Leica experience. Like it… later…

Leica sounds like old fashioned analog camera. Right. But Leica is also high-end full frame rangefinder digital camera for professionals and my use-case (2) semi-pro. Leica’s old M system made it to the digital world. With it’s current Leica M and Leica M-P the old value of manual cameras and the advantage of digital cameras merge very nicely.

Leica is famous for its lenses and photographers. For me Leica was always linked to the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and of course real German engineering and manufacturing quality.

Be aware, that Leica is very different from any other camera:

  1. Manual focus: combining the rangefinder and the viewfinder into one large, bright view with a brighter double image in the center;
  2. Only aperture priority: set the shutter speed automatically, or fully manual expose;
  3. Really, really expensive: Leica M with only one lens is more than €7’000.

If price is an issue stop reading. A full Leica M equipment is the equivalent to a small car:

Leica shopping list Price
Leica M 240 6.520 €
SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2 1.990 €
SUMMILUX-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH 4.645 €
90mm f/2 APO ASPH 3.520 €
SUMMILUX-M 21mm f/1.4 ASPH 6.590 €
UV-Filters 4x 400 €
Multifunctional Handgrip M 750 €
Artisan & Artist for Leica Bag 269 €
SF 58 Flash 300 €
Visoflex EVF2 Electronic Viewfinder 400 €
TOTAL 25.384 €

So, no price discussion beyond this point here.

Today, I played around with a Leica M including the Handgrip and the Summicron-M 1:2 35mm ASPH lens. This is a real camera. The manual focus requires some practice but runs quite smooth and naturally. Changing aperture is easy and not hindering at all. Even full manual mode is nicely supported with indicators in the viewfinder.

I have mixed feelings about the electronic viewfinder you can put on top. You can turn it up by 90° and therefore offers a lot of flexibility. But the picture is not really crisp and the mechanical feeling is not Leica-like – because it is build by Olympus 😉

I was a little bit disappointed by the sharpness of the test pictures. I printed fotohits test pictures of a Leica M with Summarit-M 35mm 1.2 and a Nikon F810 with Nikkor 24-70 2.8 G ED on 20x30cm² prints and compared them. Believe it or not: the Nikon is sharper even though this is a zoom lens! Looking very closely to the pictures I believe the test rather compare the JPEG algorithm quality and maybe less the optical. Leica JPEG shows many JPEG artifacts.

Leica vs Nikon





Anyhow. I will buy a Leica M, once I don’t know how to spend my money. Some products just have to be very expensive – like a Ferrari – otherwise they will never become a far dream or wish. Feeding five people and paying mortgage as of today leaves enough time to wait for the right time: Leica! Like it, later.

Bean counting on size & weight

Very honestly, I am not a bean counter. But here I somehow enjoyed the engineering skills making excellent beautiful high end  cameras so small and light. I asked myself how much more do I have in my pocket if I choose MFT or Fujifilm x-mount system. Here is a comparison:

Camera lens [mm F] W [mm] H [mm] D [mm] Weight [g]
Sony RX100 III Zeiss 8.8-25.7 1.8-2.8 101,6 58,1 41,0 290
Lumix DMC-GM5 no lens 98,5 59,5 36,1 211
Lumix DMC-GM5 Lumix 12-32 3.5-5.6 98,5 59,5 60,1 281
Olympus PEN E-PM2 no lens 110,0 64,0 34,0 225
Olympus PEN E-PM2 Olympus 14-42 3.5-5.6 110,0 64,0 56,5 318
Fujifilm X-M1 no lens 117,0 67,0 39,0 280
Fujifilm X-M1 Fujinon XF 18 2.0 117,0 67,0 72,7 396

The Sony is clearly a pocket camera and offers the smalls Height and Depth with a fixed lens. The Lumix wins the Width dimension and the Olympus offers shortest Depth amongst the interchangeable lenses.  Weight is a clear win for the Lumix. The Fujifilm plays in a different size and weight league.

