The wet string that connects DearSusan’s international HQ to the world has been steaming again with a flurry of e-mails this week, following Fuji’s announcement of the GFX medium format system last Monday.
Here we sit; four photographers, four locations, four totally different attitudes, wants and ideas, trying to make some sense of what was going on. E-mailing frantically.
I thought we were doing pretty well; lots of opinions, ideas, suggestions, some predictable ragging of Pascal for his medium format (MF) passions and then regular DS contributor Bob Hamilton, dropped this bombshell. Read it first, the narrative starts after that.
It’s no coincidence that I compose this letter to you hot on the heels of a disappointing Photokina, itself the culmination of an increasingly bemusing and frustrating period of years as a Leica S system owner.
I have been a user and lover of Leica imaging equipment for many years and moved to the “Pro Format” S system following a period of ownership of a Hasselblad H3D-50 and H4D-50 system remarkable only for the fragility of the equipment which, despite being cared for lovingly and treated with kid gloves, refused repeatedly to function – usually, as per Murphy’s Law, at the most inopportune moment when a memorable image was developing in front of my eyes. A series of such events, in late 2010 and early 2011, along with the “promise” made by Leica at the S system’s launch at Photokina 2008, of the development of the system to truly make it a “system”, persuaded me that a move to a system which was much more robust and suited to my needs would be the best way forward and, at no small cost, I sold off my Hasselblad system of digital camera and 7 lenses and purchased an S2 along with the 35mm, 70mm, 120mm macro and 180mm lenses. The 30mm soon followed and, when the 30-90mm zoom lens, which had been on the advertised development list since 2008, became available in December 2012, I acquired it and sold off my 30mm and 35mm lenses. Two further lenses were acquired as soon as they became available – the 24mm and the 120mm PC – and the S2 body was replaced by the S typ 006 and S typ 007 as soon as they became available, both of which I still own.
And that’s where this story ends or, should I say, the kernel of my increasing frustration grows into something which has made me pen this letter.
Since Photokina 2014, other than the occasional firmware update, most of which I would describe as essentially “cosmetic” and akin to “moving the deckchairs around the Titanic”, the S system has seen no development at all while it would appear that the lion’s share of the R&D budget has gone towards developing the new kid on the block – the SL system – which is in grave danger, after, in Leica terms, a “mere” 2 years or so of life since its announcement in October 2015, of becoming a true “system” with a raft of lenses covering the needs of most amateur and professional users.
To put it bluntly, Leica made “promises” at the S system’s launch in September 2008 which have not been kept and, in doing so, lured loyal, long-term customers into a system which appears, ultimately, to have gone only part of the way to meeting those “promises” and their customers’ needs. I wonder how many S system owners bought into the system, as I did, on the back of the September 2008 promise of lenses such as a 30mm tilt and shift and a 350mm telephoto, the promise of which even included serial numbers in the images of the lenses published at the time. Needless to say, neither of these lenses has been forthcoming and no further mention has been made of them. My (several) pleas made over the last couple of years to Leica UK and Germany to, at the very least, produce an APO tele-converter matched to the superb 180mm lens, to give S owners access to a native focal length longer than the current maximum of 145mm full frame equivalent, have fallen on deaf ears.
Come on Leica, treat your loyal S customers fairly and either advise them honestly that the S system is no longer central to the corporate strategy and has entered its “end of life phase” or do as other manufacturers, such as Fuji, do and give us a road map of system development which you intend to honour.
And so it started. The bulk of the images are Bob’s – he is the only one of us currently using anything approaching medium format, as you’ve read above. Philippe’s contribution isn’t tagged, but my bet is Sony’s A7 and an Otus – pretty much MF country. Pascal’s smarphone shots are other examples of his journey of discovery, while he waits for the perfect MF to break cover. My contribution? That’s it at the top of the page. I’ve never used MF, so it’s a Fuji X-Pro2 shot, but apposite nonetheless. And as the caption says; we feel your pain.
You’re sounding almost as pissed off as I was when Apple abandoned Aperture. And with good reason.
One issue with the Fuji – there’s not one single image of it in hand, so it’s hard to gain any real idea of how big/small it really is. That said, if the handgrip is anything to go by, it’ll be no bigger than the big Nikons or Canons. Admittedly, it has a significantly deeper body, but if the overall size is similar, them the gentlemen with N and C on their uniforms should be looking long and hard at their pension plans.
If you’re wearing a L on your lab coat, the whole thing is just bad news despite your efforts to the contrary.
Yesterday morning, Kirk Tuck contributed this and we were on off.
