If Leica users could make a wish, what new type of camera might they ask for? Reading through the comments section of Macfilos, I think I know the answer. I predict the top request would be an M with EVF. But, using an M-to-L adapter, and an L-Mount body, I have already made that wish come true for myself. Well, sort of.
Leica rangefinder cameras are marvellous devices. And the superb M-lenses they employ set the standard for optical performance.
But, with age, and an accompanying deterioration in visual acuity, focusing with that rangefinder can become a challenge. Hence, within the comments pages of Macfilos, we hear the steady drumbeat of an ‘activist movement’. It’s a groundswell, calling for an M-camera with built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF). Let’s call its proponents the ‘M with EVF’ advocates.
Low light shooting with a Leica Summarit 75mm, f/2.4
Such a device would immediately solve the rangefinder focusing challenge while making full use of those magnificent M-lenses.
What’s my view on a Leica M with EVF?
I am enjoying my Leica rangefinder, and rarely have difficulty focusing my superb M-lenses. But, I can sympathize with those for whom rangefinder focusing is a challenge. I know from personal experience what a pleasure it is to use the outstanding EVF of the Leica SL2. Magnifying the image at the press of a button, and/or using the focus-peaking feature, make focusing a breeze.
I have therefore been wondering how to create the experience of using an M camera equipped with an EVF.
More low light shooting with a Leica Summarit 75mm, f/2.4
It so happens I own a Leica M-to-L adapter. I bought a pre-owned model so that I could use my M-lenses on my TL2. It’s a slim, elegant contraption that transforms an L-Mount camera into an M-Mount camera. Mine is silver, to match the aesthetics of my M-lenses.
So, I tried an experiment. Using the M-to-L adapter, I began using my M-lenses on an L-Mount body with an EVF. Would I find that perfect combination of outstanding lenses and outstanding focus?
The L-Mount body I chose was not a Leica SL2, but a Panasonic Lumix S5.
An M with EVF based upon a Panasonic camera?
Why not a Leica SL-series camera, as Jörg-Peter Rau has proposed previously? As much as I love my SL2, I realize it is not without its detractors. Its size and, in particular, weight (960g, 2.02 lb) are regularly criticized by Macfilos readers. The Lumix S5 is considerably smaller and lighter, hinting at what a slimmed-down SL2 could look like. Although its form factor and ergonomics differ considerably from an M-camera, its dimensions are not that different.
Marbled Godwits, Willets, and Plovers gathered at the beach. Leica Summarit 75mm, f/2.4
In fact, fitted with an M-to-L adapter, the Lumix weighs in at 774g compared to 680g for my M240. Its width and height (133 x 97 mm) are also not so different from the M240 (139 x 80 mm). On paper, it is deeper (82 vs 47 mm). However, this is primarily the result of its protruding grip and its EVF window. Strictly comparing body-to-body depth, it’s a wash.
Like my M240, it has a 24-megapixel sensor. Unlike my M240, the S5 has an EVF, multiple focusing aids, in-body-image-stabilization (IBIS), and an articulating rear screen.
For the price conscious, a used S5 in ‘like-new’ condition comes in under $1,000, and a used Leica M-to-L adapter around $300. Compare that to a used Leica M240, at around $3,000.
Calliandra haematocephala blossom. Leica Summarit 75mm, f/2.4
Clearly, the S5 does not share the Leica minimalist design. Its labelled function buttons are dedicated, and lack the flexibility of an SL2. But, they cover the functions most SL2-users would choose. Thus, ISO, exposure compensation, drive mode, focus aids, and menu are just a button-push away.
So, how does it perform as an ‘M with EVF wannabe’?
The Leica M-adapter L, as it is officially called, does not transmit lens information to the S5. After mounting an M lens and switching on the camera, the user is asked to specify lens focal length. This is accomplished via a panel displayed in the EVF and/or rear screen. It seems this information is necessary to properly calibrate the IBIS system.
If the camera is switched off and on again, the user is asked to confirm that the current focal length is correct. This is achieved by pressing the ‘set’ button on the camera’s rear.
A patriotic Santa Claus drops in. Leica Summarit 75mm, f/2.4
This lack of communication across the lens-adapter-camera system means that lens information is not captured in the EXIF data. That is a drag, but no different from using non-6-bit-coded lenses on a Leica M-Mount camera. Jörg-Peter reminded us previously that the LensTagger plugin for Lightroom allows this information to be recorded during post-processing.
Looking through the viewfinder, the user brings the scene into focus by rotating the focus ring on the lens. To assist accurate focusing, I press the mini-pad on the rear of the camera. This enlarges, by 5x, either a central area of the image or the entire image. Together with focus-peaking highlights (mine are set to blue), this makes nailing focus effortless.
