A Look Into the Camera Crystal Ball — Leica CEO Alfred Schopf: “We Have Some Fantastic New Developments Up Our Sleeve”

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, Chairman Leica Camera AG
Alfred Schopf, Chairman Leica Camera AG | Leica
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.

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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.

  • Bengt Nyman

    Alfred seems to be in no hurry to sell anything.
    Leica is apparently doing well with its existing fan club.
    Alfred and his gang seem to be enjoying a leisurely stroll down the backside of the mountain, while Sony is hustling up the steep slopes of the front side.

  • Richard Owen

    Tell him the proof is in the pudding! After seeing what the latest firmware update did to correct the AWB in the M 240 I am not impressed. Cameras costing thousands less produce much better skin tones than the Leica M.

  • Bengt Nyman

    I agree that the Leica M color scheme is a concern. The warmth that is appreciated by some comes at a price. Neutral colors become visibly exaggerated and over saturated. In the image of the coconut you can also see a clearly reddish cast in the white balance.

  • Drazen B

    In other words, they don’t have a clue how to tackle the increasingly competitive and tight camera market. There’s only so long you can sit on laurels and expect the market to come to you.

    Leica is a dying breed, they just haven’t realised that as it didn’t hit them yet.

  • callibrator

    It’s 2013. Yet Leica seems to be still fighting basic White Balance issues on their $7000 cameras…the sort of issues not even $99 point-and-shoots have anymore.

    It’s ridiculous, not to mention a rip-off of monumental proportions.

    The Leica-religious fan base will only be able to turn a blind eye to this kind of stuff for so long.

  • Why so embittered, everyone. Mr. Schopf is clearly stating they’re proactively looking ahead. Leica always lived in a different timezone, so why should they be leading the pack?

    Opinions differ regarding the M 240’s AWS and SOOC. Checking through sample images I have to say, “What a great camera!”

    And talking haptics, overall tactile feel, ergonomics and a photographer’s immediate experience, it would still be my camera of choice.

    You pay a quite a bit more, but especially with the level reached now: why upgrade to the next M? This camera is here to stay for a while while other cameras urge to upgrade.

    Don’t understand the cynics. Envy?

    I’d never rely on the M 240’s video and would miss conveniences such as sensor dust protection. But no other camera makes me feel better. Period. And that’s why Leica is here to stay and getting stronger — as long as other camera makers ignore these basics.

    But come Photokina 2014 I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new class of modernized M. That’s what the strategic expansion is all about. Leica could continue to muddle along. No, they take on the challenge, and they know exactly what they’re doing.

  • Jawad

    AWB and color have nothing to do with lenses and sensors. These are
    functionality of the firmware during post processing. However, as a pro
    photographer you should have established a workflow that overwrite the
    color palette or space of the camera to your own as part of your
    signature. Sony NEX cameras produce extremely over saturated colors for
    instance. Not to compare both since the Leica is in a different league.
    It may appear that Leica is playing catch up, the truth is that Leica has priorities that match the pro photographers and not the enthusiasts. The removal of the low-pass filter is an example. The full frame sensor is another… etc.

  • Roland

    I doubt it’s envy and I also find it surprising you’re still siding with Leica after all you’ve learned about it over the years.

    Envy? No.
    Disbelief about almost religious following the brand myth that’s long past its prime – you betcha!

    And before you asked, yes I spent 2 weeks with a digital Leica last year and simly found it fiddly and arduous. Manual focusing? It sure works for some but for many its relic from the past.

    Enjoy your 240, Daniel.


  • Am a complete brand agnostic, Roland, but fine quality does fascinat me. Build materials used, weight and feel are as important to me as the willingness to sacrifice certain convenience.

    Manual focus is all about keeping the package as small as possible.

    I shoot with dozens of different cameras, somehow I’m always drawn back to the Leica’s stellar simplicity and lack of flatness in images…

  • genotypewriter

    “… the truth is that Leica has priorities that match the pro photographers and not the enthusiasts…”

    Oh you couldn’t be further from the truth with this statement.

  • Jawad

    It would be more appropriate if you would back up your statement with some scientific data or artistic points of view so we can have a meaningful debate.

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    […] Im Interview mit dem Onlineportal THEME spricht Alfred Schopf, Vorstandsvorsitzender der Leica Camera AG, über die Konkurrenz, die Philosophie und den Umzug von Leica ins neue Firmengebäude. Hier unsere Übersetzung ins Deutsche (mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Kollegen). Das Originalinterview findet ihr auf der THEME Seite. […]


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  • Richard Owen

    I agree that AWB and color are a function of the firmware but, in all honesty, the only Leica M body I lust after is the Monochrom. Leica lenses are a different story, especially the older lenses with character. While comparing cameras is apples and oranges, they are just tools. For me, I am transitioning from DSLRs after 35 years (including time as a newspaper staff photographer) to mirrorless as I just do not need the capabilities of the DSLR (8+fps, AF and AF tracking, etc.). Now I am trying to find the passion in my work for me rather than what my editors wanted!

  • Richard Owen

    Not embittered, Dan, just, IMO, realistic. While I can agree that the camera can produce some great images I attribute that more to the lenses and the creativity of the photographer than the Leica body. And I have never been one with G.A.S. I used a pair of Nikon D2H bodies from 2003 to 2013 for work and pleasure because they did what I needed them to do. With only one failure (the well documented meter failure in the early models) between the two bodies in that decade, I have recently retired and sold all my DSLR gear for mirrorless for less weight and bulk. If I could have afforded Leica, I would have gone with the Monochrom and a few lenses but the tools that are replacing my DSLRs are enough of a challenge for me!

  • Tibicen

    What really saddens me in this line of comments is the amount of intolerance displayed. Has the world of Photo-Enthusiasts become a war-zone? What’s this talk of “siding” with one or other about? Are we soon manning the trenches?

    If one chooses to use a Rangefinder and manual focus, why not, if he likes it?

    Do these “oh so clever” commentators jump on everyone in the streets if people prefer a different brand of car?

    This is not about Leica. It’s about Tolerance. Poor Daniel.

  • Pablo Ricasso

    “This is not about Leica…”

    It is exactly about Leica. And if you were even little bit “oh so cleaver” as you called others here, you’d understand that. It’s not rocket science.

  • No worries, my wife can be more difficult.

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  • Ramayana

    I’m sorry, I may have missed something or perhaps my reading comprehension is lacking. But what exactly did the guy did or did not say in the interview that suggests that Leica does not have a clue?

    What did come across to me was the message that Leica is not blind about what is going on around them, and he seems quietly confident of the future. He thinks whatever it is Leica is going to spill in September next year is going to be good enough that he sounds like he could barely contain his enthusiasm for it.

    Now is Leica blind to what the Sony full frame might mean. He states that Leica _welcomes_ the constructive competition. What does that say to you? That they are being passive about it while the competition sneaks up the other side of the mountain? But how could they, if the Leica Chairman has spotted them? Or does it tell you that Leica is well aware of what Sony is doing and it’s consequences, yet is not (obviously) worried about that might do to Leica?

    Perhaps if the man had said Leica is quivering in his boots and yes, the A7 _is_ indeed the Leica killer that people like to make it out to be, the gallery here would be whooping with delight and braying to see blood?