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Why (I think) Leica hasn’t gone beyond 24 Megapixels in the Full Frame Cameras yet

It is November 2017. The maximum resolution that you can get on a Leica Rangefinder currently is 24 Megapixels.

I actually get asked a lot, why hasn’t Leica gone beyond 24 Megapixels in the full frame digital cameras?

It is a good one. There are, in my view 2 types of answer to it. The first is a “Business Perspective” answer, and the other is what I’d call a “Leica Philosophy” or photographic perspective answer.

From the Business Perspective

In September 2006, Leica launched the M8. It was their first digital rangefinder, sporting an APS sensor with a 1.33x crop. It was a 10 megapixel camera which for 2006 was high end. High resolution, it had groundbreaking dynamic range, and digital shots from the M8 can still hold their own today in terms of quality.

But then…September 9, 2009. 09/09/09. The game-changer. The Leica M9. Full frame and 18 Megapixels. A new CCD that looks stunning. The M9 was the world’s first ever full frame mirrorless digital camera. Still today, very usable and there is some great work being produced with it. And how cool does “M9” sound? Like a sports car or missile.

Fast forward to 2012, and out comes the Leica M240. 24 Megapixels. I own one. I love it. Controversially, the sensor was changed from the much loved M9 CCD to a new CMOS. And we had live view. Better dynamic range. Bigger battery. Quieter shutter. Video. It was Leica grabbing technology with 2 hands.

In 2015, Leica released 2 more full frame cameras. The M262 (24 Megapixels) and the SL. A new high performance, auto-focussing, 4K videoing, rapid-firing monster that performs in the studio, on the sports filed, for street and architecture. The SL was new ground for Leica in digital and a 35mm version of the 40+ megapixel S medium format range. But it was 24 megapixels. I don’t think Leica wanted to risk adversely effecting the sales of the M240/M262 so they stuck with the resolution at 24 Megapixels.

Early 2017. The M10 is launched. 24 Megapixels. Loads of people, including me were expecting a 36 megapixel sensor. In 2017, we had the Nikon D810 at 36Mp, the Canon 5Ds at 50Mp, and more recently the Nikon D850 at 45Mp and Sony A7R3 at 43Mp as well. So why didn’t Leica put a higher resolution sensor in the M10? From a business perspective, I think it was because they wanted to protect the sales of the SL at 24Mp.

How about from a philosophical perspective?

I think this where it gets more interesting.

  1. Leica looks after customers. They’d never introduce a new feature if there was a risk of something else being adversely effected. Higher resolution sensors bring in more high ISO noise and adversely effect dynamic range. The M9, M240, M262 and most recently M10 have stunning dynamic range, and particularly with the M10, amazing noiseless performance at high ISOs. And photographers love it. Also, remember that Leica’s are naffing expensive. I actually feel looked after by Leica that the M10 hasn’t increased in resolution because I don’t feel the need to upgrade. Thanks Leica, you’ve saved me $9,000.
  2. It can be argued that 24 Megapixels matches 35mm film very closely. And Leica has, probably more than any other manufacturer a cult following of people who love film.
  3. Their lenses. I think that maybe Leica is concerned higher resolutions could make a Leica lens loose that special look that makes it a great lens. Their current sensors and lenses have a great balance in image quality, sharpness, detail, tone and light graduation and that amazing look that only Leica can provide.
  4. Leica knows that sharpness isn’t about Megapixels or Lenses. But about the skill of the photographer.

What I’d like to see in a future Leica Sensor

One day it is inevitable that Leica will have to upgrade the sensor resolution. At 24 Megapixels I can get A0 and above size prints. But, I’d like more resolution so I could crop in more.

I want more dynamic range. Just because I want more.

But what I want more than anything else? 100 ISO. Currently I have to pull 100 ISO, because my M240 sensor only goes to 200 natively. And pulling an ISO can degrade the image. If i want to shoot at less than 200ISO, I use film in my MP.

Let me know what you think.

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