Rumors: Zenit to work together with Leica on their upcoming full-frame mirrorless digital camera (did Leica purchased Zenit?)

The first rumors about the Russian camera brand Zenit coming back to life started in February last year. The director of Rostec Communications and Strategic Studies Vasily Brovko said something very interesting in an interview back then:

"This is a very high demand product, we want to make it a luxury device, by analogy with the Leica"

A few months later rumors started floating on the Web about new Zenit lenses (including a new Zenitar 50mm f/0.95 E full-frame E-mount lens).

Fast forward to August 2017 when Zenit dropped another bomb - they are planning to release a new full-frame mirrorless digital camera in 2018:

"We plan to revive the direction of production of digital photographic equipment and consider the option of industrial cooperation, since competence on the component base in the country is currently absent. We have a close cooperation project with one of the leading photographic equipment companies in order to create a joint product, where KMZ is involved in manufacturing infrastructure for the production of optics for these cameras. And electronics will be manufactured abroad."

Some initial speculations indicated that Zenit is working together with Sony. PetaPixel spotted a new report by Russian site USSRPhoto indicating that Zenit could be working together with Leica to develop a full-frame mirrorless digital camera similar to the Leica SL.

Now, this is a very interesting development because a few weeks ago I received a tip that Andreas Kaufmann (who currently owns 51% of Leica Camera) has invested in (or purchased a portion from) Zenit.

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  • soundimageplus

    ‘Upmarket’ Zenit. An interesting concept !!

    • or a “downmarket” Leica – I think Leica is looking for a way to develop and sell “cheap(er)” products

      • MdB

        Agreed, but not ‘mass market’. Personally would love a Zenit that was mostly SL (but cheaper) maybe without AF (as the differentiator). It’s all been talked about as a legacy / manual focus platform, so that might be a good point of differentiation. Tapping that market as a more premium / higher quality / enthusiast focussed of what many people use A7 series cameras for.

        I would buy that.

      • soundimageplus

        OK I can see that. But doesn’t that then put them in direct competition with Fuji and m4/3? After all you can use a wide range of lenses, including Leica M, with mirrorless cameras. And both Fuji and Olympus do ‘retro’ very well.

        Other questions would be what lens mount would a Zenit use? Would it start it’s own or use the T or Mounts?

        Just a thought – How about a camera body that autofocuses M lenses? I gather the technology is possible. Now that would be VERY interesting.

        • Les

          It would make the most sense to use the SL/TL mount, unless they are building a rangefinder.

          • soundimageplus

            Yes that would be a good choice. There are plenty of adapters for other lens systems. I have most of them already so it would be good for me.

            Rangefinders are apparently pretty expensive, at least the Leica ones are, so maybe not that. Plus would Leica compete with themselves? Or are they really after a lower price alternative?

          • MdB

            Cosina managed to make a whole range of modern rangefinders that were very reasonably priced, including a digital collaboration with Epson as well as the fantastic Zeiss Ikon ZM. Some / most of these had spectacular rangefinders. Tacking in a digital back around that isn’t that tricky nor expensive, certainly not these days. I could easily see a USD $2000 digital full frame Zeiss Ikon. Then again we won’t due to Zeiss-Sony partnership. Although if Zeiss investment in Leica is true… who knows?!

        • MdB

          “Just a thought – How about a camera body that
          autofocuses M lenses? I gather the technology is possible.”

          Sony’s can, many of them anyway.

          “After all you can use a wide range of lenses, including Leica M, with mirrorless cameras. And both Fuji and Olympus do ‘retro’ very well.”

          None of which are full frame.

          • rolandfleming

            Which of Sony’s products can autofocus an M lens?

          • MdB

            A7 II, A7R II, A7, A6300, A6500.

          • rolandfleming

            Oh I see, by autofocus, you don’t actually mean that it automatically focusses the lens.

          • MdB

            Yes, sorry should have mentioned that. It is because the protocols are open (we’ll sort of) and they enabled access to the PDAF. Works surprisingly well (works with other lenses as well).

          • He is probably talking about third party adapters:


  • eric

    What would be the purpose of Leica helping another company create an alternative to the SL? I mean besides some marginal profit.

    • If Leica really purchased Zenit, it makes sense – they can make inexpensive lenses for different mounts and develop the Zenit brand as a cheaper alternative to Leica. Just look at what Meyer Optik Görlitz has been doing lately, every one of their Kickstarter projects got crazy funding:

      • eric

        Yeah, the profit motive. I guess that would make sense if they wanted to protect the Leica brand but also explore other avenues of production. Im ok with that. As long it doesn’t cheapen Leica products.

    • MdB

      ROI. They can sell the same basic design as two different cameras at different price points to different markets. People who will buy the Leica, will buy the Leica. So they are tapping a different market, which means more sales from the same basic engineering.

      Look at what Fujifilm do, they make 15 different bodies off one platform, aiming each at different niches.

      • eric

        Yeah, but they can’t be the same camera, or not a lot of people will buy the more expensive one, including myself who is a leica user. Contrary to myth, Leica cameras take really great photos and are built with good design, it’s not just about the brand or prestige. The Zenit version would obviously have to look and feel inferior to the SL or M etc…but you’re probably right that they would make a profit off of tapping into a different market.

