During the recently finished Photokina 2010, Leica has introduced the digital rangefinder camera Leica M9 Titanium, designed by Walter de´ Silva - a renowned automobile engineer of the Volkswagen firm - and made in a limited edition of 500 units,attached to a Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH, whose outer metallic components are likewise manufactured with solid titanium. The remarkable lightness of this noble metal joined together with its extreme sturdiness, have enabled to achieve a camera body weight 250 g lower than the 585 g of the Leica M9 - in my opinion currently the best digital full frame camera in the world regarding the scope of handheld travel,streeter and photojournalism photography where it works seamlessly and the reference class flagship in image quality between ISO 160 and ISO 640-, that´s to say, approximately a 43% lighter, so the traditional compactness and transport convenience of the 24 x 36 mm Leica cameras of the M Digital System attains new peaks in this M9 Titanium, albeit its nature as a collection piece and luxurious article featuring a very steep price and acquired by persons and concerns seeing it as an investment source, will render its use in real photographic situations virtually unfeasible and a high percentage of them will likely remain inside their boxes, well protected shelves or safes, a common feature with this kind of products not only to Leica but also to the different brands of the photographic market which have launched special editions or limited series of cameras, mostly seeking with it an alternative financial supply, along with the celebration of special anniversaries, and of course a further advertising or commercial impact in specific moments, though it´s true that generally speaking the special editions of rangefinder Leica and Nikon cameras have been the ones historically reaching the highest prices.
Nevertheless, the Leica M9 Titanium is a new design trying to merge the best of two worlds: the top class automobile profiles and the lines, conceptual philosophy and features of the legendary 24 x 36 mm Leica M series cameras. It´s true that it sports a limited range of innovations with regard to the Leica M9 (the most compact, full format, mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses on the market) and would need a greater assortment of novelties to utterly be defined as a "concept camera", but as we´ll see later, this model could perhaps be the first glimpse of future cameras made by the prestigious German firm and heirs of the Leica M9 within a medium or more probably long time - not in a near future, since the Leica M9 (currently the digital full frame 24 x 36 mm smallest and lightest interchangeable lenses digital full frame camera in the world) is proving to be a a top-notch product boasting a very high reliability and consistency in its results, with the added boon of being able to use such as they are, - without any multiplying cropping factor - a huge stock of highly luminous f/0.95, f/1,f/1.2, f/1.4 and f/2 tack sharp lenses in different focal lengths, many of which are the current state-of-the-art objectives from an optical and mechanical viewpoint, delivering crisp rendering of detail together with a very uniform professional performance between apertures f/2 and f/8 (with which the stopping down hardly improves the image quality, in such a way that significant differences are only obtained as to depth of field), very good results at f/1.4 and rather acceptable and fully operative at f/1.2, f/1 and f/0.95.
Let´s see then how was born and which are the main traits of this Leica M9 Titanium.
INCEPTION OF THE PROJECT
Photo: Leica Camera AG
The Leica M9 Titanium had its origin during a meeting held in spring of 2009 between Andreas Kaufmann (Chairman of Leica Camera AG) and Walter de´ Silva (chief designer of the Volkswagen Automobile Group from two years before).
Kaufmann ordered the Italian designer - an expert in the implementation of concept cars- the design of a concept camera within the full frame 24 x 36 mm digital Leica M9, if possible reinterpreting the Leica M notion up to a viable extent, but simultaneously preserving the keynote of the full frame Leica rangefinder cameras, which has stood loyal to its tradition since 1954 (year of the launching to the market of the Leica M3, deemed by many experts as the best Leica M ever built and still at the present time the standard in synergy with the 50 mm lens and its 0.92x viewfinder).
The task was exceedingly difficult, because both in its analog stage and the digital one with the models Leica M8, M8.2 and M9, the Leica M System (in spite of featuring a lower use versatility than reflex cameras and being limited between roughly the 16 mm and the 135 mm of connectable lenses and evidently not the best choice for macro and microphotography), in the domain of the photographic assignments for which it was conceived, it has turned out to be the one offering more quality, reliability, consistency in results and above all permanence and durability after the elapse of time, to a great extent thanks to the accuracy of its rangefinder (a photographic camera which doesn´t have a rangefinder is not a rangefinder one), a masterpiece of engineering and thoroughness made with more than 150 components, and to the highly comprehensive array of available ultraluminous primes between f/0.95 and f/2 as widest apertures.
The Leica M concept created by Willi Stein and complemented by the Leica M mount designed and patented by Hugo Wehrenfennig in 1950 (without forgetting the basic grounds of all Leica M viewfinders, that were set up by Willi Stein and Dr. Ludwig Leitz in the patent Mit Sucher vereinigter Entfernungsmesser of January 25, 1941 and the experimental prototype Leica IV made in 1936 and forerunner of every Leica M) together with the lenses created for this system, make up a binomial to which it´s really difficult to add significant innovations, both from the conceptual and the outer appearance side. It already happened before the visit of Prince Akihito and his delegation to Leitz factory in Wetzlar on August 5, 1953 and it goes on unaltered to a great extent fifty seven years later, in 2010.
Nonetheless, Walter de´ Silva and his group of collaborators of the Audi Design Team worked away with the project, striving after bringing forth a full frame digital Leica M showing his own personal vision of the features inherent to rangefinder Leicas, along with a camera body profile oozing more futuristic contours.
It´s important to bear in mind that the Leica M9 Titanium design began in the spring of 2009, before the finishing of the Leica M9 Project, whose premiere took place on September 9, 2009, so Walter de´Silva and his crew of assistants had to begin from scratch with a Leica M8 as a model, subsequently following with mock-ups of the M9.
Five different prototypes called Konzept 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 were made.
Photo: Leica Camera AG
Among the various distinctive traits craved for the new M9 Titanium, the maximum feasible ergonomics became a priority as months were going by and Walter de´ Silva went everywhere with a resin cast molded grey colour mock-up, endeavouring to find the best options, and after painstakingly studying the prototypes Konzept 2 (with Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH and transport strap integrated in the camera body in order to enhance the surfaces smoothness to the utmost) and Konzept 4 (with an Elmarit-M 21 mm f/2.8 ASPH and utterly metallic surface, with horizontal emphasis fostered by a thick plate of polished aluminum), he was ready to take the decision.Photo: Leica Camera AG
Photo: Leica Camera AG
Photo: Leica Camera AG
Photo: Leica Camera AG
The Leica M9 Titanium Project was an important challenge for Walter de´Silva, for the Leica M System, with its almost sixty years of trajectory in the worldwide photographic market and its great level of perfection in the optical and mechanical aspects for the pictures taking, leaves a short margin for meaningful design modifications improving it, and currently, already in full digital age, it goes on being the qualitative patron in the rangefinder ambit with the Leica M9, in my viewpoint the best full frame digital camera in the world along with the Nikon D3.
Finally, Walter de´Silva chose the design of this Leica M9 Titanium coupled to a Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH lens manufactured in the same metal.
The camera is built with different top quality noble metals, highlighting the solid titanium making up the outer components, whose manufacturing precision has been such that special tools had to be used to attain it, without forgetting the high resistance coating applied on the most exposed surfaces by a specialized Swiss firm, which should undoubtedly confer them great durability as a whole and identical cosmetic appearance after years.
On the other hand, the back monitor has a built-in protective sapphire cover preventing scratches, while the area just on its right is not lined by the special Audi A5 leather and the complementary corrugated hard structure studded with small diamond shaped lozenges - which greatly strengthens the grip- appearing on a high percentage of the front area of the camera and also on the back zone adjacent to the five buttons located by the LCD screen, but it shows titanium in all of its splendour.
Unlike the Leica M9, in the M9 Titanium each one of the black buttons of the back control wheel holds now a little white colour triangle.
