Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Full-frame frenzy as Photokina opens its doors

Full-frame frenzy as Photokina opens its doors

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  Rumours are suggesting that Panasonic could be about to launch a series of full-frame mirrorless cameras to compete with Sony, Nikon and Canon — and they could be based on the chassis of the m4/3 GH5 which is almost certainly big enough. And the Leica L-mount is tipped as the basis of the new system. But, then again, these are just rumours. It’s no coincidence, either, that the lens on this GH5 is the Leica-branded 12-60mm DG Vario-Elmarit. It could constitute a precedent.
Rumours are suggesting that Panasonic could be about to launch a series of full-frame mirrorless cameras to compete with Sony, Nikon and Canon — and they could be based on the chassis of the m4/3 GH5 which is almost certainly big enough. And the Leica L-mount is tipped as the basis of the new system. But, then again, these are just rumours. It’s no coincidence, either, that the lens on this GH5 is the Leica-branded 12-60mm DG Vario-Elmarit. It could constitute a precedent.

UPDATE: I hear that Leica is promising a surprise at tomorrow’s Photokina press conference: No less than an ”Unprecedented announcement in 100-year company history”. Now what could that mean…..

Over the past few weeks, there have been persistent rumours of a Panasonic entry into the full-frame mirrorless market1. With Sony, Nikon and Canon now joining the race, it would appear to make sense for Panasonic to produce a full-frame version of, say, the popular m4/3 G9. In parallel with these rumours is a strong steer that Leica is developing a smaller full-frame mirrorless camera (the C-M?), something which is not entirely unexpected given the direction the market is now taking. 

With Photokina opening on Wednesday, it is very likely that we will see significant announcements tomorrow. Some expect Panasonic to announce its full-frame camera(s) based on the body of the GH5 or G9. If so, which I think is unlikely, this is will probably be a teaser for a camera that will appear sometime next year. I suspect Panasonic may feel the need for some action at this stage because of the interest raised by Nikon and Canon.

But what about the persistent rumour of a Leica full-frame mirrorless, a smaller version of the SL? 

  Leica’s SL is considered by many to be the world’s finest mirrorless camera. The SL’s L mount, also used on the CL and TLII cameras, is already accepted as the future for Leica. But it also offers a ready-made solution for Leica’s partner Panasonic if that company embarks on a full-frame system. It makes supreme sense and would actually enhance the status of the SL and CL, convincing would-be buyers that there is a real future for the L standard
Leica’s SL is considered by many to be the world’s finest mirrorless camera. The SL’s L mount, also used on the CL and TLII cameras, is already accepted as the future for Leica. But it also offers a ready-made solution for Leica’s partner Panasonic if that company embarks on a full-frame system. It makes supreme sense and would actually enhance the status of the SL and CL, convincing would-be buyers that there is a real future for the L standard

M-mount

There has been conjecture that any new smaller Leica mirrorless camera would use the M mount. There is no doubt that owners of M lenses would welcome a small camera, Sony a7 size, with in-body stabilisation and well-crafted lens profiles. 

But such a camera, I suggest, would not be a commercial success for Leica. For one thing, it would be a dead-end device, doomed to offering little more than the M10 except, perhaps, the carrot of IBIS. New autofocus lenses are unlikely, if only because of engineering difficulties and the enormous amount of investment in a mount hobbled by its small size and sixty years of bag and baggage.

It seems, therefore, that the L-mount is the only option if Leica wants to compete with Sony, Nikon & Co. And that brings us back to the rumoured Panasonic full-frame. It is too much of a coincidence. I would not be at all surprised if a new Panasonic and a new Leica (if they exist) will be very closely related. Despite comments to the contrary, I believe it makes a lot of sense for both Panasonic and Leica to use the L-mount in a new, smaller digital full-frame camera. 

  The teaser image from Leica’s unannounced l-mount.com website which has now been removed. What could this mean?
The teaser image from Leica’s unannounced l-mount.com website which has now been removed. What could this mean?

