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Photokina 2012 Report — Part 5: Leica, Hasselblad and Voigtländer

by Felix L. Esser on 09/28/2012

Wait, what? A Ferrari? What does this have to do with photokina? Well, nothing, except that Hasselblad had one at their stand. Yup, a real, proper Ferrari.

First off, let me apologize. This post was meant to be up yesterday. However, since my laptop decided to break down, I couldn’t work on it. So it comes one day late. So without further ado, this is part five of or photokina 2012 report. Featured today: the new Leica M and Leica M-E, the Leica X2 Paul Smith edition and à la carte, the Hasselblad Lunatic Lunar and the Voigtländer 21mm f1.8 lens for Leica M.

Leica

Tody, I will not start with the frontmost letter of the alphabet, which would be H for Hasselblad, but with Leica. Why? Well, quite simply because this part of the report will by far be the biggest, and also because Leica showed one of the most amazing products overall during this year’s photokina. Yes, you’re correct in assuming that I’m talking of the new Leica M. And yes, I’m a Leica fanboy, but the new Leica M is an amazing camera even if you’re not a Leica snob. Read on to see why.

Leica M Typ 240 — That’s the official designation of Leica’s latest M mount digital rangefinder camera. The camera that was rumored to be labeled ‘M10′ according to tradition dropped the numeral and is now simply called the ‘M’. However, in order to be able to keep apart future M models, each camera is designated by a further numerical code. The exact denotation of this code eludes me, but suffice to say that the new top-level M is called the Typ 240, while the M-E (more on it below) is called the Typ 220.

The Leica M Typ 240 sporting the LVF-2 electronic viewfinder, 90mm f2 Summicron lens and the new M grip.

The Leica M Typ 240 breaks with the traditional rangefinder philosophy, and to be frank, I had trouble accepting it as a proper Leica M at first. As a clarification, the rangefinder philosophy for me, personally, is to have a camera that is plainly and simply aimed towards taking pictures, with nothing inbetween the photographer and the act of photography. This is where traditional Leicas excel. In essence, a Leica M is nothing more than a (highly elaborate) box to hold a film roll (later a sensor) and a lens, with aids for proper framing and proper exposure. Nothing more, nothing less. When Leica went digital with the M8 and later the M9, they kept this philosophy. These cameras were photographic tools, aimed at providing the best possible image quality and designed to be a straightforward picture taking tool that does not stand in the way between you and your picture by providing lots of superfluous functions, confusing menus, difficult operation …

Operation and design wise, the M 240 is still a proper Leica M. Left: M8 with accessory thumb rest and soft-release. Right: M 240 with 50mm f1.4 Summilux lens. The M’s body is slightly thicker than that of the M8/M9, which is probably due to its modified innards. Purists will not like that, as they already found the M8’s body to be too thick compared to film Ms …

The M 240 partially breaks with this philosophy, in that it adds functionality that was previously unthinkable in a Leica M: live view and a video mode. While this may not sound exciting for anyone used to DSLRs, mirrorless cameras or compacts, in Leica M terms this means that a whole world has changed. And a Leica purist might feel that the M 240 is a deviation from the original Leica M philosophy. However, on second look, the M 240 does not so much break with tradition than evolve within the tradition, making something entirely new while maintaing the same basic concept and principles.

The finger is pointed at the ‘M’ button, which allegedly does not stand for anything but ‘M’. (It’s the movie button – just to clarify.)

The new M 240 still is a proper Leica M. You can use it solely with Leica M lenses and the integrated rangefinder-viewfinder, and you can even use it without ever chimping at the display (as many digital M users actually do.) Since the sensor was designed exclusively for the M 240, we can expect it to deliver outstanding image quality like we are used from the M8 and M9 — albeit with much better high ISO performance. The ergonomics are pretty much the same as on the M9, except for the fact that the rear display is a bit larger and there are additional buttons and dials — which you don’t need to use. All you need is the shutter speed dial, shutter button, rangefinder and focus ring on your lens.

New: the large 3″ display, a Live View activation button, the smaller four-way dial, the combined thumb wheel/thumb rest and of course the possibility to use an electronic viewfinder.

However, you can do a lot more with it if you like. For instance, the Leica M offers live view with focus peaking, which makes accurate focusing a lot easier with extremely bright lenses such as the Noctilux 50/0.95 or longer lenses like the Summicron 90/2. If the rear display, which resolves 921k dots now, isn’t accurate or comfortable enough for you, you can attach the same LVF-2 viewfinder that has been introduced with the Leica X2 and resolves 1.44m dots.

The focus peaking in live view mode highlights the in-focus areas in red.

