Since the first indications of the end for the Leica CL, Macfilos columns have been full of lament. How could Leica simply abandon APS-C and ignore the need for an entry-level system camera? The arguments, which were overwhelmingly on the side of continuity APS-C, have been fierce. But what is done is done, and it is now time to look to the future. Any entry-level Leica seems to be a very remote possibility.
What about MFT?
Last week I made the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Leica should rebadge a Lumix micro four-thirds camera and buy into the small format system. After all, I argued, Leica already gives its name to over a dozen excellent primes and zooms for MFT. The little GX9, with its retro styling, looks so much like the CL that hardly anyone would notice… Or maybe they would.
Surprisingly, our little survey showed that a majority of respondents (52% at the time of writing) would actually buy such a Leica MFT camera. Yet, despite its proxy presence with Leica DG lenses, the company has confirmed that it would not enter MFT, and I do not expect any change (despite the volte face on APS-C within no more than twelve months).
So, where do we go from here? Entering the Leica mirrorless world now costs the best part of £5,000 (without a lens). Additionally, as we have discussed on Macfilos many times, not everyone wants a camera the size and weight of the SL2. I have no doubt that the CL, TL and the clutch of TL lenses will survive in the hands of enthusiasts and could well become classics in the vein of the X1 or X Vario. But for anyone wanting to buy into a new, lighter system, it looks like they will have to go elsewhere.
When it comes to APS-C cameras, there is a wide choice of brands, ranging from the old campaigner Fujifilm to the big boys of Sony, Nikon and Canon. I feel sure that many former CL fans will be tempted. In particular, they will migrate to Fuji cameras which have long been popular with Leica fans. But the range of excellent APS-C cameras is burgeoning at the very time when Leica has decided to withdraw from the market.
One reader, Steve Frankel, told us in a recent comment that he has just taken delivery of a Canon R7 to replace his CL: “A few months ago I was saying that I wanted a new model CL that was more weatherproof, had stabilisation, and an articulating screen. And the next thing I know, Leica discontinued the CL rather than upgrading it. Then, Canon announced the R7, which is apparently everything I wanted in an APS-C Leica. I sold two Leica lenses to pay for the R7, so I’m unlikely to return to Leica”.
Indeed, if you remain completely wedded to APS-C, Leica is now a dead end. You have to go elsewhere, and where better than to the R7 or one of those gorgeous retro-styled Fujis? The worry is that this decision could lead you firmly into another manufacturer’s camp for all your needs, including full-frame.
Perhaps it’s time for a complete reevaluation and a dose of lateral thinking. One alternative offers a lighter package, a very reasonable cost and the opportunity to stay within the Leica firmament. It’s not APS-C, but even that brings more advantages than disadvantages.
It’s an outlier, but it makes much sense for a Leica user. Despite the non-Leica branding, the camera is integrated with the Leica system and fits in beautifully if you already own an SL variant. What’s more, it is smaller and lighter than some high-end micro four-thirds cameras such as the Panasonic GH6. This outlier is the Panasonic S5.
Don’t think it’s going to replace the CL in terms of size, as you can see from the table below. It’s not as light and handy as the CL, but it offers versatility for the Leica owner and provides a lighter 24MP alternative to the SL2-S.
|Lumix GH6 (MFT)||100||138||100||823g|
|Lumix S5 (FF)||98||133||82||714g|
|Leica CL (APS-C)||78||131||45||403g|
Both the MFT GH6 and FF S5 (above) are larger and heavier than the old APS-C CL, although the S5’s height and depth are largely a result of the chunkier SLR styling, with the deep grip and the viewfinder pod. The ergonomics are excellent and provide a worthwhile compensation for the added millimetres.
The S5 has been around for nearly two years now but has never attracted the attention it deserves. It remains the cheapest, smallest and lightest full-frame camera based on the L-Mount system (with the exception of the Sigma fp, which is a different kettle of fish, as most of you will agree) and makes an ideal second-string body for the SL aficionado.
Perhaps the camera is overlooked because it is inexpensive by the Leica standards we’ve become accustomed to. It can’t be any good at that price, can it? It’s cheaper than the CL, for instance, and less than half the price of the SL2-S, which shares a (said to be the same) 24MP sensor. Yet it brings full-frame benefits and integration with the Leica system.
Currently, the Lumix S5 can be had in the UK for £1,550, including tax. And for a paltry extra £150, you can add the surprisingly competent and unusual (in focal length terms) 20-60 mm if you choose the cheaper of the two kits. It’s great to have such a wide angle available, and 60mm at the longer end is perfectly respectable, especially on a full-frame sensor. Cropping to an equivalent of over 100 mm is possible without significant loss of quality.
The two “kit” lenses supplied with the S5 (in addition to the 12-60, there is the excellent 24-105) are far better than you would think, and they come at a fraction of the cost of any of Leica’s L-mount lenses. Purists will ultimately deem them inferior, and I am sure they are. But they do the job, and they flatter the wallet.