L-mount enters the big time?

All this would tie in with the news that Leica is about to launch a new website, l-mount.com which last week showed a teaser image of the Leica L-mount with the legend “Unlimited”.

If you click on the site, you will see that the picture is no longer there, but there seems little doubt that the website is on the point of being launched. Rumour sites have produced evidence which purports to show that this site is owned by Leica Camera AG. If it is genuine, I do wonder about the purpose. The obvious inference is that the L-mount is about to be promoted and turned into a major base for a full-frame digital broadside. 

If Panasonic did develop a full-frame camera based on the L-mount there would have to be a family of lighter, smaller lenses to go with it. These lenses, presumably, would also fit the SL or the CL. The CL lenses would also work on the Panasonic in cropped mode (not to mention on any future APS-C development based on the same L mount).

M-lens profiles

Leica could ensure that this new camera is perfectly attuned to modern M lenses, just as they do with the SL and CL. It would create a great lure for M enthusiasts. Sony, for instance, is not very interested in ensuring its cameras work well with M lenses, and there have been suggestions that the thick sensor cover of the a7 and a9 cameras creates image problems. Nikon, however, is making encouraging noises about compatibility and could well entice those who have bought a Sony as an alternative to the M rangefinder. 

If this chimera from Panasonic is indeed real, then it doesn’t take much imagination to envisage it  being marketed also under the Leica brand — similar to the C-Lux, D-Lux and V-Lux, all long-established precedents. 

The lens aspect is particularly important because Leica’s current optics for the SL are all extremely large, heavy and extremely expensive. Superb optics engineered to perfection they may be; but they are too large to fit a camera the size of the G9, the Nikon Z or the Sony a7. Significantly, Sigma has also been implicated in the Panasonic full-frame rumour, but this could be in connection with lenses rather than camera bodies. Besides, Leica has a long history of collaboration with Panasonic on the Leica DG range of m4/3 lenses, and development of full-frame autofocus lenses would be a natural progression. 

Whither Olympus in all this?

If all of this — or most of it — becomes fact this week then I have one major question. Where does this leave Olympus? As the major partner with Panasonic in the m4/3 consortium, Olympus is in danger of being marginalised. I believe both micro four-thirds and APS-C formats are in line to be squeezed between the ever-improving smartphone juggernaut and the new, cheaper full-frame digital “pro” cameras. If Panasonic does indeed introduce a full-frame camera this week, the company will have a foot in both camps, in effect hedging its bets. Olympus, so far, has not been mentioned. 

Even the APS-C market is vulnerable to the advance of the full-frame camera, despite the advantages of lighter system lenses (even more pronounced of course when it comes to the micro four-thirds system). But there is sure to be intense focus on full-frame over the next few years, and aspirational photographers will undoubtedly move away from both the smaller formats. The starter end of the APS-C market (mainly Nikon and Canon entry-level bodies with kit lenses) is particularly vulnerable to the lure of the smartphone and I believe serious camera manufacturers have to move upmarket if they wish to continue in business.

Yet the smartphone revolution isn’t all bad news for the established camera manufacturers, as I have mentioned many times. Smartphones encourage people to take up photography and aspire to something better than a phone, however good. That’s where the manufacturers of full-feature high-end digitals can prosper. The smartphone is the industry’s best marketing tool.

  There is a big demand for full-frame mirrorless cameras that can play well with M-mount lenses, and the Leica SL is by far the best available vehicle. It certainly has the world’s finest viewfinder which makes focusing, even with the demanding Noctilux, a synch. Yet enthusiasts would welcome a smaller vehicle to work with their M arsenal, and this is where a Panasonic or Leica mirrorless comes into play. This photograph of actor David Suchet, president of The Leica Society, was taken by Mike Evans with the SL and Voigtländer 40mm Nokton at Leica’s Mayfair studios.
There is a big demand for full-frame mirrorless cameras that can play well with M-mount lenses, and the Leica SL is by far the best available vehicle. It certainly has the world’s finest viewfinder which makes focusing, even with the demanding Noctilux, a synch. Yet enthusiasts would welcome a smaller vehicle to work with their M arsenal, and this is where a Panasonic or Leica mirrorless comes into play. This photograph of actor David Suchet, president of The Leica Society, was taken by Mike Evans with the SL and Voigtländer 40mm Nokton at Leica’s Mayfair studios.