Photo: Leica Camera AG
On its turn, the thread for the cable release has disappeared on the shutter release button.
The M9 Titanium, because of its excellent finish and its maximum quality of mechanizing in other noble metals used within its innards, is a nice object of desire which joins other unique special editions of Leicas M harking back to the analog period like were the 1989 Leica M6 Platinum with Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 (with its visible metallic parts covered in platinum and the camera body lined in grey karung leather, of which 1,250 units were made to commemorate the 150 years of Photography and the 75 years of Leica Photography), the Leica M6J with collapsible Elmar 50 mm f/2.8 - a lens greatly resembling the original design from 1957, but made with modern optical glasses- (of which 1,640 units were made in 1994 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Leica M, sporting a special black leather cover with Morocco inlaying), the M7 Titanium 50 Jahre M-System launched in 2004 as a kit including the Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH, Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH and Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 ASPH lenses, likewise made in titanium, etc.
Both the Leica M9 Titanium ergonomics and its grabbing ease are excellent, practically as if it were a glove, owing to the synergy between a special leather - used on the upholstery of Audi A5 high end cars- attached to the titanium surface and to a complementary corrugated structure trimmed with a number of small diamond shaped rhombi.
The M9 Titanium can be held with complete comfort and above all security, qualities fostered by its weight of a quarter of a kilo inferior to the Leica M9 standard, which you do realize, with the further benefit that the Nappa covered metallic loop -available in two sizes- allows a steady shooting holding the camera with only one hand, along with an outstanding stability and easy transport, likewise with one hand and minimizing dropping risks.
It´s true that this additional complement surprises a bit with regard to Leica purist philosophy and you can like it or not, but it doesn´t compare unfavourably at all with the rest of the finish of this masterwork of mechanizing with noble metals, specially the titanium, whose treatment is very wearisome and expensive.
The two strap lugs for transport located on both sides of the Leica M9 have disappeared. It seems as if the design of this Leica M9 Titanium had been optimized to a great extent in order to get its steadfast conveyance (and maybe even its handling as a point and shoot compact camera) with one hand, which is attested by its only lug on the camera body left lower half, as you look at it frontally. Notwithstanding, though this concept potentially enables to react very quickly and taking pictures tackling any contingency by using the hyperfocal technique, in my standpoint it wouldn´t set usage speed differences with respect to the Leica M9.
Otherwise, the M9 Titanium is handled in a very similar way to the M9, sharing with it features of remarkable strength and resistance to the hardest professional treatment, though we understand that in the case of the M9 Titanium, because of obvious reasons of price (22.000 euros), limited production of 500 units and owners and firms that have bought them as an investment intended for revaluation, perhaps very few if any Leica M9 Titanium cameras will be used by professional photographers in actual working environments.
THE TITANIUM FINISH, A FULL-FLEDGED TRADITION IN LEICA
Titanium has been used now and then not only by Leica, but also by the rest of brands of the photographic market - both in the rangefinder and reflex scopes- in special editions of cameras, owing to its outstanding qualities among we must underline its huge resistance to corrosion and impacts, in synergy with a 45% lightness getting ahead of iron and a double stability than aluminum, so it´s extensively used in the aeronautic industry on areas where low weight and high steadiness are needed, together with a full preservation of properties under extreme changes of temperatures.
But titanium price is very steep (usually a 500% more than the building costs related to excellent professional cameras made with other noble metals like brass and aluminium), though the individual grinding of the components manufactured with it from it in solid state guarantees a great care to avoid the setting up of tension during the carrying out of such polishing on each component, to which there must be added the necessity of further decorative treatments accomplished through mechanical media and essentially handcrafted parameters such as the carving and burnishing of surfaces.
It´s a time-consuming toil whose final stage is the flawless finishing with PVD coating generally used for the applying of a very thin layer of silicon dioxide, fairly easy to clean and providing the titanium with a silky luster which prevents stains and fingerprints.
Leica have had great world class experts in the treatment of surfaces with titanium for rangefinder M cameras, being particularly relevant the figure of Dr. Marcellinus Ibe, an expert Leica chemist at Solms, whose advice to Leica designers and stylists regarding the surface treatments with this high-end stuff has been fundamental for the manufacture of Leica M cameras with it previous to the Leica M9 Titanium.
SUMMILUX-M 35 MM F1.4 ASPH
Photo: Leica Camera AG
So as to match its most modern full frame 24 x 36 mm digital rangefinder camera, Leica has chosen its most updated lens, namely the Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH second version announced by Leica in May 2010 and launched into market in July of this year, in a special edition made in solid titanium in all visible metal parts and the lens hood, along with an additional special surface finish applied to strengthen even more its remarkable resistance to wear.
This moderate angular lens, consisting of 9 elements in 5 groups, weighs only 320 g, with a maximum diameter of 56 mm, and it is at present the world optical-mechanical qualitative standard in its focal length and luminosity, beating its excellent predecessor Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH first version from 1994 (both of them featuring only one aspherical surface unlike the earlier design Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 Aspherical made between 1990 and 1994 which sported 7 elements in 5 groups, two aspherical surfaces and a minimum focusing distance of 1 m, made through exceedingly painstaking grinding and polishing) by means of the adding of a floating element making the optical elements located behind the diaphragm blades behave as a floating optical group during the focusing, changing its relative position with respect to the group of front optical elements, in such a way that you get an excellent image quality both in the medium and long focusing distances and the nearest ones, at all the apertures (image quality won´t significantly increase between f/2 and f/8), on the center, borders and corners alike.
On the other hand, aside from featuring the same minimum focusing distance of 0.7 cm, both the 1994 and 2010 versions of the Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH share in its optical cell a large glass element with an aspherical surface produced by ultra-high precision press forming rather than by grinding and polishing.
In the Leica M9 Titanium, you can see that instead of the rectangular shade featuring a screw mount (which helps to get a further miniaturization of the lens) available for the M9, the Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH 2010 coming as a kit with the Leica M9 Titanium (also made in this ultralight and simultaneously very resistant metal used in the aeronautic industry) goes coupled to a nice circular shade also made in screw mount and through which four slits have been made to avoid any possible obstruction of the viewfinder.
NEW LOCATION AND MANUFACTURING WAY OF THE LEICA LOGO
Photo: Leica Camera AG
The Leica logotype made for the M9 Titanium is a little work of art whose convex circular surface is obtained from a red perspex sheet with a highly accurate CNC machine, after which the Leica symbol is engraved on it, and then the white colour logogram is handcraftedly embedded with epoxy resin. Subsequently, the thorough machining of the round logo badge is fulfilled and afterwards each single logo is painstakingly polished and buffed by hand to ensure a perfect gloss finish.In the M9 Titanium, the Leica logo is located on the middle top zone of the camera front, slightly more on the right than in the M9 - in which the German firm badge is just on the center of that area-, even occupying a little percentage of the surface on which is usually located the traditional window illuminating the bright-line frames sported by Leica M series cameras - including the M9-, that has disappeared in the M9 Titanium, in which the brightline frames for different focal lengths are illuminated one by one by means of internal LEDs. That´s to say, when a specific lens is coupled to the M9 Titanium, an electronic reading of its focal length takes place.
This way, in the Leica M9 Titanium the badge is just on top and perpendicular to the attached lens (unlike the Leica M9, in which it is just above it and a bit on the left of the connected objective).
NEW SYSTEM OF LED ILLUMINATION OF THE BRIGHTLINE FRAMES IN THE VIEWFINDER
Among the innovations introduced by the Leica M9 Titanium, it´s very significant that the brightline frames in the viewfinder for lenses of different focal lengths are now illuminated with internal LEDs, showing in red colour only the frame of a specific focal length, instead of showing the frames of two focal lengths at the same time once a specific lens was attached or previously by means of a frame selector lever as happened till now with the Leica M rangefinder cameras including the Leica M9.
