There has been a lot of noise in the Leica world lately but the biggest may be the announcement of Leica’s alliance with Panasonic and Sigma on a collaboration to produce products for the Leica “S” mount. Leica has been partnering with other companies for decades to make lenses, cameras, or rebadged cameras that are being sold by other brands. But this is the first time that I can think of that they are allowing other companies to make lenses for their cameras. I remember a Schneider Super-Angeulon for the “M” cameras. Minolta made the CLE small rangefinder and many of the “R” slr cameras were designed with Minolta. And we are all aware of the re-badged point and shoot cameras like the Dlux series.
Every camera manufacturer has the same problem when introducing a new camera line. How many new lenses and which ones. Notice the recent introduction of the mirror less cameras fron Canon and Nikon. One of the first complaints before anyone even touches the cameras is where are the native lenses. Sure adapters help customers use their existing lenses but what they want is the real thing. Witness the slow but steady adoption of Sony mirrorless cameras. Good lenses and a detailed roadmap of coming lenses reassure customers that it is safe to try the new line of cameras.
For a long time this is what I felt was holding the Leica SL back from growing in the market for mirrorless cameras. The SL lenses are very nice but there is just no system growth. Yes you can mount an adapter for other lenses like Leica’s current “M” lenses but on an autofocus cameras you want autofocus lenses. Otherwise you have a Frankenstein system, yes it works, but it slow and inefficient. And the reason to buy Leica is really not for the bodies but to get the exceptional lenses.
From a marketing standpoint 3rd party lenses is not an ideal situation. You want customers to buy into the brand. And this is even more important for Leica because it is a major investment to actually buy into the brand. But I agree with Leica that this was a move that the had to make. The SL is a fine camera but I bet sales leveled off a while ago. I had said a long time ago that they should open the mount up to other manufacturers. It was probably a tuff decision.
What is going on here gives some insight into Leica’s thinking. Finally Leica is pushing for growth in the camera market. Management for so long has been quite conservative. Not very surprising for a German company. But I think they have dreams of being a larger player in the photo industry. I first say this when I was invited to the Los Angeles Leica store to see the introduction of the Leica T. It looked and operated like something from a Japanese company. Nothing like Leica had been making. It was a good product but the initial camera never caught on. The ancestor of this camera is the CL and is mature and I am told it is selling ok.
The camera that really gave me faith in Leica was the Q. This is a real Leica. No corners cut. A great lens. Great viewfinder. Great autofocus and a clever addition of a macro setting. A camera that has appealed to long time Leica users as well as those that had never used a Leica.
“For photographers, the ability to choose from a wide range of lenses for their system of preference is extremely important,” says Leica Chairman Dr. Andreas Kaufmann. This one sentence by Dr Kaufmann is what I think will guide the company for the next 5 years. Leica has first rate products and they want people to take a serious oook at them. With this alliance with Sigma and Panasonic, Leica is leveraging a partnership like never before. In the past it was to fill small technology holes that the company had now they are really trying to grow the company.
This aggressive push into products outside the normal line of cameras is a signal that people need to take notice of what Leica is doing. It is easy to write them off and say their last real camera was introduced in 1954 with the M3. I sense things are different behind the walls in Solms. Opening up the lens mount to other manufacturers allows Leica to say “ see, we’re competitive with the big boys”. Only time will tell if this will sell more cameras, but I think Leica no longer wants to be a niche player. They want to be a mainstream player. Pay attention.