Migration to full-frame

So, it seems logical that interest among enthusiast photographers will migrate towards the newly expanded range of full-frame mirrorless cameras. Fuji has hedged its bets differently — by opting for medium format as an alternative to APS-C. A full-frame mirrorless Fuji would perhaps have been too close for comfort, but it is questionable whether MF is the answer. All the signs at the moment are pointing to much higher demand for full-frame, and this interest can only quicken. 

This week, then, we will have some surprises and be able to ask interesting questions about the future of the enthusiast camera market as a whole. We are in for an intense game of musical chairs over the next twelve months, whatever happens tomorrow.

False Rumours

There is no concrete evidence that any of these rumours are based on fact. As Leica Rumors points out, a Panasonic full-frame camera materialising tomorrow would have been one of the best-kept secrets ever. There is nothing documented except that the l-mount.com site is registered to a Leica employee at Wetzlar.

To some extent there is evidence of wishful thinking in all this. Most of us would like to see the L mount used more widely and would welcome a Panasonic competitor for the Zeds, the a7s and a9s. And a Leica-branded version of that Panasonic would play well with fans. But I suspect we will not see all these wishes fulfilled tomorrow.

The Panasonic press conference tomorrow comes an hour after Leica’s event. If there were to be an announcement of this magnitude, involving Leica, I would have expected Panasonic to make the announcement first — or at least concurrently with Leica. For Leica to hold a press conference and not mention something as important as this would seem careless.  

All we can do is wait and see. There might be a lot of back pedalling to be done come Tuesday evening. Yet, and yet, even if there is nothing announced, there is still a strong argument for future cooperation between Panasonic and Leica on a full-frame mirrorless.  As a great admirer of both Leica and Panasonic, I for one would welcome it.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Is there a chance of a refined SL? maybe marginally lighter, but still retaining its amazing image quality. After all it is around 200g heavier than my Df and weighs in around the same as my D300s tank. And that’s before you add glass.

    I do wonder if whatever Panasonic release something full frame – it will turn up rebadged at a future point as a Leica.

    Dave S

  2. All wonderfully evocative but having tried most if not all Leica, Panasonic and Fuji products with the various size sensors from full frame downwards I am far from convinced anything mirrorless is thus far able to to even begin to compete with such as Nikon or Canons traditional SLR’s in the Pro photography, or more especially the Press photography world.

    Such as the top end Canon’s and Nikon SLR have been honed and steadily improved now over a great many years including back in the film era days and for instance you can see through them perfectly even in the most brilliant light, arguably they are also still faster and much more versatile in areas like Auto focusing, and now have a truly vast array of reasonably priced old and new lenses available.

    Just look at what the wall of Pro photographers are using for instance when you see them on such as the TV news or at sports events and try and spot a Leica or Sony or a Fuji etc. I do, have done for years and no I cant see any such either, and as one who used to be among them I can also tell you it is not merely because they are already locked into this or that old SLR system it is because nothing else so far is as good or as versatile as a SLR.

    Believe me the Pro has to be competitive and would change over to Mirrorless very quickly and regardless of cost THE moment any mirrorless system did prove itself to be significantly better in every area to what they already had, but my own view is it might still take quite a long while yet before that happens, indeed if it ever happens at all, and I would not be at all surprised if even the amateur market also eventually takes a swing back to SLR’s as well.

