Speaking to members of the Leica Society International in Dublin on October 14, Leica’s Executive Vice President Technology and Operations, Stefan Daniel, acknowledged that many CL/TL customers had been unhappy about the company’s exit from APS-C and the end of the CL.
He said that he felt rather guilty about this but confirmed that the decision had to be taken on economic grounds. The APS-C segment is very price sensitive, and there are many alternative APS-C offerings from other companies, and there were just not enough buyers for the CL system to warrant continuing development.
Asked if the withdrawal of the APS-C line meant that the Q2 would now remain the entry point for Leica buyers, he said that the Q2 now sets the entry barrier very high, and the Leica is aware of the lack of a lower-cost entry point. He said Leica is working on other strategies, but it is too early to say anything.
At the other end of the price scale, he mentioned the mirrorless medium-format camera, which has been discussed: “It will not be next year, and probably not in 2024, but it could come in 2025”.
On the question of lens production delays, he responded to concerns over the slow trickle of the APO-Summicron 35mm f/2 ASPH, which is leading to a lot of frustration. He explained that it is extremely difficult to produce a lens of this high quality in such a small size.
However, the factory had implemented a new method of producing aspheric elements, which would help reduce delays. The new facility was the most advanced outside Japan. On the general question of M lens production, he confirmed that close focus would be extended to more lenses in the range in due course.
He touched on the long repair times for analogue cameras and lenses. Film cameras require highly trained technicians, and hiring and training has been slow, but he hoped that improvements would come soon.
Stefan mentioned the prospect of a new film camera and said that it was “not so much a myth”. He couldn’t be more specific. We will have to wait and see.
Turning to the bread-and-butter rangefinder, Stefan explained that the decision to redesign the M11, not least the removal of the bottom plate, had not been taken lightly. The factory knows the importance of sticking to the traditional M format: “We wouldn’t want another M5”.
He was pleased that the changes to the M11 had been so well received by customers. On the question of in-body stabilisation, he explained that this desirable improvement is currently impossible without increasing the camera size. And, having gradually reduced both size and weight of the M over the past 12 years, to turn the clock back would be “against everything we have been striving for”.
He did, however, hold out some hope for the future. Everything depends on a suitable sensor being available in order to accommodate stabilisation without physical changes to the body. No such sensor currently exists, but it could become available in the future. Again, in relation to stabilisation, he touched on the increasing power requirements of new features.
Already, greater pixel density and faster processing lead to more power use, and battery performance has to be a major consideration for the future, especially since space within the M body is so limited.
Inevitably, the much-discussed M with EVF raised great interest among LSI members in the room. This had even been raised four years ago at the LSI meeting in Wetzlar, when there had been a call for a hybrid viewfinder, and it has remained a hot topic ever since.
Stefan assured LSI members that the factory had conducted extensive trials of a hybrid system, combining both rangefinder and EVF. However, they had reached the conclusion that the result would be the worst of both worlds and would risk upsetting rangefinder fans. So the project had been shelved.
The alternative was to produce a camera with an EVF instead of the rangefinder. While it was possible from a technical point of view, Stefan said he was not a big fan of the idea, believing that the M should remain in its pure form. After all, as he said, M stands for Messsucher (range-viewfinder), and it would always remain the hallmark of the range.
Several audience members pointed out that while they preferred the small size and weight of the M — which ideally complements the small M optics — they were experiencing difficulty working with the rangefinder because of eyesight problems.
The prospect of a light mirrorless camera with a native M mount was attractive. And, as someone else pointed out, an M body with built-in EVF instead of the rangefinder would probably be welcomed as a second body, even by rangefinder diehards.
In response to this, Stefan surprised the audience by saying that if there were sufficient demand, Leica would consider producing an M with EVF. Asked how many they would need to sell in order to make such a decision, he estimated “a couple of thousand”. This news was well received, and after a show of hands, the LSI agreed to poll members on whether or not they would be interested in buying an M body with EVF without compromising the established rangefinder camera.
Asked when the Q3 would be launched, Stefan obviously couldn’t make a prediction. However, when a delegate raised the prospect of a Q with a longer lens — 50 mm has been discussed on forums — Stefan smiled enigmatically and said that this was a question that had often been asked. But he could not say categorically no. I found this rather surprising. Whereas before the meeting, I would have said that the Q would always remain a 28mm camera, I now feel there is at least a possibility of a 50mm version.
In my discussion with Stefan after the talk, I touched on the cooperation with Panasonic and the prospects for future cameras, particularly the SL3. He said that the technical cooperation, known as L², between Leica and Panasonic was working well and agreed that it no longer made sense for the two companies to work entirely independently on camera development. Would the next SL be lighter or smaller than the current SL2? He said that some paring was possible, but any changes would not be dramatic. Again, of course, no hint of a timescale for the arrival of the SL3.
We all appreciated the opportunity to meet Stefan Daniel and to ask about Leica’s developments. As William Fagan said after the conference, he could not think of another brand where the top people were so approachable and willing to submit to a question-and-answer session like this.
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