Magnified live view makes accurate focusing even easier. Here: 10x magnification.

Precisely focusing a lens like the Leica Noctilux is now much facilitated by the optional use of live view with focus peaking.

The use of a CMOS sensor that allows for live view, and the integration of focus peaking, also make it possible to use all kinds of non-rangefinder-coupled lenses on the Leica M — something that was previously only possible when you guessed focus. So, for example, users of the old R system (Leicas SLR system that never went digital save for a digital back that is now no longer supported) can finally use their precious R glass (which counts among the best lenses ever made for manual SLR systems) on an up-to-date full-frame body. R users have been waiting for a Leica-made digital solution to use their R glass for quite some time now, since many weren’t happy with adapting it to full-frame DSLRs like the Canon 5D Mk II. Well, now this solution is here.

Using the M 240. You can now record video this way.

Beside the live view mode and the possibility to properly focus adapted lenses, the M 240 now also supports Full HD video recording, which was not possible before due to the use of CCD sensors in the M8 and M9, which did not provide the necessary readout rates (not without overheating, anyway.) So with the M 240, we not only have a digital full-frame Leica camera that takes R lenses, but also one that is able to use M lenses for videography.

Leica M 240 with adapted R lens and EVF. Press image by Leica.

But it doesn’t stop here. It seems that Leica have really thought this camera through to the end before they actually presented it to the public. Since R glass is rather heavy, and since many users were not happy with the ergonomics of the previous M models when using them with larger/longer/heavier lenses, the M 240 can be equipped with a hand grip that sports a finger loop (that comes in three sizes for differntly sized hands/fingers). I tried it, and it’s really comfortable. The grip comes in two versions, with one sporting a GPS unit as well as USB ports so you can tether your M to your computer. Now, take all of these inventions together and think about what you can do with the new M 240 as a studio photographer or videographer — pretty much everything.

The M grip with GPS and USB.

And this is what makes the M 240 so special: it’s a true workhorse professional camera that can do all of the stuff that a contemporary workhorse professional camera needs to be able to do (except for autofocusing, but that’s where the S comes in), while still being a proper Leica M rangefinder that follows the traditional rangefinder philosophy. In fact, the M 240 is an ingenious move from Leica.

Once more M 240 vs. M8: the overall proportions and gestalt remain the same. Note the lack of a frameline illumination window. Like with the M9 Titanium, the framelines are now illuminated by either white or red LEDs, and the brightness is automatically adjusted according to the brightness of the scene you’re photographing. Ingenious! The button to the top left of the lens activates the focus peaking in live view mode.

Oh, and before I forget: the plugin socket that takes the LVF-2 also takes an accessory microphone holder. So you can record proper sound to your video. They did think this through properly.

Once more the M 240 with EVF. Left: the new M grip. (As seen through my M8 and the amazing 50mm APO Summicron .)

The Leica M Typ 240 can be pre-ordered from B&H Photo in both black and silver finish.

Leica M-E — The Leica M Typ 240, as I mentioned, is the Leica’s new workhorse M mount camera, and comes with a pretty hefty price tag which is at roughly the same level as the M9 and M9-P that came before it (~ $ 7k). Since the M9 was (and still is) such a good camera, though, Leica decided not to simply drop it but to slightly redefine it, scrap off a significant two-figure percentage off its price and market it as the Entry-level M model. No, it’s still not cheap (~ $ 5.5k), but it’s much more affordable than the M 240. And if you don’t care for the live view and video functions of the new M, and do not mind the anthracite top plate with silver dials (and the fact that the M-E lacks a frameline preview lever), this is the cheapest way to get into the Leica M system right now. And, since the M-E is basically a slightly redesigned M9, it will provide outstanding image quality and the true rangefinder experience.

The M-E Typ 220 is basically an M9 with anthracite body and without a frameline preview lever.

Leica M8 next to M-E 220. Personally, I don’t really care for the anthracite look, but the price tag does make it attractive, even versus a used M9.

The Leica M-E Typ 220 can be pre-ordered from B&H Photo.

Leica X2 Paul Smith edition and à la carte – Leica has a habit of making special editions of their cameras and selling them at premium prices to people who can afford it. So naturally they did it with the X2 as well. Not only will it soon come as a Paul Smith edition that shines in bright colors, you will also soon be able to order it à la carte, with body color and leatherette customized to your personal liking. Leica had a couple different à la carte X2s on display at photokina, which you can either drool or shake your head over by looking at the pictures below.

The X2 Paul Smith edition looks funky …

… and comes at a premium price. You get what you pay for …

… which is why it comes with these accessories by default.