In the end it is a race between Sony and Lumix. But the above table is not completely fair, as the Sony offers „much more light“ with F=1.8-2.8. Getting this with the Lumix MFT lenses  pays a high price on weight and size:

Camera lens [mm F] W [mm] H [mm] D [mm] Weight [g]
Sony RX100 III Zeiss 8.8-25.7 1.8-2.8 101,6 58,1 41,0 290
Lumix DMC-GM5 no lens 98,5 59,5 36,1 211
Lumix DMC-GM5 Lumix 12-32 3.5-5.6 98,5 59,5 60,1 281
Lumix DMC-GM5 Lumix 12-35 2.8 98,5 59,5 109,9 516
Lumix DMC-GM5 Lumix 14-42 3.5-5.6 98,5 59,5 62,9 306
Lumix DMC-GM5 Olympus 14-42 3.5-5.6 98,5 59,5 58,6 304
Lumix DMC-GM5 Lumix G 20 1.7 98,5 59,5 61,6 298
Lumix DMC-GM5 Lunix G 14 2.5 98,5 59,5 56,6 266
Lumix DMC-GM5 Olympus 25 2.8 98,5 59,5 59,6 306

A comparable Sony/Zeiss lens at MFT is the Lumix 12-35mm F2.8. But it is long and heavy, lifting the weight of the Lumix up to 485g, and the depth of 109,9mm makes it like a big box in your pocket. The fixed focal length pancake lenses both from Lumix and Olympus give a much better pocket feeling. As a compromise I would then choose the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM5 with the Lumix 12-32mm F3.5-5.6 as the standard zoom and pick a fixed focus Lumix G20mm F1.7.


Finally, the winners in the competition for smallest and lightest are:

  • Sony RX100 III with fixed mounted Zeiss lens,
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM5 in the category of exchangeable lens cameras.

Here is a great web-page comparing the two camera sizes also visually.

Adding a new compact – say Sony

Digital compact cameras with fix mounted lenses both zoom and fixed focal length are the choice for many. But if you really look for highest quality the choices are very slim. Bright lenses, small body, and high quality sensors are basically owned by Sony RX100 and Fujifilm Finepix X.

Overall, the choice for my use-case „(1) snap-shot“ camera is very clearly the Sony RX100 III. It is not only very small (101.6 × 58.1 × 38.3 mm³), light (290g), and ergonomic, but also bright and sharp with its 1:1.8-2.8 Zeiss Zoom 8.8-25.7mm. This is a typical 24-70mm zoom in the FX language. 20 MP is also more than enough for this use case. The magazine fotohits offers all technical data and  details test results.

It only misses the GPS sensor.

That’s why it is on my Amazon watch-list. The official price is €850 and with €720 online it is a fair deal.

Fuji just released their new X30. Foto Hits technical details. Maybe check again? It is bigger and heavier: 423g, 118.7×71.6× 60.3 mm³  but offers a longer zoom: 7.1-28.4mm which translates to  28-112mm in FX. And misses a GPS, too. It has only a WiFi interface to smart phones to capture location data to store them in the pictures.

This blog has a nice Sony RX100 comparison also with Lumix GM1.


The Micro-Four-Thirds world

Kodak, Olympus, and later Panasonic joined their forces two win in the world of digital cameras that are smaller then Nikon’s or Canon’s DSLR. They created an „open standard“ to win this new market: First the „Four Thirds“ and later the „Micro-Four-Thirds“ (MFT). The word open is a relative term. For me as a software guy this is very closed as these standards are patent protected and available only under non-disclosure agreements. But for standards in photography this is much more open than the rest of the business ecosystem.

The MFT describes the size of the the sensor imaging area with 17.3×13.0 mm², the mechanics and electronic interfaces of the lenses. The size of the sensor is bigger than typical 1-inch and is 30% smaller than APS-C. It was designed purely for mirror-less digital photography and video in mind.

With the huge success of mirror-less digital cameras like the Olympus OM-D and Panasonic Lumix series there are more than 20 camera models, more than 25 zoom lenses, and more than 40 fix focal lenses in the MFT market. Several Olympus, Panasonic, and Leica lenses have an excellent quality reputation.

  • Olympus only newest camera bodies in MFT
    • Small, that could fit to use-case „(1) snap-shot“
      • PEN E-PM2
      • PEN E-PL7
      • PEN E-P5
    • Bigger, that could fit to the use case „(2) semi-pro“
      • OM-D E-M1
      • OM-D E-M5
      • OM-D E-M10
  • Panasonic Lumix only newest camera bodies in MFT
    • Small, that could fit to use-case „(1) snap-shot“
    • Bigger, that could fit to the use case „(2) semi-pro“

The small bodies, high quality, and retro look of the MFT cameras also offer good useability.

To-Be-Done here:

  1. Pick the right small Lumix
    1. nice GM1 Review
  2. Pick a small and bright lens
    1. great interactive overview
    2. MFT overview