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Leica's future rides on M9 (and S2)


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It has been apparent for some time that Leica was in trouble financially. I think management finally came to grips with the fact that the S2 strategy was a mistake and rushed an M9 to market as a hail marry pass. Why do I say rushed, what's the evidence? First, is the only significant change is the larger sensor. All of the other changes are basically firmware changes they could have put in the M8.2. The lack of time to incorporate the Maestro integrated chip set (wasn't that supposed to be one of the benefits of the S2 development?) the lack of time to incorporate body slimming enhancements, the lack of improved LCD, sensor cleaning, electronic frame lines and many other features that could have improved the camera all point to a rush job.

 

We will have to see if the strategy works. :)

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{snipped}Why do I say rushed, what's the evidence? First, is the only significant change is the larger sensor. All of the other changes are basically firmware changes they could have put in the M8.2. The lack of time to incorporate the Maestro integrated chip set (wasn't that supposed to be one of the benefits of the S2 development?) the lack of time to incorporate body slimming enhancements, the lack of improved LCD, sensor cleaning, electronic frame lines and many other features that could have improved the camera all point to a rush job.

{snipped}

 

Actually, John, there were so many people who thought that Leica couldn't make a full-frame digital rangefinder (that it was "beyond the laws of physics" and such) that saying "the only significant change is the larger sensor" really betrays a jaundiced perspective.

 

I think if you actually consider the M9, any thoughtful person would see that it's 1) quite a technical achievement 2) a true improvement on the M8 and 3) probably a true milestone in Leica's development.

 

After looking at enough M9 files now, I'm even betting the Kodak color filters on the sensor have been tweaked, which means even better color from the M9 than the M8. That's saying something, since the skin tones on the M8 are basically only bested in small systems by the DMR.

 

And the M9 moves a ton more data around, so not only "firmware" has been updated but a lot of buffer memory. They don't need Maestro evidently for the M8, and that's fine with me. What they learned from the S2 will still trickle into M development, and while Jenoptik is not Fujitsu, I'm sure there are reasons for the M8 that the current approach was better; timing might have been an issue, but logically that doesn't mean the M9 was rushed to market.

 

So let's see now: a revolutionary new full-frame sensor that no-one thought could be made, hardware updates that may include rangefinder tweaks (a lot of folks find that their 35 Lux ASPH all of a sudden works on the M9), hardware updates to make the camera more efficient.

 

Compared to these things, from a pro camera, I have to tell you I couldn't care less about sensor cleaning, a bigger LCD, or a slimmer body (just what do you mean by that anyway? The M9 is the smallest, thinnest, full-frame camera out there!).

 

The initial results have been as good or better than other initial results from other professional digicams, and firmware tweaks will make this better than ever. No disasters, and demand exceeds supply, so market timing was perfect and firing on all cylinders. Oh, and the price, while high, was reasonable given the cost of an M8.2.

 

Doesn't sound rushed at all to me. Sounds like Leica has learned and is delivering on their vision.

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Jamie,

 

I am not belittling the larger sensor; however, I'm not yet convinced that it is the achievement you are making it out to be. When an uncoded lens is placed on the camera there appears to be considerable vignetting and even coded ones are showing both vignetting and cyan color shift. This leads me to believe that much is happening in processing the image in software and not in the sensor and optics. Sort of a built in Corner-Fix. It's not that I see anything wrong with that approach as long as the end result is acceptable. The same can be said for high ISO noise. They can process away as long as the result is good.

 

From what I am reading processing speed has not been improved (yes they added a second processor which sounds to me like a duplicate of the first so they could divide the work into two main channels) but processing time and buffer space were not enhanced.

 

A slimmer body would be more like the body of an M6 in thickness. I think self cleaning sensors is important, especially given the M8's and now M9's propensity to get dust on the sensor. No one I know like to clean a sensor on a $7K camera without fearing that they might do damage.

 

Lastly, there have been at least two reports I have seen of cameras that have lines showing in the images with one having been sent back to be replaced. This has been a problem with many M8s on this site. While two is a very small number so far, there aren't that many cameras out there yet so it isn't a positive sign. Again, it may be nothing but it points to a rushed deal to me as does not having LR ready at launch. They had to know far in advance of the launch day (unless this was a crashed program) that they would be using LR and have worked with Adobe to have it ready to go on launch but they didn't. Even the user manual still had C1.

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There is plenty of room for improvement down the road including an M9.2. I have no bias one way or the other between CMOS and CCD or some other new technology sensor. However, I think the evidence is showing that CMOS is winning the sensor wars when it comes to performance, especially at high ISO levels. Maybe we will see a CMOS without AA filter sensor version.

