An Open Letter To Leica by Ashwin Rao

From Steve: Here is an open letter to Leica written by Ashwin Rao. Funny he should submit this as I was writing my own “open letter” to Leica about the same thing! A Digital CL is something that I think would sell extremely well for Leica and possibly propel them even more into the profit zone. Something for them to think about…

Thanks Ashwin for yet another cool post!

An Open Letter to Leica: How about a Digital CL!

By Ashwin Rao – His blog is HERE

Dear Leica and fellow Leica fanatics,

I recently got to thinking about future pursuits and goals of the company, simply as a mental exercise, and what emerged is the letter, which I present to you below. Granted, I am only a Leica enthusiast at best, but I am someone who is really passionate about rangefinder photography. I want Leica to succeed as a company as an idea, because I am so enamored by their cameras, their heritage, and the excitement that I find when I handle and shoot with these wonderful cameras. I have no insight into the fiscal plans or roadmap that Leica has certainly conceived as part of its business plan, but I can only imagine that the M system remains paramount as a model of success in Leica’s mindset. The Leica S2, their other principal system camera, is for studio professionals looking to expand their creativity with an SLR-styled medium format camera. At more than $20,000, it’s not for the rest of us. Further, Leica has repetitively said that their R camera line is finished, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse here (though for the sake of all R-shooters out there, I hope that a digital R camera is eventually released, as we really do need a high quality manual focus SLR camera, and Canon/Nikon/Sony will never deliver such a device). Regardless, as time has passed, and as my passion for rangefinder photography has grown, I have become increasingly invested in the online and local Seattle Leica communities, and there are several themes that have come out of ongoing discussions with friends, fellow forum members, and Leica enthusiasts Many of these thoughts have centered on Leica’s failure to provide a reasonable entry camera for their M system, essentially a Digital Leica CL. What follows is MY rationale as to why Leica should make this camera or some version of it. SO LEICA, I HOPE THAT YOU ARE LISTENING.

As my use of the Leica M8 and M9, increased, my cameras gained the attention of an increasing number of photographers with whom I shot. Most of these photographers proudly hauled around large SLR kits from Canon, Nikon, or Sony. A few were micro 4/3 shooters. None were rangefinder enthusiasts. A few years back, people simply would simply remark, “Gosh, that’s a cool old camera that you are using.” Eventually, some of my friends began to notice that these were not analog cameras that I used, but interesting digital cameras, fully capable and a wide range of photographic endeavors. More time passed, and these friends began to remark at the quality of the images that I was posting. “Whoa, that M8/9 is really quite a camera, and those lenses: AMAZING!” Even more time would pass, and their wistfully state, “Gosh, I wish I could buy one of those rangefinder cameras….”

Once the Leica M9 was introduced, suddenly everyone knew about Leica again. The Leica M9 was the digital rangefinder of which everyone had dreamed, with a full frame 18 megapixel CCD sensor, a lovely build quality, and far less quirks than its predecessor. In the past year, the M9 has seen Leica camera reborn. Leica is once again “in vogue.” Increasing numbers of photographers lust after the camera, wishing that there was a way to get it. Leica does not lurk in the shadows of its SLR cousins any more, and people know that these cameras exist and are thriving. I sum this up by stating that Leica is once again part of “the collective conscious”, at least in Westernized countries.

As most of you know, the past year has seen tremendous success for the Leica M9. The camera has been sold out at nearly all major vendors and has been very difficult to obtain in any shape or form for nearly a year. It’s been only been in the past 3-4 months that some are starting to find their way to the used market, and new cameras are now starting to show up in the inventories of major retailers. Leica M9’s continue to sell used, for nearly $6000 or more, which prices out many photographers who simply cannot invest those types of funds in camera equipment. Thus, many of my fellow photographers find themselves out in the cold when it comes to Leica. They would love to try out the system, adopt the rangefinder way as their own, but the cost of entry is too much…and yet, there was light at the end of the tunnel, and unexpectedly, that light came in the shape of the Leica M8, the somewhat flawed predecessor to the M9.

What essentially has happened in the past year is that the market was flooded with used Leica M8’s. All of the people who had once owned M8’s suddenly jumped ship and jumped onto the Leica M9 bandwagon. Well, what about all of those M8’s? In my experience as a forum member and a member of the active Seattle rangefinder community, I observed that photographers, whom had previously only considered SLR’s or other cameras, were buying Leica M8’s. Case in point: one of my orthopedic surgery colleagues recently bought 2 M8’s, one for his partner and one for himself. He found that the price of the Leica M8, approximately $2,300, was far more palatable than the price of the Leica M9. He was willing to live with some of the camera’s flaws, including it’s IR sensitivity, occasional glitchiness, just as all of us rangefinder guys from years past learned to love and hate the M8 a the same time. The difference, though, was that my friend, and many others like him, was willing to try out this system at a lower price point…. And so, the Leica M8 has become the new entry drug for many individuals new to the game.

So what’s the problem, then? Well, the biggest problem that I see is: TIME. The Leica M8 was introduced in 2006, nearly 4.5 years ago now, and the cameras are all out of warranty, getting older, and likely getting glitchier. Over time, Leica M8’s will start to fall into disrepair (these are not the legendary Leica M3’s which will live on for many of our lifetimes; the M8 is a digital creation, and electronics fail). Eventually, Leica M9’s will drop in price, but only after a Leica M9.2 and M10 is released, probably 1-3 years down the road. And even so, M9’s may not drop in price as do M8’s, given the interval improvements of the camera. I, for example, see no reason to upgrade, unless there are major sensor improvements for the next digital M. The M9 is every bit as much a camera as I could desire. Whereas Leica M8 prices have equilibrated to around $2,000, I suspect that Leica M9 prices will eventually land but at a more costly equilibrium point….

So where there’s a problem, there’s always an opportunity. Leica, this is where I hope that you are listening. Given that Leica has re-claimed its place in the minds of photographers, there’s a great opportunity to re-popularize the rangefinder in the photographic world. Many photographers are looking, asking, and hoping to join the Leica fray, but are unwilling to do so for a cost of $7000 (plus the cost of lenses) or for the cost of a 4 year old Leica M8 that costs $2K and is only getting older. Leica: YOU SHOULD MAKE A DIGITAL CL.


What the heck is the CL, you may ask? (see a short post on it here) Well, back in the 70’s, Leica manufactured the CL in conjunction with Minolta, meant to introduce the masses to rangefinder photography. The CL was a smaller rangefinder, marketed along with a 28 mm, 40 mm, and 90 mm lens set. By all reports that I read, it was quite popular, and Leica actually killed it after 3 years as it was cannibalizing the sales of its M line. Well, times are different now, and here’s why:

Whereas in the 70’s, images were recorded on 35 mm film stock, it basically didn’t matter what body you had to shoot with. As long as you had a nice lens, you could get the same image. Well, today, we live in the digital world. Images are now recorded on digital sensors and stored on digital media. Full frame sensors are far more expensive to manufacture than crop sensors, a concept that Canon, Nikon, and Sony have embraced, as they manufacture cameras of various costs and builds, housing both types of sensors. Leica has yet to embrace this concept. Sure, the Leica X1 houses a 1.5x crop Sony sensor, but it is not an interchangeable lens camera. It is a different beast all together. Leica’s only digital option is the full frame $7,000 M9.

SO here’s my solution, Leica: Build a digital Leica CL or re-introduce the M8 (say M8.3?) with a cropped sensor. Like Canon and Nikon, these entry-level cameras can be an area where you test out new technologies. Why not introduce a digital CL, with a 1.5 crop Sony CMOS sensor, that makes use of live view options? Why not consider a digital approach to hybrid viewfinders than incorporates rangefinder focusing? Or a video option ? I know, I personally think live view, video, and the like are silly, but using a digital CL, with a cheaper sensor and less exotic build, will provide you with an area to test new technology. Further, and far more importantly, it will provide you, Leica, with a brand new market of people eager to try out rangefinders.

Imagine this: A digital CL, priced at $2,500 or so (not so much more than a mid range SLR), yet more expensive than the fixed lens X1, and more affordable than the M9? Here, you wouldn’t be cannibalizing sales of the M9, as most rangefinder purists, the people to whom you’ve already sold your M9’s and had a record-breaking year as a result, would only buy full frame cameras. A digital CL would provide a much cheaper entry point for people looking to try out rangefinders. It would give people a new camera to try, bundled with a reassuring Leica warranty, and would allow them to be introduced to your wonderful Leica lenses. Sure, you can’t quite make enough lenses these days, but Zeiss and Voigtlander are more than willing to help ;).

The digital CL represents a market that’s not yet been tapped, but soon might be. You might say that the number of people willing to consider a manual-focus camera is limited, and that many photographers may prefer the option of buying an m4/3 or NEX camera at a lower price point. However, neither of these cameras are rangefinders, with their unique way of seeing the world. What I can tell you, with a certain amount of frankness, is that many people who are buying NEX and m4/3 cameras, are doing so to use Leica lenses, have a backup body for their M9, or wishing they were throwing those lenses on a rangefinder instead of trying to focus manually using an LCD screen. That process is very different than focusing with a rangefinder and experiencing the joy of the rangefinder experiences.

One more lesson, for you Leica, comes from the Land of Apple Computer. Apple/Macintosh has intelligently spread out their product announcements in a way that some item of theirs is always being marketed as the latest and greatest thing. For example, every summer, there’s a new iPhone. Every other fall, there is a refresh of their MacBook line. Every summer or so (late summer), there’s a refresh to their iMac line. Now, in the spring, there’s the inevitable iPad refresh. Leica, you have plans, I suspect to refresh the M digital camera after about 2 years. For example, the M8 got a refresh after 2+ years with the M8.2. I won’t fault you for creating a similarly appointed M9.2 in 1-2 years and then an M10 1-2 years after. Well, what about the gap years, when sales of the M9 slow down? This is where your digital CL could come in. It could serve as a platform for innovation and a way to keep Leica’s name in the collective conscience. Sales of your cameras would shift, rather than drop, if you spaced out product announcements appropriately. A full frame top Level M10/11/12 every 3-4 years, a new X1 or something similar every 2 years, and a digital CL on an alternative 2 year cycle….thus, a new product announcement every 1-2 years, multiple entry points for photographers looking to try out rangefinders, all while exploiting a market that is not currently tapped. No one else is making digital rangefinders, and the interest is higher than ever. Further, you wouldn’t be creating a camera with a new mount. The Digital CL would use the same mount as all prior M cameras. To fish were I started this paragraph, Steve Jobs even gave props to Leica when describing the new iPhone as “Leica” like! How about taking Steve Jobs idea.

Photography is popular more so now than ever! Leica, here’s your chance to do the right thing, both for us photographers, and for your business model. You can grow your persona within photography and establish yourself as a leader in digital imaging. You can help people to discover a new love of photography, just as the M8 did to me 4 years ago. Leica, provide us with a digital CL. Heck provide us with a M8.3, with a 1.3 crop sensor without UV/IR issues, which is new and priced for the masses (i.e. no more than $2,500), and you’ll have a winner on all accounts. Just build a new factory or 2, automate production of this camera (it doesn’t all need to be hand built), and people will be there to support you. I’ll still be buying Leica M10’s and the like, but my friends and colleagues, those lusting and wishing to try out rangefinders, will join the fray, put down their SLR’s, slow down their photography, and make better images…

Digital CL Mock Up – Credit Tung Chao

The solution, Leica, is the digital CL. It’s there for the making and taking.

Best,

Ashwin Rao

Certified Leica Nut!

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151 Comments

  1. Dear Aswin…

    Chicken. PLEASE! Cut and paste you letter to Leica to a word file and send it to the CEO in Soms, Germany. North of Frankfurt or fly over. It is worth the trip. Send a copy to the guy, major stock holder, behind the new leicas, Andreas Kaufmann. He is the person in the photos with the owners
    of the new Leica store in China.

