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Archive 2013 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format
  
 
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p.1 #1 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format
Stephan Schulz, the Head of Professional Photo at Leica Camera AG, sat down with Forbes contributor Marc E. Babej to discuss issues in marketing strategy as Leica inspires to play a bigger role in the Medium Format market.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

"These brands (Hasselblad, Phase One and Mamiya) are very established in professional medium format cameras. But in the big picture, they are small players even compared to us. We set out to bring our scale and capabilities to bear – to make a medium format camera that could not only compete with them, but that would be ten years ahead of what they are able to deliver. From the outset, our aspiration with the Leica S-System was to reinvent medium format for the digital age."

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37.5MP Leica S2 SLR Medium Format Digital Camera




May 10, 2013 at 12:09 AM
Tariq Gibran
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p.1 #2 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


"But in the big picture, they are small players even compared to us. We set out to bring our scale and capabilities to bear"

Strange to think of Leica in that way - the larger player capable of "scale". It just doesn't ring true overall. I'm sure they make more cameras overall than the MF players - even though it's miniscule compared to the other players in FF 35 - but they don't make more MF cameras than any of the other players in that arena (they claim to have 20% market share in MF, which is better than I would have thought).



May 10, 2013 at 12:50 AM
JaKo
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p.1 #3 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


"camera that could not only compete with them, but that would be ten years ahead"

Ten years ahead! I realize they're referring to MF competition, but they gotta be kidding. Let's take the just released M240 as an example and see which of its features was even up to date (on the release date) comparing to any 2013 P&S.




May 10, 2013 at 01:15 AM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #4 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


I knew that "quote" would be polemic.


May 10, 2013 at 01:22 AM
naturephoto1
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p.1 #5 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


The Leica S lenses are autofocus. I do not believe that the MF competition has this capability. Additionally the Leica S lenses are some of the best performing MF lenses ever designed. Additionally, the camera itself is ergonomically a wonder and amazingly small camera with outstanding handling capability. It is to the best of my knowledge the only MF digital camera to handle like a large 35mm SLR. The amazing thing about the camera is the size of the sensor in relationship to the camera size. The camera is actually smaller than the top of the line Nikon and Canon cameras.

Rich



May 10, 2013 at 01:26 AM
sflxn
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p.1 #6 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


I'm not so sure they can successfully piss into the wind. The D800 is having an impact on the MF market. It's not a huge wave yet, but the players are worried. First you have the market pressure on MF prices. Leica S makes other MF gear look cheap. Then the second problem is Leica production capacity is so small. How can they supply all the rental shops with enough gear? The third problem is sensor. There's only 2 players in MF sensors. Phase One seems to have been smart and worked close with Dalsa and appears to get preferential treatment. The other maker is what used to be Kodak. I don't think it's a complete coincidence that Hasselblad is trying to cozy up with Sony. I doubt the market for the MF sensor is profitable enough to bother someone like Sony. Wouldn't that be something? A MF camera with the latest and greatest Sony sensor tech available?


May 10, 2013 at 01:26 AM
sflxn
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p.1 #7 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


naturephoto1 wrote:
The Leica S lenses are autofocus. I do not believe that the MF competition has this capability. Additionally the Leica S lenses are some of the best performing MF lenses ever designed. Additionally, the camera itself is ergonomically a wonder and amazingly small camera with outstanding handling capability. It is to the best of my knowledge the only MF digital camera to handle like a large 35mm SLR. The amazing thing about the camera is the size of the sensor in relationship to the camera size. The camera is actually smaller than the top of the line Nikon and Canon
...Show more

Hasselblad, Phase One, Pentax all have AF lenses.



May 10, 2013 at 01:28 AM
naturephoto1
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p.1 #8 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


sflxn wrote:
Hasselblad, Phase One, Pentax all have AF lenses.


OK, so I am in error. But the camera itself is something very different and the lenses are still some of the finest performing MF lenses ever designed.

Rich



May 10, 2013 at 01:33 AM
sirimiri
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p.1 #9 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


"Our first insight was that competitor systems originated from analog, and as a result, the digital versions of their cameras had some natural limitations. As newcomers without legacy hardware, we had the advantage of designing a medium format system from scratch for digital."

They had to start from zero, so it's not necessarily a benefit that you're not a legacy system - yet. I would also think that the non-modular approach and frightening depreciation of the body/sensor combination is something to consider for some potential users.

