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Sigma Contemporary: Three fast primes exclusively for Leica CL and TL. Or not.

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Leica's CL system needs a bit of tender loving care. A new tart and a cappucino won't convince (Image Leica Camera AG)

Sigma’s decision to launch three APS-C primes for L-Mount is curious given that the only cameras they fit are both made by Leica – the TL range and the CL. These lenses were designed specifically for mirrorless cameras and have won plaudits from reviewers, particularly in their E-Mount guise. They are compact, light and well priced – at least in comparison with Leica’s TL lineup which is now looking increasingly dated.

It is possible, of course, that adding the L-Mount to an existing lens is a relatively inexpensive process for Sigma. Perhaps the marketing gurus thought, simply, “why not”. “We might sell some to existing Leica owners”. From Leica’s point of view, too, a few fresh lenses won’t come amiss in boosting body sales, although I suspect the Sigmas will cannibalise sales of the TL lenses.

Bang for your buck: The 30mm f/1.4 Contemporary prime for APS-C cameras has had excellent reports in its alternative mount guises. Now it comes to the L-Mount and can be compared with Leica’s 35mm Summilux-TL. It represents a 45mm FF focal length compared with the Leica’s 50mm. But at £330 it is nearly one-fifth of the cost. Plus, it weighs only 280g compared with the Summilux’s 498g. At the very least, it is an interesting contender. Let’s wait for the reviews.

The new lenses fill three useful full-frame-equivalent focal length slots, 24mm, 45mm and 85mm. While the 30mm Sigma isn’t a direct competitor for Leica’s only TL f/1.4, the 35mm Summilux, it comes pretty near and, I suspect, will attract the same buyers. I like the 45mm focal length and would probably buy the Sigma in preference to the Summilux. It will be interesting to read the reviews and direct comparisons with Leica glass.

Interestingly, the 45mm full-frame f/2.8 is one of my favourite lenses for the SL2. It’s so light and compact that it transforms the Leica into a more convenient package. For a full-frame lens, even one with a relatively slow f/2.8 aperture, it is super light.

Staggeringly, however, you can get all three of these fast APS-C lenses, covering all your everyday prime needs, for under £1,200 compared with the £1,900 you’d have to shell out to buy just the one Leica Summilux. Put another way, buying all Leica’s TL primes (18mm, 23mm, 35mm and 60mm macro) will set you back over £6,000. You can more or less cover all bases with fast Sigmas for little more than one-sixth of Leica’s bill. They won’t have the Leica badge but…

Most people, I suspect, will be tempted by the Sigma trio and not just on price. They are modern, reputedly excellent (I haven’t tried any of them) and light. Together, they certainly complement the TL/CL system.

The 23mm f/2 Summicron-TL is a fine lens, compact and light. But, at £1,425, it costs more than all three of Sigma's new f/1.4 primes. Food for thought (Image Leica Camera AG)
The 23mm f/2 Summicron-TL is a fine lens, compact and light. But, at £1,425, it costs more than all three of Sigma’s new f/1.4 primes. Food for thought (Image Leica Camera AG)

I said above that Sigma probably thought they might as well sell these lenses in L-Mount even though they may have not expected vast sales. The alternative mount probably adds little to the overall production costs. In any case, these three lenses are eligible for Sigma’s mount-swapping conversion so there won’t have been much work to be done. Launching them in L-Mount guise is a no-brainer. They will certainly sell some to TL and CL owners at the expense of Leica.

These lenses, too, will attract owners of full-frame cameras, especially the S1R and SL2 with their 47MP sensors. As lightweight, compact primes they have a place on these cameras. The effective 20MP rendering on the larger sensor is not too far from that of the APS-C 24MP. Admittedly, on the old SL and the Panasonic S1, the megapixel count drops to just over 11, but this is still usable as I found in the past.

Leica’s 35mm Summilux-TL on the first-generation SL. On this camera the resulting image is just under 11MP, but is perfectly acceptable (image Mike Evans).

