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A Lamborghini speeds by as I cross Berkley Square, on my way to the Leica showroom in the heart of Mayfair, central London. I have received an invite to view the new Leica S2 medium format digital camera. I don’t make a habit of attending to these events, but I thought, this being Leica, and, their first medium format pro-camera with autofocus, it might be worth a squint.
The showroom is down a small mews, and the interior is reminiscent of an exclusive jewellery store. The lighting is subdued, and glass cases display gift boxes containing brightly coloured, beautifully crafted Leica cameras and lenses. I am ushered upstairs to the studio on the first floor where I have my first glimpse of the camera.
The body is beautifully minimal and owes more to the looks of a 35mm camera than a medium format, reminding me of my first Pentax 67. It feels solid to hold and is pleasingly devoid of endless fiddly buttons and dials. The controls are simplicity itself, thankfully, and buck the trend of most over-complex digital cameras of the moment. There is a traditional shutter dial on the top, next to an easy to read OLED. This highlights each function in a different colour. On the back is the LED screen surrounded by four long buttons similar to the original phase one backs that I often use on shoots. These control the cameras menu functions and feel logical to use. This probably has something to do with my familiarity with the Phase One system.
The camera is tethered (by a USB cable) to a computer. It has a four pin connection which seems solid and reliable, unlike the usbs of most medium format backs which always seem to work loose without a little gaffer tape. It does also have two card slots, this means you can shoot raw to one and jpgs to another. My photo model, the camera demonstrator, waits for me to take the shot. I focus, release the shutter, the file uploads, and the result appears on the 32” apple monitor.
The download time is a little slow, but then this is a medium format, in tethered shooting mode. The auto focus is as good as it gets with a medium format but is noisier than I would expect from such a quality camera. The results though are spectacular. The resolution is 37.9 megapixels and the 3:2 sensor (the same format as a 35mm) is 56% larger than any full frame 35mm camera. I didn’t have time to do any in depth analysis of any of the specifications and lenses but from what I could see this camera shoots quality. This is no doubt down the Kodak sensor and the Leica lens.
At the moment Leica only make four lenses for the S2. These are a 35mm, 70mm, and 120mm, all 2.5 and a 180mm 3.5. They make two versions, one that works with the camera’s focal shutter and another pricier version with a leaf shutter. This is also reminiscent of the old Pentax. The leaf shutter version means you can sync with flash up to 1/500. This is something I use all the time with my photography so I’d have to stump up the extra cash! They do have plans to increase the range but when this will happen I am not sure.
The lenses as you would expect feel solid. They match the simplicity of the camera body and as a package the whole product oozes class.
I would want to spend some time with this camera before I decided to buy it. I only took a couple of shots in the studio and haven’t yet done any extensive or detailed analysis of it. Having said that I love the styling and simplicity of this kit. I also love the fact that this is a medium format in a 35mm body. I guess the only disadvantage of this is that if you need a back up camera you need a second body and not just another back like the phase one system. Having said that it does feel solid, reliable and has great image quality.
Oh yes! The price! The camera body will set you back over $20,000 and each lens is around $5,000. Well what did you expect? This is a Leica and it is medium format. The quality is definitely far superior to any 35mm camera but whether or not it is worth this price tag probably depends on the size of your pockets and for whom you are shooting, but having said that I could definitely see myself working with this piece of kit.
Check out more of Justin de Deney’s work at Camera Advice.