This year is certainly going to be marked as one of the most important ones in the camera history. With both Nikon and Canon releasing their first mirrorless camera systems a few weeks ago, we now have another major competing system, and this time from three different manufacturers: Leica, Panasonic and Sigma. The trio decided to come together to form an “L Mount Alliance”, standardizing their cameras and lenses on Leica’s L mount. This essentially means that the three companies will be able to benefit each other and its customers the same way the Micro Four Thirds system has been able to for many years, by increasing the total number of lenses available to choose, as well as potentially sharing other important technologies between each other. Without a doubt, this strategic partnership will hugely benefit the photography community, as it will not only add yet another strong mirrorless system to the market, but will also push all manufacturers to deliver the best product they possibly can, at very competitive price points.
Personally, I am very excited about this news and consider it to be hugely important for several reasons. First of all, the fact that Leica opened up its L mount shows that the company doesn’t just want to continue being a niche player on the market, something many of us didn’t expect to see. With other manufacturers keeping a closed system and doing their best to shield their customers from purchasing third party lenses and accessories, it was rather surprising to see Leica coming forward and inviting other manufacturers to join them. Keep in mind that we are not just talking about Leica telling others that they can now make lenses with the same mount – the company had to open up its mount and AF protocols to both Panasonic and Sigma! This means that all three companies will be able to deliver lenses and cameras that will be compatible with each other, without any need for reverse-engineering any proprietary technologies. For us photographers, it will give the most flexibility, as we will be able to choose cameras and lenses from three different manufacturers without worrying about potential incompatibilities.
Interestingly, all three manufacturers will focus on not only making lenses, but also cameras. Leica will continue making L mount full-frame cameras. Panasonic has already announced the development of two full-frame cameras (Panasonic S1R with a 47 MP sensor and Panasonic S1 with a 24MP sensor). And Sigma will essentially abandon its Sigma SA mount in favor of the new L mount, with the announcement of plans to make full-frame Foveon cameras in the future. With the L Mount Alliance, all three are fully committed to bringing success to the alliance by releasing a slew of camera lenses to give the most options to photographers.
Speaking of Sigma, it will probably play the most important role in this strategic partnership / alliance. Considering how many amazing lenses Sigma has been able to deliver for a number of different mounts over the years, the fact that one will be able to buy a Leica or a Panasonic full-frame mirrorless camera and have the option to use a properly functioning Sigma lens with full autofocus capabilities is already remarkable. In my mind, Sigma is the key player in this alliance – imagine being able to shoot with all the Art-series lenses on the upcoming Panasonic full-frame cameras or the Leica SL. I am also happy to see that Sigma is moving away from its SA mount, which has proven to be a failure. While I have always been a fan of Foveon sensor output, the fact that I could not open Sigma RAW files until very recently (when Sigma finally introduced DNG as the format) has been the main reason why I haven’t looked at any of Sigma’s cameras seriously. Now with Sigma working on a full-frame Foveon sensor on the L mount, it will be a whole different ballgame. I can only imagine the possibilities of coupling a high-end Leica exotic on the Foveon sensor…
As for the mount, the Leica L mount might not have the same impressive characteristics as Nikon Z or Canon EF / RF mounts, but at 51mm inner diameter and a 19mm flange distance, the mount should be able to offer a good balance of size and performance, which is what the alliance is aiming for (for more details on different mounts, see my Lens Mounts article). The oddball in the mix is the Sony E mount. Although Sony has enjoyed a solid head start with its mirrorless system, the E mount is noticeably smaller compared to all other full-frame choices today. This could potentially hurt the system in the long run (but probably won’t, as detailed below), as other competing systems with a combination of wider throat sizes and shorter flange distances will make it easier to design smaller, lighter and even less expensive lens options.
It is humorous to see how all of a sudden the whole photography community is buzzing about lens mounts, which has brought out some insecurities among Sony’s top management and its fan base. In its recent presentation, the company had the following question in one of the slides: “Does a large-aperture high-quality lens require a large mount diameter?” and the answer in the following slide was “The Answer is ‘No'”.
