Text and Pictures: José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA
Leica has unveiled the economical results of its third quarter of fiscal year 2010/2011 (id est, the benefits obtained during the nine months elapsed between April 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010, because the fiscal year in Germany finishes on March 31 of each season) delivering historical figures, with record sales of 186.4 million euros, which means a 73% increase in revenues in comparison with the 107.6 million euros corresponding to the same third quarter of 2009-2010, greatly improving the best expectations, since unlike the previous year in which Leica amassed 0.3 million euros losses, it has just achieved a profit of 28.9 million euros.
Alfred Schopf, CEO of Leica Camera AG. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
There has been a whole restructuring as to marketing, service and sales departments, they all being utterly brought into play by both Leica and its worldwide distributors network, emphasizing the significance of a reliable support, as well as progressively strengthening the presentation of products for enthusiasts and professionals using the firm´s creations with the opening of new Leica Stores in Moscow (May 26, 2009, in Leninskiy Prospect, 61/1), London (September 10, 2009, in Bruton Place, Mayfair, between Old Bond Street and Berkeley Square, London W1), Paris (October 22, 2009, in 150 rue de la Pompe), Tokyo (October 23, 2009, in the fifth floor of the south wing of the Tamagawa Takashimayashopping), Warsaw (January 27, 2010, in Al. Jerozolimskie 189, +1 level), Hong Kong (two of them, May 28, 2010, one in Times Square Mall, Store 918A, 1 Matheson Street, Cause Bay and a second one in IFC Mall, Store 2026, 1 Harbour View Street, Central) and Sao Paulo (December 9, 2010, in Shopping Cidade Jardim, Av. Magalhâes de Castro, 12.000).
This is a remarkable feat for the mythical German photographic firm, for it is the best economical yield for a quarter since 1996, when Leica GmbH became Leica Camera AG and began its public offer of share selling with the aim of expanding itself worldwide, starting its stock exchange activity.
But these great economic results attained by Leica and just known are highly significant, because they do not stem from a cash flow boost made by private investors, but from the sales of above all three top-notch quality products, two of them being currently with difference the flagships in their respective domains: the rangefinder Leica M9 (the most compact, full format, mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses on the market) and the medium format reflex Leica S2, together with a third one: the APS-C format compact Leica X1 AF that though sporting a bit slow AF for moving subjects and not featuring the ability to connect different focal lengths objectives, has a great unique character, a very beautiful design in my viewpoint inspired on the models Leica "O" 1923-1924, Leica 1 Model A 1925-1936 and Compur Leica (Model B) 1926-1941, and first and foremost boasts a top-notch 8 elements in 6 groups (one of them being aspheric) Elmarit-M 24 mm f/2.8 ASPH built from the ground for its 12.2 megapixel 23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS sensor and equivalent to a 36 mm focal length in 35 mm format, which delivers a simply superb image quality, it all with the added advantage of extremely reduced weight (286 g) and volume, which result in fairly convenient transport, in such a way that this little great camera flawlessly fulfils the goal for which it was created.
Back to the Future. The full frame Leica M9 rangefinder has meant the utter consolidation of the German firm in the Digital Photography domain, with the further virtue of the preservation of both the classicism and lines profile inherent to the famous M series analog 24 x 36 mm format rangefinder cameras, staying true to a working and picture taking way present since the times of Oskar Barnack. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
A brand-new Leica M9 rangefinder with Elmarit-M 28 mm f/2.8 ASPH by a pin of Photokina Köln 1956, two years after the launching into market of the Leica M3. Though fifty-six years have elapsed since the introduction of the Leica M3 and seventy-eight since the launching into market of the Leica II (Model D) 1932-1948 which was the first Leica with a built-in rangefinder, the current mirrorless full frame Leica M9 shares a lot of common traits and working methodology with RF Leica cameras widely used during XX Century by legendary Masters of Photography like Elliot Erwitt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Horst Faas, Robert Capa, Ian Berry, Chim, Raymond Depardon, David Alan Harvey, Inge Morath, Bill Pierce, Constantin Manos, Phillips Jones Griffiths, etc. Pin courtesy of Dr. Mervin Stewart, who attended to the Photokina Köln 1956. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Medium format Leica S2 with an impressive Summarit-S 35 mm f/2.5 ASPH wideangle lens, equivalent to a 28 mm in 24 x 36 mm format. The image quality obtained by this revolutionary MF camera (able to achieve excellent results shooting handheld outdoors in a wide range of photographic environments - and exceptional indoors in studio and fashion photography, etc-) and slightly smaller than a professional 35 mm digital reflex camera), is in my viewpoint comparable in terms of resolving power, sharpness and even filmlike appearance - a trait it also preserves in black and white mode- to the results rendered by an 8 x 10 (20 x 25 cm) Ebony or Linhof large format cameras with top MF primes, whose negatives are digitized through a professional virtual drum scanner, though the analog large format 8 x 10 models are virtually unbeatable in terms of aesthetic beauty and out of focus rendering, without forgetting their far superior possibilities to work with the focusing planes. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
David Farkas (resident Leica expert at Dale Photo & Digital) shooting handheld with Leica S2 and Summarit-S 35 mm f/2.5 ASPH (CS) on the deck of a boat crossing the Moselle river in Germany. Conditions were far from optimal, with some surge moving the vessel, a bit dim luminosity, strong winds and intermitten rain, but the ergonomically designed body perfectly fitting in the hand, the remarkably smooth shutter release working with a minimal delay, its unruffled mirror action, the extensive weather and dust sealing in body and lenses alike, the highly accurate AF and the available ASA range between 160 and 1250 (yielding exceptional image quality and depth of images at three sensitivities: ISO 160, 320 and 640 inclusive - with the easy choice of using ISO 320 and ISO 640 in combination with shutter speeds of 1/500 s and over it for safe handheld picture taking in outdoors stints, greatly minimizing vibration and preventing motion blur- and very good at 1250 ISO) enabled the S2 to get high marks. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.
The medium format Leica S2 and its lineup of S-System lenses are able to flawlessly work under the hardest weather conditions. Here both the camera and the Summarit-S 35 mm f/2.5 ASPH (CS) could perform impeccably in the hands of David Farkas in spite of the rain. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
But unlike wonderful LF 8 x 10 cameras, the medium format Leica S2 can be used handheld for a very wide range of photographic assignments, in the same way as any professional 35 mm camera, without needing any tripod or monopod. Only the remarkable fixed lens analog rangefinder large format Littman 4 x 5 (10 x 12 cm) camera in its different possible optical configurations (Rodenstock Ysarex 127 mm f/4.7, Xenotar 135 mm f/3.5, Xenar 150 mm f/4.5, Rodenstock Apo Sironar 135, and Apo Symmar 120 and 150) is able to reach a handheld shot large format image quality approaching the one rendered by the digital Leica S2 regarding resolving power and sharpness (The Littman bokeh -subjective factor-, specially with the photojournalistic old Xenotar lens will be slightly superior to the excellent one delivered by the Leica S2), along with the subtle tonality in the highlights specially characteristic in chemical emulsion based LF format, providing you use low ISO film and a professional drum scanning.
Anyhow, the Leica S2 is far more versatile, with a vast array of available interchangeable lenses second to none as to resolving power and sharpness, along with probably the most accurate AF ever made, not as tremendously fast as the best AF systems of high end full frame Canon and Nikon professional reflex cameras, but very quick and astoundingly precise.
And this has been another key factor for the selling success of the Leica S2, since albeit the existing S-System lenses sport an incontestable image quality at full apertures f/2.5 and f/3.5, because of the medium format big sensor, the depth of field specially at f/2.5 is very narrow, so Leica has improved even more the S2 AF, keeping the amazing accuracy but significantly increasing its already very high speed with the firmware 18.104.22.168, which has recently been updated with the newest firmware version for the S2: the FW 22.214.171.124, that increases the AF exactness even more and improves the focusing on very small picture details, as well as sporting a wide range of valuable improvements, being specially relevant the possibility of getting lossless DNG compression reducing the file sizes from approximately 75MB to around 40MB and expanding the burst rate capacity to 14 consecutive exposures (at 1.5 frames per second), a new maximum exposure time, a setting choice in highlight and shadow level warning, a shutter speed section in bulb mode and further betterments dealing with the histogram display, memory card compatibility, setting option for memory button and legibility of the display.