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Jamie,

 

I am not belittling the larger sensor; however, I'm not yet convinced that it is the achievement you are making it out to be. When an uncoded lens is placed on the camera there appears to be considerable vignetting and even coded ones are showing both vignetting and cyan color shift.

 

Don't forget that on a full-frame sensor, you will see optical vignetting anyway. So it all depends on the uncoded lens. I haven't heard yet, but I bet if you put an uncoded 50 Lux ASPH on the M9 (which I would do if I had one) it won't vignette much at f1.4 let alone f4. OTH, if you put a coded Noctilux on the M9, it will most certainly vignette down to f4. You don't see this on the M8 because of the crop.

 

And if you have an uncoded wide, especially one of the older ones, it's going to vignette anyway, though stopping down will cure most Leicas of this. I haven't seen any evidence of any cyan shift (since the M9 has the long-awaited coding for uncoded lenses) except from CV lenses, which are beyond the scope of the correction necessary for the M9.

 

Where have you seen excessive vignetting?

 

This leads me to believe that much is happening in processing the image in software and not in the sensor and optics. Sort of a built in Corner-Fix. It's not that I see anything wrong with that approach as long as the end result is acceptable. The same can be said for high ISO noise. They can process away as long as the result is good.

Well, there's no problem there. And from what I've seen the results are excellent. But the sensor itself has radically changed microlens arrays, otherwise, full-frame wouldn't even be a possibility. So the heavy lifting here is optical / electronic, not in software.

 

From what I am reading processing speed has not been improved (yes they added a second processor which sounds to me like a duplicate of the first so they could divide the work into two main channels) but processing time and buffer space were not enhanced.

In many computer systems, the last thing to be optimised is speed. Look at how long it took Leica to figure out the write speed for the M8 :) But the fact that they're moving 36MB RAW files along the buffer instead of 9MB in the M8 means some pretty hefty hardware upgrades, not just firmware.

 

I bet chimping gets faster too (and I'd like to suggest to Leica they put a full-frame JPEG preview--doesn't have to be extra fine or anything--right into the DNG for better chimping and for better editing in post).

 

A slimmer body would be more like the body of an M6 in thickness. I think self cleaning sensors is important, especially given the M8's and now M9's propensity to get dust on the sensor. No one I know like to clean a sensor on a $7K camera without fearing that they might do damage.

Wow. What do all those people with D3s and D3xs (not to mention MF cameras) do? :) It's hard to ruin the sensor by cleaning it. I'd much rather do it by hand than have a "movable" sensor (any amount of movement there is a bad thing IMO).

 

Lastly, there have been at least two reports I have seen of cameras that have lines showing in the images with one having been sent back to be replaced. This has been a problem with many M8s on this site. While two is a very small number so far, there aren't that many cameras out there yet so it isn't a positive sign.

Totally anecdotal, though it's a shame it happened. But sensor defects are for real, for any brand or make.

 

Again, it may be nothing but it points to a rushed deal to me as does not having LR ready at launch. They had to know far in advance of the launch day (unless this was a crashed program) that they would be using LR and have worked with Adobe to have it ready to go on launch but they didn't. Even the user manual still had C1.

 

So the final color is the last thing to be tweaked in any camera system. I'm sure Adobe felt that LR was ready at launch, because you can make a profile for the M9 pretty easily (if you like LR, that is). Having said that, they're probably working on an even better version, and obviously firmware has been tweaked right up until the 9 September. That means Adobe probably hasn't had enough time to make final adjustments / profile tweaks.

 

I think that situation may be more indicative of the fall-out from Phase and the S2 than the M9 being rushed in any way.

 

I know I wouldn't hold back a major release of a system for a color tweak, or for a manual change (user manuals are always the last thing to be made up-to-date, and it's such a non-critical fix, don't you think?)

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Seems to me Leica's future have been riding on each M camera ever released. there is not much room for mistakes. (the name of the game for a camera company)

 

Agree with John, this was a rushed release.

 

Honestly, Im glad they rushed it, and I realize there will be better M's in the future, but right now this is a big step forward for me.

 

Forget live-view on the 10, but maybe add stabilized sensor, and dual SD cards for dual record / backup. Oh and wider dynamic range. that will do for me..

 

There is a M9 to be enjoyed. forget the 9.2 and 10 for now.

 

.

