Digital Module R
There were eager rumours of a clip-on digital back for the R(8/9) series Leicas for years before to the official Leica announcement in June 2003.
The speculation finally ended on June 25th 2003, when Leica announced the development of a digital back for the R8/9 cameras.
Two anxious years later, the "Leica Digital Modul R" (aka "DMR") started to ship in June 2005.
- Cost: $US 5995 / € 4750 Euro (approx. retail - March 2006)
- Leica Nr. 14439
- 10 MPixel Kodak-developed chip
- Designed & Manufactured by Imacon (Denmark)
- 26.4 x 17.6 mm sensor dimensions
- 1.37x cropping factor
- True 16-bit colour depth capture
- No anti-aliasing filter
- storage using SD cards rather than more popular Compact Flash cards
- ISO 100-1600
- Hardware based noise reduction
- No TTL metering when using flash
DMR discontinued Feb 2007
The first hints of the DMR's demise was reported by Stephen Gandy in early 2007. On on 26th January 2007 David Young reported a conversation he had with Christian Erhardt, Marketing Manager with Leica USA, whereupon Gandy's remarks were addressed and Erhardt reassured DMR users that it was not being discontinued.
However a fortnight later on 8th February 2007, Rob Galbraith reproduced a notice from Leica NJ stating that, effective immediately, the DMR was being phased-out:
From this we can deduce a number of things: (i) the DMR is kaput as of 9th February 2007; (ii) it may be replaced at some unspecified time by the "Digital R10"; (iii) there may never be a DMR v1.3 firmware upgrade; and (iv) Leica NJ are so ill-informed that their right-hand doesn't know what its left is doing.
Pros / Cons
DMR's main selling points
- True 16-bit capture - greater dynamic range and better colour images (the first commercial 35mm DSLR to do so)
- Noticeably sharper images (due to the absence of an anti-alias filter)
- RAW files are in the generic & reasonably future-proof Adobe DNG format
- Large & bright R8/9 viewfinder - not the "reverse telescope" of other DSLRs
- Superior handling of image digi-noise
- CCD is conveniently accessible & thus very easy to keep clean
- Gives a new lease-of-life to the moribund R8/9
- Outrageous #@&%* Price!
- Wide-angle unfriendly 1.37x cropping factor
- R8/9 + R8 drive + DMR = very bulky
- 1600 ISO limit, too noisy and not as good as Canon-EOS at 3200
- No TTL flash (as it can't read reflection off film!)
- SD memory rather than more popular (& more GB options) CF
- Due to cropping factor, may need -1EV compensation for proper exposure when using Matrix AE
- Older R8's may be incompatible
- The v1.2 firmware upgrade is deeply flawed and v1.3 is taking a l-o-n-g time…
- The settings button & wheel is not as robust as many would expect
- Limited supply & too-long delivery waiting times
Brightscreen R8/9 viewfinder magnifier
The "buffalo" Rs are justly famous for their large and bright viewfinders. For those who think it still isn't large enough, especially for cropped DMR work, Brightscreen created a 1.75x R Viewfinder magnifier in 2006.
It is called "Brightscreen Leica #EML" and retails for @ $US 240. See their website for more details:
A word of warning: you will have to make a substantial negative diopter adjustment to make the EML image appear sharp. If you are already using -ve diopter values, then you may not be able to dial down far enough to use the magnifier. See this Aug 2006 discussion on the Leica Camera User forum.
Other digital-related accessories
See this topic elsewhere in the FAQ.
March 2006 - Guy Mancuso:
Well no question the DMR has a price tag on it, but prices have come down a little. A friend just picked up a R9 and DMR demo for $US 7k, which is pretty good .
When I was really running the side by side comparisons with the Canon EOS-1DS MKII, I orginally thought there was no way 10 mpx would beat or meet the 16 mpx. Well I was wrong - the DMR actually in a lot of cases out resolved the 1dsMKII even though there is more pixel resolution in the EOS. What i did not expect was the micro detail of the DMR without the AA filter - it really is stunning! I really get sharper images, but more important is that the file looks better and that maybe the whole crux of the matter.
The DMR looks more film like and the Canons just look more plastic or digital. Now to be honest the 10 mpx vs 16mpx stuff really went out the door and into the street. It really does not matter here, the DMR files can hold up very well to uprezing and very large prints.
My work is commercial with some tough clients that blow my stuff up very large and it really does hold up well. I really don't feel limited with the 10 mpx. Sure I would like to have more who wouldn't I guess but there is a point where it really is great and I really have not run into any issues with my files with the DMR. I will point out that I only shoot raw and process in C1.
I do wish it was full frame but I have adjusted to that and the DMR is a little slow with buffer and such. It is not for everyone but it is for the person that demands great images because it really does deliver. I will say this the best advice is start collecting the lenses and you can still work with a 5D or 1dsMKII and still produce some great stuff, but stop down can be a hassle and you certainly can miss shots this way, and the street is probably a bad place for this. The Digital-M will be the ultimate street camera as we know, but I have fun with the DMR in the street.
Jan 2006 - David Young
Today's post brought my new DM-R.
There is an old saying in the business world, that you can tell what a manufacturer truly thinks of his own products, by looking at how he packs them.
The DM-R is beautifully packed in a large grey-paperboard box, which protects the silvered Leica box, inside. The box is as full 12"x12"x6" and filled with custom moulded, anti static, high density foam. Everything is protected within an inch of it's life. The back itself is packed in a fitted canvas carry bag, again with custom moulded hd foam inside and with a separate zippered compartment for spare goodies. Not sure why, though.... it'll likely never come off my camera!
