Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Pressure in the full-frame mirrorless market

Pressure in the full-frame mirrorless market

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They don't build 'em like this any more. And this is a 10.5MP shot from the Leica 35mm Summilux-TL mounted on the Lumix

The full-frame mirrorless market has suddenly become a crowded place, with newcomers Nikon, Canon and Panasonic joining the established brands, Sony and Leica. Sony still leads the pack with its mature system, now supported with a vast arsenal of native and third-party lenses. Leica has somewhat missed the boat.

The SL2 ought to have been launched last year, ahead of Nikon, Canon and Panasonic but, for some reason has been postponed until this autumn, although a date has not been announced. It is more than possible that this delay has been caused by a bottleneck at Panasonic while the S1 and S2 cameras were developed and launched.

Panasonic Lumix S1 and 24-105mm f/4 at 60mm, full frame 6000x4000px
Panasonic Lumix S1 and 24-105mm f/4 at 60mm, full frame 6000x4000px

L-Mount Alliance

It’s a very interesting market and I am excited by the potential of the L-Mount Alliance between Leica, Panasonic and Sigma. it gives me a focus in an otherwise bewildering world. I don’t have to consider Nikon, Canon or Sony because I can realistically stick with LMA partners for a wide potential.

The Leica SL, such a good camera in so many ways, is clearly now past its sell-by date. This is evidenced by the swingeing £1,300 ($1,500/€1.500) “trade-in” price discounts announced recently. To some extent, Leica has always existed in a parallel universe with rarefied prices and the ultra-loyal user base. Some Leica fans, I know, would never dream of even discussing the merits of rival brands and will continue to buy Leicas slavishly come what may. So they will not glance elsewhere, nor will they object to paying whatever is demanded.

They don't build 'em like this any more. And this is a 10.5MP shot from the Leica 35mm Summilux-TL mounted on the Lumix
They don’t build ’em like this any more. And this is a miserly 10.5MP shot from the Leica 35mm Summilux-TL mounted on the Lumix. TL lenses work well and offer a very light alternative to fast full-frame primes and long zooms

Yet they would be wrong to ignore the Panasonic Lumix S1 and S1R cameras which use the same L mount as their existing SL lenses. In so many ways the S1 (not to mention the 47MP S1R) is a better camera than the SL. It ought to be; it has a similar provenance and it is some five years wiser.

The SL2, I feel sure, will mirror the S1R in most crucial aspects and it will put Leica back in the running. But anyone wanting to run with it will face one of those Leicafied price points. The question in many minds will be whether the SL2 is worth twice the price of the Lumix S1R or whether the existing SL is worth 50% more than the S1.

This week we will be having a something of a Lumix fest. Tomorrow I’ll be bringing you my first impressions of the Panasonic Lumix and 24-105mm f/4 lens that I have managed to borrow from a friendly dealer. On Friday our new contributing author, Craig Norris from California, will be bringing you his experiences with a variety of M, SL and TL lenses on his own copy of the Lumix S1.

15 COMMENTS

  1. I think Leica heavily markets the SL to professionals. And those professionals that are drawn to it might not worry that much about comparisons with other options if they like the Leica cachet, build quality, handling, and the versatility with SL mount and official adapters for S, R, M, and PL mount lenses.

    Enthusiasts might be tougher customers to gain for the SL, as they will possibly make different comparisons or have different priorities and justifications.

    • The same professionals may care about results than the cost of the item too, as if used correctly they should earn out the camera over a period of time.

      • Many of the professionals that would choose the Leica SL will recoup the money very quickly. Others maybe not as quickly, but might justify it based upon the properties that attracted them to the camera. The Leica SL costs about the same as Canon 1D X II or Nikon D5. This is a common tier of camera for many professionals. Choice would depend what they want from the camera. Some might even prefer the working method of the Leica M10, which is more expensive. 24 MP is enough for most uses, and as Alan says below “an SL it is still as good now as it has been since its release”. As others have said, digital cameras have been more than sufficient for awhile now.

  2. Although I don’t own an SL it is still as good now as it has been since it’s release. I use a Vario, X2 and Q1 and none of the new Leica’s would add to my photography. Unless you feel you are missing out keep what you got. Whether the SL is worth £1300 or 30 bob it is all irrelevant!

  3. Given Leica’s past and present ‘badge engineering’ / ‘tweaking’ /’morphing’ of Panasonic compact cameras into Leica models, might there be a possibility that the rumoured Leica SL 602 / S2 could be a Leica ‘breathed-on’ / ‘fancy chest-of-drawers boxed’, Panasonic S1R camera? Such magic would enable Leica to concentrate more on other ‘pure Leica’ core product designs e.g. rangefinder camera development, medium format digital cameras, and Leica lenses.

