The Leica M

Leica’s new digital M camera

Tonight (8pm GMT) Leica Camera made several announcements for new products at Photokina in Cologne, Germany. This particular announcement, I must admit, has me buzzing with creative energy.

The Leica M. Photo: © Leica

The Leica M is by far the most versatile rangefinder camera ever produced. Although the rangefinder system dates back to the 1950s design used for the Leica M3, which the new Leica M also incorporates, it has other methods of focusing as well. It’s important to note that for purists, the rangefinder system works as it has done before on the M cameras and is not compromised.

The Leica M, Leica R-Adapter M (and an Leica R 28-90mm zoom lens) and Leica EVF2 electronic viewfinder. Photo: © Leica

The new additional focusing systems is Live View. This means that the photographer uses the rear screen, a 3”, 920,000 pixel screen which is covered by tough Gorilla Glass or the new Leica EVF2 optional electronic 1.4 megapixel viewfinder, to view the image through the lens. This opens up huge possibilities of mounting the Leica R range of lenses using the also announced Leica R-Adapter M. This opens up the world of telephoto, zoom and macro lenses (and although not mentioned on the press release, I imagine also fisheye photography. As with the world of Micro 4/3, I’m guessing that there will be the opportunity for third parties to make adapters, allowing all sorts of lenses from various manufacturers, even including tilt and shift and PL mount, to be mounted on the new Leica M. The huge advantage though here over every other camera in the market though is that the Leica M is full frame). The Live View has a magnification function and also focus peaking functions to fine tune focusing.

My wish since getting my Leica 50mm f0.95 Noctilux ASPH has been to use it to shoot video, and I’m thrilled to see that full 1080p HD video is available on the new Leica M. To be able to shoot video using Leica M and R lenses is going to be truly magical and I can’t wait to get my hands on this camera! The camera offers 1080p and 720p, at 24fps and 25fps, and 640×480(VGA) at 30fps shooting resolutions, in Motion jpeg or Quicktime format. For audio there is an external mono or stereo mini-jack microphone adapter available. Most importantly for audio, along with auto level adjustment, there is full manual gain control as well, even whilst filming; this is a great and needed facility.

The Leica M. Photo: © Leica

The Leica M, rear view. Photo: © Leica

The Leica M, top view. Photo: © Leica

Naturally the M9’s CCD chip could not support Live View, for which a CMOS chip is needed. Leica have collaborated with CMOSIS and designed a new chip for the Leica M. The full frame Leica Max CMOS image sensor has 24 megapixels and a sensitivity range of 200 to 6400 ISO (up from the M9’s 160 to 2500 ISO), with a pull 100 ISO setting. The new digital processing engine is the Leica Maestro chip, also deployed in the Leica S2, which promises higher image quality and speed. The entire digital workflow of images is now under Leica’s control which promises even higher imaging capabilities than previously achieved.

The Leica M. Shown with the multifunctional Handgrip-M, which features an integrated GPS module and dedicated SCA hot shoe. Photo: © Leica

Having worked with my M9 and M9-P extensively for years, occasionally in the rain, I’ve never had a problem with moisture ingress. The good news is that Leica have made mention of special rubber seals to protect the camera from spray, dust and moisture, which makes me thing it’s sealed even better against the elements.

The Leica M in silver chrome finish. Photo: © Leica

The Leica M will be available in black or silver chrome and is expected in the UK in early 2013 with a suggested retail price of £5,100 including VAT.

Thoughts

Having been a Leica photographer since 1989, and using the Leica M9 for three years now, I’m really excited by the specification and look of this new camera. It’s by far my favourite camera system to use and accounts for around 80% of my work. I also use Canon’s DSLR system for the rest of my work, when needing telephoto, macro, fisheye and tilt and shift lenses, and also for video. I can see the Leica M taking over all of these functions, leaving the Canon DSLRs for work that needs fast moving AF and fast drive speeds.

Leica have taken the classic Leica M camera, with it’s discreet look and size, kept it’s fabulously traditional operating interface of shutter dial and aperture ring, yet incorporated Live View and full 1080p HD video, with all the needed options, in practically the same body.  At a quick glance, it’s impossible to tell the difference with the M9 (the Leica M is 5mm taller and is 95g heavier), yet the Leica M has so much more to it. It has the best of the traditional Leica and the best of modern digital photography and video. The announced accessories (see the separate post) support and add to the camera’s abilities and are a perfect match. It’s a brilliant achievement and I really cannot wait to shoot with this camera; I have a strong suspicion that it will be awesome!

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Leica Press Release

The LEICA M: a new milestone in digital rangefinder technology

Most versatile rangefinder camera yet includes high performance sensor and processing technology, three focusing options including Live View, Full HD video recording and compatibility with Leica R-Lenses

Photokina, Cologne, 17 September 2012: Leica Camera AG has today announced a groundbreaking milestone in the history of the Leica rangefinder system: the Leica M. As the first camera to implement a newly designed and constructed CMOS image sensor, and to feature additional focusing methods and functions such as Live View and Full HD video capability, this is the most versatile model ever in the history of the Leica rangefinder camera, and sets entirely new standards.

The Leica M combines the advantages of digital innovation with rangefinder technology that has been continuously perfected over decades. At the same time, it remains true to the legendary values of the M- System, while expanding the opportunities offered by rangefinder photography – and, for the first time, offers compatibility with Leica-R legacy lenses.

