on November 16, 2015

Means the essential. The gist. To the point. The nitty gritty, if you will.

Leica as manufacturers have often had products that fitted this description. The first Leica A cameras - the Leica M cameras - and, dare we say it, the Leica reflex camera of the 1960's - the Leicaflex SL1. We might not have thought of it as wesentliche at the time but history has shown us different.

At the time of the SL1, Leica made magnificent rangefinder cameras and lenses - the M series system*. If you wanted the highest quality 35mm portable camera in the world, it was the Leica M. But the design of the M as a rangefinder meant that 135mm was about the limit in focal length that the camera body could swing in its basic form. You could add devices like a mirror box and pentaprism and end up with a film SLR - but you needed to operate a lot more things on it to get the best out of Leica 1800 and 240mm optics. This writer knows because he had just such a setup and taking pictures at an air show with a pre-set lens and a manually cocked mirror meant my fingers were busier than Benny Goodman's...

Leica needed to help people who wanted to use long lenses and also those who wanted to work in the close-up sector - they introduced the Leicaflex - an SLR design that did in more precise form what other manufacturers were doing with their slrs. The advantage for the Leica user was the a performance of the lenses. the Leicaflex SL1 took on from the original Leicaflex and the whaole stage for the "R" series of cameras was set.

Some photo enthusiasts, Leica-loyal and otherwise, thought that the introduction of digital imaging would see a mirroring of the previous rangefinder/SLR production. Leica may have surprised them by stopping the SLR's for many years, and concentrating on their M series and the D-, V- and C- series cameras. A big SLR - medium format S came on the scene and became the goal of many high-end users.

Okay - where did the wesentliche go to? Was it still around? We think that it was, and Leica have waited until they can offer a camera that makes use of extremely sophisticated electronics and techniques to provide the essentials.

It looks like the development of the electronic viewfinder has now reached the point where it is actually preferable to the plain glass window. Score one for the new Leica SL. Then the business of auto focus has taken the place of purely manual and manual-assist systems. When it got really good - fast, accurate, and easily changeable - Leica felt they could incorporate it into their new camera. When the sensors got good the flapping mirror and the glass screen/prism idea could go - and it went. Less noise, less vibration, smaller housing, fewer places for insects to build a nest**.

Leica could finally build a camera into which the wesentliche could be poured - the Leica SL. Knowing them, they will also have their technicians and designers working to provide more of it in the new lenses that will be made for the camera...but more on the lenses in the next column.

* Note: They still do. Fancy a 35mm film Leica? Leica MP. You'll love it.
** The story of the infested Praktica does not belong in this column, but you'll eventually get to read about it...