Jim Lager (top authority in the world regarding the History of Leica Cameras, Lenses and Accessories) evaluating with David Farkas the results obtained with the S2 and Elmarit-S 35 mm f/2.5 ASPH (CS). Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Lateral view of Leica S2 medium format camera with Summarit-S 35 mm f/2.5 ASPH featuring 11 elements in 9 groups (with two aspherical surfaces and five special glasses with anomalous partial dispersion, featuring a rear group focusing ensuring consistent top-notch image quality from infinity to a minimum focusing distance of 55 cm) and equivalent to a 28 mm wideangle lens in 24 x 36 mm format. It delivers the amazing level of reproduction of details and contrast across the entire image field inherent to the S-System objectives, unprecedented in the medium format field and typical in the analog Large Format scope.
Both the MTF curves belonging to this awesome wideangle lens and the pictures made till now with it by some professional photographers who have put it through its paces, have proved that Peter Karbe (Head of the Optical Department of Leica Camera AG in Solms and currently considered the best optical designer in the world) has managed to get something that was deemed almost impossible: a reflex medium format wideangle lens equivalent to a 28 mm objective for 24 x 36 mm format, both optically and mechanically slightly more perfect than the extraordinary non retrofocus 9 elements in 6 groups Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH lens for 35 mm Leica M rangefinders, designed by Michael Heiden, which was till now with difference the cream of the cream in this focal length. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
On the other hand, the Leica S2 optical viewfinder is outstanding, exceedingly bright and contrasty, covering a 97% and beating in quality of vision and convenience of use the viewfinders of the manual focusing analog 35 mm reflex Olympus OM -1, Leica R8, Leica R9 and medium format Pentax 645, which boasted in my standpoint the best reflex viewfinders ever made until the arrival of the Leica S2. Moreover, the eyepiece is huge, with great eye relief, so the photographer can easily view the entire screen with glasses on, and the thick rubberized eyecup is surrounded by a knurled ring offering diopter adjustment. And the big three-inch LCD screen, with its 460,000 pixels display sporting 16-bit colour (making focus and composition confirmation easier than on most digital slr cameras and allowing photographers to see images and data from wide viewing angles) is a substantial bonus. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Two different philosophies of taking pictures and shooting styles coexisting in XXI Century: John Patterson (a Member of the Board of Directors of the LHSA and an accomplished Leica M shooter featuring decades of experience) with full frame Leica M9 rangefinder and Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 ASPH and David Farkas with medium format reflex Leica S2 camera and Apo-Elmar-S 180 mm f/3.5 ASPH (CS). Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Besides, Leica has managed to reduce the focusing shift to zero on stopping down, with excellent floating elements and a unique f stop correction system depending on the focusing distance and based on very small focusing steps at distances approaching infinity in which the depth of field dwindles, always understanding that the main strength of this highly reliable, very fast and astoundingly accurate AF system of the Leica S2 is above all aperture dependant and its S-System lenses are calibrated for AF precision as part of an integrated system.
But there´s even a further aspect clearly unveiling the highly painstaking search for a perfect optical performance and image quality carried out by Leica with the S2: the presence of an IR filter integrated in the Kodak KAF-37500 sensor as a cover glass, just in front of the CCD, and which makes up a part of the optical formula of every S-System lens, since Leica designed each S objective teaming with the IR filter as a part of the optical path bringing about a displacement in light rays, so avoiding both the typical spherical aberrations begotten by medium format backs on using lenses created for chemical emulsions and the need of sharpening through software to correct them (which brings about very abrupt sharp to unsharp transitions), in such a way that the S2 delivers not only exceptional resolving power and sharpness, but also top-notch out of focus areas rendering.
Obviously, from the viewpoint of the aesthetic beauty of image, the bokeh rendered by the Leica S2 doesn´t match the cream of LF objectives gorgeously excelling in this regard like the Kodak Aero-Ektar 178 mm f/2.5, the doublet form Pinkham & Smith Series IV 12 " f/4.5 Visual Quality (with a drawing half way between the extreme softness of the Semi-Achromat and the sharp accuracy of the fully corrected lenses), the Voigtländer Euryscop Series II, the Cooke Portrait Series II A 12 3/4 " f/4.5, the 3 element Wollensak Velostigmat Series II 12" f/4.5 brass barrel lens with cemented doublet behind the diaphragm, the Taylor-Hobson Portrait Anastigmat 10.5 " f/4.5 Series IIE, the Bausch & Lomb Unar 14" f/4.5, the Dallmeyer 4A Petzval 18" f/4, the Cooke Portrait PS945 229 mm f/4.5 lens, the projection Petzval type triple design Bausch & Lomb 15" f/4.5 Magic Lantern lens, the Pinkham & Smith 14" f/4.5 Bi-Quality or the Leitz Thambar 90 mm f/2.2 for classic 35 mm Leica mirrorless LTM cameras, etc.
But anyway, the bokeh rendered by the Leica S2 with its S-System lenses is exceptional, in my viewpoint similar to the out of focus medium and delicate softness of definition delivered by the Goerz Portrait Hypar f/3.5-4.5 LF lens (a high luminosity large format objective created to work at the widest aperture and free from internal reflections) as to aesthetic beauty and creamy transitions between in focus and out of focus planes, merging outlines and tone gradations.
And if we bear in mind that however good an optical system can be, each lens is always a compromise encompassing a lot of variables (even in the case of the stellar performing S-System MF lenses, which are the most perfect ones ever made in any format), and the S objectives for the S2 feature top-notch levels of resolving power, sharpness and contrast on the whole image surface, from center to borders and corners, to add these qualities an excellent bokeh with image aesthetics similar to the one delivered by LF lenses is a highly outstanding optical feat, because it is much more difficult to get a top class bokeh with very perfect and highly corrected lenses (sporting multicoatings and very resistant to flaring and veiling) and boasting the same image quality of image both at full aperture f/2.5 / f/3.5 and f/8 than getting it with some deservedly famous Large Format lenses optimized to attain fantastic out of focus renderings through an intentional degree of aberration correction in the lens and the iris shape of the shutter and significantly dropping the optical performance in borders and corners, specially at the widest and medium apertures.
Therefore, the highly luminous S-System medium format lenses combine an exceptional optical and mechanical performance at every f stop and focusing distance in terms of definition, sharpness and contrast on all the frame surface and at the same time a great rendering of the out of focus areas at f/2.5, f/3.5 and f/4, so from a historical viewpoint they have undoubtedly opened a new era in the medium format scope, in the same way as the extraordinary British large format high speed Taylor & Hobson fully corrected Anastigmat Series 0 Opic f/2 lens -with each element consisting of a single and a double cemented section separated by an air space- and Taylor & Hobson Series X Speedic f/2 lens - a derivative of the original Cooke type, but with the rear element divided into two glasses, with an air cell of negative shape between them- (the negatives made by both were uniformly bright, sharply covered and enabled to make very big enlargements without loss quality) meant a quantum leap in LF lenses during thirties, merging amazing razor sharp images with a great bokeh at the widest apertures, and the barrels of these gorgeous classic English LF objectives were very precisely machined in brass and lacquered, and the whole lenses were made with exceeding accuracy.
Top view of Leica S2 with Summarit-S 70 mm f/2.5 (CS)
Though the Leica S2 is a very good outdoors handheld shooting all-around performer, boasting very luminous MF lenses, a top shutter speed of 1/4000 s, an integral weatherproof design protecting it under the most extreme climatic conditions, an amazing image quality at full aperture, wholly professional results between ISO 160 and 1250 at every focusing distance including the shortest ones, etc, logically (with the help of the large bright pentaprism viewfinder), the maximum qualitative potential of this medium format reflex digital dream camera will be achieved through the use of manual focus, a tripod (the base of the S2 has both 3/8" and 1/4" threads and locator pin holes for mounting plate anti-twist security), and the photographer taking his time supervising each side related to image creation (also being able to take advantage of the Leica S release cable, very useful to reduce as much as possible the vibration brought about by the shutter operation and the tilting mirror), since the S2, as well as being a very good outdoors performer holding the camera with both hands in a wide range of photographic genres, is a thoroughbred for landscape, wedding, studio and fashion photography (albeit this camera is also a first-string choice doing fashion photography shooting handheld in AF looking for different angles with main characters, models and actors/actresses, etc, which becomes a cinch, thanks to its outstanding ergonomics and its very accurate AF enabling to get consistent top-notch quality files while working quickly).
Probably, the best choice with the S2 regarding the use of manual focusing is taking advantage of the camera back focus button allowing great control, using a tripod and the mirror lockup function.
