Over the past month, Leica has been in film mode with the announcement of the resurrected M6. But what of the digital arsenal going into the mid-Twenties? As we reach the end of 2022, we can speculate based on what has gone before in terms of product cycles. But past schedules are not an accurate guide, so here are a few thoughts to be going on with.
The M is Leica’s bread-and-butter product and used to be relatively easy to predict. There was a well-charted course of development, with -P (professional) and -M (monochrome) variations at regular intervals before the major update and model number change. But more on that later.
The Q and SL ranges follow a less structured path, but it is known that the SL3 is on the stocks; it’s just a matter of when. I suspect we will have to wait until 2024 for this one.
The Q3 is also coming, and I am fairly confident we will see this new model in the first quarter of 2023. The original Q, a surprise success, arrived in June 2015 and was followed four years later by the Q2 in March 2019, so a 2023 launch for the next model is logical.
Both the current Q2 and SL2 share a similar 47.3MP sensor, while the M11 uses a 60 MP sensor from a different source. Launched after the other two cameras, the M11 sports “triple resolution technology”, which offers a choice of three RAW image resolutions (60, 36 and 18MP).
The two-lower resolution options use pixel binning and are saved at the smaller sizes. Users have taken to this, enjoying the option of using a lower resolution, with improved low-light performance and easier storage, or the full-blown resolution benefits of the 60MP sensor.
The upcoming Q3 and SL3 models will almost certainly feature a higher resolution sensor, and 60MP seems to be the current sweet spot. It will be interesting to see if the triple-resolution technology can be carried over from the M11.
I am not speculating on the medium-format mirrorless camera that Leica is working on. If it does materialise, it will probably not arrive until 2025.
Let’s look at what customers are looking for in the new models.
My top wishes for the Q3 would be a higher-resolution sensor, let’s say 60MP or thereabouts, and, possibly, an upgrade in viewfinder resolution from the current 3.37 million dots to something similar to the excellent 5.76 million-dot device, which is such a compelling feature of the SL2. A 60 MP sensor would permit crops to, say, the equivalent of 90mm with reasonable results.
I also look forward to a substantial internal memory, perhaps mirroring the M11’s 60GB and a USB connection for data and charging (the Q2 is the only current European-made Leica without a USB socket, and its absence is an increasing irritant for me).
Internal storage is a way for Leica to compete with the twin card slots which are now offered on most new cameras and which are not possible on M and Q bodies because of the limited space caused by design constraints.
I do not think Leica will tamper with the successful body profile of the Q any more than it would again be tempted to meddle with the concept of the M (remember the M5?).
And there have been no suggestions that the excellent 28 mm Summilux f/1.7 optic will be superseded. There have been occasional calls for an alternative focal length, such as 35 mm or 50 mm, but the 28 mm Q format is now so well-established and successful that I believe it will continue, come what may.
Many users, initially sceptical at the usability of such a wide-angle lens, are now fierce 28mm evangelists. And, with higher-resolution sensors, cropping to 35mm or 50mm is perfectly possible. So Leica is likely to want to steer a steady course.
However, there is still a good possibility that we could see a supplementary Q model with a longer lens. Certainly, this would not be 35mm because it is too close to 28mm, and 50mm would be my preference. An outsider option would be 40mm, following Ricoh’s lead with the GRIII and GRIIIx.
Until I heard Stefan Daniel speaking at the LSI Dublin meeting, I would have said such a longer-lens Q was unlikely. However, he pointedly did not rule out a longer lens, so it must be at least possible.
The back layout of the Q2 is already almost identical to that of the M11, with the now familiar spartan three-button layout, and I do not see any prospect of changes in the controls.
It’s too early to speculate much about the SL3, which we will probably not see until the first quarter of 2024. It will almost certainly get a sensor upgrade, perhaps leapfrogging the Q3, and could well benefit from increased cooperation with Panasonic as part of the new L² Technology programme. I have heard a whisper that things are moving in that direction.
While the SL3 will certainly retain the established body profile with the now-typical Leica control layout — more appealing to me than the more cluttered multi-button approach at LUMIX — there is perhaps room for some minor tweaks, possibly a more streamlined form and even a modest weight or size saving.
The inner technology will likely rely more on inter-brand cooperation, and any new Panasonic S cameras arriving next year could offer pointers to the SL3.
Of all the current Leica digital models, the SL is the one that gives me the most concern. The constant marketing ploys and special offers do not auger well for the camera’s long-term future. You do not see this level of marketing intervention with the M and the Q, both of which appear to be doing well without discounts, bundles and packages. But the more schemes Leica introduces to bolster the SL, the more we can wonder if sales are meeting expectations.
One common criticism of the SL is that it is too large and heavy. In reality, this isn’t the case when the SL is compared with its peers from other manufacturers, including Panasonic LUMIX with the similar-sized S range. Yet there is a demand for a smaller L-mount camera, which becomes apparent in any discussion among Leica enthusiasts. The LUMIX S5 is such a camera, and it looks like a new version is almost ready for announcement.
Despite this latent demand, I do not expect to see a lightweight L-mount camera manufactured by Leica in Europe. We will have to leave that to Panasonic and Sigma. For one thing, Leica’s L lenses are built for maximum quality, and none are what we might consider light. Most of them sit more happily on the bulky form of the current SL2. So, if Leica did make a smaller camera, it would be an invitation to buy third-party lenses rather than Leica’s own offerings.
