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What’s going to happen at Leica in 2021?

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The CL, introduced in 2017, has not been a runaway success. But an updated verison with IBIS could bring the buyers back (Image Leica Camera AG)

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen several Leica rumours surfacing—some old, one new. The most interesting from my point of view is a leak of a forthcoming upgrade to the CL.

Leica CL

The Leica CL, first introduced in 2017 as a complement to the innovative TL, has been due for a revamp for some time. With a range of lenses lacking image stabilisation and with the body similarly disadvantaged, something had to be done.

It wasn’t the lack of stabilisation in itself—most existing owners are pretty happy with the status quo—it was the perception that the whole system is lagging behind the competition.

The CL, introduced in 2017, has not been a runaway success. But an updated verison with IBIS could bring the buyers back (Image Leica Camera AG)
The CL, introduced in 2017, has not been a steady seller, although by no means a runaway success. But an updated verison with IBIS could bring the buyers back (Image Leica Camera AG)

It now looks like Leica’s APS-C offering is going to get the update it sorely needs. Rumours are predicting a CL-2 in 2021 with will include in-body stabilisation and a 26MP sensor. Weather sealing and a redesigned body, including joystick control a la SL-2. Apart from offering a more compelling APS-C body, the prospect of IBIS would give some extra life to the existing lenses.

It is said that the new camera could arrive in the Spring and will cost around €2,700. See Leica Rumors for more details.

I’d rate the CL-2 as a pretty likely prospect at this stage.

Budget film camera

Whither the Leica film cameras? There is now talk of a new film camera which will be sold at a bargain price. Suggestions from Leica Rumors are that this could be a revamp of the ever-popular M6. With second-hand values having doubled in the past ten years, good examples of the M6 are rising towards £2,000 while the later TTL version is well over that figure.

For some time there have been suggestions that Leica might discontinue all film-camera production, but this has been denied. In fact, it looks like the MP and M-A continue to be in demand, even at the lofty price of £4,000. A remake of the M6 or M6TTL selling it around £3,000 might be enough to persuade potential buyers that new is better than old.

However, I suspect that such a price would not be possible, given the amount of specialist labour that goes into every M camera. The rangefinder alone is expensive and, apart from the brass top-plate of the MP, the doesn’t seem to be that much scope for economies.

The author's mint-condition Leica M6 TTL bought at the Bievres photo fair in 2015, seen here with contemporary silver 50mm Summicron. Have prices of used cameras now risen to the point where it would be worth Leica's while to reintroduce the M6?
The author’s mint-condition 2001 Leica M6 TTL bought at the Bievres photo fair in 2015, seen here with a contemporary silver 50mm Summicron. Have prices of used cameras now risen to the point where it would be worth Leica’s while to reintroduce the M6?

I rate this one as relatively unlikely, but I would be delighted to be proved wrong. What is your view? Would you buy a new M6 or do you think the demand is fully covered by second-hand models from 20-plus years ago?

Rangefinderless M

This is the hoary old rumour.

The prospect of an M-mount camera with an electronic viewfinder instead of the expensive optomechanical rangefinder (which is said to account for up to £1,000 of the camera’s price) has exercised many minds over the past five years. In theory, an M camera with EVF could be priced more attractively, and there has been a steady demand for such a beast. Judging by the popularity of using manual M lenses on other cameras, not just the CL and SL but with third-party mirrorless, there would be a demand for a Leica product.

Leica has repeatedly denied the intention to fiddle with the hallowed M rangefinder. Any move in this direction could be seen as the thin end of the wedge and lead to the current range’s cannibalisation. There have also been rumours about the possibility of a hybrid viewfinder, incorporating the choice of either mechanical rangefinder or EVF. Leica has looked at this over the years, I am sure, but the costs and technical problems have been cited as the reason for not progressing.

