Home L-Mount What comes next for Leica and Panasonic?

What comes next for Leica and Panasonic?

1318
28

Last week’s announcement of the new L-squared (L²) cooperation created more questions than answers. Does it mean more cooperation on the cross-branding of lenses and cameras? Is it an alliance within an alliance to the exclusion of Sigma, perhaps the most active member of the L-Mount Alliance? Or does it simply signify greater levels of cooperation in the development of technology?

The answer to the Sigma question came yesterday from Panasonic, as reported in DPReview:

‘L² Technology is not the new alliance but the new value created by Leica Camera AG and Panasonic. L-Mount is a lens mount standard developed by Leica Camera AG and it is licensed to the Alliance members by Leica Camera AG. Panasonic is one of the licensed member and we are aiming to have stable product compatibility between the Alliance partners. Therefore, as L-mount alliance member we will keep compatibility also with Sigma products. There is no change on this point. L² Technology is the symbol that Leica camera AG and Panasonic will invest and develop the new value together. This new value will be integrated to our new cameras for Panasonic and Leica and by each company we will have our own marketing story.’

Leica's long association with Panasonic is most apparent in the range of re-branded Lumix cameras such as the D-Lux (seen here), C-Lux and V-Lux. But Panasonic have long used Leica branding on micro four-thirds lenses and "Approved by Leica" on premium L-mount lenses. Image Mike Evans
Leica’s long association with Panasonic is most apparent in the range of re-branded Lumix cameras such as the D-Lux (seen here), C-Lux and V-Lux. But Panasonic has long used Leica branding on micro four-thirds lenses (and compact-camera lenses) and “approved by Leica” on premium L-mount lenses. Image Jason Hannigan, taken in the Melbourne Leica Store

Right? So now we know, but we are perhaps none the wiser. As an exercise in knitting wind, this new announcement vies with last week’s rather vaporous statement from Leica.

The release told us everything and nothing. We are left trying to imagine what is new, what is going to come. Everyone knows that Leica and Panasonic have been cooperating for the past twenty years. The association manifests itself in the successful Leica branding of Panasonic compacts, in the Leica name on high-end micro four-thirds lenses (and the use of Summilux, etc) and similar “Leica Approved” status for premium L-mount Panasonic lenses.

Silouette from the Lumix S5 (Image Keith James)
Silhouette from the Lumix S5 (Image Keith James)

But, of course, it goes much deeper. Leica is dependent on Panasonic for much of the electronics that go into its cameras. The Q and SL both include Panasonic wizardry and even the M probably has a good helping.

The SL is a particularly interesting case since it is mirrored by a range of very similar Panasonics, the S1 and its siblings. Delve under the hood, and there is probably more similarity than difference between the products of both companies. Both ranges are highly competent, with the S1 bodies feeling more SLR-like than the SL which offers a more radical approach to haptics and menus.

On balance, I prefer Leica’s approach, but the Lumix cameras are very strong competitors. The approaches are different, which is good for consumer choice. For many Leica users, the SL has a significant advantage in its lauded greater compatibility with M lenses, something which Panasonic doesn’t need to consider. Use L glass, and the S1 is nearer to the SL in terms of output than Leica fanboys would admit.

Strategic strategic cooperation

Before this week’s announcement, it was clear to industry watchers that Leica already depends heavily on Panasonic electronics. As we’ve discussed already, the SL and S1 were developed simultaneously and have a lot in common. Perhaps the SL would not have been possible had it not been for Panasonic’s work on the S1 and the ability to share technology.

Cooperation and branding: Leica's long association with Panasonic has resulted in a wide range of Leica-branded lenses for micro four-thirds. The Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 Leica DG Nocticron ASPH is intended to spur thoughts of the mighty Noctilux-M. Photo Mike Evans (Lumix GX8)
Cooperation and branding: Leica’s long association with Panasonic has resulted in a wide range of Leica-branded lenses for micro four-thirds cameras. The 42.5mm f/1.2 Leica DG Nocticron ASPH is intended to inspire thoughts of the mighty 50 mm Noctilux-M, although it is perhaps more accurately compared with the 75mm Noctilux-M because of its 85mm-equivalent focal length. That said, it does a pretty good job of subject separation. Photo Mike Evans (Lumix GX8)

Now, however, we have a more “strategic” level of cooperation. But we are left guessing as to the exact nature of the forthcoming products. Apart from technology, will we see a greater level of cooperation in camera and lens manufacturing? Possibly there will be more “approved by Leica” Panasonic lenses to add to the ever-growing programme of L-mount optics. Conversely, Leica could add to its rather limited menu of L-Mount lenses by rebranding Panasonic’s premium offerings. Leica set the trend with the “budget” Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-70 f/2.8 ASPH. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 DG DN lens. Some think it is the same lens with a different body and a shower of Leica stardust.