    My general view is what most are looking for is not so much about if the camera has a mirror or not but more about reducing the size and weight of what we carry and to this end I find it interesting to note my very cheap and cheerful Canon 750d SLR body is almost as shall, but very much lighter, and I would argue is vastly more versatile, much nicer and and also more simple to use for instance than my massively more expensive yet same sensor size and 24 meg output, Leica mirrorless CL body.

    Why do I continue to own both? Well although it is not the best reason I have loved Leica’s for years and I have persuaded myself the Leica CL’s zoom lenses are smaller, lighter, and maybe even a bit sharper than my Canon’s, though if getting back to best horses for courses I must also admit taking both outfits to a local Rugby match last weekend and taking much the same number of pictures with each, but where every shot I took with the Canon proving to be a keeper whereas everything taken with my CL got deleted, and mostly due to shutter and focus lag.

    Maybe such as a Sony A9 or even a Olympus might have done better? I do not know as I do not have one although those manufacturers do make some bold claims, and before anyone asks, yes I have also tried out numerous Panasonic’s and top end Fuji’s at Sports like football or Rugby and the saver success rate was not good compared to even a relatively old or low spec DSLR either. So maybe we who also shoot action subjects should sit on that wall a while longer whilst also keeping a wise eye out on what the real Pro’s are using.

  3. I love seeing the picture of David Suchet. Many years ago I worked with his brother Peter who told me the story of their grandfather James Jarché capturing the first picture of Edward and Mrs. Simpson in public using a Leica. That red dot has held magical properties ever since.

  4. We’ll see soon enough!

    I once read that there are no American camera companies because too much intellectual property for camera technology is owned by the Japanese companies. I wonder if the rumored increased relationship between Leica and Panasonic (via the shared lens mount) also reflects that fact. That Leica needs that IP to build their own lines of modern cameras; the partnership with Panasonic allows them to share IP. Leica gets the electronics (especially for video) and Panasonic gets the high-quality lenses and some of the Leica brand cache.

    We’ve already seen this in Leica branded Panasonic lenses for M43. If the FF rumor is true, and they share a lens mount, it simply brings the partnership front and center. Good for both of them. Sigma is also rumored to be in the mix.

    But yes, where would that leave Olympus (and M43 in general)…

    Interesting times! It’s also interesting that – again, if true – mirrorless FF became so prominent virtually overnight.

  5. So there’s me going on about how I’m a ‘late adopter’ and won’t spend money on new iPhones, but on the other hand I also have a handful of Zeiss and Voigtlander M-mount lenses and a Sony A7 that I don’t like very much…

    If a new FF Panasonic body does play well with the wide angle M lenses – particularly my all time favourite Zeiss Biogon 21 f4.5 – then I may have to ‘early-adopt’ for a change! Might be a tall order though, as the exit pupil of that lens is tiny. It just about works on the Sony but I generally end up cropping it to about a 24mm.

    If it weren’t for those lenses I could probably forego ‘full frame’ altogether and stick with APS-C. I think most of the demand for full frame is driven by fashion and marketing.

    Cheers,
    Don

  6. I will take a risk and see if this comment happens. I hope Panasonic brings out a full frame camera in collaboration with Leica Sl mount. It can only benefit both companies and especially Leica in glass rollout and affordable second cameras for people. My favourite camera for haptic was the Leica SL but the glass was too heavy. I love my Panasonic G9 system for compact glass and zooms (the Pana Leica 200mm/2.8 is the most amazing telephoto glass I have had the pleasure to enjoy except for hood attachment design) and my Hasselblad X1d system of primes. The X1d haptics do not compete with the Leica SL. The shutter release location feels slightly uncomfortable and the difference between half press and release is very tiny and still trying to get used to but the files are like SL – gorgeous but with more detail which is to be expected. Other buttons such as AE-L are not convenient to reach but there is no perfect camera and the trade off is ok for my shooting methodically. My fingers are crossed that this post happens…

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