  2. i would like to see a digital leica IIIf or in other words a Leica X2 thats closer to the 3f then to the M9.

    http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7185/6877737599_c9ebf82e75_b.jpg

    it should have:

    WEATHERSEALING

    4 programmable buttons, two on top, two on the front (next to the lens)

    make the button easily assignable to every possible function, including user modes etc

    give us a OSX/win/ios/android app that lets us design user curves (RGB and luminance) to load on the camera for film simulation / jpegs

    no back LCD, but a 300dpi screen on the top, for showing histograms and menus,
    next to that, two buttons for menu operation (ok/back)
    a clickwheel on top right position for use in combination of any fn button and for navigating the menu

    direct drive manual focus with a clickstop on infinity to activate autofocus

    dedicated lockable wheels for Aperture / Shutterspeed / ISO / exposure compensation

    a cool thing would be a small pentaprism that slides in the hotshot and sits over the LCD, the LCD then should show a 100% preview of the focus area, to use in combination with the ovf

  3. Ashwin,

    As you know, I have been suggesting a Digital CL for years. Entry into the Leica fold is just too high for most enthusiast.

    The thing is… it need not be a rangefinder. Yes, use M lenses but find another method for focus rather than a complicated and expensive rangefinder system. The Digital CL (if priced reasonably) could open the door for many into the world of Leica and probably result in a large percentage of those new folks eventually upgrading to the Digital M. But Leica, being Leica, this will probably not happen.

    I have always said the that Leica glass is the heart and soul of Leica. That is still true but the sensor has now become very important as well. I hate using the term “Affordable Leica” because those two words just don’t seem to work well together. Leica needs to get away from the “Leica Branded” Panasonics. The X1 did nothing for me, fixed lens = no sale. A Digital CL that accepts M lenses would be something I would really be interested in.

    Until Leica produces a true entry level M-Mount system I fear they are missing a tremendous opportunity.. but as many have said in numerous forums.. Leica does not appear to be interested in such a camera and might possibly fear it would negativly impact the sale of the Digital M Rangefinder.

    Well, we can always hope they will one day surprise us.

  4. I definitely agree that they do need some kind of middle ground, although I am not sure that a digital CL is the best route. I personally think the best choice is to revamp the m8 to give it the reliability that Leica cameras have been known for years. Sticking with the same body, and partially the same components, they wouldn’t have to be concerned with new costs of different parts. Great post Rao!

  5. I think something like a full frame Digilux 2 for M mount lenses would solve a lot of problems:
    1. The body would be cheaper and easier to build using no brass and no mechanical rangefinder mechanism and wouldn’t need to be assembled by hand.
    2. They could use the same sensor and parts of the electronics as with their current M, which means reduced cost and time for development of such a camera.
    3. Leica enthusiasts would feel that an EVF is inferior to the rangefinder, while it would attract new users that like the idea of being able to see the actual picture (exact framing, focus, DOF), which would qualify such a camera as an entry system and an alternative to the M Series.
    4. This would also qualify as the adequat R solution with R to M adapters.

    I think such a camera could be developed faily quickly, costing at least 1/3 to 1/2 less than the M9. Some will say that this would canibalise sales of the M9, but even if it does – they would probably sell the new camera at a higher volume and could use their highly qualified personal in Solms to build more lenses, which would go up in demand even more than they are right now…

  6. Leica will not make this camera. Certainly not for less than $3500. they have to take care not to downgrade their brand image. Calvin Klien, Gucci are great names that discovered the risks of brand dilution.

    Leica has an elite reputation- and this is their greatest asset I should say… the strange fact is: many of Leica’s current customers would be less than happy to find a great swathe of the plebeian masses suddenly able to afford these elite products. Leica would find it harder to charge 10K for a noctilux or 7K for an M9 if a CLD, (with or without three lens set) could be had for under 3K.

    I think the best hope for more affordable digital RF cameras is a third party- can’t see why a full frame digital M couldn’t be made for half the price of the M9 or less. I say such a camera should be designed by gun makers- be all black and shock/water proof.

    Just look at the Hexar RF- that camera sold for a fraction of the price of an M9 (or an M7)- had a titanium body and superb craftsmanship. Sure it was one of the last things Konica did before it merged with Minolta- but it was a film camera introduced just as the film era ended. A digital RF on the market now would be just in time for the renaissance of RF photography. It could capture all those who lust for the M9 but can’t afford/justify it.

    I feel it is a likely prospect.

    • I don’t think a new Leica camera priced between 3.500 to 4.000 USD would make it a new D40 nor would it downgrade their brand image. I don’t think they would be able to cut much more than 1/3 to 1/2 of the cost of the M9 for such a camera, so pricewise they will still be closer to Canonikons Pro cameras than the D5mk2 or D700.

  7. Digical CL? ..I think it would be a great news for us….but not so good for Leica businness executive’s face. I hope they remember the lesson of M5 in the past. And history has taught us. A cheaper full-frame digital body would likely to kill the Leica brand in few years. If you want a half frame digital “CL”, these products are already out there for you. Its a nice dream to be true but in reality this is the reason Leica shoud not listen to you. Well, let’s hope they market the next few Ms in lower MSRP =)

  8. I think, that the only way we’re gonna see a CL-D is when Leica is too develop it with a other company. Sony would be a good choice, but even apple could be a viable partner. Designed by apple, technical and lenses by Leica, build in China. 😀
    But i also think this is never gonna happen. The fuji X100 is a step in the right way, and i really hope this will be the start of a RF revival. Epson already said that a new RD-1 is not totally unthinkable and there have been rumors lately that canon is looking into the EVIL market. And then we still have Zeiss and Cosina. A digital Zeiss Ikon ZM would be the dream machine for a lot of people. And with CV stepping into the m4/3 market, there is a glimmer of hope for a digital Bessa.

    I’m wondering what would happen, if Leica stepped forward and said they are actually developing a digital CL-D. But release would be late this year/early next year. Would people still buy the X100 ???

    ahh. It’s always nice to dream…

  9. [img]http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2678/4347398735_44e95c6651.jpg[/img]
    [img]http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5081/5225413068_5c2729a005.jpg[/img]

    they already made the digital cl. it’s called the gf1..

  10. I felt the need to add a comment to this huuuge thread.

    I have to admit to being rather grumpy with Leica due to their pricing policy. Let me explain – I really do want to have the M experience but am completely priced out of the market (second hand included). Having tried M on couple of occasions I am enamored with the beautiful tool and know that it would help me and motivate me to take more photos and have great fun doing it.

    Thinking about it it is not so much the M per se I am looking for but a well built, simple digital rangefinder tool. It matters not to me that it is built in Germany, actually I think this to be an impediment given the fact that the labour force cost is huge and I don’t like the slightly xenophobic undertone which says that Asians are not as disciplined and good at doing things like good old white euro folk.

    Maybe I should redirect my grumpiness towards eastern shores – why don’t they just bite Leica in the bottom and produce a comparable tool at a much smaller entry cost?!? X100 is the first attempt at this but it ain’t a rangefinder and it ain’t full frame (I am f1.2-f1.4 type of guy, full frame is a necessity). Nikon and Canon do have a track record of producing niche/specialised products, why don’t they grab the bull by the horn and satisfy this clear market gap?

    However great your suggestion is Ashwin; alas, it will probably fall on deaf ears. We can but hope that one of the (many) players in the market will pull their finger out and surprise is with something new and really cool. Hopefully soon.

  11. Good suggestion however I don’t have much hope of Leica filling the gap. I am one of those ppl who would love to try out the RF but can’t. Unfortunately its something we see with all the super luxury products. Ferrari sells out of their cars shortly after announcing them, the wait is usually a year or 2. Hermes has a huge waiting list, and some of their bags you can only purchase if you’ve been invited by existing customers. Considering Leica has made it not secret that they can’t sell the M9 fast enough at $7000 a pop, it suggest they are part of the league.

    Apple is a luxury brand but their products are only 10-20% more expensive then that competition. They’ve been manufacturing in Asia for a long time now and their customers are aware of this. with the iPhone 4, if Apple doubled the price of the iPhone 5 next year without much improvements, I can assure you the queues will still be long and the stock will be low as it will still sell out.

  12. I love the idea but, unfortunately, I think it is unlikely to happen in the near future… Honestly, I believe it is wishful thinking on our side, Leica enthusiasts.
    How come we can expect somenthing like a CL-D when Leica has not put out yet a X1 firmware update after 15 months that camera has been released. They work in a different pace in Solms, and exponential growth is clearly not their goal. They just don’t have the capacity to meet the maintenance/ after-sales needs of a mass market product, such the proposed CL-D, made in Germany… nor they seem to have the production capacity and capable technicians to increase to put a CL-D together. They could if they outsource their production. However, I believe it will be very unlikely having Leica outsourcing the manufacturing of “real” Leica camera again. Contrary to Apple’s strategy of having “Designed by Apple in California/ assembled in China” sticker in their products, Leica is more likely to stick with a proud “Made in Germany” lettering, where they can guarantee their high-standard production quality, even if it means not scaling and addressing a greater market.
    This is not necessarily a bad thing…

  13. Ashwin,

    When the current economic climate gets better, i am almost positive Leica and many other companies will likely do what you are proposing. I doubt very much if Leica itself have not pondered similar ideas but choose to wait for a good economic recovery to justify. Yes the M9 have done well, no question, but lets really take a look at those that have acquired it so far, the very few that can afford it… Until recently you had to wait a while to get an M9, i don’t think its because Leica could not put them out fast enough to meet their demand, they are just being cautious with the times. We are talking about a $7K beast here. Over produce the M9 and demand drops, the company will be in some Deep S*** much less throwing something new into the mix. I would rather they concentrate on what they are currently doing for now in small steps as mentioned somewhere, perfect the M9, get lenses out to the market based on demand and so on… I would like to see Leica be around for many more generations rather than go under on a bad business decision.

    Like Leica, i will wait until the economy gets better before purchasing an M9, an updated Digilux 2, New CLD or maybe M10/11 time will tell. Too scary at his time for me or Leica to invest in risky business 🙂 I could be wrong as well, perhaps they know something me and the rest of us don’t know and surprise us all. Let’s wait and see.

    As for Apple, they got it right at the right time… They diversified, from computers and software to mobile devices and now back to computers in the case of going back to the desktop with technology borrowed for their hand-held devices ( Apps for your Mac ) Just bloody clever! Steve Jobs is a genius IMO. Kill the competition with simple design, a product that does not only look good, one that works well, easy to use and priced very well within the reach of almost everyone. All executed at the right time.

    Leica should tap Apple for advice on the right time to innovate, launch new products and get people hooked on to it for a long time with a hub like iTunes, without it you really can’t do much with most Apple products. It will be a huge undertaking for Leica and again one that must be executed at the right time IMO.

    Great article Ashwin and Happy New Year to you, Steve and all the good folks here!

  14. Well, could be that the X1 is the test for a CL digital and we just don’t know it. You never know.And I’d bet that the new electronic frame lines in the VWM9 ( sorry couldn’t resist that! ) would fit into that product development nicely.Much cheaper and more economical to produce than the traditional RF with all it’s parts. Speed up the AF and put an M mount o an X camera and there you go!
    Well, maybe not but I’m an optimist. I was out shooting with my M camera today, just two lenses, 50mm 2.8 elmar and 135 Telyt. Walked around all day and had forgotten that there’s quite a bit of weight there ( getting older might have something to do with it too!! ) but did occur to me that IF there was a CLD, a weight reduction from the 600g or so of the M body would be welcome by me!!!
    At the end of the day though I’m just happy that Leica quality is here for us all to enjoy in 2011….
    whatever they come up with, I’m getting pretty nice results with what they’ve already made and what I already own.

  15. Although I’d love Leica to bring out an economical rangefinder design, I can’t see why they would do it. The Leica user base is (primarily) wealthy amateurs – the archetypal Sunday photographer with significant disposable income and an enviable travel schedule that takes in various exotic and photogenic locations. These buyers don’t mind paying a huge premium for the look/feel/cache of a Leica. If Leica did release a body for less than half the price of the M9, they would (as suggested above) lose M9 sales whilst also encouraging rival manufacturers to release cheaper imitations. On the flip side, a cheaper body would result in more lens sales, but if I was to buy a CL-D I’d probably not bother buying new lenses at all when there are so many lovely secondhand M-system lenses available.

