Surprise return to the DSLR scene by Leica
Read Press Release: Photokina 2008: Leica announces LEICA S2
Pictures courtesy of Paul Watkins
The new Leica S2 sits in-between a Hasselblad medium format camera and
a high-end 135 format DSLR like Canon's EOS-1Ds Mark III.
The last thing that most of us expected at Photokina this year was for Leica to launch a brand new DSLR system, the first such launch since Olympus introduced its E-system back in 2003. Leica's new S2 DSLR packs a whopping 37 million pixels, thanks to a new CCD sensor from Kodak that is 56% greater in area than a 135 format 'full frame' DSLR, like a Canon EOS-1Ds, Sony Alpha 900, or a Nikon D3 or D700. A simple exercise in arithmetic returns a figure of 24 megapixels equivalence should you crop the sensor down to a full frame 24x36mm sensor.
With the arrival of the S2, Leica returns to the DSLR scene after abandoning its efforts to adapt its old R-series film SLR to the digital format. The S2 addresses a completely different market, with the emphasis on serving commercial photographers. Leica sees some photographers moving up from full frame DSLRs, like high-end Canons and Nikons, especially those who have aspirations towards full-blooded medium format solutions from the likes of Hasselblad, but can't justify the huge cost.
A noticeable aspect of the S2's design is a lack of many external buttons. Instead a
four-way controller that utilises different combinations of key presses is used.
Although details aren't yet fully available, Leica is showing examples of a total of nine lenses in the S2 system, including a tilt/shift optic for correcting verticals in architectural photography. Leica says its autofocus system works particularly well and the extra large format of the sensor results in a big and bright optical viewfinder. The camera control interface is innovative, using a small number of buttons and combination presses to control menu and settings navigation. It looks impressive when demonstrated by experts, but one wonders if photographers would want to learn to use such a sophisticated control system.
The S2 camera body is metal constructed, large, naturally, but probably no more problematical to carry and use than a Canon EOS-1D body and lens. It's certainly a lot smaller and lighter than a modern Hasselblad. The lens mount is huge in order to satisfy the need for extra large exit pupils in lenses so that corner and vignetting at the sensor is avoided. We understand that selected lenses have their own integrated shutter which can be used instead of the camera's conventional focal plane shutter, enabling fast shutter speed flash synchronisation and ultra quiet operation, when required. The body is also extensively sealed for resistance to dust and water splash ingress.
Here you can get a feel for the size of the Leica S2
Not only has Leica teamed up with Kodak on the sensor front, but the Japanese computing giant, Fujitsu, was responsible for developing the Leica S2's 'Maestro' image processor. Leica says the camera has been designed to produce images that require minimal post processing.
It remains to be seen whether Leica can develop a new market for the S2, but along with new funding for the business from its new owners, ACM Projektentwicklungs GmbH, of Salzburg, the future does seem rather rosier than it did at the previous Photokina fair in 2006.
This is Leica's list of new products at Photokina looks remarkably healthy.
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Photokina 2008 - Leica S2 large sensor 37MP DSLR
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