It was first seen in September 2008 at the Photokina trade show in Cologne, Germany. Now manufacturer Leica has announced that its compact top end professional S2 DSLR camera system will be available from October. The S2 sports an impressive 37.5 megapixel (MP) pixel count, has a 30 by 45mm sensor, a super fast Maestro image processor, an OLED top panel information display and a newly developed precision autofocus. There's a whole bunch of new lenses too. But before you rush to pre-order, you'd better sit down, take a deep breath and prepare yourself because the recommended retail price is a whopping UK£15,996 for the camera body alone (with a US price set at US$22,995).
Of course there are camera's which stomp all over the S2's otherwise impressive pixel offering and are also more expensive, which may help here to give some pricing perspective. The 160MP Seitz 6x17 Digital panoramic camera for instance, snap it up now for a mere US$40.6K. Leaf's 56MP Af1 10 will set you back around US$44K, or the shortly to become available 60MP Hasselblad H3DII-60, reported to cost in the region of US$35.5K.
There's much more to photography than pixels and price however so let's have a look at what the S2 system has to offer. Like Hasselblad, Leica's sensor has been created and customized by Kodak. The 30 x 45mm KAF-37500 CCD image sensor in the S2 provides an image capture area which is 56% larger than traditional 35mm film. Continuing the Leica tradition, it utilizes a 3:2 aspect ratio that more or less corresponds to the human field of vision.
The sensor communicates with a new image processing chip dubbed Maestro, which Leica developed with Fujitsu specifically for the S2. Maestro takes care of the color, tone and sharpness of images and, according to Leica, benefits from: "twice the operating speed of current medium-format backs, significantly reduced power consumption, and allows production of in-camera JPEGs."
This is all wrapped up in a fairly compact ergonomically designed weatherproof and dustproof metal casing which is described by Leica as: "similar in size and handling to conventional 35mm-type DSLRs." On the front is a bayonet lens mount which will accept all of the new system lenses. The camera features a kind of dual shutter operation where the body has a focal plane shutter for fast lenses and all of the currently available new lenses include an integrated leaf shutter to allow for faster flash-sync speeds. Naturally, the front is where the shutter release button can be found too.
On the back there's a three inch 460,000 dot color LCD display where soft menus allow settings to be taken care of and where image previews are displayed. Next to the thumb grip is a click-wheel which can be used to quickly change settings. As you can see from the sample image in the gallery, the viewfinder offers a clear, bright representation of the subject and as you'd expect, provides all of the important settings information you'll need to take your shot. The control for the dual shutter system can be found to the left of the viewfinder.
Above the viewfinder on the body top is a flash hot shoe, a full color, high contrast OLED display to view camera settings and the physical settings dial. The dual memory card slots for both compact flash and SD/SDHC, the USB 2.0 port for data transfer, the HDMI and LEMO remote connectors are all found on the camera sides. Up to 400 photos in Adobe open DNG RAW format can be stored on a 32GB SDHC card and the processor allows for JPEGs to be saved simultaneously.
As you might expect from Leica, effort has also gone into producing some new performance lenses for the S-system which, like the camera body, come with a waterproof seal. A 35mm wide angle lens, a 70mm standard lens, a 120mm macro lens and a 180mm telephoto lens are all available at the same time as the camera body. Ultra wide, zoom, tilt/shift and super telephoto lenses are to join the range at an unspecified later date. Leica claims its S-system has: "highly precise auto focus is able to focus quickly and accurately without trial and error, is incredibly quiet thanks to its innovative motor and gives razor sharp picture quality." An electronic sharpness alert helps those who want to delve into manual focus adjustment.
* Includes Sapphire Glass monitor screen and S-Body Platinum Service
CS = Central Shutter Lens
Prices include VAT at 15%, 30 July 2009
All of this would seem to confirm the simple equation: more resolution + better lens + bigger and better sensor equals much more money. Too much money for your average amateur snapper but as already seen from the other camera examples given here, perhaps just about right for your working professional. And if you're thinking that you might be able to pick up a cheap S1 series Leica now that the S2 is about to become available, you'd be very fortunate indeed if you managed to find one. The 1997/8 26MP "bear trap" model is now very rare indeed.
The Leica S camera system has been given its own website where you'll find lots more information on the camera and lenses and sample shots by fashion photographer Robert Grischek.
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