Leica S (Typ 007) Review

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Leica S bayonet Medium format
size sensor
image of Leica S (Typ 007)
Front side of Leica S (Typ 007) digital camera Front side of Leica S (Typ 007) digital camera Front side of Leica S (Typ 007) digital camera Front side of Leica S (Typ 007) digital camera Front side of Leica S (Typ 007) digital camera
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Leica S (Typ 007)
Resolution: 37.50 Megapixels
Sensor size: Medium format
(45.0mm x 30.0mm)
Kit Lens: n/a
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
Native ISO: 100 - 6400
Extended ISO: 100 - 6400
Shutter: 1/4000 - 125 seconds
Dimensions: 6.3 x 4.7 x 3.1 in.
(160 x 120 x 80 mm)
Weight: 44.4 oz (1,260 g)
includes batteries
Availability: 03/2015
Manufacturer: Leica
Full specs: Leica S (Typ 007) specifications

Leica S (Typ 007) Review -- First Impressions

Preview posted

At the top of German camera legend Leica's product line sits the 2012-model Leica S, a pricey but extremely powerful medium-format DSLR, and it's just been replaced... by the Leica S. A brand-new Leica S that shares the same name as its predecessor, with a parenthetical (Typ 007) at the end, and has some pretty significant upgrades.

Those changes aim to bring Leica back into contention, after a new wave of cameras and camera backs based around a Sony-sourced, medium-format CMOS image sensor surpassed earlier CCD-based efforts in many ways.

The Leica S (Typ 007) is based around a CMOS image sensor, but it's not the Sony we've seen elsewhere, as its resolution is significantly lower than that chip. Where rivals are now shipping 51.4-megapixel cameras, Leica remains at the same 37.5-megapixel resolution that was offered by the previous Leica S (Typ 006). That does, however, mean that the S (Typ 007)'s sensor has a pixel pitch of 6 microns, as compared to the 5.4 micron pixels of the Sony chip.

Output from this new CMOS image sensor is handled by a Leica Maestro II image processor, rather than the first-generation Maestro processor of the previous camera. Both are based around Fujitsu Milbeaut processor cores, as also seen in image processors from the likes of Nikon, Pentax and Sigma.

Together, the sensor and processor pairing allow a burst-capture rate of 3.5 fps, just slightly edging the previous performance champion, Pentax's 645Z. (That camera is capable of three frames per second, albeit at much higher resolution -- the Leica must handle only 131.25 megapixels per second of data, as compared to the 154.2 megapixels processed by the Pentax.)

Courtesy of a two gigabyte buffer, the Leica S (Typ 007) retains the 32-frame DNG raw buffer of its predecessor, even though it shoots at more than double the speed. That compares very favorably indeed to the 645Z, which can manage just ten raw frames in a burst. Even taking into account the resolution difference, the Leica is able to buffer 2.3 times as much data as does the Pentax.

One would expect an advantage for Leica in the sensitivity department too, given the larger pixel size, but here the Leica S (Typ 007) trails Pentax by quite some distance. The Leica now offers a range of ISO 100 to 6400 equivalents, and while that's a worthwhile step up from the ISO 100 to 1600 provided by the previous-gen Leica S, it's not even close to the ISO 204,800-equivalent setting provided by the 645Z. Of course, that's simply a paper comparison of specs -- it's quite possible that the Leica has similar or better noise levels in the real world.

Autofocus, too, looks to be more sophisticated on the Pentax, although one could argue that with its focus points clustered towards the center of the viewfinder, offering 27-point autofocus with 25 cross-type points isn't really that huge an advantage over the single-point autofocus of the Leica. Still, Leica says that its single cross-type point is now faster, more reliable and more precise than that in the previous-generation Leica S, so there's been an improvement here.

Durability is hard to call in either direction. Both cameras are water- and dust-resistant, and both have solid build. Pentax opts for a magnesium-alloy body (front, back, top and bottom) over a die-cast aluminum chassis, where Leica has instead chosen a magnesium-alloy top deck, fiberglass-reinforced polycarbonate baseplate, and die-cast aluminum elsewhere.

Size and weight are unchanged from the previous Leica S, and a little less than those of the 645Z. That camera isn't quite as wide as the Leica S (Typ 007), but it's both deeper and taller, and weighs about seven ounces more body-only. Both cameras have 150,000-cycle shutter mechanisms, and metal bayonets. Leica says it has newly switched to stainless steel for a more durable bayonet, but doesn't specify which metal was used in the past.

Just as in the Pentax 645Z, shutter speeds as fast as 1/4,000 second are possible, and flash X-sync is at 1/125 second, however with certain lenses that feature central shutter mechanisms, Leica also boasts the ability to sync flash to 1/1,000 second.

This being a medium-format DSLR aimed at pros, there is not surprisingly no built-in flash. Instead, external strobes are catered for with a standard hot shoe and flash sync terminal.

