Interview: Leica Manager Talks about L-Mount Alliance

Reddotforum has made an interview with Leica Manager Stephan Schulz talks about everything about the L-Mount Alliance. Below are details of interview:

That far back? Wow, I remember Stefan Daniel holding a Q&A in late 2010 where he basically outlined what the SL would become five years later. I suppose that makes sense now. 

Yes. That’s the reason why we developed, from scratch, the L-Mount. This allows us to do anything you can imagine for optics. Fast autofocus. Image stabilization. Auto aperture. And much more advance optical designs.


Was the L-mount initially designed for APS-C? 

No. It was not. The L mount was developed in order to have all kind of autofocus optics for full frame with sufficient diameter. And on the other side, in order to realize to compact lenses for APS as well. It was not developed for APS. It was always designed with full frame in mind, even though we came to market with APS first.

How much technology was used from the S lenses, which were your first autofocus lenses ?

Everything that we have learned from the S we incorporated into the L-mount. The S2 was our first AF camera. So, we took that experience and transferred it to the mirrorless version. The S mount is designed around DSLR. The L-mount was developed as mirrorless from the start. So, there are some differences for sure.


At what pixel resolution do you think you’d really see the difference with a Leica lens? More than 24MP?

If you have a consumer-grade lens, even on a lower resolving sensor, you will easily see the lack of brilliance and overall image appearance. With a professional-grade Leica lens, you will have a much better picture, even if the sensor is technically beyond the resolving power of the lens. This just makes sense. You can see this even on the M8 or DMR. Lower resolving sensor. Great images. It was able to outperform much larger sensor, higher resolution cameras at the time. This is due to the quality of the lenses.

So, how exactly did the L-mount alliance come about?

Panasonic approached us, inquiring whether they could use the L-mount we developed for their planned full frame mirrorless system camera. We started a discussion on how this might work and how it would influence our SL business. Ultimately, we decided to move forward.

And how did Sigma end up joining?

During these discussions, we realized that both Leica and Panasonic had some preexisting relationship with Sigma for various projects, and decided that might make a good addition to what would become the alliance. They bring a wide portfolio of experience developing lenses for multiple mounts as well as their own camera technology.

What about alternative lenses for SL users made by Panasonic or Sigma?

For the moment, we do not know their plans, but Panasonic has already announced three lenses for their full frame S1 system. We can imagine that specialty lenses will become available that Leica may not offer in the near future.

So, for instance, if Sigma already has super telephoto options like the 500mm f/4 or ultra wide angle zoom like the 12-24mm ART lens already in their portfolio, would it be a reasonable assumption that they could start offering such lenses in L-mount?

This is of course possible. But so is the potential for a co-engineering a lens with Sigma or Panasonic. And this could be accomplished in different ways. Maybe Leica could design the optics and the lens would be manufactured by one of the alliance partners. Or, this is something we could build using additional technology that we do not have available at Leica. For sure, there are many different ways we could approach this. The alliance makes it easy to leverage synergies.

What about the other way? Leica lenses on Panasonic or Sigma cameras?

We think the existing and upcoming SL lenses can be a great addition to future Panasonic or Sigma customers. With ever increasing camera resolution the demands on the optics becomes even greater. All the SL lenses from wide open on are able to achieve full resolving power, even for much higher resolution sensors. They deliver the maximum of what is possible.

Will SL lenses perform as well on non-Leica cameras, given that the SL body and SL lenses were specifically designed to work together from the beginning?

We have a very detailed specification for the L-mount to secure best possible compatibility and image quality. In order to be an approved L-mount product, either camera or lens, it must conform completely to the agreed upon specification. So, in this way, we feel comfortable that photographers might use Leica lenses on a non-Leica camera.

Is this alliance similar to the Micro Four Thirds Alliance that was formed in 2008 ?

No. It’s different because the L-mount alliance is a closed alliance, with Leica Camera AG as the licensor.

Does this mean that Leica isn’t considering future members?

Future additional members are possible if the current alliance members agree that the alliance as a whole could benefit from adding more members.

Leica obviously has a few adapters available for the L mount already like the M-Adapter L. So, is this covered by the specification among the alliance partners?

No. It’s not. Alliance members are free to make this work on their products, but it’s not a must to secure compatibility with adapters.

Just to clarify. Let’s say someone with a Panasonic S1 wants to use the Leica M-Adapter L and a 75mm Nocitlux. Would this work?

Basically, we expect that it would work. But, the adapter isn’t part of the current specification which means lens data may not be recognized and used by the camera.  If Panasonic wanted to use the data on their own, they certainly could but again, it’s not supported by the specification.

I noticed here at the show that the newly announced L-Mount lenses from Panasonic are a little different in terms of design from the SL lenses. They have physical switches on the lens for AF/MF and OIS. And one even has a manual aperture ring. Will these work with Leica SL?

Yes. The lenses are not yet on the market. There will be a firmware update for the SL in order to support these functions. This is a result of the regulatory committee meeting periodically. The committee is made up of representatives from each of the three member companies.

That’s interesting. So, new concepts can be added in. How could this work in the future?

Well, for example, because of Panasonic’s expertise on professional video we’ve had discussion about how to implement improved focus behavior for L-mount lenses in video mode. Likewise, we are excited by the potential contributions that our alliance partners can bring to future development of the L-mount standard. We see this as one of the important benefits to Leica.

So, ultimately, do you think the L-mount alliance is good for Leica and Leica customers?

I think it’s very good for Leica and our customers. We now have the potential to be recognized by a much wider audience. It also shows that Leica is a recognized global player like Panasonic and Sigma. Beyond the business and marketing side, we have the potential to really benefit from the expertise of our alliance partners. This will result in innovative products under Leica brand. And from the customer perspective, the alliance greatly increases the amount of choices available.