It’s interesting, too, to explore the possibility of the use of L-Mount full-frame zooms on APS-C. The inexpensive but very competent Panasonic 24-105mm f/4 works surprisingly well on the CL and gives an equivalent reach of 36-158mm. It isn’t too heavy or cumbersome, and it brings stabilisation. It can replace both the 18-56mm and 55-135mm Leica TL lenses, especially if you have one of those new 16mm Sigma primes in the corner of your bag for wider-angle stuff. And, even, the new Sigma 100-400mm has a place on your CL – as a useful 150-560mm telephoto.

Leica's CL system needs a bit of tender loving care. A new tart and a cappucino won't convince (Image Leica Camera AG)
Leica’s CL system needs a bit of tender loving care. A new tart and a cappucino won’t convince (Image Leica Camera AG)

The advent of the L-Mount Alliance has certainly broadened prospects and it is the best thing that Leica could have done. With these new additions, Leica’s APS-C offerings will enjoy a new life.

But there could be more to it? Could we be about to see a new APS-C camera with L-Mount? It’s an interesting question because the only company likely to produce a new APS-C body is Sigma itself.

Panasonic has stated quite categorically it is not interested in the APS-C market. Like Fuji, which took the decision to leapfrog full-frame in favour of medium-format to complement its APS-C offerings, Panasonic decided sensibly that entering the APS-C market would be counterproductive. With MFT and full-frame, they have arguably the best complementary range to appeal to the modern photographer. Ignoring APS-C is probably the best thing Panasonic could have done.

Another area of interest is Leica itself. Most commentators believe that the CL is due for an upgrade. One of the significant limitations of the entire TL/CL line up is the absence of stabilisation, either in the bodies or lenses. So a new CL with IBIS would be a positive move.

However, we can’t overlook the fact that Fuji and Sony have the APS-C slot neatly trussed and ready for the oven (and Canon also is now showing its mettle).

As Leica has found, it is difficult to break into this market, especially at a premium premium. A new CL will sell to the usual suspects, of course, but it will need more than that to drive a wedge into the Fuji/Sony duo.

Despite all this, for the past eighteen months, I have felt that Leica’s APS-C offerings are overdue for a bit of tender loving care. Perhaps Sigma’s move is a pre-emptive strike to get in early with a compelling range of lenses, just right for the launch of a new CL. We shall see.

What do you think about Leica’s APS-C prospects and the chances of a CL2? And are you interested in buying any of the new Sigma primes? Would you buy these crop-frame lenses to use on Leica or Panasonic full-frame cameras?


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31 COMMENTS

  1. I do not see Sigma doing this unless they see opportunity as there are costs to make AF work and so on, packaging. I think Leica will likely bring out a CL update. Leica is not really competing with Sony and others due to price difference. Leica is purchased usually without cost being the deciding factor. Sigma salvages the system by bringing great lens options to the ecosystem. Also, the Panasonic full frame S Pro 16-35 is a great option especially for those that own both CL/SL/SL2. And I suspect that Sigma will bring out a fovean sensor APC-S L-mount camera which certainly would interest me.

    • I did sort of have the Foveon in mind but there have been no rumours that I know of. The 16-35 Panasonic S Pro does sound an interesting lens. I must see Dino can borrow one.

      • Sigma delayed their full frame Fovean for a year this year due to sensor issues. They can easily bring out a APS-C l-mount so I strongly suspect they are up to that with the recent lens announcements.
        I stalled on buying the Sigma Fp when I thought they would have the announced full frame Fovean out. But I would be quite content with an APC-S version!

  2. There is also the recently announced Panasonic full frame 20-60/3.5-5.6 – inexpensive, compact and very light for a walk around lens at 350gr.

