Full-Frame, EVIL, More Compact… Is a True Leica Mini M Even Possible?

A Leica Mini M full-frame EVIL that is. As we know now, thanks to the Leica cock up teaser suggesting that a miniaturized Leica M will see the light of the day on June 11, 2013, Leica calls all its cameras an “M.” The M is a Leica M, the X2 is a Micro M, the D-Lux 6 a Nano M and the infamous X Vario a Mini M. Many expected this “mini M” to be an APS-C compromise. Many though hoped for a real mini M, meaning: a smaller full-frame M without rangefinder mechanism and less battery space/weight — but with some sort of electronic viewfinder and clever focus peaking.

Question is, is such a Mini M even possible?

Cock-up teaser? Maybe Solms thought that calling the D-Lux 6 a Nano M and the X2 a Micro M people would understand that the Mini M wouldn't have an M mount or a rangefinder.
Cock-up teaser? Maybe Solms thought that calling the D-Lux 6 a Nano M and the X2 a Micro M people would understand that the Mini M wouldn’t have an M mount or a rangefinder.

I asked someone who does know and whom most of you know, but for fear of “what a load of rubbish” comments this knowledgeable source prefers to keep his name out of this.

Here’s his assessment:

Could Leica produce this Mini M? Ah yes — but first you must define a mini M. They can’t make it thinner (because of the registration distance and the lens mount). They can’t make it shorter because of the rangefinder (and the EVF if you ditch the rangefinder).

The basic truth is that smaller means a different lens mount – and how popular would that be.

I think the difficulty is that everyone wants a smaller full-frame camera — Sony have managed — but it’s not with an M mount (and there is the issue).

There’s no surprise and no secret in what I’m saying. It’s all public domain information. Just look at an M. The registration distance is quite a lot bigger than any of the other mirrorless cameras (largely so that the other cameras can have an adapter for M mount lenses).

That's a definition of the Mini M. | Song-Tao / Flickr
That’s a definition of the Mini M. | Song-Tao / Flickr
I mean, the X-Pro1 is bigger than an M (marginally) and that’s only APS-C.

The Sony works because the lens is designed specifically for the sensor (and vice versa).

Just ask yourself why nobody had produced an autofocus full-frame mirrorless camera despite the apparently infinite desire for it?

My guess is that:

  1. It’s too difficult to get the sensor to work with varying third party lenses (you can’t just bung an off-the-shelf Sony sensor in).
  2. Any autofocus lenses for full-frame are simply going to be too big (we know that don’t we!).

I’m sure that it’ll happen sooner or later – but don’t expect it to play well with old symmetrical lenses.

Anyway, I’m not sure that anyone wants anything smaller than a Leica M – they might like it as thin as an M6, but sensors are fatter than film, and that’s why the digital Ms are a bit fatter.

Everyone says Mini M, oh yes! But what are they actually thinking of? Of course, everyone is thinking of something different (to suit themselves). I mean, what I would like is a camera the same size as an M6 classic, with a normal rangefinder and a switch to change it to an EVF with a 120/s refresh rate — simple as that — but I don’t think it’s possible (for the reasons given).

I suspect others would like to ditch the rangefinder — but then it’s a completely different beast.

Most people don’t want to look at it like that.

  • Muizen

    You are saying:
    “Just ask yourself why nobody had produced an autofocus full-frame mirrorless camera despite the apparently infinite desire for it?”

    But the Sony RX1 is AF, mirrorless and full frame?
    Doesn’t that count?

  • The author is referring to EVIL — IL interchangeable lens.

  • Brian

    If you want smaller than the M type 240: use the Cmosis sensor; build the EVF into the body in place of the optical viewfinder with the new Olympus VF-4 as a candidate; focus using focus-peaking via the EVF; leave the LCD screen off the body and use the EVF for setting camera functions.
    If you “MUST” have autofocus, use a metabones style “reducer” with an autofocus mechanism built into the adapter, as the original Nikon TC-16af did thirty years ago with the Nikon F3AF. The mechanics of the “reducer” need to be thin M-Mount to M-Mount housing, with the optics inset into the camera body. A “crop-mode” would be enabled on the CMOSIS sensor when used with the AF adapter. The adapter would have the electronics to communicate with the camera body.

  • Joe

    Leica could use a smaller screen like the Fuji XE1, EVF, focus peeking, the same Leica M FF sensor. It would be the same thickness as the current M, just not as tall. Around $4k, and it would sell like hot cakes.

  • Ronaldo

    Of course they could make it thinner. See the white line on the top of your M9? That’s the film plane. You can make it as thin as that. You could easily shave off 50% of the thickness.

  • Gorodish

    A FF smaller than the M would be challenging for the technical reasons given above. But here are two options Leica could offer without cannibalizing any other camera in their family and still fill out the “holes” in their product line:

    1) M-EVIL: FF Cmosis sensor, identical body as M-240 except the expensive RF is replaced with a built-in EVF with focus peaking. Would require no additional R&D. Takes all M and R lenses (with same adaptor). Price: $4,500 for body only.

    2) X-EVIL: APS-C sensor, same X3 body as shown in the leak, but with built-in EVF, and an interchangeable mount for a new line of compact AF lenses just like the new Zeiss Touit lenses, optimized for digital not film. With a Metabones Speed Booster, M and R lenses could also be used. (this could be Leica’s version of the NEX-7) Price: $3,000 for body only. AF lenses priced in the same range as Summarit lenses.

    Neither camera would cannibalize existing sales but could grow sales considerably in each new segment. Diehard rangefinder fans will buy only the M, MM and M-E. Those with R lenses who don’t need RF and M users who want a second body, would gravitate to the M-EVIL. The X-EVIL would appeal to a whole new class of customers who demand AF and might otherwise go to NEX-7 or Fuji X, but are willing to pay more for Leica optics and build quality. The existing X2 and forthcoming X Vario meet the needs of those who prefer a fixed lens and lower price. The real question is whether Leica could meet the demand, but we know they are opening a new factory.

  • Jonathan Slack

    HI Ronaldo
    I just checked that – I’m not sure what the white line in front of the hot shoe represents (sorry) but it certainly isn’t the film plane (just measured the distance on my trusty old M6ttl). The film plane is right at the back of the body.

  • Jonathan Slack

    Of course, the white line is the centre of the tripod mount – not the film plane (silly me)

  • Bengt Nyman

    There are two facts that has kept the FFEVIL of the market:

    1. Fast image sensor autofocus.
    The downfall of the Sony RX1 is focusing speed more than lack of IL. Sony has published patents for image sensor PDAF. However, you loose pixels to PDAF resulting in loss of light as well as loss of resolution. The problem is not solved.

    2. An FF image sensor requires relatively large lenses.
    Especially if you want access to a full range of focal lengths.

    If you want a really small EVIL with small lenses do not expect it to be FF, and do not expect top quality images.

    If you want top quality images you need FF which will come in a slightly larger camera with slightly larger lenses.