The X2 can now be ordered à la carte, with a huge number of leathering and body color choices. Make it your own!

Mellow yellow?

This one will accompany your blue suede shoes nicely.

Dear PETA, it’s not real ostrich leather. Or is it?

Oooh … silver body and cognac leatherette. Somebody buy this for me, please?

Blacksnake. (A Whitesnake edition would be awesome. Leica, do you hear me?)

For when you’re having a Green Day. But seriously, this looks like a frog …

Okay, now I’m out of musical references.

Actually, I think this one will fit your blue suede shoes better than the pale blue one above. Get this one if you’re an Elvis fan.

Some more impressions from the Leica stand, which was in fact a whole hall.

The slightly upgraded Leica S, sporting the 24/3.5 Super-Elmar-S.

Two of the newly announced S lenses: the 30-90mm zoom and the 120/5.6 tilt-shift lens. Expect the latter to be isanely expensive.

The Leica S Typ 006 can be pre-ordered from B&H Photo.

The current Leica M family, from left to right: M 240 in black, M 240 in silver, M-E 220 and M Monochrom.

Hasselblad

Beside the updated H system digital medium format camera, the H5D (which I did not take a closer look at), Hasselblad surprised everyone when they announced that they would start producing a pimped-up Sony NEX-7 called ‘Lunar’ and sell it for € 5000 (~ USD 6500) a piece. The immediate reaction of everyone around the web was to think that the guys over at Hasselblad had lost it. After taking a closer look at the Lunar (which really is nothing more and nothing less than an extremely pimped-up and re-badged NEX-7), I still think this initial judgement holds true. One might think the same about Leica’s special editions though, to be honest …

The Lunar will come with a number of customization choices regarding body color and finish and color and material of the grip.

The Tri-Navi dials read “HASSELBLAD”.

Despite all the crazyness that surrounds the Lunar, I have to admit that the grip really is comfortable.

This looks strangely familiar … yes, the Hasselblad Lunar is nothing but a pimped NEX-7.

You can also have it with a shiny silver finish that makes it look like it was made from quicksilver.

Prefer a wooden grip? If I am not mistaken, this is actually real wood. You know, the stuff that grows on trees …

While velours surely looks very posh when its new, after being handled by sweaty hands for a couple weeks probably not so much anymore …

This wouldn’t be a proper luxury camera if it didn’t come with a fitting camera bag, would it?

Some more impressions from the Hasselblad stand.

The new H5D digital medium format camera.

The Hasselblad H5D can be bought online from B&H Photo.

Its predecessor, the H4D, also comes as a Ferrari edition. Not that that makes any sense at all, but again, neither do Leica’s special editions …

Voigtländer

Voigtländer, the company whose name is owned by the German RingFoto retail chain but whose products are made by Cosina in Japan, announced a new Leica M mount lens ahead of photokina. This lens is the Ultron 21mm f1.8, which fills a vacant spot in the M mount lens lineup, namely that of an affordable yet decently fast super wide angle lens. To put things into perspective, there are currently four different 21mm lenses for Leica M being made: an f1.4 and an f3.4 by Leica, both which are quite expensive, and an f2.8 and an f4.5 by Carl Zeiss (which are in fact also produced by Cosina, but designed by Zeiss in Germany.) The Zeiss lenses are much more affordable than the Leica ones, but aren’t actually very fast. The new Voigtländer Ultron fits in nicely by being both affordable and fast.

The 28/1.8 Ultron is on the large-ish side — for a rangefinder lens. It is also quite heavy — again, for a rangefinder lens.

I had some short hands-on time with it on my M8, and I can state that not only is it very well made (which we are used from Cosina), but also decently sharp already at its widest aperture. On the M8, a 21mm lens renders a field-of-view comparable to that of a 28mm, so I can’t really judge corner sharpness. But it looks to be a very decent lens that comes at a decent price. This should be received well with fans of M mount glass.

The 28/1.8 Ultron on my M8. Suddenly it doesn’t look that large anymore …

It looks much larger on this Ricoh GXR of another photokina visitor.

A quick test shot wide open. On the M8, the angle of view corresponds to that of a 28mm lens, while the geometry remains that of a 21mm lens.

100% crop of the above image. Click to open a full-res version. This lens is plenty sharp wide open. Good job, Cosina!

It does show some purple fringing around highlight edges wide open, but nothing out of the ordinary. Its rendering of out-of-focus highlights is very soft and gentle — overall, this seems to be a very decent lens.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow will come the last part of our photokina report, with a focus on SLR Magic and their latest lens developments. In addition, part six will contain various impressions from some minor manufacturers all around the fair.

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