However, cannibalisation or not, a D-Lux-type rebadging of the new S5 could put some new life into Leica’s L-mount range and draw in some fresh blood to the marque. We can hope…
Plotting the M
The rangefinder seems to have settled into a fairly well-established road map. We all know the M, M-P, and M-M succession, and past models’ dates can offer a vague guide to when to expect enhancements to the M11 and to the M12. When will the Monochrom arrive? Is there going to be an M11-P this time around?
Some readers can’t wait:
Please let me know when I need to put my advance preorder in for the M11 monochrome as I have sold my amazing M10-M in anticipation. The M10-M was spectacular but I want to get down to one battery— Brian Nicol
So, let’s take look at the M10 dates and duplicate them to cover the M11 and M12 series. This is purely based on historical data, and we shouldn’t read much into the projections, which are already looking a bit shaky. Here’s what the future could look like if Leica followed the blueprint of the M10 series, which I don’t think it will:
|Leica M10||Jan 2017||Aug 2018||Jan 2020|
|— Interval||18 months||36 months|
|Leica M11||Jan 2022||Aug 2023||Jan 2025|
|— Interval||24 months||18 months||36 months|
|Leica M12||Jan 2027||Aug 2028||Jan 2030|
There are several provisos in this simple table, not the least being the effect of the pandemic in possibly delaying the launch of the M11 and the unexpected delay in the arrival of the M10-M, which is unlikely to be repeated in this cycle. This time around, for instance, the M11 Monochrom is almost ready and could come sooner than anyone expects — or than the above table would suggest.
Up to now, the Monochrom versions have tended to come late in the product cycle and then overlap with the new series base model for a considerable time. The current M10-M is already ten months into M11 territory, but it is likely that all M10 variants, including the Monochrom, have already ceased production.
There has been no confirmation of this from the factory, although information has leaked out from dealers in the USA. If this is correct, Leica cannot manage much longer without a current Monochrom.
Earlier this year, I heard a whisper that the M11 Monochrom could come as early as Q3 in 2023, and I think this is now likely So far, I have heard nothing about the M11-P, and I suspect it will now launch after the M11-M but probably before the end of 2023.
I have not included the -R versions in the above table since I assume the M10-R was a one-off and that we will not see an M11-R. But never say never.
M with EVF
Finally, we come to the rumour that refuses to go away: an M body with EVF in place of the rangefinder. Stefan Daniel has said that, at the very least, the factory would consider such a camera if the demand was there.
Back in June, I wrote about this suggestion of an M body with an EVF in place of the rangefinder. However, I mentioned Stefan’s statement, “M stands for Messsucher, and as long as I have anything to say at Leica, the M will always have a rangefinder”1.
Stefan chooses his words carefully, and I believe that any M-body with EVF would have to be distanced from the M range. If it does come, it will be a supplementary body aimed at those who want the option of built-in electronic focus. It would gather in the small but influential band of older customers who suffer problems focusing the rangefinder accurately and for whom the SL bodies may be too large and heavy. Currently, they have to look outside Leica for a lighter-weight mirrorless body on which to mount their M glass.
Mainly, though, an M-EVF will be seen as an alternative body for existing rangefinder fans. It ought to be cheaper because the rangefinder mechanism is expensive and needs very careful installation. But I wouldn’t count on this. It could even be sold at a higher price because, like the old M10-D, it would have a relatively small production run.
One thing for sure is that we are not going to see a hybrid viewfinder. Leica has tried that and decided that it is not feasible without compromising the traditional rangefinder experience.
Thus, we return to an M lookalike with an EVF in place of the rangefinder and a new model designation. I’ve heard suggestions it could be the “M-E”, an established moniker, but this fails the Daniel test. It includes the letter M, which, as we know, stands for “rangefinder” in German.
I suggested Leica E, which follows tradition, substituting E(electronic) for M(esssucher). It works in both German and English. An outside possibility is a resurrection of the R prefix. RE, for instance, but this is highly unlikely.
Whatever this camera is called, if it is eventually produced, there will be a way of sneaking it into the range without infuriating die-hard rangefinder fans who rightly guard that M prefix jealously.
Yet, amid all the conjecture, I am not convinced that there will be sufficient demand for this camera. I will go into this in more detail in another article, but the current arrangement of M11 with the Visoflex option is cheaper and just as effective. The accessory Visoflex 2 also has one big advantage in its ability to tilt, which is welcomed by older users (many of whom are at the forefront in calling for an M-EVF on failing eyesight grounds. Perhaps they should also consider their knees). On the other hand, the add-on Visoflex does make the camera more unwieldy, and it is easy to see why some would prefer an integral viewfinder.
Finally, don’t forget to bear in mind Mike’s Law:
The more special editions, the nearer are we to the new model.— the Editor
I have no inside knowledge, although I keep my eyes and ears open. This article contains a lot of conjecture and is written as much to generate discussion as to predict the future.
Let us know what you think. What are you most want to see from Leica in the next 24 months?
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- Also M steht für Messsucher – und so lange ich bei Leica noch etwas zu sagen habe, wird die M einen Messsucher haben — Stefan Daniel ↩