My old friend Don Morley, a former photojournalist of wide acclaim and the man who scooped the world with close-up hostage coverage at Munich in 1972, loves both the Lumix 20-60 and 24-105 for their compact profile and the excellent results they produce. You’ll be surprised, he says, especially by the “cheap” 20-60 mm: “I have Sigma and Panasonic lenses for my SL as they are much lighter, but also so very good that I cannot imagine any genuine Leica made SL Lenses could actually be better, but could they? I wish I knew, but sadly I am unlikely to find out unless some kind person gives me the chance to do a back-to-back test’.
The S5 offers a 24 MP full-frame sensor in a package that is no larger or heavier than a high-end micro four-thirds outfit. The proposition is, therefore, that this lightweight kit from Panasonic can offer a respectable alternative to the CL.
Keith James’ view
Macfilos contributor Keith James owns the S5 and several Lumix lenses, including the 24-70. He has also adopted longer Sigma lenses for his lightweight L-mount outfit. The results have been published in several of his articles. But let Keith take up the story:
“From my perspective, the Panasonic Lumix S5 represents a superb, budget-level entry into the L-mount Alliance ecosystem. Coupled with the excellent and equally wallet-friendly range of Lumix lenses, it offers a compact, lightweight, but extremely capable camera for photographers demanding an easily transportable set-up.
“With its 24MP sensor, in-body-image-stabilisation and tilting/rotating screen, it is no slouch in the features department either. Although its electronic viewfinder lags behind the current state-of-the-art devices, it has never prevented me from capturing a sharply focused image. The camera is also a gateway to higher-end lenses, such as the Sigma Art series or even Leica primes, all of which work flawlessly with this camera in my experience. I would highly recommend it.
J-P Rau on the S5
Another of our regular writers, Joerg-Peter Rau, is also a fan of the S5. In his article Entering the L-Mount world without breaking the bank he makes a very honest assessment of the little camera:
“The S5 is probably best described in one word: reasonable. It’s a down-to-earth 24-megapixel camera with all the advanced functions, but neither a high-end body nor (as you read sometimes) is it an entry-level camera. Its back-illuminated (BSI) sensor is rumoured to be the same as the one in the newer Leica SL2-S.
“In any case, it works well up to quite high ISO values (6400 with good results), it has powerful in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) with an improvement of up to five f-stops (I find that hard to prove, but I had no issues with blurred images due to shaking) and all the boxes you might want to tick (among them: two SD cards, unlimited video recording which I use professionally, tiltable rear display).
“But there have been a few economies in the S5: The top-plate display was omitted, and the electronic viewfinder sports only 2.36 megapixels (the camera’s biggest weakness). On the other hand, Panasonic is generous in supplying a USB C charger that can reload the battery either in the camera itself or with an included external charger. I prefer the latter by far because I can continue to use the camera while the spare battery is being filled up. But if every gram counts, you can stick to one battery and recharge it at any opportunity from any sufficiently powerful USB device.
“If you pick up the S5, you’ll probably take to it right away. It is not heavy (checked at 730 grams with battery, two SD cards and mount cover), it feels sturdy (magnesium chassis and a rubberised skin with excellent grip), and all dials and switches are in the right places. Sure, it lacks the cool style of a Leica SL and the modernist look of the new Canon R cameras. But I want a tool with convincing ergonomics, and the S5 is simply good in this field. The reliable autofocus technology also contributes to the overall impression. Having shot mainly landscapes so far, I cannot comment on the frequent complaint that Panasonic’s contrast-based autofocus system was slower or less precise than the phase autofocus technology of other manufacturers or hybrid systems. For me, it was good enough.”
So there we have it. As the owner of an SL2, I have a love-hate relationship with the camera. It’s a wonderful device to use, intuitive, ergonomically excellent and capable of superb results. And I just love the latest Leica menus. But it is too heavy for me to use as an everyday camera. It does come into its own for events, especially when used in conjunction with the superb 24-90 Vario-Elmarit. I love that zoom and its results. But, again, it is a hefty beast and not for casual photography. The relatively inexpensive Panasonic 24-105 is a strong competitor on size and weight alone.
The Panasonic Lumix S5 is a great additional body to use for more general photography, including walking the streets. It takes all your Leica lenses, including the 24-90 of which I am so fond and fond, and, of course, any TL lenses you have lying around. I’m not going to say that the bargain Lumix lenses can better the Leica 24-90 zoom, but it offers very respectable competition despite its slower f/3.5-5.6 aperture range.
In conclusion, the Lumix S5 is definitely not a replacement for the CL in terms of portability. But in every other respect, it is, in fact, a worthy alternative. You can find other full-frame cameras that are as small and convenient, but they are all outside the L-Mount system.
If you are prepared to think laterally, the S5 is a good proposition if you wish to use your existing L lenses. Even better for M lenses. I believe that M lenses are always better suited to a full-frame sensor because of the unwelcome lengthening of the equivalent focal length. You need ultra wide-angle M lenses, which many rangefinder users do not own, to achieve the popular focal lengths between 24 and 35 mm.
It is tempting to imagine Leica rebuilding the S5 into a mini SL, but this is wishful thinking. If Leica did adopt the S5 (or its successor with, we trust, a higher-resolution viewfinder), it would have to be a rebadging in the time-honoured tradition of the V Lux and D Lux. I just don’t think it will happen. Meanwhile, the S5 is there, oven ready for the keen SL fan.