The upshot of it is that in the Leica M9 Titanium the focal lengths are read by means of an electronic system based on an artificial luminous source sporting red LEDs which have replaced the traditional window introducing natural light that projected in pairs within the viewfinder the framing lines corresponding to lenses of various focal lengths thanks to a complex system of masks, whose origin dates back to the viewfinder patented in 1941 by Willi Stein with bright-line frames and founded upon the second Albada Principle, a flat semitransparent mirror featuring a collimation lens for the bright-line frames which combines with a prism telescopic rangefinder. Such patent also included a brainstorm by Dr Ludwig Leitz, who in order to avoid the interferences which could be brought about by the different brightline frames belonging to lenses of various focal lengths, proposed to block them by means of metallic masks.
All the viewfinders of full frame 24 x 36 mm Leica M rangefinders, both analog and digital ones, are based on these ideas set forth by Willi Stein and Ludwig Leitz (susbsequently improved by Heinrich Schneider and Willi Keiner and which experienced a further evolution until reaching extraordinary levels with the RF viewfinders created by Robert Eckhardt and Erich Mandler, sporting updated brightline frames in the viewfinder for lenses of different focal lengths), whose system - highly consolidated by the optical elements of the RF viewfinder calculated by Willi Keiner for the Leica M2 between 1956 and 1957 from which the rangefinders boasted by the Leica M9 and the M9 Titanium stem- has proved its great efficiency and quality for almost six decades of persevering research implemented by Leica about the effect of the viewfinder magnification on the base of effective measuring of the rangefinder and the calibration of such RF viewfinder and its brightline frames for lenses of different focal lengths, with which the base of effective measuring of a 24 x 36 mm full frame Leica M camera will be always the same.
That´s why the accuracy of a Leica M camera -whether analog or digital- with wideangle, standard and medium focal length prime lenses up to roughly 90 mm, is far superior to the one delivered by the most high end analog or digital SLR cameras with lenses featuring identical focal lengths, and it is mainly noticeable in real picture taking contexts, specially when you use the Leica M objectives at full aperture.
It´s really difficult to introduce significant novelties in this coincidence rangefinder system integrated inside the viewfinder, which features a great complexity, outstanding precision and a high manufacturing cost.
To properly realize the quality of this system, suffice it to say that for example in the Leica M9 the rangefinder cost is 1/3 of the total price of the camera, id est, approximately double of a high end not full frame and without rangefinder digital compact camera with its kit lens.
Nevertheless, this Leica M9 Titanium can mean among other things the dawn of something that was deemed virtually impossible: the introduction of betterments in the extraordinary concept of RF viewfinder of Leica M cameras, perhaps through some brilliant electronic device replacing in future the very intricate mechanic contrivance of metallic masks which have to be manually assembled and adjusted.
Regarding this topic, I think that the excellent analog medium format 6 x 4.5 cm rangefinder camera with fixed lens Fuji GA 645 AF which showed inside its viewfinder the bright-line frames for its Fujinon EBC 60 mm f/4 lens (even in the closest distances, when those brightline frames slided downward and on the right owing to the automatic parallax correction and also displayed the exact distance in meters from the photographer position to the subject) could be a harbinger of some aspects, since the reliability and consistency of results both as to the precision of its AF focusing and its brightline frames for its top quality fixed objective (though without reaching the ones rendered by the manual focusing Leica M cameras) were excellent.
The presence of bright-line frames for lenses of different focal lengths which in the Leica M9 Titanium (lacking a brightline frame selector lever marking the field of view with various lenses) are electronically projected on the optical viewfinder may be the embryo of something great in a future Leica M10: perhaps an electromechanic breakthrough taking advantage of the fact that the traditional RF viewfinder works with an intermediate image and two extremely thin metallic masks (with a thickness of 60 and 80 microns) located at that intermediate image plane, almost in contact, and which can move laterally at the same time in relation to each other so as to generate in the viewfinder the bright-line frames corresponding to lenses featuring different focal lengths, it all being complemented by their ability to turn as an independent module in order to compensate for the parallax error in the shortest distances.
At the beginning of eighties, it raised a lot of difficulties linked to the lack of space for additional optical components necessary for the LEDs to be visible inside the viewfinder of the Leica M6, which were solved by the engineer Manfred Weimer by attaching the little LEDs to the metallic masks in the intermediate image plane, in such a way that they were visible with the same sharp contours than the brightline frames for lenses of different focal lengths.
Likewise, in my opinion, it is possible that Leica is working on the most suitable magnifications of viewfinders for future models of rangefinder cameras of its full frame Digital M Line, fostering even more the focusing accuracy at all distances and f stops, trying to significantly ease things to professional photographers, whose advice, feedback and chiming in has always been greatly appraised by Leica before the taking of decisions regarding its cameras and lenses, aside from MTF and scientific data criteria, because Leica cameras and lenses are created to make pictures with them.
The traditional Leica M viewfinder coupled to a coincidence RF allows the photographer an excellent observation quality. It´s a system having proved its great accuracy, even under the dimmest luminic conditions, in the hands of professional photographers and shutterbugs alike since 1954, and it continues to flawlessly work and be fashionable currently in 2010, both in the analog models Leica M7 and Leica MP (in the image) still in production and in the full frame digital M9 and M9 Titanium cameras.
Finding an electro-mechanic solution with only a viewfinder adapting to all the needs of professionals isn´t easy.
Both the Leica M9 0.68x viewfinder and the coincidence RF it features - with brightline frames arranged in pairs for the focal lengths of 28 + 90 mm, 35 + 135 mm and 50 + 75 mm- are praiseworthy and provide a great efficiency and reliability in real photographic situations (something totally verified by the tests carried out by Jason Schneider - Editor at Large of Popular Photography and Imaging and former Editorial Director of Modern Photography- with Leica M9 and Noctilux-M 50 mm f/0.95 ASPH shooting at full aperture and achieving excellent accuracy and consistency of results in regard to focusing).
In the same way, internationally reputed and highly experienced photographers like Ian Berry (Magnum Agency), Constantin Manos (Magnum Agency), David Alan Harvey (Magnum Agency), etc, have put the full frame Leica M9 through its paces, proving that it is a great achievement which has made possible to enjoy a 24 x 36 mm format digital rangefinder camera returning the unutterable feeling of holding a Leica M in one´s hands and being able to work and yield superb handheld results with silence, discretion, the briefest shutter delay release, the utter control by the photographer concerning the most significant picture taking sides and a characteristic introspection state, specially in the picture taking scopes in which this RF camera excels: the travel photography, the streeter domain, the photojournalism and the handheld shooting in very dim contexts, thanks to the comprehensive slew of high luminosity Leica M lenses available in different focal lengths.
The best way to follow with regard to improvements in this topic could be in my viewpoint the path of the Leica M3, probably the best rangefinder Leica camera ever built, boasting a 0.92x magnification viewfinder and an effective rangefinder base of 63.71 mm.
Top front area of Leica M3 where we can see the window of its 0.92x viewfinder (on far right, providing the main image for the VF and being combined with the bright-line frames, the rangefinder metering field and the LED indicators), the brightline illumination window (in the middle, gathering ambient light to produce in the VF the brightline frames for lenses of different focal lengths) and the rangefinder window (on far left, providing the image for the very bright rangefinder metering field). Photo: elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com
Front superior area and top zone of Leica M3 with the window of its 0.92x VF (on the right), the bright line illuminating window (in the middle) and the rangefinder window (on far left). Photo: elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com
Eyepiece of the 0.92x viewfinder of the 24 x 36 mm full format Leica M3 rangefinder camera. Its brightness, sharpness and contrast of this superb VF have remained unbeaten since 1954. Photo: elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com
It´s an important challenge, because traditionally professional photographers using Leicas M6 and later M cameras chose a model with 0.58x magnification for stints with wideangle lenses and one with 0.85x magnification to shoot with both 50 mm standard lenses at f/1, f/1.2, f/1.4 and lenses of 75 mm, 90 mm and 135 mm, often opting as a third alternative for a camera sporting a 0.72 viewfinder magnification which could use more or less all the available M lenses, taking it for granted the need for special external viewfinders when using lenses between 21 mm and 28 mm.
