Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Zenit SL: A Russian version of the Leica full-frame digital?

Zenit SL: A Russian version of the Leica full-frame digital?


Film camera buffs have fond memories of the Russian Zenit brand. Along with the East German Praktika, these cameras offered a cheap and quite cheerful starter opportunity for budding teenage snappers. Built to last, these photographic versions of the Russian T-34 tank enjoyed success in the West largely because of the price tag. Zenit, in particular, is also well known for its Leica knock-offs but that was a very long time ago. What is clear, is that Zenit has a fractured history with Leica and the Leica Thread Mount.

A link between Zenit and Leica in the 21st Century does indeed seem unlikely. Yet rumours are buzzing and appear to be getting stronger. According to Leica Rumors, Dr. Andreas Kaufmann of Leica has invested in Zenit and this is certainly a good indicator of something in the pipeline. Now PetaPixel has reported that there is going to be a full-frame mirrorless camera from Zenit and that it will be based on the Leica SL. 

I’m not sure what to make of this. Presumably, if Zenit is true to form, this camera will come at a very hefty discount to the SL. If it shares the TL/SL mount, as seems logical, it will offer a rather fascinating alternative. Perhaps more interesting is the possibility of new SL-mount lenses made by KMZ in Russia.

We do indeed live in interesting times…..

Postscript: This may all just be a rumour that got out of hand. Read this update on Leica Rumors. But whatever the truth of the matter, it’s a fun story.



    • Well, after today’s announcement of the Leica Q Nikki Sixx (who?) edition limited to 28 units, I believe anything could happen. I wonder if it will be more popular than the Wigan Pier Edition?

    • I don’t know, Erica, but I am sure Dr.Kaufmann wouldn’t have invested just to stop copying; there are more efficient legal ways of achieving that. It is more likely, as William says, that this is an effort to produce a lower-price version of the SL but one which shares the same mount, thus creating a bigger lens pool for the system. We shall have to wait to see what happens…..

  1. It sounds like a ‘two lane’ diversification strategy. The Leica SL is for those who like and can afford Leicas and are willing to spend the money. The Zenit will be for those who will not spend Leica money (for whatever reason). It should increase overall sales. From what one hears, Mr Kaufmann may be on both sides of this strategy. Plenty of special edition possibilities, of course, such as the snow white Siberia edition?

    I won’t be buying an SL or an SL ‘clone’, but Leica will have done their market research. Zorkis anyone?


    • William why stop at the Siberia LE?
      So many opportunities – such as the Stalin LE ideal for shooting your friends or the Brezhnev LE which comes with a bent baseplate so that it is wobbly on its feet.
      Whilst a "left field" manufacturer would add variety to the camera market Zenith would have to lift their game on build quality. In their first incarnation they sold well in the communist bloc markets because they had virtually no competition and they sold in western markets because they were cheap.The world has changed since then and it’s easy to buy cheap cameras.

      • Our memories of crude workmanship from Russia stretch way back. With the backing of Dr Kaufmann and the current Russian Prime Minister, who knows and appreciates Leica standards, I am sure that whatever might emerge in the current era would be of a very different standard. If Leica is to sell the SL design in any kind of significant numbers, it will have to drop prices and go out under a different name not associated with high prices. With a design of this sophistication, however, it would not be very cheap, somewhere about mid-range would be my guess. The market for very cheap cameras has all gone to phones, certainly where I live. The threat to Leica is not just from phones. Some very cheap Leica mount and lookalike lenses have emerged from Asia in recent years. As they have no electronics they are easy to copy, particularly with computer aided ‘cloning’ technology.

        Leica is about to get a new strategic partner and needs a viable long term business plan. It has shown itself willing to engage in business partnerships which suit it at various stages in its history. A link up with a revived Zenit brand (or similar) is not beyond the bounds of possibility.


  2. If Zenit could produce an SL prime lens significantly longer than 280mm e.g. 560mm and with a matched extender, there would likely be queues of wildlife and sports photographers eager to buy. The SL system is deserving of long tele lens introductions … it’s the one area where the system falls short of the offerings from Sony, Nikon and Canon. No additional long SL tele lenses are included on the SL/TL road map … but they should be … because they are essence* optics for professional wildlife and sports photographers. Without them the SL system can never be complete and can never be fully competitive.

    • I recall this word being used by Dr. K previously … but unfortunately, only in relation to the Leica X2
  3. Im probably never in the market for an SL sized mirrorless but the idea of Russian manufactured ‘copies’ is intriguing. I wonder who’d do the sensor/processor pipeline?

    Now, if the talk was of an M body released under the Fed or Zorki badge, then you’d REALLY have my attention……..

  4. I had forgotten to mention that the present Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev is an avid user of Leica cameras and has been photographed using M and S models (I had to a quick reverse on that !). The other point that comes into the mix is that Leica will shortly be looking for a new strategic business partner.


  5. Utter rubbish – total fake story with no basis in fact. Read post below taken from the leica forum.

    "Sorry, but in this case, no Russian misinformation is involved.
    The whole story started in a "western" forum, where just one poster made some presumptions after he heard of a radio broadcast where neither Leica nor any rebranded SL were even mentioned. The poster himself said that he didn’t understand all of the radio news and made clear he was just presuming. This presumption of a single person in an internet forum was distorted by Petapixel et.al making up some "news" about some Zenit SL".



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