7 years ago, Sony introduced a UPhO, or Unidentified Photographic Object, the RX1, and the world went: OMG, what have they done?
A diminutive camera which, at first glance, could pass off as one of the then so-many compact cameras. Except for for a very, very un-minor detail. It had a very, very un-small sensor. It was full frame! In such a small body! Talk about pocket-rocket! It also sported a fixed 35mm f:2.0 Sony-Zeiss lens.
It packed so much IQ in such a small body, thanks to its excellent sensor and lens that it would for sure had been a perfect spy-‘tog camera, or Q-cam, for photographers of the James-and-Bollinger persuasion.
Though what happened next was a real Q camera. Enter the Leica Q. Same concept: fixed lens (28mm f:1.7), full frame. Not as small as the RX1 (and its later sibling the RX1 II), but still not overlarge. And while the Sony was pricey, it was still not Leica-pricey. The Sony went for roughly 3000€ and the Leica for 4000€. The modesty (for Leica, that is) of the premium for the Q over the RX1 led many to believe that the Leica was in fact a Panaleica, with much contribution -if not all- from Panasonic, fueled by the unique-for-Leica aperture of f:1.7, whereas it is usual with Panasonic.
Travel forward, and 2 new cameras are introduced. Not the expected, awaited even, Sony RX1 III, but the logical Leica Q2, and the totally unexpected and in some ways il-logical Zeiss ZX1.
The Leica Q2 is logical in that it is an updated Q with better specs, including the first 35mm high-resolution sensor (47Mp), which means it dramatically out-resolves its more expensive siblings the Leica M10 and SL. It perseveres with its fixed 28mm f:1.7 Summilux (hold that thought!), and early images look very nice indeed.
The ZX1 is il-logical in that it comes from Zeiss. In a way Leica’s rival for the crown of best lensmaker in the world, and German to boot. But very different in that Zeiss stopped making cameras (think Contax, think Ikon) rather than go digital, and swore that hell would freeze over before they re-entered the market.
And the ZX1 is different indeed. No memory card but a huge SSD (512Go), few controls, a black body redolent of the monolith in Kubrick’s “2001, a space odissey”, a fixed 35mm f:2.0 (a true Zeiss one, so no relation to the one in the RX1), built-in wi-fi and an in-built copy of Adobe’s LightRoom running on Android, for all-in-one, in-camera shooting-editing-sharing. Needless to say, its annoucement in late 2018 made huge ripples, as it contained lots of news. Zeiss back in the camera business. New features to try to replicate smartphone-like ease and speed of use (though some will say that Samsung made an attempt at the same already a few years back, and that it bombed badly on them).
People wondered: is it actually made by Zeiss, or is it contracted out, and to whom? Is it filled with Sony innards, Zeiss’ historic partner (hence the Sony-Zeiss lenses)? Is it actually the re-badged Sony RX1 III, which has been long in not coming?
What interests me in these 2 cameras is this: the Leica is a logical, predictable (or at least as predictable as anything from Leica) offering, and it was very well received, including by the core of DearSusan insiders. The Zeiss was lambasted by many despite (or because of) its ambitions and innovations, including by the core of DearSusan insiders (but not by Pascal or I). Why so much love Vs. so little?
One complaint against the Zeiss is that the fixed 35mm all-in-one is not for everyone, even at the pro-am level it is priced for. The other complaint is the price, at some 4200€
My take is this: forget the in-built LightRoom instant-post hoopla. The ZX1 is a premium fixed-lens high-resolution camera with German optics. Just like the Q2. The latter sports more resolution (47Mp Vs. 37Mp) but, because its 28mm Summilux has huge distortion (13%!), mandatory in-camera correction lowers that resolution according to Lloyd Chambers’ Diglloyd blog. So the Q2 and ZX1 are obviously going after the same potential customers. So why call the ZX1 over priced and the Q2 sweet?
Is the square blue of Zeiss less exclusive than the red dot of Leica, and all this issue is snobbery? Is it because the inclusion of the SSD and LightRoom to fight off the onslaught of smartphones actually lowers the value of the Zeiss as a “serious camera”, and all this issue is clubbiness? Is it because the quick-post-online thingy is actually for a younger crowd than the well-heeled Leica and Zeiss aficionados, and all this issue is generational? Is it because how the Q2 will feel, behave and deliver is highly predictable so everyone has an opinion even without using it, whereas no-one really knows how the Zeiss with feel, behave and deliver, and all this issue is about the unknowns of innovation and resistance to it? Is it that the camera market has evolved towards more and more choice, options, menus, possibilities, add-ons, and the monolithic Zeiss goes the other way, and this issue is about innovation Vs. customer expectation?
As far as I am concerned, having more choice is good, so thank you both Zeiss and Leica. Having manufacturers dare, risk and innovate is good, so I welcome the ZX1, though it seems to be behind schedule (Q1 2019, when it was supposed to be released ends in 6 days). And the fact that neither camera (after all, high-priced fixed-prime-lens cameras are not for everyone) might be for me in no way means it is bad, stupid, overpriced or whatever negative comment has been hurled at Zeiss, especially before it is even released and reviewed by DS.
Just as the RX1 UPhO was a landwark camera, even though it did not sell in huge numbers, the Leica Q2 is a safe bet, it will play well to the Leica crowd, and the ZX1 a highly un-safe one, which could turn out to be a bomb or another landmark camera. Please forgive me for being more interested in the latter.
While I am basically a Ferrari guy, for years the innovation lay with Lamborghini (think Miura, Espada, Countach). Ferrari prospered, while Lamborghini had to be saved more than once, which shows that innovation, especially when execution is less than flawless, can be a road to ruin. But today’s super-and-hypercars look more like a Miura than like a Daytona. So, yes, I am sure the Leica Q2 is nice, very nice even. But the ZX1 is where I expect greatness. Hopefully enough to make happy-as-a-clam-with-his-Hassy Pascal teary-eayed…
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