        • MdB

          Not just talking about a rebadge (although that does in fact already work for Leica with their Panasonic rebadges), it would (presumably) be a different design with a different set of ‘quality and feature’ characteristics. What would be the same in the basic ‘guts’ of the camera. Much like an X-T10 is the guts of… well every other model, but let’s say X-T2. There are some feature and quality changes, but they are still reusing a lot of their engineering.

          I propose a Zenit like this might indeed be a solely manual focus camera. Their ‘1st party’ lenses they’ve shown were all MF.

    • Tim Rule

      If Leica does not do it, somebody else will. A compact, SLR styled camera, with EVF would sell rather well I think. Zeiss, Contax etal, they all made wonderful compact SLR cameras.

      • eric

        You mean the contax t2 with zeiss glass? Lol…Leica made the Q with EVF and as compact as they could. Im not sure they would ever make a pocket camera. I would buy one instantly but im not holding my breathe. The ricoh gr is the best digital pocket camera out there in my opinion. Very similar to the contax t2 in terms of ease of use and truly pocket friendly.

        • Tim Rule

          Should not expect too much from the Leica brand, other than a few special editions now and then!

          Some old Russian brand, on a Classic SLR styled body, using the electronics of the Q. Could probably be smaller AND more expensive at the same time 🙂

          I’m growing a Beard in anticipation …

          • eric

            Lol…some of the special editions are pretty cool, at least the slr ones like an MP-6, the digital seem less so because nobody knows how long they will last.

            Hipster beards are not in vogue anymore though, clean shaven is the new trend.

  • Very interesting. I’d buy a smaller, cheaper SL. I’ve been SO close to buying a Leica SL (several times), but the price and size (with lenses) give me pause.

    • I agree, if true, they may offer also cheaper M cameras and lenses.

    • eric

      The SL just recently went down in price by $1400. Perfect time to invest in it if that’s your thing. It’s also not supposed to be replaced anytime soon. If you’re concerned with the size of the SL then a cheaper one would not matter, it would be relatively the same size.

  • Jukeboxjohnnie

    It needs to be substantially made in Russia this is the whole appeal I’m not interested in another Chinese camera with a zenit badge glued on it

  • Mistral75

    > a few weeks ago I received a tip that Andreas Kaufmann (who currently owns 51% of Leica Camera) has invested in (or purchased a portion from) Zenit.

    Zenit is a trademark, not a company. You can’t invest in it or purchase a portion of it.

    The Zenit trademark belongs to KMZ (‘Krasnogorskiy Mechanicheskiy Zavod – Красногорский механический завод – Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works’ during the Soviet period, ‘Krasnogorskiy zavod im. S. A. Zvereva – Красногорский завод им. С. А. Зверева – Krasnogorsk Works named after S. A. Zverev’ nowadays).

    KMZ is in turn a group member of Shvabe Holding, a holding company within the Russian state-owned Rostec group, the latter being responsible inter alia for the development and production of high-tech optical-electronic systems both for military and civil purposes.

    With all the drum rolls surrounding the rebirth of the Zenit trademark, I don’t see the Russian government agreeing to Zenit being sold to a foreigner / foreign company, either as a trademark or as a NewCo built around the trademark’s ownership.

    Besides, the expertise KMZ are a bit lacking for relaunching Zenit is neither optics nor mechanics but rather electronics, in particular integration. Leica don’t have this expertise either, they subcontract the corresponding developments to Jenoptik. Therefore, apart from the halo surrounding the Leica name, Leica themselves wouldn’t be of much help to KMZ to develop Zenit-branded cameras.

    • Les

      re: (Leica) “subcontract the corresponding developments to Jenoptik.”

      That was 10 years ago (2008). Are you sure it’s still the case today? Leica’s current cameras are completely different from the M9 generation that was developed with Jenoptik.

    • I know, this is why I did not publish this rumors when I received it a few weeks ago. Now after that report from the Russian forum, it makes a bit more sense. Maybe Leica purchased the brand Zenit, maybe they bought only the camera production line, maybe it’s just a partnership – there are many possibilities.

      • Mistral75

        A partnership seems to me to be the most probable possibility among those you are listing.

  • FountainHead

    Zenit is indirectly owned by the Russian government.
    Government owns Rostec, which owns Shavbe Holding, which owns KMZ which makes Zenit products.

    A partnership with Leica is a possibility I guess?

    I doubt very much the Kremlin allows KMZ to be sold to Leica, since they use the KMZ company to develop tech and make glass for scopes, binoculars, and other military equipment.

    • Maybe they sold only the camera division? Or maybe they are really just partnering with Leica.

  • ZMWT

    If true, then my predictions were correct about Leica being involved; people from Zenit must work with a brand name that has access to various IP, both in camera and optical designs. So this will be Leica – Panasonic – TowerJazz – KMZ (Zenit) expansion.
    Mirrorless cameras will most likely have a new look, and new optics will be released too, that fits the TL mount. Possible is also chaper version of the M, with, most likely, an EVF instead of real rangefinder. So something like the Leica Q.

    • Seven_Spades

      I can’t see them using the TL mount. Leica is very protective of the TL mount which is one of the reasons there are no third party TL mount lenses.

      • ZMWT

        Well, if it’s indeed Leica, and the partnership is not about TL mount, then only other FF mount is M. I can imagine cheaper M cameras, yes, but why would KMS (Zenit) be interested to do more M lenses already done in truckloads by a dozen of others?

  • adam

    Could it be that Leica is looking for a lower cost factory for assembly? And in this partnership Zenit is going to be able to use parts/patients to make their own mirrorless cam?

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