Needless to say that the S2 is far from the capabilities of the Leica M9 rangefinder for handheld shooting photography under available and specially low light conditions, since the M System cameras are notably smaller in size, considerably lighter in weight and lack a tilting mirror, allowing to take pictures with hand and wrist at much lower shutter speeds than the S2 and with higher margins of security to avoid trepidation at low speeds and sensitivities.
More than 50 years loyal to the Leica M System. Dr. Mervin Stewart shooting handheld with Leica M9 and Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
In the same way as the Leica S2, the Leica M9 (along with the analog M7, MP and the different varieties of M6) is a masterpiece creation, but with a very different background, because while the S2 is the product of the brainstorm and very hard work of a great Leica team of world class experts implemented all along the approximately four years elapsed during the milestone Afrika Project (who started around late 2006 and resulted in the presentation in September 2009 of what is right now the reference class digital reflex MF camera and lenses), the M9 is offspring of steady improvements made throughout almost 80 years on rangefinder Leica cameras by many of the most preeminent photographic technicians, engineers and optical designers in history, working in Leitz factories at Wetzlar (Germany), Midland (Ontario, Canada) and Leica Camera AG in Solms (Germany), also getting the upper hand in reportage, and being currently in my viewpoint the best travel and streeter camera on earth.
Therefore, the full analog-digital transition embodied in the M9 hasn´t meant a breaking with Leica M System fundamental principles and philosophy throughout its whole history, but the utter confirmation of its main values and the continuity of such a prestigious saga.
It also excels in photojournalism, where its negligible shutter lag between the moment in which we press the shutter release button and the actual capturing of the image by the sensor and its remarkable discretion and lack of noise make it a great tool for shooting quickly and quietly without drawing the subjects attention, something much more difficult to achieve with professional full frame reflex cameras, because of their significantly higher dimensions and weight and their much more audible noise during the shutter release due to the movement of the tilting mirror.
´ The Leica M9 full frame is a near perfect digital rangefinder and a worthy successor to Leica´s distinguished line of analog rangefinders like the beloved M6, managing to shoehorn a professional digital camera into the tiny confines of its legendary M-series film camera body, being still a glorious "stealth" camera and bearing no resemblance to the hulking and loud digital SLRs ´ . Frank Van Riper
On the other hand, though the amazing S-System lenses for the Leica S2 are the most perfect photographic objectives ever made, delivering an unheard-of level of detail outside the analog Large Format, along with an uniformity of performance even at full aperture on both center and borders of the frame, and slightly beating the best of the best of the non retrofocus aspherical M lenses (Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH, Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH, Summicron-M 75 mm f/2 ASPH, Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 ASPH, Elmar-M 24 mm f/3.8 ASPH, etc), and albeit the S2 is a great outdoors performer even enabling to easily shoot handheld from a helicopter with shutter speeds around 1/1500 s at f/2.5 and f/4 (so it would be possible to make pictures from the same chopper at 1/500 s, 1/750 s and 1/1000, attaining more depth of field), getting tack sharp results (as proved by Nick Rain, an Australian professional photographer and Editor of the 116 page Better Digital Camera magazine), it´s important to bear in mind that Leica M cameras and lenses need less light to work, being a prodigy of miniaturization, and the Leica M9 is currently the most compact, full format, mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses in the world, it is the model rendering the purest and crispest RAW archives within the 24 x 36 mm domain (being followed in this side by the superb Nikon D3 and Nikon D700) and is much more optimized than the S2 for available light and specially low light photography shooting handheld.
Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH New Version Lens, featuring 9 elements in 5 groups and incorporating a floating element which enables to get outstanding quality also in the nearest focusing distances. It delivers an outstanding imaging performance over the whole focusing range, from 0.7 m to infinity, with great sharpness and contrast and a superb rendition of details across the entire image field, together with an amazing lack of aberrations and an almost full freedom of coma effects.
Optical Scheme of Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH New Version. It is a very compact lens, with only 4,6 cm long, a largest diameter of 5,6 mm and a very light weight of 320 g.
Moreover, Leica M lenses are fairly remarkable not only because in a high percentage of different focal lengths and luminosities they are the best in the market both in optical and mechanical performance, but also because they are the tiniest and lightiest ones for full frame cameras, and are built with the most reduced front lens diameter technically feasible (in my viewpoint only the legendary pre-set diaphragm Kern Macro Switar 26 mm f/1.1 RX (1968), Switar 10 mm f/1.6 RX (1968), Macro Switar 50 mm f/1.4 RX (1964) and Kern Macro Switar 75 mm f/1.9 (1979, in C-Mount) for professional 16 mm format reflex Bolex H-16 movie cameras have historically followed similar parameters to the Leica M lenses for 35 mm format cameras regarding the obtention of maximum luminosities, optical performance and mechanic excellence along with the smallest sizes and lightiest weights scientifically viable, and containing just a small number of lens elements, setting the standard for each focal length class.
Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH Lens.
Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH optical scheme made up by 8 elements in 5 groups. The lens element 4 is an aspherical surface, the lens element 2 is a fluorite type glass, the lens elements 1,6 and 7 are made with a very high refractive index to minimize monochromatic aberrations and the lens element 3 is made with a special glass from the former Leitz glass laboratory. It sports a floating element which preserves an extraordinary level of optical performance even in the close-focus ranges down to 0.7 m, for which the rearmost optical component (elements 7 and 8) moves relative to the rest of the optical system. This is the best standard lens ever made for full frame 35 mm cameras, and stopping down won´t improve the image quality but only the depth of field. It is a very compact lens, with a length of 5,2 cm, a largest diameter of 5,35 mm and a very light weight of 335 g.
It turns the designing difficulties of Leica M lenses geometrically arduous (specially the most modern ones featuring aspherical surfaces), always in the midst of exceedingly grueling conditions and working in the boundary of the feasible through the technological state-of-the-art developed by Leica, which is always looking for innovative ways to find clear, straight paths for light through the optical system.
The amazing levels of accuracy steadily seeked by Leica are impossible to fulfil automatically and require a tremendous skill and experience, together with a lot of work done by hand.
The curvature of the aspherical lenses featuring local radii of curvature has to be created with utmost accuracy, grinding the aspheres by means of Multiaxial Lens Machining, so its manufacturing is extremely difficult, its last polishing stage being the MRF. Therefore, the two state-of-the-art current methods used by Leica to create aspherical surfaces (one applied on optical glass blanks pressed up to a diameter of around 20 mm and the other one with CNC machines grinding and polishing bigger aspherical elements featuring larger diameters) is exceedingly sophisticated, with constant testing by interferometer and concentrating magnetic grinding particles in a number of ways through magnetic fields of different strength on accurately specified areas of the lens.
Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH Lens. It features 9 elements in 6 groups and is very compact, being only 4,8 cm long, with a largest diameter of 5, 3 cm and a very light weight of 270 g. Its antireflections and flare treatment is so good that it is possible to make pictures in harsh backlit contexts.
Optical Scheme of Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH.
And here is where the deep knowledge, personal touches, expertise and ingenuity of world class Leica optical designers excels, without forgetting the work made by experts like engineer André Horn and Mathias Bayer with either the blank-press system for wideangle lenses (grinding and polishing pressed glass blanks, which in the way that is made by Leica allows to get aspherical surfaces sporting complex geometry with shapes precision and qualities comparable to the ones obtainable through maximum level mechanical grinding or polishing, but with a much affordable production cost) or with special CNC machines boasting astoundingly high precision and made by Leica for the manufacture of the aspherical lens elements of medium and long focal lenses (with a further polishing and cleaning in an ultrasound immersion taking place) with frequent accuracies of up to 1/1000 of a millimeter during the peliminary grinding treatment and of up to 3 / 60,000 of a mm during the final phase performed by oscillating grinding heads which fulfill the definitive polishing of the lens elements, after which any possible deviations for edge drop-off or astigmatic errors will be checked in every aspherical lens surface through an interferometer featuring a helium-neon laser.
Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2 ASPH Lens. This is an extremely compact and fast high performance telephoto. It features 7 elements in 5 groups. It is very compact, with a length of 66,8 mm, a largest diameter of 58 mm and a very light weight of 430 g for its focal length and maximum aperture. An outstanding portrait objective, it delivers a natural perspective and unique plasticity, more concentrated on the subject than a 50 mm, sporting more subtle telephoto traits than a 90 mm and with a gorgeous second to none rendering of the tonal values of even the smallest details.
