During the past decade, Leica has shown itself willing to be the outlier, able to take advantage the versatility of small-scale production and its relative fleetness of foot when it comes to making decisions and implementing them in a timely manner. And a well-heeled and Apple-like customer base is the icing on the cake.
Twice in the past ten years, the company has confounded the market with controversial products that could easily have sunk without trace. Only they didn’t. Both have been successful enough to make further development possible.
Both were surprise announcements and both were outside what the rest of the camera industry was doing.
Back in 2012, the Berlin announcement of the first Leica Monochrom, based on the then-current M9, raised more than a few eyebrows. Who would spent £6,000 on a digital camera that produced only black-and-white images? Not us, chorused the general photographic press.
There was a certain amount of derision even in Leica circles. But disbelief was legion within the ranks of non-Leica fans. The Monochrom may have encapsulated Leica’s policy of Das Wesentliche (the essential) but, surely, the company had reduced the essence a little too far this time.
All the critics were confounded, as we now know. Leica’s management had made the right decision at the right time. There was no great campaign for a monochrome-only digital camera. In fact, no one knew they needed one. But, presented with a new camera and a cogent argument for black-and-white photography, and plenty people were willing to dig deep into their pockets. In this sense, the concept was something of a master stroke.
Since then, the rangefinder monochrome brand has flourished and we are now on the third iteration, based on the M10 but bearing a fearsomely effective 40MP sensor which provides for seriously improved resolution.
28 mm? You must be joking
And three years later, Leica did it again with the announcement of the Leica Q. Once more, there was a degree of disbelief and derision, largely based on the perceived inappropriateness of a fixed 28 mm focal length. While Ricoh and others had dallied with fixed-lens 28 mm compacts, the general prejudice back in 2015 was for 35 mm or, even, 50 mm in such a camera (or, more likely, for a zoom lens).
The 35 mm Sony RX1 had hardly been a stunning success, as many pointed out. But the Q was priced well, at £3,000, just a few euros above the Sony at the time and relatively cheap for a Leica.
Much was made of that f/1.7 Summilux lens. To get a camera and a fast Leica lens for little more than the cost of an equivalent M optic was seen as quite the bargain. At the time, the 28 mm Summilux cost a full £1,000 more than the Q and its lens.
The Q has turned out to be Leica’s most successful camera. The lens, especially with that switchable macro mode, is a delight. And even the 24MP sensor of the original Q is capable of superb results. The Q2, with its 47MP sensor, is of course even more satisfying.
Now comes the third of Leica’s fliers, a monochrome version of the Q2. If rumours are to be believed, this camera will arrive before the end of November. It will be identical to the Q2 except in its lack of a colour array, and will be the ultimate stealth machine, complete with black Leica roundel.
The question is, will it enjoy the same success as the monochrome versions of the rangefinder and the Leica Q? Many, including some senior people at Leica, are on tenterhooks to find out how this new camera will be received.
I have no doubts. I believe this will be a much sought-after camera. It will be another of Leica’s blinders.
The first positive factor, but perhaps the least important, is price. While the Q2-M won’t be cheap (I would reckon between £4,750 and £5,000), it will be much less expensive than an M10-M with a 28 mm Summilux (£12,450). But price is only a part of it. We know that the Leica market isn’t particularly price sensitive. Real Leica enthusiasts do not baulk even at twelve grand and, to some extent, it can be said that Leica, as a manufacturer of cameras, lives in a universe parallel to that of the rest of the industry. If the product is attractive it will sell, irrespective of price.
No, it isn’t really the price that will sell the new camera. The attraction of the Q2-M will be in its form factor, the feeling that it is just right as a carry everywhere camera. In addition, it has a built-in pull for the thousands of happy Q and Q2 owners who have espoused the 28 mm focal length and who have successfully swapped zooming and a multitude of lenses for an all-in-one solution.
Cropping is popular with Q2 owners because of the high-resolution 47MP sensor, but it will be even more usable with the Monochrom’s increased resolution. We will have to wait to see the reviews, but my guess is that the Q2-M will significantly outgun the M10-M if only because of the 17.5 increase in pixel density. It’s the same sensor as used in the Q2 and SL2, so we know it is no slouch. And without the colour array it should fly.
The only downside of that 28 mm lens is that it is still acts as a 28 mm even when cropped to an extreme 75 mm. It has the same constant depth of field and is patently less versatile than a rangefinder equipped with a trio of lenses, say 28 mm, 50 mm and 75 mm. Yet this hasn’t daunted the legions of satisfied owners of the original Q and, now, the Q2.
Even if you are the fortunate owner of an M system with a good stock of lenses, the £7,000-plus outlay for an M10-Monochrome is sufficiently high make you ask yourself if black-and-white is definitely for you. But a Q2-M will make for an easier decision. It will sell. While it will not be the massive success that was the original Q, it will join the M Monochrom as a desirable niche product. It is something that probably only Leica could do in the current climate.
So, I will say in advance to all the naysayers (and there will be many): Leica is right to produce a monochrome version of the Q2. It adds little to Leica’s production complications but will do a lot to enhance the image of the company. In a way, those raised eyebrows and howls of cost-related disbelief are grist for Leica’s mill. The furore actually makes the product more desirable. That Leica can contemplate producing something as focused as the Q2 is an accolade in itself.
What do you think? Will you buy the Q2-M when it is announced? Or do you believe that a monochrome-only camera is a waste of money; that you can produce the same results from a colour camera with deft post-processing?
Next step, I believe, will be an SL2 Monochrom. They have the camera, they now have the sensor. it’s just a matter of putting the two together.