Who is Leica’s lens partner in Japan? Who makes most of the TL lenses, which are marked “Made in Japan” except for the 35mm Summilux and 60mm Macro which are labelled “Made in Germany? It’s a subject that has been much discussed on the various forums and many people are sure they know the answer.
With the announcement of cooperation with Sigma under the new L-Mount Alliance, there have been suggestions that Sigma must be chief suspect. Previously, even Panasonic — as a long-time Leica partner — has been in the frame.
But when asked about this during the recent LHSA meeting in Wetzlar, Stefan Daniel made it quite clear that the manufacturer of these lenses is not one we would recognise. “It is a third-party lens manufacturer which does not make products under its brand.”
The emphasis on the mystery manufacturer not making branded lenses seems quite specific. That rules out Sigma, Cosina-Voigtländer and even Panasonic. While it is likely that Panasonic builds the Leica-branded DG lenses for micro four-thirds, it is also possible that this same third-party shrinking violet is the actual manufacturer. The fact that all these lenses look somewhat similar isn’t significant because, as we know, they are all designed by Leica.
According to Leica, these lenses are “engineered and designed in Germany, made in Japan.” It’s very similar to Apple’s “Designed in California, Made in China” strapline and no one, other than POTUS on high, seems concerned by this.
Should we worry? No, of course there is nothing wrong with a high-quality lens made in Japan. Quality is quality, from wherever it comes. And Leica has a long history of cooperation with Japanese manufacturers — for many of the R lenses, for instance. The only factors worth considering are build quality and performance and the Japanese-made TL lenses score high on both counts.
The strange thing about all this is that —as far as I am aware — this phantom supplier of lenses to Leica has not been identified before now. That’s unusual these days, with the intrusive internet at play, and I can only assume that the company insists on anonymity and does its utmost to ensure privacy. Yet these days, nothing much remains secret for long, and the Nokishita website seems exceptionally well informed on the Japanese industry. If they knew, surely they would be saying.
As an aside, Leica’s lens design supremo, Peter Karbe, said at the LHSA meeting that the 35mm Summilux and the APO-Macro-Elmarit-TL 60 mm f /2.8 ASPH are his favourite optics for the system. Can we read anything into the fact that these are the only two lenses which are made in Germany? Probably not, and most TL lens users would agree with him on his assessment and count them as their own favourites. But it was an interesting comment.
Finally, just in case you are wondering, all the SL lenses currently available are made in Germany. This will change over the next twelve months as Sigma begins to adapt its range, in particularly the Art lenses, to the L mount. Presumably, too, there will be APS-C lenses suitable for the TL2 and CL, possibly even lenses with built-in stabilisation — something which, hitherto, Leica has eschewed because it would add to size and weight (the words of Peter Karbe himself, earlier this month).