Leica M-AF with 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M
This morning we received the sensational message that Leica will be introducing an autofocus version of the venerable Leica M, the Leica M-AF, and the amazing fact is that the camera will offer autofocus with any lens that can mounted on the camera. No special autofocus lenses are necessary. This was achieved by having the autofocus mechanism being part of the camera body rather than the lenses. In simple terms, to focus, the lens mount moves back and forth within the camera body. All that is necessary is to set the lenses to infinity. This allows any lens to be focused from infinity to a certain minimum focusing distance, depending on the focal length. This offers the additional advantage of achieving an autofocus close-up range by setting the lens to a closer than infinity focusing distance. Here the camera will maintain autofocus, but at a closer range.
Leica M-AF without lens
Leica M-AF with 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M at closest focusing distance
In order to assure proper alignment even with longer and heavier lenses, Leica decided to build the focusing movement in the same manner as the focusing helix in most manual focus lenses. The threads of this mount assure proper alignment much better than any other method, like a sliding mount, for instance. The internal ring section that moves the lens mount back and forth is geared and turned by a small but powerful motor. This means that the actual speed of the focus movement is a bit slower than conventional autofocus systems, but that is a small price to pay for having the advantage that all lenses that can be attached to the camera, even those from other manufacturers, offer autofocus.
This approach does no longer allow for the rangefinder mechanism to work and it was necessary to remove the rangefinder. This allowed some of the electronics to be housed in top of the camera in the space taken up by the rangefinder in the other Leica M cameras. For this reason, the viewfinder has remained basically unchanged, but the second rangefinder window in front of the camera has been removed.
Close up of the focusing movement at closest focusing distance
The indent in the camera body for the lens release is clearly visible
This brings up the issue of the M-AF designation of the camera. The M has always been short for Messucher, the German word for rangefinder. But just like Leica doing away with the alpha numerical labeling of their cameras, no M10, just M, I guess we have to get used to the fact that Leica M now is the designation for all of their cameras of this particular body style. This has been achieved in an almost perfect manner. The new Leica M-AF is outwardly almost indistinguishable from the standard Leica M, Leica M Monochrom and Leica M-E as well as most of their predecessors.
Besides the missing small rangefinder window, the standard lens release knob had to be moved to be part of the focusing mount. To accommodate it throughout the entire focusing range, a small indent in the camera housing will allow the lens mount to recede into the camera body when focused at infinity.
Leica M-AF with lens adapter R and 70-180mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R at closest focusding distance
Probably the most obvious difference in the appearance of the camera are two small buttons in front of the camera. Pressing either one of them will disengage the autofocus system and allow motorized manual focusing by pressing the top button to have the focus mount move toward infinity and the bottom one for focusing closer. This is done best with the auxiliary electronic viewfinder, the Visoflex Electronic. Of course it is also possible to use the standard, manual focusing with the standard focusing mount of the lenses. While this might sound as a duplication of manual focusing, we now have the possibility to focus manually with lenses that have no manual focusing possibility.
No estimates as to actual deliveries of the camera have been released at this time.