Leica Updates: What can we expect in the next 12 months?
The M10 has been a great success for Leica, I think we are all agreed on that. In my opinion, it is the finest Leica digital in terms of performance and form. It almost achieves Stefan Daniel’s stated desire for an M3-size digital M. True, it is a tad taller than that earliest M, but it does contrive to be exactly the same size as the Leica M7. In reality, what more could an M fan expect?
Now that the M10 is firmly established, where does the current line go from here? Traditionally there has always been a -P model 18 months to two years after the launch of the mothership. Traditionally the main updates for the -P are the engraved top plate and a tougher screen.
It is very likely will see an M10-P later this year or early in 2019. It will certainly feature the Leica engraving. Whether it will be possible to adopt the thicker sapphire glass screen in view of the M10’s smaller overall depth is another thing. From my point of view, I don't think it makes a lot of difference. It's the engraving and the more traditional appearance that sells the -P models.
The -P is very much a marketing exercise, trading on the likelihood that existing M10 users will want the top engraving and will be prepared to pay the extra — or, even, trade up from the original. Cynics may suggest that it would have been easy enough to put the engraving on the M10 at launch and have done with it. But they would be missing the point. Why spoil the opportunity to benefit from the desire from a Leica engraving?
Then we have yet another variant that I do think is imminent. The M-D version of the M240 was a brave departure for Leica. What other company would have the guts to produce a digital camera with no screen and a set of controls restricted to aperture, speed and ISO? None, as it turns out.
The MD was a surprising success for Leica, despite the naysayers who decried it as an affectation. It sold well. But it suffered from the bulk of the then-current M240 on which it is based. It wasn't the M3 or M4 digital feel-alike that everyone wants.
The M10, on the other hand, is the ideal candidate for MD-isation. An M10 version of the M10 will be identical in feel and dimensions to the M7. It will operate in exactly the same way as the M7 film camera. I am therefore sold on the idea that an MD version of the M10 will be a success. It could even persuade some diehards to move from film to digital, but let’s not hold our breath.
Since 2012 there has also been a tradition of announcing a monochrome version rather late in the life of the base model. In the case of the original M9-based Monochrom and the latest M246, based on the M240, it serves to extend the life of the older model even after the introduction of the new model, in this case, the M10.
The M9-based Monochrom, the MK I, arrived in September 2012, exactly four years after the launch of the M9 on which it was based. However, since then things have speeded up.
The current M246, based on the M240 which was launched in 2012, came in mid-2015. If this schedule is maintained, we cannot expect a new Monochrom until late 2019 at the earliest. It could come earlier, of course. So no need to sell your M246 just yet. I have heard no rumours this time around and the Monochrom Mk.II still has some life left.
What else can we look forward to on the L-camera front? There have been consistent rumours of a Q2 and they are believable. I’m not sure what they could do to improve the Q. Most owners are convinced it is the perfect camera and who am I to disagree? I really love that camera. Perhaps in some way, the resolution of the sensor could be improved in order to facilitate cropping and help ameliorate the worry of having a single 28mm lens. Who knows? Whatever they do, Leica is very much on a winner with this one and I am sure that a Q2 will be in great demand when it does arrive.
Everything who has used the SL tends to rave about it. It is undoubtedly a great camera and I just love that "standard" Vario-Elmarit 24-90mm zoom. It's winner, one of the best zooms I have ever used, and it has the ideal focal length range. Unfortunately, for many, including me, the SL rig is just a bit too heavy and conspicuous.
When can we expect a new SL? In a recent interview, available on YouTube (above), Leica's Dr Andreas Kaufmann admitted that the SL had been designed to be a "bit on the brutal side" but he assures us it will become a "little more elegant in the future". I take this as confirmation that there is a new SL in the offing. I had expected it early next year, but I note that Leica UK's MD, Jason Heward (speaking at the recent Leica Society AGM), was quite specific that there is no new SL to come in the immediate future.
There is no doubt the SL is built to the highest standards, but equally no doubt that it is bigger and heavier than, say, an equivalent Sony outfit. And with Nikon entering the full-frame mirrorless fray, probably at Photokina this year, the market is wide open. I fully expect the new Nikon to be no larger than the Sony A7 and it should present a formidable challenge for existing players in the full-frame mirrorless sector. Maybe there is room for a Kaufmann Kuddle SL.
Quite apart from the possibility of softening the "brutal" profile, Leica may well find irresistible pressure to increase the number of megapixels, perhaps to 36 million to help meet the competition. I suppose Leica will eventually have to give in and move up from the curretn 24MP limit.
Leica's presence in the APS-C system world has been bolstered this year with the arrival of the CL. With its built-in viewfinder and more traditional controls, the CL aims to satisfy potential buyers who were not enthusiastic about the touch-control TL2 and its lack of a built-in EVF. The CL is off to a good start and is at the beginning of its product cycle, so don't expect any surprises soon.
As I outlined in my recent article on the system, there is a need for a more professional, weatherproofed and (ideally) stabilised "Mini SL" in order to broaden the appeal of the range. Many potential SL buyers who are put off by the size and weight would take eagerly to an APS-C version of the full-frame camera.
Eventually, too, a new lens range featuring weather protection and stabilisation will be needed. I believe we could well see such a mini SL within the next 18 months, but I base this more on wishful thinking rather than any concrete information.
That leaves the two compacts, the D-Lux and the V-Lux. Both are well overdue for an update. Panasonic has a suitable V-Lux candidate in production — the FX2000/2500 — but as yet there is little evidence of a new LX100 on which they D-Lux is based.
Its replacement has been forecast as many times as the Second Coming; I even remember a suggestion that it would launch at Photokina in 2016. Now the pundits are expecting to see it at this year’s Photokina in September. The possible improvements have been well discussed — including a 20MP sensor, increased AF speed, a larger OLED viewfinder, a tilting screen, built-in ND filter and a top ISO of 50,000. There is even talk of a built-in flash.
Both the D-Lux and V-Lux have been successful cameras for Leica. I admire the form factor and “das Wesentliche” approach of the D-Lux, so I am hoping the rumours are right.
It looks like there are interesting times ahead for the Leica camera line over the next few months. At least we will have lots to write about.
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