  16. Ashwin,

    VERY well put. Personally I bet even a full-frame but lower resolution CL-D would do the trick. actually a full-frame might be a better ticket to convert DSLR users who want to go wide and fast, then let them go for the full M when they want wider dynamic range and higher resolution.

    Bo

  17. I think the other issue Leica is facing is supplies of lens. Right now, some used lens are selling as high or higher than the MSRP. They need to ramp up the production of lens as well.

  18. On so many points, you have mirrored my thoughts. I still shoot film with a compact Contax Aria, love the beautiful Zeiss glass, and dream of an M9. I moved to full frame, but as stated so well above, I wasn’t ready to drop 10K to get started; hence, a Sony A900 and a few Zeiss lenses. I am not a shy person, but I rather dislike being the weird guy toting all the geeky camera stuff around pointing a huge hunk of metal at people. I finally purchased an X1. Although impressive, it’s not a match to the image quality from my Sony/Zeiss Full frame combo. That being said, I love the feel and the ease with which I can wield the X1 without notice. A crop sensor won’t draw a full frame user backwards, but is sure as hell has convinced me to put an M9 on my must buy list. So yes, give us all a stepping-stone drug, and most will become addicts. ( Add money spent on X1 and Sony/Zeiss and could have had an M9.)[img]http://www.leicaimages.com/gallery/1673/U1673I1293650940.SEQ.0.jpg[/img][img]http://www.zeissimages.com/gallery/1162/U1162I1293755660.SEQ.0.jpg[/img]

  19. Great writeup. As someone who bought an M8 for the exact reasons of trying before plunging ( although a 2400$ try is something some might consider a plunge ) and have now moved to the M9 because I loved the experience, I would attest that this can only serve to improve Leica’s bottom line. The X100 may not be a great test of the CL because it is not an interchangeable lens camera. It won’t capture the hearts of SLR users who want to try Rangefinders. It may capture rangefinder purists hearts who believe in a single lens approach.

  20. I’ve been thinking about a lot about this since yesterday.
    Here’s my 1/50th of a buck (with out writing an essay):

    There are both pro’s and con’s to Leica building a D-CL.
    Currently, for Leica I think the con’s far outweigh the pro’s (for many reasons described above).
    Bottom line: I doubt it’s in Leica’s best interest to produce a D-CL right now.

    If we are to see anything like a D-CL, it will have to come from the hands of a competitor; such as Zeiss, CV, Epson, etc. Until some competition shows up and Leica starts loosing enough M9 sales, I doubt Leica will give us a D-CL.

    I think the X100 will serve as a good (although somewhat skewed) litmus test to see if a affordable digital range finder is viable on a larger commercial scale.

    Cheers.

  21. Leica needs a full frame, autofocus, 24-50mm F2 stepped-zoom camera that is smaller than the M9.

    It should have a zoom and aperture rings and be made of brushed aluminum or magnesium, and be covered with black or tan English saddle leather that is without coatings so it will develop a patina. There should also be a thumb extension like Match Technical’s Thumbs Up.

    The viewfinder should zoom like the Contax G2 to match fixed 24, 35, 50 focal settings. It is very important that it be full frame. Otherwise there is too much depth of field.

  22. This is a very interesting article, open letter, and the CONCEPT is great
    BUT Leica will never ever do that. At least in foreseen future (until maybe M11 comes out in 10 years time)

    Those people familiar with Economies of Scales and Production Design and Marketing as well will understand more, why Leica will never do that step. Its just to much investment NOT in the right niche, for the company at the present time. IT IS EXTREMELY RISKY

    Author of the post stated that it wont be “cannibalizing the sales” of the M9 its partly true, however half of people who ever went for such “wallet cannibalizing” decision to spend HUGE amount of money on Digital M and then keep investing in lenses- wouldn’t went for the M9 if Digital CL was out there.

    Thats probably as well why Canon and Nikon are not doing there versions of Digital Rangefinder – however i would imagine that they could, but again they are making enough of a solid income with the products they offer and keep developing now.
    Its present world of cruel economy where companies are after consumer surplus not consumer’s desire ) IMO

    Max Klimov

    • Yeah, I have my doubts too, but the optimist in me would liek to hope, Maxim. I tried to argue a rationale behind it, but there are so many other factors in play, including brand identity, etc….

      Totally understand the risk concept, but I think that the Risk odds ratio are as favorable now for Leica than ever, and there is a market to exploit….with Leica being on many photogs minds…just look at how popular Steve’s site has become over the pas 1-2 years of existence, wiht > 15-20,000 hits a day. That’s a solid install base to consider….

      I do think if the camera were designed within the proper materials/cost parameters, and priced appropriately, it’d hit the right market. Many would still laugh at a $2,500 digital compact that could easily be looked at as a competitor to M4/3 or NEX, but comparisons wouln’t really hold up if this were a true rangefinder (not the X100 or some other similar reation).

      I have been curious why Canon and Nikon haven’t jumped into the game, and I agree that it gives a moment of pause to me as to why, as well….They probably have a sucessful enough business model in SLR’s and compacts, without the need to develop what may be a niche product for them.

      But Leica is the niche….so to speak…”Regardless, very interesting considerations, Max, and thanks for your comment. I guess time will tell the tale…

  23. If Leica would do a CL it would be a problem to sell the M. That is why they also don;t make a Leica CM digital which would be also great.But let’s hope for it

  24. For all the M9 Leica fanatics, a digital CL will make a perfect birthday, graduate or valentine gift for their love ones. They can use all the M lenses laying around. Ha Ha Ha.

    For the M9 professional guys, a digital CL as a back up or second camera which increases your arsenal by 50% would be really nice.

    For the guys like me, been reading the Leica Ms for a life time but couldn’t afford it, this will make the perfect sense. This will be a stepping stone to go to full frame. Leica in the mean time sells more lenses.

    I wonder what is holding Zeiss and Voigtlander back? Wouldn’t a Digital CL help their company?

    Keep on waiting.

  25. Follow up comment and more seriously…..
    M8 Buddy…. interesting comments! Good points and relevant…on the other hand….
    1. Leica can’t afford it in terms of overall image quality / reputation?
    Huh? but they can afford the DLux5 ( ssshhhhhhh!!! Panasonic LX5 ) and the V- Lux 2 and the… come on please! and lets not even dare mention the Leica X1 with it’s painfully slow AF response!
    2. Why on earth would Leica……??? because when a company has achieved success with a product it has to build on that success or stagnate and die while other companies steal the market. this is how businesses work and why there is a well known hamburger store and a famous coffee shop near you, unless you live in deepest Alaska.
    Again X1 and D-Luxes do not take Leica M lenses and are therefore not part of the Leica M system. That is not what Ashwin is talking about I think.
    3. Yes the competition will react. So, should Leica give up? Because all of the things you’re suggesting will likely happen anyway regardless of what Leica does. Leica should take charge of it’s own future and make the products it wants not play second fiddle to it’s competitors. As such it needs to develop technology that doesn’t rely completely on PanaSony. It can be done. German quality and technology is second to none.It does cost money. It does need serious R&D. japanese companies have found ways to do it..as in the case of giants like Fuji through Government subsidies. Leica could find their own solution to this. It isn’t impossible. Too many people look at Leica and say..well, they can’t do this without Panasonic or Minolta. ( They survived Minolta remember! which proves anything is possible! ) Don’t under-estimate what they can achieve. A few years ago nobody believed they could make a digital M. remember??? Where is the Epson RD1 now? there are ALWAYS possibilities. I believe that there are good people at Leica who know this, and that is why…we have the M9!
    Leica should not give up because of a projected scenario of what other companies MIGHT do. No one would have guessed a short while ago that Konica, Contax, Minolta and others would be history but Leica is STILL here because they came up with the right product. I believe a Leica CL digital would make them stronger not weaker.
    4. Since when was not being able to change lenses a LITTLE compromise? You REALLY think so? In that case why does the M lens series exist?
    5. Leica I think, doesn’t have to forget the made in Germany mindset to make cameras. Panasonic and others do not have a monopoly on technology. it just seems that way.and remember…most technology in japan, whether it is in the automobile industry, electronics or elsewhere was imported to Japan from Europe and the U.S.A. long before Mitsubishi developed into cameras with a little company called Nikon.

    I write this only to point out that there are opposite arguments to what you say.
    You did make some good points!!! and it’s fun to think about and discuss the topic!

    • Ahah, interesting points, it’s good to confront opinions on this beautiful website full of interesting people 😀

      1. Uuuh, V-Lux, D-Lux… These are models of “cheaper” Leica’s. SO that everyone can have his/her Leica 🙂 It’s an entry point in the Leica Universe, and I think it’s good (I had a Dlux4 myself a few years ago). BUT : I do think they are totally apart from the M System because you just can’t plug any M-lens in there. That’s the difference between the “Lux” series, and an hypothetic Digital CL that WOULD BE DESIGNED to use M-lenses on a “cheaper” body.

      2. I agree here. But you can’t separate product development strategies from risk management. That’s a matter of risk here. Build a “cheaper” M… mmmm…. I don’t believe it. The “cheaper” M already exists : it’s a second-hand M8 or M8.2. That’s cheaper M’s.

      3. I agree with you here. Leica should not and WILL not give up. But every company tends to live on a product success, that’s a pretty normal behavior I think. That’s what McDonald is doing, and they’re not exactly in a bad position ;). (Nope, I didn’t compare a Whooper to a M9. The Whooper is more tasty :). But wait : I never said that Leica should do nothing. I just said that IMO, Digital CL is a bad move. Not for all of us in there, because we’d certainly buy it. But how many will buy it ? It would be a “fan” camera, and IMHO, sales benefits would not cover R&D, design and marketing costs.

      Furthermore, I think Leica doesn’t have the production capacity to absorb a new line of product, today. Myself, I’ve ordered a Lux 50 Asph. two weeks ago in Paris, and I’ll have to wait about three months to put my hands on it… I’m very glad for them that their premium products are selling so well, but as said the CEO in season’s greeting message, the counterpart of success is longer waiting delays for the customers… See what’s happened with M9. There is no room for Digital CL production line, if they want it to be “made in germany” 😉

      4. I was just kidding when I said “Little” Compromises 😉 That’s why I quoted it. Of course, losing the abilty to change lenses and to use a rangefinder are BIG compromises. But that’s why X1 is another kind of camera. It’s not the same product line. And that’s what I find brillant, honestly ! Every X1 review you can find on the web (including the one that our dear Steve Huff made in here), tells you that with X1, you DO get a real Leica Lens ! It’s a slimdowned version of an Elmarit, but it’s an Elmarit ! You get that for € 1500 ! The compromise to it, is that you can’t change the lense and you don’t have RF. You have to live with it, but it’s a pretty decent deal IMO. If you want the same configuration with an M body, it will cost you a lot more bucks !

      5. I know that alot of technology is coming from Europe but… You know, Cinema has been invented in France, in a small town called “chalon sur saone” 🙂 It has been imported to USA, and since, it hasn’t been better ;).

      Just wait, IMO, the future of digital photography will be great… with Leica in center of it, I Hope so.

      Stéphane

  26. I have a Leica CL. I have a Minolta CLE. I have two Leica M6TTL’s
    ……and NO plan to buy an M9 or M10.

    BUT……

    I would buy a CLD right now!!!!! ….if Leica made such a thing.
    I DREAM of a Leica CLD.

    Leica. Please realize the dream.

    I’m getting older. I don’t have forever to wait for it!

    Killing the CL was a big mistake.
    I hope you’ll get it right this time.

    Come on…. you can do it if you try!

    • Wrong my friend… A Leica CLE-D, electromagnetice shutter and a hinged back and… I consider the CLC which took all or most (The 24 or 21 may have been too deep to fit, but I had/used the M35mm 1.4. The best film camera ever made. Espcially for the size, but also, for film with off the film plain reading and TTL flash. When I spoke with a former owner of Leica in the late 1980s, an Austrian woman, to produce the CLE again, she said there is not a large enough market for it. What she really meant was that since it was made by Minolta there wasn’t enough profit in it and it would compete with the Leica Ms, at thousand less. By the way. I am a 28mm shooter I would love the Q if it was cheaper. I can get two Nikon 750s for one Q, Thank Q very much.