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It has been apparent for some time that Leica was in trouble financially. I think management finally came to grips with the fact that the S2 strategy was a mistake and rushed an M9 to market as a hail marry pass. Why do I say rushed, what's the evidence? First, is the only significant change is the larger sensor. All of the other changes are basically firmware changes they could have put in the M8.2. The lack of time to incorporate the Maestro integrated chip set (wasn't that supposed to be one of the benefits of the S2 development?) the lack of time to incorporate body slimming enhancements, the lack of improved LCD, sensor cleaning, electronic frame lines and many other features that could have improved the camera all point to a rush job.

 

We will have to see if the strategy works. :)

That is personal opinion on the S2 strategy. Since there are not even any cameras sold as yet, you cannot make any valid judgements about success or otherwise.

 

It is very simplistic to say that the only significant change is the larger sensor. The electronics are completely different and the firmware is not interchangeable.

You may like to watch the long video interview with Stefan Daniel if you would like the actual facts on the timing of the development and the decisions made, for example why Jenoptik was partnered to develop and produce the electronics too (while the Maestro integration and S2 development was occurring concurrently in house). Development in fact started in April last year, according to Stefan.

 

The body dimensions are unchanged and would affect many aspects of the design if altered. For example the rangefinder assembly, chassis design, shell design, electronics design, in fact largely every aspect. Completely impractical to make changes there within any reasonable cost , design and manufacture restraints when the current M8 dimensions are well established and accepted.

 

The LCD is new and brighter in fact. There is no purpose to high resolution since Live View and auto focus and video are irrelevant in an M camera.

 

Any sensor cleaning system incorporation such as found in dSLRs would be in conflict with the precision of sensor placement within the body, the coverglass/IR filter arrangement and the known short lens register contstraints. Electronic frame-lines too would involve a large change to the very well established rangefinder arrangements with again penalities in cost, complexity and development time.

 

Leica does not agree with you that those suggestions would be improvements and has judged that their customers want M cameras to work the way they do now. It is just not a dSLR and not intended to be. In the interview, Stefan again states clearly that Leica will not make a camera to compete directly in that market..

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Bo, I'm with you on this. I didn't say it was a bad thing that they rushed it, I think they had to for survival and nothing else would matter if they failed to survive. I still think that if they had put the resources they put into the S2 into making the M9 we would have a much better and more innovative M9. The S2 was a bad business decision just like promising that the M8 would never be obsolete and always be upgradeable and then reneging on that promise.

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It has been apparent for some time that Leica was in trouble financially. I think management finally came to grips with the fact that the S2 strategy was a mistake and rushed an M9 to market as a hail marry pass. Why do I say rushed, what's the evidence? First, is the only significant change is the larger sensor. All of the other changes are basically firmware changes they could have put in the M8.2. The lack of time to incorporate the Maestro integrated chip set (wasn't that supposed to be one of the benefits of the S2 development?) the lack of time to incorporate body slimming enhancements, the lack of improved LCD, sensor cleaning, electronic frame lines and many other features that could have improved the camera all point to a rush job.

 

We will have to see if the strategy works. :)

 

This doesn't make a lot of sense to me, except possibly the sensor cleaning. But at this time that would require increasing the size of the body, so: no thanks.

 

General body slimming would mean reducing the thickness of the filter/sensor/takeoff electronics/LCD electronics/LCD/cover glass package, which while it may be possible no manufacturer has not been done to date. What is it that you expect to demand of the Maestro chip that the present ones can't do? And what makes you think the Maestro chip can do those this to your satisfaction? What is your evidence that the 'other changes' could have been put in M8 firmware. If you are privy to these details, please let us know. We have been told that some of the changes could not be put into M8 firmware.

 

As for electronic framelines, how do you know these could have been implemented, and in an economically viable fashion? As for other features??? What other features?

 

Undoubtedly the M9 is not the be-all end-all camera; not even in the RF field. But I think it's a remarkable achievement. Not one that I'll be experiencing in the next while, because my M8's are doing well, but at some time I will get one.

 

If there are problems in the implementation of the M9, then there might some reasons to carp, but otherwise it's a very good next step in the evolution of the DRF. On the one hand Leica had to come out with it soon to stay in the business, but on the other hand it doesn't seem nearly as rushed as past cameras such as the M4-2 and first M6. Or the Canon 50D. Or a whole lot of other stuff from various manufacturers in recent years.

 

Henning

Edited by henning
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The inevitable collapse of the US dollar is going to have major economic consequences for ALL camera companies...including Leica. The entire photo industry is in for a major shakeup.

 

The M9 and the release of new lenses over the past year ( the wide luxes, 18mm, nocti etc) are excellent moves by Leica. Plus, Leica is keeping their film shooters happy with the amazing MP. The M system has never been better....I can't even begin to describe how many friends and acquaintances are waking up to Leica now...more than ever before.