The Leica M also marks the beginning of a new era in Leica’s product naming policy. In future, Leica M and S model names will omit the number suffix to emphasise the long-term significance and enduring value of the respective systems.

The Leica M is the first in a long line of Leica rangefinder cameras to feature a completely new development in sensor technology: the Leica Max CMOS image sensor. This 24 megapixel, full 35mm format sensor was designed and constructed in collaboration with CMOSIS specifically for the camera and its use with Leica M- and R-Lenses. This new development successfully transfers the characteristic advantages of CCD sensors, such as natural and brilliant colour rendition and impressive reproduction of detail, to a CMOS sensor.

In combination with the high-performance Leica Maestro processor, which is also employed in Leica S cameras, this new full format sensor ensures maximum image quality and speed. All elements in the image creation chain, from the lens to the resulting image file, are now under complete control of Leica’s engineers, guaranteeing the ultimate in image performance and quality. A further key feature is the low power consumption of the components which, in conjunction with the high battery capacity, ensures outstanding performance over a long shooting period.

The Leica M offers a multitude of new features. The first of these are Live View and Live View Focus, where image composition can take place in real time with the view of the subject through the lens. The sharpness, exposure and colour content of images can be precisely assessed on the camera’s large, 3”, high-resolution 920,000 pixel screen. The glass covering plate of the monitor screen is manufactured from particularly tough and scratch-resistant Corning® Gorilla® Glass.

Thanks to the Live View function, photographers now have access to entirely new opportunities that, in combination with the outstanding performance of Leica M- and R-Lenses, go far beyond the classic capabilities of rangefinder photography. This applies particularly in macro and telephoto photography, and allows even more discreet shooting. In combination with M- and R-Lenses, the camera’s new 1080p Full HD video mode also opens up completely new possibilities.

The Leica M offers two additional focusing methods that can be activated quickly and easily with the new focus button, giving M-Photographers even more options for capturing outstandingly sharp images. The ‘Live View Zoom’ option enables up to 10x magnification for precise assessment of the sharpness of subject details or the close focusing limit. The second aid to focusing is ‘Live View Focus Peaking’. With this feature, contours of the subject are automatically displayed as red lines to allow simple and convenient focus assessment. Focusing precision can be reviewed on the basis of the intensity of the lines displayed.

All new features of the camera have been optimised for the Leica rangefinder system, and ensure the renowned dependability of the Leica M in all shooting situations, from available light photography to discreet and aesthetic fine-art image composition. In line with the principles of the M-Philosophy, all functions and features are designed and constructed for absolute robustness and a long working life. The top and base plates of the Leica M are machined from solid brass, and the full-metal chassis is a completely self-contained, die-cast element manufactured from high-strength magnesium alloy. Special rubber seals protect the camera body against dust, spray and moisture.

The new rangefinder camera is also a typical ‘M’ thanks to its intuitive handling, with direct manual setting options and fast access to functions. The new layout and user-friendly operation of the menu interface guarantee a clear and uncomplicated overview of the camera settings. Dedicated button controls have been provided for the Live View and new focusing functions, and Live View Zoom and Live View Focus Peaking can be selected with the new focus button on the front of the camera. User profiles can be programmed with any camera and shooting settings, stored under a specific, user-selected name, and accessed quickly whenever required for particular situations. The profiles can also now be saved to an SD memory card. For improved comfort when shooting, the Leica M features an ergonomically formed thumb rest with an integrated setting dial at the top right, on the back of the top plate. This ensures the camera can be held securely in even the most demanding situations.

A wide range of optional accessories is available for the new Leica M. Of particular note is the new Leica R-Adapter M, which allows almost all Leica R-Lenses ever built to be mounted on the camera. Further accessories include the Leica EVF 2 (Visoflex electronic viewfinder) and the Multifunctional Handgrip-M with an integrated GPS module that, in combination with optional finger loops in various sizes (S, M and L), helps to ensure safe and steady handling of the camera and lens system. The range also includes a Leica Microphone Adapter set to ensure high quality sound with video recordings.

The Leica M will be available in a discreet black paint version, or an elegant silver chrome finish.

Pricing and availability

The Leica M in black paint or silver chrome finish is scheduled to be available in the UK at a suggested retail price of £5,100 inc VAT from early 2013, from authorised Leica dealers including the Leica Store Mayfair: www.leica-storemayfair.co.uk, tel: 020 7629 1351. A full list of authorised UK Leica dealers is available at www.leica-camera.co.uk.

Leica warranty and added value services

The Leica M comes with a two-year warranty and a one-year Leica UK ‘Passport’ (complimentary accidental damage cover). UK customers are also welcome to visit the Leica Store and Akademie in Mayfair, London, for a complimentary demonstration or training session on the features of the camera. Technical support by telephone or in person is available via Leica’s London-based Client Care department.

The Leica M in silver chrome finish. Photo: © Leica

4 responses to “The Leica M

  1. Edmond, what’s the new button in front doing?

    The old man from the Age of the M3

  2. Maybe should also be a ‘rangefinder-less’ version á la MD-2 which would really satisfy R lens users who have no M lenses and which would provide an R solution at considerably less cost than the new Leica M camera?

    dunk

    • Definitely an interesting thought. It would work well for both R and M lens users who don’t need or are able to use the rangefinder. For video it will also be a really useful thing to remove as it will no doubt lower cost substantially, allowing multi camera setups at lower cost. The one huge advantage this will have over all else on the mirrorless market is that it will still be the only full frame camera. Interesting!

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