    • I forgot to mention that one. I also am loving my 16-35 and thoroughly loved using it on an outing on father’s day. I originally sold my SL and glass as system was so limited and the 28 down primes were and still not available. The other Leica primes are also generally hard to buy. Now we have quite a range of camera and lens options and can pick from quite an amazing range of options: APC-S, full frame, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma. I cannot believe this has happened in such a short time frame.

  3. To release them Sigma knows something, as there has to be a market, and an opportunity.

    So either as Brian suggests above Sigma have their own offering, and it will marry up nicely with these new lenses.

    It could also signal that they know Leica is committed to the CL and TL cameras, with at least a new one coming in due course.

    Personally I still think Leica’s APSC strategy is a bit hit and miss. The CL doesn’t replace the X series, which would be in the think of people who buy the Fuji X100 series cameras, or loved pervious X iterations. So personally the CL isnt for someone like me who loves their X, I worked this out a few years back, when I considered the CL before I bought the Df. But while it has a nice form factor, and takes decent images, I love the look, feel and dials of the X. If they did a fixed lens version of the CL, and overcome some of the frailties of the CL, like the focus point, and the dials would need to be similar to the X’s for X users to want to move over. Then, and only then perhaps I would buy one as an improvement for my X, but it would have to tick those boxes, and I dont feel or see Leica is interested, or invested in doing that.

  4. Leica’s success has traditionally been centered on FF cameras and lenses. But 3 generations of “T” cameras plus the CL tells you they were/are prepared to invest in APSC to make it a viable segment for them. Rumor has it the TL2 is a gonna, which leaves the CL as the red-headed stepchild of the family. That does not bode well for customer or dealer confidence. It also doesn’t do a lot to help sell Leica branded APSC lenses either.

    If Leica are at a crossroads now is the time to either go all in or get out.

  5. I am sure these lenses are excellent but I probably won’t buy them till I see where Leica is headed with APS-C… I agree with the previous poster that Leica should either go all in or get out entirely. The exit strategy is clear IMO, as above mentioned you can use your TL lenses on the SL2 and still produce 20MP images. I would probably interpret a CL2 without IBIS and without any new lenses as the end of road, a bit similar to the Leica S3.

  6. Sigma recently said that the Full Frame foveon sensor had encountered some technical difficulties and it’s timeframe was now unknown, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they were indeed looking to use their aps-c foveon sensor in a new L-mount body.

    I have the 30/1.4 in micro four thirds mount and it is indeed a very nice lens. The 16mm and 56mm are even better from samples I’ve seen, and are also weathersealed. I’ve thought for a while that if I were starting from scratch in MFT , these three primes would be my main kit.

    L-mount options continue to build, which is great.

  7. It’s very clear by Sigma’s move and Leica’s repeated statements that APSC development will continue. Whether they will still move forward with two offerings is uncertain, but they will continue nevertheless. I can understand the desire to put in place IBIS since the CL is a real jack of all trades camera, but for my street-photography uses I am, like Dave above, more concerned with X – type dials and better battery life.

    But above all, We really, really need more APSC lenses. Sigma’s move is welcome, but we are still lacking a fast 23 1.4 and (if possible) 75 or 85 1.4. I am now seriously considering the 75mm voigtlander 1.5 as an alternative as it is small and will give the appropriate FOV. Of course we have Sigma’s full frame offerings but having 1.2kg of lens on a 365g camera is a rather odd combination…

    • I also would like to see X-type or Q-type physical controls but I think Leica is now so committed to soft controls that there is little chance of going backwards, as they would see it. We could, however, expect a convergence with SL2 controls, with a larger top window, rearranged disks dials (similar to SL2) and, even, a grip.

      I agree that the Art primes are too big on the CL but we can now hope for some smaller, fast crop-frame lenses in the focal lengths you suggest.

      • Sounds like someone in the know! Pity about no longer going back to the – like controls (i will forever love that camera) but the future as you allude to it sounds positive. May I ask what disks are you referring too?