Optical scheme of Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2 ASPH, which includes an aspherical surface, glass with anomalous partial dispersion and a high refractive index, a floating element which moves independently from the rest of the optical system when focusing (avoiding the spherical aberration at the shortest ranges) and incorporates a highly accurate adjusting mechanism, state of the art coating techniques and a very sophisticated anti internal reflection treatment. Together with the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH, it means a new type of Double-Gauss design in which the first three elements are assembled in a typical Gauss way. Two of the seven elements are made of glass types featuring anomalous partial dispersion to prevent colour innaccuracies (one of them sports lavishness in fluorite and the other one -the third lens element greatly bringing about the amazing degree of correction of this tele lens- had its origin at the old Leitz glass laboratory), and two more elements are made of high refractive index glass. The colour independent aberrations are reduced to negligible levels with the blank-pressed concave aspherical surface located directly behind the diaphragm, along with the two high refractive index elements.
The mixture of very small size and weight with exceptional image quality and very large apertures is the most difficult optical and mechanical challenge when tackling the designing of a lens.
It´s true that specially the COMO optical correction program created by Dr Helmut Marx in late sixties and further developed during eighties and nineties by Dr Wolfgang Vollrath, Michael Heiden and Sigrun Kammans, and Horst Schröder´s "01" analysis program go on being presently of great help for optical designers at Solms and will be able to find good lens designs choosing glass types and a number of other variables.
But most times, from the very moment a really exceptional optical and mechanical performance is asked, the programs will deliver a big lens and if you try to reduce the size of the objective, the optical and mechanical efficiency will greatly dwindle, so to get Leica M lenses featuring the extraordinary optical-mechanical quality and rendering the type of image wished by Leica, manual adjustments and slow working guidelines are totally necessary, with craftsmanship parameters to a great extent, which are implemented by the highly knowledgeable Leica Camera AG optical designers, engineers and technicians, who master the geographic map of the available optical glasses with their refractive indexes and Abbe numbers, the latter meaning in practise a measuring of the change in those refractive indices with the different luminic wavelengths related to colour dispersion, paying attention above all to the optical glasses boasting special qualities, like the ones either featuring extreme refractive indexes and dispersion ratios or those ones sporting anomalous partial dispersion traits. These exotic optical glasses with unique properties are very expensive and extremely difficult to handle.
´ The computers can only suggest possible design paths. If an optical firm relies too much on computers, it can produce lenses working perfectly on paper, but which the photographers may find lacking. Leica lens design only uses the computer in what designers see as its proper place ´. Geoffrey Crawley
On the other hand, a great attention is paid to the centering accuracy of Leica M Lenses, which is carried out mostly manually with the aid of automatic CNC controlled machines and highly qualified technicians like Enca Leistner with special measuring devices made by Leica and 30 seconds of arc as maximum axial shift tolerance, since the centering of a lens element during the final stage of its manufacture is of top paramount significance for the optical performance of the finished lens and the subsequent rendering of a top quality image, so the polished lens element is centered and ground to the defined outer diameter with exceedingly high exactness, in such a way that the optical axis must coincide 100% with the mechanical axis, which is attained by the German firm by means of exclusive mounting methods and systems for adjustments.
If mounted badly, a perfect lens is useless, so to achieve a perfect centering and adjustment of the optical axis are always within top priorities for Leica.
And there´s a further key factor that turns every very fast and high performance Leica M lens into a major conundrum for its development: the larger the entrance pupils, the larger the aberrations, so highly increased efforts are necessary to design these very small objectives and additional corrective means must be used, together with exceedingly compact focusing mechanics.
Besides, with many of his most modern aspherical M lenses manufactured from nineties to nowadays, Leica has attained a further mechanical feat clearly revealing its technical prowess and know-how: the inclusion of a floating element in the same space featured by the previous model, so the updated version keeps the very miniaturized size and improves the quality in the shortest distances, in such a way that the new lens gives amazing image quality at every aperture and focusing distance, and when stopping down, you will barely get better optical performance, but an increase in depth of field.
Leica lenses are conceived, designed, and created to endure a lot of decades of hard use by professional photographers and connoisseurs alike, featuring top-notch quality glass lens elements along with aluminum and brass components, which are complemented by screws, springs and iris diaphragm blades made of steel, and the individual optical components need to be highly painstakingly assembled.
They´re very small and light, and the convenience using them handheld in combination with the M9 and getting great results shooting handheld even up to such lower speeds like 1/8 s and even 1/4 s at low and medium sensitivities, is really praiseworthy.
That´s why lenses like the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH, Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH, Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2 ASPH, etc, and the Nikkor-S 50 mm f/1.4 for the Nikon S3 Millennium play in another league by themselves.
A further interesting trait of the S2 is its provision for both CF and SD cards, allowing to save the RAW image to a CF card and the compressed jpeg to a SD card, which enables the sorting and evaluation of images making use of the jpeg mode as the smaller file size for an easy handling concerning the previewing and selection.
On the other hand, the S2 features a very long lasting Lithium-Ion 14429 battery, whose life was unknown so far in the medium format scope, which greatly prevents the photographers from having to stop the flow of any assignment because of battery exhaustion. High chances are that you won´t need to change batteries, for the S2 allows professional photographers to capture more images with only one of them: up to 1,000 frames from a single charge. And besides, this special battery hasn´t any memory effect, so partially drained ones can be recharged without a reduction in performance.
Leica X1, the digital compact camera currently delivering the best image quality within the scope of APS-C size sensor models, thanks to its state-of-the-art Elmarit-M 24 mm f/2.8 ASPH, featuring 8 elements in 6 groups (one of them aspherical) equivalent to a 36 mm focal length in 35 mm format, designed from scratch to be coupled to the camera sensor and getting loads of detail and great colours. This 12.2 megapixel very beautiful camera oozes classicism everywhere and making pictures with it becomes second nature and a relish once you´ve got the hang of it, also sporting ISO sensitivities between 100 and 3200 with intermediate levels, a versatile integrated flash that can be synchronized to the first or second curtain, red eye reduction, slow synchronizing, etc.
Updated April 1, 2011.- The just released v2.0 Firmware greatly enhances Leica X1´s performance, with a wide range of improvements, being specially relevant a higher autofocus speed in dim light conditions and low contrast subjects, a superior JPEG image quality, a depth of field scale displayed in manual focus, more accurate and quick manual focus operation, and a boosted monitor image enabling a better manual focus setting when shooting at the widest aperture. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Another view of the Leica X1 compact camera, an object of desire model exuding elegance to spare and a reference class lens within the APS-C format cameras domain delivering a top-notch image quality in the center and very good in borders and corners, with a very high and uniform performance between full aperture f/2.8 and f/8, in addition to boasting O levels of light fall-off at f/4 and f/5.6 and negligible at f/2.8 and O distorsion at all the working distances except the extreme nearest ones in which it is barely detectable. It is able to focus from 30 cm to infinity and has shutter speeds between 1/2000 second and 4 seconds, its image formats files being DNG and JPEG. The X1 is also remarkable because it delivers a great image quality at the highest sensitivities, a side in which this camera is also probably the reference within the scope of the APS-C size sensor compact models, such as has been proved for instance by Steve Huff in his The Leica X1 Daily Image Sample Diary (see for example the picture made at iso 3200 of a yawning cat), not only regarding outstanding lack of noise, resolving power, sharpness and contrast, but also as to fairly faithful capturing of colours and textures, in a really commendable way. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Leica X1 in its ideal configuration with the Bright Line 36 mm viewfinder accessory inserted in the camera´s flash shoe, ensuring a clear view without unnecessary power drain. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Top diagonal view of Leica X1 with the Bright Line 36 mm viewfinder accessory. If needed, the camera display of this very small and light fixed lens pocket camera with a large sensor can be switched off when this finder is in use, and then a visible located LCD indicates successful automatic focusing. This camera features a tremendously silent shutter noise, comparable in my viewpoint to the ones produced by the horizontal rubberized cloth focal plane shutters of analog 35 mm classic screwmount models like the Leica IIIf Red Dial, so shooting with the X1 is something second to none concerning discretion, which is highly fostered by the very small camera dimensions of 124 x 60 x 32 mm and exceedingly light weight of 306 g (the combo body and lens). Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Albeit to a much lesser extent, this spectacular economic growth of Leica has also been strengthened by the confidence of the firm customers on its high end Geovid HD 42 and HD 46 binoculars, respectivaly featuring 8x and 15x magnifications, sporting highly accurate laser rangefinders and fluoride glasses, along with a special Aquadura coating on their optical elements, being able to endure the hardest professional use, and getting exceptional brilliance and image detail.