  27. Leica will reply:
    There will be no entry-level Leica M. A second hand M is the entry level M.
    CL was a mistake then and it would be a mistake now.

    • For whom was the CL a mistake? Leica or the camera buying public? By all accounts what I have read online it hammered the sales of the M5 at the time.

      • Which is why it was a mistake for Leica Andy J. It took sales away from the cameras that had higher profit margins.

        • The M5 was a complete overhaul and a failed design, by all accounts. It would have been interesting to see if the CL and M6 would have co-existed, as the M6 was basically a return to form…

  28. Friends and foes.
    What´s photography in it´s mechanical essence? Recording medium (film,chip) and a rendering device (lens). And what`s necessary for the image produced by above mentioned devices? Distance to object and exposure (shutter time and lens opening) depending on ISO value. Basically that`s all. Back to more economical Leica M model. Remember MD. Give me a basic box with M-mount and I`ll be happy as I mostly use wide to normal lenses, often estimating distance for street shots ( DOF friends!) and if you say architecture and landscape need rangefinder or AF then you nuts! Beside this a live view would solve close up issues, which are anyway not possible with M9 (sorry; I forgot visoflex, which by the way, would be nice option on MDd, of course in lightweight edition). I hear that rangefinder system of M models is quite expensive part of the camera. I wonder why the big boys (Sony, Nikon and Canon) haven´t done that using their FX sensors making a kind of battleground backup camera. As to CL digital, nice idea but I think, X1 with simplified rangfinder on top (like one from Leicas III series), shutter wheel Minolta CL style, three travel lenses (24,35,70 more or less) would fit the bill. No autofocus. Dreams, dreams. Talking about M9, there are suggestions, that in next model, Leica should drop the existing bottom cover for one with seperate slots for battery and memory card. Don`t do it! Less openings, less problems with damage of flimsy lids and moisture proofing. Beside there is aftermarket for bottomplate with two holes, f.ex. (leicatime). We are living in upside down times, where technologicaly simple and robust solution are, alas, more expensive than itcandoeverything gadgets. Ansel Adams and Robert Frank didn`t need 7fps and track AF to make valid statements. More body less soul – baby it should be other way around. Dear Olga, back to Holga!

    • I like your modified x1 thought, but doubt it will happen, as Leica is not intent to put out another series of lenses with a different mount, or likely the R cameras would be reborn…..

      But let’s keep dreaming, and hoping! New Years Resolution, Leica….

  29. I think it would be a mistake if Leica would produce a digital (cheaper) CL. IMHO this would downgrade the M series. A digital CL would probably also jeopardize the second hand M market. As an M9 owner I would like to see improved Leica products over those that I have purchased. And not a new model every year, but let’s say every 4 or so years.
    I trust Leica’s marketing staff will make the right decisions.

  30. Nice try, Ashwin, and well wrote, but honestly, I don’t think Leica will ever produce such a camera. I understand the wish of seeing one day a digital CL, as a “Leica enthusiast’s fantasy”. We are all Leica Enthusiasts, and as such, we all hope that Leica’s line of product will evolve as we want it to be in the future, but there is a huge difference between what we want as Leica’s fans, and what Leica intends / wants / is going to produce as a profitable company engaged in a harsh competition !

    That being said, I think Digital CL will never become real, because :

    1. This would be a “sub-M” system, and Leica can’t afford it in terms of product coherence, and overall image / quality reputation

    2. The M product line is selling amazingly well, as said by Leica’s CEO in his new year’s cheering message on Leica’s homepage. Why on earth, would Leica bother in spending millions of euros in designing a new kind of camera, when the top one is selling so well, and there is also “entry-level” cameras like X1 and even D-LUXes ?

    3. Let’s say they take the deal and go for a digital CL : they will spend a huge amount of money in design, production, and marketing for the new product. Then Digital CL is here : APS-C sensor size, with Leica-M mount and a rangefinder right ? It will probably face a very tough competition here : Sony with its Nex line of product will react very fast with a “Nex-M” model, that will be different from the current Nex-5 only by the addition of a rangefinder capability, (and who knows ? Full Frame ? who bets ?;). That small evolution will be much cheaper for Sony in terms of R&D than for Leica who must create a brand-new product ! In Leica’s point of view, the risk is huge, for an hypothetical ROI. And I just talk about Sony here. There’s also Olympus with Pen products, Panasonic with GF line, Samsung, and even Fuji (if they make X100 evolves as an EVIL camera). All these companies are HUGE and have the power and the money to respond quickly, with amazing products, just to face a new competitor. Just think that 5 years ago, Sony had only small bulkies compacts in their camera line. Within a few years, they’re facing Canon in their hi-level Full Frame segment with 3 models !!! Not to mention you can already put M-lenses on all m4/3 and Nex cameras by using M-Mount adapters for a few dollars. (that a lot of M-users are doing as for second body)

    4. Leica M’s wannabees that can’t afford the $6000 of a brand-new M9 are facing 2 choices : buying a 2nd hand M8 (we find them as low as €1200 in France nowadays in pretty good conditions), or wait for M9.2 / M10 then buy a second-hand M9. But there’s also a third choice if they absolutely want a Leica’s badge : buying a X1. This little thing is fabulous, because you get 1) “Made in germany product”, 2) Leica’s IQ from a real Leica lense, 3) high ISO capability, and 4) a small and very-well designed body. The 2 only “little” compromises are : 1) you can’t change lense and 2) you lose the rangefinder (but you win an autofocus). But it’s the price to pay, to get a cheap Leica product. You don’t sacrifice the IQ, you just sacrifice the ability to change lense, and to use a rangefinder.

    5. If Leica wanted to produce a Digital CL, keeping a low price to be competitive is a necessity. And to do that, they have to forget the “made in Germany” label. And we all know how much this label is important in our minds as Leica’s users. It’s a guarantee of getting the best quality out there for a $2000+ camera. Or they will have to partner with Panasonic, for example, and we’ll just get another “Leica made by Panasonic” camera… Not so exciting IMO.

    My 2 Cents. But I hope I’m wrong 😉

    Stéphane

  31. Just had another thought… What if they partner with someone (like they did with Minolta for the original CL) and end up sharing costs that way – I would guess that the perfect partner for this would be Panasonic at the moment. Maybe they could (or even will) do another one like they do with the current Leica compacts.

    Panasonic could have this as their full frame (or at least larger sensor) offering and change the badge and give less software (like the compacts again) and Leica could do the upmarket one with the full blown Lightroom (or CS5) software, their own jpeg engine and metering algorithms, maybe an AA filter on the Panasonic one but not on the Leica just to push the differences.

    That way there would still be a clear distinction between the different ranges and hopefully it would not devalue the brand, which they really want to steer clear of (in my opinion). Porsche in the 80s are a text book case on how to almost kill a company by trying to increase market share and losing the brand values (and exclusivity and therefore the prestige) in the process.

    Very interesting either way!!

    • That’d be cool, James, a la the D-Lux 5/LX-5 combo…I think Leica would have, at the very least, have to allow someone else to produce the camera, as their production facilities are already taken up by M9’s and lenses needing to be made….

  32. Personally I think it’s down to companies such as Zeiss or Voigtlander who should be looking to produce a cheaper DRF not Leica

    • Zeiss has already said they cannot make a cheap D-Rangefinder. That could change, but they said this a year ago or so.

  33. Ashwin, lovely article. And great comments from everybody. The burgeoning popularity of digital M’s: first the 8 which, even with its known flaws, is still claiming market share used, and now the 9, as well as the mostly positive response to the X-1, the rich buzz about the Fuji X100, and the multiplying like bunnies adapters for Nex and m4/3 all seem to me to suggest that there is an as yet unsatisfied demand out in the marketplace for a return to a simpler and smaller photo taking tool.

    I doubt Leica alone could produce a digital CL-like camera anytime soon. As already pointed out, production capacity doesn’t just appear overnight. But in the proper partnership, say with Cosina… perhaps. I’d love to see that. 10-12 MP Sony CMOS APS-C sensor in a body like you mocked up, Leica firmware, no/low AA filter, proper IR handling, lens coding a la M9, no movies, no bells, no whistles, just a small, simple picture taking machine. With a 1.5x crop, the next step up would be an M9. Unlike the film is film CL vs M-4, they are essentially two different formats. As opposed to hurting M9 sales, I suspect it’d be more likely to produce a whole new set of folks to sell that flagship model to.

    Bring it in body only at 2500 US$ and offer it with a CV 3 lens kit for 4000, including their existing lovely 35/1.4 Nokton, and maybe re-engineer the 20/3.5 and 58/1.4 they now make in Nikon F mount to a M spec. And since we’re in fantasy land, make that f/3.5 an f/2…ah, now you’re talking! Personally, I’d sell every bit of kit I own and borrow the rest for a well executed set up like that. Likely? Ah, sadly, no. But wouldn’t it be grand…

    gg

  34. Ashwin, I think you are mostly wrong. It’s just a matter of time when full format sensors will be as commonplace and inexpensive as are nowadays the APS-C / 4/3-class sensors. Whatever abounds in this class is nothing more than an intermediate stage of development towards the full format. With the next generation of full format bodies, such as a Nikon D4, the lesser full format sensors will be pushed into the consumer market and marginalize, if not swamp away the smaller sensor class.
    I agree with you that Leica should develop a less expensive body below the M9, maybe even with a new mount, and a new, less expensive lens set – but this should, even must be a full format body. I’m sure, that Leica would gain new customer classes who would tear this new system out of their hands.

    • JR, I do agree that it may be a matter of time before everything is full frame, but time is relative. There are too many products (Nikon DX lenses, Canon EF-S lenses) out there, popular, and in production that these companies, the market leaders in photography, will continue to make cropped sensor cameras. Sony just invested over a billion dollars in CMOS technology, if I recall, and sensor diversity will be here for some time. While “full frame” is popular based on its history, I think cropped sensors, including those you mentiuon (APS-C, 4/3) are what’s really here to stay. People were arguing 5 years ago (when the original 5D came out) that that camera was the deathknell for cropped sensors, and here we are in 2011 (nearly), and cropped sensors remain popular. They will remain as a more affordable option, and they are really not going anywhere for at least 5-10 years, if I am reading the tea leaves right….

      I once believed exactly what you currently believe, but market trends seem to suggest otherwise (speaking as a rank amateur that I am)….I doubt that Leica wants to create a new mount. Stephan Daniel, I believe, has gone on record stating that Leica can’t produce another mount (and if so, they’d probably support a R mount, as there is a base of lenses there).

      15-20 years from now, you may be right. At that point, all of this tech will be way cheaper, but by then, this little rant of mine will be completely irrelevant. A digital CL is something I am suggesting for the now and near future….

      • Ashwin, you read tea leaves, whereas me, being of German breeding, I prefer reading coffee grounds. Maybe that’s why my prophecy branches off yours. Despite my appreciation of your optimism in favor of the mid-term usefulness of not-full frame formats, I take up the cudgels on behalf of the full frame formats – for one reason: bigger is better. Compare results from, say, an all-new D7000 to those of a matured D700, or a less matured D3s. The D7000 has to take a step back for Their Majesties. I’m sure the larger formats will enter the broader market. Or, why do you think that Leica decided to evolve the M towards its classical sensor shape, instead of staying with the cropped sensor and developing new lenses for cropped sensors?

    • funny how there is a assumption that 24mm x 36mm will be the standard. Crop sensor cameras are quickly catching up in a lot of areas, and once a d500 type camera with a 1.5 crop can do clean iso 100,000 and up, how many people will genuinly need full frame, which has larger lenses, and more expensive lenses at that.

      I think there will be a split between small sensors (2x and 1.5 crops) and large sensors (645, 6×7)

      • Agreed. There will always be cropped sensors, as they will always be cheaper then full-frame, no matter what. At least for the next few decades.

        Unfortunate though, as having a cropped frame, imo, has been a massive step backwards in both IQ and DOF. I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for a go-to, affordable, manual full frame digital camera to hit the market.

  35. Ashwin, I would completely agree with the idea of a Digital CL line. I have thought about it myself, but, I couldn’t put it in such proper words like you do.