Is there room for an M rangefinder without a rangefinder? Would a cheaper M body with EVF succeed in its own right or would it merely cannibalise sales of the  traditional bodies (M10-P seen here, image courtesy of Leica Camera AG)
Is there room for an M rangefinder without a rangefinder? Would a cheaper M body with EVF succeed in its own right or would it merely cannibalise sales of the traditional bodies (M10-P seen here, image courtesy of Leica Camera AG)

Unlike the Fuji hybrid in the X100 and X-Pro, any Leica system would have to incorporate the current rangefinder’s full capabilities. Fuji started from the electronic viewfinder and added a rangefinder simulation; with Leica, it would have to be the other way round. Having used the Fuji system, I soon got bored with the rangefinder view’s inadequacies and reverted to full EVF.

Of course, it is possible that Leica has already found a way of producing an effective hybrid finder and it is being held in reserve for the M11, which will become due in 2022 or 2023. That would be an interesting move and, I suspect, makes more marketing sense than producing a separate M body with EVF in place of the rangefinder.

If I were looking at this as a project, I wouldn’t start with the M body; I would be looking at a smaller mirrorless design with an M mount instead of L. The basis of such a camera already exists. It’s called Q2.

For the moment, then, I treat this particular rumour with a pinch of salt. What do you think? Are you a rangefinder purist who believes the M should be left alone? Do you feel that your EVF needs are best served by the SL or CL? or would you welcome a small M-mount camera with just an electronic viewfinder?

Summary

Whatever we make of these rumours, 2021 is shaping up to be a good year for Leica. The two-year-old L-Mount Alliance has put much-needed life into Leica’s mirrorless systems and the range of lenses now meets almost every need and at every price point.

Sigma, in particular, has faced up to the LMA challenge with a very impressive line-up of new lenses, while

Panasonic has consolidated its position as a manufacturer of L-Mount cameras which rival Leica but at lower prices.

Leica, serving the premium end of the market, now has a much firmer foundation to work from. Furthermore, entrants to the L system, attracted by cameras such as Pansonic’s excellent S5, are future candidates for future upgrades to Leica cameras and lenses.

The APS-C offering has been Leica’s Achilles’ heel over the past couple of years, and a new CL-2 will do much to put things back on track. This is what I most hope to see in 2021.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Mike,
    As a CL owner there is much that’s right about this camera so I suspect there’s a certain amount of “don’t mess with it!”.
    However it does need IBIS.
    It needs an EVF with higher resolution.
    It would be wonderful if more Leica cameras used the same battery as well.
    Higher resolution would be nice, but 24 MP is pretty decent even for A2 sized prints.
    I’m sure the list could be longer…

  2. The problem with the hybrid M concept is focus. Does anyone really want to only focus a manual lens with focus peaking? Shooting a moving person or changing scene? I focus in live view sometimes, but EVF really works best with autofocus. I love the Q, but it’s a different experience that is mirrorless.

    Leica would need a new line of M size lenses with autofocus capability. They would then work on both a Rangefinder M and an EVF or hybrid M. That would bifurcate a 100 year history of the M39/M mount, similar to what happened with the Nikon F mount over the years as there was mixed backward and forward compatibility depending on focus mechanism and aperture control.

  3. A CL update would be very important and a success if done right: IBIS and so on. I would be interested in one to use with my SL2.
    You overlooked the Leica SL wide angles that people have patiently being waiting for. Thankfully, Sigma has options although larger than I would buy.
    A monochromatic SL2 would ring my chimes.

    I do not see a cheap Leica film camera!

  4. Hi Mike, this is the fun speculation when we Lei.ca nuts get together over a pint. Hopefully this can happen again later this year.
    I have been suggesting an interchangeable Q camera in M mount as well. I think such a beast would be different enough from the M cameras to not cannibalize that line. This suggestion has not met with much enthusiasm in Wetzlar.
    I think the addition of IBIS to a CL-2 would give us some hope of IBIS in the M11!
    As the old saying goes, time will tell!

    • I was told quite categorically by someone who should know these things that adding IBIS to the M body would mean increasing the size of the chassis. And having got down to M7 proportions, no one wants to go backward. Of course, technology progresses and what wasn’t possible in 2019 could be reality in 2023!

