Could Medium Format Digital save Leica?

Started Aug 3, 2008 | Discussions thread
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James M Hughes Senior Member • Posts: 2,007
Could Medium Format Digital save Leica?

Leica's difficulties over the past few years are well-known. Indeed, they've been swimming against the tide for many decades - since the early '70s at least. No one doubts they make outstanding products. But their stuff is very very expensive, and many shooters feel they can do as well (or better) with gear from other brands.

Last week, a Pro photographer friend told me of a medium format Leica camera he'd been shown - one bearing a striking similarity to the discontinued Contax 645. Could it be that Leica are going into Medium Format? And if so, might they resurrect the Contax 645?

To me, it makes a lot of sense. If Kyocera were able to make the Contax 645 again under the Leica brand, it would give Leica a whole new Pro market. Moreover, a market where they aren't up against Canon and Nikon. Kyocera already make lenses for Leica - some of the R zooms for example - so there is a relationship.

The beauty of MF cameras like the Contax 645 is that they are adaptable for different digital backs, and even film if this is desired. This means Leica could concentrate on what they do best; producing bodies and lenses. Of course, they would offer a 'Leica' digital back as well . But the choice of back would be down to the user.

Because the digital back is not a fixed part of the camera, Pros who invest in the system won't have to to throw their camera away every time a bigger better back comes out. This fits in perfectly with Leica's 'built-to-last' philosophy. It gives them a near future-proof platform that should last fifteen or twenty years - where will the likes of a Nikon D3 or Canon EOS-1DS/III be in five or ten years?

There's more. Contax also produced an advanced 35mm autofocus film camera, and the world's first full-frame DSLR - the Contax N series. If Leica (through Kyocera) resurrected the Contax N as their new R10, they'd have a ready-made AF DSLR line. Moreover, one that's compatible with the medium format camera - lenses from the latter can be used (with all functions) on the former with an adaptor.

Who would buy it? All those currently interested in (or using) cameras like the Hasselblad H3. Top Wedding Pros, Fashion photographers, Fine Art, Still Life, and Landscape photographers, and (or course) wealthy amateurs. The system would appeal to those who want subtle natural images that look 'real' rather than plastic. The cameras would offer supreme image quality, rather than speed.

It's an enticing prospect; a medium format DSLR AND '35mm' style full-frame DSLR, both with class-leading Leica image quality, and a degree of overlap between the two in terms of compatible accessories, flash system, lenses, and IQ.

Okay, it's all 'pie-in-the-sky' daydreams. But it makes a lot of sense to me. Certainly (from a commercial standpoint) it's a lot more realistic and sane than hoping there'll be a mass exodus back to Rangefinder cameras once a cheaper RF body becomes available - and I speak here as an M8 owner.

Leica need to find a new market that suits its' way of doing things - Medium Format Digital ticks just about every box. It's perfect.
J M Hughes

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