A HISTORICAL MOMENT
If we bear in mind the exceedingly special previous circumstances that have given rise to the economical figures just disclosed by Leica and the very difficult economical situation in which it was in 2005, I do believe that Leica has achieved (thanks above all to the full frame M9 and the medium format S2 along with their excellent assortment of high luminosity lenses boasting a very homogeneous optical performance between full aperture and f/8 (to such an extent that in a high percentage of them you hardly get an improvement in image quality on stopping down) one of the most important sale successes in the history of photography in the scope of professional cameras and lenses, perhaps unprecedented since the time of the great Joe Ehrenreich, a genius of the distribution and authentic driving force of the Nikon F System in United States during sixties with his EPOI, when with great future vision it dawned on him that this Japanese 35 mm format reflex camera would change the photographic context all over the world.
And such a very meaningful nature of the Leica outstanding economic improvement arises not only from the highly significant increase in sales figures, but also from the fact that it has been carried out under an international context of economical recession that was the least suitable for it, which stands for great recognition with respect to the optical, mechanical and reliability levels of its products, as well as thoroughly fostering the utter and definitive analog to digital transition by Leica, something which began in 2006, with the introduction of the Leica M8, until reaching 2009, when the Leica M9 featuring a 24 x 36 mm digital sensor and the classical 3:2 ratio was launched into market, keeping the crystal clear image quality of the Leica M8 and M8.2, but sporting almost double megapixels and therefore twice the chances of top-notch enlargements on photographic paper, a touchstone where this masterpiece of engineering and craftsmanship excels, rendering results typical in high end medium format analog cameras with top-notch primes, whose negatives are digitized through professional virtual drum scanners.
Obviously, Leica will never reach the sales figures of economically much more powerful firms of the photographic market like Canon, Nikon, or Sony, that are deeply respected by it, in the same way as the rest of concerns of the photographic environment.
2010 year has been a new turning point in the history of the German photographic brand, as proved by the economical figures just unveiled by Solms. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
But this very outstanding economic push made by Leica during the last year is a praiseworthy important reinforcement, because it has been implemented in the midst of a widespread deep economical crisis all over the world, and has been preceded since 2006 by its launching into market of world class cameras and lenses like the M8, M8.2, M9, Leica S2, M9 Titanium, Summilux-M 24 mm f/1.4 ASPH, Summilux-M 21 mm f/1.4 ASPH, Elmar 24 mm f/3.8 ASPH, Super Elmar 18 mm f/3.8 ASPH, Noctilux-M 50 mm f/0.95 ASPH and the new Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH (reducing the blendendifferenz to almost zero and so delivering far superior levels of sharpness by adding a floating element, which simultaneously improves the optical performance in the nearest focusing distances), it all with the complement of the S-System Lenses (Summarit-S 70 mm f/2.5 ASPH (CS), Apo-Macro Summarit-S 120 mm f/2.5 ASPH (CS), Apo-Macro Summarit-S 120 mm f/2.5 ASPH (CS), Apo-Elmar-S 180 mm f/3.5 ASPH (CS) and Summarit-S 35 mm f/2.5 ASPH (CS) which are the most perfect objectives ever made in the history of photography, as proved by both their MTF curves and specially the field tests made till now by a number of professional photographers located worldwide.
Leica M9 with leather case and Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH. The classical and unique beauty of lines of the analog 24 x 36 mm series M rangefinder Leica cameras has been transferred to the most compact , full format , mirrorless digital camera with interchangeable lenses in the world, which has been a great success, reaching impressive sales figures all over the world since its presentation in New York (USA) on September 9, 2009, with the current context clearly suggesting that such a trend will probably increase even more during next year, owing to the further feedback given by both enthusiast connoisseurs and professional photographers who have managed to get it. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
´ It is the M9 that has finally achieved the ultimate desire of so many aficionados : a full frame Leica M digital camera, one that integrates seamlessly into the iconic M film system and, in terms of image quality, is fully able to compete with top-of-the-line D-SLRs. The camera´s general appearance, size and handling are virtually identical to a film M. Thus, Leica has preserved that vital continuity so essential to the evolution of the M camera line´. Brian Bower
Obviously, it is a high price tag camera, but it´s cheaper than professional high end full frame 24 x 36 mm models featuring between 20 and 25 megapixels like the Canon Eos 1Ds Mark III or the Nikon D3x, and the top-notch non retrofocus Leica M lenses, built without any compromises and rendering superb optical performance (above all the most modern ones made between nineties and nowadays, boasting great luminosity and aspherical surfaces), enable to shoot handheld with the Leica M9 giving a better image quality than both reflex flagships up to ISO 640 included, as has been proved by Brian Bower, one of the greatest experts in the world on Leica cameras and lenses, in his excellent appendix book Leica M Digital Photography M9, edited by Lark Photography Books, having also demonstrated that being careful to make an accurate exposure, the M9 can yield utterly professional results shooting handheld at ISO 1250 (picture of pages 8 and 9 of the aforementioned book by Brian Bower, in which there´s a 30.4 x 15.4 cm size picture of a steam locomotive Duchess of Hamilton made with Leica M9 and Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH at 1/30 sec under extremely low light levels conditions, intentionally enhancing detail in highlights) and good at ISO 2000 (picture of the Eiffel Tower made at night with Leica M9 and Elmar-M 18 mm f/3.8 ASPH at ISO 2000 and 1/15 sec on page 23 in 27.8 x 16.8 cm size).
Evidently, both full frame professional reflex flagships Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III and Nilon D3x deliver better image quality over ISO 1000, but in my viewpoint, the lack of a tilting mirror and the very high luminosity of the M Lenses slew makes possible to shoot handheld with the Leica M9 without trepidation and great margins of security in very dim luminosity photographic environments at low and intermediate ISOS with shutter speeds twice slower than the ones that the quoted two high end full frame reflex cameras would need at identical sensitivities to be able to save the picture.
And if we add an Abrahamsson softie, we would be speaking about shutter speeds three times slower than the reflex models and consistent results shooting handheld with the rangefinder M9 at 1/8 sec. and even at 1/4 sec. (the latter specially feasible for those people having very steady hands, good breathing technique and having fully got the knack of the softie timing).
The Spirit of Mr B has performed a prominent role in Leica Renaissance. Lest We Forget. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
And if we do wish to strive after getting the best of the best possible image quality with the M9, between ISO 160 and ISO 640, there´s a further alternative: to use a top-notch monopod featuring great stability, sturdiness, very low weight and convenience of transport folded, taking time to make the composition and framing, and to choose the shutter speed and diaphragm we need for our aims.
Here we can see Bill Caldwell, Immediate Past President of the LHSA and an expert user of Leica gear throughout a lot of decades, using a Leica M9 and 6 elements in 4 groups Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 fourth version (1979-1994, designed by Walter Mandler) with 12585 hood on a Gitzo monopod.
The M9 appearing on the image has been provided with a top-notch 2 elements in 2 groups Galilean telescope design Leica 1.25x Leica viewfinder magnifier 12004, made of black anodized aluminum and boasting a superb optical quality, which increases the VF image by one quarter, resulting in a magnifying factor up to 0.90x - in comparison with the original 0.68x magnification of the M9 excellent VF-, that allows an extremely accurate and easy focusing with a standard 50 mm lens and focal lengths over it.
On its turn, the Leica 1.4x viewfinder magnifier 12006, which increases the VF image by two fifths and attains a 1x factor (1:1 viewfinder, allowing to see with both eyes) with the M9, is more suitable to provide a major assistance fulfilling a very exact focus and framing the subjects with the the focal lengths of 75, 90 and 135 mm, but with 50 mm lenses you can only see the brightline frame without space around it, albeit it is a very good choice to use with the most luminous standard 50 mm lenses like the Noctilux-M 50 mm f/0.95 ASPH, Mandler´s Noctilux-M 50 mm f/1 and the Voigtländer Nokton 50 mm f/1.1 ASPH). Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.
Another view of full frame Leica M9 with leather case. However incredible it may seem, one year and four months after the introduction of this state-of-the-art digital full frame rangefinder camera in September 2009, the waiting list to buy it that had to be implemented since its very premiere, has steadily increased more and more until the present moment, bringing about levels of sales and expectation that weren´t perhaps known in the 24 x 36 mm RF domain since 1955, the halcyon year of the Leica M3, with 48,951 units sold.