Initiatives following the track of the magnification of the Leica M6J viewfinder fulfilled by Peter Karbe in 1993 after modifying Willi Keiner´s Leica M2 0.72x viewfinder, increasing it up to 0.86x raising the image field in almost a 20% (as well as expanding the rangefinder effective base length from 49.9 mm up to 59.1 mm, augmenting the focusing precision with highly luminous primes between 35 and 75 mm shooting at full aperture and with longer focal length lenses at all the f stops) could perhaps be perfectly adequate in future models of digital full frame Leica M cameras, complemented by some innovative electronic system included inside the viewfinder enabling the integral projection of the brightline frames for each individual focal length, doing without the aforementioned metallic masks, which doesn´s seem to be easy at all and even less that a contrivance like that, however good it could be, reaches the reliability and accuracy of the traditional optical-mechanical RF viewfinder of the Leica M cameras, albeit if Leica managed to create a mechanism featuring those characteristics approaching in its results to the ones obtained with the traditional RF viewfinder, it could be an interesting alternative for the reduction of production costs.
Another very interesting possibility could be to take as a reference the extraordinary viewing system of the 1957 rangefinder Nikon SP made up by a main finder located on the right area of the eyepiece with 1x magnification and brightline frames for 50, 85, 105 and 135 mm lenses (chosen by the photographer turning the big black dial with clear figures 5, 8.5, 10.5 and 13.5 engraved on it which surrounds the rewind crank wheel) featuring automatic parallax correction, and a second Albada type separated finder sporting a lower magnification - 0.4x - and placed on the left area of the eyepiece, whose little window indicates by itself the 28 mm frame, as well as having a brightline frame showing the image field covered by a 35 mm lens - without automatic parallax correction-, so the Nikon SP enables a very accurate focusing, without any external finders, of up to six focal lengths: 28, 35, 50, 85, 105 and 135 mm.
Window of the legendary Nikon SP 1x viewfinder. You can realize the very large size of it, which becomes a decisive trait for the attaining of a very accurate focus with a rangefinder camera. On far left is the rangefinder window. Photo: elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com
Another view of the very big Nikon SP 1x viewfinder window. Bearing in mind that the longer the length between the two windows of the rangefinder the more precise the focus, we can become aware of the impressive level of accuracy of this viewing system, the best in the history of full frame RF cameras along with the 0.92x one sported by the Leica M3. Photo: elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com
Eyepiece of the viewfinder of the Nikon SP. Photo: elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com
It´s true that the brightness and contrast of the main finder (for focal lengths between 50 and 135 mm) of the superb Nikon SP are a bit inferior to the Leica M3 in this regard, but from a global perspective, the dual viewing system of the Nikon SP - a masterpiece keeping up with the level of the Leica M3 viewfinder and even in my opinion beating it in some important sides- would perhaps have more advantages for the development in medium or long time of RF viewfinders for Leica M Line full frame digital cameras in which the top-notch but very prolix and expensive device of metallic framing masks could perhaps be integrally replaced by some high end electronic system featuring great accuracy in the frames for different focal lengths and an ability to individually project bright-line marks for six or even more different lenses.
The viewfinder of the Leica M3, though probably being the best in the history of photography -along with the ones featured by the Nikon SP and the reflex Olympus OM-1, Leica R-8 and Leica R-9- as to focusing accuracy, thanks to its exceptional brightness and the proved quality of the glass rangefinder working in synergy with it, only displays brightline frames for 50, 90 and 135 mm lenses, albeit with the significant bonus that while we are using 90 mm or 135 mm objectives, we can see the brightline frame for 50 mm at every moment, in such a way that we´re aware regarding either what is about to get inside the frame or what is getting out of it-, so we should use external finders when choosing 35 mm lenses and lower focal length wideangles to attach to the M3.
The universal viewfinder of the rangefinder Nikon SP features outstanding complexity and includes 28 optical elements, so to strive after emulating it in some future digital full frame RF cameras of Leica M Line coupled to some innovative electronic system projecting brightline frames on the viewfinder seems on paper very complex and expensive, but it could perhaps be the best of the feasible solutions for the fulfilment of an old dream: the creation of a universal viewfinder featuring a 1x magnification rangefinder enabling the direct use, with great accuracy and without any external finders, of objectives sporting focal lengths between 28 and 135 mm.
That dream was greatly accomplished by the 1957 Nikon SP, whose aforementioned universal dual finder was a synthesis of the best made till then by Leica and Contax in that regard, without forgetting that the rangefinder Nikon SP boasted a complementary contrivance - whose energy was supplied by normal alcaline batteries- illuminating the brightline frames in dim light environments.There would also be another more radical alternative, not featuring brightline frames of different sizes distributed in pairs, but following the parameters established by the zoom telescopic viewfinder with electronic rangefinder of the analog 35 mm format RF camera Contax G2, which automatically adjusts to the focal length of the coupled lens and to the focusing distance to the subject, changing its magnification according to the lens connected to the camera body, modifying its coverage and providing a highly trustworthy perspective, getting very accurate framings with lenses featuring different focal lengths and subjects located at various focusing distances (including the shortest ones, by means of the automatic parallax correction), although with the drawback that the viewfinder image is somewhat small, except with the 90 mm focal length, in such a way that when we attach the Sonnar T* 90 mm f/2.8 to the Contax G2, the camera automatically increases its viewfinder magnification up to 1.14x and the photographer sees better the subject with this lens than with a Leica M9, while with a Leica M9 the magnification of its 0.68x viewfinder renders it smaller in a frame.
Nevertheless, the Contax G2 viewfinder sharpness is clearly inferior to the one boasted by the Leica M9, and the magnification with the rest of Carl Zeiss lenses (28, 35 and 45 mm) is not up to the Leica M9 either, as well as suffering from abundant barrel-shaped distortion at 28 mm and a slight pincushion distortion at 90 mm.
Therefore, the Contax G2 viewfinder model provides a coverage angle automatically adapting to the focal length of the attached lens, but not showing brightline frames of different sizes, but actually changing the viewing coverage. It makes that in this respect, it resembles more the viewing with a reflex camera, because both with the Contax G2 and an SLR, the subject magnification varies with the focal length of the connected lens and it is magnified to a greater extent with the lenses sporting longer focal lengths, unlike the Leica M9 in which the 0.68x magnification remains constant and the white brightline frames change depending on the attached objective, in such a way that the frame lines belonging for example to a Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH practically fill the whole viewfinder, while the frame lines belonging to an Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 ASPH make up a little rectangular frame appearing in the middle of the viewfinder.
