Stefan Daniel, Leica Global Director of Business Unit Photo.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

It seems like the photography industry is finally fully transitioning over to mirrorless for both professionals and enthusiasts alike. What do you think is the next big change for the world of photography?

I think the major switch of the big manufacturers to mirrorless marks a milestone in photography; and that will be a major trend in the next three to five years to come. Everyone needs to complete lens portfolios to offer complete systems in the coming years. I think that will keep everybody busy, at least in that industry. *laughs*

On the other hand, I think one trend that could come up is that a single lens is replaced by multiple lenses, so two, three four or more to compute one image out of these single lenses. This is something that could happen in the next five years or even faster.

In an age where most content is viewed on tiny mobile phone screens, how relevant is the quest for higher resolution?

Actually, that‘s a very good question because your logical thinking will say 24MP is enough for most applications. But we see a trend to higher resolution, and these cameras with higher resolution sell very well, even if you might not need it every time. The point is, it will give you more creative freedom to crop in and still have super good image quality, so that’s the biggest benefit to going higher megapixels in that respect.

I’ve always wondered how much better a medium format sensor camera could be at high sensitivity and low light if the makers focused on that instead of resolution. Why do you think there’s so much emphasis on resolution?

The funny thing is that the way the sensor makers are working, the image quality is getting better even though the pixel size is getting smaller. So you can compare with our S3. Despite having almost double the megapixels, the low light performance is actually better. So you can bring it to a level nowadays where you can have high resolution, high sensitivity, and high dynamic range, so it’s not contradictory any more I would say.

Do you think we’ll see more machine learning applied to cameras? Personally I’d love to have a camera that gets better at acquiring focus the more I use it.

I hope so. Because otherwise, the camera will fall behind smartphones – well this is already happening today. The camera industry should take a very close look at what’s going on in the mobile phone industry. We’re very lucky to have a close co-operation with Huawei so we learn a lot from that as well.

On that note, the camera most people use these days is the one in their smartphone. Do you think camera companies will eventually add cellular network support to their cameras?

I think it’s not a good idea to combine fast moving technology like 4G and 5G with a product that has a longer life cycle. Because by the time the camera comes out, the connectivity section of the camera will be outdated.

The way we have chosen is to equip the camera with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth so it can be the smartphone’s best friend – the eye of the smartphone. So you still have the ability to instantly review and share the images, but you can keep the camera for a longer time.

When I interviewed Stephan (Schulz) about the Leica SL few years ago, he mentioned that Leica had always intended to produce a full-frame mirrorless; they were just waiting for processors to catch up to what they wanted to provide. What technology is Leica waiting on next?

Stephan and I were just trying to remember when we were talking about that. Turns out it was back in 2007 when this concept was laid down already. So, it took a while before the technology was ready. I think something to look at is still the quality of the EVFs, because in some circumstances there is still an advantage to the optical finder. So, to get that better is one of the tasks we’re looking at. The dynamic range in particular is something we see progress in the future. We’d also like to reduce the size of cameras and lenses and that could be a next step.

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Isn’t that limited by physics?

Well, at the moment we’re using larger but lighter elements to speed focus drive, but we see in the future that improvements can be made to the drive system to move a higher weight fast and precise enough. That would be something to allow us to reduce size and weight in lenses. That’s by the way, the secret of the M. There’s no autofocus, so lenses can be high quality, light, and small.

What do you think is still lacking from cameras today in general?

In general? That’s a good question. The camera today is an archetype that has almost everything already. With a modern camera, you almost don’t miss a shot. If you’re not a total beginner, then a camera will perform as you expect it.

 What I would say, and what we are focusing on – is to not have too many menus and options in the camera. In the future, all these basic settings are better off set in a smartphone and sent to the camera because you won’t change your language or set the time and date every day.

Unclutter the menu system.

Right. It could be even easier. That’s one of our main focuses – to keep you focused on image taking. The camera industry is a very traditional industry, but we also deal with very traditional customers, so we have to offer both options.

I think it’ll be interesting to see what the next display format for pictures will be. What will we view photos on after we move on from our phones?

It’s not obvious. When analog photography changed to digital, the path was super clear – just replace the film with a sensor; then work digitally. But this path is not so clear now, and that’s for me the biggest indicator that it will stay this way for quite a while. I think the question is what becomes most accessible to the customer.

"The camera today is an archetype that has almost everything already. With a modern camera, you almost don’t miss a shot."