Leica S2 Review

My name is Edmond Terakopian and I love Leica. There, I’ve said it. However, as with any relationship involving the heart, all has not always been perfect. I loved my M4-2 and my M6. I loved my 21mm Elmarit, 35mm Summicron, 50mm Summicron and didn’t mind my 75mm Summilux. Didn’t ever like the 90mm Summicron or 35mm Summilux (but the ASPH version was ok). Also, I loved my R6.2 and the 28mm and 90mm Elmarits I had for it, but hated my R4. Phew, I feel better getting that off my chest.

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As with most people who have used or follow Leica, every once in a while the company makes a decision which just leaves one speechless. Some of the bizarre limited editions are one such thing (pushing up prices across the range and more or less guaranteeing that working photographers will no longer be able to afford the standard cameras) and strange things like the R8 and R9 and the Digital Module R. The M8 and M8.2 followed bringing for me a head scratching response. Then the most bizarre and unbelievable news that Leica were going to bring out a medium format SLR! I didn’t believe it, thinking it was a hoax. It became apparent that it was true though. I was so saddened. For me, Leica has always really been about the M range and I’ve always wanted a proper digital M – thankfully the M9 has now answered that prayer (however at a price). Still, I wished that Leica would stop wasting money and effort on lost causes and just concentrate on the M range.

In November 2009 I got an invite from the Leica Store to try out the S2 (almost final firmware and production) and with curiosity I accepted. I went knowing that I would laugh at this ridiculous notion of a medium format Leica. I had recently shot with the excellent Hasselblad H3DII-50 and thought it silly that Leica would even attempt to get into this arena.

I’m Edmond Terakopian and how wrong was I? I had it completely wrong. I admit it; the S2 is brilliant.

It looks so much bigger in the pictures than it really is. Think of it as roughly the same size as a Canon 1D MkIV or a Nikon D3, with the standard lens being roughly the size of a 24-70mm f2.8. It fits in the hand perfectly and handles just like a “normal” 35mm DSLR. This is majorly important as you have to remember that it isn’t a normal DSLR like a Canon or Nikon, but is in fact a medium format camera. The sensor size is much bigger (60%) than a full frame 35mm sensor, coming in at 30x45mm with a healthy 37.5 megapixels. It has a wide (in medium format terms) ASA range of 80 to 1250.

It has a wonderfully responsive and surefooted AF system that performed flawlessly in the studio and in the corridors of the store. It just felt right in the hand and the shutter release was absolutely smooth as, well, a very smooth thing. Whilst Hasselblads with prism finders and motorwinder grips are comfortable, they are nowhere near as comfortable as the S2. You can literally just pick it up and start shooting. It feels so right that I would comfortably even take it into a news situation; something I would never dream of with any Hasselblad.

Whilst the handling was superb, the image quality had to be tested out. I shot a series of images of a model in the store’s studio, using studio lights and also took the model into an area with available light to test out the higher ASAs. All I can say is that I was stunned by the image quality. Whilst I was in awe of the Hasselblad H3DII range at the lowest ASA, anything higher proved an absolute no no, with 400 ASA images showing really bad noise. Not with the Leica S2; this machine produced amazingly beautiful images all the way to 320 ASA, nice looking 640 ASA shots and usable images at 1250 ASA. Whilst compared to a Canon 1D MkIV or 5D MkII this may seem like not such a big deal, in medium format terms it’s a first.

The S2 is brilliant; it’s fabulous; the camera had proven to me that my initial thoughts were way off and this new format and camera actually made sense. As with most things in life though, there is a little but – it is rather pricey.

Visit my Flickr page to view a set of images taken on the Leica S2.

5 responses to “Leica S2 Review

  1. If you’re going for the S2, maybe you no longer need, and are willing to give away the M9 …?

  2. Nir, alas I don’t have an M9! You can be rest assured that if I did, I wouldn’t give it away!! 🙂

    The S2 is superb but for my work, the M9 is much much more suitable.

  3. “but for my work, the M9 is much much more suitable”

    mine too! 😦

  4. Hi Edmond,
    first apoligise for my poor English.
    I get your blog through NIK Software, and saw the special article about the Italian adapter.

    Since I got the Digilux 3 some years ago, I deeply regret having sold my 2x M6 to go digitalize.

    My question is, would the adapter fit my Digilux?

    My best regards to you,

    Don

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