Following our recent New Year Photography Project we were approached by Leica and asked if we would like to have a quick interview for the company blog. We happily agreed and suggested a reciprocal interview with Leica. The following is the result of the project and it includes some very interesting information about Leica's future plans.
For the interview with Leica we had the privilege to once again talk to Mr. Stefan Daniel – Director Product Management at Leica Camera AG, with whom we had the chance to talk in person during our Photokina 2010 coverage.
Stefan Daniel with the M9 from the special New Year Photography Project
Stefan Daniel – interview
Q: Leica had a great business year in 2010-2011. Despite the economic situation, you have opened many new stores around the world. Do you plan to continue opening new stores and where should we expect them next?
A: On one side, traditional Photo dealers are decreasing more and more, on the other side, we can hardly imaging that our products are sold through mass merchandisers. The solution is to build our own network of distribution. Leica Stores are creating a high-class retail atmosphere, which our customers do expect while buying a Leica. Therefore the concept of the Leica Stores has proven to be very successful. We are extending the network step by step, with a strong focus on North America and Asia next year, while we have already a relatively good coverage in Europe.
Q: Where is the strongest market for Leica products in the world today, and what is the country which surprised you the most in terms of growth in sales in the past year?
A: The really amazing thing is that Leica could realize substantial growth in every region around the world, even in countries like the USA or Italy, where the overall economic situation is not very favorable.
Q: Do you have costumers who order special Leica versions (gold plated, diamond encrusted) and are these additions done by Leica or by a third party? finally, what is the "craziest" special edition Leica had ever done?
A: Right now, we are already able to build special series of products, i.e. for certain anniversaries or to commemorate events. We are in process of creating a special order dept. where we will be able to customize a particular product to fit the wishes of our customers. This will be done in-house. The most exciting thing was certainly the Tele lens APO-TELYT-R 1600mm f/5.6 done for a Sheik in Qatar. It was developed from scratch especially for him.
The Leica APO-TELYT-R 1600mm f/5.6 (Credit: Leica)
Q: Except from the Leica V-Lux 30 Leica did not announce any major products this year – will we see anything else this year or are all your efforts aimed at 2012 now?
A: We have just launched a special color version of the D-LUX 5, the Titanium. Other interesting products will follow still in 2011, but of course we have a strong focus on 2012.
Q: Leica CEO Mr. Alfred Schopf recently talked in an interview about the size of the Sony mirrorless sensor forcing the company to build large lenses for small cameras. What do you think about this issue – it seems that every company took a different approach – Sony/Samsung – APS-C, Panasonic/Olympus micro 4/3, Nikon with the 1" and Pentax with the compact camera sized sensor of the Q. Where do you think is the sweet spot between sensor size/quality/sensitivity and respective lens size?
A: The experience with the very successful Leica X1 leads us to the opinion that a Leica with an interchangeable lens should have at least an APS-sized sensor.
The new D-LUX 5 Titanium
Q: Another mirrorless related question – one of the big issues when giving up the mirror is the move from optical to digital viewfinder. How important do you think optical viewfinder is for Leica users and when you look at the current crop of 1.4 MP viewfinders do you think they are good enough or do you really must have the quality of the new Sony 2.4 MP viewfinder? (Alternatively what do you think about the X100 hybrid viewfinder as an option?).
A: I think that the quality of the 1.4MP finders is already very good, and sometimes even more accurate than an optical finder, think of white balance or exposure. Over time, as technology is improving, optical finders will get less and less important. The X100 finder is a very nice concept and well executed.
Leica – almost 100 years of craftsmanship
Q: Do you see any demand from your M line users for video in their cameras and is there a chance we shall see a move from CCD to CMOS in the M10?
A: Offering additional functions such as video and live view would extend the usability of the M camera significantly. CMOS is a prerequisite for it, therefore it will be the technology of the future.
Q: If you look at the DXOMARK results of the M9 you can see that the ISO marks are considerably lower than other full frame cameras. Do you see this as one of the major things you would like to improve in the next M version?
A: The reason why this is lower lies in the special circumstances of the M-System. It is quite complicated, but I will try to make it short: M-lenses hit the sensor in a flat angle, therefore they are the most compact on the market and older lenses are compatible with M8 and M9. This flat angle will not allow us to use interference IR cut coating on the sensor cover glass, as this would cause uncontrollable color fringes. Instead of, we use an absorption filter, which is not sensible to different light angles, but does filter much more of the visible light as interference filters, and therefore the signal from the sensor needs to be amplified much more which results in a lower light sensitivity. Of course, having a higher sensitivity of the sensor is an issue and we put a significant amount of effort in improving this.
Q: You might remember that we already inquired about this in the previous interview we did in Photokina 2010 but what is the reason the M line does not come with AF and is there a chance this will change in the next version?
A: It is basically the same answer as in 2010! Compactness and Compatibility are very important factors for the M-System. Nevertheless, we are totally aware that we could aim at a much larger clientele with AF and are currently studying solutions.
Special edition M9 Titanium on display at Photokina 2010 (Credit: Ofir Iluz)
Q: Moving to the S2, you mentioned in a previous interview that you are not using ultrasonic motors in the lenses – has something changed or about to change in this respect?
A: The technology itself is of second priority. Most important is silent, fast and precise operation in compact sized lenses. If these goals can be achieved by classic DC motors or other technologies, they will be also still an option in the future.
Q: How do you see the development of the S2 lens line in the near future – are we going to see a Tilt Shift lens and what about the 350mm lens you mentioned in the past?
A: We are expanding the lens portfolio constantly: next lens will be a 30mm and then a 30-90mm zoom as well as a super wide angle 24mm in 2012. Next steps will be tilt/shift and the expansion into telephoto.
You can read the reciprocal interview with MegaPixel.co.il on the Leica blog.
This is an English version of an article originally published on the Israeli Photography website MegaPixel.co.il