 

Don't ever bash the S2...that is exactly the right move for Leica to make for the professional studio market. Most M shooters do NOT have the background in commercial photography to understand the S2 market. It's going to take 5-10 years before we know if the S2 is successful or not. It's going to take time to break into the MF commercial photography market. These people are looking for tools that will give them slight advantage over their immediate competitors. These are not the people that rush into new gear....these are not the type of people that have their egos connected to what gear they own. These are people that look at camera systems as tools...nothing more than tools...and they make business judgments. IT's going to take 5-10 years to know if the S2 is accepted by them or not.

 

I think Leica is making ALL of the right moves. Time will tell on the S2...and there are global economic problems that are beyond Leica's control. But, Leica, as a company...is making the best moves that I think they can possibly make for matters that are within their control.

 

There is little room to complain about Leica. They are absolutely delivering some of the best tools that have ever been created for photography. Are they perfect? Is every move going to be successful from a financial point of view? Probably not, but, Leica is producing some of the best tools ever made for photographers and we should be very thankful.

Edited by Gentleman Villain
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...General body slimming would mean reducing the thickness of the filter/sensor/takeoff electronics/LCD electronics/LCD/cover glass package, which while it may be possible no manufacturer has done to date. ...

 

Henning

 

I guess you haven't looked at the E-P1 of the upcoming GF1. While he sensors may not be as wide or tall, they have to be just as thick or thicker in the case of the E-P1 since it has IS. Yet both cameras are thinner than the M9. So it is both possible and it has been done and they can use M lenses to boot!

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Gentleman Villan,

 

You make my point for me. It will take a long time (5-10 years to quote you) to know whether the S2 is a success. That is the very reason that the S2 was a business mistake. Leica didn't and doesn't have 5-10 years to have a market success. They needed a product or products that would allow them to succeed now. The only questions left is will the M9 and the X1 be the products they needed to succeed and were they soon enough to market.

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Well if anything the M9 has all the reasons to succeed: you can say its a truly descendant of the film Ms. They had success then and they still sell, so M9 will also have success. To my eyes if a company manages to survive and create revolutionary products like these 3, then I can easily say that trouble times are behind and the future looks bright. If not bright, brighter.

As for electronic cleaning? Can you suggest its as efficient as liquid cleaning or sticky cleaning? And it sure adds some more headaches to problems that need solving.

Weather sealing? better lcd covers? better asics? All these are fine but then the price will not be $7k and the times are still troubled.

Without a question the M9 is revolutionary for what it is: a true FF compact and light camera with no competition.

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ah OK..I see what you mean BarJohn.

 

It's kind of hard for me to get too deep into this because of controversial politics. But international trade is probably going to cease for a period of time. During this period, the viability of all companies are going to be in question. There is really no way that Leica can possibly stop this....There is nothing that they can do...They only thing that they can do is prove that they are valuable to a future market that will exist 5-10 years from now after the current economic problems are solved. I believe, that the M9 and S2 secure their future...even if their company will be in some altered state barely recognizable from it's current form (ownership, management, employees etc)

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It is very simplistic to say that the only significant change is the larger sensor. The electronics are completely different and the firmware is not interchangeable.

 

I'm not so sure about that. In a video of the assembly of the M9 over at LL there is a section, around 14m 40s, that shows a tech getting ready to clean the sensor. When she first try to initiate the Clean Sensor mode, openning the shutter, the camera locks up and she has to pop out the battery, reinsert it then start the process over. On the second try the camera does work but this is the same thing that happens to every M8 ever made at one time or another. That tells me there isn't that much difference in the core electronics of the M9 over the M8. Yes some things have changed but not everything. In fact what Leica has said did change was the DSP chip and it seems they added memory and the circuit board on the back of the sensor. But they haven't said they changed everything.

Now the Leica M8 is only the second digital interchangeable lens cameras I've owned, the first being a Nikon D200, but I do not ever remember the Nikon D200 locking up when doing a sensor cleaning.

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I guess you haven't looked at the E-P1 of the upcoming GF1. While he sensors may not be as wide or tall, they have to be just as thick or thicker in the case of the E-P1 since it has IS. Yet both cameras are thinner than the M9. So it is both possible and it has been done and they can use M lenses to boot!

Yes- with an adapter that effectively increases the thickness. Like it or not, if you want the thickness of an M film body, you will have to use an M film body for the forseeable future. And I might add, having had the pleasure of shooting my M3 over the weekend, it felt uncomfortably thin in my hands for quite a while before I got used to it again.

I cannot quite see the sense of your posts, John. Your opinions would be more valid if they came with less of a negative spin and charged words like "rushing to the market"etc.

Edited by jaapv
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