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Is It the End of the Development Road for Leica M Cameras? (Updated with Reader Comments)

See my Leica M wish list at B&H Photo.

Is Leica a Credible Player? See also Leica M cameras.

Update: as a measure of the appalling state of the internet, two readers wrote me with combinations of ad-hominem attacks, mind reading, and threats to not subscribe. When at least one of those is present, it’s a “tell” for cognitive dissonance and usually other less pleasant things, but when 2 or 3 are present, it’s a surefire indicator.

It looks like the end of the Leica M road; a rudderless and vision-less product development mentality seems to be at work at Leica. Particularly since the M line is the crown jewel of Leica as far as most are concerned. And yet there the M line sits, gathering dust.

Back in 2017 I commented upon the haphazard seemingly semi-random development of product lines at Leica. Little has changed in years except dubious lenses like the Leica 90mm f/2.2 Thambar-M and the exciting but unaffordable Leica 75mm f/1.25 Noctilux-M-ASPH. The Thambar-M and lack of meaningful advances for M cameras supports the idea that Leica is defocused and doing all the wrong things* from my perspective.

* If the margins are what I think they are and enough suckers can be found, building 2200 or so Thambar-M lenses at a dealer price of ~$5800 should yield $12.7M in revenue. So maybe Leica has the game figured out.

Saddlebag Lake
f8 @ 1/500 sec, ISO 100; 2017-06-25 16:38:01
LEICA M10 + Leica 18mm f/3.8 Super-Elmar-M ASPH

[low-res image for bot]

I feel hung out to dry by Leica, the M240 and various wides in my draw sitting unused nearly all year. There is no path forward that Leica has articulated that I can discern. The SL system into which huge resources must have been flushed is a joke compared to the elegant M system; SL camera and lenses are huge and heavy, the antithesis of M.

I always liked shooting the M240, in spite of all its faults. The M10 only made the experience better, because of its improved EVF. The image quality is lovely in general terms. Not all images require more than 24 megapixels , BUT when I shoot outdoors, I like detail; it’s part of the enjoyment for me because a solid composition coupled with exceptional detail adds another level of interest*. And it takes the same effort to shoot 24 megapixels as 35/42/45/50 (well, a little more effort at higher-res to get it optimal).

* As I get older, my ability to focus my eyes at close range gets worse and worse (presbyopia, everyone gets it). So even an 8 X 12 print size is too small to appreciate or enjoy the way I would wish (cannot see the really fine details without reading glasses)—I need something larger for ease of viewing. The screen size of the iMac 5K is sort of my minimum size at this point, and it’s 23 X 13 inches / 58 X 33 cm size. IMO no one can achieve get the sense of expansiveness of a landscape image by looking at anything smaller than about a meter wide. I don’t want to imagine an image is sharp when it’s not; I want the real thing at large size, Instagram mania be damned.

What’s the Best Way to Enjoy Images at their Finest?

Some people feel that that 24 megapixels is “enough”, but this ignores a common issue, one enough to make some pros avoid the camera for some photography: there can be an awful mess when shooting finely detailed subject matter due to color aliasing. A Bayer matrix sensor renders false detail along with sometimes horrific “Christmas tree” colored speckles. Give me a true-color Sigma Merrill-style 24-megapixel sensor and I’ll be content, but a Bayer matrix at 24MP has serious drawbacks in image quality on the “wrong” choice of image and the issue is at its worst at the best apertures (f/4, 5.6, 8). Aliasing is unavoidable with only 24 megapixels (barring an anti-aliasing filter and/or stopping down to f/11 or beyond). If a 50-megapixel or even 36-megapixel sensor were used, it would substantially reduce the issue and I would have my desired level of detail.

Another issue is that 8K displays are not that far off: a camera whose images fill only 2/3 of the display will in effect deliver blurry images guaranteed since they’ll have to be scaled up to fit (24 megapixels scaled up to fit a 33 megapixel display). The Apple iMac 5K is already a visual treat (and is the finest B&W display available today AFAIK), and an 8K display will be more so. I don’t want my enjoyment degraded by a low-res camera.

2.5K or 4K or 5K Display for Image Editing and Viewing?

So here we are in 2018 and the Leica M10 remains at 24 megapixels with nothing else in sight. The M10 is the same as the M240 in every meaningful function excepting a much improved EVF and modestly improved ergonomics. The price of admission for an M10 from the M240 is about $8K (including the EVF and a spare battery). It’s not money I have to spend, certainly not on a dead-end system.

CLICK TO VIEW: Lloyd’s Leica M Highly Portable Dream Kit

Below, what a gorgeous day! But anyone who argues that this image is just as good at 24 megapixels as at 45 megapixels can’t have their head on straight—printed 4 feet wide the sharpness limits will show up.

Saddlebag Lake
f8 @ 1/500 sec, ISO 100; 2017-06-25 16:57:10
LEICA M10 + Leica 18mm f/3.8 Super-Elmar-M ASPH

[low-res image for bot]

Roy P writes:

I agree, the addled-brain thinking at Leica continues, and miraculously, Leica has managed to survive and grow for the past 3-4 years, but I can’t shed the feeling that they must have saturated their “buy Leica Anything” fan base by now, and they’re about to hit a brick wall.

For all practical purposes, the M camera reached a Living Dead status a long time ago. The M9, which started shipping in production quantities (for Leica) in December 2009, hasn’t really changed much in nearly a decade. The sensor changed from 18MP CCD to 24MP CMOS, but other than that, there’s really very little that has changed in nearly a decade. Leica gets no credit for the crappy EVF on the M240, or the halfway decent EVF for the M10. Heck, Leica didn’t even bother to put a retina-class monochrome LCD on the back of their monochrome models.