    The idea of the Digital CL is not only for those who would like to join the rangefinder bandwagon, but for me (or us) who is lucky enough to own an M9, but would like a 2nd body and is unable to afford a second M9.

    I have always longed for a second body to accompany my M9, I have tried the M8 again – but after using the M9 for a while, the cost of the M8 is hardly justifiable – especially with their conditions of age, and perhaps of usage. I resorted to using a dSLR such as the Canon 5DmkII and the Sony A900 as a backup camera. Why? Simple, they’re new, and they’re much cheaper than a preowned M8 that’s quite beat up down in my country.

    The Digital CL, with the crop sensor, would also be very suitable for those long range close up shots, paired with a 75mm Cron or Summarit, I suspect it would be delightful, while leaving the 35 Lux on my M9. I can have both picture nuances in the Leica spirit.

    I honestly have trouble combining the files from the 5D or the A900 to match my Leica M9 files. Not that they’re bad – but they’re different. I can’t say how, but I can tell. And I can just sense that my files are compiled from different stacks altogether and doesn’t create the mood that I want. This is especially true in black and white or vintage black and white version. I can never (maybe I suck at editing B&W) mimic the look of Leica’s B&W from any Digital SLR that I have ever used. I have also tried several plugins, including the venerable Nik Silver Efx Pro. Maybe it’s just me – but at least my wife can tell which is a Leica B&W and which is not, even if I have tried my best (maybe – not good enough) to mimic the B&W image using several editing tools. Not to mention, editing will cost me time as well, which is not something I have in abundance.

    So yes, Leica, along with Ashwin, Steve, and many other members here, please please do release a Digital CL. The gimmicks? I don’t really care actually, you can put on, or put off whatever you like in there. Just slap a digital sensor that is good, M-mount, and have the LED lit gridline/viewfinder line, and I would be very happy. 🙂

    Thanks.

    • Hi Norman,

      I think that a lot of this is down to lenses, I use a Sony a900 too and I was thinking the same as you then I finally got a rangefinder (a cheat’s one – the Contax G2, Leica is still over budget for me) and when I used the lenses on my NEX the images instantly looked black and white to me even when they were still in colour. My wife was amazed by how right the images looked in black and white!

      (I’m still not saying a NEX is a CL replacement though!)

  36. Honestly I think this all comes down to the fact that this decade of digital cameras really has been for the dumbed down consumer – gimmicks and plastic.

    There simply isn’t a digital version of the likes of a Nikon FM2 or an affordable rangefinder — Rather, there is always a compromise – no interchangeable lens (fuji x100), no viewfinder (m43’s), crop sensor (pretty much 95% of the market), very expensive (m8/m9), bulky computers at your hip (dslr’s) etc…

    Now that the actual tech is starting to plateau, it does feel like there is a shift about to happen, and we may see more “enthusiast” cameras hit the market… though for now am still shooting rolls of 35 & 120.

  37. Great read. I suggested similar a couple years ago before the M8.2 was released in the form of an entry level Leica system camera (not necessarily a CL because I didn’t know what a CL was then.) This of course was shunned by many Leica purists stating if I wanted something less expensive I shouldn’t look at Leica – which I did in a roundabout way. Bottom line the only photography companies with “entry” system camera prices near Leica are all established MF companies. That’s not to say Leica doesn’t have outstanding IQ with their systems and lenses as it does, but to be honest I didn’t know M cameras existed 3 years ago. It’s not because I wasn’t looking for a photographic tool to fit my wants and needs better than my old Canon gear. Simply put the word isn’t out there on these cameras as they are a niche item. Again not saying it’s bad but you have to continue to grow your customer base. The average college photography student can’t afford a $2000 FF dSLR much less a $7000 camera rangefinder. In the case that they could they more than likely would look at Canon 1D or Nikon DXx systems. It’s what’s popular and that’s a shame because I think more people would appreciate the simplicity and fidelity in the M9 files. On the other hand automation has it’s purpose and dSLR are infinitely more versatile than rangefinder systems for 99% of all photographic applications. People may not like it but it’s true. That being said my only automatic cameras are my Panasonic G1, NEX-5, and D-Lux-4. My “other” camera is a M9 and truth be told I could have bought a more versatile Canon, Nikon, or (more likely for me) Sony FF dSLR. I went back and forth but the Leica M9 is just what I want to use as an intermediate amateur hobbyist.

    • Thanks!!! Great to see you here!!! Agreed that SLR’s are far more versatile tools than rangefinders, but I enjoy the RF experience, as I am sure you do as well…..in all of that versatility and tech, for me the soul is drowned out in a bit of white noise, 45-51 AF points, yada yada….I do have a Canon set up and a 1DIII on hand for those moments, my the M9 is my primary camera these days!

    • problem is that photography students can and do afford $2000 cameras. In my class of 30 or so people theres about 5 5DMII’s, a bunch of 7D’s, bunch of D300’s and yes the rest tend to have less expensive cameras around the $1000 mark like D90’s and such.
      Problem for Leica is that since there is no entry system, in 2 years lets say when the successful ones start to get some profit coming in and have the big budget for a camera system, Leica is not going to be on the radar, even if that persons photography could benefit from the system.

  38. Because 2-2.5k is definitely “affordable” and a bargain… especially when m4/3 models can almost rival Leica quality.
    and I’m pretty sure “mid-level DSLRs” don’t cost quite that much. Seeing as the d90 was only what, nine hundred?

    • “affordable” is a relative term. For those who may be considering a $2500 5DII, that same person may alternatively consider a digital CL….it’s all about how the camera is marketed, and if quality is sufficient. The M9, for all of it’s might, is not here to compete wiht m4/3…totally different bracket….but some M4/3 shooters sure would love a rangefinder instead of EVF focussing…that’s where a digital CL could come in…

  39. Good idea! As an owner of a Digilux 2, I can understand the longing for a digital CL. This camera would be a kind of “new Digilux 2”, but with interchangeable lenses and better sensor. I would, buy and I can live with a smaller sensor. But better solution is a high resolution electronic viewfinder instead of optical M-viewfinder for that camera. Think about 1 million pixel, maye 1.5, that is a good solution.

    But: I think next thing Leica will do, is maybe an X2 (an answer to the X100 from Fuji) with a zoom (e.g. 35-90mm, f2.0-2.4). Also a successor for the Digilux 2, and a good “starter pack” for Leica-fans who will maybe switch to M later. X2 with EVF of course.

    • Dan, I hear you. I’ve been waiting since February. Spoke to my dealer yesterday and he said he might have a couple early next year, at which stage I confirmed that my order is still in his system. It was.

  40. There have probably been people pining for a “cheaper Leica” since 1931. At the end of the day, anyone who says they want a crop-sensor M camera for $2500, but who doesn’t already own an M8, is probably blowing hot air (or waiting for an X100).

    For me, I’ll shoot the X100 or, if that doesn’t pan out, a GF1 or M3, until the M9s fall to $3000 or so. Should be about two years I’d say.

    • Actually, duh, this is where Cosina should step in. Make a crop-sensor M-mount camera, really an updated Epson R-D1 (which Cosina helped on). We don’t need full frame, just Nikon D3100 quality ($650 new with kit lens) in a Bessa body for $2000. Pop on a CV 35/1.4 and you’re shootin’!

      • Nobody is going to make a $2000 niche rangefinder. Not even CV. The epson is $3000 still… and it is outdated 6 MP sensor.

  41. I still think this is wishful thinking. Believe me, I’d love one, but how can Leica chop $4500 of the price of the M9 to make this $2500 camera (while keeping many of the same components)? Sensors aren’t that expensive to make up the cost difference and many of the changes you want Leica to make to make the camera more inexpensive would cost Leica in R&D. The X1 is $2000 and it is nowhere near a digital CL. IF Leica did this CL, it would be closer to $3500-4000.

    If the M9 is expensive to make, then the CL will not be that much less (unless they have Panasonic make it and distribute it like a consumer good in order to move units which doesn’t seem to be Leica’s business strategy).

    Also note that this idea has been floating around the internet for years… especially on the RFF. Leica knows of the idea. I still think they don’t want to cater to consumers. Not all companies want just anyone using their products as weird as that may seem. Myself, I dying for the day I can get away from Leica and their luxury goods. Hopefully the Fuji X100 gets me closer to that goal.

    • Oh, I think the point would not be to use the same components…A digital CL could be made of more affordable components (mag alloy body rather than brass), mechanically made (rather than the hand assembled M9), with an automated production line somewhere in Solms or elsewhere (bring back Midland, Canada production facilitites…hahaha)…

      I think it would be on the order of comparing a Canon 1DsMk IV with with a Rebel T2i…or a Nikon D3100 against a D3x or D3s…very different builds, same SLR concept…if the equivalent Digital CL were made, I’d still expect outstanding build quality for $2,500, but maybe not the fit and finish and hand made assembly that goes into the M9….further, I’d expect a 1.3 or 1.5 x crop sensor to justify pricing the cameras so differently (just like the Rebel T2i, which prices at $600-700, while the 1DsMk III or IV price out at $5-6,000)… Hope that explains why I think there is an opportunity here to build, produce, and market both an M9 and a Digital CL or the like….

      I am fully aware that Leica is aware of this idea, and I have read some of the threads at RFF, GetDPI, and LUF. The arguments and counter-arguments are there….as for product exclusivity, I think the fact that Steve’s site here, which is targeted more an newer RF users, speaks to the growing interest in the community. Whether Leica choses to exploit that is a totally different question, and I agree wiht you, they may want to remain in the Maserati/Ferrari/High End branded arena.

      • Canon ships way more units than Leica… by far. Also, the R&D that is done on one camera can be used on several cameras. That is why they can do the Rebels at the current prices. If Leica built the same Rebel, it would maybe be more than twice the cash. Canon / Nikon have totally different business strategies to Leica. The bottom line is that $2500 is just not going to happen with Leica. The X1 has proved that.

        There has always been a demand for a cheap Leica. However, that doesn’t mean Leica wants to participate.

        • I unfortunately agree, John. While fullframe sensors are certainly more expensive than 1.3x crop sensors, it’s really not that much of a difference in the total price of a $7000 camera. A re-released M8 would probably still be $6000. A digital CL at the $2500 price point with a 1.3x crop sensor would probably have to be made out of plastic. lol.

  42. Great discussion. The problem is that Leica’s whole business model reflects a boutique market. A few years ago the PRS guitar company were able to deliver a product to a much wider market by developing a product in the far east, custom guitars were over £2,000 while the new mass produced product was £600, it was a success.

    My belief is that Leica have no intention of reducing exclusivity of the M line. Stefan Daniel thinks of an M9 being as exclusive as a Porsche 911, in fact he’s even quoted that your first 911 is second hand!

  43. I agree – although it could of been said in less words. 🙂
    I have a GF1 and dream of a digital M with the standard 3 lens kit.

    I’m an average joe, and the step into a M9 – even one lens – is simply too large. As a result I’m currently saving towards a used M8 w/ lens. I’m just a man with a genuine love of photography and telling images. I love the Leica story, the rangefinder process, your philosophy, quality & design. Your cameras are beautifully simple & simply beautiful.

    I’d really like a Leica in hand to help tell my story.

    Btw guys: I’ve haven’t stopped smiling since reading about the M9 contest yesterday.

  44. Great idea, IMO I think the X2 could fit this strategy a well.
    – In stead of fix lens, unfix it and make a set of lenses (and stimulate others to make lenses)
    – include viewfinder
    – improve performance

    • JK

      What we don’t want is to stretch Leica to a third series of lenses when they are having enough problems supplying the existing two ranges.

      If you start adding a viewfinder to changeable lenses, you’re heading into M territory and we know that Leica steer well clear of any threat to their main money earner. I can see that a fixed lens (say 35mm) rangefinder would fit into their lineup without affecting X1 and M sales.

  45. Whoa, awesome and kind responses,everyone. I am on my lunch break at work, did my daily visit to Steve’s site, and was greated by the letter and 40! responses. Leica should take heed, as nearly all responses seem to be in agreement (though I do agree with the comments that a updated Digilux – 2 would be a worthy addition, but not a substitution; those would be 2 different cameras all together). The fact that Digilux-2’s have held value as cameras speaks to their importance in the Leica food chain.