Nikon and Canon made a big deal out of their mounts saying that “bigger is better”, Sony is stuck with “Size doesn’t matter”, while the L Mount Alliance says “somewhere in between is the sweet spot”. How did we go down to the game of comparing sizes, I don’t know…
On a serious note, the mount size is only one part of the equation and while it is important, it is not the only factor that guarantees success for a camera system. Nikon has been stuck with its 47mm Nikon F mount for close to 60 years, while Canon has had a 54mm Canon EF mount ever since it went digital. Did the lens mount serve as a huge detriment to buying Nikon cameras and lenses? Of course not, we know that. While Nikon might not have been able to make a 50mm f/1.2 or 85mm f/1.2 autofocus lenses, it was able to offer other lens designs that made Canon shooters drool for many years, be it the now classic Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G or the exotic Nikon 200-400mm f/4, pushing Canon to release competing products overtime. On top of that, people also realized that while glass is important, certain camera features were equally as important: sensor size, resolution, in-body image stabilization (IBIS), dynamic range, multiple memory card slots, advanced video features, menu features, so on and so forth. Take a look at the highly successful Panasonic GH5 / GH5S cameras today and how much they have penetrated the video industry, although they have much smaller Micro Four Thirds sensors compared to other options on the market. This shows that you cannot just base the success of any camera system on only one factor – one needs to evaluate the system as a whole. In this regard, the Leica L mount, in my opinion, strikes a sweet middle.
At the end of the day, this alliance will bring so many great options for us photographers. If you want a camera with proven ergonomics and build quality at a premium price point, you can buy a Leica. If you want to save up on lenses, Sigma is probably going to give the most economical choices. If you want a very functional camera with a boatload of options, you can buy a Panasonic. Each year we will be seeing a slew of announcements from the three and you won’t have to regret that you cannot use a particular camera or a lens, or think that the grass is greener on the other side!
Obviously, this announcement should make other companies like Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji and Olympus quite nervous. Any time someone gets together for a close and serious partnership in a highly competitive market, it could result in long-term losses for those who are not a part of the group. Are we going to see the day when all camera mounts and accessories are standardized and interchangeable? I seriously doubt that, and that’s unfortunate.
Yesterday, I had a conversation with a few of my friends who shoot with different systems, and I asked them the following question: “now that so many camera systems have been announced, which one are you going to keep on using or thinking about switching to?” As I expected, most people didn’t particularly care for all the choices out there – all of them were going to continue shooting with the brand they like and trust. Camera manufacturers should not forget that building trust, loyalty and long-term relationships can often mean much more than shoving extra camera features each year into our tools, when people are what make pictures. Some Internet expert might be quick to come to conclusion that Canon is the worst of the bunch with its EOS R camera, but let’s not forget what made Canon succeed over the years. The stunning pictures that were showcased on magazine covers and billboards, along with an excellent support system and marketing efforts turned out to be more important than pure camera specs. Don’t forget that a camera is no more than just a tool in the hands of a photographer. If we walk into a camera store and we have a great selection of camera system options at competitive prices, we can use that to our advantage to take better pictures. From that standpoint, more competition and alliances benefit us, the photographers, the most.
I am very anxious to see what the L Mount Alliance will bring to the table in the next few years, but one thing I know for sure – it will all be exciting!
I do wonder about L-Mount fragmentation, as there has been a bit of that on m43. Panasonic has their DFD autofocus, but only Panasonic lenses have the DFD characterization data, so you’re at a disadvantage with other brand lenses on your Panny. Olympus lenses have calibration for PDAF, others don’t. Olympus and Panasonic both support hybrid IBIS/OIS AF, but only with their own lenses.
It sound like this could get even more confusing, going three-way. Hopefully Leica/Panasonic have established more cooperative standards between their bodies and glass. Still, with everyone and their cat introducing a new FF system this year, these folks did the smart thing, given they’re all fairly small players these days. If Panasonic is able to match their m43 video chops on full-frame, a thing neither Sony, Nikon, nor Canon have yet done, they could really have something here.
I pretty much agree with this article, this is the most exciting camera tech news I’ve heard for years. But one thing, I really fail to see any direct link between Sigma’s SA mount and the issues with opening (some) X3F files in non-Sigma software. Although I’m sure Sigma will continue to offer DNG, I don’t think that switch from SA to L mount will have any effect on who easy it is to design software to process Foveon files…
This is about the most sensible development among the major manufacturers that I’ve come across in decades. It’s a shame some of the others keep trying to paddle around with a complete disregard for any notion of compatibility or interchangeability.
And this development can only be good for sales, for all three companies. I’ve already started putting money aside for one of their major new products! I’ve looking at it for some time, and this development has REALLY grabbed my interest.