      • True., but I seem to remember when Leica themselves said that the M bodies were too small to put a digital sensor in, and now look where we are.

  5. A M shaped, full frame EVF camera (no rangefinder needed) would be great. Build it in the SL2 chassis. Make it L mount for AF lenses.
    I use a Z6 with my M lenses, and am generally happy about it, except for the bulbous pentaprism/handgrip shape. Something more elegant and discreet would be nice.
    Call it the SLM!

  6. I’d guess that adding IBiS to the CL will simply drain the battery faster. Not sure what the point of 26MP would be? Marketing advantage over 24? Problem with a new Cheaper M6 even if they make one is that there are any number of great film cameras available now on the used market beyond the Leica marque. Still it’s fun to speculate.
    The best improvements for the CL would be .. a bigger viewfinder, better battery life and, everybody’s favorite…a focus point that doesn’t walkabout.Weather sealing would be very nice. In the end we’ll get what Leica decidees we get and they are putting together good cameras right now compared to the competition .

    • Amen to all that. But I have totally lost faith in Leica’s ability to give us a fixed focus point. They appear to have a strange aversion the concept, a sort of inverted heresy.

  7. I’ll leave the electronic and digital stuff to others. I know that Leica have looked at the film market which is attracting a young demographic. Most of that group source their cameras from the second hand market. A look at the Camera Rescue site in Finland will indicate how some of that demand is being met. The current Leica film offerings are perhaps too highly priced for that market.

    You are right to point out the rising prices of second hand Leicas and the profit that might be made in that market. Leica has got involved in that market through acquiring Westlicht Auctions and turning it into Leitz Auctions. The firm has also opened a vintage camera shop in Wetzlar.

    There is a thriving and growing film photography scene today as is evidenced by quality magazines like Silvergrain Classics which is produced in Germany. You are right to say that in today’s world the rangefinder is a very expensive creation. In order to reduce the price of a Leica something more simple might be required. Very simple film cameras also sell. Just look at Lomography. The idea should be to gain ‘buy in’ from a younger group of photographer rather than just from the older and better off cohort that make up the majority of Leica’s digital users.

    William

  8. About the rumored new film camera, I believe the chances of Leica capitalizing on the success of the Leica M6 with YouTubers are fairly high. I just don’t believe it will be a cheap…

  9. I would rather see them save the tl2 than CL, the film concept not going fly, be cutting their nose and impact other two film cameras. Since I got my used Q, have used a little, due to weather and COVID crap but it really has knocked my socks off. I am seriously thinking of giving up two x’s in trade in acquiring another Q, just not sure if another Q Q2 or Q2m.

    • Yes, but the YouTubers want an M6, they don’t want an MP or an M-A… because the Internet says the M6 was the best film camera ever made… FWIW, I really believe this rumor could turn out to be true…

  10. How about a CL2 and a TL3? I don’t see why not, there is room for both products since they have a different slant in terms of operation. A TL3 could lean toward video like the SL2-s and the CL2 could satisfy the stills photographers with slightly more traditional controls.

  11. A CL with stabilisation and a better EVF would be welcome. I have used the CL as a back up for the SL/SL2 but may now consider SL2S as a back up. It is not so compact but is full frame, offers excellent stabilisation and EVF and uses the same lenses
    I may also consider the Q2 Mono to replace my Mono M as it may be that Leica will concentrate on the SL and Q which have been very successful.
    William makes a good point about film camera development and I doubt that Leica would go down this road.

  12. If Leica do another film camera, and I’m not convinced they will, I’d hope for a simpler, point and shoot concept. Sort of like a film version of the X2.
    It would be a good gateway for folks to shoot film, and learn about Leica optics. Could be a great street camera.

