For Photokina, Leica Camera AG has announced an updated version of its popular M8 digital rangefinder camera called the M8.2 and four new lenses: 21mm and 24mm Summilux-M's with maximum aperture of ƒ/1.4 (28mm-e and 32mm-e on the M8, respectively), a 24mm ƒ3.8, and a replacement for the venerable Noctilux, which was one of the last (though not the last) of the great Mandler designs still in the Leica catalog. The new Noctilux has a maximum aperture of ƒ/0.95, matching the speed of the S-mount Canon lens of 1961 to put it in a tie for fastest production lens ever made for pictorial photography. (Faster custom lenses have been made, albeit rarely.) The new Noctilux will most probably have far better performance than the 1961 Canon, although the rationale for such a fast lens remains somewhat questionable, now as then. (Still, the old Noct was indeed used by Leica enthusiasts—not widely, but for real work.)
Cross section of the 1961 Canon 50mm ƒ0.95 made for the Canon 7 rangefinder
The old Noctilux was designed by Walter Mandler at E. Leitz Canada in Midland, Ontario. This next fact is in dispute, but I have it on good, inside authority that the lens was always built there, even though Leica had the lenses shipped to Germany with trivial final assembly left undone so that it could justify the label "Made in Germany." The facility, now owned by Raytheon and named Elcan Optical Technologies, is the largest integrated optical manufacturing facility in North America. No telling where the new lens will be made, but by some reports more Leica lenses are now built by Elcan (many, like the old Noct, shipped to Germany for final assembly and testing) than are actually manufactured at Solms. This, too, is disputable; both companies are secretive and solid, non-partisan information is hard to come by.
The M8.2 differences are summarized here (note that Adorama has a sense of humor, dubbing the M8.2's new snapshot mode "Dentist mode." My apologies [for calling attention to the joke] to any actual dentists this might offend.)
The prices for the new products are in the "If you have to ask, you can't afford it" range, with the exception of the slow 24mm, which will sell for ~€1,680.
Mike (Thanks to Erik Markov on SportsShooter via Curtis Clegg)
Featured Comment by Ken Tanaka: "Yes, I was looking at this announcement this morning while rummaging through the early ruins of our financial markets. These seemed like very compatible activities.
"In my opinion Leica's 'M8.2' delivers far too little for the 15% premium (US$6,400) it demands over the original M8's price. Most of these 'enhancements,' previously offered as 'upgrades' to existing M8s—for a price—always seemed to be features that would have, and should have, been in the original M8 if it had not been so tragically rushed to market under pressure from Stephen Lee, Leica's previous CEO.
"As you know, I very much enjoy my M's. To-date I've shot many images for three books with M8s and shot the upcoming October issue of Sculpture magazine with one. I'm delighted that Leica eventually delivered the M8 and I plan to use it, when appropriate, until it's pried from my cold, dead hands. (Sorry, Charleton.)
Nevertheless it's clear that Leica is acutely drifting into jewelry sales mode with the M8.2. I also wonder if they're paying attention to the world's economic situation. There may not be that many 'dentists' willing to shell out $6,300 for a new neck trinket for a while.
"But anyone considering an M8 should take note: until the end of September you can buy a brand new original M8 model and get a $500 rebate from Leica. That brings the price down to $5,000, about the best 'deal' you'll find for a while and worth considering a career in dentistry."