Magazine Article


Leica to Unveil 35mm Hybrid At photokina

The photographic industry's first digital back for a 35mm camera will be making its debut at photokina in Germany later this month. The Leica Digital-Modul-R, first introduced—in concept—in 2003 is no longer just a concept, but an actual working camera.

The camera's appearance at this photokina ends a year-long wait for Leica owners who first heard about the Digital-Modul-R in mid-2003 when Leica pulled back the curtain on the camera. At the time, Leica's reason for announcing the product so far in advance of a working model was simply to let camera owners know that the digital solution was in the works. At photokina though, the concept becomes a reality.

"This hybrid product links the decades of investment of our customers in lenses and cameras for film-based photography to the progress made in digital technology," said Hanns-Peter Cohn, CEO of Leica Camera AG at the product presentation. "The Leica Digital-Modul-R is the logical consequence of Leica's product philosophy, which is based on decades of system compatibility and retention of value," he added.

Earlier this summer, PTN was one of a select few to actually handle a Leica R9 with a Digital-Module-R attached, and shoot a few frames with it. Although no prints were made—nor were the images downloaded to a computer—we were allowed to make exposures using the Digital-Modul-R attached to an R9 camera body.

Leica developed the Digital-Modul-R in cooperation with Imacon A/S and the Image Sensor Solutions (ISS) division of Kodak. The imaging sensor being used is a 10-megapixel CCD that Kodak ISS developed and produced specifically for the Digital-Modul-R.

Leica engineers designed the R8 and R9 35mm camera bodies with the ability to function with a digital solution. Integrating the sensor into the existing cameras required the sensor and its housing to be positioned at the film gate of the cameras. This required the physical size of the sensor to be smaller than the film gate. The sensor's active area is 26.4mmx17.6mm, with a 1.37x focal length magnification factor.

File formats include RAW, TIFF, and two different JPEG compression levels. Approximate file sizes are 20-megabytes for RAW files and 30/60-megabytes for TIFF files.

The system is designed to allow photographers to quickly and easily swap out the back cover of the R8/R9 cameras, replacing it with the Digital-Modul-R. This would allow R8/R9 owners the ability to use the same 35mm SLR body to shoot both film and digital. Medium and large format photographers currently use digital backs on those camera bodies when needed, and switch to film for shoots that require it.

The introduction of the Digital-Modul-R begs a few questions:

  • Will the availability of a digital back for a 35mm film camera cause photographers to convert from other camera brands to Leica? That remains to be seen. There are currently 34,000 Leica R System customers. Christian Erhardt, Marketing manager, Leica Camera Inc., says, "The Digital-Modul-R is significant news for Leica, and we are confident that the product will be an exciting development in the industry. We are hopeful that the innovative design and construction of the product will attract new users to the Leica brand."
  • Will the Digital-Modul-R impact declining film sales? No. Leica serves a niche market of users. "Our introduction of the first 35mm hybrid film/digital camera will make consumers aware of the excellent combination of using 35mm film as well as digital photography," explains Erhardt, based on the photographer's individual shooting situations.

According to Leica, there is a great amount of interest in the Digital-Modul-R from current Leica users. Production is scheduled to begin immediately following photokina, with test units available by year's end.

Digital-Modul-R Specs:

  • (l.) View of the rear of a Leica R9 SLR with the back cover removed. Below the body, about the size of a motor drive, is the power unit. (r.) The Digital-Modul-R with CCD is shown in front of the rear cover of the camera with its film pressure plate. MSRP of the Digital-Modul-R is $4,995.
  • Compatible with R8 and R9 SLR bodies; and all Leica R-lenses
  • 10 MP CCD sensor
  • Image Display: 1.8” color LCD
  • ISO range of 100 – 1600
  • Records RAW, TIFF and 2 JPEG compression levels to Secure Digital media; Shipping with a 256MB SD card.
  • Color Spaces: AdobeRGB and sRGB
  • 16 Bit Color Depth
  • FireWire interface for connection to computers
  • Bundled Software: FlexColor for Leica DMR (Mac/Win), Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 (Mac/Win) and ACDSee PowerPack 6 (Win)