Anyway, this Contax G2 viewfinder, although being excellent, would have some significant disadvantages for its utter or partial implementation in future systems of viewfinders with coupled RF for manual focusing digital full frame Leica M cameras in symbiosis with innovative electronic devices related to the projection of the brightline frames:
a) It is an electronic rangefinder system optimized for autofocus and using a very narrow AF area, with an optional also electronic manual focusing based on a distance scale, so there isn´t any way to verify the focusing accuracy in manual mode with the overlapping of two images in one typical in the manual focusing Leica and Nikon cameras enabling a very fast and precise focusing, mainly with angular and standard lenses at all the f stops.
b) It is a viewfinder needing to be manufactured with a high quantity of prisms, which greatly increases its production cost.
c) In addition to the aforementioned distortions (above all the barrel-shaped one), its sharpness and brightness doesn´t match the cameras of the Leica M system or the Nikon SP.
d) It´s a small viewfinder, in which the real magnification for vast majority of Contax G2 system lenses oscillates between 0.57x (Biogon T* 45 mm f/2) and 0.35x for the Biogon T* 28 mm f/2.8 (with an intermediate magnification of 0.44x for the Planar T* 35 mm f/2), which - with the quoted exception of the Sonnar T* 90 mm f/2.8- is inferior to the excellent 0.68x viewfinder of the Leica M9 ( that even allows the wholly reliable accurate focusing of the Noctilux-M 50 mm f/0.95 ASPH at full aperture - together with the different lenses of 35 and 50 mm f/1.4 likewise at maximum aperture-, in addition to the Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2 ASPH and Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 ASPH lenses also at their widest f stops, as well as enabling the use of 135 mm lenses like the Leica Apo-Telyt-R 135 mm f/3.4 and other older ones featuring identical focal length with very high rates of precise focusing from f/5.6, though the visual capacity of the photographer using the Leica M9 is an important factor on seeing the little brightline frames for 90 and 135 mm).
On the other hand, since the Leica Ms viewfinder is bigger, brighter and boasting a greater global viewing quality than the one sported by the Contax G2 - an excellent camera which created a niche in itself- , the Leica M9 is a more suitable camera for composition thanks to the synergy between its viewfinder/RF system and the brightline frames for the different lenses that not fill completely the 0.68x VF, leaving gaps around, enabling the photographer to see beyond those luminous frames, since with objectives featuring focal lengths between 28 and 135 mm on you can see at every moment what´s happening outside the image area of the lens, which can be very useful to anticipate to the events in photographic genres where the Leica M System shows its great capacities: the travel photography, the streeter, the handheld capturing of very dimly lit scenes and the photojournalisms in its various modalities, including war photography.
To quote only three examples, during Vietnam War, in the second half of sixties and beginning of seventies, Horst Faas (AP), Catherine Leroy (Life Magazine, series of three pictures of the marine Vernon Wike helping a dying comrade during the battle for the Hill 881 near Khe Sanh in 1967) and Nick Ut (AP, photograph of the Vietnamese girl Kim Phuc with burns fleeing from a napalm bombing on June 8, 1972) used Leica M2 - mainly with the Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 - taking advantage of this quality of the Leica M cameras in exceedingly risky photographic contexts in which to simultaneously be able to see what happened inside and outside the area covered by the brightline frames of the lenses was very important.
Unlike the Leica M3 - whose brightline frames were for focal lengths of 50 mm, 90 mm and 135 mm-, the Leica M2 featuring a 0.72x viewfinder and an effective base length of 51.4 mm included brightline frames for 35, 50 and 90 mm, so a number of war photojournalists of that time chose the M2 enabling the use of the 35 mm lens (something greatly pioneered by Horst Fass while on assignment getting pictures during the Algerian conflict in the beginning of sixties with his Leica M2) and the 50 mm lens (of which Ian Berry - Magnum Agency- made extensive use in 1960 coupled to his Leica M2 when he photographed demonstrators in Sharperville, South Africa, who were running to save their lives while the police opened fire) as basic lenses with an only RF camera body, being at the same time able to see what was happening outside the brightline frames.
On his turn, Jim Marshall, probably the best rock & roll concert photographer of all time, availed himself of the aforementioned trait with a Leica M2 connected to a Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 during his coverage of The Beatles walking on the turf at the end of their last concert in United States at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966, and throughout his professional trajectory he used a wide assortment of analog Leica M cameras (M2, M4, M4P, M6, M7 and MP) with black and white film Kodak Tri-X 400 in concerts of The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Otis Reeding, Ben Harper, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, The Beatles, Johny Cash, etc, and it was a great help for him to be able to see what happened around the brightline frames for four focal lengths: 35, 50, 90 and 135 mm from 1967 with the introduction of the Leica M4, increasing the range of choices with brightline frames with free space beyond their sides up to the 28 and 75 m lenses with the launching into market of the Leica M4-P 0.72x in 1981 and above all with the Leica M6, a camera which had a great sales success between 1984 and 2002, with the added benefit of the existence of three different bodies featuring magnifications of 0.58x (specially suitable for wideangle lenses), 0.72x (attaining excellent results with lenses between 35 and 90 mm and rather acceptable with 28 mm and 135 mm ones) and 0.85x (mainly excelling with 75, 90 and 135 mm lenses at every diaphragm, along with the highly luminous standard 50 mm lenses sporting maximum f/1, f/1.2 and f/1.4 apertures used at widest f stops).
Image showing the complete range of brightline framelines for different focal length lenses between 28 and 135 mm projected through metallic masks by rangefinder Leica M6 cameras with 0.58x, 0.72x and 0.85x viewfinder magnifications. Trying to improve this classical very expensive but highly efficient optical / mechanical viewing system (enabling to see what is happening outside the brightline frames in the moment of getting the picture and whose great adaptability to real photographic contexts has been verified by professional photographers on the five continents for 56 years) by means of future electronic devices - as seems to suggest in a germinal way the Leica M9 Titanium- in cameras succeeding the full frame digital Leica M9, will be something certainly difficult if not impossible, albeit the steadily evolutioning technology could perhaps provide in the medium or long term an electronic system approaching as much as possible to the performance quality attained by the classical projection of the brightline frames of different focal lengths in the Leica M System cameras with metallic masks, harking back to the beginning of forties and featuring a huge constructive building, maybe with the rurther choice of a possible reduction in the manufacturing costs.
Something that was used during eighties and nineties by prominent photojournalists like Tom Stoddart with Leicas M6 and MPs and different lenses (he mostly shoots with 28, 35 and 50 mm) during his coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the pictures he made of British holiday makers in Blackpool, Lancashire (U.K), in Sarajevo in 1992 for The Sunday Times Magazine, etc, being for example highly indicative regarding the composition advantages of the traditional brightline frames of the rangefinder Leica M cameras his picture made with Leica M6 and Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 of two young men promenading across the Blackpool seashore on a winter´s day, each one taking an Afghan hound, while an old man wearing a cap and clear gabardine appears closer to the camera on the right area of the black and white Ilford HP5 ISO 400 negative, without forgetting his heartrending images of thousands of Tutsi refugees fleeing from Rwanda genocide in 1994 and likewise dying in the thousands because of cholera after their arrival in Goma (Democratic Republic of Congo) or the ones depicting the famine in the south of Sudan during the civil war.
e) Due to its inherent electronic character lacking any mechanical coupling between the AF module and the also AF lenses, the utter or partial use of a viewfinder system like Contax G2´s one would imply a lot of radical modifications as to the optical/mechanical binomium being the raison d´etre of the viewfinders coupled to exceedingly accurate rangefinders both in the digital full frame Leica M9 and the analog Leica M and Nippon Kogaku ragefinder cameras like the M3 and Nikon SP, in which it´s precisely the accuracy of their non electronic but mechanical rangefinder along with a seamless coupling precision in the mount and with the linking components belonging to Herr Entfernungsmesser what makes possible an extraordinary focusing exactness even under the dimmest luminic conditions. It´s true that in order that it works it is necessary a perfect adjustment between the mechanical cams of the manual focusing non retrofocus lenses built without any compromises (which usually deliver greater or much greater quality than the AF retrofocal reflex objectives, with the added advantage and convenience of a much smaller size and weight) and the mechanical system of the camera, which was evidently the case during the analog period with the rangefinder Leica Ms and Nikons, qualities that have utterly been preserved in the digital Leica M9 featuring a 24 x 36 mm top-notch sensor, which doesn´t mean that the system is 100% perfect and sporadic and very little frequent mechanical misalignments inevitable in a system of this nature may happen.