L-Mount success

Lenses have indeed been one of the great success stories of the L-Mount Alliance. The LMA is one of the best moves Leica has made in the past decade. Without the alliance, I suspect that the SL models would have eventually withered on the vine. Now, at least, they have a sporting chance because of the wide range of lenses at every price point.

With relatively limited sales of Panasonic S1, S5 and Leica SL cameras, however, cynics might wonder why so few cameras are being chased by so many lenses. In the wider market, both Leica and Panasonic’s competitors, in the form of Nikon, Canon and Sony, are way ahead in sales. Yet, thanks to the L-mount Alliance, the few L-mount cameras (including Sigma’s fp) are served by a vast array of lenses.

Sales of L-Mount cameras will need to be stimulated if the massive investment in L-Mount lenses is to be sustained. Yet not a lot seems to be happening on the camera front. Leica has refreshed the SL range, and very successfully at that, but little last been heard from Panasonic. The S1 cameras are due for an update soon, I imagine. And while the underrated S5 with its lighter weight and smaller size, is not a great seller, judging by the level of discounts available, it deserves more attention.

The Panasonic S5 is especially interesting because of the unique 20-60 kit lens. Pointe de Penhir, Brittany, France. Panasonic S 5, 20-60 @21mm, f9; 1/200 sec, ISO 100. Photograph by Jörg-Peter Rau
The Panasonic S5 is especially interesting because of the unique 20-60 kit lens. Pointe de Penhir, Brittany, France. Panasonic S 5, 20-60 @21mm, f9; 1/200 sec, ISO 100. Photograph by Jörg-Peter Rau

The S5 is actually one of the more interesting L-Mount cameras. It offers a great deal in a small package (no larger than a high-end MFT camera) that comes with a cracking and unusual 20-60mm standard kit lens. This is an excellent budget optic blessed with considerable versatility. Some S5 results can be seen here in Keith James’s article on silhouette photography and in further articles here. In addition, check Jörg-Peter Rau’s informative article on entering the L-mount world with the budget Lumix S5.

The 20-60mm Lumix lens is extremely versatile, especially as here in tight spaces — at 20mm, Lumix S5 camera, photo Mike Evans
The 20-60mm Lumix lens is extremely versatile, especially as used here in tight spaces — at 20mm, Lumix S5 camera, photo Mike Evans

Many would like to see the S5 modified and sold under the Leica brand. The C-D-V-Luxes have set the precedent. While the SL2 and SL2-S are both great cameras with a dedicated following there is one area of criticism that keeps on coming up — the size and weight of the bodies. An SL mini, based on the S5 but with improvements, including a higher-resolution viewfinder, would be on the shopping list of many SL fans, probably for use as a second body.

There is virtually no chance of Leica making a smaller SL in Europe, but a rebranded Panasonic could encourage Leica aficionados. However, Leica will be rightly worried about potential cannibalisation. If the SL Mini produces similar results to the SL2-S (both having 24MP sensors), might this deflect buyers to the cheaper model even though they realise it is simply a Panasonic rebadge?

Nevertheless, the L² announcement, if rather nebulous, does indicate that something is happening, that the L-Mount Alliance is alive and kicking. It will be exciting to see what developments come in the next year or two.

What do you think? What would you like to see come out of this new level of L² strategic cooperation? Would you be more likely to buy a Panasonic S5 (with a few tweaks) if it carried the Leica branding?


28 COMMENTS

  1. The critical statement is this:
    “This new value will be integrated to our new cameras for Panasonic and Leica and by each company we will have our own marketing story.”

    In other words the cameras will likely contain the same technology, hard and soft, including L-mount lenses, but will look slightly different and have different branding and will use each brand’s heritage to differentiate the products.

    If you want a model look at the Leica DL -X and LUMIX LX100.

    The “new value” is likely to mean shared development and while that maybe considerable there is no sense of striving for innovative solutions etc.

    • Indeed. And the C-D-V-Lux models are a good example. But we have no evidence that this sort of cross-branding could be extended to full-frame cameras. I believe Leica could take a Panasonic camera such as the S5, liberally treat it to munbo-jumbo and sell it as a Leica at around £2,000. I do not think it would detract from SL sales but it could be a nice earner for Wetzlar.

      • The T/TL/TL2/CL and SL/SL2-S models all feature flexible controls in order to work with L-mount lenses that have no Aperture rings. They also have a simplified set of rear controls and you have to wonder how an integrated model would accommodate those types of Leica controls along with the LUMIX button-fest.

