Meeting with the Leica SL (type 601) Designers Stephan Schulz and Steffen Skopp
Yesterday I was fortunate to meet with the two designers of Leica Pro Design: Stephan Schulz - Head of Product Management Professional Photo System, and Steffen Skopp – Product Manager SL-System.
KD: What was the design brief for the Leica SL?
Stephan Schulz: Speed, speed, speed!
KD: Well, looks like you achieved that in spades.
Stephan Schulz: We also were lacking a full-frame autofocus camera, and many of our customers, including professionals like yourself have been requesting we make one.
KD: So timing-wise, why now?
Stephan Schulz: We have been waiting for technology to be good enough to make a mirrorless system, especially for the EVF (electronic viewfinder), which was so important to making this camera successful.
KD: Can’t disagree there, I’ve never seen anything like it and it totally changed my opinion on using and EVF vs an optical viewfinder (Rangefinders excluded).
Stephan Schulz: The other key component was having a processor capable of reading so much data off the sensor and processing it fast enough.
KD: Yes, recording images at 11fps at 24MP is a major accomplishment and it’s easy to see why that processor was needed.
KD: How long have you been planning and developing the SL?
Steffen Skopp: Discussions on the SL started around 3.5 years ago as an idea to throw around, and development not too long after that. Part of that process included convincing stakeholders that it was not only a good idea, but the right idea, especially in regards to the Mirrorless vs SLR debate – after all, the SL required a huge investment. It’s also a big part of Leica’s long-term strategy.
KD: Absolutely, and it looks like you’ve made the right decision because today there appears to be a major shift towards using mirrrorless technology and Leica have certainly capitalised on this opportunity.
KD: Since the launch last night there has been some talk online about the design choice of the SL, and that it resembles other competing products. How do you respond to this?
Steffen Skopp: Well, like I said, we have been working on this product for a few years now - it wasn't created overnight, and our inspiration comes from the original Leica SL, the R3, S and T cameras. It could be argued that our competitors have taken some design cues from us actually.
KD: Yes I think its quite clear that while the design is new as an individual product, it isn’t hard to see how the design comes from Leica’s heritage.
KD: Who is the Leica SL targeted at?
Stefan Shultz: The group we have not addressed since the R system - outdoor photographers, journalists, and those with high speed requirements and the versatility of zooms and lenses for any occasion.....even photographers working in studios shooting fashion, and those specifically under time pressure. It’s also for serious amateurs looking for the most versatile and best performing camera to use in any situation. Leica is always about movement…..about mobile cameras and this is part of the brand heritage.
My thoughts after the launch, the interview, and the market’s response on social media
I think it’s clear to see that Leica have spent a great deal of time planning the development of this camera. While some may think this camera was made to compete against Sony, Leica decided on this mirrorless solution nearly 3 years ago, after many discussions on the benefits over SLR camera designs. This is a professional mirrorless system and compares and competes directly against other professional systems. The SL’s minimalistic design won’t be for 'everyone', and it was never aimed at everyone. As mentioned in the interview, Leica have designed the SL with elements coming from their long list of cameras that have come before it, and Iin some ways it is a bold, polarising design, similar to the way the R8/R9 were. Personally, I like it a lot.
Social media has blown up as many have been speculating on the perceived performance on this camera and there have been a few making some negative assumptions without having even used the SL camera. My recommendation is to take all information (including mine) with a grain of salt until you actually get your hands on it. I’m shooting with it more and more each day and will be reporting as often as I can to help prospective buyers. My role with Leica as the Australian SL Product Ambassador is to share my experiences with the camera and assist Leica and photographers wherever I can. Working with Leica has given me the chance to have access to key people and important information, so I hope to share that on a regular basis. Most importantly, I aim to be honest and objective wherever possible too, in a positive way of course.
If you have any questions about the SL, please let me know in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them for you, openly and honestly. While I am working with Leica, it’s important to give accurate information, and I have nothing to gain by providing anything less. The SL is not a camera for everyone, and the price isn’t to everyone’s budget either. It is a premium product for those who demand the highest performance and imaging qualities in a camera, and of course, for those who can afford it.
Leica cameras have never been about value for money. They are designed as tools to give the user the ability to create value in their images. A photographer is not defined by their camera, but more so by the opportunities they create, regardless of what they're using. So if you're currently on the fence, all I can say is go check it out before making any final judgements. It may, or may not be for you, but there really is only one way to find out.
Lastly, for a little fun….thought of this when people compare the Leica SL to other mirrorless cameras LOL