Brick chimney and very sharp palm trees. Voigtländer Color Skopar 21mm, f/3.5
The 2.36m-dot OLED electronic viewfinder of the S5 is widely regarded as one of its weak points. It is certainly much less impressive than the SL2 or Q2, but I have never found it an issue. The newer S5II model possesses a 3.68m-dot OLED EVF and, if you are intending entering the market, have a close look at the updated MkII model before deciding.
Articulating rear monitor
I chose the S5 rather than the SL2 body for my ‘faux M with EVF’ for size and weight reasons. However, the articulating rear monitor of the S5 is a bonus feature which I now greatly appreciate. Thanks to regular yoga classes, I still have good mobility, but that tilting rear monitor spares me any spine-threatening contortions.
Sunset jogger at the beach. Leica Summilux, 35mm f/1.4
It is perfect for those low-angle shots, for example, capturing sunset reflections in the shallows at the beach. For street photography, taking shots while looking down at the tilted screen is a handy way to remain inconspicuous.
The streets are alive, with the sound of barking… Voigtländer Color Skopar 21mm, f/3.4
The Leica Q3, released earlier this year, incorporates a tilting rear screen, presumably because of customer feedback. Could it be that the typical Leica-user is not as limber as they used to be? Perhaps this useful feature will eventually make its way into future releases of the SL- and M-series cameras.
Super-wide angle antics
One obvious benefit of an M with EVF would be its ability to handle lenses wider than 28mm. These so-called super-wide angle lenses, for example a 21mm focal length, pose a challenge for rangefinders. I would need to attach an auxiliary viewfinder to my M240, compose using Live View, or just wing it. With my ‘pretend M with EVF’, it’s as easy as using any other lens.
December in Coronado, California. Voigtländer Color Skopar 21mm, f/3.4
In fact, the built-in accelerometer, allowing display of both roll and tilt guides in the viewfinder, is especially useful here. I can minimize image distortion in super-wide angle shots by keeping the camera level in the horizontal plane.
My ‘cobbled-together M with EVF’ works really well. It is compact, relatively light, easy to use, and provides a great way to ensure sharp focus with M-lenses. I would recommend it to anyone who would like to use their M-lenses on a camera body with EVF. However, there is no disputing that it does not look or feel like an M-camera.
Potential inferences about an M with EVF from this Frankenstein device
Since the S5 body features a full-frame sensor and EVF, not to mention IBIS, why can’t an ‘M’ body incorporate these features? The Q2 has an EVF rather than a rangefinder and fits within the general M form factor. As mentioned, the Q3 even has a tilting screen. On the face of it, in the absence of information to the contrary, I see no reason why a Leica M with EVF would not be possible.
Sailing fun, San Diego Bay. Voigtländer Color Skopar 21mm, f/3.4
As I have demonstrated, a compact L-Mount body, coupled with an M-to-L adapter and Leica lenses can deliver a ‘pseudo-M with EVF’ experience. I understand that this is unlikely to satisfy devoted M-photographers, for whom the M-form factor and Leica badging are important. What are the chances that Leica might produce a real M with EVF specifically for this customer base?
Sunset reflections. Leica Summilux 35mm, f/1.4
I assume that Leica intends to continue producing both M- and SL-series cameras. The former maintain the historical link to the first 35mm cameras, and the company’s rangefinder heritage. The latter allows the company to operate in the professional, autofocus lens world.
If I ruled the world
So, if I were in the strategic planning department of Leica, what would I do? I would propose a smaller, lighter SL-body camera, built via the L2 partnership with Panasonic. Designed with Leica minimalist ergonomics, this could satisfy the ‘lighter SL’ camp of users. I would market it as a bundle with an L-to-M adapter as a second body for those users who would like an M-with EVF.
This camera does not exist. It’s a hastily constructed Photoshop fantasy. But, what if…?
I would also run some focus groups with current and prospective Leica users, to gauge their interest in such a camera. As an alternative to an official Leica focus group, perhaps we can get a sense of people’s response to this idea via the comment section below.
Lumix S5 versus Leica SL2
I have not directly compared images generated with my M-lens collection when mounted on the S5 versus the SL2. I have heard that the sensor in the SL2 is better able to handle M-lenses than third party options. This may have something to do with the thickness of the sensor’s glass coating. Please feel free to add additional information in the comments if you know more about this.
All I can say is that I have observed no chromatic aberration issues when using the S5. You of course have the evidence of how well the S5/M-lens combinations perform in the photos I have included in this article. Apart from the last one, all were taken using the Lumix S5.
I suspect calls for a true ‘M with EVF’ are not going to subside anytime soon. We would welcome your thoughts on this topic. We would also love to hear from anyone who has directly compared M-lens performance on the S5 versus the SL2(S). And of course, feel free to share any other observations you have about dealing with the limitations of rangefinder focusing. Let us know in the comments below.
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