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Leica S3 Medium Format: an Updated Dinosaur

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When everyone else is producing compact medium format mirrorless systems, Leica delivers a DSLR dinosaur with a single central focusing point that is likely to be as incredibly inaccurate as prior models. I am aghast that in this competitive market that Leica cannot see the move to mirrorless.

The Leica S3 looks have the same texture-less button interface that drives me crazy, but with a 64-megapixel sensor and 4K video. I expect the images to be superlative, if one can get accurate focus reliably—dubious.

Leica S3: on the occasion of the tenth anniversary, Leica Camera presents the latest model in the Leica S medium format system

Wetzlar, 25th September 2018. Ten years ago, Leica Camera presented an entirely new medium format camera, the S2 at photokina 2008. Although essentially the size of a conventional DSLR, the camera was built around a considerably larger sensor. Now, on the occasion of this anniversary, Leica Camera AG has launched the Leica S3. In addition to the most obvious improvement – an increase in resolution from 37.5 to 64 megapixels – the medium format camera features a number of technological advances.

Just like its predecessors, the Leica S3 utilises the Leica ProFormat developed especially for the Leica S-System. With dimensions of 30x45mm, it corresponds to the classic 3:2 aspect ratio of 35 mm full-frame format, but offers a 56 percent larger sensor area. In comparison with its predecessor, the new 64-megapixel sensor developed exclusively for Leica offers a 71 percent increase in resolution, a dynamic range of 15 stops and a maximum ISO sensitivity setting of 50,000 – sufficient reserves to be ready to handle any imaginable lighting situation and to fully exploit the strengths of the medium format. Subjects can be composed in the large and bright SLR viewfinder, focused sharply with the fast and reliable autofocus and captured at a continuous shooting rate of three frames per second. In addition to all other essential exposure settings, an electronic levelling aid (horizon) can also be displayed in the viewfinder. Whenever required, a Live-View mode with a refresh rate of up to 60fps is available in both still picture and video recording mode that also allows focus peaking, brightness and exposure data, a clipping warning, grids and a histogram to be superimposed on the image.

The entire area of the sensor can be used not only for videos in full-HD, but for the first time, also for 4K cinema resolution (including the characteristic medium format look). When capturing video footage, 48 kHz, 16-bit stereo sound with automatic or manual level adjustment can be recorded with either the integrated microphone or an off-camera microphone.

The Leica Maestro II processor and a 2GB buffer memory ensure a smooth workflow that is essential for handling the enormous amounts of data generated by the sensor.

Shooting in tethered mode is also possible with the Leica Image Shuttle app, whereby all essential exposure settings can be made with the help of the app and the images captured in DNG and JPG format can be transferred directly to a computer via a USB 3.0 interface. The use of Lightroom Tethered Plugin allows the Leica S3 to be connected directly to the image processing package without any need for additional software.

In addition to a GPS function which determines the precise geographical location and the exact time of an image capture with the aid of satellites and saves them to the EXIF data, the Leica S3 also has a WLAN module with which the camera can be remotely controlled in conjunction with the Leica Fotos App.

As is already familiar from the Leica S-System, the Leica S3 is also constructed with the highest-quality and extremely resilient materials: examples of this are the magnesium body, the Corning®Gorilla®Glass cover plate of the 3-inch monitor screen and the lens bayonet, which is made from particularly durable stainless steel. Furthermore, the numerous seals that protect the camera against the threat of moisture, dust and other foreign bodies contribute to the reliability and long service life of the camera when shooting on location.

The familiar and proven intuitive handling concept of Leica S (Typ 007) has been carried forward to the Leica S3: the central control elements are two setting dials and a five-way joystick, which control the shutter speed and aperture and enable quick and easy menu navigation. The rear monitor screen is surrounded by four buttons that photographers can programme to meet their specific needs. Finally, the main switch can be used to select whether the focal plane shutter in the camera is used, or a central shutter, if this is a feature of the lens mounted on the camera.

With a special construction concept that ensures protection against dust and spray, the S- Lenses are an integral element of the Leica S-System. As is the case with other Leica lenses, S-Lenses are designed to offer sufficient performance reserves to meet the demands of future generations of imaging technology and retain their value as a long-term investment that can fully amplify the potential of future camera generations. The optical performance delivered by these lenses is still by no means exhausted by sensors with a resolution of 64 megapixels. A further highlight of the S-System is the central shutter available as an alternative option for six lenses of the S-System portfolio. In contrast to a focal plane shutter with a maximum sync speed of 1/125s, a central shutter allows flash synchronization even at its fastest shutter speed of 1/1000s. This opens up considerably greater exposure leeway for creative photography, particularly when working with professional studio flash systems or when shooting in bright ambient light. In such situations, the larger image circle of Leica S-Lenses as a consequence of the sensor dimensions not only creates the characteristic medium format look, but also significantly shallower depth of focus.

The launch of the Leica S3 marks the tenth anniversary of the first appearance of the Leica S2 at the photokina show in 2008. The S2 was followed by the Leica S (Typ 006) and the Leica S (Typ 007) models in 2012 and 2015. As well as numerous improvements to the handling concept and the range of functions and the completion of the range of lenses, the switch from CCD to CMOS sensor technology and the launch of the Maestro II processors in 2015 stand out as the most important steps in the evolution of the Leica S-System. The Leica S3 will be available from Spring 2019.

Roy P writes:

Quick takeaways: Basically, it’s the same as the original S2, except for the faster processor used in the S-007, and now, the 60MP sensor and video, which makes no sense

Same crappy one central AF point that hasn’t changed since the S2. I can’t believe they’re bragging about switching from a CCD to CMOS sensor. It’s almost as bad as bragging about switching from vacuum tubes to transistors, while the rest of the industry is making integrated circuits.

DIGLOYD: seems to me sheer insanity to not have gone straight to a 100% compatible mirrorless model with on-sensor focusing. The Leica S system focusing has been a disaster every time I have used the system in the field, as I’ve amply demonstrated from the original, but persistent to this day, such as shown in Error-Prone Leica S Autofocus Damages Sharpness (S006).

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