It’s been 10 years since the first digital Leica M was born. Through the years there had been changes, development and improvement to the camera, from cropped sensor to full frame, from colour to monochrome , from vintage to modern. Leica M has evolved steadily throughout the time, but with new camera line up such as Leica Q and SL, people starts to question the future of a Leica M rangefinder. Is it still relevant in the modern century, or is it just a dead legacy that Leica got no choice but to continue to produce in order to upkeep their heritage?
To me, a rangefinder is a different beast all together. There are things that they are good at, and certainly things that they are not capable of, and that’s totally okay. However, the market for rangefinder is perhaps too niche for other brands to step in, as the investment required and expected return certainly will not be easily justifiable. In the end, Leica has been enjoying the status of “sole manufacturer” for digital rangefinder in modern days, and hence they can easily demand for whatever premium price tag over their rangefinders. This is certainly not healthy as Leica can easily doze off and slacks in improving the Leica M further.
Yes, you hear me right. I strongly believe there are still rooms for the Leica M to improve, and that will certainly make the camera better and more enjoyable to use. Changing the top plate design, material used, releasing limited edition models and removing the rear LCD are certainly not that sort of improvement that everyone is looking for. Perhaps Leica is running out of idea, or perhaps they are in a difficult situation to decide whether the next M should remain to be retro or modern. With the recent release of M-D and M Type 262, it seems that Leica is pulling back in advancing technology in the M. So how can the M innovate while maintaining it’s roots?
As a starter, a better sensor and image processor is a must for the next Leica M. I don’t think it’s a must to bump up the resolution of the sensor, anything between 24 to 36MP would be more than enough. One need to be aware that as resolution increases, the demand for more accurate focusing increases as well, so be careful on what you wish for. What I really would like to see is improvement in high ISO performance. The current Leica M, granted it’s an old camera, only tops at 3200 for any usable shots. Beyond that you are risking to introduce banding in your picture and render it unusable. Besides that, Leica need to work harder with the auto white balance (AWB) of the M. Currently the AWB of M is pretty crappy and easily tricked, a more reliable AWB is certainly welcome.
From M9 to the M, Leica has made a drastic change in size and weight which has been a point of complain for most. The M does feels quite a bit heavier when you compared to the M8 or M9. it’s not really a big problem to me, but I certainly think that it’s possible for Leica to look into refining the size and weight for the next M and make it more comfortable to handle. I would also appreciate a better optical viewfinder (OVF) to be used in the next M. The current OVF is “good enough”, but whenever I look through the OVF of other cameras such as the Zeiss Ikon, it just make me wonder why can’t Leica do something equal, if not better than that. Bright, clear, unobstructed view will allow you to frame your shots easier and faster.
Now, here comes the modern part which we will have differing opinion. I would appreciate Leica to keep the option of mounting an electronic viewfinder in the next M, I would even go as far as wanting Leica to introduce a hybrid viewfinder similar to that on the Fujifilm X-Pro 2. Keep the live view function while work on ways to reduce the shutter lag. Perhaps introducing electronic shutter will be an option to expand the shutter speed, allowing one to use the Noctilux or Summilux wide open under the sun. With the introduction of SL, I think Leica can consider to drop the video feature on the next M and focus solely in photography. All the items I’d mentioned does not hinder the retro-ness of the M in anyway, you can always choose to use the feature or turn it off altogether.
There are other things which I wish Leica can improve on the next M, the serviceability of the M being the main thing. As everyone knows, currently you will need to send your camera all the way back to Germany for most repairs and this means you are going to kiss your M goodbye for the next 3 months or so. It’s ridiculous that after spending so much on a camera and yet it’s not with you most of the time. Well, I’ll talk about this a little more in my next post.
So all in all, things that I had mentioned is just minor incremental upgrade that most camera makers are doing yearly on their cameras. It’s been 4 years since the Leica M Type 240 was released. I wonder how much had Leica work on the next M, and what they will bring to the table to revive the rangefinder lineup again. There isn’t any news yet at the moment on the release of a new M, so we just have to wait and see if we will be excited or disappointed by it, that is provided Leica will ever release another M camera in the future.