Micro Four Thirds - The new Leica?


I'm not a great fan of Steve Huff. That 'everyman enthusiast photographer' vibe that he puts over and the tabloid style of writing doesn't endear itself to me. (Incidentally I suspect that this is EXACTLY the reason he gets invited to camera launches and sent cameras to review, so what do I know!) Plus he uses the word 'awesome' far too much and there is of course the whole 'talk to the dead' thing. However from time to time he writes something that is really insightful and turns me (almost) into a fan.

He's got a piece on the GX7 - HERE - and it contains this.

'Many say that Fuji is the new Leica but this is actually far from fact. In fact, Micro 4/3 is more like the new Leica. How so?

When Leica started they were all about SMALL size, SMALL fast prime lenses and fantastic usability. The Fuji X-M1 may be small, but the lenses are not and there is no viewfinder. The Fuji is also the worst of these three when it comes to usability (had 4 mis-focused shots during this test due to the camera not locking on to the right spot, and I told it where to AF). Micro 4/3, specifically the new E-M1 and GX7 are superb with usability, AF, speed, build and feel and they specialize in small size WELL MADE bodies and small size well made fast primes. With the right lenses, these cameras are superb in quality and when shooting with one of those Voigtlander 0.95 lenses you feel like you are shooting an old Leica or similar.

So to me, Micro 4/3 is closer to being the new modern day Leica than Fuji. I see the Fuji X IC Bodies as an immature imitation in looks alone. Maybe in 2-3 more years but today? No. (X100s is a different story). The X-M1 is an odd camera. BAD ergonomics with big lenses on a think tiny body with dodgy AF, no EVF, cheap feel, and other odd ball things going on with it. A departure from the X-Pro 1 and X-E1 for sure, and not sure why. Next to the GX7 set, the X-M1 FEELS like a toy made for a child while the GX7 FEELS like a tool made for a photographer. Sounds harsh but I am telling you my honest opinions after shooting and handling all three of these. Of course the Leica is in another league  when it comes to build and feel as it should be. The Fuji also had the worst color as the pedal in the photo is closest to the Leica and Panasonic. The Fuji is quite a bit off so I am hoping Fuji ups their game in 2014 with something that takes it all 3 steps up.

So what about Leica? They are still around so why even talk about “A new Leica”? Well, unfortunately Leica has priced many out of their cameras and lenses as to where only the hardcore Leica fans and hardcore enthusiasts are buying them. $11,000 is a lot of cash to spend on one camera body and one lens, especially when other full frame cameras can meet or exceed its capabilities. We are all waiting for some sort of Sony announcement of course (as per the rumor sites) and if Sony does release the rumored Full Frame IC camera with Olympus’s 5-Axis IS built in and a killer EVF with the ability to mount and shoot Leica M glass for half price or less of a Leica M..well, what do you think is going to happen?
Well, then maybe we can say “Sony is the new Leica”, and for once, that statement may turn out to be 100% true. We need to wait and see what pans out of these rumors.'

Now that's a really good analysis and one that I agree with almost 100%. I haven't used the GX7, Leica M or Fuji X-M1, so I can't comment on those, but my experiences with the m4/3, Fuji X and Leica cameras and lenses I've owned and used and my experiences with them made me nod when I read it and think to myself, 'That's right on the money'. 

Much as I like my Fuji X-E1, there is to me 'something missing' in the system plus the complicated processing still required to realise the potential of the raw files creates problems that make using the camera more difficult than it should be. And Steve is certainly right about the lenses. The Fuji 50-200mm zoom, while probably being excellent optically is just too big. Since that and the new slightly smaller, lighter and slower zoom are the only telephoto options for the system, there is a problem here. Likewise Sony NEX and Samsung NX. There's no 75mm f/1.8, 35-200mm f/2.8 or 14-140mm (new version) equivalents in these systems. High quality, well made, small, light telephoto primes and zooms that deliver top class images. 

Again I think Steve is right about the Fuji X system - 'I see the Fuji X IC Bodies as an immature imitation in looks alone. Maybe in 2-3 more years but today? No. (X100s is a different story).' Again, for me spot on. I do love my X-E1 for how it looks and for example fitted with the 50mm f/1.8 Series E lens I've just bought, it makes me purr with pleasure when I handle it, but if truth be told, I don't take it out much these days. 

On the Leica front, I could justify the amount I spent on the M9 I bought, when it was clearly the best image quality at low ISO's I could get in a non-MF interchangeable lens camera, but as Steve writes there are now other cameras that equal or surpass what Leica can offer. I love my X Vario, but that's not an interchangeable lens camera, which I'm discussing here.

And then there is Sony. While the RX1's don't interest me, a 36MP camera with interchangeable lenses, if the rumours are true, does. However, it remains to be seen what will happen with lenses for that system. What size will they be? What will initially be on offer? How long before a 'mature' lens system is available. I had good experiences and positive feelings about the NEX cameras I used, particularly the NEX-7, but the issue I had with the system is similar to other peoples experiences, the lens system isn't good enough for me and most importantly doesn't have the lenses I like using at a size and weight that matches the cameras. The 18-200mm unbalances any NEX body it's fitted to and all of the NEX lenses I've used and seen samples of are OK, but far from special optically. And I include all the Zeiss's in that.

I've had a couple of times when I've left the m4/3 system, but every time I come back to it and wonder why on earth I sold what I had in the first place. It does have that combination of small size, weight and these days really excellent image quality, that the original Leica systems had. (Many new Leica lenses are slightly different, they are heavier and bigger and of course incredibly expensive) When the Leica system first appeared, lots of conservative photographers didn't take it seriously and that's pretty much been the story with m4/3. However, even the most skeptical now find it difficult to rubbish what m4/3 can offer, which with the current crop of 'pro/enthusiast' spec cameras like the GH3, OM-D and E-M1 can leave many pro DSLR's trailing in their wake in terms of features and speed. 

Yesterday, on what is probably the last day of the incredible summer and early autumn we've had in the UK, I went out with my GH3 and 14-140mm zoom. I did some substantial walking and a bit of hill climbing and never once felt my camera was too heavy. It worked well for the times I needed it to react quickly and the quality of the files when I looked at them after returning home, was very pleasing. No problems whatsoever with interpolating them to the file sizes I upload to picture libraries these days. All this after a week in Dorset when I used nothing else but m4/3. 

I was thinking yesterday about taking out my Fuji, and even got as far as putting it in my bag. But then I thought "No, I'll use the GH3 and zoom instead.' And for me that's the test. I tend to sell cameras I have to 'force' myself to use, so that may mean that the Fuji is doomed to ebay. I would like to make it work better for me and I'd like it to impress me more in terms of the pictures it produces at low ISO's rather than the pleasure it gives me looking at it and handling it. And, of course I would like it to be easier to process the raw files. So we'll see.

I AM intrigued by the rumoured Sony 35mm sized sensor system. The sensor of the Nikon D800 / D800E (made by Sony) in a mirrorless body is very tempting, but I, like everybody else, needs to see how Sony are going to implement this, and above all for me, what lenses become available. There are some Zeiss lenses rumoured to be coming, but then you all probably know my views on non m-mount Zeiss, so that hardly fills me with great enthusiasm. In the meantime I'll keep going with my Panasonics, which currently give me pretty much everything I want.



  
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