Leica M Cine

Confirming speculation at Photokina, the imminent Leica M camera portends to be a unique camera for cinema. Just as the 1954 Leica M3 sparked a new style of unobtrusive, documentary-style photojournalism, I think the new M camera will provoke new styles in cinematography.

In the days before Hurricane Sandy, we got our hands on a working pre-production Leica M at PhotoPlus Expo. The big surprise (to me) was how easily I could follow-focus continuously (and solo) using the Leica’s rangefinder. This should have been obvious. I was weened on Leica rangefinder cameras before I could crawl. My Dad had one of the first M3 cameras, was a fanatic Leica user, and had to be first on the list for every new model. (Like father like son.) However, we never had to pull focus continuously. These were, after all, still cameras.

In the intervening years, viewing through motion picture cameras was all about spinning mirrors and optical finders–thanks to Erich Kaestner, the camera designer who left Leica in the 1930s to join ARRI and invent the reflex system. Single lens reflex still cameras use a similar principal: the image bounces off a mirror, into the viewfinder until you press a button that flips the mirror out of the way to reveal the camera aperture – film – sensor.

The DSLR revolution, of course, gave us Live-View video images from CMOS  sensors. You couldn’t look through the optical finder because the mirror was flipped up and out of the way for continuous video. That was a gold-rush for companies like iDCPhotoVideo, Zacuto and Hoodman, with magnifier loupes and rigs to view the image of the DSLRs’ small rear LCD screens.

The new Leica M, with its CMOS sensor, has three ways to view the image: Live-View on the rear screen, through a really nice accessory electronic viewfinder, or through the traditional rangefinder. Live-View Zoom enables up to 10x magnification. Live-View Focus Peaking shows edges  as red lines. Focus can be assessed by the intensity of the lines displayed. But, I liked the rangefinder best.

Using standard M lenses, you can easily adjust focus manually and continuously during the shot. (For anyone who hasn’t used a rangefinder, its simple: a double image in the center of the finder merges into a single, sharp image as you come into focus.) For cinema verité, documentaries, news, and unobtrusive drama, this will be very appealing.

The Leica M has an ISO range of 200 – 6400. Shutter speeds 1/4000 – 60 seconds. Storage is on SD / SDHC / SDXC memory cards. Files for stills are JPEG and/or DNG RAW.

Video couldn’t be easier: set aperture on the lens, set shutter speed (or put in on Automatic), and push the “M” for “Movie” button to the right of the stills shutter release.

Video on the pre-production Leica M was excellent: HD 1080p at 24 or 25 fps. Files are motion JPEG Quicktime .MOV.

Sensors in Germany seem to be named after people. ARRI Alexa has the Alev sensor, and Leica M has Max. Max is a 24 Megapixel, full-frame 24 x 36 mm still format sensor, designed by Leica (in Solms) and CMOSIS (in Belgium), and fabricated in France. “This is the first time that a CMOS image sensor for a 35mm high-end camera was designed and manufactured in Europe for a European customer,” said Guy Meynants, CTO of CMOSIS, Antwerp, Belgium. “Apart from the ceramic IC package the Leica MAX 24MP CMOS Sensor is a 100-percent European product.”

“Thanks to the special sensor technology from CMOSIS, we can now, for the first time, offer a digital system camera that is optimized for use with both M and R lenses”, said Alfred Schopf, Managing Director of Leica Camera AG.” Leica Rlenses use an adapter, since they have a greater flange focal distance (47 mm). M cameras (and M lenses) have a flange depth of 27.80 mm. Mechanical adapters will allow all kinds of lenses from other brands to be used. These will not be able to take advantage of rangefinder focus.

Many of us are eagerly awaiting the first PL to Leica M adapter, which will let us use Leica Summilux-C PL-mount cine lenses. I’m also keeping my eye on the sensor. At 5952 x 3976 (almost 6K x 4K), this could be just the beginning of a new relationship…

LEICA M Specs (as of September 2012–not definitive)

