Leica S2 - First Impression Review

Leica S2 – First Impression Review

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This Review of the Leica S2 is a guest Post by Justin de Deney from Camera Advice.

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Invitation to Leica

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.

Showroom

leica-s3-Review-2.jpgThe 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.

Leica S2 Body

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.

Shooting with the Leica S2

leica-s2-review-3.jpgThe 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.

Lenses

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.

Would I buy the Leica S2?

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.

Did I mention the price?

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.

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Some Older Comments

  • stooky May 20, 2012 01:18 am

    Ryan McGinley shoots a Yashica T4 and a Leica R8 and his work was up at the Whitney and is sought after by MoMA - it's not about equipment.

  • lanceb February 13, 2012 08:40 pm

    I suspect the Nikon D800 has killed the Leica S2 stone cold dead. The Nikon offers the same resolution at a tenth of the price with existing lenses.

  • ATG October 3, 2011 03:01 pm

    If you can shoot tethered with your camera and would like to shoot un-tethered plus wireless radio flash and un-tethered live-view then get the,

    ATG AK1 Un-Tethered Systems.

    Contact the inventor: a.l9609@gmail.com

    Made & built in the USA for all photographers that love to do without the tethered cable.

  • Federico Presti April 17, 2010 12:33 pm

    mmm let's see... a leica S2 or a new car....

    a leica S2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Evan April 16, 2010 06:42 am

    For those who are speculating:
    I sold my Hasselblad H3DII-39 and lenses, added cash, and bought an S2-P with the 180mm and 70 mm lenses, which were the only two available. Went around the world on a business trip in March and shot along the way in rain, cold, heat, sun and wind. The camera is almost WATERPROOF; the images are superb, the manufacture, features, size and form are magnificent. I love my Canon EOS 1ds MK III but the S2-P is like a Maserati compared to a good solid US car.

    The camera shoots beautifully untethered, with decent download speeds for large images, but I recommend very high speed CF and CDHC cards with high volume. I have shot 700+ images and will do much more.

    Evan

  • Eeps March 28, 2010 10:05 pm

    Why use a Canon 1DS Mark IV or a Nikon 3DS when you could use a Canon 300D or a Nikon D70? The difference between a full frame from medium format is just as great (if not more) as full frame to crop sensors.

    Sue I wouldn't pay $20K for a camera, but then again, I wouldn't pay $5K either. But there are a lot of people who do which is why they keep making them. Commercial photographers have different requirements from hobbyists or even other professional photographers. Where the most a photographer has to worry about is creating a magazine cover or poster, professional photographers have to create huge billboards. This is where you separate medium and large format cameras from 35mm.

    The picture taken above would not make me want to rush out and buy this camera but put it up against one taken by a 1Ds and blown up to 50'x30'? Hah, still no, but I wouldn't be buying a full frame either lol

  • Doug March 13, 2010 10:21 pm

    I'll take a couple Nikon D3s and still be able to afford a cruise or two.

  • sss March 12, 2010 05:41 am

    I hav selected 2 cameras, fuji hs 10 or nikon p 100 in this which one is good for picture quality?xpectg faaaaaaaaaaaaaast reply

  • Jet March 9, 2010 08:57 pm

    Now guys watch this: in 2 days (11th March 2010) will be released new Medium Format camera -645d - from Pentax (who was the MF-market leader back in the analog days) and that one will shake the whole MF market up. Amazing and quite compact camera body and great range of lenses, including the whole range of fantastic lenses from analog times. What a great news for professionals and enthusiasts!

  • LCS March 9, 2010 04:21 pm

    Its not THAT expensive. its all relative ;)
    a hassy H4D-40 is 20K. body and back only.
    a phase one is around 18K.
    so 20K for a Leica S2 is just about right.

    adding up lenses, lighting kits, studio space, make-up artists, etc. and the camera body is just another expense for running a studio business. this is not for rich hobbyists.

    I've been lucky enough to do some tabletop products shots with with a phaseone backs and Leaf scannerbacks. and let me tell you. 35mm dslrs cant touch them. not even close. it makes a 1Ds file look like it came from a P&S. file quality makes a difference.

    the retouchers can match colors faster. clean up an image better, and the output is second to none.

    with the solid all-in-one design, I bet they are going for the fashion market first. lots of on-site shooting, a bit more compact than traditional MF camera systems.

  • megan v March 8, 2010 02:07 pm

    I nearly crapped my pants when I saw the price. I new Leica was good but had never even looked at their prices before. Do photographers who are THAT professional read DPS?? If so then I had no idea I was in such good company! ;)

  • johnp March 8, 2010 01:23 pm

    Yeah agree ... looks really nice, especially that Leica glass, but costs too much. First thing I'd buy though if I won the lotto.

  • OsmosisStudios March 8, 2010 09:31 am

    @Tyler and Greg Taylor: the S2 can shoot untethered. RTFA: it has slots for cards.

    The S2 is designed for studio workers who want the Leica name. Yes, you can get similar results from a hasselblad or a phase one or otherwise, but they're not Leica. As far as Im concerned, the Leica brand is more cachet than usefulness, but some will "need" it.

  • Sime March 8, 2010 05:37 am

    :-) Who said it's a success?

    (I'd buy two Canon 1Ds Mk4's and some mixed lollies with the change)

    Sime

  • alfanick March 8, 2010 05:32 am

    Why Leica S2, but not Phase One 60+? It has much bigger sensor, bigger resolution, flash sync up to 1/1600s and it is part of the Open System so you can use different lens and backs from different companies? I mean I like Leica M9 as the smallest digital full-frame camera, but can't understand why Leica S2 should be a success...

  • Lon March 8, 2010 04:59 am

    Agree with Greg, everything about it looks superb, I'm sure the build and craftsmanship are top-notch, but who really needs it? The large sensor format is the only standapart feature, otherwise it offers no features that other high end offerings from Nikon, Canon, Sony. But if you have the money and only want the best (assuming that this Leica IS the best) then get one I guess.

  • Greg Taylor March 8, 2010 03:08 am

    This camera looks amazing. It seems to have everything a photographer would ever want in body (minus the need to be tethered.) Ok, back to reality - I'm not quite sure it is worth the money versus other top of the line manufacturers. ($20,000 can buy you a car...)

  • Tyler March 8, 2010 02:26 am

    I'm sorry but a $20,000 camera sure as hell better be able to shoot untethered.