    • I don’t think the SL has much to do with the re-badged compact cameras. Leica has positioned the SL as a professional system in the range, and I think they are quite proud of it. It would surprise me if they took it in the direction of a re-badge — it would seem kind of a pointless camera then, given its price. There will be probably be Panasonic and Leica collaboration on software, but surely Leica is still doing significant development of the camera.

      That being said, it wouldn’t bother me if Leica focused on the M and S systems, as you suggest, as I think these are their best systems.

  4. I believe that there will be a major shrink in the camera market as it shifts totally to higher end models away from casual shooters using phones. Also, the sensor technology is beyond the ability of a lot of glass and the feature rollout for new models recently does not improve picture capture ability for most people. Hence, new model rollout will probably dramatically slow down and be more like the film days. The vendors that do not adapt well and put tons of resources on more features rarely used by competent photographers will go to the way of Kodak and Polaroid.
    What I do not understand, is the continuous release of superfast glass that no one can carry more than one of and they are so pricey. I recently read a review of a Sigma 135/1.4 by a studio model pro, who raved about its amazing images but his arm hurt after about 20 minutes of use and he said for that reason he was not going to buy it. So many competent photographers I know are wanting amazing quality f/2.8 or f/3.5 compact primes that they would love using and be flare resistant and have wonderful rendering. How many people need more than 1 fast lens?
    I see three major Leica purchasers. A small group of professionals that have deep pockets for backup camera and glass and appreciate the rendering of camera and individual glass. Enthusiasts that appreciate rendering of camera, glass, and rangefinder experience. The third group are collectors and people that like to be seen with a Leica.
    I think Panasonic will help keep Leica L mount alive with their better ability to deliver to market but the wild card is how big the market is Panasonic entering a premium camera market.
    Personally, for me, the Hasselblad X1D gave me more than the SL and its huge glass so the only thing that would now move me back to Leica besides my lovely Q-P would be an interchangeable m mount Q that offers autofocus.

    • Yes, I think the Apo-Summicron-SL range was a good decision for Leica, and as I have said before, I think a Summarit-SL or Elmarit-SL range would be appreciated by many as smaller, more affordable, but still good quality options. Of course, one could also put the M equivalents on the the SL if autofocus is not necessary.

  5. Tested the S1R briefly . Nice but shall wait for the SL2. Own the SL since its launch, both the 24-90mm and 90-280 zooms. With my Leica battery grip , I reckon it makes little sense to buy the new Lumix full frame series as it will be rather a one camera affair and makes less financial sense.
    I own and use all the popular camera systems save the Pentax. From micro 4/3 to medium format including film. My verdict today, 24Mp is more than enough for most users. But to be able to crop from my D850 is a great alternative even though it slows my workflow.
    Do I need the SL2? No. The SL is still amazing. Coupled with my M and TL lenses, it is a remarkably adaptable system. The S1R felt like a bigger Sony (I use the A7iii with several native lenses for travel). Nothing special really. SL led the way for many years and i expect the SL2 will too.
    I just bought a LN Leica M-A last week. Love it , sans all things electronic and electrical. If one does not offload a camera body bought at launch to recoup some costs, it makes no difference how much prices fall.
    Viva la choix! Btw, I am not a rich old fart but I do suffer from GAS. At least I have my favourite photo gear next to my bed every night, if I choose too.

    • David, very useful views, thanks. Few of us have tried all the systems available and your continued support for the SL is impressive. We will have to wait to see what the SL2 offers, but I suspect lots of people will not wish to go to the 47MP sensor. However, I suspect any such reluctance will be a passing phase because technology will catch up and undermine current arguments about processing speed and storage. Gradually, buyers will accept more pixels and 24MP will be left behind.

  6. I admit that I have a range of Leica cameras from the Xx2 to the M10 with the CL and all TL lenses in between. But I brought the Lumix S1R to Europe a few months ago and have been using it with M and TL lenses. When I need a light carry around of course it’s the CL but to walk in Berlin or Paris in order to photograph architectural sites the S1R is superb – incredible viewfinder, ability to manual focus and with a good size crop factor for the TL lenses. And with the 55-135 it’s rock steady with 5axis stabilization- something that my SL didn’t have and that is impossibly jumpy on the CL. My verdict: so far so good!

  7. I’m interested in the S1’s. But probably because I like unusual things the L mount Alliance gear I’m most curious about is the Sigma foveon-sensored model due next year.

    Now THAT would be a unique product. Probably horribly flawed though, lol.

    • I think the most pleasing images I have seen from digital recording have been on Foveon sensors. In general, though, the cameras have been more limited in their range of use compared to other digital cameras. We will see what they do with the new one. A 24x36mm Foveon sensor has been desired by many Foveon users, and I was glad to see in a recent presentation that they have returned to the 1:1:1 ratio for the layers of the sensor.

      • Agreed, Bryan.

        I think in terms of pure IQ , the Merrill sensors were better than the subsequent Quad sensors. With reduced performance at higher ISO’s and processing times, of course. But these were pretty poor on the Quad anyway.

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