The SL system IMHO is a product of a seriously flawed marketing strategy, based on a total lack of comprehension of what pro photographers want. It fails on all pro fronts: For typical wedding and event photographers, the choice of lenses is flawed. Decades of DSLR experience has shown that the most handy set of lenses consists of 24-70mm F2.8 for camera-1, 70-200mm F2.8 for camera-2, 85mm F1.4 for portraits. Next, maybe a 90 or 100mm F2.8 macro for closeups. This is a staple for most wedding and event photographers, and is a need that is exceptionally well met by the big three, Canon, Nikon and Sony, and the same lenses are offered by leading independent lens makers like Sigma. None of the Leica SL lenses meet this need – Leica’s lens choices are awkward, at best, for this group of pro photographers, and the sheer cost of two bodies + lenses is a non-starter for most. Leica’s strobe offerings for the SL also far behind what the big three camera makers offer.

For pro photographers who are into sports and action, the SL system is a joke. The camera has none of the capabilities (high frame rate, superfast autofocus acquisition, AF tracking, large buffer size) that people have been used to getting from Canon and Nikon for years, now hugely surpassed by Sony. The SL looks like a retro, in comparison. The one long lens (90-200mm F2.8-4) is woefully inadequate and at $6400, absurdly expensive for what it offers.

For landscape and architectural photographers, the SL camera lacks the resolution, let alone pixel shifting, and there are no serious primes or high quality zooms in the wide angle to ultra-wide angle range. Why would anyone in their right mind willing to put in the effort for serious landscape or cityscape shots settle for a 24MP payload for double the cost of a Sony A7R III + a bagful of Loxia or Batis lenses?

Not to forget, Leica has none of the rugged quality and reliability of the cameras and lenses, or the pro-level support infrastructure or services offered by the Big Three. I really don’t know any pro photographers who use the SL system – if there are any out there, I’d like to hear from them.

In the meantime, the S system, which started out with an even bigger fanfare than the SL, has been parked in a dead end for 5-6 years now (although there are rumors that there will be an S 008 or S3 announced following Photokina). Maybe Leica realizes the SL was a blunder, and it’s time to fall back to the S system as a differentiated offering.

It remains to be seen what kind of differentiation Leica could offer on this front, considering how much grass Leica has let grow under its feet, since introducing the S2 in 2009, as well. Now Leica must contend with serious medium format offerings from Hasselblad and Fujifilm at the entry level, going right up to Phase One XF with 100 MP and soon, 150 MP backs. Just based on the physical size of the S-sensor, Leica continues to be well below the entry level of real medium format, so it’s not clear how Leica plans to make any headway with higher priced offerings even on this front.

So it is all the more perplexing why Leica has let drift the one truly differentiated offering it has in all of photography, the M system, with the unique M lenses. As long as five years ago, Leica should have had an M body with a 36MP sensor and an integrated, high-res EVF, and a Rangefinder option for the RF die-hards.

Having owned a dozen+ M lenses in the past, I’m down to only a few now (Leica 21 lux, 50 APO, 90 APO, and the Zeiss 35F1.4 ZM), all of which I use with my Sony A7x cameras far more effectively than I ever could use them with a Leica camera. I’m also considering getting the 75 Noctilux. I’d likely buy an M11 that had a 36+ MP sensor + integrated high-res EVF, even at a preposterous $6000+ price tag, and I suspect a lot of others would too. I don’t understand why Leica can’t comprehend this, and insists on its Quixotic forays chasing windmills it couldn’t possibly conquer.

DIGLLOYD: a potential Leica fan, burnt too many times.

Jason W writes:

Leica is a luxury brand whose marketing strategy says their gear is only for photography purists, so high resolution sensors and EVF's don't help them make that play. Their target buyer in theory doesn't care. It's all hipsterism and snobbery.

I also wouldn't expect any right turns on that in the near future. The minority shareholder is selling their stake so any new R&D developments might be on hold.

Finally, pure conjecture, but their boutique business might be a loss leader that just exists for brand marketing. Huawei, the third largest smartphone maker, licenses some Leica tech, so they have income from other areas.

Leica possible sale and that Huawei licenses Leica tech:

Leica brand strategy:


A newer article shows Morgan Stanley was tapped for any potential sale. Again, this was all last year, but I can't find any more updated info

Most shocking quote from that India story by Leica-India's managing director.

“We don’t hesitate to say no, when I know a certain customer is just talking about showing his wealth to people,” he says. Leica team members are educated to subtly ask open-ended questions to determine if the camera is just going to end up as a trophy in someone’s house."

DIGLLOYD: purist = collector or dilettante or (rarely) serious shooter?

There are many reasons to sell but here are two that seem likely: business doing poorly, or business doing well but having slowing growth. I deem one of these likely and they really are the same.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Buyout group Blackstone (BX.N) is in talks with potential buyers for its 45 percent stake in iconic high-end camera and sport optics maker Leica, people close to the matter said.

The investor has teamed up with an investment bank to work out strategic options for the company and has already held talks with several potential acquirers, the people said, adding no official auction process was underway. Blackstone declined to comment. Any potential buyer will have to come to terms with Austria’s Kaufmann family, whose vehicle ACM owns a 55 percent stake in Leica, having brought in Blackstone as a co-investor in 2011.


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