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In Leica’s Candy Store: A chat with Stefan Daniel among all the toys

  Photo: Dr. Michael Pritchard,  Royal Photographic Society
Photo: Dr. Michael Pritchard, Royal Photographic Society

During Photokina I had the opportunity chat with Leica’s director of product management, Stefan Daniel, about the massive array of new cameras, lenses and accessories announced at the show. I joined Dr. Michael Pritchard of the Royal Photographic Society (who took the accompanying photographs) to ply Herr Daniel with a few questions. 

Stefan Daniel has been with Leica for thirty years and knows the company inside out. As product director, therefore, he has tremendous hands-on experience.

First, the setting: We were ushered into Leica’s candy store at Photokina, the holy of holies where every new item was crowded alluringly on one table. This is the stuff of dreams and it was rather overwhelming to be able to pick up first an M60, then the new S, then a trio of digital compacts. This year Leica has excelled itself with the largest number of new products launched by any exhibitor at the massive Cologne venue. But time was limited so it was straight down to business.

Leica’s holy of holies, groaning with toys: Stefan Daniel explains the new cameras to Mike Evans (photo by Dr. Michael Pritchard, Royal Photographic Society )

ME: The two new digitals from Panasonic, the D-Lux and V-Lux, have transformed Leica’s compact offerings. Both have leapfrogged the opposition, largely from Sony—the RX100 in the case of the D-Lux and the RX10 in the case of the V-Lux. How do you see the cooperation with Panasonic?

SD: We have been working with Panasonic for 13 years now and we are very happy with how things are going. The cooperation will definitely continue. The D-Lux has long been Leica’s best-selling compact camera and the new larger sensor takes it to a new level.

MD: Last year I remember reading that “trusted sources” at Leica had confirmed that Leica would never launch a micro four thirds camera. Yet here we are with 4/3 compact, albeit with a fixed lens.

SD: The D-Lux is not an MFT camera: It has has a four-thirds sensor but we have no intention of adopting the micro four-thirds interchangeable-lens standard. The new D-Lux sensor offers around five times the area of the old sensor in the D-Lux 6 and adds a high-resolution screen and a superb 2.8Mp built-in viewfinder. We feel we have jumped ahead of the competition with this camera.

ME: I was very impressed with the X Vario when I tested it earlier this year and it is a pity that so much attention was focused, wrongly in my opinion, on the “slow” zoom lens. The new X appears to have tackled this negativity and I think we will see a big change of opinion among commentators. From my point of view there is just one disappointment, the lack of a built-in viewfinder. Fuji, with the X100S and T have shown the way in integral viewfinder technology and it is a pity Leica still has to use accessory finders.

SD: The external Visoflex offers higher resolution and a larger viewing area than would be possible in this size of body. We feel the external EVF is the best solution for the X models. Back in 2009 when we launched the X1 the concept of a high-performance, fixed 35mm-equivalent lens compact was an innovation. The X2 was more successful after Fuji opened up the market with the X100—by this time everyone had to have an X in the title. The new Leica X is a logical development and offers a different experience to the X100S. 

ME: That brings me on to the Visoflex. I was very impressed with this new unit on the T and it is sad that the M and the X Vario are still restricted to the old VF-2 which is now pretty ancient. When can we hope to see the new finder on the M? 

SD: Unfortunately, this is something that will have to wait until the new model is introduced. It is not possible to amend the current M to take the Visoflex.

ME: The X Vario’s Achilles’ heel was the trigger-happy four-way pad which sits under the ball of the thumb and is prone to inadvertent pressing, particularly selection of exposure compensation and flash function. Can this be tackled by firmware upgrade?

SD: The new firmware upgrade for the X Vario is now available for download. I don’t think there is any specific change to the operation of the four-way pad but we have disabled the flash button when the flash is not extended. 

ME: Could I ask about service times? I have several friends and readers who have had to wait up to three months for repairs to M9s and this is causing a lot of frustration.

SD: Currently we have an issue with the sensor for the M9. There is a spare parts delay but we hope to have this resolved soon. 

ME: I am vastly impressed with the M60 Edition and feel that there is a market for a stripped-down digital camera like this. I have several friends who would buy one in a heartbeat if it were to go into production. What are the prospects of this?

SD: The M60 is testing the market and we are interested in all feedback and reactions. We have an open mind on this and I certainly cannot rule out the possibility of a production model.

ME: The design of the M60 is superb, as was the concept of the new T. Are you happy with your cooperation with Audi Design?

SD: We are very happy. Leica has never really had inside designers and our relationship with Audi Design has been very fruitful. Recently we have decided to extend our in-house facilities and have employed a young designer but we will also continue to work with Audi. 

  The £12,000 M60 flanked by the M-P, the X, the D-Lux, the revamped   X-E and the latest S, Note how the V-Lux looks like a mini S (photo  Michael Pritchard ) 
The £12,000 M60 flanked by the M-P, the X, the D-Lux, the revamped  X-E and the latest S, Note how the V-Lux looks like a mini S (photo Michael Pritchard ) 

ME: Among all the new camera announcements the lenses and accessories were rather overshadowed. However, now I have had a change to play with the Summarits I feel you could have a winning range on your hands. They look beautiful and they are light and compact.

SD: These four lenses have undergone a comprehensive revision. We have managed to widen the aperture from f/2.5 to f/2.4 and also added the silver anodised finish to the black without any weight penalty. The thirty-five is now aspherical. We are able to include the newly-designed hood and the leather case to make the Summarits a fully fledged member of the M lens line-up. The Summarits will no longer be regarded as an “economy line”.

ME: I certainly think M owners will be taking a new look at these lovely lenses. I could see all four of them in my personal arsenal and I think the silver anodised versions will be in great demand among M-P and T owners because they look right and are much lighter than previous chrome lens versions.

My thanks to Stefan Daniel for the opportunity to discuss the new products

Read more Leica camera reviews by Mike Evans

Read more Photokina news from Macfilos:

Fist impressions Leica D-Lux

Leica M-A The thinking man’s camera

First impressions Leica X

First impressions silver Noctilux and 35mm Summilux

First impressions new Leica Summarit lens range

Beautiful Summarit lenses from Leica

New Leica X is not what I thought, it’s better