This way, a second big RF Renaissance, now in the digital domain, is occurring, almost eleven years after Roger Hicks (a great photographic authority, world class expert on RF cameras and lenses and teacher on photography, who has written more than thirty books on photography, many of them in partnership with his wife Frances Schultz, without forgetting his famous ´A Matter of Opinion´ section in Amateur Photography magazine, a lot of articles in PHOTO Techniques magazine, etc) wrote a great article in Shutterbug magazine of May 2000 titled ´Return of the King: Rangefinders Make a Comeback´, in which he explained the remarkable soaring of analog RF cameras which was happening during the last years of XX Century. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Though the Leica M System is specially conceived for available photography shooting handheld, the arrival of the M9 has meant a significant increase in the possibilities of using flash, because there may be times when you want or need to take advantage of your M gear for aims requiring more power and more control of the lighting.
Compared with the flash syn speed of 1/50 sec of classic analog Leica models like M4P, M6 and M7, in my viewpoint, the 1/180 sec flash sync speed of the M9 could be considered fast enough, and along with correct choices of shutter speeds and f stops (plus the invaluable advantage of being able to work with different ISOS unlike the classic analog M Leicas in which you were bound to make things with the specific sensitivity of the film inside the camera) it should deliver good results in almost every situation in the hands of an experienced photographer or advanced connoisseur knowing what he is doing.
In this regard, Carl Merkin, a New York based professional photographer, currently one of the Directors of the LHSA and a recognized Leica expert (featuring an experience of more than 40 years in the trade making advertising and catalogue still life photography, mainly with large format cameras and Hasselblads), and who has worked with a very comprehensive assortment of both Leica M and Leica R lenses since late eighties (he also used 35 mm Nikon cameras during seventies and eighties), is able to get excellent results with flash by dint of proficiency and a wisely chosen and versatile gear made up by a Leica M9, a 4 elements in 4 groups Macro-Elmar-M 90 mm f/4 lens in its black anodized aluminium version (240 g, the lightest Macro-Elmar-M 90 mm f/4, since the silver chrome plated brass version weighs 80 g more) with the classic 12575 hood, a Tri-Elmar-M 28-35-50 mm f/4 ASPH, an Elmarit-M 135 mm f/2.8 version 2 (designed by Walter Mandler in Midland, Ontario) with eye goggles and a very small Metz 32CT3 System SCA-300 flash featuring a swivelling head with three automatisms, manual position and TTL, boasting the great quality of light inherent to the Metz flashes. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Here we can see Carl Merkin with his Leica M9, Tri-Elmar-M 28-35-50 mm f/4 ASPH, Metz 32CT3 System SCA-300 flash and Lumiquest Pro Max 80-20 accessory. The mechanical complexity of this great 8 elements (two of them aspherical and five made of high refraction optical glass) in 6 groups lens is big, because it isn´t made on the principle of continuous floating zoom elements, but when its focal length is changed, the iris diaphragm shifts at the same time as the three rear lens elements, while the corresponding bright-line frame is simultaneously activated in the viewfinder and the focusing is attained with the three front lens elements.
It is one of the best Leica M lenses ever made, delivering a top image quality in each of its three focal lengths, matching the best of the best 28, 35 and 50 mm Leica M aspherical objectives in optical performance as f/4, as well as offering great compactness and versatility.
His extensive know-how of decades handling different light contexts enables him to hold sway over indoor light, masterfully controlling it depending on the available luminic contexts, sometimes to increase light levels in very dim conditions and other times to attain an accurate fill-in flash, also managing often to use his Lumiquest Pro Max 80-20 device, illuminating the scene with light bouncing off neutral coloured ceilings and simultaneously providing fill-in light off the bounce device itself.
Coming back to the Macro-Elmar-M 90 mm f/4, though featuring a relatively small widest aperture, it is a great tele lens for a number of different photographic assignments, is easier to focus than other more luminous 90 mm f/2.8 and f/2 lenses, and its optical performance renders exceedingly high marks in the same levels as the Elmarit-M 90 mm f/2.8 and the Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 ASPH from f/4 on, being much smaller and lighter than both of them (as a matter of fact, the Macro-Elmar-M 90 mm f/4 is the most compact telephoto lens ever offered by Leica, so it is exceedingly portable).
If besides we bear in mind that this little jewel reaches its best quality at f/4 with impresive levels of resolving power, sharpness and contrast very near the ones achieved by the Macro-Elmarit-R 100 mm f/2.8 at f/4 and starts being diffraction limited at f/5.6, has a very favourable minimum focusing distance of 0.78 m, is one of the most precise and quick to focus existing Leica M lenses, and boasts a 10 blade diaphragm getting an excellent bokeh at f/4, it seems apparent that this unique lens can be a great photographic tool in the hands of a pro. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Carl Merkin with his Leica M9, Elmarit-M 135 mm f/2.8 second version, Metz 32 CT3 System SCA-300 flash and Lumiquest Pro Max 80-20 accessory. The arrival of the Leica M9 has greatly enhanced the chances of using 135 mm M lenses compared to their use with the M8 and M8.2 which was highly restricted, cumbersome and becoming a longer than real focal length because of the 1.3 x multiplying factor. Now, with the M9 is possible to attach them keeping their true focal length, and when used with 1.5x magnifying goggles and the RF properly calibrated, it can be a very valuable lens, specially for portraits.
The Elmarit-M 135 mm f/2.8 second version 1977-1998 (featuring a built-in sliding hood and E55 front filter) delivers far superior image quality than the first version (with a scalloped focus ring and using series VII filters) and its goggles are better built, brings up the 90 mm frame and magnify the VF image to match the 135 mm focal length, which is the area showed by the viewfinder. It is an excellent lens rendering very good resolving power and contrast, not as high as the much modern Leica Apo-Telyt-M 135 mm f/3.4 (whose use with the M9 is far more limited regarding use at widest apertures, since it must be stopped down by at least two diaphragms, while the Elmarit-M 135 mm f/2.8 can be accurately used at f/2.8 without problems thanks to the aforementioned 1.5x magnification of the image with the goggles), but with superior tonal gradation and Leica feeling image aesthetics, along with an extremely smooth focus, with a bit long throw.
Therefore, the focusing exactness that can be attained with this Elmarit-M 135 mm f/2.8 version 2 is remarkable, since rangefinder cameras usually begin drop RF precision from 75 or 90 mm focal lengths onwards, depending on the lens speed, though it isn´t less true that the large effective base length and accurate calibration that has traditionally been boasted by the Leica Ms (which goes on with the excellent 0.68 x magnification rangefinder of the Leica M9) in combination with the excellent Leica VF magnifiers 1.25 x (12004) and 1.4 x (12006) greatly make up for it in a very brilliant way, respectively increasing both the image and the effective rangefinder baselength by 1.25x and 1.4 x, allowing very accurate focusing with 50 mm, 75 mm, 90 mm and even 135 mm M lenses. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
The 6-bit coding has turned out to be a a very efficient device to achieve a seamless symbiosis between the Leica M lenses and the 24 x 36 mm digital sensor of the M9. Here we can see a Summicron-M 75 mm f/2 ASPH featuring it. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
The design and manufacture of extraordinary lenses with a very uniform performance between full aperture and f/8 has been commonplace in Leica, above all since 1990, when Lothar Kölsch created the Optical Design Department at Leica Camera AG, working with the optical designers Peter Karbe (then Manager of the Optics Development Department), Horst Schröder and Sigrun Kammans, favouring the creation of lenses optimized for maximum performance at full aperture and devoting themselves to the steady improvement of aspherical lenses, something that would give rise to a quantum leap of Leica lenses in terms of resolving power and sharpness, along with a great mechanical construction which enables to keep the optical and mechanical quality for a lot of decades. This bias has continued till nowadays, and is vividly embodied by amazing objectives which are in a high percentage of cases the world flagships in their respective focal lengths and maximum luminosities, as for example the Summilux-M 24 mm f/1.4 ASPH. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Summilux- M 21 mm f/1.4 ASPH. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Noctilux-M 50 mm f/0.95 ASPH. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Summarit-S 70 mm f/2.5 ASPH (CS). Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Apo-Macro-Summarit-S 120 mm f/2.5 ASPH (CS). Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.
Apo-Elmar-S 180 mm f/3.5 ASPH (CS). Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
THE FRUIT OF A STRENUOUS WORK AND FUTURE VISION
These fantastic economic results are not only the consequence of the design and manufacture of superb quality and high reliability products conceived for the most exacting professional use, but also the fruit of a brilliant firm management carried out under conditions of extreme hardships since February 8, 2005, when Dr. Andreas Kaufmann became a Member of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG, subsequently being Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG (2007), Vicepresident of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG between November 19, 2007 and February 22, 2008, Interim Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG between February 23, 2008 and February 28, 2009 and Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG since June 19, 2009.
