During the photokina 2012 Leica’s CEO Alfred Schopf and several product managers answered questions from the Leica Forum.

Thanks to Phillip for the translation!

Leica Forum Q&A Session PanelParticipants

  • Maike Harberts
  • Jesko v. Oeynhausen
  • Stephan Schulz
  • Stefan Daniel
  • Alfred Schopf
  • Jean-Jacques Viau

Question: Are there any products you can name where Leica took the wishes of their customers into account, and how?

Stefan Daniel: Both the LEICA M and the LEICA S are based on comprehensive market surveys and interviews with customers, all of which were considered during development. Where this appears to be not the case it’s for technical reasons which can be explained. We try to implement customers’ wishes, combined with our own ideas.

Alfred Schopf: At the last photokina meeting the question of a solution for the R lenses has been raised. I could not give out any details, Leica being a public company. I said only that “we could imagine that something might be forthcoming”. Someone then asked whether that would be within their lifetime. We now present the LEICA M with the adapter for R lenses. This shows that we act on the questions in the Forum.

Question: Will Leica return to primarily making gear for “normal” photographers or will you cater even more to the tastes of “oligarchs, gas barons, nabobs and nouveau-riche chinese”?

Alfred Schopf: Let me quote an article about our presence in photokina:

“Leica is the only manufacturer which seems to understand that it’s about the pictures and less about gear and technology.”

That’s what we want to demonstrate here at the exhibition. Please have a look at our gallery and take the time to appreciate the strength and beauty of the photographs. We’re in the business of making equipment with which to make that possible. The rest of the exhibition boasts of megapixels and such and scarcely shows any photographs at all. Two thirds of our presence here is dedicated to photographs and only one third to products. There might even be some oligarchs among the visitors of our exhibition. If so, they did not let themselves be recognized. Most of our visitors are ordinary people who can afford Leica products or who want to have them.

The LEICA M-E embodies our program „Pure Rangefinder Photography“. It’s essentially an M9 even more puristically aimed at the needs of photographers.

Question: An EVIL system camera has been announced some time ago. Can we still expect one?

Stefan Daniel: We do not speculate. We’re not happy about the interview which started that rumour. We feel that it rather misrepresented what was said. However, we know that there is a gap between the X2 and the M, both in terms of pricing and features. We do not comment on possible future products.

Alfred Schopf: What was asked was whether Leica was going to make cameras with Live View. We’ve given the answer with the LEICA X2 and the LEICA M.

Question: Will there be something like the Leica Digilux 2?

Stefan Daniel: No comments on possible future products.

When will there be an update for the firmware of the X2 which allows the use of shorter exposure times in Auto ISO?

Maike Harberts: We published an update for the firmware after its introduction. At the moment we are planning on doing another update which will address this issue among others.

Question: Will you continue to produce the M7 and the MP?

Stefan Daniel: Yes, we will continue the production of the M7 and the MP. There is a continuing demand. While things remain that way we will keep on offering those cameras.

Alfred Schopf: We will certainly not cease the production of our analog M in the year of Leica’s centennial.

Question: Will the M-Monochrom remain part of the M-System for the foreseeable future?

Stefan Daniel: We want to keep the series of that type. The Monochrom is very successful and we can imagine that there might be a Monochrom variant of the new model. The camera is addictive.

Alfred Schopf: We are shipping the camera only since August. Therefore, there is not much experience with the camera “in the wild”. The reactions of those who actually held one ranged from euphoric to enthusiastic.

Question: What’s Leica’s position on upgrading the M9 to a M9.2, M10 or possible variants? When will there be official upgrade offers from M9 or M9-P to M-Monochrom and what would be the price range for such upgrades?

Stefan Daniel: Upgrading cameras used to be a long tradition with Leica: Leica I to Leica III and IIIc to IIIf. We even offered to upgrade the M8 to M8.2. Alas, an upgrade is not that simple for digital cameras. The interfaces between the components are very tight. You can not just swap one sensor for another one, or the main board, the display or the battery. You’d have to swap the whole camera.

This is also true for the Monochrom: The hardware and the main board are completely different from those of the M9. An upgrade would cost roughly two thirds of the price of a Monochrom. We don’t feel that this is sensible, economically speaking.

Question: What exactly is it with the displays for the M8?

