Leica R product novelties

A digital back for the Leica R8/R9 cameras, a result of cooperation between German Leica and Danish Imacon, was presented at Photokina 2004 and became available from late Spring 2005 onwards. It was discontinued in March 2007. Firmware upgrades are available up to version 1.3. Further development, however, has stopped since Leica's cooperation with Imacon came to an end. The reason for the end of cooperation remains officially unclear; however it is a fact that the situation changed after the take-over of Imacon by the Swedish Hasselblad company - manufacturer of medium format camera systems. This unfortunate situation also casts doubt over future servicing of the DMR. Here is some interesting reading material on the DMR:

An article in Digital Photography Review.
Several test reports in German magazines.
An experience report by Digital Outback Photo.
An opinion on Photo.net
An evaluation report in Japanese.

With the discontinuation of the DMR speculation had been ongoing on a digital R body (the "'R10"), fueled by ambiguous messages from Leica. Meanwhile, however, Leica had been confidentially working on an entirely new camera line, which would be digital from the ground up and break with any backwards compatibility. The Leica medium-format S system was first presented at Photokina 2008 and became available towards the end of 2009.
Leica informed in March 2009 that it would discontinue the Leica R system alltogether.
This news came not entirely unexpected as the R system had never been a great seller and, measured against potential sales, development costs for an "R10" would allegedly not have been worthwile. However, it did come as a shock to many loyal R customers who had invested in the system for years and now saw their investment in expensive R glass negatively affected. With the introduction of the Leica M Type 240 in 2012 Leica has been offering an adaptor allowing for the use of R lenses on the range-finder body albeit with a reduced feature set (no automatic coupling, working aperture measuring, focusing on live screen only). Set aside some particular enhancements to the M system (macro, tele) this option remains a far cry from what constitutes a satisfactory upgrade for R users. The R9 will thus forever remain the pinnacle of film-based SLR photography.




R9 with attached motorwinder and the Apo-Summicron-R 90/2.0 ASPH



 Leica R9

At Photokina 2002 Leica introduced the successor to its R8 SLR flagship camera, the R9. At first glance it is very difficult to distinguish it from its predecessor. Shape and size are identical to the R8, as well as the placement of most controls. The enhancements have to be sought in the details:

  • The camera's weight, a longstanding complaint of many prospective R8 buyers, has been reduced by 100 gr (total 790 gr). The top is made of magnesium, the interior of aluminium, and the bottom plate is made of strengthened polycarbonate (with aluminium tripod mount).
  • Flash capabilities have been greatly enhanced by the introduction of high-speed flash synchronization (up to 1/8000 sec) with compatible SCA3502 flash guns such as the Metz Mecablitz 54 MZ-3. However, as with the R8, there is no zone-metering (matrix) with flash (average-metering only). This remains a weakness compared to the major other top-of-the-line SLR cameras.
  • A small LCD panel is added on the camera top, displaying the frame counter.
  • The backside LCD panel has been altered: it now has backlighting and displays camera settings such as ISO value, battery condition, EV corrections, and light metering indications.
  • A safety button has been added to the main control wheel on the camera's top. Many users complained that it was too easy to inadvertently change the light metering settings on the R8.
  • The zone-metering (matrix) can be adjusted in tenth's of a diaphragm, but the six existing zones remain identical.
  • An inkling for detail can be found in the enlargement of the rubber strip above the camera's strap attachments, in order to avoid scratching the camera body. That was a weak spot on the R8.

The camera is only available in black and grey (anthracite) finish, not in silver-white. Leica catalog number 10091 (black) and 10090 (anthracite). Price: about 2700 euro.
Note that the R8 motorwinder and motordrive, as well as other accessories, are fully compatible with the R9.

A brochure is available here.

My own experience with both the R8 and R9 cameras indicates that these are true masterpieces. The R9 adds small, but useful, improvements to the R8. Together with the Canon Eos 1V and Nikon F6, the Leica R9 is the last high-end film-based SLR camera ever made.

Apo-Summicron-R 90mm f/2.0 ASPH

Leica introduced the Apo-Summicron-R 90mm f/2.0 ASPH, a superb successor to the older Summicron-R 90/2.0, at Photokina 2000. The lens bears resemblance to its M sibling (identical optical design). It has five lenses in five groups.

Already wide-open image quality is outstanding, with a very flat field. Stopping down one f-stop does only improve image quality slightly. Vignetting can be eliminated by stopping down to f/4.0.

A useful feature is the click-stop position on the built-in lens hood which prevents the hood from moving when fully extended.

The lens weighs 520 gr. Filter size E60. Leica catalog number 11350.

Super-Elmarit-R 15mm f/2.8 ASPH

This Schneider-developed successor lens to the Super-Elmar-R 15mm f/3.5 was introduced in November 2001. It is 1/2 stop faster compared to the earlier Zeiss-developed lens, and also more compact and lighter. Like its predecessor it has a built-in filter turret (NDx1 neutral density filter, KB12 blue color correction, yellow green filter, orange filter). The length remains constant thanks to the internal focusing mechanism.

The lens has 13 elements in 10 groups. It builds upon the already high quality of its predecessor.The highest optical performance is obtained thanks to the use of aspherical lens elements and low dispersion glass. Other optical characteristics include very low distortion, very low vignetting for an extreme wide angle lens, and low curvature of field.

As a result of the extremely large angle of view (110°) and the characteristic perspective rendition, the new Leica Super-Elmarit-R is particularly well suited for landscape and architectural photography, as well as for reproducing any wide angle close focusing situation. The very short close focusing distances of only 18 cm also provides for realistic portrayal of small models. It weighs 710 gr. Designed and made by Schneider in Germany. Its Leica catalog number is 11326.

An in-depth test report can be read here.

Vario-Elmar-R 21-35mm f/3.5-4.0 ASPH

This new wide-angle vario is the first lens of such type designed by Leica. The lens has 9 elements in 8 groups. Low dispersion glass has been used. This lens redefines the standard for wide-angle zoom lenses.

It has an angle of view between 63 and 92°. Closest focusing distance of 50 cm. Weight is 500 gr. Designed and made in Solms. Introduced at PMA February 2002. Its Leica catalog number is 11274.

An in-depth test report can be read here.