  • Available in Silver or Black
  • Camera type: Compact digital view- and rangefinder system still and video camera
  • Lens mount:   Leica M bayonet with additional sensor for 6-bit coding
  • Top Cover:   Milled brass top cover
  • Body:  Die-cast magnesium; synthetic leather covering.
  • Image Sensor:  LEICA MAX 24 MP CMOS Sensor
  • Number of effective Pixels:  24 Million Pixels
  • Sensitivity range:  ISO 200 – ISO 6400, Pull 100 available, Auto ISO
  • Imaging Platform:  Integrated imaging circuit with Leica Maestro Image processor
  • Electronic Viewfinder:  Optional available, can be used for Live View and Play
  • LCD Monitor:   3” TFT Display with 920.000 Pixels, scratch resistant cover glass (Corning Gorilla Glass)
  • Shutter:   Dual type focal plane shutter for classic image exposure and Live view
  • Shutter Speed:   1/4000s – 60s (in Bulb), 1/180s flash synchronization
  • Burst rate:  3fps
  • Self timer:  2s / 12s
  • Storage Media :   SD / SDHC / SDXC Memory Cards
  • Image File Format:   DNG (RAW data uncompressed or lossless compressed), JPEG
  • File Size:   DNG approx. 20 Mbyte – approx. 30 Mbyte (compressed)/ 48,2 MByte (uncompressed), JPEG: Resolution and image content dependent
  • Available JPG Resolutions: 5952 x 3976 (24 MP), 4256 x 2832 (12 MP), 2976 x 1984 (6MP), 600 x 1080 (1.7MP)
  • Color Spaces:   sRGB / Adobe RGB
  • White Balance:  Auto / Daylight / Cloudy / Shadow / Tungsten / Fluorescent warm /Fluorescent cool / Flash / Manual (Greycard) / Kelvin 2000-13100
  • Other functions:      Film Modes, Saturation, Contrast, Sharpening
  • Movie Recording:    Motion JPG, Quicktime format (.mov)
  • Movie resolution:     1080p, 720p
  • Movie sampling rate:     25 fps, 24 fps
  • Microphone:     Mono, stereo microphone adapter optional available
  • Audio recording:   Auto level adjustment, manual level adjustment (available while recording), concert preset
Exposure Control
  • Exposure Metering:   In classic viewfinder mode: Through the Lens (TTL) metering, center weighted with variable aperture.
  • In Live-View and advanced viewfinder mode: Through the Lens (TTL) metering, center weighted, spot or multifield measuring.
  • Center-weighted TTL metering for flash exposure with SCA-3000/2 standard flash units.
  • Exposure setting:   Manual shutter speed setting with direct dial, A-Mode with direct dial
  • Exposure Modes: Automatic shutter speed (A-Mode), Manual Exposure (M-Mode)
  • Exposure Compensation:    -3 EV to +3 EV, 1/3 f-stops
  • Exposure Bracketing:    3/5 frames, 0.5 / 1 / 2 / 3 f-stops
Viewfinder / Focusing
  • Focusing Methods:   Manual focus with optical rangefinder, Live View, 100% Live View Zoom, Live View focus peaking
  • Optical Viewfinder:   Large, light bright-line rangefinder with automatic parallax compensation, LED illuminated frame lines.
  • Optical Viewfinder frame lines:     Frameline size matches image sensor size at 2m focusing distance
  • Optical Viewfinder correction:    Eyepiece adjusted to -0.5 diopter. Corrective lenses from -3 to +3 dpt. available (optional)
  • Optical Viewfinder Magnification:    0.68x
  •  Optical Viewfinder Displays:  In the viewfinder LED symbol for flash status (at bottom). Four-digit seven-segment LED digital display, brightness adapted to ambient conditions, for: Warning in case of exposure correction; display of automatic shutter speed in automatic mode; advisory indicating use of metering memory lock LED exposure monitor with two triangular and one central circular LED with manual exposure setting
  • Rangefinder:    Split or superimposed image range finder shown as a bright field in the center of the viewfinder image
  • Rangefinder effective metering basis:      47.1 mm (mechanical metering basis 69.25 mm x viewfinder magnification 0.68 times)
  • Start up time:          less than 1 second
  • Power Supply:          Li-ion battery (included), 7.4V, 1800 mAh
  • Horizon:                    Yes
  • User Profiles:           4 Profiles, exportable
  • Sensor cleaning:      Dust detection, manual cleaning function
  • Tripod Thread:        1/4-20 (1/4″) DIN made of stainless steel in base plate
  • Dimensions:         approx. 139 x 42 x 80 mm (5.5 x 1.7 x 3.1 in)
  • Weight:                 680 g (23.9 oz)
  • Operating Temperature:       0°C – 40°C
  • Menu languages                   English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese
  • Accessories Included       Battery, Charger with power cables for EU and USA (different in some export markets), 12V charging cable, Carrying strap, Accessory port cover, Body cap
  • Software licenses supplied:     Adobe Lightroom
  • Optional accessories:     Electronic Viewfinder (EVF-2), Multi-functional Handgrip M, Handgrip M, SCA Adapter Set for Multi-functional Handgrip M, Power Adapter for Multi-functional Handgrip M, Finger loop for Multi-functional Handgrip M, Size S / M / L, Leica Microphone Adapter Set, Leica M-Adapter R, Ever-Ready Case M, Li-ion Battery BP-SCL2, Battery charger BC-SCL2


Leave a Comment

5 Responses:

  1. Jeff Kreines says:

    Does it have a clean HDMI output for recording to an external recorder with a better codec? Looks very nice but I wonder if it’s superior to, say, an NEX5-N with Leica M lenses and the OLED finder? Sure, the rangefinder would probably be very nice. I have used optical non-reflex cameras on cine cameras since the early ’70s, even on my Aaton (with a 10mm lens and Leica 35mm optical finder — 4 lbs lighter without the wonderful Aaton finder) and a bright, clear, non-flickering finder with no excess information is a wonderful thing indeed.

  2. Alan Barker says:

    By the way. The Leica that “sparked a new style of unobtrusive, documentary-style photojournalism” was released in 1925.

    • Jon Fauer says:

      Alan– Good point. I can hear the phone ringing from Rolf Fricke as we speak and I think I have the chronology correct: Barnack’s Ur-Leica 1913. 31 pre-production models in 1923. Introduction in 1925. Leica II rangefinder in 1932. Magnum in 1947. M3 in 1954, introducing M bayonet mount and combining viewfinder and rangefinder into one.

    • Jon Fauer says:

      Jeff–I did not see an HDMI output on the prototype. But I think this is just the beginning…

  3. Jon Fauer says:

    Otto Nemenz just called and likes the idea of the Leica M as a director’s finder, with a PL to M adapter.

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