The first impression you get (or, at least, that I got) when you pick up the DM-R is how light it is. It weighs almost nothing! Certainly, without going to a scale, it seems to weigh no more than the Winder-R that I use with the R8 for film.
The second impression is how well it's made. After using Canon's 20D for the last 7 and a half months (and nearly 5000 photos), Leica's DM-R is a delight. The push buttons have a nice, solid feel, as do the rotary controls. The unit is marked Imacon, but the power unit says "made in Germany". However, I understand that the digi-back itself is made by Denmark's Imacon, for Leica. No matter where it's made, the DM-R is certainly up to top Leica standards. (I have heard that Imacon has had some trouble meeting Leica's standards and a considerable number have been returned to Imacon for re-working. However, the delivered products are absolutely first rate.)
The display on the back is about the same size as that of the 20D, but much brighter, and much, much clearer.
Installation was a snap and the controls are intuitive. Ted will be happy... no need, really, to read the book! Things are a little different than those of the Canon and I admit to a quick glance at the book to see how it's done, bit without much reading all became clear, in a flash.
Of course, the finder is so much brighter, that it's not even funny. The specialized screen has marks showing the field of view for the DM-R's 1.37 mag. factor. I suspect they'll be very easy to get used to.
One concern of mine was the viewfinder... the back sticks out a fair bit and I feared that seeing might be somewhat compromised... especially for eyeglass wearers. Not so! The finder is fully visible, even to an eyeglass wearer such as myself. Although the back looks like it might be awkward, it's not. You don't notice any of it. You just make photos.
Another concern was the battery charger. The charger supplied with the Motor Drive-R has received some bad press (I've never seen one) because it was made in China, and apparently, though adequate, was not up to Leica standards. It also only came with one cord which had a plug to suit the country in which you purchased the unit. If you wanted to travel, you needed to buy more cords at exorbitant prices. The charger which comes with the DM-R is nicely finished, made in Germany and has an ingenious system to interchange the plugs for the UK, Europe or the US (all included). You still need one more adapter for Australia, but most places you travel, the unit will work as is. It automatically switches from 100V to 240V, 50 or 60 cycles and comes with a 12Volt car adapter cord, as well. Very nice.
Another nicety is the leather hand-grip that comes standard. I had one on my winder for my old R3, and it was very handy.. This one's even nicer. And the unit balances well in the had. The new shutter release is perfectly placed and smooth as silk.
How does it take photos? Well, just like an R8!
Today, however, is a poor day for photography and many things remain to be done before we depart on a short, 2 week holiday on Friday. So, a full report on picture taking will have to wait until my return. By then, I'll have had lots of experience with it, by then!
If there is a problem, it is that when the LCD is being used to view previously taken shots, it does not turn off when the shutter button is tapped. You must turn it off, on the back before you can take photos. It seems the only place that I prefer Canon's programming.
Still, in the short haul, I'd say the DM-R is everything one could hope for, and more! If the photos live up to the promise of the unit, I'll be in seventh heaven!
Leica DMR vs Canon EOS-20D comparison
Wondering if you should fork out for an R9 and DMR, or if you can get away with using a (much) cheaper Canon EOS plus Leica R->EOS lens adapter?
In June 2005 Peter Werner wondered the same and did a direct comparison between the two. See his website at:
If you have enough bandwidth, you can download the unprocessed RAW images from each camera — so no whingeing about having to compare "tiny web images" thankyou. Also an important caveat — all the pictures were taken using Aperture Priority using auto white balance. This may lead to image quality differences which have nothing to do with the inherent capabilities of each device. As noted by JR Geoffrion in June 2005:
Although both were taken with the same lens, they were shot in aperture priority mode and in Auto WB. According to the EXIF, the DMR exposed about 1 stop more light than the 20D. As a result, shadow, highlights, color, and details will be very different.
In addition, make sure not to be fooled by the default ACR2 settings — which are actually "automatic" rather than "default" — if trying to process the raw files. ACR2 analyzes the image information and tries to "correct" many of the raw parameters to provide a [mathematically] "improved" image. In this particular case, the ACR2 algorythm brightens the 20D image and darkens the DMR image (while changing shadow/highlight details).
Certain conclusions can be drawn from the images with respect to the different metering, sharpness, etc. However, other variables should also be taken into account (processing parameters, anti-aliasing filter strength, raw exposure correction, workflow, white balance, DR, noise, complete system, real life workability, etc.).
Needless to say, this has led to controversy and nitpicking — see this June 2005 "discussion" at <Photo.net: #00CQww>.
Autoexposure, RAW processing and "blown highlights" aside, to my eyes the results look much the same, except for digital noise, where the DMR is significantly better. But then again, at more than four times the price (do not forget to include the R9 body!), it had better be :?)
- Leica R main website
- Leica DMR downloads
- Press Release: "Imacon to develop the World's first Digital Back for 35mm SLR Cameras"
Reviews / Opinions
- Jun 2006 - Colin Jago's R9 DMR blog
- Oct 2005 - Rubén Osuna review (Spanish)
- Sep 2005 - Bob Atkins photo.net "evaluation"
- Sep 2005 - Edmund Ronald article
- Aug 2005 - Uwe Steinmueller review
- Aug 2005 - DMR vs Canon EOS 1DSMkII image quality comparison
- June 2005 - DMR vs Canon EOS 20D image quality comparison
- DPReview page on Leica Digital Modul R