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Leica S2 due today — and my review objectives

Leica S2 DSLR

The Leica S2 review unit courtesy of B&H Photo should show up today, and it will get my immediate attention; I’ve already digested the manual and technical documents, see my pre-review coverage. I just need a charged battery, and away I go.

I might head up to Yosemite with it later this week, and if you want a private photo tour, contact me, and you can see how I shoot.

The S2 stands in a unique position: medium format camera in a DSLR body with the best medium format ergonomics yet (perhaps), a reasonable size and weight of body and lenses, image quality more than enough for even many demanding pros. All in general terms of course, please don’t nitpick there as my review will spell it all out. That’s the idea though.

Yet the S2 might fall flat in some areas— the high-end 50/60 megapixel folks, the pros who must have service and support, etc— all those folks are looking for something compelling, and the S2 might not measure up in some of those areas, because it’s not just about the camera, it’s about the whole soup-to-nuts package, not to mention a very limited line of lenses and accessories at present, and almost all out of stock [check].

So the S2 might not have the best image quality in megapixels or noise. It might not have the largest sensor. But it might have other things: highly accurate autofocus, top of the heap lenses, a DSLR sized body, etc. And it might be just the right fit for those looking for the right balance of features.

But just as interesting is that it represents the future potential of Canon and Nikon, because Canon and Nikon will hit 30 megapixels soon (probably this year), and after that 40 megapixels or more, and maybe even in a new mirror-free design. With the S2 at 37.5 megapixels, what the S2 can do now is what DSLRs will do within a year or two. So that is a fascinating idea, even if the S2 is not on your menu.

One design philosophy that I agree with in the Leica approach: the less post-processing the better; what comes out of the camera should require minimum fuss. And in spite of advantages, the idea of vendor-specific software is not a great long-term approach for digital files, so the DNG format makes a lot of sense in this vendor-killing market. If the S2 files can take minimal processing effort (white balance, sharpen), that’s a huge win. Some photographers spend hours or days on an image; I hate spending more than 10 minutes because it means I’m not having fun shooting.

Accordingly, my plan of attack is to establish the current relative quality compared to three existing cameras: the Nikon D3x, the Canon 5D Mark II, and the Leica M9. Doing so will reveal a great deal not only about the S2, but also about what you might be able to buy within a year from Nikon or Canon (or perhaps, already can).

With one lens (the 70mm, equivalent to 56mm in 35mm terms), there is no perfect match-up, so comparisons will be about the whole gestalt: detail, color, optical limitations. I can use the excellent Nikon 60mm f/2.8G as the closest match on Nikon, and the not-so-close Zeiss 50mm f/2 Makro-Planar on Canon (I’ll skip zooms). It’s too bad that I don’t have the Leica 35mm f/2.5, because that’s an exact match for a 28mm lens on a DSLR.

But just as important, and what I’m eager to know myself, is what the “fun factor” is: can the S2 be used as an all-around great-shooting camera that I like using, as opposed to something I use to get more quality. Having shot various large format and medium format cameras before, I’m not thrilled with the ergonomics or versatility of any of them, nor would I want to carry any of them on a hike. Can the S2 replace a DSLR, excluding high ISO? After all, if one can afford the S2 system, the stellar Nikon D3s is just an accessory for high ISO capability. An academic question for me and most (given the cost), but interesting nonetheless.


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