Dr. Andreas Kaufmann imparting the historical lecture The Future of Memories. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
The lecture The Future of Memories given by Dr. Andreas Kaufmann in 2008 meant a turning point in the History of Digital Photography, with the Leica S2 and its extraordinary lenses as a core, a real optical tour de force in the medium format domain, as well as foreseeing the great future of the legendary German photographic firm with the increasing introduction throughout the years ahead of a comprehensive variety of new products greatly based on that technological platform. He also elaborated on the keynote that the optical quality of lenses would be even a more decisive factor in the digital age than in the analog one.
This man, a great enthusiast of photography, often attending to all kind of pictures exhibitions all over the world, a great promoter of Wien Leica Shop Westlicht Photographica Auctions and Schauplatz fur Fotografie and Leica Galleries in Salzburg, Tokyo, New York, Vienna, Frankfurt and Solms, and infatuated with Leica brand and its products, was aware about the huge historical significance of the German photographic firm and became since 2005 the alma mater of Leica Renaissance at international level, undertaking a strenuous personal effort to revive it, turning into its top shareholder, investing wherewithal of its own firm ACM Projectenwicklung as an economic guarantee and specially as a mainstay for two gorgeous projects:
a) The development of a full frame digital M rangefinder keeping the 24 x 36 mm format 2:3 aspect ratio and the profile of the legendary analog 35 mm Leica M RF cameras, preserving their raison d`être grounds and picture taking way, as well as being able to use a very comprehensive array of top-notch Leica M and screw mount lenses made in both XX and XXI Centuries. That´s to say: The Leica M9.
b) The AFRIKA Project for the manufacturing of a medium format reflex digital camera, slightly smaller than a professional full frame 35 mm digital reflex, and envisaged for both outdoors photography (shooting handheld in many different contexts, without using a tripod or monopod and using speeds of 1/500 s and over it) and indoors photography (studio, fashion, commercial, product, still life, weddings and all kind of events, etc, using a tripod), built like a tank enduring the hardest professional use and able to be connected to a lineup of interchangeable MF objectives which would have to be the best photographic lenses of any format ever made on earth. Id est, the S2.
´The S2 is a photographic instrument in its basic form, for those who know how to take pictures. A camera is a means to an end. It is a tool conceived and constructed to do certain things and achieve certain goals, mainly recording of light; ideally with an exactness in timing and definition of light rays, reflections, colours - and without adding to or removing from what is. That is what a camera is and its role ´. Thorsten Overgaard
Leica S2 body. The introduction of this breakthrough medium format camera has meant a turning point in the History of Digital Photography, in the same way as its extraordinary S-System assortment of lenses, whose optical performance is the best ever achieved with MF objectives, which enables the S2 to easily beat the image quality rendered by medium format digital cameras featuring larger sensors and double or more quantity of megapixels, something that already happened in the photographic scope of smaller formats with the reflex Four Thirds Olympus E-1 camera having a mirror and featuring a 5 megapixels Kodak KAF-5101CE CCD, which coupled to the top-notch professional Zuiko Digital ED lenses clearly beat the image quality delivered by many APS-C reflex cameras of other brands sporting 8, 10, 12 and 14 megapixels.
In the same way, a 10 megapixel CCD sensor Pentax K10D connected to a Pentax SMC-FA 77 mm f/1.8 Limited lens(a gorgeous short tele featuring very small dimensions and weight, great optical performance with an outstanding balance between resolving power, contrast, nearly 3D sharpness in the focused areas, a very nice and subtle bokeh and a superb mechanical construction) will outperform the image quality rendered by many APS-C reflex cameras sporting between 14 and 18 megapixels and attached to good lenses.
A high number of megapixels is not a direct guarantee of top image quality. Though there are people automatically thinking that the higher the quantity of megapixels featured by a camera the higher the image quality rendered, that isn´t true whatsoever.
There are other much more important parameters than the number of megapixels, specially two: the optical and mechanical performance of the lenses and the quality of the sensor enabling as good as possible Dynamic Range, better high iso rendering, etc, without forgetting that there are a lot of highly experienced medium format photographers stating that for all intents and purposes the plateau of 40 megapixels is more than enough to get top-notch results even in landscapes very large prints, and that from a watching distance of 1 meter, the supposed advantages of sensors featuring between 60 and 100 megapixels disappear to a great extent.
On the other hand, however good the digital sensor and the DSP may be ( and of course they are important elements of any digital photographic camera in which the image quality rendered by the lens will depend on the synergy between the optical performance of the objective, the quality of the sensor and the firmware), the lens quality will be the most significant key factor to get top quality images.
It is true that to some extent the firmware can correct distorsion, chromatic aberrations, acutance, contrast, etc, and that the constantly evolving technology makes better and better sensors coupled to low pass filters and intelligent in camera image processing during the capture can improve the performance of the binomial camera/lenses, but in my viewpoint, though being able to churn out very good results, those electronic correcting devices will have great difficulties to replace lenses rendering incontestable optical performance to reach the maximum feasible image quality, and in a significant percentage of times it will slow the working speeds in post processing, also limiting in higher or lesser degree the possibilities of drawing the full potential of programs like Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.
Of course, it doesn´t mean at all that the digital files produced by both high end reflex digital medium format and full frame 24 x 36 mm format cameras from other brands can´t deliver an excellent image quality, that as a matter of fact they get and is more than enough for vast majority of photographic assignments for which they are used, as well as sporting an interesting price / quality ratio and having a very wide range of great professional primes and zooms available.
But the DNG original files produced by the S2 feature an exceptional quality, unknown till now in the scope of MF digital photography, very pure and without any alteration by software, however amazing it may seem, so both the quantity of image postprocessing required and the time invested for it are hugely reduced, and the professional photographer can treat them in a personalized manner (for example applying the most suitable unsharping mask, etc) with a huge manoeuvering margin and speed, far superior in this regard to cameras making a strong in camera processing from the very moment of the capture.
Such is the optical performance of the S-System medium format lenses of the S2, which don´t need any software correction. There aren´t differences in image quality between center and edges. They are exceedingly sharp from corner to corner, even wide open. There isn´t here any exaggeration or showing off whatsoever. Even, it isn´t hype at all to state that the S2 doesn´t need any postprocessing (vast majority of times, only the sharpening done to personal preference required by every digital file, even those lacking AA filters, will be needed) greatly minimizing the time required by the photographer to use the computer, which is a great advantage in terms of accelerating production time.
Simply, Leica gambled its future with the S2 and the only way was the maximum feasible excellence, a common denominator throughout its history, but now more than ever, since what Peter Karbe has made with the medium format highly luminous S-System lenses entailed an extreme difficulty and is the greatest optical tour de force ever made (optically and mechanically the S-System lenses outperform not only everything made till now in medium format, but also in 35 mm, and it´s much more complex to design objectives featuring this exceptional level for medium format cameras than for 24 x 36 mm ones, which clearly shows the magnitude of the exploit) and in my standpoint, the qualitative image levels delivered by the S2 are much more related to the analog large format 8 x 10 cameras attached to Schneider, Rodenstock, Fujinon or Nikkor lenses than to the analog medium format, with which is more linked in my viewpoint the image quality rendered by for example flaships like the Nikon D3x, Leica M9, Canon EOS Ds Mark III, etc.
Therefore, thanks to the synergy between the S2 optical and mechanical reference class in MF domain S-System lenses, its state-of-the-art Kodak KAF-37500 medium format 30 x 45 mm CCD sensor (50% larger than traditional 35 mm film) and the Fujitsu MAESTRO image processor, it isn´t needed any software correction whatsoever to optimize the performance, and the time spent in image post processing is negligible, with all the manifold advantages it means for pros on the go working with considerable workflows in the fields of large publicity and advertising agencies, coverage of all kind of indoor and outdoor events and celebrations, etc.
And aside from being also a great camera for landscapes (the mirror-up choice enables to guarantee an utter lack of vibration) the S2 has likewise proved to be a topflight performer in the fields of commercial product photography, weddings and all kind of events, fashion and studio, with the added benefit of the many available capabilities sported by its advanced dual shutter system, which makes possible the use of both very luminous lenses with the focal plane shutter located inside the camera body (reaching flash sync of up to 1/125 s) and lenses featuring a central shutter (CS) inside each one´s barrel and with which you can attain high flash sync speeds of up to 1/500 s, a highly useful choice in studio and fashion photography, also enhancing the chances of outdoors fill-in flash. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.