Of the six available Leica S-mount lenses, six have central shutters. There's only one zoom in the line, and nine primes of which one is a tilt-shift lens. Together, they cover everything from 24 to 120mm, but with many gaps in coverage betwee each prime focal length. (Only 30-90mm is covered by a zoom.)

Pentax, by contrast, offers 16 lenses including six zooms, and has two more zooms on the roadmap. Its lenses cover everything from 28-300mm continuously, and reach out as far as 400mm prime. So slightly lesser wide-angle capabilities, but much better telephoto capabilities -- and that's before you consider the fact that there are first-party 1.4x and 2x teleconverters available, too. Of course, you can mount third-party glass on the Leica S bodies, just as you can on the Pentax 645 bodies.

The Leica S (Typ 007) sports the same SLR viewfinder as did the (Typ 006), and being medium-format, it's large and bright. Providing a thru-the-lens view courtesy of a pentaprism and reflex mirror, it has 98% coverage and 0.87x magnification. A diopter correction function is provided, with a range of -3 to +1 diopters, and the focusing screen is interchangeable.

At first glance, the specification of the 3.0-inch, 921,600 dot (640 x 480 pixel) rear-panel LCD monitor is also identical, but according to Leica, both brightness and contrast of the panel has been increased. It's still covered by scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass.

At the same time, the color Organic LED info display on the top deck has been replaced by a larger, square transflective LCD display. The good news: Transflective LCDs are great for viewing even in direct sunlight, and a built-in backlight ensures you can still see it at night. The bad news: It's not color any more, but rather, monochrome.

One of the biggest differences between the Leica S (Typ 007) and (Typ 006) comes thanks to its new CMOS image sensor, and it's one that other next-gen rivals are already taking advantage of too. Thanks to the ability to read the sensor off faster and selectively, the Typ 007 now provides a live view mode with a refresh rate of up to 60 frames per second.

The new live view mode is controlled by an also-new top-deck button, and is coupled with contrast-detection capability. That means for the first time in a Leica S DSLR body, you can set focus anywhere within the image, albeit only during live view -- switch to framing through the viewfinder and you're back to a single focus point. If you enable spot metering in live view mode, the metering spot will also be located wherever you've positioned the focus point.

Also brand-new thanks to the CMOS sensor is the ability to capture movies, a feature already offered by the Pentax 645Z. However, Leica takes the medium-format video mode crown, with several key features missing from that camera. The feature is again controlled with a new top-deck button.

For one thing, 4K capture at 24 frames per second is possible. (You can also opt for 30p, 25p or 24p capture at Full HD / 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution.) The Pentax 645Z, by contrast, is limited to Full HD capture or below, although it does allow 60i / 50p capture at this rate.

The Leica S (Typ 007) also provides uncompressed HDMI video output and external microphone / headphone connectivity, all features that are missing from the Pentax. Focus peaking is also available in movie mode, although it isn't clear if this is during capture or not. (Pentax provides focus peaking prior to capture, but not during.) You can control both audio levels and exposure automatically or manually, and audio is recorded at 16 bits and 48KHz.

Videos recorded in-camera use 4:2:2 MotionJPEG compression and a .MOV container, where Pentax opts for MPEG-4 AVC / H.264. That means you can likely expect much higher file sizes from the Leica, but also less compression artifacts.

Leica also includes both Wi-Fi wireless networking and GPS geolocation in the S (Typ 007) body, where both features rely on optional accessories with the Pentax. The Wi-Fi feature set looks quite comprehensive, too, with remote control and live view, not just image transfer. Leica references apps for smartphone and tablet, but doesn't specify whether these are on Android, iOS, or both. It's also important to note that the GPS receiver will not be available in all markets.)

Still images and movies can be stored on CompactFlash or Secure Digital cards. CF support includes UDMA7 cards, while SD support includes SDHC and SDXC types.

A high-definition Type-C HDMI video output is provided, along with USB 2.0 High Speed data. Power comes from a new 7.3V, 2,850mAh lithium-ion battery pack, quite a bit higher charge density than the Leica S (Typ 006)'s 7.4V, 2,100mAh battery. No battery life rating has been disclosed.

Both Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Leica Image Shuttle are included in the product bundle, with Lightroom being available as a free download after registering your camera.

Nor has pricing, and it will likely be a while more before we know, given that the Leica S (Typ 007) won't go on sale until Spring 2015. With that said, we can already call that one very much in favor of the Pentax.

Why? Because it lists for US$8,500, where the earlier Leica S (Typ 006) -- even after a significant discount post-launch of the Typ 007 -- is almost exactly double that. Unless there's another very significant discount for that camera, which is now called the Leica S-E (Typ 006), then the S (Typ 007) is going to be a fair bit more than twice the price of the 645Z.

For some photographers, the unique advantages of the Leica S (Typ 007) will assuredly be worth that difference. For many, though, we'd imagine that the fact they can buy a higher-res still camera with a more robust lens lineup at half the price will sway them in Pentax's direction.

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