    Hopefully someone over at Leica is reading this and takes pause…

  46. sorry, ashwin, i think you are way off the mark here. i for one sincerely hope leica does not get distracted by another camera right now, especially one that isn’t the very best camera they can manage to produce. they cannot supply their current lineup in a timely fashion; ‘just build a new factory’ is not a realistic solution. (the closest thing to that which /is/ a realistic alternative, they already do, which is to use panasonic’s capabilities where appropriate. i am sure someone, somewhere, must have thought of the potential for the next generation gf3 to be badged for leica… 😉

    furthermore, you yourself have already remarked upon the much better solution to the basic problem. m8 stocks are no doubt going to wear a bit thin in the coming years, and it is getting long in the tooth for a digital cycle. but sometime in the next two years, i suspect, we will have either an m10 or m9.2, and then the same thing you saw happen with the m8 after the m9 was introduced, will happen again with the original m9. enthusiasts will finally have an entry-level ff rangefinder to buy, used or perhaps even new old stock, for a time, at a bargain price. and a great number of us will jump on the chance to obtain the latest, greatest camera … but *only* (and this is important), only if it is the best that it can be. the m9 got a free pass because it managed to deliver a ff sensor (albeit one that is compromised by unwieldy color shifts on the edges, even with standard lenses such as a 28cron or 35lux), and fixed the ir sensitivity. those are both one-off allowances. the next flagship m will need to be better than just not have the flaws and compromises of previous generations; to be a compelling camera, it will need to be better. not *different*; the photographers who choose m camerass (well, me, at any rate) really do not want an electronic vf (though we’ll see about hybrid vfs, if they don’t sacrifice the strengths of the current optical rf), or autofocus, or whatever: we simply want the best capabilities of the m3, and/or the m6ttl, and even of the m9, in digital form. this means:

    1) reliability. not even leica’s current film camera, the m7, meets the basic, bulletproof reliability standards set in the past. what this will mean is a lot of work, mostly invisible to the end user, to improve durability and to make the camera more weatherproof. it also will mean finally redesigning the buttons so they don’t constantly get pushed as you carry the camera, or the camera doesn’t get switched off and then fail to be ready when you need to get the shot. this includes producing a shutter release that is both reliable and delivers a better feel (comparable to the older cameras), and reducing shutter lag time. and it will also mean getting much better battery life out of the system, one way or another. these are all basically areas where the current cameras fail to live up to the standards of leica’s own past. i am positive that leica is aware of these shortcomings, and intend to fix them. we’ll see if they manage to deliver.

    2) improvements. the dynamic range and low light capabilities of the m9 are better than many people think, but i do hope that they will be made even better. i currently find myself making exposures at iso1250, f/1.4, and 1/8 sec on a routine basis; i would eventually like to see performance three stops better (ie, same results i am currently obtaining, but at 1/60 sec). i don’t expect that to happen in one generation, or even two, necessarily (though i hope two will do it). but many of us are running against the limits of the sensor in low light, and genuine improvement here will be a good reason to upgrade. i hope that they prioritize dynamic range and retaining color and detail over simply increasing the base pixel count, but more pixels may be a way to deliver better overall performance, whether through a departure from bayer pattern arrays, or otherwise. another improvement that should be a top priority for leica is to ensure that the camera is always ready to take another picture, by reducing/eliminating full buffer problems, and by increasing the fps (but in the case of the latter, absolutely not at the expense of an even louder shutter/cocking noise–another area where leica fails not only to live up to its own legacy, but even to achieve parity with other, cheaper cameras like pentax).

    3) innovations. this is the portion where leica probably is concentrating too much. there are innovations to the m line which would expand the capabilities and functionality of the camera, such as live view with a well-implemented focus preview, which i would welcome, provided they did not entail compromises to the core qualities mentioned above (and which include the exquisite detail the current sensor delivers at its best). i’ve already mentioned the potential of some sort of hybrid vf; i just hope it is not in the form of the glowing red framelines on the m9ti, a prime example of fixing what ain’t broke, imo. there may be other innovations i don’t even know i want. (this is where apple computer actually diverges from other computer companies, i think.) i just don’t want to lose the things i value now in order to get them.

    anyway, i suspect leica may already have some moves up their sleeves we don’t know about. the fact that they are producing pl mount lenses may be suggestive of a format for them to develop as a brand new line of camera. (not directly for those lenses, at least not exclusively, but something in a compatible format, to leverage that production and design expertise.) but again, i just want to emphasize, i hope they don’t get distracted, bite off more than they can chew, etc. i would rather they did just one or two things extremely well, than to compromise in order to do more things.

    • Hi Chris,
      To be honest, I pretty much agree with everything that you say. And I agree that it’d be wise to caution Leica to not bite off more than it can chew. However, having to have my friends and fellow photogs wait for the M9 to come down in price may not be “fair” either. Those used cameras will be out of warranty, etc…a newer, cheaper option would be great, even if it came from Zeiss of voigtlander….

      Thanks for your well thought out response. It’s appreciated!

      • Thats why we should let Leica do their thing, and hope that Zeiss and/or Voigtlander come to the party at that price point.

        Just because people are waiting for the M9 to drop doesn’t mean that Leica is best to fill that gap. People have always waited for prices to drop. It’s all part of consumerism, and as much as we all love Leica and want to promote it, it’s reputation for high quality with matching pricing is all part of it’s core allure, and the reason we love and lust for the brand.

        Leica should learn from their mistakes with the first CL, and never repeat it again.

        • Kristian,
          I love your work, by the way! Point taken….If Leica can handle it, great, but if not, hopefully someone else would see the need and exploit it to everyone’s gait.

          As for the “mistake” of the prior CL, I am not sure if the same mileu exists and if apples are being compared to apples, given the intervening time. If Leica wishes to brand itself as a conneiseur’s camera, so be it. More options for those wonderful M lenses, from whomever decides to do so, would be great. The long rumored Zeiss Digital Ikon and Digital Bessas have never come, nor has a Epson RD-1s (which actually was announced), but if they do, I think our community would embrace this option as well….I just wish there were an option, and Leica being the market leader in the RF category, would be a nice place to focus such queries….

          Okay, I’ll shut up now 😉

          Best….
          Ashwin

      • True, I’d happily accept a digital option from Zeiss, Voigtlander, Epson etc..
        Something that is a true rangefinder and worthy of good glass.

        As noted below I have a GF1 and dream of a an affordable, solid, non-quirky digital rangefinder.

      • well, i empathize with your wish for the experience we have with our m9s to be more accessible to more people. absolutely. i agree with kristian dowling, below, in that i do hope that some other company or several of them will provide some competition in the digital rangefinder business. i am not sure that the ultimate route will be through crop sensors, either; so much of what attracts many of us to this segment is the opportunity to use classic lenses at their classic fields of view, with the classic dof characteristics, etc. there are plenty of things i would *love* to see from a zeiss/cv team, or from canon, etc, that i don’t think leica should get mixed up in; for instance, it would be cool to see someone bring a ff sensor to a barebones rf body of the zi variety–but keep it down to 10mp, a choice which might make it easier and cheaper to solve some of the big engineering challenges, while at the same time potentially delivering significant low light gains.

        the point is just that i agree that i’d like to see a wider range of options, but that i don’t think leica are necessarily the ones who should tackle it. the cl really /was/ a debacle, albeit well-intentioned and addressing a real demand.

        and, i still think that used m8 and m9 bodies are not such a terrible thing in the greater scheme; nor is a lag of perhaps two or three years behind the latest and greatest. and, of course, there is still film… for many hobbyists, a viable, not-too-expensive option. although if you shoot enough, you quickly blow through the savings over just buying a digital m….

        and in the end, maybe it is worth remembering that part of how digital photography made photography more accessible to many and cheaper to shoot enough to improve, was by shifting costs around to other, not always obvious expenses. many of us think nothing of upgrading our computer and editing programs every few years (and our digital camera, for that matter), and have stacks of hard drives piling up… photography has always been something that took either ready money, or demanded sacrifices from its practitioners. or landing a job doing it… ah, the times they are a-changin’…

  47. In as much as I applaude Ashwin’s initiative to think through the future Leica product portfolio, I don’t think Leica will go down this route. Leica is a small company and (I think) would like to remain a small company. I foresee a strong focus on their M- and S-lines in the future and no digital R. To me, the X1 is not a genuine “Leica”, more of a “bastard” blend of Germany and Japan. Just hold one in your hand and the weight of it does not say “Rolex” but more “Swatch” (plastic watch). If there will be no digital CL (I am quire sure about that), the second hand market of M8s, and later M9s, will cater for the people who cannot afford the new Ms. This will also keep the prices up on second hand Leica digital Ms and this would be in the company’s interest. I own an M9 and I would not have bought a CL-D if it had been available. Affordability is a matter of priority. Look at what people spend on buying cars…..

  48. While I’d like to see a digital CL or a new M8 I’d be very suprised if Leica produced it, a look at
    the used maket for M8/M8.2 shows there price to be plummeting all the time, folks on ebay in the UK
    seem to be hard pushed to sell a used M8 for anything much over £1400 and I’ve seen a few go for around the £1000 mark.

    I just don’t see the demand for such a new model unless it were full frame, I doubt even the up coming X100 will be the big seller that most think it will be regardless of the IQ it produces.

    I’m also one of those people that doesn’t buy in to the whole DSLR’s are huge and heavy nonsense, a 550D and three good quality primes doesn’t weigh in at that much more than an M8 and three primes, sure the quality IMO is a bit better from the M8 but theres no much in it, the cost on the other hand is a big difference.

    But you never know maybe a digital CL would be a big hit, who knows and not much makes sense, look at the m4/3 systems which are selling very well and then look at something like the Samsung NX range, the NX10 isn’t much larger than the Panny G range but it produces better IQ, is better built and costs less.

    My only gripe with your open letter is your last statement, there’s just no proof that using a rangefinder will allow you to take better images than using an SLR digital or film

  49. As you say, the M8 is the “entry level digital M.” Pay up your $2200 and there you go. They could release a crop-sensor 8.3, maybe around $3000 new, but personally I’d rather wait until the used M9s fall to that level (already some are coming up for about $5500). Leica doesn’t have the economies of scale of Panasonic, so for many people the “entry level Leica” will be the GF1, just as one recent commentator noted. The other “entry level Leica” is the M3, no kidding.

    The S series IS the new R series — a top quality SLR. Leica can’t compete against Nikon and Canon in the 35mm-format SLR arena, but it can compete against Hassellblad, and anyway the “I want the best” amateurs are going to MF as it is. If you want a top-quality manual-focus digital SLR, just put a CV 40/2 on your Nikon D3100 and have at it for under $1000.

    In short, Leica, as a small, premium-brand company is doing just what it should, serving a market for quirky, expensive, top-quality cameras. It is amazing that this little shop is doing as much as it is. Going forward, we’ll see an M9.2 in 2011 (for sale in 2012), and two years after that, an M10. And, an X2 maybe with some neat new features (like an optical viewfinder?). More than enough, I’d say. It wasn’t that long ago that they would do new M cameras about once every 15 years, and they were 90% the same at that.

    • A GF1 (and I own one as some of you know) is not an entry level Leica (although its IQ rocks for such a little piece of kitt). But is misses a few things:

      a) A rangefinder

      b) Simplicity and focus (and I don’t mean autofocus) but Zen like focus…..on the essentials

      c) A APS-C size sensor

      d) A normal shuttertime dial

      e) Professional, show off street cred

      It has an LCD display and that just doesn’t cut it under all lighting conditions (which puts gut feeling back into photography but not persee in al way that I like) and is no good for judging IQ anyway after the shot. So a Leica CL which would put a professional, basic rangefinder into my sweaty little hands for two grands would be welcomed. No special lenses please I want to be able to use all glas Leica and others (Zeiss for instance) have concocted over the years. A 3000 dollar lens on a 2000 dollar camera gives better results then otherwise around but an nineteenfifties lens found in a fleemarket for bottom dollars can also produce great results. Okay, call me a romantic but a simple barebones camera with Leice build, yeah give me one!