I have to say that the Fuji looks good – very good – and should, sadly, be yet another nail hammered into the coffin of the Leica S which, as I said earlier, has obviously been abandoned – cast adrift – by the mother ship who see the SL as the way forward.
Not even a revised M from them – just more, fancy, up-market metal, limited edition reproductions of the same old model for the uber wealthy to stash away unused and to bring out occasionally to masturbate over. The words “all of the eggs in one basket” spring to mind and a ridiculously expensive “basket” at that.
Fuji will eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner and, you know what, it’ll serve them right for their smug complacency and abandoning of loyal, long term customers. They appear to have learned nothing from their financial crisis and quasi bankruptcy of only a very short time ago.
The other “star of the show” seems to be the Olympus 0M-D E-M1 Mark 2, which, if the totally revised AF system turns out to be up to the hype, should send shivers down the corporate spines of CanNikon. 20 mpx is more than good enough (the sensor of EOS 1DX Mark 2 is only 1 mpx or so larger) and the weight saving of the OM-D and 600mm equivalent lens over the Canon equivalents should be enough to sway any sane person if all other things are (almost) equal.
More, as I’ve spent years and far too much money backing a company which has just gang-banged me!
With Leica, it’s complete arrogance, plain and simple. Ask yourself who, with Sony developing and producing a world class MF sensor, used by Phase One, Hasselblad, Pentax and, now, Fuji, would choose to go their own way and develop their own offering?
Made all the more nonsensical when you look at the size of Leica’s balance sheet compared to even the likes of Olympus.
I received the final cheque from Ffordes yesterday for the sale of my remaining Leica M equipment which I lodged with them in December 2015 for commission sale – only 10 months or so ago and with the final price of the two bodies having been reduced by a combined £1,500 from the original Ffordes selling estimate. What do you think will happen to my S system when it goes the same route? I guess I’ll be lucky to give it away.
I noticed this morning that one of the lenses to come with the Fuji is a 110 f2. This brings back memories of a fab Hassy lens and should be a head turner in the Otus 85 category. If they nail that one and the 23, the lineup should be far more interesting than the initial trio (macro excepted). Now, for a tilt-shift adapter à la Hassy. That would be something else altogether. A step back in time to happy and creative times.
But did they *have* to use a wart to guide their design? That thing makes Theresa May look positively attractive.
I must say, I shake my head in disbelief when I see Leica deserting their own pillars of wisdom (and best customers)
• lessons from the R: don’t compete head on with the majors. That’s the SL for you
• small size matters, SL body, lenses
• Leica keep their value, which makes them less expensive to own
• nur das Wesentliche (only the essentials). A proliferating, sprawling product line. And instant film, a true essential
I could go on, but abandoning 4 pillars is enough for any building to come crashing down IMHO.
The world has changed totally, Philippe, and I know to my cost that Leicas do not keep their value. For mint/excellent ++ kit, I’ve had a return, over the last few years, of 40% of retail price at best, sold with a 6 month warranty.
The value is in keeping the kit and using it.
Care for a bit of contrarianism? Let’s say that the Hassy, Pentax and now Fuji bodies look like costing more or less $7.500. That is roughly half of what a Leica S body cost. This gap of 2 to 1 is quite usual for Leica vs competition.
Therefore I could see the new entries giving credibility to “small MF” for advanced amateurs, and thus the segment gaining traction all the way to critical mass. Leica then sits at the top end of that revitalised segment, with its usual positioning and could actually not only not suffer, but gain from these new releases.
Bob, your idea of keeping the S feels like a good one, in spite of the feeling of betrayal.
It appears my initial comments on the Fuji, based on a very lacklustre rumour page, were partial at best. While that thing is as attractive as the rear end of a poodle, particularly compared to the fashion item X1D (I mean that in a positive way, believe it or not 😉 ) it does seem like the more interesting offering. While 2 of the first 3 lenses left me uninspired (they may turn out to be brilliant), the 120 macro does seem like a lovely idea. And, more important still, the 110 f2 could be a dream come true and the 23 also. Plus the whole tilting EVF/screen system means the camera will be used by creative lads in all sorts of interesting positions. Brilliant.
What remains to be seen and is probably the most important aspect, is image quality. Let’s not forget the sensor is one generation old already (compared to an A7rII, for example) and 2 compared to the coming A7 lineup. Irrelevant megapixels aside, it’s not clear the image quality will be better in the MF than in the FF. We had this discussion with Bob a few days ago and 3 factors come to mind when talking image quality:
• Sensor size. 44×33 can hardly be called large. Besides, my recent infatuation with panoramas has taught me that 100Mpix doesn’t look better than 42Mpix, even in a stitched image giving a virtual sensor size of 60mm.