Therefore, I do sincerely believe, however amazing it may seem, that the best two potential ways of improving the viewfinder of future digital full frame 24 x 36 mm rangefinder Leica M cameras succeeding the M9 in future, would be either the 1954 Leica M3 viewfinder or the 1957 Nikon SP one.
The traditional coincidence rangefinder of the 24 x 36 mm Leica M cameras is a masterpiece of engineering and precision achieving a great focusing accuracy even with highly luminous lenses, shooting handheld at the widest apertures, thanks to a very complex alignment between the mechanical rangefinder system - made up by more than 150 components- and the coupling system of the Leica M lenses - specially their positioning cams located in the camera body-, being necessary that both of them be perfectly adjusted to attain the correct focus, which has traditionally been the case for the almost sixty years of existence of the Leica M Line of cameras and lenses. Photo: elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.comA system currently having its full continuity and effect with the Leica M9, being at present the best mirrorless digital compact camera in the world, whose excellent and very versatile viewfinder featuring a 0.68x magnification (with a performance comparable to the one attained by VF sported by the Leica M6 0.72x, Leica M7 0.72x and Leica MP 0.72x and able to synergize with six different focal length lenses: 28, 25, 50, 75, 90 and 135 mm) has already proved its great focusing accuracy in real working conditions in the hands of professional photographers and advanced connoisseurs alike.
This extraordinary eye-level optical /mechanical viewfinder integrated in the camera body and coupled to a very top-notch and accurate viewfinder, though suffering from the inevitable parallax error in the nearest distances and featuring a between 93% and 85% coverage at infinity depending on the lens attached (unlike a number of full frame reflex cameras sporting 1 100% coverage) offers an aperture independent clearly superior watching quality and focusing precision compared to the excellent viewfinders with pentaprism and mirror featured by top-notch full frame digital reflex cameras (Nikon D700, Nikon D300, Nikon D3x, Canon EOS D5, Canon Eos D5 II, Canon EOS Mark Ds III, etc), top level APS-C digital reflex cameras (Nikon D300) and some top level reflex Micro Four Thirds cameras (Olympus E-3 and E-5), while differences in quality and convenience of viewing and focus precision are still much bigger when compared to both integrated (Panasonic Lumix G1 and Panasonic Lumix GH1) and external (Olympus EP-2 and Panasonic Lumix GF-1) electronic viewfinders appeared during 2009 and 2010 in some mirrorless non rangefinder digital compact Micro 4/3 format cameras with interchangeable lenses, lacking an RF and featuring a much smaller sensor size, so they are cameras which haven´t anything to do either evolutively or constructively with the RF Leicas M, the RF Nikons, the RF Contax, the RF Bessas R, etc. And the same happens with the mirrorless non rangefinder interchangeable lenses APS-C format cameras Sony Alpha Nex 3 and Sony Alpha Nex 5, which because of the urgent necessity of getting the minimum feasible size and weight to be able to compete with the Panasonic and Olympus Micro 4/3 format cameras in their scope of price and quality, were deprived of any integrated optical or electronic viewfinder whatsoever, which makes the user frame and take the pictures looking at back LCD screen from a distance and stretching his/her arms, with the many disadvantages it has, and even if the optional external optical viewfinder FDA-SV1 is attached on the accessory shoe, the observation quality is light years from the one delivered by the viewfinder of a Leica M9, M9 Titanium, Nikon D700, D3, Canon EOS 5D or Ds Mark III, Pentax K20 D (one of the best ratio price/performance APS-C reflex digital cameras made until now, sporting a very comprehensive array of prominent features and functions, among which stands out an excellent very bright and crystal clear 0.95 x viewfinder with field coverage of 95%, attaining a big and sharp subject image thanks to its synergy Natural Bright-Matte II focusing screen), etc.
Though non rangefinder digital mirrorless APS-C and Micro 4/3 compact cameras are at a far qualitative distance from the Leica M9 (also mirrorless but featuring the rangefinder - so it is a RF camera-), above all in the optical/ mechanical domain, in image quality (the Leica M9 delivers medium format like DNG archives with an image quality comparable to the best obtainable with analog Hasselblad cameras with ISO 25 films digitized with drum scanners, such as was proved by Dr. Ed Schwartzreich) and durability of the camera body and lenses, in ability for getting selective focus at the widest apertures (which is very important in creative photography and to highlight the subject), and in many other highly significant sides, during the last year and a half these little cameras have experienced some improvements with Micro 4/3 models like the Lumix GF1 (with acessory optional electronic viewfinder LVF1 and the unbeatable antidust system on sensor patented by Olympus and based on ultrasounds), and above all the non interchangeable lenses APS-C format Fuji X100, which will appear soon in the market, a very beautiful camera, which is in my standpoint, from an aesthetic perspective, a synthesis between the Leica IIIG and the Leica M3 (though from a building and operative perspective it hasn´t got anything to do with them, since the superb X100 isn´t a rangefinder camera -it hasn´t got RF- and its very high quality lens belongs to the retrofocus type) and sports a CMOS 12.3 Megapixel sensor attached to an excellent Fujinon 23 mm f/2 fixed lens boasting 8 elements (one of them aspheric of great complexity and other seven made with high refractive index optical glasses) in 6 groups, in my viewpoint the best optically made till now in this very interesting domain of cameras along with the Elmarit 24 mm f/2.8 ASPH (also 8 elements in 6 groups - one of them aspheric-, equivalent to a 35 mm in full frame, featuring a different optical formula than the Elmarit-M 24 mm f/2.8 sporting 5 elements in 7 groups, and built from scratch for the CMOS APS-C 1.5x 12.2 megapixels ISO 100-3200 of the Leica X1), to which must be added a CMOS 12.3 megapixel sensor, the EXR DSP and a built-in optical/electronic hybrid viewfinder, albeit since the two biggest elements of the Fujinon 23 mm f/2 ASPH lens (both of them located just behind the exotic aspheric element) are well inside the camera body, thanks to the quoted inverted retrofocus design, in which the lens gets deeply inside the camera body, the development of future Fuji X100 cameras featuring interchangeable lenses (the Fuji X100 announced during Photokina 2010 can only take the Fujinon 23 mm f/2 ASPH as a fixed lens), as well as being in my viewpoint something of huge complexity and in the frontier of the impossible - I may be wrong- would mean in an almost inevitable way a much thicker camera body, for it would be necessary some supplementary space for the bayonet both in the different lenses and in the camera body, without forgetting that the Fuji X100 probably features microlenses oriented towards the borders of the sensor (which redrive the obliquely inciding light beams towards the surface of the digital captor), that have been optimized for the maximum feasible reduction of the Fujinon 23 mm f/2 ASPH vignetting, which is suggested by the huge proximity of the last back element to the digital sensor.
We should likewise bear in mind the also excellent and very beautiful Leica X1, a camera featuring exceedingly reduced size and weight (with lines highly resembling the profile of the Leica "O" 1923-1924 and the Leica 1 Model A 1925-1936), that in spite of the drawback of the somewhat slow AF, specially for the streeter genre, is currently the flagship regarding image quality within the scope of the digital non rangefinder mirroless compact cameras sporting a non full frame sensor, thanks to its superb Elmarit 24 mm f/2.8 ASPH fixed lens featuring 8 elements (one of them aspherical) in 6 groups and custom made for its 12 megapixels CMOS APS-C 1.5x sensor (with aspect ratio 3:2) offering a coverage angle equivalent to a 35 mm lens in 24 x 36 mm format.