        • On the contrary, J, I know only what I glean from reading stuff on the internet. I’ve probed and probed on the possibility of a CL2 and what form it could take, but no one has seen anything or has ideas on the control layout. I feel certainly a CL2 has not been seen by pre-testers. But I’m certain that they can’t cruise along as things are. If they don’t come up with something new within the next year the whole range is in danger of falling off the perch.

          Disks was a typo. It should have read “dials”. I’ve corrected it! But, come to think of it, the Q has a “rearranged disk” with its unusual bottom door, so you can never rule anything out with Leica.

          • I think the rearranged dials would be very interesting indeed. Aside from the lack of ASPC prime lenses and fidgeting focus point the only other gripe I have with the CL is the top dials. Having them soft is fine, but they can be too easily knocked and having them press in to change functions is, for me at least, somewhat disorientating. Having SL type dials (one on top and and wheel at the back) would make the experience so much better.

          • Agreed. The only way I can use the CL without frustration is to use the ridiculous “lock” feature which does just what it says in the tin. You can even change the aperture or speed. I always assumed this feature was added to address complaints about the wayward four-way pad. All they had to do was provide an option to lock the pad, not use a sledgehammer to lock everything.

            If I remember correctly, the CL was the first outing for the three-button rear control layout that was adopted by the M10, the Sl2 and the Q2. But the SL2’s dials and top screen layout (with a lockable joystick) represents the gold standard and I would prefer to see it on a CL2.

  8. The 16mm f1.4 would certainly be an interesting lens option for night/star photography where the light gathering of 1.4 is a real bonus.

    My only disappointment is the lack of design consistency in the Contemporary line. It would have been nice to see the aperture control ring on these lenses similar to the recent full frame Sigma Contemporary 45mm f2.8 lens.

    Leica could readily produce a X style equivalent if they simply returned to the design philosophy on lens controls for the CL, such as a next generation 23mm f2 with an aperture ring with an auto option, and likewise for the shutter speed dial. Learn from the success of the Q line, they seem to have done that with the three rear button controls now consistent on the SL, CL and M10.

    If they want an “alternative” option then maintain a TL variant with largely the same internals as the CL Mark 2 but the haptics of the TL. I still prefer the touch screen implementation of the TL over the Q, it was a step change in industrial design for cameras, but appears to have evolved into a dead end.

    • Hi Tom,

      I like the idea of an X, with a CL EVF, and an aperture ring on the lens – like a mini-APS-C version of the Q. That would float my boat, and might even stir my interest.

      I often hover over a Q when browsing red dot cameras, and then stop myself. 🙂

      Dave

  9. Consensus is that the TL2 is a goner, and that Leica will probably release a CL2. Sigma may or may not release a L-Mount Fovean camera. They have released a very compact FF camera (FP), and have hinted at more compact FF lenses to match it. These lenses could also see use on an APS-C camera, and may be more “future proof”.
    Panasonic has stated they will not enter APS-C at all, but rumors are that they will come out with a smaller FF camera, and that the upcoming 20-60 is the first lens for this lighter camera. More compact lenses may be coming.

    The L-Mount is offering up so many possible options right now (and in the near future?). As much as I like these Sigma APS-C lenses (and may purchase the 30 as a walk-around lens), I think it may be wiser to invest in these upcoming smaller, lighter FF lenses when they come out. A Panasonic FF camera in the same size arena as the Sigma FP (and with a viewfinder!) would be tons of fun to use!

    • I generally agree with your assessment, Hank. The attractions of FF over APS-C are clear once the size/weight factor is tackled. It will be very interesting to see what happens this year. I am convinced Panasonic made the right call by refusing to enter the APS-C market. A new small S camera could be similar in size to the Pro MFT cameras they make. If so, and with more compact FF lenses to choose from, the case for APS-C is less clear.

