Over the past handful of years we've reported that Leica has had its problems. Well, with a new team in place, a passel of smart new products, and (clearly) a dynamic intelligence behind its long-term strategic thinking, it's safe to say Leica's back.
In fact it may be in a better position now than it has been in twenty years. People forget that despite the strong brand identity of the M series legacy, the marque has been significantly at sea for a lot of years—rebranding this or that Japanese compact, struggling to bring out new but anachronistic products that turn out to be duds or dead-ends. Struggling with the great digital transition that killed Minolta, Konica, Contax, Bronica, Polaroid, and Rollei.
Well, no more. That era appears to be over.
The big launch went well this morning. It was a few minutes late, but the technology worked. The presentation had some of the typical tiresomeness of its genre—the press function—but the execs and the celebrity presenter did a creditable job. Seal actually is a devoted Leica aficionado, too, for which I give Leica credit—his presence wasn't just ornamental.
Leica did a good job overall of leveraging this announcement for maximal coverage and buzz-generation. There's no question that interest over this launch was high and that lots of people got involved. Kudos to Leica for that, too.
More importantly, all three new products look well situated. I've written about my approval of the S System concept before, and the M9 seems like the full maturity of the digital M come round at last. (By the way, did you notice? There will be no "British Penalty" for the M9—at $6,995 and £4,850, according to dpreview, the US and UK prices are right in line with the exchange rate. Kudos again, Leica.)
The biggest surprise of this announcement week was the littlest camera—the $2,000 X1, due in early December. Perhaps predictably, I find myself drawn to it. It's a "right-sized" compact with what looks to be an intelligent layout. The mix of a 24mm (36mm-e) ƒ/2.8 lens and a 12-MP APS-C CMOS sensor seem "just right" in true Goldilocks fashion, and if the early reports of excellent speed and responsiveness turn out to be correct, the X1 just might turn out to be the best DMD yet, its lack of interchangeable lenses notwithstanding. (That choice makes sense in light of the M9, which is Leica's interchangeable lens offering.)
I like this view of the X1 the best. How nice to see such straightforward exposure controls, with P, A, S, and M so logically implemented. That alone makes me want to use this camera.
I won't keep you—I know you want to go off and read the reviews on the big camera-review sites. There will be M9, S2, and (I hope) X1 reviews and previews appearing all over the web all week long.
Leica's back. How about that?
Featured Comment by Jean-Pierre Grüter: "I would like to contribute a technical dream which is certainly not only mine. When I saw that Leica is using an 18-MP Kodak sensor I thought that the high ISO performance will be a problem. And it looks like this is true. On the attached picture you see what probably many photographers wish. May be one should contribute the microlens shift of the Kodak sensor to the D3/D700 sensor and it would be a camera for which I would pay $6,000."