About the full frame Foveon sensor, Nasim: “…the fact that I could not open Sigma RAW files until very recently (when Sigma finally introduced DNG as the format) ” that’s simply not correct – I could open Sigma RAW all the times I’m using Foveon and that’s 3 years now. It would be very correct if you said “I could not open them in LR” but seeing what LR does to Fuji files, I’m not sure if “not open in LR” is a bad thing.
Yes, the Sigma converter is slow, some versions more buggy than others. But comparing DNG files from Foveon sensor to native X3F, I saw a lot of characteristics gone which I like, especially the colors looked pale. Worst of all: File size was more than doubled, for worse results. I don’t need that. Do I need a FF Foveon with a soon kicking in ISO limit? I’d love to find out, but I’m afraid the answer is “not really”.
I’m excited about the options and possibilities the new alliance will come up with. But will they bring a killer feature I can’t get from Nikon or (much less likely) from Fujifilm? My list of “things I’d like to see in my ideal camera” became pretty short and lists some minor improvements, but in general… today no one can really say “if the camera would have been better, I could have taken the photo”.
Also there’s a little risk of one company blaming the others for bugs, failures or malfunctioning, but we have that already today. Nikon will not take responsibility that two Tamron zooms don’t work with the FTZ adapter. Maybe Tamron will bring a FW-update, but I guess it’s hardware related.
Why should Nikon, or any other camera maker for that matter, assume responsibility for any third party lens maker’s incompatibility issues? Your point is absurd.
All those new players entering full frame mirrorless camera market. It appears that there was a technological breakthrough in the sensor manufacturing. Does this mean that in near future there will be oversupply of those new sensors on the market? Will we see sub-thousand dollars full frame mirrorless cameras by 2020?
Leicas are incredible cameras, have great image quality, and are very easy to use.
I gather Sigma can convert my F mount Art lenses to L, so provided this can be done to a high standard, the new Panasonic cameras have immediate appeal since I like my lenses and don’t fancy buying again or using an adaptor.
My D810 and D850 won’t be going anywhere soon, but unless Nikon’s new lenses REALLY smash it out of the park, this Leicasonma system could be the surprise choice for me when I finally go mirrorless.
Why do you need both a D810 and a D850?
Pardon me for jumping in, but for a photographer shooting action and especially wildlife, having two bodies is virtually mandatory.
A long lens on one body for distant subjects and a shorter lens for when the action gets closer. There is often no time to fumble about changing lenses so having both means you are less likely to be caught out when it matters. Plus of course, if one camera goes kaput, you’re two week photo trip doesn’t go kaput with it. Personally, I go with three.
Excuse the typo – you’re = your.
It would be useful if, as on some sites, PL introduced the ability to edit text for a short time after posting.
It’s so annoying having to look at one’s own nonsense and be unable to correct it.
I also keep the D810 and D850. D850 is still the best DSLR I had, just a tad too loud at times. That’s when D810 gets into play. Next to the fact that the used market prices naturally are going down a lot – before the Z line came out it was already less than 50% of new price for the D810 and I’ve seen some offers now for ⅓
Economically, not much of a point in selling. But some points in having a backup body. Now, the Z came out and I ordered very possibly a bit too hasty – but still it’s a nice mirrorless system with a lot of better features than Fuji offers, although all three systems can deliver nice photos. The new alliance is very very interesting, consisting of Sigma lenses I love to use and Leica bodies I’d never wanted to buy in as simply every lens got expensive, there’s not much rental possibilities of them where I live.
But it’s also a projection screen of unfulfilled wishes and the new system would fulfill all of them! All? Hardly. At least not from day one. I’m already at the point where the camera is no longer the limit to my photography, I am. So I better invest in trainings or travels than in new gear. Right now, most white spots on my wishlist are colored or turned out to be not that hot wish… It will become interesting times, I wonder if enough buyers are left to shop all these cool new toys :)
In my eyes, Sigma could become the next Sony and really push the envelope. If they came out with a camera that had a feature set approximately near the a73 and close to the price, that in combination with their own glass could really propel them into a top tier position! So excited ?
You asked why the numbers game about the mount has become the most talked about thing lately. I think it’s because it’s measurable. Just like megapixels, number of lenses, etc. It’s quantifiable and objective. Image quality, ergonomics, and the like all have some degree of subjectivity to them. So what do people rely on when defending their choice or attacking another option? Numbers.
Saw the same thing with cars, engines, horsepower, mph etc. But you don’t see it with regard to ride, smoothness, steering, etc. I also see it in numismatics where grading is part science and part art.
Ha! If you don’t like the big guys on the block beating you all the time, GANG UP!
grove street for life