        • At least you get the experience of shooting without a mirror and a pentaprism to clog up your camera. Personally I like shooting with my old trusted Nikon F5 just as well. But the sheer weight of the bastard combined with the fact that I’m an outside photographer makes who’s subjects are usually quite firmly rooted in the topsoil as not to run away and who does most of his work in the 20-100 range…….hell a Leica or a GF1 are just the thing to have. Small, simple, etc. but my eyesight isn’t improving over the year (farsightedness) so i’ll have to switch to another camera soon (or use varifocal lenses and that creates all kind of problems). A second hand M8 could do the trick but a new CL would do the trick even better. Ad a 35 and a 50 and I’l be a happy chappy.

  50. Hi Ashwin,

    I completely agree with the concept but I can’t really see Leica switching stance – like you said in the letter, they tried it with the CL and then killed it because it was taking away from their core model. I think that the exclusivity is another way to keep the price (and margins) up whilst keeping the costs sensible.

    If they do come down the scale and maybe start live view instead of the normal rangefinder viewfinder then they are pretty much down to Sony NEX levels, hopefully with better build quality but as you can use all of the same lenses on the NEX why would that sell?

    Personally I am still lusting after an M9 as I love photography (the process rather than the images actually – I’m weird – I guess it’s like hunters stalking prey though) and want to use the best tools and get more involved but until I can justify one to my wife (or I can win a competition!) I will have to cling to my NEX as my Leica replacement 🙂 By the way being able to manually focus Contax G lenses is very cool!

  51. Nicely said Ashwin. Though, I think John G’s comments are very close to reality, and Leica will need to see an “entry level” body as a viable luxury platform in a particular market segment in order to produce it.

  52. Careful what you wish for Ashwin. Buying a D3 or 1D mark IV is no longer a product only for professionals. The next thing you know a Leica CL digital is in the hands of the masses and the luxurious brand we all know and love will become a common camera. Snobbishness aside, this is one key attribute that separates Leica from the rest, and with other manufacturers trying to fill this gap them selves with M4/3 etc, it won’t be long before those advantages Leica currently holds become less of an attraction.

    If there is a good update to the Digilux 2 with a built in lens, then thats ok, but building a much cheaper rangefinder camera with interchangeable M lenses will hurt the brand’s core market position.

    I’ll say it again…Careful what you wish….cause you might just get it. Perception might look good, but reality is another thing.

    • I totally agree Kristian. An updated, slightly smaller, M3 Sized/quality Digilux 2 would be THE killer camera filling the gap between the X1 and M9.. It would be a killer I tell you. A killer! 🙂

      • Actually, Fuji beat them to it – the X100, no wait, Leica’s X1? Um, unfortunately not. Slow lens, lack of built in finder and slow AF make it fall a little short. Brands aside I’m very excited about the X100, but oddly I’d pay double or more if it was a Leica, again, cause the X100 will be a mass (ish) market device, even with it’s unique specialization.

        • Still, the X100 only has a fixed lens where as the D2 has a veeery nice 28-90 equiv. zoom.. 🙂 With a modern CCD there would be a not bettwe ISO/lower noise…

    • Thanks, Kristian, for these astute thoughts…

      Yes, brand identity is all important in consumerism, and certainly my vision of Leica and its own vision may not line up…

      I think simply with Rangefinders being what they are (and in many ways more challenging to use than SLR’s, which I have used and enjoyed as well), many people won’t get that interested, having to fiddle with apertures, shutter speeds manually…aghast 😉

      But for those of us who have interest, how cool would it be to have the opportunity to use a digital RF affordably… I was having a conversation with Rob Chisholm, who’s written here before, and he remarked by wondering what type of amazing images may come from some of the talented photogs on flickr/art school/etc, had they the opportunity to use a digital RF…..a consumerist RF would be cool, but you are right, such a RF may not interest Leica as much as it would interest me.

      Regardless, I better stop yapping…thanks for your thoughts, and I too would like to see a Digilux 2 replacement (the Digilux 3 was blah, from what I have heard), and maybe the X1 descendant can be adopted to behave more like a Digilux 2….

      • You’re right about lower price bracket consumers being about to have access to rangefinder cameras, but as much as i’d like to believe that rangefinders have advantages over SLR’s, I still believe that it doesn’t matter what camera a photographer has if they’re talented and willing to learn.

        I do believe it would be awesome for Zeiss and VC to release new M mount cameras, but think that Leica should stay where it is and not deviate away from their current pricing.market positioning strategy.

        At the end of the day we’re all here because we enjoy rangefinder cameras and I come to this forum as an amateur, not the professional I am during my day job – and amateurs need good cameras and not feel ‘too’ restricted’ in photography because of price. It was a great point to bring up Ashwin and commend you on yet another great contribution to this site and Photography on the Web. Cheers!

        Kristian

    • And this is the problem of Leica… they can charge what they want because people who want to be different, regardless of the cost, will pay any price. Great cameras… but I wouldn’t be so afraid of the “masses”.

  53. I will be the first in line. I had a CL before. But the digital age really messed everything up. I hope it happens really soon.

  54. totally agree with this letter, well done Ashwin!!

    if M8 gets reintroduced I would so get it eventually, right now I can only hope for obtaining used M8 at some point…

  55. Ashwin,

    I believe you are right on point. The M9 is a kick in the wallet and especially for enthusiasts, Leica could benefit from being less demanding of their clientele.

    The Apple analogy is interesting because they have done a great job of creating products for all demographics and price points. While a tricked out Mac Book Pro is and always will be expensive, there are plenty options in between. But Leica is not Apple. Maybe Leica is down playing their success, but they don’t have access to the same funds as Apple’s R&D. It seems like they would have trouble coming out with new items platforms every 1-2 years, but who knows.

    A push from enough voices will help Leica along or at least let them know we are chomping at the bit for more options. And what about those poor “R” folks? What a shame.

    • All well said, Adam. Apple was once sort of small market share company as well, but I agree, the intent of Leica and the current reality is that they are a relatively small camera maker and may simply not have resources as does Apple…

      In a way, it’s why I had suggested that Leica not announce a new camera/new mount. They’d thus not be working from scratch…In some ways, if they just recreated a M8 with some sort of automation (or even got Panasonic to do it), that could suffice. At the very least, they’d have more of a base to which to sell their lenses…but the fact that they can’t make enough lenses for its existing base would suggest that they are not ready to create a mass market M for larger RF community.

      Once again, well said that I was writing this letter, given so many of my photo friends were lusting after Leica M’s this holiday, but only 1 ended up getting such a camera…lost opportunity in my eyes…At least if they pay any attention to Steve’s site (which is basically viral marketing for them), they’d know that there’s enough interest out there.

      As for the R lens dilemna, there’s an interesting expose about just that in the current LFI, so hopefully they’ll come up with something for R users, who are having to use those wonderful lenses on Canon, Sony, and Nikon bodies without proper focusing mechanisms to accomplish Manual focus…so sad…

      • I really like your ideas on the topic. It would be great to see Leica open up more options for their audience. Steve has really gathered a magnificent collection of photographers (pro & amateur) and Leica would be wise to listen to his audience.

        And Leica, while they keep saying the “R” line is dead, it keeps coming up. I think they are just going for a more dramatic release.

        • Hope you are right about a reborn R line, Adam. Recently, a trusted source, little birdy told me that he was hearing things about a digital R being whispered about….

          It’s all conjecture, and Leica has repeititively denied an R camera, but they did so as well for a full frame RF camera, and we all know how that turned out…

          Keeping my fingers crossed, as a R digital would prompt me to sell off my Canon set up…though the Pentax K-5 and those FA primes are tempting…

  56. I totally agree with you Ashwin. Think about it this way. Right now, people like me are buying used M8 cameras and either used Leica lenses or Zeiss/Voightlander lenses. Leica makes nothing from this. Seems that they would want to capture that part of the market with the camera. After using the M8, I have fallen in love with rangefinder photography. My collection of lenses and cameras will only grow. I spend between $3-4K every year on photo equipment. I will probably never be at a point where I can sink $7K on a camera at any one time. This entire mentality of buying used cameras would change if they offered a digital rangefinder in the $2500-$3500 price range (either an updated M8 or a digital CL). However, right now I am banking on using my M8 until the prices of the used M9 come down to my price point. In the mean time, I hope to find some used Leica lenses to grow my collection. I am absolutely hooked on rangefinder photography! Leica needs to decide whether they want my money. If not, I will continue to find the product that meets my budget in the form of a used Leica camera.

  57. Nice thinking Ahwin… a CL Digital…why not…

    I still think the solution will come from the East,,,

    A Full Frame Voigtlander R3a-D from mr Kobayashi…….

    Cosina has the knowledge (Epson R-D1), the mindset (mr Kobayashi loves the ‘M’), the have the Quality/Price production right (The R2/3/4 are excellent products), Understands RF photography and last but not least bring an 2 level alternative for Leica M lenses to the table, Voigtlander and Zeiss ZM

    IMHO Cosina is capable and ready for your Leica M8.3/CL Digitak, but most likely mr Kobayashi will leap your thinking and go for the 2500$ FullFrame…. R3a-D….

    Well Ashwin…that one will shake the tree !

    • A $2500 full-frame RF camera is a nice idea, but remember that Canon and Nikon are selling $2500 full-frame SLRs (5D2 and D700), and that is with huge economies of scale. For a small outfit and low volume, you’d have to charge $4000+, which means even lower volume, and then you’d be right there with the M9 splitting an already tiny market. A more likely course is that the wholesale costs of full-frame sensors come down enough that the big guys are selling $1000 full-frame SLRs, and then we get a $2500 full-frame RF.

      I think most people want an M9 but for less money. The M9 is actually priced about right in my opinion.

      I think a better way to provide an “entry level Leica” is to upscale the X1, with a proper viewfinder and a lens that is not so dorky (non-telescoping). In other words, a Leica version of the Fuji X100. Another way is to provide Leica autofocus fixed primes for the micro-4/3s cameras.

      • See below, the best solution as I see it is an APS-C M-mount cam from Cosina, either a Voigtlander or Zeiss Ikon brand. Get an existing camera maker like Nikon or even Pentax to do all the digital work, plug it into a Bessa body and you’re good to go. $2000.

      • Ashwin & NL

        Yeah I hope so too.

        NL talks about economy of scale, I agree, but there are new players who are looking at RF or EVIL or whatever Mirrorless design, diffrently. And Kobayashi-san as you name him respectfully is a special guy, one with a dream, and those people can surprise us very much….
        Also Panasonic and Samsung can be in the market of what now is opened by Fuji with their X100…and a FullFRame is a matter of time there.

        And I still think that Canon and Nikon are debating internally about their brand-Image and what a RF can do for that, they where in that game years ago.
        And the Fuji X100 ViewFinder is maybe nice enough for a mainstream RF like camera.

        I remember The japanese making motorcycles more perfect than Harley-Davidson, but finally they stepped down more to the technology which makes Harley unique

        So I put my future hope on Mr Kobayashi-san (I like that)

  58. This is a good idea. If you look at all the new products Leica introduced at Photokina 2010, you will see how those will be driving new business in the coming year(s). But what is after that? Leica will be needing some new products to keep the expansion running. The M9 and S2 is booming now, and so are small cameras, new exotic lenses and sports optics.

    Leica must be thinking, what’s next? And the CL is a great ideal, leading to more M9 and M10 sales as well in the coming years.

    They should postpone an M10 and downsize an M9 to a CL (with a thought about the Leica Digilux 2), and perhaps a few more Summarit-M f/2.5 lenses to go with it.

    • Thanks, Thorsten! I was reading your site when the idea started to germinate, actually. For any of you interested, Thorsten has one of the best Leica sites in the world, full of great tips, beautiful pics, videos, essays, and forward thingking….

      Agreed that a new Digilux 4 would be a welcome addition, along with increased Summarit options (21 or 28 summarits would be welcomed, I’d suspect)….

      • Thanks. I think a price range around Canon 5D Mark II with kit lens is a good starting point, adding a little on top because it’s a Leica. The 2,500 – 3,000$ range seem to be what a lot of people are willing to pay to get a serious camera that can perform as a professional camera but is not actually top of the line.