Needless to say that the Leica X1 also makes a great back-up camera for owners of a full frame Leica M9, although the launching of the excellent mirrorless non rangefinder APS-C Fuji X100 with its integrated hybrid viewfinder (in which stands out its Galilean inverted type finder with 5x magnification that - though doesn´t reach the top-notch level of brightness and sharpness of the Leica M9 and M9 Titanium 0.68x viewfinder coupled to coincidence rangefinder- is very good) and its higher autofocus speed than the Leica X1, could perhaps prompt the development by Leica of a new APS-C mirrorless non rangefinder camera boasting great performance, amongst them: an optical quality even beyond the Leica X1 (thanks to the synergy between a Leica fixed lens like the 8 elements in 6 groups Elmarit 24 mm f/2.8 ASPH of the X1 or another new one featuring a great maximum aperture and also incepted from scratch for an updated APS-C sensor and DSP from the optical formula Elmarit-M-28 mm f/2.8 ASPH, but adding as a possible novelty a very high quality and accurate electronic -or hybrid- viewfinder, along with a much higher AF quickness than the Leica X1.
We shouldn´t exclude the hypothesis that this new future mirrorless non rangefinder APS-C Leica camera could include some of the viewfinder electronic devices perhaps hinted in an embryo stage by the Leica M9 Titanium, allowing the creation of a very small APS-C non RF Leica camera sporting very reduced size and weight, and electronically projecting the frameline for a fixed lens feeding the new camera body.
Probably, the best choice for lens would be the optical formula Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH with 9 elements (one of them aspheric) in 6 groups adapted to a new APS-C sensor, and preserving the 9 diaphragm blades wich would result in a great resolving power and contrast in both centers and corners at all the f stops between f/2 and f/8, together with a remarkable selective focusing ability at maximum f/2 aperture (equivalent in depth of field to approximately f/2.8 in 24 x 36 mm format) with excellent bokeh and keeping of the contours of the out of focus areas. But the manufacturing cost of the binomial camera body with APS-C sensor + lens with this 28 mm f/2 ASPH lens and the exceedingly complex correction of its aspherical element would mean a very steep production cost.
Perhaps a wise way would be to follow the parameters established in 2003 by Achim Heine´s analog 300 g CM compact camera for 35 mm format, whose front view was comparable to the Leica M. This visionary compact camera, sporting very reduced size and weight, attained by means of a its tack sharp Summarit 40 mm f/2.4 a superb image quality unknown till then in this domain of so very small and light models. To build a camera like this featuring state-of-the-art APS-C sensor and DSP and above all a top-notch highly luminous lens which could be for example a new Summicron 24 mm f/2 ASPH created from the ground up for this digital captor and with an optical performance matching either the Elmarit 24 mm f/2.8 of the Leica X1 or even better the Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH could be a great breakthrough. Leica has already proved that it is even able to design a Summilux-M 24 mm f/1.4 ASPH, so a maximum aperture of f/2 for a new 24 mm ASPH lens incepted for a 1.5x sensor and equivalent to roughly a 36 mm lens in full frame would be clearly within its reach.
Even, the Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH has already being tested coupled through an adaptor to Micro 4/3 cameras like the Panasonic Lumix G1, rendering very good results, so either a Summicron 28 mm f/2 ASPH or a Summicron 24 mm f/2 ASPH designed from scratch and adapted to a bigger size and more updated APS-C sensor to be installed in a future digital mirrorless rangefinderless compact Leica camera sporting a faster AF speed than the X1 and a built-in optical-electronical viewfinder would deliver a much better image quality, always understanding that the Leica X1 is now in October 2010 the APS-C compact camera delivering the best image quality in the world.
To be able to equal or even slightly improve it at all diaphragms including full aperture with a future Leica APS-C compact camera boasting an f/2 ASPH double luminosity lens than the Elmarit 24 mm f/2.8 ASPH could be something truly significant.
It would mean in my standpoint the coming into being of an utterly professional mirrorless non rangefinder fixed lens APS-C digital compact camera equivalent in performance to the 1993 analog 24 x 36 mm format Konica Hexar, which has been in my viewpoint until now the best and most versatile pro compact camera with fixed lens ever made, and whose great efficiency was firmly grounded in the quicness and accuracy of its AF and above all in the extraordinary image quality of its symmetrical Hexar 35 mm f/2 lens featuring 7 elements in 6 groups, strongly inspired in the 1956 W-Nikkor 3.5 cm f/1.8 designed by Hideo Azuma regarding its optical formula, and whose rendered image type is similar to the one featured by the fourth Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 sporting 7 elements in 5 groups and only a weight of 150 g designed by Walter Mandler in Midland, Ontario (Canada) in 1979 getting a great image quality with excellent resolving power, contrast and ability for the capturing of fine details at f/2.8 and f/4 and very good at f/2 (although inevitably, the performance on the corners regarding contrast, flare and coma drops at this widest aperture) taking the Double Gauss optical scheme without aspheric surfaces to its scienticic feasible boundaries, with which he simultaneously attained a big reduction of production costs and the preservation of a very high image quality, as well as managing to achieve a subtle tridimensional bokeh.
Konica engineers and opticians studied painstakingly both the W-Nikkor 3.5 cm f/1.8 and Mandler´s Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 fourth version and added some modifications, slightly improving their optical performance at full aperture f/2 and choosing the resulting Hexar 35 mm f/2 lens as the fixed objective for the Konica Hexar AF, in such a way that they obtained top-notch sharpness and contrast at every f stop, aside from keeping to great extent the famous bokeh of the Summicron 35 mm f/2 fourth version and reducing roughly in a 50% the vignetting at full aperture of Mandler´s design (2.5 diaphragms).
Anyway, the production cost of a possible future new APS-C mirrorless non rangefinder Leica camera with an f/2 ASPH lens featuring the optical performance of either the Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH or the Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH and miniaturized for the 1.5x sensor would be very high, which in my standpoint makes very difficult to be able to offer a price tag under 2.500 euros, something that under the current circumstances of the market of APS-C and Micro 4/3 mirrorless non rangefinder cameras can be risky.
I do sincerely believe that now more than ever, Walter Mandler´s philosophy of optical design is acquiring special relevance, and the ability to build top-notch lenses offering very high performance but at the same time reducing the production cost to the utmost is going to become a key factor in the scope of the APS-C and Micro 4/3 mirrorless non rangefinder cameras, in which competition is fierce.
To name only an example, Walter Mandler, with his tremendous knowledge, experience and working capacity, managed to improve the optical performance of the 6 elements in 5 groups Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 (version 1969-1979) by means of a new optical formula in which he applied common radii, getting the Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 6 elements in 4 groups 1979-1994 version , with identical formula than the 1994 one, still in production), significally reducing the manufacturing costs, lowering to four the grinding and polishing tool sets necessary to make it (previously twelve tool sets were needed) and simultaneously achieving a resolving power of 40 lines per milimeter at a 60% contrast across the film diagonal, as well as obtaining a significantly lower lens weight, something that besides making up a great scientific feat, fostered the sales and the profit margins.
In my humble opinion, it could be important for Leica trying to tackle (at least in the building of future APS-C mirrorless non rangefinder cameras and their lenses) new complementary ways ( striving in all means after reducing the manufacturing costs, specially in the great aperture ASPH objectives for 1.5x sensor) to add to the ones currently used in the making of high end M series aspheric lenses for 24 x 36 mm format, with difference the best in the world, but entailing a hefty production cost that logically is included in the market price, in my viewpoint most times justified, because if the highly luminous Leica M lenses are worth what they are worth is -among many other things- because of the very uniform optical performance they deliver between maximum apertures f/1.4 and f/8, their very little size and weight and their extraordinary quality of components and mechanic thoroughness, which is a key factor in the great image quality obtained at every f stop. That´s why Leica M lenses have such a steep price. All lenses are good at f/8.
