Magazine Article


Leica Upping Its Digital Ante?

Photo of Tugboat Taken with Leica R9
An 1887 tugboat has rivets and seams and all sorts of odd colors, while the man with the torch spends his years welding. Outstandingly sharp, the digital R9 gets all.
Don Sutherland

Photo of Child Taken with Leica R9
The digital R9 is large and solid, but not lacking in grace when required. It can catch the right moment when the action gets good.
Don Sutherland

A Leica R9 with Digital Modul (right) and a Leica Mod.1 (left) in mutual admiration across 70 years, and my how things have changed!

Tomorrow’s Traditions?

The R9/DMR would not be the fastest action-camera on the digital market, but its output ranks with the best. It admirably suits a large contingent, and there’s a plan described by Leica reps to knock a thousand bucks or so off the price. That could do much to draw precision photographers to this solid machine, and all it embodies of Leica tradition.

But my first interest was simpler: to ascertain if Leica understands digital procedure? Do they make a clean menu, put the controls where they’re reachable, process a picture in-camera quickly? Yes, yes, and yes. The R9/DMR is satisfactory evidence that Leica could come up with an excellent camera, designed from the outset to be digital, if they put their minds to it. Their minds have been to it for a few years now, in the form of a Modul M—a digital back for their rangefinder cameras. After some bold first steps, they abandoned the plan. Now they’re thinking of a dedicated digital camera, rangefinder-style—a digital M. In a photokina year, should we expect something exciting? All indications are we should—Leica seems to have committed to an October delivery.

As intriguing as such a camera would be, another potential raises eyebrows. It starts with Leica’s endorsement of the Four Thirds system last February 26—that is to say, at the PMA show.

At that same show, it was revealed that Olympus’ Evolt E-330 was a co-development of Olympus and Panasonic, and at the show the E-330’s Panasonic kissing-cousin was shown. Some might have called it almost the same camera, with a new name in place.

Before the collaboration between Olympus and Panasonic was announced, there were collaborations between Leica and Panasonic. As noted here two years ago, a lot of Leica-branded lenses are made in Matsushita factories.

Would Leica’s Four Thirds endorsement be restricted to camera lenses only? What if they wanted a DSLR that was swifter, smaller, with more modern features (like the Live View electronic monitor in the Olympus and Panasonic models)? Would Leica know who to talk to, for a 21st-century digital?

Reputation means a lot. But to some people today, the prominent forces in digital cameras are like Casio. These younger customers haven’t forgotten the Leica, nor the Maine, nor the Alamo. They were simply never taught.

The R9/DMR combo shows that Leica can deliver a digital SLR that fits their old reputation. Maybe there’s reason to believe they’re ready to develop a new rep as well.