Of all the Leica rumours of recent years, the one that has had the most traction is the scent of a mirrorless camera capable of mounting M lenses. It makes a lot of sense to many people, and that’s why the idea keeps cropping up.
Many former rangefinder aficionados find aligning the split image rather difficult as their eyes age. They maintain that replacing the rangefinder with an EVF would provide Leica with an additional attractive product to appeal to those who can’t get on with a rangefinder or for whom rangefinder use is in the past.
Leica’s retort is that the M is already capable of mounting an EVF (in the case of the M11 with the much-improved Visoflex 2) and that there would be no real demand for an M without a rangefinder. If you must have a built-in EVF, look at the SL, they say. But fans are quick to point out that it is the form factor, the size and feel of the M, that they love. They don’t want to replace it with a bulky SL, especially when most of the manual lenses they would use are the smallest and lightest full-frame optics on the market.
It is common knowledge that Leica has explored the possibility of equipping a future M with a hybrid viewfinder, combining the advantages of the rangefinder with those of an EVF. No doubt they would have wanted to do better than Fuji. X-Pro and X100 users are initially seduced by the prospect of split-image focus but quickly revert to using the EVF exclusively. At least, that was my experience and I have read confirmatory reports.
Stefan Daniel acknowledges that the company has looked at developing a hybrid finder: “We examined this very intensively, but then came to the conclusion that such a solution would firstly require more space and secondly would hardly bring any practical advantages. That’s why we decided on the attachable Visoflex accessory, which can also be tilted upwards by 90 degrees for extreme perspectives.” I am sure, also, they could have ended up pleasing no one, least of all the dedicated M rangefinder fans.
So the hybrid is ruled out. But the tantalising prospect of an M body with EVF instead of the rangefinder still dangles before our eyes. Until this month, that is. Stefan Daniel appears to have quashed all rumours in an interview with a Swiss photography site, Photointern.
Stefan chooses his words very carefully and the comment would appear to knock the final nail in the coffin of an M camera with built-in EVF: “M stands for ‘Messsucher’ and as long as I have any say in Leica policy, the M will always have a rangefinder“.[footnote]Also M steht für Messsucher – und so lange ich bei Leica noch etwas zu sagen habe, wird die M einen Messucher haben[/footnote]
Done. Finished. No more rumours. But what he is actually saying is that there will never be an M camera without a rangefinder because it could no longer be called an M. It stands to reason. M is for Messsucher (range-measuring viewfinder), so an M with an EVF and no rangefinder would be an oxymoron. Note, however, that he didn’t say that there would never be a Leica mirrorless camera with the M Mount.
Here we can kickstart the rumour mill and take a fresh look. Would there be a market for a small (about M size) mirrorless camera with an M mount rather than the L mount? It just wouldn’t be called an M.
I think there would be a ready market for such a camera. The back catalogue of M-mount lenses is huge. If ever there were a shed-load of lenses looking for a camera, then this is it. A smaller camera with EVF to match the vast range of M glass would certainly sell, probably to a surprising extent as did the original Q which was another venture into the unknown.
Just don’t mention the M
Of course, as Stefan rightly and categorically states, this would not be an M. But such a camera (not called an M) could be produced without his having to eat his words. It would simply be called something else. QM springs to mind, but for purity and continuity, Leica E (for Electronic Viewfinder) would complement M for Messsucher.
There are some reasons why such a camera would not get past Leica’s marketing people. One is the risk of cannibalisation of the venerable (and very lucrative) rangefinder. Yet this is unlikely in my view, and any slight tendency would be more than offset by the broadening of the market for M-mount glass.
Already, adaptors allow M lenses to be used on a wide range of non-Leica mirrorless cameras, for better or worse, and the prospect of a Leica mirrorless home for M glass would have strong allure, especially if compatibility with M lenses became a major priority. For instance, there is evidence that the SL copes better with M lenses (including offering profiles) than, say, an equivalent LUMIX S1. This advantage would surely be incorporated into a small mirrorless M-Mount camera.
The rangefinder would thus not be under threat, but Leica could succeed in expanding the market for the M system as a whole.
Your views welcome
What do you think? Would you be interested in a small mirrorless Leica featuring the M mount?
Or perhaps you think it would be a retrograde step. Would you prefer a smaller camera with the L mount instead, despite the heavier weight of L lenses? This option was discussed last week in our L-squared article. Or are we just playing semantics in the hope of resurrecting a thoroughly attractive rumour? Let’s have a definitive discussion…
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