But unlike the domains of full frame 24 x 36 mm rangefinder cameras and medium format reflex cameras (evidently two qualitative and building niches featuring much higher optical and mechanical excellence, along with far superior image quality delivered than the mirroless non rangefinder APS-C and Micro 4/3 - which can really reach very good image quality provided that the lenses are top-notch, because of their smaller or much smaller sensor sizes- ) in which Leica is currently the world flagship with the Leica M9 and the Leica S2 respectivaley, from an economical side, this domain of the photographic market of mirrorless non rangefinder cameras featuring a smaller sensor than full frame 24 x 36 mm generates big sales figures, so the competition among different firms is huge, along with the capacity of the Japanese firms to offer increasingly better products at a more and more competitive price, as proved by the Fuji X100 with its excellent Fujinon 23 mm f/2 ASPH lens, a camera which has meant in my viewpoint a qualitative turning point in this sector of the very small mirrorless non rangefinder cameras with little sensors, so in my humble viewpoint perhaps the best solution for a future digital mirrorless rangefinder APS-C camera would be to follow the track of the extraordinary point and shoot Leica CM analog camera (whose dimesions and weight - 117 x 65 x 36 mm and 300 g- were significantly smaller than the ones featured by the Konica Hexar - 137.5 x 76.5 x 67.5 mm and 495 g- and whose optical performance of its Summarit 40 mm f/2.4 lens was impressive, slightly superior to the Hexanon 35 mm f/2 of the Konica Hexar AF, and with the added benefit of an almost non existent vignetting at full aperture f/2 - unlike the Hexanon 35 mm f/2, whose light fall-off on the corners at the widest f stop is highly apparent-).
Sincerely, I do believe that this could be a wise route for Leica in APS-C format if they would manage to reduce manufacturing costs without any loss of quality and a market selling price not exceeding the 2.000 euros frontier, because the analog 24 x 36 mm format Leica CM was in my standpoint the best point and shoot compact camera ever made, boasting outstanding levels of miniaturization in every component, very slight dimensions and weight, great easiness of use, an excellent real image viewfinder sporting remarkable brightness and sharpness, long durability, great elegance of lines, and above all a highly luminous f/2.4 lens able to get a capturing of details and nuances which go on being the reference in this scope of very little cameras.
If Leica could create in future a digital APS-C camera in the style of the analog Leica CM, with a 24 mm f/2 ASPH or 28 mm f/2 ASPH following Michael Heiden & Holger Wiegand optical mechanical quality parameters, but designed from the ground for an updated 1.5x digital sensor and looking for alternative ways to reduce production costs to the utmost without losing an atom of quality and it could also achieve to follow the footsteps of the Konica Hexar AF, simultaneously boasting a system automatically making up for the blendendifferenz (focus shift) generated on stopping down -attaining this way an excellent focusing accuracy at every diaphragm and distance-, it all perhaps with the complement of some electronic system - inspired in the one featured by the Leica M9 Titanium- projecting the brightline frame of the lens inside the viewfinder, a new point and shoot very small camera would be born marking a further historical qualitative turning point and Leica chances in this tremendously competitive segment of very small mirrorless non rangefinder cameras sporting a small digital captor would significantly increase.
The classical Leica MP-4, M6, M7 and MP 0.72x viewfinder and the current 0.68x featured by the digital full format 24 x 36 mm Leica M9 and M9 Titanium have turned out to be the best choice for general purpose Leica M photography, with a slight compromise at 28 mm and 135 mm focal lengths and an excellent performance with 35, 50, 75 and 90 mm objectives, in such a way that in my viewpoint only 28 mm users wearing eyeglasses could have some problems.
These 0.72x and 0.68x finders are the most flexible ones for the widest feasible range of lenses and enable the photographer to stretch the lineup of usable Leica M objectives without external viewfinders up to six focal lengths, four of them with top-notch guarantee of focusing accuracy, reliability and consistency in results and the other two (28 and 135 mm) faring well most times, and besides, they both are the viewfinders which gets a very high focusing efficiency with a 35 mm lens (even when used by eyeglass wearers) - only slightly second to the 0.58x finder with that focal length, though the 0.72x and 0.68x VFs work much better between 50 and 90 mm- a very important focal length in the Leica M System because of its versatility and angle of coverage.
A 0.58x viewfinder doesn´t deliver with 75, 90 and 135 mm lenses regarding focusing precision, and for a standard 50 mm lens the 0.72x and 0.68x finders are a much better choice to accurately and comfortably focus it, while for using the 50 mm (specially Walter Mandler´s Noctilux-M 50 mm f/1 and Peter Karbe´s Noctilux-M 50 mm f/0.95 ASPH) at full aperture and 75, 90 and 135 mm at every f stop, a 0.85x viewfinder is even a better choice.
Mainly because of price and convenience reasons, most people try to use as many lenses as possible on only one body and for that purpose a 0.72 or 0.68x VF with its intermediate magnification enabling the use of six different focal lengths is the best and most advisable choice able to achieve great results with practice, and it has also proved to be the most practical option for eye relaxing when you shoot a lot during a day. Likewise, in my viewpoint, the 0.72 x and 0.68x magnifications are the most suitable ones for getting the greatest possible compact combo: a Leica M7, MP, M9 or M9 Titanium with a Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH.
If the aim is to have a dedicated body for the shorter or longest lenses of the Leica M assortment, the best options are the 0.58x and 0.85x VFs respectively, but if you try to focus a 90 mm lens with a Leica M 0.58x camera it will be very difficult to get the maximum quality of the lens because you will need a lynx sight to attain accurate focus which will bring about quality loss with the slightlest focusing error, and on the other hand, if we try to use a 35 or 28 mm lens with a Leica M 0.85x we´ll realize soon that those two focal lengths are beyond the capabilities domain of that magnification.
To improve this mostly widespread 0.72x / 0.68 x VF system in future full frame 24 x 36 mm digital Leica M cameras succeeding the M9 and M9 Titanium through the fulfilment of a greater magnification for a wider range of focal lengths, if possible in an individual way, with the complement of some electronic innovative system of projection and delimitation of the brightline frames for various lenses, enabling to get rid of the intricate and very expensive metallic masks which must be manually assembled and adjusted, seems very difficult, but the steadily evolution technology could perhaps achieve it in a medium or long time, getting a reduction of production costs and simultaneously approaching as much as possible to the performance of the Leica M viewfinder with coincidence rangefinder, the professionals´ needs in terms of optimizing the tackling of the most various photographic tasks, though the previous creation by Leica of 0.58x and 0.85x magnification viewing M9s mustn´t be excluded whatsoever and would probably be the first and most logical and practical route to meet.
But there´s little margin for improvement and radical changes in a classical system like this, steadily bettered by Leica expert technicians and engineers by almost six decades. Perhaps a future replacement of the metallic masks projecting the brightline frames by any kind of electronic breakthrough enabling to individually show in the viewfinder the frame of each specific attached lens clearly lit, whenever it could also feature some space beyond every brightline frame enabling the photographer to see what is happening just around at the moment of the photographic act, one of the most appreciated assets of the Leica M viewfinder coupled to long base RF system.
Anyway, it seems clear that despite its limited variety of innovations, the Leica M9 Titanium could not be at all - and indeed it isn´t- a synchronic act of brilliant design pining for merging the best of two worlds, but the prelude to modifications in medium and long time with regard to the way of manufacturing full frame digital Leica M cameras succeeding the currently very established Leica M9 - whose sales figures have greatly exceeded and go on exceeding the expectations, with waiting lists which are increasing more and more - , above all as to viewfinder, maximum fostering of the grip and transport convenience, using of new materials allowing to reduce weight to the utmost without dwindling either the camera resistance to professional use or the atavic Leica preservation of the cosmetic appearance of the camera after the elapse of time, etc.
Stefan Daniel, Director Product Management Photo of Leica Camera AG. Photo: elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com