    • Good points. The Canon EOS RP currently sells for $899 in the US. With the (non-L) kit lens 24-105 f4-7.1 you can currently get it for $999. The body (485g with battery) and lens (395g) together weigh less than 900g. It indeed really makes it pretty hard to make a case for APS-C…

  10. The case for apsc works only for a fixed lens camera I think. Like the x100v or ricoh gr. The quality is much better than mft and portability is much better than a Q or RX1.

    • A good point, Mahesh. I would add the Leica D-Lux to the list although, frankly, I would probably agree on a fixed focal length for a pocket camera. The Ricoh is out of favour with me after electrical gremlins which have bricked my original GR. That said, it is a great little camera when it works!

  11. I bought the CL with a summicron, which to my view was rather bulky for the camera but overall very flary and mediocre. I changed it for an elmar, which was thought at the beginning fair too wide for me, but I think it’s the autofocus lens for the camera. Light weight and extremely fast and sharp. I started using a second brand ring with a M mount voightlander nokton on it. But I didn’t like it. Now I got rid of that adapter and got a 7artisans one (never fit to the idea of buying an original), and after a while it is like having two cameras: a digital cosy leica and a small M one. Lovely
    I see those sigma lenses too big for the camera; 16 isn’t far from the elmar view. Not on telelenses, but perhaps the 30 wouldn’t be such a bad alternative if not having the nokton.
    More lenses sould be in the market, though I agree L mount Leica strategy isn’t so clear by the moment. I’m glad with my team actually

  12. I recently bought a Sigma DP3, mainly for use as a scanning device for copying negatives. However, I have also been using it while out and about and I am very pleased with not only the lens quality, but also the foveon sensor, even if it does perform pretty badly as soon as the light goes a bit.

    For me, a Sigma L mount camera is a great halfway house between a manual film camera and any other standard bayer digital. It has the flexibility of a film camera, very little, indeed less than film which you can at least push and pull, but the rendition is film like, when conditions allow.

    I s’pose the method employed by the foveon to make it colour capable is very similar to the method used by Kodak and Fuji in the manufacture of colour film. In both cases the emulsions/filters are laid on each other in sequence and the rendering is merely decreed by the amount of light that meets or passes through each layer.

    But back to the lenses and the possible camera. Since Leica ceased its manufacture of the X range of APS-C cameras, they seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, the casual way that they dumped proper tactile knobs/dials for the fundamental controls in the development of the T and then even worse, the CL, reduced the range to point and shoot with interchangeable lenses, there is nothing to learn and too much to remember, if you want to use it in any other way.

    As for the lenses, I don’t know whether anyone has ever proven this incorrect, but I have always suspected that the TL lenses are already made by Sigma. If that is indeed the case, I welcome the release of more reasonably priced lenses direct from the horse’s mouth.

    I would hope, though not any high expectations of this, Sigma being Japanese (and all that goes with all things to everyoneitis), that they won’t over-complicate such a camera, but at least it will be affordable.

    • I don’t think the TL lenses are made by Sigma. They are made by another manufacturer which, I am told, does not sell under its own brand. They make lenses for other companies. However, despite being designed by Leica, they are still Japanese and could well have more in common with Sigma’s lenses than they do with, say, the M range which is all made in Europe.

  13. I bought my CL for the sole purpose of adapting my eight M lenses. I am a long-time analog M user but hesitate to spend on a digital M body given the shorter product cycles and resulting depreciation. I have no interest in any L lenses including these new ones. I really like the user interface and EVF of the CL. While the SL bodies have similar features, I find them too large for my M lenses (and again too expensive for the reasons already mentioned). Should there be a successor of the CL, I would consider it. If not, I buy another CL before the system disappears and put is aside for future use.

    • Yes, I am currently using M lenses (particularly the 28mm Summaron) on the TL2. The disadvantage, or advantage if you look at it another way, is the crop factor. Wider angle M lenses tend to be bulky, even the 21mm Super Elmar that I own, so achieving a compact 28 or 35mm option is difficult. But I agree generally with your sentiments.

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