        As for the Digilux 4… yes, they should consider that too. I don’t know how serious or how far they have advanced with AF for M cameras, or digital viewfinders (EVF) but where the M9 is the ideal camera, it also requires that one rethink photography back to simplicity, and learn to trust ones eyes in focusing again.

        What distinguishes the Digilux 2 i that people returning to “real” photography can pick it up and get great results, silent, compact and all, with controls that they know from the “real” cameras. The M is a bit higher learning courve, but if a CL – on top of a reasonable price – would be as easy to use and get results with, it would fill the gap of both a reasonable priced Leica M and a intro-camera to real photography.

        hmm, did I really write that. Forget the Digilux 4

  59. Ashwin – great letter and you make excellent points in this. I have a friend or two also in similar situations – who would love a rangefinder for it’s size and IQ, but find the entry price way too high. And I am a used M8.2 owner and the only way I could do it was, when it was half it’s price earlier this year. And now I am waiting for the next M to be introduced, so I can buy a used M9 at a discount.

    The Apple example is great as well. They have done a brilliant job, and I think Leica can learn from them.

  60. I seem to remember that Steve predicted something like this just before Photkina, an EVIL camera system with three lenses. Also when chatting after the NY street shoot I got the distinct impression that there might well be something on the cards along these lines.

    For me it would have to have as good a sensor as the M8 without the IR issues and in a smaller lighter body with interchangeable M lenses. I would buy it and pass my M8 to my daughter thereby getting the next generation hooked into Leica.

  61. I will go and buy a sleeping bag………yeps out in front of the store kind of stuff. But please, I don’t want to shell out money for an AF whicvh focusses lightning fast on something I don’t want in focus anyway :-). Just the bare essentials. Sensor, apperture priority auto and full manual lightmetering and all manual controls (ISO, shuttertime(1/2000 second to 2 and B and A for auto)) and NO LCD-DISPLAY WHAT SO EVER! Make it a digital camera with an analog feel. The NO LCD-DISPLAY makes it stand out in the world of the digital camera. No fancy merde (<- pardon my French) burried in menu after menu, no endles posibilities to evade, just a photographers tool. Think 1960…….but with RAW files instead of Kodachrome 25.

    • I like this no LCD idea! 🙂
      Think of how much cheaper it would make things, there would need to be some kind of counter however, so maybe just a basic LCD with a memory and battery meter..
      I would buy that in a heartbeat.

  62. My wish is for an updated digilux2. This has to be one of my favorite travel cameras! The lens was amazing.

  63. Why not put an ordinary optical viewfinder into the X1? X2 then? (similar to the one in the Z2X – hopefully better…)
    Rangefinder enthusiasts just need that, and not a darn screen at arm’s length.

    • The optical viewfinder and the mechanical cam focusing mechanism is where much of the cost of the M9 is located, due to all of the manual fitting and adjusting required.

      • Not really for the viewfinder I have in mind. The X1 has AF and a fixed lens. All what I suggest is to have a an optical viewfinder built in the camera body rather than a separate one attached on the hot shoe. See Z2X…or maybe like the Fuji Finepix 100, the latter one being more expensive to produce.

    • Completely agree.

      With no viewfinder, the X1 is worth about $700 to me, maybe $1000 because the lens is so good. An interesting toy, but not a serious camera.

      With a viewfinder, even just a simple window, I’d consider paying the $2000.

      Add-on viewfinders that sit on top of the camera (and can snag on clothing, or fall off) are a return to the 1930’s. Google “Balda”, “Welta”, or “Franka” for pictures.

  64. Ashwin, thanks for this interesting read, once again.

    Last year, after the M9 was announced, I asked the Chief of Product Management at Leica (Stefan Daniel) why the M8 was discontinued instead of keeping it alive as an entry-level M-camera. I explained that I would not have stepped into RF photography if the only option had been the M9 with its corresponding price tag (Euro 5,500 in Germany).

    Back then in November 2009, his answer was:
    Production capacity for these cameras is not easily scalable, they were having difficulties increasing output from just one product line (M9)…. they could not do 2 product lines (M8 plus M9)
    And….. at a lower retail-price of, let’s say, Euro 3,000 for an “entry-level” M8, they could not cover their cost of production.

    Some of these circumstances may have changed…. but somehow I still doubt that in the short term Leica will be able to offer a camera as you described (CL-D or M8.3)

    Why should they offer a cheaper product with, inevitably, a smaller margin, when they can continue selling all M9’s they can produce…. up until the M10 is ready to hit the market?

    So the biggest “threat” is actually that Cosina / Voigtlaender will step into the ring and offer an RD-2 or Zeiss Icon-D.

    Anyway, exciting perspectives!

    • Thanks for the informative response, Christian…. I think it has been Leica’s argument that their production facilities simply cannot meet the demands of an expanded consumer base, and that’s the bottom line….

      The M9 may have opened up more funding for Leica, and it may be wise to look to the future (which really is now for this company)…..As for making a cheaper alternative, I do think that there are plenty of folks who won’t spend on an M9 but would spend to buy a cheaper alternative….

      I agree that Cosina and/or Zeiss may come into the game sooner, and if so, great…diversification drives innovation!

  65. Ashwin

    Great letter. I only hope that someone is listening. You have to wonder sometimes.

    I do think that with such a body, and a whole new group of photographers starting out with a Leica, lens production will certainly need to be looked at. There will be a huge demand, and if it can’t be met in a reasonable amount of time, there will be some level of frustration.

  66. Wonderful letter. I totally agree. I’m one of those that would love a Leica M, but simply can’t afford/justify the cost of one. Not only that, the M system still has some short comings that would require me to buy a second camera, so that’s even more cost. In the last 3 years I have bought and sold 5 DSLR’s, 2 high end P&S’s, one m4/3’s camera, and a Sony NEX 3 in an attempt to find a digital camera I like (I always buy used so I can sell without taking a loss). I even switched back to film twice because I couldn’t find a digital camera that doesn’t get in the way of taking photos.

    Ricoh withstanding, Japanese manufactures have totally forgotten how to make simple cameras for purists. There is no digital Pentax LX or Olympus OM for us to use as a cheaper alternative to a Leica M like there was in the film days. A digital Leica CL could solve that issue.

    However I would take it one step further. While I am obviously an advocate of simplicity there are times when I need lenses longer than 90mm’s and also times when I need autofocus (off camera strobe in one hand, camera in the other comes to mind). If they include live view and an external EVF that would solve the telephoto and ultrawide issues; and basic autofocus ala the Contax G2 would solve the AF issue for times when I can’t focus manually.

    I have no idea how much such a camera would cost, but $2000-3000 seems like the ceiling for me, as well as most other serious budget minded photographers I know. Even then, many will have a hard time justifying a $3000 APS-C camera seeing as how something like a Canon 7D is only $1500, so perhaps ASP-H would be a better sensor size for a digital CL.

    • Eric

      I think that AF isn’t on the cards. Leica are having enough problems meeting lens demand without splitting their lens production even further by bringing another lens lineup which could be thought of as AF M.

      • I’m sure it would be a problem for them, but they really wouldn’t need that many AF lenses. Perhaps just a 35mm or 50mm to start. Then later on release a wide angle and portrait lens. Perhaps they could even partner with Panasonic for their AF lenses. I can’t speak for everyone in this market, but I am perfectly content with manual focus 90% of the time, but there some things I do where manual focus just isn’t possible, and I really don’t want to buy into a second camera system for something I’d only use 10% of the time.

  67. I have an analog CL and would love a digi version of it. It’s small/compact and feels good in the hand. Iy would also make a great back-up for existing M owners.This is a collaboration I could see happening with Panasonic as they’re already working so much together. I think a suggested price tag of 1200 euros for body only would be a maximum. Could Leica keep up with new lens production to satisfy such a product? Good business either way for them – sell more M mount bodies, sell more glass 🙂

    • I think you’ve made a point. Lens production. With all those people buying used M8’s and needing lenses, the availability of Leica lenses is at an all time low. People are already looking at Voigtlander and Zeiss for lenses because they can’t get Leica glass. This situation will only get worse with the introduction of a digital CL. Not that I’d mind because I agree that there is a huge hole between the X1 and the M8/M9.

  68. Hi Rao, thank you for expressing the feelings of many photographers.
    I’ve been shooting with my m4-p and summicron 35 4th for over 22 years, it’s even getting a cla right now (i miss it so much) and i dont think the M9 can give me that king of longevity so for me the ROI isn’t enough for 7000$,
    I’ve been considering a used M8 but as you mention it’s getting old and electronic being what it is…. i’m a bit scared.
    For sure the market is there for a CL and if Leica don’t fill it then others will do.
    Think about it for a sec, cossina used to build body for Olympus, imagine a bessa or a zeissikon build around an olympus EP1 or another hybrid.
    Epson may also come up with a new body.
    For the time being i have to rely on my poor man’s Dx4 (Lx3) for digital and keep shooting my M4-p.

  69. Agree Ashwin
    Leica has a huge product gap. When asked about this in Germany last year, I heard Stephan say that the m8 was the introductory rangefinder. However, as you point out, this will not be true for long. I now have a NEX as my m8 backup, but I would LOVE to have the NEX sensor and electronics in my m8.

    If I were Leica, I would work with sony to develop the camera and keep costs down.

    Nice letter, hope they listen

    Jonathan

  70. Great and alluring idea; I wholly support it (not that they’ll do it of course).

    As for MF digital SLR’s? A slight correction here. Get a decent dslr body (D700), get some Zeiss ZF.2 glass, and you’re all set!

    • The problem with that is size. The D700 is a monster of a camera. The M9 is the only full frame camera on that makes for a good travel, hiking, and street camera. I’ve been using a Pentax K7 lately since it’s the only smallish well-built DSLR on the market. I’ve been fairly pleased with it when pairing it with manual focus k-mount glass. I do however miss the full frame DOF control and the large FF view finders. It’s a shame manufactures aren’t aware there people like me that prefer the shape and size of a Olympus OM opposed to a 5D Mk II. Hopefully the upcoming Sony NEX-7 or pro-grade Olympus PEN will fit my needs when they’re released in a few months.

      • Let’s not get into the size (and weight) thing again Eric; je vous plait? I was just attempting to nuance Ashwin’s excellent article on this tiny particle of it, without wanting to go into that whole pathetic, well beaten to death weight and size argument.

        Michiel

        • P.s.: you want to see a monster of a camera? Try the Contax RTS III with some Zeiss glass on for size (I just received one as a gift). My D700 looks and feels positively small compared to that machine.

          Try to exercise a little; it’ll help you get a more positive outlook on life and carrying things 😉

          • Hmm, after carrying a D2X & 18-200 about for a few day’s on a trip thanks but no thanks to heavy cameras on a trip or holidays. Just ruins your enjoyment.

            So glad I packed my M6 as a backup in the boot of the car, just stuck that and a 35 in my pocket today and actually enjoyed a brisk day out in the country and missed nothing that the heft of the Nikon would of provided other than worsen my arthritic pain. So often in life less is more. 😉

  71. I couldn’t agree more that Leica needs something in between the X1 and the M9, personally I think re-introducing the M8 (with the worst of it’s flaws removed of course). Even if Leica handed over manufacture to the far east to keep costs down, I doubt most people would care.
    I also think they should do something similar for film cameras, keep the MP as a top-end, semi-religious trinket, and bring the price of the M7 down to compete with the Ikon etc…

    I use an M6, but would never buy a new Leica, not because I can’t afford it, but because I don’t think they are worth the money over competitors products, simple as that.

    The comparison with Apple is interesting, but the thing with Apple products, is, yes, they are a little more costly, but with a few exceptions, the extra money is worth it. With, say, an M7 vs Zeiss Ikon, it isn’t, to be honest, even at the same price, I’d probably get the Ikon, due to the flaws of the M7 (DX coding? Really?)

    The M8/M9 are in a different boat to the M7, as there simply isn’t an alternative, I’d love to see a digital FM3a or Pentax LX, but I don’t see it happening. Leica needs to capitalize on this, if you want a digital camera that isn’t a lump of black plastic, then Leica is the only game in town (the X100 is about to change this, but it’s a fixed lens).

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