      • Rebadging the S5 is definitely a realistic scenario IMO, I don’t believe it would come in as low as £2,000 though, this would be $2.5K at the current rate, Leica already charges $2,895 for a rebadged Sigma lens which costs less than the S5.

        • Good point about the Sigma comparison. But there are limits to the premium for a camera. The Leica-badged compacts always had a relatively modest premium but this was easy to justify because the Leica versions always have better value retention. It’s possible to argue that they are cheaper in the long run. But perhaps you are right and a Leica S5 would be priced around £/$ 3,000.00

          • Perhaps this is why the Leica CL had to go? The Leica CL came in at around the same price point.

  2. I have a TL2, CL, D-Lux 7 and an S5, plus a lot of M-mount, M39 and M42 lenses of various makes, plus Leica, Sigma and Panasonic L-mounts. I’m not a user of video, and I was disappointed that the TL/CL range has hit the buffers forever. I’ve considered an SL2-S, but what would really satisfy me would be something like the S5, at about £2k-£2.5k for a body only, with the Leica menu system of the latest version for the CL, which I think is the same or very similar as the SL2 and SL2-S.
    I’m a “less is more” sort, and the Panasonic cameras are jammed with everything bar the kitchen sink. Of course, you don’t have to use or enable all the various options and features, but to me, the Leica menus, especially the “Home” screen, are masterpieces of simplicity and usability.

    • Agreed. The Leica Menu system and simplicity of operation coupled with the big, clear viewfinder are the best things about my SL2s.No clutter to get in the way when I’m making pictures.Was worth the money for me because it led to enjoying photography again.The bonus was being able to fully utilize all my old M lenses when the mood takes me.
      I’m ok with Leica playing with Panasonic as long as they maintain the quality but I do worry that products might be more often made in China (like the batteries are now).There is ( at present) a marked difference in build quality in terms of longevity between Japanese products made in Japan and those made in China with a Japanese name on them.

  3. I’m most likely to buy it if they add “profiles” for M lenses as they have in the SL lineup.
    The SL series is too big and heavy for me. For me, Leica is small cameras and small lenses.

    • I am sure that this would be one of the essential enhancements to justify the difference in price. However, the sensor is if more importance. As I understand, the CL and SL both have modified sensor thickness to achieve maximum performance with M lenses. The is the difference between Leica mirrorless cameras and the rest of the market. Jono Slack has explained this to me, but we would need a technical assessment from him.

      • Thanks Mike, yes that’s what I meant without thinking of the technical details. Basically an M-EVF that I always wanted. 🙂

    • In many ways the bigger challenge, in every sense, may be how the L-Alliance (not L2) can develop a range of high quality lenses that are smaller and lighter than the current FF offerings, and ideally closer to all the dimensions of the TL lenses, in order to provide better balance with new smaller-bodied FF cameras and legacy CL bodies.

      That’s just one perspective but it would be interesting to see how many different directions the L-Alliance will need to consider and how long a process like this might take from design to in-market sales.

  4. Mike, in answer to the question about buying a rebadged S5 I put my hand up as interested as long as it came with an improved EVF, a simplified button layout and had the solid feel of a Leica.

  5. Thanks for this article Mike, it is a really interesting manoeuvre by both Panasonic and Leica.

    I would admit, if I was a strategist at Leica, I would take a punt on marginally refreshed S5 as an SL mini. But what I would do is release it and gently withdraw the SL2-S and insert it in a price point around 2k perhaps selling at around 2.3k with a rebadged 20-60 lens… And thus Leica would toss a small camera into the CL’s gaping hole and perhaps woo a whole new generation to the Leica brand – and by gently withdrawing the SL2-S as part of that strategy I would not overly cannibalise sales of anything.

    Might be a whacky idea – but it might draw people in from the CL/TL/X demise, and who knows where that would lead. I wont deny I have looked at the S5 kit lens option.

    Just saying, and happy to take other views.

    • The question is how much would it cost to develop an SL Mini and how long would it take? I would wonder about cooling, battery size, processing power and refreshed displays as design and execution challenges in a smaller package.

      • I get the question – but if there is truly a sharing of DNA between the partner companies, then adding in a better EVF, and one or two Leica-esque tweaks will not be massively onerous – and if the union works – then Panasonic would help Leica achieve the above ambition with little effort.

        But the payback would by purely that in a years time a Pana S5 v2 would appear with some of Leica’s DNA added into the mix.

        As such with so much Leica production line already capable of producing pseudo Pana camera’s, then converting production lines to manage this will be, perhaps similar to achieve. After all Leica’s current production line switches between ranges depending on what they need to push out.

