What Just Happened?! And You Thought an Adapter Is an Adapter…

Glorious title, isn’t it. Had been swirling around my head for the past few days. The other morning I looked up DP Review for my ritual daily kick of gear news and gossip, and well, the latest news item was titled What Just Happened? Whatever. I feel morally eligible to use the title as well. Because it beautifully sums up what just happened. A whirlwind of camera news and developments. To speak with DP Review, and aren’t they always a step ahead: “Last week was incredibly busy, with major new cameras from Sony, Nikon, Fujifilm and Panasonic as well as new lenses from Samyang, Sony and Sigma. It was a week of late nights and early mornings.” That’s not it. It was a week that left many speechless, scratching their heads. Especially regarding full-frame, legacy glass and all the darn consequences.

Had an interesting talk with Leica connoisseur Michael Evans whom some of you know as a knowledgeable member of dedicated forums and the brain behind Macfilos. Michael, BTW, who’s used to work withe the nicest of gear, continues to be astounded at the performance of the iPhone 5S camera. It just shouldn’t be possible to produce such good results with so little knowledge, he says: “I really don’t know how they do it with a fixed lens and tiny sensor.”

Staying on topic, Michael says the A7(R)s are hugely significant for the Leica lens fraternity. Albeit, many seem to be more confused than ever. First there’s Sony making the A7(R) possible, this long dreamed-of full-frame compact with interchangeable lenses, and now Nikon is supposed to follow Sony’s suit with a full-frame digital FM2.

WTF just happened? Getty Images
WTF just happened? | Getty Images
This is just a fraction of what happened last week, a week that was all about quality, vision (in the figurative sense) and the industry listening to the market and photographers. Everyone seems to be trying to move upscale at the moment.

The camera industry seems more alive and innovative than ever — and forum punters can’t seem to get enough of it, trying to analyze what especially this full-frame dilemma means. I say dilemma because rather sooner than later full-frame is becoming a game changer. We’ll see more and more full-frame cameras, and with it new lenses. Right, the industy will make sure you’ll want to “upgrade.”

Smaller sensors are increasingly made redundant by the empowerment of camera phones. Give the smartphones more processing speed and optical quality. What’s the point of two similar cameras?

Don’t worry, old lenses still work. But everyone’s insecurity is exactly the problem. This past week also taught us that we’re turned into perfectionists that might lose sight of photography. Here is why:

There are forum posts on Leica lenses on the Sony A7(R) with dozens of pages wandering up hill and down dale and in every direction. The Leica fraternity is in uproar. Experts are doing their best to talk the novelty down on the same old basis that M is best for M. Angels are indeed dancing on the heads of pins.

And now news of the Nikon.

These past days, says Michael, give us a better understanding of potential pitfalls of mounting Leica lenses on any old or new full-frame camera. Adapters represent another can of worms. Wouldn’t you think an adapter is an adapter. Now the pixel peepers are talking about micron-thin shims to get them right, to avoid focusing past infinity.

To some extent this is all part of the arsenal of denial trundled out by the Leicaphiles. It’s all too much for many. Still, one has to wonder who notices in the end.

The other, parallel interest is in the full-frame revolution — as predicted many times on THEME. The race down in price of full-frame sensors is surely going to impact APS-C and Micro Four Thirds, despite the focus speed advantages of smaller sensors.

This all brings us back to M mount lenses. Instead of investing in Micro Four Thirds or APS-C lenses, why not anticipate the victory of full-frame by stocking up on M glass.

An old Leica lens for a few hundred dollars is at least the equal of a modern system prime provided you can forego autofocus.

While true that manual focus can be satisfying and potentially accurate through an electronic viewfinder, it just works and can be quicker on a rangefinder. The Leica M is always going to be unique in this respect and will keep its fans whatever Sony or Nikon get up to.

To conclude these heretical full-frame thoughts:

There will undoubtedly be issues with legacy lenses in the brave new full-frame world. But honestly, how many photographers will actually notice the fine print of the issue. For many the mere fact will be good enough that an old M or whatever lens can be bolted on to the A7(R) and, possibly, the new Nikon and produce more than acceptable photographs.