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Is Leica a Credible Player?

See my Leica M wishlist and Leica SL wishlist.

When I revisited my Leica S images from 2010, I was impressed in some ways, but mainly I was impressed at just how good Zeiss Otus lenses for Nikon/Canon are, and with 1+ stop more lens speed even accounting for format equivalent depth of field. And yet Leica S lenses are surely the best optical quality Leica has to offer (build quality is another matter entirely).

Is Leica a credible and viable player?

That is, as a camera vendor, not a high-end luxury toy.

A Leica S buyer, fortunately lacking a Glock
  • The S system is all but dead, barring some mirrorless camera at a far lower price that can make use of S lenses. And from what I hear, Leica S build quality is poor with frequent breakdowns. It would be appropriate if Leica just issued a formal EOL statement, given its not even lackluster support for the platform.
  • The M system has left users like me hung out to dry. The new Leica M10 is all well and good, but good mainly for the small/light street shooter crowd, and cheerleader reviewers that leave me impressed with the awesome power of rationalizations. M lens development seems to be over, and even then I still think the Zeiss ZM 35/1.4 Distagon is the best all-arounder for M.
  • The SL system is a joke compared to the Hasselblad X1D or Fujifilm GFX. Two trips with the SL and if someone told me it cost half as much, I still would not buy one. The M system should be rediscovered by Leica. The SL is an also-ran (crawled?), arriving late to the party and serves no market need that I can see, barring some tiny niche.
  • Leica has shown very poor strategic judgment in failing to build on its M heritage, irritating and then pissing off M users like me, all while shoveling boatloads of R&D money into the S and SL and TL systems. Many $millions that could have made the M system a truly impressive platform. Money that is now gone and with three systems that are not competive with anything on any rational basis. I just can’t see investors shoveling more money down the toilet with the track record of the past 3 years, which shows a total failure in understanding the key appeal of Leica, that is the M system concept, which could have been replaced with a modern version with all new lenses, not the huge brick and massive lenses of the SL system.

I want the M-system BACK! Dump the TL and SL and S lines and put all R&D resources into M cameras, starting with a rangefinder-free high-res EVF model with 36 megapixels and sensor stabilization and PentaxK1-style pixel shift.

Sohail K writes:

I note that you often point out that Leica is in disarray. Broadly speaking, I don’t disagree, but you never mention the excellent Leica Q, which I think has been a very successful camera -- perhaps one of the greats in recent years.

If I recall right, you were once a strong advocate of fixed-lens cameras. Personally, I’d love to see Leica developing other focal lengths -- maybe a 50mm or 85mm. I could see that being a major development and significant blow to the others. Further, it wouldn’t be bad thing (though I’m not too crazy about this) if the Q got an interchangeable lens mount.

DIGLLOYD: the Leica Q is indeed “on mission”, as is the M10 (even though both disappoint me in several ways, particularly EVF and resolution with the M10). If Leica can refocus all resources on such cameras, there is a path.

Roy P (very large Leica S system) writes:

Wow. I can see thousands of wedding, events, glamor, sports and wildlife photographers dumping their Nikon / Canon / Sony kits with 2-3 cameras and proven lenses like 24-70 f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8, 85/1.4, 105 f/2.8, 300 f/2.8, 400 f/2.8, 600 f/4, etc., as well as master-slave flash systems, remote controls, etc., and buying up the SL and BOTH of its lenses.

Oh, wait, there’s a third lens now, the 50 f/1.4 for $5300 is supposed to have started shipping now in limited quantities.

It must be the Leica Display Protection Foil for SL (Typ 601) Mirrorless Digital Camera for $25 that is putting the SL into the pro category!

Amazing. Leica is delusional.

DIGLLOYD: when an S owner who has had nearly all the S lenses at one time and still has most of them starts thinking this way, it does not bode well for Leica.

Roy P has another go at it:

This discussion goes to show how utterly foolish Leica is. The M lenses, with all their design compromises like focus shifting, field curvature, sometimes flare, etc., have a very unique positioning in all of photography by virtue of their exceptionally compact size. Yes, they have issues like focus shifting, field curvature and sometimes, flare. But they also have their unique rendering styles that create overall pleasing images.

All Leica has to do is to make the M system the best it can be. If the purists want to pay $1500+ for the RF, fine, leave it in. But for those of us who want to make sharp images, have the ability to focus in low light, compose-first-focus-next, not have 20-30% of the viewfinder blocked by lenses, and more resolution, the roadmap seems very clear and far less expensive than the strategically incoherent and wasteful pursuits like the S system, the TL, and now, the SL system:

This would be my open letter to Andreas Kaufman:

1. Stop pretending Sony is a competitor. You have a 0.5% market share in photography, compared to Sony, which has some 20+% market share, and is a supplier of image sensors to camera makers ranging from Apple (iPhone, iPad) to PhaseOne (100MP). The list includes Nikon, Pentax and Hasselblad.

2. Visit Sony, get an audience with Hirai san (CEO), if possible, and work out a sourcing deal for Sony’s flagship 35mm FF sensors, as they become available. Remember to bring a pair of knee pads to the meeting.

3. To the RF purists, offer M cameras with the RF. But for those who don’t care for it, see if you can use the same space used by the RF to install a fast, high res EVF.

4. Upgrade other parts of the camera, like a retina-grade LCD back, scratch-resistant gorilla glass cover, a few customizable buttons (not the idiotic S / SL interface), fast processor, 5-axis image stabilization, pixel shifting, weather proofing, etc.

5. Shut down all other R&D, anything not related to the M system. Sell the S lens designs and technologies to either Hasselblad or Pentax. Get rid of the silly SL line before you are laughed out of the market, after sinking a lot more money into it.

6. Offer the M in at multiple resolutions (24, 36, 42, 50+ MP) with different prices, by essentially continuing to sell older models at lower prices. Offer other M variations (monochrome, limited editions, psychedelic colors, pearl capped shutter release buttons, etc. for the luxury end of the market).

7. Build up the M lens line, which has been stagnant for years now. Perhaps a 75 or 85mm Summilux, a 135mm f/2, a couple of ultra wide angles, a 16mm fisheye, a 100mm macro, maybe a 70-200mm f/4 zoom, and a few more compact f/2.8 and f/4 lenses.

8. Continue to make your specialty lenses for niche markets (cine, Micro 4/3, Leicasonic cameras) as your only non-M business.

9. Get some serious help in improving production quality and reliability of your gear, so things don’t fall apart after a couple of years of serious use. Engineer products not just for clever design and aesthetic appeal, but also for rugged performance year after year.

10. Invest some serious money into a better service infrastructure. Sell a priority service plan membership for $100 a year – I am sure a lot of customers would be willing to pay that. Above all, increase repair turnaround times from months to days.

Now you have a very sharply focused (pun intended) and highly defendable boutique company, but one that you can really excel in, and stay on top of your game, and that gets your customers delighted. You are also going to be far, far more profitable.

(Will probably fall on deaf years, but what the heck!)

DIGLLOYD: spot-on.

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