Leica S2 with Summarit-S 70 mm f/2.5 ASPH (CS), the best standard lens ever made in any format along with the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH). Together with the rest of lenses for the S2, it has proved that the S-System objectives mean a new level of performance in the medium format world.
The camera features an uncommon compactness within the medium format realm, weighing 1410 g (with Leica Lithium-Ion 14429 battery) and with dimensions of 160 x 120 x 81 mm. If we compare this with two top-notch professional full frame reflex like the Canon EOS 1 Ds Mark III (1385 g with Lithium-Ion LP-E4 battery and dimensions of 150 x 160 x 80) and the Nikon D3x (1340 g with battery Lithium-Ion EN-EL4A and dimensions of 160 x 157 x 88 mm), it´s clear that the S2 is a bit smaller in size than both of the 24 x 36 mm format reflex flagships, being only 25 g heavier than the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III and 70 g heavier than the Nikon D3x. Not a trifling matter for a medium format camera. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
The German firm deems that the best possible quality obtainable from a digital file is open to interpretation, so no dedicated software to get it has been produced, since chances are that technology will progressively evolve in this regard. This way, though the S2 box includes Lightroom (which most pros consider to nowadays render the best results with a highly productive workflow), there are many other choices because of Leica´s very open outlook as to file format (a trait shared by the M9 and X1, that also store images in a publicly documented and widely supported file format), something which will allow a comprehensive access to future improvements.On the other hand, regarding Tethered Shooting, the S2 is an authentic pioneer, being the first and only medium format camera featuring LEMO push-pull secure interface connector breakthrough technology for its USB interface into its design, which greatly enhances high speed tethered photography. It enables photographers to move easily without worrying that the cable will be disconnected from the camera, and at the same time, the LEMO USB weather seal makes possible a tethered shooting even under the most difficult weather conditions.
If we add to this that the newest FW 126.96.36.199 firmware update enables a lossless DNG compression from 75MB to 40MB and increases the burst rate capability to 14 consecutive exposures at 1.5 frames per second, which begets faster file saving and transfer times when making pictures tethered, the advantages of this shooting mode with the S2 are apparent for those pros needing it to fulfill their assignments. It likewise upgrades the existing camera functions, for example in the histogram display in automatic review mode, which has been enlarged for improved legibility, and in the expansion of memory card compatibility, being currently possible to include 64GB UDMA6 cards, as well as sporting further configuration choices for the AF/AE memory button.
This FW 188.8.131.52 firmware update also enables a maximum exposure time of 125 seconds, shutter speed section in bulb mode (the setting wheel can now be used to select the shutter speeds directly) and a setting option for highlight and shadow level warnings. This way, the S2 becomes also an interesting choice for night shots or those works requiring long exposures with utter lack of shaking, specially with the new Leica camera remote release cable Model 16012, together with the possibility of using the mirror lock-up function sported by the S2.
And the S2 also includes HDMI video output and flash sync connection, together with three TTL exposure meterings modes: multi-field metering (5 fields), centre-weighted integral metering and spot metering (3.5 %), and four exposure control modes: Program Mode (with shift function), shutter priority, aperture priority and manual metering.
Furthermore, the most updated Image Shuttle software version allows Quick View to display images in a separate, scalable window immediately after capture when shooting tethered, as well as optimizing the compatibility with the current S2 firmware, also improving stability.
Therefore, the use of DNG file format greatly fosters to shoot tethered, directly from the Leica S2 camera to a portable computer running Adobe Lightroom, and with Image Shuttle software, the pictures appear in the Lightroom window around 2 seconds after the capture, so this Leica´s own software enables a complete control of the camera from the laptop keyboard.
Leica roots are well grounded on a history of almost a hundred years manufacturing top-notch quality photographic products since the halcyon days of Ernst Leitz Optische Werke in Wetzlar, who began in 1923 when Ernst Leitz II decided following Oskar Barnack´s advice to build a 24 x 36 mm camera featuring a 2:3 aspect ratio and the Leica I (Model A) was introduced at the 1925 Leipzig Spring Fair, and went on for a lot of decades with the subsequent manufacture of scores of screw mount rangefinder cameras and lenses like the Leica II (D) 1932-1948, Leica III (Model F 1933-1939), Leica III F (1950-1959), Leica III G (1957-1960), until reaching the year 1954, which meant a new milepost in the history of Leica with the presentation of the M3 (1954-1966) and the further development of the M System with rangefinder M cameras the Leica M2 (1958-1967), M4 (1967-1975), M4-P (1984-1986), and the most modern top-of-the line models Leica M6 (with a range of varieties and magnifications between 1984-1998), M7 (2002) and MP (2003).
Eighty-seven years later, with Dr. Andreas Kaufmann and ACM at the helm, the breakthrough digital full frame Leica M9 rangefinder and the entrance of Leica within the medium format arena with the S2 and its lenses redifining reflex photography and image quality from portable cameras, have brought about a new decisive moment in the lifetime of the German make. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Max Berek, Walter Mandler, Helmut Marx, Paul Sindel, Lothar Kölsch, Jan Schroeder, Sigrun Kammans, Michael Heiden, Ian Neil, Peter Karbe ....... Leica life span as a photographic firm has always been stuffed with world class optical designers since the days of yore, a tradition that has continued till nowadays and is very present in every worker of Leica camera AG. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.
The work has been exhausting, also taking risks with huge economic investments on the aforementioned projects, but with the confidence that Leica would be able to match the formidable challenge, thanks to the work at the end of their tether, courage and illusion of full-fledged professionals like Peter Karbe (Head of the Optical Department of Leica Camera AG), Stefan Daniel (Product Manager for the Leica M System and Director of Product Management of Leica Camera AG), Stephan Schulz (Product Manager for the S-System), Christian Erhardt (Vicepresident of the Marketing Photographic Division of Leica Camera USA), Justin Stailey (Product Specialist of the Photographic Division of Leica Camera USA), Dr Martin Picherer (Vice President of the Management Board of Leica Camera AG), Dr. Wolf Schumaker (President of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG), Andreas Lobejager (Member of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG, who has developed an excellent labour in the financial, technological, human resources and market risks analysys sides), Dieter Maier (Vice President of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG), Patrick Thomas (Vice President of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG), Edgar Zimmerman and Rita Woschée (Directors and Representatives of the Workers in the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG), Franz Holzer, etc, without forgetting of course the two Chairmen Executive Officers that have been at the helm of Leica during the last two years: Rudolf Spiller and the current CEO since August 2010 Alfred Schopf, who have improved the best expectations regarding benefits.
Stefan Daniel, Product Manager for the Leica M System and Director of Product Management of Leica Camera AG. He has worked with the German photographic firm for 26 years, having started his professional career as a technician apprentice in the machine shop when he was only sixteen years old. A man featuring tremendous technical knowledge and expertise, he has been the driving force behind many Leica M models, both in the analogue and digital domain. His talent, experience and working capacity enabled the creation of the first digital Leica M cameras: the M8 and M8.2, and finally it was feasible to achieve a dream come true: the full frame Leica M9, considered to be impossible to make, by means of the development of a no crop factor 18 megapixel 24 x 36 mm Kodak KAF-18500 CCD sensor sporting improved offset microlenses to optimize performance at the edges of the frame, together with a sensor cover with bettered filtering of infrared light, in such a way that lens mounted IR filters aren´t needed any more, so from that moment on it has been possible a perfect synergy between the M9 and a very wide range of Leica M lenses, from 1954 to nowadays, thanks to the usage of each specific focal length as it is, without cropping factor, made possible with the 6-Bit coding correcting vignetting and cyan shift alike, along with a manual lens selection choice made up by a total of 36 different objectives, whose model number, widest aperture and focal length are individually identified by an internal firmware. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Stefan Daniel showing the first Leica S2, another dream come true: the designing of a medium format digital camera able to get superb results shooting handheld connected to the best MF lenses ever made and delivering an image quality till now exclusively belonging to the realm of 8 x 10 (20 x 25 cm) large format cameras with low ISO negatives digitized through professional virtual drum scanners. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Christian Erhardt, Vicepresident of the Marketing Photographic Division of Leica Camera USA. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.
Justin Stailey, Product Specialist of the Photographic Division of Leica Camera USA. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.
The six years of arduous toil between February 2005 - when Dr. Andreas Kaufmann arrived at Leica- and the beginning of 2011, have utterly paid off.
© Text and Pictures: José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA