Leica CEO Alfred Schopf tells THEME in an interview he’s not giving away anything. So don’t expect any breaking news or secret product insights. Nevertheless, we’re assured that Leica’s strategic expansion with the soon-to-be-opened Wetzlar manufacture “will certainly make it easier for us to translate innovations into products.” Next key event Leica is “particularly looking forward to” is biennial Photokina in September 2014 in Cologne.
The message the Leica CEO is giving us: Leica is strong, confident and about to enter a new era with the Wetzlar plant due to open in the spring of 2014. So what does and could Leica have in the pipeline? For sure we’ll see special edition M 240s. But else? Key to understanding this interview is what Schopf doesn’t say.
Alfred Schopf, 57, has been chairman of Leica Camera AG since August 2010. He is responsible for sales, marketing & communication, product management and development & engineering.
Dear Mr. Schopf, what camera do you actually use?
I always have our new X Vario with me; it’s a handy size and has a Leica lens that’s as brilliant as it’s fast. But I love to use the M Monochrom as well. The black-and-white pictures I can capture with it are absolutely fantastic.
If you had the choice of only one lens to take with you to an island, which one would it be?
The Leica Noctilux 50mm F0.95 ASPH. It captures even more light than the human eye, and would let me see what goes on on the island even at night.
Any particular photographer you esteem as an especially inspiring role model?
There are so many wonderful Leica photographers whose work I really appreciate. I’ll mention just one of them, if I may. For me, Elliott Erwitt is not only an excellent photographer who has captured many important moments in history, but also an accomplished artist with an unrivalled sense of humor. That makes me really like him and his pictures.
Leica is currently at the crest of a wave of success. The brand is strong and sales figures are outstanding. What does the future hold?
Leica is certainly on track for further growth. The demand for our products is stronger than ever before and, when we are installed in our new factory in Wetzlar in 2014, our production will soon be able to match demand again. The future will also see our Store concept increasing our international presence. This expansion will bring us closer to our customers and simultaneously open up new markets. At the same time, we will continue improving our products as we always have in the past. I personally see the future in an extremely positive light.
Can you tell us about Leica’s current market focus? Enthusiasts seem to be your main market?
For Leica, professional collaboration with photographers has always been an essential factor. We see photographers as our friends — friends who in turn communicate their joy of working with Leica equipment in their frequently unique pictures. That is, and remains, Leica’s focus — with photography and photographers at its centre.
And you’re certainly not surprised at the enormous success of the M Typ 240?
To be perfectly honest, no, I’m not. We have worked long and hard on this success. We have made the M even more versatile with new features and functions like live view, video capability and additional focusing options, and this makes it a lot more compatible with what our target group expects and demands. Nevertheless, we have remained true to the essence of the M-System, which is of particular importance for Leica M fans. An M is an M and must always be an M.
We heard of some reliability issues with hardware and software. Leica seemed to react pretty quickly to these. What’s the system’s Achilles heel?
For a start, the image sensor and lenses must always be precisely harmonized and work in perfect unison with the high performance processor. The task is to iron out these teething troubles right from the start, particularly in the case of digital technologies. Some problems only appear in practical use, even after exhaustive testing beforehand. An enormous help in this is our collaboration with photographers and the feedback we receive from our customers. As soon as a problem is recognized, we act.
What will the appearance of a full-frame compact competitor camera mean for Leica. Sony is about to announce the full-frame A7 with interchangeable lenses.
We are pleased to see that other manufacturers have picked up the idea and are beginning to develop a market for full-frame cameras along with us.
So you consider the mirrorless compacts that are increasingly offering high build and image quality — particularly with regard to lenses — as constructive competition?
The Leica M and Leica lenses are the products that set the standards when it comes to enduring value, quality and the way they are manufactured. Leica products are to a large extent manufactured and assembled by hand. What’s more, a healthy competitive environment is the perfect place to be when we want to continue to develop and grow in the future.
There were indications Leica could be planning a more compact M with autofocus, an electronic viewfinder and other functions that ILCs feature, not least to capture newer, younger market segments?
Please appreciate that we can make no comments about any possibly planned — or even about products we are not planning to make.
What does the new factory mean for Leica? May we assume that improved production facilities and increased capacities point to a whole new range of Leica products that were simply not possible in the past?
The move to Wetzlar is epochal in many respects. Firstly, we are returning to the birthplace of Leica and the city where the first Leitz Camera was constructed in 1914. Secondly, the new facilities will very significantly increase the efficiency and capabilities of our manufacturing processes. In view of the intense demand for our products, this is a particularly decisive factor. And thirdly, of course, it promises us extra leeway in our product portfolio. Today, quite a few things are already technically feasible, and we have some fantastic new developments up our sleeve. Wetzlar will certainly make it easier for us to translate these innovations into products that can be produced in reasonable numbers. But I must emphasize that, even in the new factory, the products will continue to be manufactured and assembled primarily by hand. This factory principle is, and will remain, one of the key quality factors of the Leica brand.
What’s to be expected from the collaboration with Panasonic in the future?
Our collaboration with Panasonic is now in its eleventh year and extremely successful. Our customers justifiably expect cameras of exceptional quality — and precisely these cameras are the consequence of our partnership.
As a more personal hope, the APO 50mm is a class of its own. Could you envisage an APO 35?
As I mentioned earlier, it is our policy to make no comments whatsoever about any products that may possibly be planned, or not.
Please allow us a peek into the Leica crystal ball.
That’s something quite a few have dreamed of in the past. And I will make no exceptions here. All I can say is that you can expect a number of product innovations during the course of 2014. Amongst other things, we are particularly looking forward to the Photokina in Cologne in 2014. But I’m not giving anything away.
Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Schopf.