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Leica Unveils M9, X1 and S2

Leica M9

Leica M9

In a much anticipated webcast, Leica unveiled to the world the M9 and X1, both already leaked days before with photos circulating widely on the rumor sites.

The webcast started 15 minutes late, and Leica’s CEO spent the first 10 minutes expounding the legend behind Leica cameras. Was he preaching to the converted? Or, reaching out to non-Leica crowd? Anyway we had to sit through a boring history lesson we all know only too well. It was like he was trying to polish an image he knows has been tarnished, posing and answering the question, “Why should I buy a Leica?” Answer [and I paraphrase]: “You are passionate, non-conformist, capturing insightful moments as artists, photo journalists, etc. capturing it as you saw it, without distraction, without delay.” He forgot to add, “Rich.”

Leica M9 Back View

Leica M9 Back View

As expected, the Leica M9 has a Kodak full-frame sensor built specially for the M9. It still sports the traditional bottom cover that you have to screw out to access the battery and SD card, and a 2.5-in. LCD with a paltry 230K dots resolution [funny, don’t hear any reviewers complain about this as they usually do on any other camera].

Leica X1

Leica X1

The Leica X1 attempts to cash in on photographers’ desire to have a walkaround digital camera with SLR image quality and performance in a compact pocketable (well, coat pocketable) size.

Leica X1 Back View

Leica X1 Back View

The Leica X1’s look is also retro, matched more to the company’s M Series lineage than to the sleek rebranded Panasonic’s Four Thirds models. In fact, the Leica X1 is not a rebranded 4/3 digital camera. It uses a 12MP APS size image sensor (and hence larger than 4/3 sensor), and the Leica 36mm (equiv.) f/2.8 lens is fixed. Is the Leica-Panasonic alliance done with? At around US $2,000, the Leica X1 is a strictly Leica-aficionado camera.

Leica X1 with optional Viewfinder and Grip

Leica X1 with optional Viewfinder and Grip

The Leica X1 is a very handsome, yet in a funny-looking sort of way camera: distintively Leica, just the right size — but with an attached viewfinder (slide into hotshoe), a cylindrical pop-up flash, and an optional grip that screws into the tripod mount (why design a camera with no grip and then attach a grip to it???), it does not look as distinguished.

Leica X1 with flash popped up

Leica X1 with flash popped up

Also presented is the Leica S2, a medium-format DSLR with a sensor 56% larger than a full-frame 35mm sensor. It is weather- and water-sealed.

Then Seal [Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel] came on stage, and got a brand new S2 for his trouble.

So, Leica is the first company with a full-frame (Leica M9) and an APS (Leica X1) sensor in their non-DSLR cameras! Who would have thought? Leica once again leads the crowd and shows the camera community how to really — repeat after me, class, really — build a camera. Woohoo! Let the competition begins!

This news is exciting because the gauntlet has been thrown down and, at last, we are seeing what the future of digital cameras, especially of compact non-DSLR ones, is going to be. Will Nikon and Canon follow up with their own (affordable) APS size non-DSLR models? You betcha! The question that arises is (and it would have sooner or later anyway), Where does this leave the 4/3 sensor, which is smaller than the APS sensor?

Related Links:
Leica X1 QuickFact Sheet
Leica M9 Hands-on Preview @ DPReview
Leica X1 Brief Hands-on Preview @ DPReview
Leica X1 First Impressions @ Luminous Landscape

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