Nikon Z and Canon R from a Leica Perspective - with the Leica M10-P and Sony A7R Mark III
I have much to cover on this post, so I will dispense with the pleasantry. Much has happened over the last couple of weeks. First, Leica has released the M10-P. Second, Nikon has announced the Z Mount mirrorless system along with four lenses. Third, the upcoming Canon R system, along with four lenses have been leaked. Given the new development, where does this leave the Sony A7/A9, the Leica SL, and the fate of DSLRs.
In my opinion, Sony had a good run. They benefited from first movers advantage in the full frame mirrorless segment. And despite making cameras and lenses that performed exceptionally well, Sony never solidified their position in the market. In other words, they never made what their core customer wanted. In the end, many found their lenses too bulky, their cameras' user interface too confusing, and their product line uninspiring from a lack of halo products.
Still, Sony was able to prosper because of first mover's advantage. If the numbers can be trusted, they command 40% of the full frame market. That being said, much of that success can only be attributed to a lack of real competition. In a manner of speaking, Sony being the only affordable manufacturer of mirrorless cameras competing in the full frame market segment - still dominated by DSLRs - is like a person bringing a gun to a knife fight.
Mirrorless is that much better than DSLRs. That cannot be disputed. The technology offers the advantage of a better viewfinder experience enhanced by electronic aids. In addition to that, the technology also offers the benefit of a much better autofocus system in acquisition and tracking. What this means is that mirrorless technology offers greater accuracy in documentation, with much less effort. Because of that, DSLRs have become irrelevant.
The only reason full frame DSLRs have lasted as long as they have is because Nikon and Canon did not offer a full frame mirrorless option. But now that they're offering it, the fate of the DSLR is sealed. As for Sony, now that real competition exists in the full frame mirrorless segment, the lead they once enjoyed is over. I mean, forget about bringing a gun to a knife fight. Both Nikon and Canon have brought a bazooka!
It's truly explosive how Nikon and Canon have impacted the camera industry with their respective announcements and leaks. But from the perspective of a Leica enthusiast, why does it matter? In short, it's because Leica rangefinders, as exceptional as they are in performance, have limitations in what they can do. Because of this, Leica enthusiasts needing to document beyond the scope of what a rangefinder can do are forced to seek remedy from a complementary system.
For Leica enthusiasts, it's truly frustrating how rangefinders cannot take photos at close shooting distances, or take photos accurately at further shooting distance with a telephoto lens. And there are times when autofocus would come in handy, especially when chasing children around a play date or tracking a fast moving subject. Given these limitations, you'd think that Leica enthusiasts be quick to forsake the rangefinder. But then the question of size will always come into play.
From the perspective of a Leica enthusiast, size does matter. For this reason, the Leica SL has at best received tepid response from Leica enthusiasts. And it doesn't matter how exceptional it performs, or how intuitive the user experience is, or even how beautifully it renders. The fact that the SL system isn't compact, and is ridiculously weighed down by gargantuan lenses makes it less than appealing for recreational use.
So it comes as no surprise that many Leica enthusiasts still rely on the Sony A7/A9. After all, a full frame mirrorless camera from Sony checks all the boxes. A Sony can take pictures at much closer shooting distances. A Sony can also take pictures accurately with a telephoto lens from a much further shooting distances. And when the need for autofocus arises, a Sony can also do that with native Sony lenses. In that way, a Sony is the perfect complement for a Leica enthusiast.
But is a full frame Sony mirrorless camera really the perfect complement for a Leica enthusiast? At best, it's the most reasonable one, given a lack of alternatives. The problem with a Sony A7/A9 from a Leica perspective is what it's really offering a Leica enthusiast. Essentially, it's really just a compromise. That is to say, a Sony can adapt Leica M-mount lenses (as well as R-mount), and do the tasks that M-mount rangefinders cannot do - but at what a cost?
To demonstrate what I mean, I conducted this impromptu comparison between the Leica M10-P and the Sony A7R Mark III. On a fair comparison, I would've used the same lens on both camera. But since I wanted autofocus on the Sony, I opted for a Sony lens. That said, a fast 35/1.4 Sony lens is really just too big to handle conveniently. Because of that, I ended up comparing the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH version I against the Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA.
From the perspective of size, both lenses are roughly the same length - give or take. Other than that, the result of this comparison will not be on a leveled playing field. The Leica was shot wide open at f/1.4 on every image. That said, the first aspherical version of the 35mm Summilux wasn't especially notable for its rendering. Still, the rendering on the Leica was more pleasing. As for the Sony, its rendering seemed harsher in saturation and contrast.
In going through the tedium of that exercise, I knew I was at the crossroads with Sony. Up to now, the A7/A9 have served me well on those occasions when my imaging needs could not be satisfied by a Leica rangefinder. But I want better. I want a camera that renders better, and I want a camera with a better selection of lenses. But most of all, I want a camera that offers a better thought-out user interface. For this reason, I will likely switch over to Nikon or Canon.
But which one? In looking at the specs, I am of the opinion that most Leica enthusiast would pick the Nikon Z system. In terms of its user interface, the Nikon appears to have a slight edge, given its physical mode dial, ISO button, and exposure compensation button. That said, I believe Canon will win back the lion's share of the full frame market. Unlike Nikon, Canon seems to be focusing their attention on a better selection of lenses.
That is not to say that Nikon isn't attempting to do the same. After all, they have announced the Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct. However, that lens is a manual focus lens. By comparison, if you can believe the leaked photos, Canon is going to make a RF 50mm f/1.2L (that has autofocus), a very compact RF 24-105mm f/4L, and the pièce de résistance, a RF 28-70mm f/2 lens, being the first of its kind. Just for the sake of the 28-70 f/2 lens, many will be getting the Canon.
One last thing - both Nikon and Canon will be offering adapters for their DSLR lenses. Unlike Sony, who had to start from scratch, both Nikon and Canon can draw on their catalog of full frame lenses. And because these adapters will be native, they will likely have full autofocus and electronic functionality. From that product offering alone, Sony has essentially been outgunned many times over by Nikon and Canon.
That said, a Leica enthusiast would still need to wait for a third party M-mount adapter. So until then, Leica enthusiasts will have to stick with the Sony A7/A9. But like I said, I have a feeling that most Leica enthusiasts will gravitate towards the Nikon Z system, given the option of a high speed variant and a high resolution variant. So if you're a people photographer, it will be the Z6. And if you're a landscape photographer, it will be the Z7.
PS - The Leica M10-P is the same as the Leica M10. It has an electronic leveler which is cool. But other than that, it doesn't offer a material advantage - unless you want a quieter shutter, or think that a touchscreen LCD is useful, despite a lack of autofocus.
PPS - Is it just me, or is the Sony 35mm angle of view tighter than that of the Leica?
Some images have been tweaked on Adobe Lightroom. One set of image has been cropped. All images have been shot at maximum aperture.