  13. Yes, I would love a Leica QM — surely it’s simply a matter of taking a Q2 and replacing the autofocus motors with a simple passive M-flange (with 6-bit lens coding sensor) and Bob’s your proverbial …

    • Oh, and make sure the flange lets you focus closer than 0.7m! There is already a voigtlander 35mm that goes down to 0.5m but really 0.3m would be more like it … or even a helicoidal and separate close-focus lever within in the the lens mount that could give you macro on any lens just by turning the entire lens …

      • Like the Fotodiox DLX Stretch Lens Mount Adapter for Sony cameras: “Built in macro focusing helicoid provides macro focus on any lens”

    • “surely it’s simply a matter of taking a Q2 and replacing the autofocus motors with a simple passive M-flange”. Not quite so simple, the Q uses a leaf shutter built into the lens. To use an M mount lens Leica would have to redesign the body to accept a focal plane shutter.

  14. A small M-mount camera with just an electronic viewfinder? Yes please, I’ve been waiting for it since last 4 years!
    1) the range finder mechanism is costly and prone to misalignment
    2) range finder focus technique made sense when we didn’t have the evf technology to magnify, etc.
    3) could they not fit a full frame sensor in CL size body? I would rather have that than IS. We have fast small lenses that we can use in low light.
    4) cannibalise sell of the existing line? Doesn’t that mean that line is irrelevant and of less need with the evf technology?
    5) surely they can have the additional vision provided by ovf in the evf somehow. Or if someone misses the patch focusing, even simulate that in the evf!
    It is time I believe that they move with tech. Leica will always be a premium product because of the amazing small high quality lenses they have. It is the lenses that matter in the end. Having huge SL cameras with better but bigger lenses is not what I look at Leica for! We have canons and Nikons for that.

    Oh Leica, please please bring an M with an evf for me..

    • Yes, I too was just wondering this morning when someone would start doing RF patch simulations in an EVF … 🙂

      As long as they don’t add virtual 75mm framelines when you have a 50mm lens on there … or maybe some folk will be missing them?! 🙂

    • My guess would be that the CL2 is the stepping stone for 3) and that it is about 3-4 years away. First Leica will deliver the (eternally delayed) wide angle SL lenses and then probably we will have another iteration of the M and the Q. After that the time might be right to deliver what everybody has been asking for since 5-6 years now, by that time 8-10 years, a FF CL or a ICL Q.

      • That’s very slow, Slowdriver 😂. I’ll get on with A7c and some voigtlanders then.. I did promise Mike I’ll buy one and write my observations.

  15. Not sure what to think about the rumored CL2 really, it sounds like a worthwhile upgrade but if the price tag is going to be around $3,300-$3,400… well, you could also buy 2 full frame A7c bodies instead, or add some change to buy the Canon R5… I have to admit I find it increasingly hard to justify, especially with (as far as we know now) no new lenses on the horizon and most likely the TL product line entirely gone… 2 years ago at Photokina the message from Leica Product Manager Maike Harberts was: the future looks promising for Leica APS-C, it is the CL AND the TL, we are looking into customer requests for new Summilux lenses, etc etc.. not sure how much of that message remains valid today…

  16. Though I am happy with the M cameras as they are, I do remember a few years back that a startup was suggesting an “electronic rangefinder” where the patch was made from the input/output of two EVF’s at slightly different positions, a la mechanical rangefinder.

    I think it was called Konost or something. It did seem like a good solution to overcoming the fragility of the traditional mechanical system, if not its elegance.

    Presumably that firm ran out of cash, but the concept remains.

    As far as film goes, I would like to see a high quality scanning solution from Leica, to help support the users of their still perfect mechanical jewels.

  17. CL2 with IBIS is nice – if ever it would tempt me to pick up the 55-135mm with it. The 26MP sensor – if it is the same Sony. sensor used in the new Fuji cameras – would be a small but welcome one-stop upgrade in noise performance. Design change sounds encouraging, though I hope they focus on the top plate rather than the overall size, which is just the cutest.

    My real needs though are 2 fold:
    1. LENSES LENSES LENSES! 90mm Summilux would be great.
    2. Fix that *&(*&((&* wandering focusing point!

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