One of the surprises of the Photokina 2006 was Leica. And beside an interesting introduction of the compact camera series, and a digital SLR camera Leica unveiled their digital M camera; the Leica M8. The Leica M8 offers a resolution of 10.3 megapixels and incorporates a notably low-noise CCD image sensor has been rigorously optimized for the special features of the Leica M lens system. The special design of the viewfinder camera with no mirror box allows the typically compact and flat shape of the Leica M to be retained. The small focal length extension factor of 1.33 enables creative freedom even in digital Leica M Photography. We discussed the new Leica M8 with Michael Agel, Press + Public relations of Leica.
Question : Leica is a brand that is known for its M-system. It has a lot of users who are addicted to film and now Leica is introducing a digital M8. Quite a shock for Leica users?
Answer : It's not a shock. A lot of users were waiting for a digital M. They were also very interested in our DMR and everyone liked it. We received a lot of questions from M-users who asked 'can you build a back for the M too?' We found out that it was not possible and we had to develop a whole new body. The digital M had to have the same feeling, size and handling as the other Leica's. It had to say, “this is Leica”. Designers were asked what could be improved throughout the development of the whole M-series. They said it was perfect, so the M8 had to continue on that road.
Question : The Leica M8 doesn't have a full frame sensor. What is the reason for this?
Answer : When designing the Leica M8, we had one big problem. We had to build an image sensor where you can use all M-lenses on it. The lenses of the M-series are very close to the sensor of film. That is one of the reasons why we don't offer a full format sensor. The other reason is that a full format sensor would make the camera too expensive.
Question : But the traditional Leica user is someone who uses wide angle a lot, they would surely rather have seen a full frame sensor?
Answer : Ok, the crop factor of 1.33x is a problem if you want to use ultra-wide angle. We definitely wanted to have full frame. But it is better than nothing. Most M-users are working with 28 and 35 mm lenses. Now they have a little bit less wide angle. To compensate for that we introduced the new Tri-Elmar with focal lengths of 16, 18 and 21 mm. This lens can, of course, also be used on the analogue M models. You can even use the first lenses on the M8. For some lenses you need to use an adapter, but it is possible. Lenses of almost 80 years old can still be used. Nobody else can say that. Only one of the lenses has a limitation; the 135mm has no frame in the viewfinder.
Question : You have mentioned the difficulties with the lenses when designing the Leica M8. Was that the hardest part of the M8 to develop?
Answer : The hardest part is actually the software. And because of two things every manufacturer has to deal with: high ISO and white balance. A lot of Leica M-users like to work in available light, so no flashlight. We had to develop something very special.
Question : For RAW format Leica has chosen DNG, which is in my opinion a good choice.
Answer : The RAW format is something special. Every brand has another RAW format. That is not what we want. Canon does things its way, Nikon, its way etcetera. We need to have a standard. That is why DNG is Leica’s choice.
Question : But Canon and Nikon developed their standards before Adobe developed DNG. That may be why they haven’t adopted DNG as a standard.
Answer : I don't think that is the reason. But besides that, we don't need more standards.
Question : Since DNG can be converted with Photoshop, you don't develop your own software?
Answer : We don't have our own RAW converter. But we will deliver software with the Leica M8 to copy the files to the computer.
Question : The M7 is an analogue camera, the M8 a digital one. At the press conference it was clearly said that this doesn't mean that a new M camera won't be an analogue camera. So it is possible that if a M9 appears, it will be using film again?
Answer : It is the idea to have two series, one digital and one analogue. But what can we change on the M7? It is perfect and if the M7 will be modified it will probably be called M7-2 or so. With digital we will be changing more often. So I think with the current viewpoint, the Leica M9 will be a digital camera. But there is no policy on that; we like to keep our options open.
Question : The Leica M8 has just been announced, so can you say anything on the response to this product? Do you have any figures on how many units will be sold?
Answer : It sounds like publicity talk, but we have only had positive responses. All professional photographers are happy with the Leica M8 and we believe we may even see new potential Leica users. I don't have any figures on expectations, but I hope we will sell lots of the Digital M8 cameras.
Question : The M has been on the market for quite a long time; will there be a difference between countries?
Answer : Leica is strong in Germany and the USA. In Japan the M-series is really popular, especially the Leica a la carte, where the M can be personalized. You can request an inscription, making it a perfect gift.
Question : Will the Leica M8 have a new target group in comparison with the other M?
Answer : We have lost some of the professionals. When they entered digital photography, they had to choose for Canon or Nikon. But some photographers hate having to bring so much equipment on a trip. Leica is fun with tools. Lots of photographers said they will to buy the Leica M8 as soon as its available.
Question : But it is not a cheap piece of equipment.
Answer : It's a lot of money. But despite the fact of the costs we have a lot of photographers from newspapers, who don't have that much money, who said they want to have a Leica M8 Digital and actually started to pre-order.
Question : As well as the Leica M8, Leica also introduced the DIGILUX 3. A camera from the FourThirds System. That seems like a strange camera in the Leica line-up.
Answer : Do you think so? The lens on the camera is fantastic. Yes, it's something new for Leica, we are trying new markets. Let's see if it works. Of course we believe in this system and we feel fortunate to have a solid cooperation with Panasonic; I mean the results are wonderful.
Question : What does the Digilux 3 have to offer that the Panasonic L1 doesn’t; which are to say, are they at least similar products? Is it more than just the red dot on the body?
Answer : We have to explain that it's not only the red dot. Although it is a strong trade mark, of course. It is good to enter the DSLR market. And you have to offer the dealer products that they can sell easier than for example a Leica M8 camera. A camera like the Leica M8 is for a very special audience, but a product like the Digilux 3 and other models will be targeted to a larger audience.
Question : Is the company ready to enter the lower market?
Answer : We are serious thinking of doing that. We do have the C-LUX, which is a real Leica. The lens is from us, the software is Leica's and the custom service is Leica. It is important that the customer can phone us with problems. At this point no one can say Leica isn't good at digital. We have a full line-up with the C-LUX, D-LUX, V-LUX, Digilux, M and R.
Question : Leica is one of the companies involved in the FourThirds System. The Digilux 3 is a proof of that. What do you think of this system?
Answer : It was logical that we offer lenses for the system. We have had a lot of standards in the past. APS was such a standard, that people said that it would change the world. And now it has totally disappeared. It was an interesting standard, but came on the market too late. The FourThirds System is also a very good standard. The funny thing is that FourThirds System is actually a cinema format; it is 18x24mm. When Leica introduced its M-series, they doubled the cinema format. That is why we have 36x24mm. With the FourThirds System we are back at cinema. The format makes the FourThirds System interesting for movie makers. They can use the camera, without having to think about other view angles. They will have the same angle with the same focal lengths.