• Lens quality. Zeiss vs Fuji. Both are excellent with super track records. Both will shine, but FF will hold its ground.
• Post-sensor electronics & algorithms. This is one area where Sony lag behind the pack and where Hasselblad seem to positively excel. From the few samples we have seen online, the difference in colour quality between Hassy and Sony is huge. Fuji ? Not so much. A distinctly appealing look but not a neutral one by any stretch of the imagination. And not a particularly good RAW file track record. Sony have made solid technical improvements on everyone of their A7x iterations and probably won’t stop there. Catching Hasselblad seems unlikely, but closing the gap ? Possibly …
So the jury is still out. I still see nothing out there that’s compelling enough to throw 10 grand at and still feel more like downsizing than the opposite. But who knows? And Fuji sure look to be in a position to surprise and delight. Fingers crossed.
I never talk money – people would realise that I’m insane spending the price of a small house/very luxury car on a camera system!
If you’re insane with that, Bob, it was me that spent the cost of a new 12-cylinder Ferrari on a hi-fi setup…
According to Philippe, I’m experiencing postpartum syndrome after an active summer and I suspect he’s right, as usual.
The more I think about it, the more the Fuji is appealing. Remember the handy Rollei 66? It’s a bit like that. Flippin’ Kirk Tuck – it’s all his fault 😉
Meet Ugly Duckling, ancestor to The Wart.
Aw man! I really should have had a stash of Playboys in my youth, but that SL66 and the Mamiya 7 were the real causes for my troubled nights. Tell me you can see the resemblance between the handy Fuji Wart and this SL66. Free me from the Mamiya 7-like X1D.
Or maybe I should buy both? Danny Wilde and Bret Sinclair.
I need help.
Forget Playboy, these are pictures of
Mental gym it is, then. Initial reaction: flop (fueled by lousy rumour page that missed all the important points). Along comes Kirk Tuck and his much more informative article and the ugly useless wart becomes the lovable swiss-army knife Wart. I’m loving it, ahead of time.
Now comes the age of reason. Image quality is all that matters.
Pixel count is marketing nonsense, but size matters. The 72Mpix next-gen Sony will remain 24×36. The 51Mpx old-gen Fuji is 33×44, 68% more surface. Not as much of an increment as APS to FF (125%). Average the apertures of the coming lenses and you get f/3.3. To compensate for the 68%, the average lens offering on FF has to be f/2.5.
So far, we know this thing is ugly, expensive, large, has a sensor that’s 2 generations late and brings no light-gathering advantage to the table. Pointless, then. So I want it even more. Because it’s not about technicalities but about empowering user experience !
More seriously (mind you, all of the above is true), I’ve sent an email to Fuji’s PR department. In the past, I’ve done the same with Sony several times, with an average response rate of 0.00% and Hasselblad, with an average response rate of 100.00%. We’ll see where Fuji stands and, for me, that will weigh heavily in my final decision. To me, brands who care matter more than the technical perfection of their products. I’m sure this will resonate with users of other brands, right now.
With Bayer sensors, we’re now seeing marginal improvements and sensors which are several years old, in design terms, are, for real life shooting, just as good as the latest designs. Much depends on the processing engine, the quality of the lenses and, obviously, the quality of the photographer.
The Leica S is a case in point. The CCD typ 006, at base ISO, is just as good as, if not better than, the CMOS typ 007 and the files I have been seeing from trawling through my early digital archives have surprised me in terms of their quality. It has a lot to do with the progress made with RAW conversion software. I would contend that digital has not really progressed that much over the past 10 years in the sense of the essentials of the cameras we use to make the images.
Exactly, which is why the 2-generation gap between Sony’s future offering and FujiBlad’s doesn’t really matter. And the increased resolution is much more of a pain than a bonus. But if Sony improve their electronics & processing engine drastically, they will have a winner on their hand.
That CCD typ 006 was a peak in image loveley-ness. Not sure anything to come will match it. I hope galleries from Fuji and Hasselblad prove me wrong.
This is what I love about the S with its 16 bit colour and those lenses.
At this point, the invective faded and we all went back to our more usual pastimes. For now. I’m guessing Bob won’t get an answer from the Mothership and continue to be very angry. Philippe will doubtless continue to turn out glorious images from his Sony/Zeiss combination(s), Pascal will find a way to attach an 85 Otus to Fuji’s new body, which I think he has already pre-ordered and I will head for the US with my two X-Pros, but that’s next week’s story. Anyway, from here, the conversation fades into the usual DearSusan background noise. Better quit while you’re ahead, dear DearSusan reader.