A mirrorless Leica M-mount camera to appeal to owners of manual lenses is now looking more likely, according to Leica Rumors and other sites. It has certainly been talked about often and I can remember a lively discussion on the subject during Stefan Daniel’s presentation to the LHSA in Wetzlar last October.
I remain unconvinced. I do not think a
n M-mount mirrorless would make financial sense for the company because of its limited appeal. I hope I’m wrong, though. I’d probably buy one, but how many others would get out their credit cards?
Far more likely than an M-mount mirrorless, I suggest, is a smaller L-Mount full-frame candidate. The only objection to this, from Leica’s point of view, would be the lack of equally diminutive lenses in the range, but things would undoubtedly change in the wake of a launch of the L-Mount Alliance.
If there is such an egg being carefully hatched in Wetzlar, in defiance of the bean counters, I do have some suggestions of what I would like to see. After all we already have two prime candidates for full-frame mountification — the Q and the CL. Both bodies could serve, probably with little modification.
One currently has most of what is needed, centred on the full-frame sensor. All it lacks is a mount, M or L. The other already has the L-mount, but houses a cropped sensor.
Let’s fantasise for a moment. Indulge me if you would.
The bodies of these two cameras are surprisingly similar in dimensions. You wouldn’t immediately think it to see them side by side, but they share an identical footprint — both are 130mm long and 30mm deep. Only in height to they differ significantly. The Q2 is 80mm high compared with the CL’s 70mm. But move the tape measure to encompass the viewfinder hump and the total height of the CL jumps 78mm, almost the same as the Q2. This difference in height is noticeable mainly in the front view of the two cameras.
Other than this, these two cameras have more similarities than you would at first imagine.
When it comes to weight, on the other hand, it’s a different story. The comparison depends on which lens is fitted to the CL, of course. The camera is at its lightest when wearing the 18mm pancake. It tips the scales at just 500g. Pick up the CL with this lens and it is a very lightweight affair. It feels lighter than the dimensions would suggest. It feels almost plasticky, but it isn’t. Leica designers did a good job keeping the weight down.
We can’t make a direct weight comparison with the Q2 because the 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens is of itself a much heavier component. But the Q2 weighs 765g and it feels it. This is one dense camera which actually feels heavier than it ought to. The lens is definitely the main culprit. The CL with the 23mm Summicron weighs 575g but still feels lightweight, and there is no TL lens which is directly comparable with the Q2’s impressive light gatherer.
In theory, the CL could house a full-frame sensor and accommodate either the current L mount or, even, an M-Mount, subject to maintaining the required distance between optic and sensor. Equally, the Q2 could be equipped with either lens mount.
I have no doubt that means could be found to produce a full-frame ILC mirrorless camera using the L-Mount and I believe it should be possible to adopt the M-mount as an alternative if Leica decided that would be a marketing option.
Either of these two camera bodies could be modified accordingly, but I would prefer the simpler control interface of the Q2 (with the physical shutter-speed dial) to the soft control layout of the CL. This would depend on the mount, of course. If the M-mount were to be adopted, then the Q2 layout with direct access to speed would be a sine qua non. With the L-mount (and the absence of aperture dials on native lenses), the designers would probably opt for the CL soft-control layout.
In deciding on what to use (that is, if anything is being considered) the factor would take into account the limitations of adopting the M-Mount. It would be fine for M lenses and, probably, welcomed with open arms by many traditional users. But it wouldn’t be much good for anything else. The L-Mount, on the other hand, is the future and it would enable the camera to handle modern autofocus optics while still permitting the use of M lenses via an adaptor. If I were in charge, I think I would go down the L-Mount route.
Incidentally, don’t forget that Panasonic has already said that a smaller full-frame version of the S1/R cameras is at the planning stage. Such a camera is what we are discussing here.
You will have noticed that owners of M lenses spend a lot of time bolting them to various non-Leica mirrorless cameras and then discussing the pros and cons. Many pages of forum space have been devoted to the merits of using M lenses on Sonys, Nikons and other cameras, And now there is a burgeoning discussion on the merits and disadvantages of using M lenses with the new Panasonic Lumix S1 and S1R.
Whenever these discussions take place, we come back to agreeing that M-lenses are more at home on Leica cameras, whether the TL, TL2 or SL. My friend and contributor, Jonathan Slack, is convinced of this and has little time for faffing around with M lenses on non-Leica cameras. I can see his point, although I am less discerning and have enjoyed pleasing results with, say, the Sony a7III.
We assume, and Leica has led us to believe, that sensor design, profiling and menu options for the SL and T cameras are designed with M glass in mind as an alternative to the native lenses. You get a bit more lens information feedback from Leica and you get recognition of your M lenses.
Yet both existing mirrorless options, the CL and the SL, have drawbacks when used with M lenses. The crop sensor of the CL increases the focal length by 50%, so M lenses used on the CL become longer than most of us would like. Addressing the popular 24-35mm range is a decidedly difficult if, for instance, your widest M lens happens to be 28mm.
The SL, on the other hand, behaves flawlessly with M lenses and is well tuned to their requirements. In focal length terms, what you see is what you get. This makes the SL the obvious choice if you want to use M lenses with a superb electronic viewfinder — it even beats the M in this respect since the Visoflex is now rather long in the tooth and is nowhere as involving
The SL also shines when used with heavier, bulkier M lenses. The 50mm Noctilux is a case in point. I believe that the SL is the natural home for the Nocti. It can be a bit of a prima donna when it comes to rangefinder focusing with the lens wide open (and there isn’t much point in using the Nocti if you aren’t shooting at 0.95 since there are better, lighter options out there). The 75mm Noctilux is likely to be equally at home on the SL. Both these lenses are a handful on the smaller M camera, which can feel unbalanced as a result.
Peas on drums
Despite all these arguments, the question of viability is important. Would an M-mount version of the Q or CL make money for Leica Camera AG? I suspect, while it would be welcomed by many users, it would probably not sell in sufficient quantities to make it financially attractive.
On the other hand, a Q with the L-Mount, or a CL with a full-frame sensor, could make a lot of financial sense. It would still keep M-glass owners reasonably happy. They would have to put up with continued use of an adapter, but then an adapter is currently necessary on any mirrorless camera of any make. It would also appeal to those who prefer a smaller, more handleable full-frame ILC camera. Many people, and I am one of them, find the SL (and the new Panasonic S1) too big and heavy for general use.
With smaller M lenses such as the 28mm Elmarit, the 35mm Summicron or, even, the 50mm Summilux, the SL is a big beast to handle. Most of the armoury of traditional M lenses sit like a pea on the SL’s drum. It’s overkill and that is precisely why there is all this talk of a smaller full-frame mirrorless camera.
A Q or CL ILC might tempt. With the arrival of the L-Mount Alliance and the prospect of third-party lenses – some, I hope, lighter than Leica’s offerings – the chances of such a camera succeeding are increasing.