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Leica Digital-Module-R: the world's first digital 35mm camera back


Leica Digital-Module-R: the world's first digital 35mm camera back - digital camera and photography newsThis year's photokina photo trade fair in Cologne will witness the presentation of the world's first digital 35mm camera back by Leica Camera AG, Solms. Using the LEICA DIGITAL-MODUL-R, the analog SLR cameras LEICA R8 and R9 can be transformed into digital cameras in next to no time. Any of the high-performance lenses of the Leica R system made after 1965 can be used in combination with this new development to produce top-quality digital and analog photos. The photographer can decide from photo to photo whether to benefit from the fast communication possibilities and direct result checking offered by digital photography or opt for the permanence, authenticity and emotional quality of silver halide photography.

“This hybrid product links the decades of investment of our customers in lenses and cameras for film-based photography to the progress made in digital technology. The LEICA DIGITAL-MODUL-R is the logical consequence of Leica's product philosophy, which is based on decades of system compatibility and retention of value,“ said Hanns-Peter Cohn, CEO of Leica Camera AG at the product presentation.

Leica's modular digital solution was developed in collaboration with the Danish company Imacon A/S, which is renowned for high-performance scanners and medium-format camera backs, and the image sensor organization of Eastman Kodak Company.
The core technical data of the digital addition to the system are a resolution of ten million pixels, SD memory cards (RAW, TIFF and JPEG), the use of a firewire interface and a low focal length extension factor of 1.37x. Series of up to ten exposures can be taken at a rate of two frames a second.

Consisting of a digital back and a power unit, the LEICA DIGITAL-MODUL-R reflects the attention paid to designing the controls in harmony with photographic practice: All the key photographic parameters are set directly with a central dial in combination with a clearly laid out LC display. Menus are only needed for basic adaptations of the camera to the preferences of the customer. Because the LEICA R8 and R9 were already designed to work with digital solutions, the digital back can communicate with the camera's controls via standard interfaces and fits smoothly into the traditional way of operating the camera.

Image quality: When developing the LEICA DIGITAL-MODUL-R, Leica's camera designers applied the same high standards of imaging performance, mechanical precision and handling as those used for the cameras themselves. Constructive advantages of the Leica R bayonet mount, the large image circle of the lens and the almost vertical incident angle of the light rays - not to forget the extremely tight tolerances of the cameras and lenses in the Leica R system - make already existing system components particularly suitable for digital photography. There is no need for specific modifications for the use of an image sensor instead of a film.

Sensor: The Kodak sensor integrated in the LEICA DIGITAL-MODUL-R is based on the proven 6.8 µm pixel architecture already used in digital backs for medium-format cameras. Kodak has optimized the design of the sensor especially for the LEICA DIGITAL-MODUL-R. For example, the surface of the sensor is protected by a particularly thin layer of glass and an optimized microlens structure is used. It was decided not to implement an anti-alias filter, which reduces image definition. Moiré effects of the sensor can be prevented by the software for critical subjects, while the quality of non-critical subjects is not impaired by a permanently built-in filter.

The integration of the sensor into an already existing camera concept means that the sensor and the housing has to be accommodated in the film gate of the LEICA R8 or R9. Therefore the active sensor area is necessarily smaller than the film gate. By using an image sensor that was specially designed for the LEICA DIGITAL-MODUL-R, it has been possible to limit the resulting focal length extension factor to a modest 1.37x. The slight image loss at the edges is compensated by a general image-enhancing effect, as the best conditions for optimum picture results in terms of incident angle of the light and correction of image aberrations are in the center of the image.

The sensor's effective image area of 26.4 x 17.6 mm comprises 10 million pixels. The speed range is between ISO 100 and ISO 1600. “Working closely with Leica, Kodak designed this sensor to meet photo enthusiasts' high expectations of resolution, sensitivity and dynamic range,“ comments Michael DeLuca, Manager of Product Marketing for Kodak's Image Sensor Solutions organization. “The resulting images satisfy the high standards of quality customers have come to expect from Leica cameras and lenses, as well as from Kodak sensors.“

Operating concept: Besides image quality, the most important objective in developing the LEICA DIGITAL-MODUL-R was to give photographers a highly compact solution with a logical operating concept. The photographically relevant settings are simply made with a dial and shown in a clearly legible display, without having to use the menu guide on the color monitor. The photographer has direct access to the following controls: sensitivity, resolution, compression, white balance, self timer and exposure override. One push of the info button calls up all the key data of an exposure such as histogram and warnings. Additionally, all overexposed areas of the image are graphically displayed. This function is called clipping. Exposure control and focusing are done with the controls familiar from the use of the LEICA R8 und R9 as analog cameras. The menu functions on the color monitor are mainly for setting the basic configuration of the LEICA DIGITAL-MODUL-R, such as the user profile, color management or monitor contrast and intensity.

Due to the direct control of functions during photography itself, the content of the menu is minimal and easy to understand.

Color monitor: The color monitor in the camera back enables stored photos to be assessed after exposure. A histogram provides details of the exposure data, permitting a differentiated analysis of the image result. An audio histogram gives acoustic signals in the event of over- and underexposures. The photographer can work continuously without having to move the camera away from his eye, safe in the knowledge that the exposures are correct.

Power is supplied by a dedicated lithium-ion battery.

The size of the camera with LEICA DIGITAL-MODUL-R and power unit attached is equivalent to that of a LEICA R8 / R9 with Motor-Drive R, i.e. 158 x 140 x 89 mm (h x w x d).

Deliveries for the LEICA DIGITAL-MODUL-R are scheduled to begin in December 2004.
September 28, 2004
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