...medium format film cameras have always had a problem keeping a large surface area of film completely flat. To compensate for this unevenness, medium format lenses were designed to mask the imperfections of an uneven recording surface - by not providing peak sharpness. But with digital sensors, unevenness is a non-issue. This allowed us to develop lenses that deliver uncompromising peak sharpness.

That is an interesting claim to make.


Edited on May 10, 2013 at 01:42 AM · View previous versions



May 10, 2013 at 01:40 AM
sflxn
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p.1 #10 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


naturephoto1 wrote:
OK, so I am in error. But the camera itself is something very different and the lenses are still some of the finest performing MF lenses ever designed.

Rich


From what I've read, they have the best lens for sure, but at 2x the prices that Hasselblad and Phase One are asking? If Nikon does pull out that 56mp D4x that's rumored, it will be interesting to see how confident Leica is then. We're definitely in for some interesting times. FF 35mm with higher DR sensor but with pixel density too high for FF lenses. MF with better lenses with leaf shutter but still stuck with sensors that are years behind in tech.



May 10, 2013 at 01:41 AM
 

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Tariq Gibran
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p.1 #11 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


sflxn wrote:
The third problem is sensor. There's only 2 players in MF sensors. Phase One seems to have been smart and worked close with Dalsa and appears to get preferential treatment. The other maker is what used to be Kodak. I don't think it's a complete coincidence that Hasselblad is trying to cozy up with Sony. I doubt the market for the MF sensor is profitable enough to bother someone like Sony. Wouldn't that be something? A MF camera with the latest and greatest Sony sensor tech available?


Not only is MF sensor technology important but, contrary to what Leica has said in the article, most folks use MF exactly because it has a much larger sensor size which gives a certain look. It's not strictly about resolution. The sensor in the Leica S2 is much, much smaller than the other MF players. That in itself will restrict their ability to make inroads into this market imo. They will end up finding themselves competing with 36+MP Sony and Canon sensors in FF 35 (and they can't match that sensor technology yet) on bodies that are using lenses designed for 30MP+ sensors, such as the upcoming line from Zeiss. I don't see this ending good for Leica in the long run as far as their small sensor "MF" effort is concerned.



May 10, 2013 at 01:44 AM
JaKo
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p.1 #12 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


naturephoto1 wrote: [Leica] lenses are still some of the finest performing MF lenses ever designed

No question about it! Leica mastered manual, mechanical photo gear, but digital leader they are not, despide their bald claims.



May 10, 2013 at 01:50 AM
naturephoto1
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p.1 #13 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


sflxn wrote:
From what I've read, they have the best lens for sure, but at 2x the prices that Hasselblad and Phase One are asking? If Nikon does pull out that 56mp D4x that's rumored, it will be interesting to see how confident Leica is then. We're definitely in for some interesting times. FF 35mm with higher DR sensor but with pixel density too high for FF lenses. MF with better lenses with leaf shutter but still stuck with sensors that are years behind in tech.


I had always questioned Leica's decision to go to the MF digital format. As a long time Leica R user, Leica had a ready made following of users to make a digital R10. That was planned for release after the introduction of the S2. But, this was later an abandoned project.

As to the questions regarding their 36mp sensor, the pixels should be much larger than those of any 35mm sensor. But, as you have mentioned the MF sensor technology is not as advanced as those for the 35mm cameras. If Phase One or Nikon does release a much higher density mp sensor I would suspect that in the future Leica will need to do the same for the successor to the new S in order to be competitive.

But, a 56mp Nikon DX4 or any 35mm camera may be overkill and will have many problems some of which will relate to the number of lenses that can support this resolution capability.

JaKo wrote:
No question about it! Leica mastered manual, mechanical photo gear, but digital leader they are not, despide their bald claims.


Sorry, in this case, I was using MF as Medium Format and not Manual Focus in this instance. Sorry for any confusion.

Rich


Edited on May 10, 2013 at 01:59 AM · View previous versions



May 10, 2013 at 01:53 AM
philip_pj
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p.1 #14 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


20% of 6000 units looks much more modest than the tenor of the Mr Schutz's statements. A niche within a very small niche.

There are several howlers that do him no favours:

'To compensate for this unevenness, medium format lenses were designed to mask the imperfections of an uneven recording surface – by not providing peak sharpness.'