Stefan Daniel: One of several lots of the displays used in the M8 was flawed. They could develop what is known as a „Coffee Stain“, a partial discoloration of the display. The affected cameras were in perfect working order and all menus could be operated, but it certainly looked ugly. At the time the problem became known the vendor of the part did not produce it any more. Therefore, Leica could not re-order the parts.

We then used the remaining stock of good displays for the repairs of M8s until it was depleted. At the same time we tried to build our own solution using other displays with the same dimensions. However, it flickered quite badly and was therefore not an adequate solution.

Because of this we offer replacement with a LEICA M9 if the LEICA M8 is still in warranty. After the warranty we offer the replacement with an additional payment. The amount of the payment depends on the camera‘s age. This is not a good solution. This sort of problem must not occur again.

The display in the M9 looks like the one in the M8. It is, however, a different type and made by another manufacturer.

Question: Why can not other displays be used?

Stefan Daniel: We can not use the displays mentioned in the forum, even though the specifications are the same. They will not work with the electronics in the M8.

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: As we’ve already mentioned, we tried a replacement but its quality was too poor.

Question: How many cases have there been so far?

Stefan Daniel: The flawed display was used in a few hundred out of a production of several ten thousand cameras. We’re speaking about a few percents, at most. If you have this problem, please contact our Customer Care and you will receive our offer.

Question: How much will the update cost?

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: The offer will be attractive in any event, much less than in other circumstances.

Jean-Jacques Viau: Some of the prices mentioned in the Leica Forum were much too high and did not correspond to the official prices set by Leica. This has now been coordinated all over the world.

Question: Are the serial numbers of the cameras known which are bound to develop the coffe stain?

Stefan Daniel: We’re afraid not. There is no correlation between the camera’s serial number and the flawed displays.

Question: What causes the coffee stain?

Stefan Daniel: It appears that the problem is compounded or accelerated by heat.

Question: Does it affect the M8.2 as well?

Stefan Daniel: Yes, the M8.2 is affected as well. The problem occurred during the transition from the M8 to the M8.2.

Question: Will the warranty apply if the display becomes defective for other reasons?

Stefan Daniel: Yes, the offer for the update will be made in that case, too.

Question: I have an M8 with a defective LCD and lack the funds for the offered update for the M9. What do I do?

Andreas Jürgensen: This is not an official statement by Leica: In this case I would offer the Leica M8 in the forum’s Buy&Sell section with reference to the update program. The prospective buyer then would use it as a token to buy an M9 for a reduced price.

Question: Does Leica guarantee a continuing supply of batteries for the M camera series?

Stefan Daniel: The LEICA M battery is based on standard cells which are well-established in the OEM market. Thus the supply with batteries is secured. The battery for the LEICA M-E is identical to the M8 and M9. The M-E is based on the M9.

Question: Can we ask you for a statement on the “lifelong endurance” which is mentioned in some of the marketing materiel?

Stefan Daniel: We can’t maintain this ambition. Providing a warranty or even repairs over the entire life time or even decades is a hopeless task. We aim to be able to repair our cameras at least 10 years after the last production run. That’s how we set up our stocks of replacement parts.

Question: Are the M9 and the M9-P still being produced?

Stefan Daniel: No, they are not being built any more. The last ones have been made in July and August.

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: You will still find some in the shops. We do not have any on stock any more.

Question: How many Leica M9 have been produced in all?

Stefan Daniel: Sorry, we do not publish any numbers. Our competitors would like to know that. However, the number of cameras produced was similar to the best times in the analog era.

Question: Does Leica consider the camera a success?

Stefan Daniel: The camera was exceedingly successful. Many customers bought it who did not buy any Leica cameras before.

Question: Will the LEICA M-E be available in other colours?

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: No, the LEICA M-E will be available in anthracite-grey paint only.

Question: Will you offer it in black chrome?

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: No, we will not.

Question: Is it possible to remove the logo from the M-E?

Stefan Daniel: No, we are not prepared to do that. It would not be useful as there is a screw behind the logo.

Question: Why is the LEICA M-E already available while there is only a very modest number of Monochroms available, even though it has been announced in May?

Alfred Schopf: The Leica Monochrom is an entirely new product which took longer to bring into production.

Question: Will there be updates to the M9 firmware which will make storing images faster?

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: It is not possible to increase the storage speed of the M9 any more. Further updates of the firmware will only be produced to support the use of new lenses with the M9.

Stefan Daniel: Modern SD cards are very sensitive of voltage changes during writing. In the course of taking a picture – opening, closing and re-cocking the shutter, reading the sensor, writing to the card – the voltage changed at times so much that the card or the camera failed. We have tuned the procedure to avoid that kind of failures. As a consequence the process is a bit slower in order to increase the security of the writing procedure.

Question: What can a M9 photographer do who does not want to use the new cards?

Stefan Daniel: He might want to downgrade to an earlier version of the firmware.

Andreas Jürgensen: The forum could offer previous versions of the firmware for downloading.

Question: What are the features of the CMOSIS sensor for the LEICA M?

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: The sensor has been designed particularly with the M and R lenses in mind. That’s why we chose CMOSIS. Given the optical design of some M lenses, the light strikes the sensor at a quite oblique angle. This necessitates a very shallow profile for the pixels on the sensor.

Some advantages of the sensor are:

  • It uses very little power, allowing many more exposures with a single charge of the battery.
  • It produces less heat, thus reducing the noise level.
  • The signal-to-noise ratio is excellent. We will publish sample exposures as soon as the development of the firmware is done. We are very pleased with the image quality, even at ISO 6400.

Alfred Schopf: The design of the chip is the property of Leica Camera AG. It can be produced wherever we choose. It was important to have a sensor along with the MAESTRO processor which is optimally tuned to our lenses and to which Leica holds all intellectual property rights. CMOSIS is a system house with a long experience in the development of sensors. The proprietary chip design goes a long way towards a system our customers can trust.

Question: Will the cooperation with Jenoptik continue?

Stefan Daniel: We now have the complete chain under our control, from lens through sensor and processor to the writing to the card. This is important to us because we need these core capabilities to be independent from outsiders. We had to depend on Jenoptik for the handling of the issues with the SD cards. Coping with that kind of problem is not simple if you can not do that in-house.

Jenoptik still builds the electronic parts for both the LEICA M-E and Monochrom. They also connect the sensors with the electronics, ensure their proper operation and forward them to Solms for assembly. Jenoptik is therefore a subcontractor and not a partner for development any more. They are very reliable and deliver good quality. The cooperation has been very pleasant for all.

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: The LEICA M sensor electronics are not made by Jenoptik.

Question: Does the LEICA M have a new shutter?

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: Yes, the shutter is a new development. We needed one which remains open while in live view mode and shut in rangefinder mode. The shutter sounds differently: faster and more gentle. It’s characteristics are changed. You have to make up your own mind about it.

Question: Who makes the EVF2?

Stefan Daniel: We buy the EVF2 from Olympus which is the best we can buy. We could see no need to make our own viewfinder.

Question: Does it have the same socket as the PEN?

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: Yes, it’s the same.

Maike Harberts: If you have an Olympus EVF, you can buy a LEICA M or an X2 to use it with. It’s the same EVF as the one used with the X2.

Question: Can the interface to the EVF be upgraded?

Stefan Daniel: It’s our aim that both viewfinders and cameras remain exchangeable.

Question: Does Leica think about a possible AF-system for the M?

Alfred Schopf: We think all day long [laughter in the audience] -No comment on future products.

Question: Is there any reason not to make an “entry level Leica” with a price point below 3000 Euros, M lens socket, full format sensor, production by a partner under Leica’s quality standards?

Stefan Daniel: Such a camera would certainly open new markets. However, if we apply Leica’s quality standards we can not produce it at that price point. The entry level Leica is a used Leica or – as of now – the LEICA M-E, based on the M9. The tools are paid for so that we can pass the reduction in costs to our customers.

Question: Why did you omit the frame selection lever from the new M and M-E?

Stefan Daniel: Dropping those mechanical parts from design allowed us to reduce production costs. The camera still shows the correct frames, of course.

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: I can suggest that in order to view different frames you can attach the body cap in different orientations.

Question:How does the adapter for R lenses work? Is there any transmission of certain functions such as those needed for automatic exposure or lens recognition?

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: There are no electronic parts in the adapter. It’s a purely mechanical device. It has a 6 bit code which lets the camera recognize that the R adapter is mounted. The camera’s menu then offers a selection of about twenty R lenses. Those have been tested and calibrated to ensure perfect quality of the image. This does not mean that other R lenses will yield poor results. We covered the whole range of focal lengths. You will get good results by simply selecting a similar lens. Depending on the market’s acceptance we might add some more lenses to the menu.

Question: Are there any tests or recommendations as to using the M socket and the R adapter with particularly heavy R lenses?

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: Yes, we have totally redesigned the new M from the ground up. Its construction is very sturdy. The tripod socket now is part of the body and no longer in the bottom plate. The R adapter has its own tripod socket which can be screwed off.

Question: Is the ROM in the R lenses still used?

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: No, it does not fulfill any function with the R adapter.

Question: Will the Visoflex lenses work?

Stefan Daniel: That would have to be tested.

Question: Can you attach the old Visoflex?

Stefan Daniel: The LEICA M has the same dimensions as the LEICA M9. Hence, it ought to fit.

Question: What can you tell us about production capacities?

Alfred Schopf: Two years ago Leica has made 800 lenses each month, now we make 3200. However, customers overwhelmed us such that the demand still exceeds our capacity. By the end of this year there should be 4000 lenses made and the target for 2014 is 5000 lenses. After the relocation to the new facilites in late 2013 or early 2014 the capacity ought to grow even more.

Seeing the resonance here in photokina I fear that our products will remain a bit scarce. We do our utmost to increase capacity, but we will not risk compromising the quality of our products. We much prefer complaints about delivery times over complaints about defects in quality.

Question: Will there be a 6 bit code for the 1:3.4/135mm lens?

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: Yes, we will repair this oversight.

Question: Has the LEICA M grown in size? Why so?

Jesko v. Oeynhausen: The body has NOT grown in size. Its thickness is eactly the same as the LEICA M9 and the LEICA M-E. The confusion stems from the way the body has been measured. The distance from the lens socket to the thickest part of the display is 42mm. The thickness of the M9 was given as 39mm. This, however, was the thickness of the top cap. The top cap of the LEICA M is less than 1mm more than that.

Alfred Schopf: The bodies have still the same size. The batteries are much larger because their capacity has increased.

Question: Will left-handed people be able to use the camera?

Stefan Daniel: It’s optimized for use with the right hand. A handle for left-handed use would be conceivable. We’ll put this down as a suggestion.

Question: Will the Summarit line of lenses be expanded?

Stefan Daniel: Let me expand a bit on this: After the announcement of the Apo Summicron some people feared that we would only build very expensive lenses for more than 5000 Euros for the super-rich customers. This is not the case at all. The Apo-Summicron is not the successor to the Summicron. We carry both in parallel.

The new Apo-Summicron represents the leading edge in lens construction and is an extraordinary lens. We do not intend to revise our assortment of lenses such that existing lenses are replaced by more expensive ones.

Question: Will there be lenses for the M with longer focal lengths than 135mm?

Stefan Daniel: No comment; we will tell you – when and if. However, there are wonderful R lenses with longer focal lengths. We’re convinced that presently there will be adapters by third parties – e.g. by Novoflex – which will let you attach other lenses.

About the Author

Andreas is Photo Enginer and lives in Bonn, Germany. He runs the international Leica Forum, the Systemkamera Forum (about CSC cameras) and the Fuji X Forum. Google+

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6 Responses to “Leica photokina Q&A Session”

  1. Robert Coles says:

    Thanks to all responsible for this report. It gives us a much better understanding what Leica is today and where they may be taking the company.
    Bob

  2. Konstantin says:

    Many thanks for the detailed transcript and the great interview. Very interesting insights and some confirmations (and disconfirmations) of rumours. Cheers, KM

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Excellent and useful report, but–why didn’t someone ask when the M series will be thinned down? It’s too thick and heavy–the analogue cameras are much easier to use.

  4. Deidre Cam says:

    Excellent report and very enlightening. But just one correction:
    As a “normal photographer” you don’t have to aspire to be an “oligarch,gas baron, nabob” or the “nouveau riche” member of any race on earth to own Leica gear.
    Just follow these few simple rules: don’t shop, drink alchohol, smoke anything, inject or pop anything, never travel, take no holidays and don’t party. Don’t keep pets or kids. Remain focused on these simple rules and you will soon find that really you CAN afford Leica gear.

  5. [...] a recent interview with Leica executives l-camera-forum asked about the previously rumored Leica mirrorless system camera: Question: An EVIL system camera [...]

  6. Joseph CS LI says:

    Interesting interview!
    The things I am most concern is whether the R lenses can be used on the M-E via the R-M adapter and still has the focus peaking and the function of Leica EVF2 as I do not need film making or video.

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