        If your question doesnt cover this point inside Leica, then the new arrangement would be, perhaps slightly pointless. Surely sharing RND is the main aim, and already happens.

        • I don’t believe Leica produced pseudo PanaLeicas. I suspect all those models are made on a Panasonic/Lumix production line somewhere that’s not Germany.

          I would guess that T and upwards to M are/were made in Germany or at the very least in a factory managed by Leica. If you look at the range of components I suspect almost all are outsourced and what Leica does is set spec and quality standards and assembles with strict QCs.

          • M, Q, SL and T/CL are all made in Germany and Portugal, with electronic bits from Panasonic. The compacts are made in the Far East alongside the Panasonic versions. If they were to produce a Leica version of the S5, I’m fairly certain that it would be a rebadging job similar to the compacts. However, there would have to be an S5 Mk II I think. Any thoughts of different button layouts, simplified functions and so forth are unlikely. However, the menus could have a Leica branding. The sticking point, as I outlined in an earlier comment, is the desirability of an M-friendly sensor. This might not be possible and could be a major reason not considering the S5. Anyway, this is all conjecture and it will certainly be interesting to see how things work out.

    • My guess is Leica is already working on a camera to replace the CL/TL but I don’t think their strategy is ( or has ever been ) to make a do it all camera.They might prefer you to use a heavier SL type camera in combination with a lighter compact camera for different applications, rather than a complete package ‘Goldilocks’ solution. That is what the D-Lux / V-Lux models already try to be, but fall slightly short, since you can’t change the lenses.

      • I have long augured a CL with a fixed lens – ala X typ 113, but with the EVF solution the CL had. It would probably sell well, but may tread on the toes of the Q2, or 3 depending on which iteration is in production.

        • I feel Leica missed an opportunity to follow the X-1 with a T1 with a fixed lens and then a T-Vario. But that’s a piece of history I don’t believe we will ever go back to.

  6. Hi Mike, thanks for the mention in dispatches and for prompting this discussion. The clarification statement from Leica on the purpose of the L2 initiative, which you included above, specifically refers to Leica and Panasonic cameras, and does not mention lenses. This would explain why L2 does not encompass Sigma – since the L-mount alliance is focused on lenses.

    Having given this some thought since the announcement of L2, I could see a strong case for Leica releasing a smaller body camera based upon the S5, but with SL-quality EVF, Leica haptics and menu system. This would enable them to consolidate their full-frame L-mount franchise whilst plugging the gap left by discontinuation of the CL/APSC line. Many Macfilos readers seem to prefer a smaller body than the SL2 and would probably be content with a 24 megapixel sensor, and so there appears to be a market out there for such a product. If such a camera accommodated full use of M-mount lenses this would also relieve the pressure from some quarters for an M-camera with EVF, which Leica appear determined to resist. Intrigued to see how this plays out over the next few years. Cheers, Keith

  7. I am excited about this as it makes my investment in L mount even more promising for me. I would be even more excited if they announced a L2S arrangement that delivered the Sigma slowly coming full frame fovean sensor in a Leica camera or Panasonic camera with the Leica sensor filter stack. One can dream, but I am happy with my options at the moment but I wish Panasonic had the Leica sensor filter stack as I sold my S1R because of that. I actually liked my S1R better than the SL2 except the sensor stack became a deal breaker for me when the SL2 fixed that issue but at significant cost…

  8. Not that I care in the slightest, but that D-Lux 7 photo is one i submitted to mike a couple of years back for a story on the new Leica store in melbourne.

    I’m very pleased at any news of increasing communication between Leica and Panasonic. It can only be a benefit to the companies and us as customers. I’m still hoping for a full frame foveon from Sigma for the L mount alliance, too. Or a full frame GX8 from Panny. Both would offer something new to the market.

    • Jason, my apologies. I thought it was one of mine and didn’t check – hence no credit. I will add that now and sorry I didn’t notice. Hope you are all now recovered from the perennial lockdown in Melbourne. When you have time, perhaps another article for Macfilos?

      • Morning Mike,

        No worries at all.

        Yes, we seem to have passed the lockdown stages now . There are still plenty of cases swirling about, but I can’t see us returning to such restrictive measures again.

        I’d love to do another article for you, I’ll consider some potential ideas/angles.

  9. I don’t see much investment return for L-mount lenses. Too few users, too little differentiation from Canon & Nikon, nothing is being demanded from users. FF is good enough where it is. Stop all production, no one will complain.

    Then there’s all those real camera types with D-Lux and V-Luv cameras that readily admit to all the enjoyment they get from using them. Here the market is wanting. And unserved.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.