'Lenses designed for (medium format) film obviously didn’t account for the layers of glass. The result is some degradation of image quality when such lenses are used in digital...The result is a significant difference in image quality.'




May 10, 2013 at 01:57 AM
sflxn
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p.1 #15 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


naturephoto1 wrote:
I had always questioned Leica's decision to go to the MF digital format. As a long time Leica R user, Leica had a ready made following of users to make a digital R10. That was planned for release after the introduction of the S2. But, this was latter an abandoned project.

As to the questions regarding their 36mp sensor, the pixels should be much larger than those of any 35mm sensor. But, as you have mentioned the MF sensor technology is not as advanced as those for the 35mm cameras. If Phase One or Nikon does release a much higher density
...Show more

It's like this, they're all running like they're being chased by a pack of wolves. 35mm FF has eaten so much of the pro market that MF has pushed up into ever ridiculously high-end market, with prices to show for it. MF has been running from the FF 35mm market for years. Now, the tables are turned. The FF 35mm markers are now being chased by a different pack of wolves -- smartphone. The market for digicam is dying faster than film did years ago. Their days are numbered. 35mm are now all scurrying to the high end of FF 35mm and specialty cams like the Coolpix A and RX1.

It's not a question of whether Nikon should do 56mp. It's a question of when. Their backs are against the wall and a big chunk of their business is about to disappear in 2 years.



May 10, 2013 at 02:04 AM
philip_pj
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p.1 #16 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


It's sad they chose this cul-de-sac rather than re-introduce the R series, a la ZE/F. It must have been enormously expensive as an investment and we see they are still drinking the koolaid.

The MF market is too small for Sony and Canon to bother with, and the next gen of FF sensors and lenses will equal MF output for all intents and purposes outside the large form factor effects Tariq notes - for which users pay an arm and a leg. And DSLR provides much more besides, making MF digital look very marginal indeed.

The NEX7 is the equal of a 54Mp FF sensor, so thy are there already, but the market is not large and focus systems are struggling.

This is precisely the future-proofing strategy (superior in my view) that CZ is employing with the new high end series of DSLR lenses commencing with the 55mm Distagon. I had no idea Leica was so poorly managed and informed.

c't digital photography did a fine article on this in issue #10, using ZEs on a D800 along with a blad, 20 pages or so:
http://www.ct-digiphoto.com/magazine/issue-10-2013-1745033.html






May 10, 2013 at 02:12 AM
philip_pj
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p.1 #17 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


Forget Nikon as they are sensor customers, not makers - Sony leads. They make the best three sensors at present according to DxO.


May 10, 2013 at 02:14 AM
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p.1 #18 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


Leica's not really for photographers, it's for dentists/doctors/lawyers who want a bling camera. They know it, it's where the target their stuff. (And why not? Real photographer don't usually have too much money :-)


May 10, 2013 at 02:16 AM
sflxn
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p.1 #19 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


philip_pj wrote:
It's sad they chose this cul-de-sac rather than re-introduce the R series, a la ZE/F. It must have been enormously expensive as an investment and we see they are still drinking the koolaid.

The MF market is too small for Sony and Canon to bother with, and the next gen of FF sensors and lenses will equal MF output for all intents and purposes outside the large form factor effects Tariq notes - for which users pay an arm and a leg. And DSLR provides much more besides, making MF digital look very marginal indeed.

The NEX7 is the equal of a
...Show more

I won't comment on Leica since they have a knack for recovering. Your comments on the high end Zeiss is exactly what I think is going to happen as FF 35mm gets pushed by smartphone into ever high end markets. Within 5 years time, we're going to see the next generation of FF lenses from all the players, and those will not be $2k lenses. I think we'll likely see $3-5k prime lenses from all the FF players in the coming years.



May 10, 2013 at 02:21 AM
naturephoto1
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p.1 #20 · Leica S-System and the future of Medium-Format


miccullen wrote:
Leica's not really for photographers, it's for dentists/doctors/lawyers who want a bling camera. They know it, it's where the target their stuff. (And why not? Real photographer don't usually have too much money :-)


Well there are or at least were some of us that have and had used R series Leicas for a long and their are pros that at least for some of their work use M cameras.

There are pros like Joel Meyerowitz that have been using the Leica S2 as a replacement for his 8" X 10" camera.

Rich



May 10, 2013 at 02:22 AM
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