The long-rumoured Pixii M-mount camera is here and you can order one today. It has a screenless body with an APS-C crop sensor and adopts a minimalist approach that will appeal particularly to the traditional M user.
Above all other considerations, it is the native M-mount which will sell this camera. There is no need for expensive adapters, saving both cash and up to 300g of weight. More to the point, though, the absence of an adapter removes bulk and means that this small body will perfectly match Leica’s compact lenses. Imagine the Pixii with Leica’s smallest lens, the 28mm Summaron, attached. I can appreciate that immediately.
The camera appears to be well designed, with a degree of simplicity clearly aimed at the traditional M user. It features a true rangefinder focus system, apparently very similar to that in Leica models. However, the manufacturers place great emphasis (perhaps too much emphasis) on integration with smartphones. Images are transmitted to your phone immediately but you can transfer RAW files later if you wish.
This is a camera that is designed specifically to work with your smartphone and you are expected to use the phone as a primary interface. Nevertheless, there is always a mismatch in my mind between rangefinder camera and smartphones. Rangefinder users typically prefer a more analogue approach to photography.
Reinforcing this reliance on external electronic support is the lack of removable storage. This is perhaps the major flaw and, for many, it will be a dealbreaker. Instead, the Pixii makes do with internal storage of 8GB or 32GB, although a cheaper launch model will offer just 4GB. I think many potential buyers, attracted primarily by the direct compatibility with M lenses, will be disappointed by this reliance on smartphone integration. It’s a pity and it’s hard to understand why an SD card slot couldn’t have been integrated.
In many ways, this camera appeals to the same market as the Leica M10-D, although Leica takes an entirely different approach to usability, emphasising the practical simplicity and playing down the smartphone connection. Yet we have to face the fact that the M10-D is a niche product for Leica and I sometimes wonder if it makes commercial sense.
The M10-D is a camera that can be used very effectively in isolation. That’s how I regard it, as a sort of digital film device. Smartphone connectivity is available via the FOTOS app, but as an M10-D owner, I use FOTOS only for camera set-up purposes. Basically, that means that in all the time I’ve owned the M10-D I have used FOTOS maybe a couple of times.
With the Pixii, however, you’d better get used to using your smartphone as a necessary adjunct to the camera. I don’t think I could accept that.
The rangefinder itself, though, is intriguing:
Pixii is equipped with a high precision optical device connecting the lens and the viewfinder. A small mechanical wheel precisely senses the advance of the lens optical group. It translates the movement of the lens into a subtle displacement of the rangefinder image projected onto the viewfinder. You can measure any distance between a nearby object at 70cm up to the moon distance, close to infinity. The distance conversion ranges from less than 4mm at the back of the lens into a tiny millimetre change inside the rangefinder. The resolving power of your eye does the rest.
Despite some reservations about the market for such a camera, the Pixii does tick two important boxes. First, it needs no adapters; second, it is a rangefinder. I think it will find a niche market, although hard-headed enthusiasts will say that the TL or CL can do a similar job at less cost, even with the disadvantage of having to use an adapter. Nor should we forget that some users actually prefer an electronic viewfinder to the rangefinder, particularly those with ageing eyesight.
A crop too far?
When this Pixii was first mooted a couple of years ago, it never occurred to me that it wouldn’t have a full-frame sensor. The crop sensor with an odd density of 12MP is, therefore, something of a disappointment, especially for lovers of wide-angle photography who may not currently own ultra-wide lenses.
For most people, with their 28mm Elmarits or 35mm Summicrons, the 1.5x crop factor is going to be a problem. To get their favourite focal lengths they will have to invest in ultra-wide M-mount lenses. However, on the other side of the coin, standard 35mm and 50mm M lenses take on a new and potentially useful guise as 50s or 75s.
Another curiosity about the Pixii is the all-electronic shutter. This, again, is something that might not release the creative juices of a typical rangefinder enthusiast.
The 8GB Pixii will sell direct for €2,900 (£2,625, $3,275). I can see no price listed for the 32GB version, but the limited launch edition, with its 4GB internal storage, is listed at €2,700 (£2,440, $3,050). These prices do not include tax, so European buyers can add 20 percent.
I hope to have the chance to try a Pixii in the future. In the meantime, my friend Hamish Gill over at 35mmc.com has already had his hands on a beta version and he expects to have a production Pixii soon. If you are interested in this camera, his initial views are worth reading.
My thoughts are mixed. I find the concept of the Pixii immensely appealing. But then, as an M10-D convert, I can really appreciate the lack of a screen and regard this absence as real benefit rather than a disadvantage.
The lack of SD-card storage is a significant disadvantage, however, and I suspect many in the target audience will also think the same. Never the less, there is no denying that this is an ingenious and exciting little camera that will pique the interest of all Leica owners. Whether or not they will buy, however, is another matter.
The price of the Pixii is a bit steep for an APS-C body, of course, but this is perhaps no surprise given the integration of a proper mechanical rangefinder. The rangefinder mechanism alone accounts for around a sixth of the total cost of a Leica M digital, so a precision device of this nature is never going to come cheap. For the moment, I give the Pixii a qualified thumbs-up. At the very least, it is a welcome addition and an intriguing concept. We will have to wait for some real-world reviews to find out how it performs.
You can find all the details of the camera on the Pixii website.