Leica M hands on
I was very fortunate to be able to go to a Leica event and get my greasy little mitts on the new series of Leica cameras. And I have to admit it, I was impressed. But was I actually impressed enough to buy one?

Well, everyone knows all about the new Leica cameras, I mean, the coverage at Photokina was insane, but not all that many people got to have a hands on with the cameras. But I did get the chance to play with them for a short while, and it was interesting.

First up we had the standard presentation stuff, where we got to hear about all of the cameras. Predictably everyone only seemed to be interested in the M stuff, and a couple of people even left as soon as that part was over. There was the compact stuff too, which is not really all that much interest to me, but there was a cool video of Paul Smith talking about the camera he collaborated on. And then there was the S stuff. Now normally I don’t listen to this, as this system is beyond the realms of reality for most of us, but the video showing the camera covered in snow at the top of a mountain shooting snowboarders was pretty awesome. I had a new found respect for the S beast.
Stefan Daniel, Director of product management gave us a nice presentation that was not overly technical but was still engaging enough for us to make us feel that we know how the cameras work, I thought they had a tiny monkey with a paintbrush inside, apparently I was wrong.
After the presentation there was a small Q&A and this is where I gleaned one of the two big nuggets of gossip for the night.

Scoop 1: Leica have no plans to discontinue film cameras, despite any rumours. Sales are stable and as long as people keep on buying them, Leica will keep on making them. Although there are no plans for a new film camera.

The M’s
So after all of this they finally let us have a go on the cameras, and there was a scrum, it was a bit silly, so I decided to step back and have a chat with Stefan about the new M and what Leica has in mind.

The M is now only the M, no longer will we have numbers, just M’s, simplifying the line before the numbers get a bit silly. I was dead set against this at first, I mean, losing all those years of heritage and history. But I really can see the logic behind it now, before long you will find yourself going M11, M12, M13 and then what? Why not keep it simple and focus on making the camera better.
The same with the EVF and focus peaking stuff. I was also pretty much against this, but after a chat with Stefan and the way he envisages the M’s of the future, you cannot really fight it. To create the most versatile RF camera you have to take and incorporate elements that you are not necessarily familiar with. Does this mean that we are going to see zoom lenses and AF on an M? Not yet, but it really is only a matter of time.
Now, I had bought the MS Optical Sonnetar with me, and it was a point of interest for a few people, including Stefan, so we decided to put it on the new M and see how things come out, which was a lot of fun.

There you go, a world first, the Sonnetar 50mm 1.1 on the Leica M. Now I would love to be able to show you the images, but I cannot, because I cannot show you the images taken by any of the M cameras. All of them had sealed baseplates so that we could not change the cards in them. The reason for this I was told is that there is still a way to go on the fine tuning of the firmware and the cameras are essentially not complete. I can tell you that the images look fantastic and the screen on the M is lovely. Much better than the M9 (which was one of my major gripes with that camera).
The Sonnetar looked great on the camera, and it really showed itself very well, especially at around f/2.8. I was very happy with the results. And happy that I got one on an M! Yay!
The M and the M-E will begin shipping in early 2013 and they want the camera to be perfect for when it ships, so it is still in some ways under development. But when it is ready I have no doubt that they will be fantastic, judging by what I saw in the presentation.

The thing that really interested me about the M though was the fact that you can seamlessly put R lenses on the camera with the adaptor. This opens up a whole world of absolutely incredible lens choices. So many of the R lenses were swept aside, yet they are still Leica glass and many of them are outstanding. I can tell you now without doubt that you are going to see a very definite rise in the prices of the R-lenses as people see the potential on the M. We tried the Vario Elmar 21-35 ASPH and I can say that it was a perfect fit on the camera. With the EVF and the Visoflex you are going to be able to dust out those old lenses and do things that you didn’t think you would be able to on an RF camera.

On to the M-E, it almost seems like an afterthought, especially considering that the M9 is still available. But this is actually a very nice looking camera, which is still a beast on the inside. This camera is basically an alternative to the M9, although a simplified and stripped down version. Unfortunately it retains that rubbish screen from the M9 and the distinctly meh sensor, but it is simple and still a FF rangefinder.  I think a lot of purists are going to like this camera and it will be a great introduction into the world of FF digital RF cameras. That being said, I would rather go out and get either the M or the Monochrom….Which leads me onto my second scoop of the night.

Scoop 2: There have been many rumours floating about over the Monochrom. The main one being that it is a ‘limited’ camera and will only be produced in small amounts. I have it from the horses mouth (Stefan is not a horse BTW, he is a very charming German gentleman) that this is not true. This camera will be made for as long as people want it and it is in no way an exclusive camera (other than the price tag making less accessible to many).

So that was the Leica presentation…Oh wait, there was another camera that interested me. The Paul Smith camera.

No, I am not going mad. The X2 is an extremely capable camera, just not really the camera that I am looking for, but there was something that I really wanted. You see, the Paul Smith camera comes as a lovely set. I was having a chat with Helmut Heier (another charming German gentleman) about the set and the camera, and he told me that Paul Smith had some very specific things that he wanted to do with the camera and the presentation of the camera, including drawing on the heritage of Leica. And one thing that he did was put this in the set…

WANT! I want this cloth, but as Helmut kindly explained to me, the only way that I am going to get this is if I go out and buy one of the limited edition X2’s. So it looks like I will not be getting one then.

So that was it. A very interesting presentation, and a great chance to see the new cameras. I wish that I could show you pictures taken with the cameras, but alas that is not possible yet. Rest assured I will do the first chance that I get though. And was I impressed enough to buy one? Well, no, not yet. As I am a film shooter and I am yet to see what these cameras can really offer me. Having said that, I shot the Monochrom again, and that camera does impress me…A lot. If I was going to buy a digital Leica camera, that would be the one that I would be ordering.
Love them or hate them, the new range of Leica digital cameras is here to stay and they are going to be popular.
But the biggest news for me of the night was that Leica has not forgotten us film shooters and will still make cameras for us as long as we keep on buying them. So go out and get a second job or take that dodgy loan that ‘Harry the Shark’ has been offering and buy yourself a film Leica (it will probably last longer than you do anyway). You will not regret it.