment to throw away goodwill for the most liked product line in the company history for all-new electronic stabs in the dark, infuriating the traditional M fan base. That this is so is self evident by the severe drop in Leica M lens prices (I can’t even sell mine at 30% off).

Thom Hogan writes:

One of the things I learned in my long career of managing companies is that they can fail for all kinds of reasons, including failing because they were successful.

What most people don't understand is capitalization. Hasselblad's problems are exactly centered on that. They're capitalized for a certain assumed product volume. The demand for the new medium format camera was way beyond what they could have produced. This created a classic tech problem: from where does the money come from to buy parts for all those orders, to establish a bigger and more efficient plant, and to get the increased number of products to the customer?

The lawyer is correct: the (current/former) owner of Hasselblad didn't want to pony up that cash. So that left few ways of raising it quickly enough to actually deliver a product. Had Hasselblad not found a willing partner, ironically the success of the X1D might have doomed the company to Chapter 7. Not Chapter 11, but full dismantle.

Personally, I take the DJI investment as a good sign. They have the cash, they have the experience in managing rapid, unexpected demand ramps, and if they've taken a controlling share as Kevin reports, that means the blood-sucking leeches that had control of Hasselblad no longer can make blood sucking decisions. DJI is a good choice for Hasselblad to team with: no overlap in products, but experience and money that can be exploited.

None of this happens fast, though. You can't plan for making 1000 units over a couple of years then find out that the initial demand on day 1 is higher than that and deliver instantly. I know of no one that can do that. So, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. If they deliver in the next couple of months and the units perform as expected, I have no real issues with what happened. Indeed, I'd bet this saves Hasselblad. Of course, if they can't take the DJI money/experience and make good with it, then Hasselblad will go the way of the dinosaur. Thus, I'm not in a tizzy over this. We'll know the answer soon enough.

DIGLLOYD: makes sense. At any rate, my original comments on desirability hold: the X1D looks to be more appealing than any Nikon or Canon or Sony DSLR at many levels, due to very high (expected) dynamic range, 50 megapiexels and total image quality in a reasonably compact body.

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