2008 Photokina Tradeshow
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Leica's S2 digital SLR. Courtesy of Leica, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins. Leica announces S2 medium format DSLR (UPDATED)
By Michael R. Tomkins, The Imaging Resource
(Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - 01:59 EDT)

Germany's Leica Camera AG has announced a new medium format single-lens reflex digital camera and lens system at the Photokina tradeshow.

Detailed specifications aren't yet available, but the initial information on the Leica S2 has certainly whet our interest. You can find an introduction to Leica's new baby on our Photokina video page, which includes an interview with Christian Ernhardt and Justin Stailey of Leica. The camera is based around a 37.5 megapixel, 3:2 aspect ratio Kodak KAF-37500 CCD image sensor with dimensions of 30 x 45mm. Dubbed "Leica Pro Format" by the company, the S2's imager has 56% greater surface area than that of a 35mm full-frame image sensor, but about 22% less than the 36 x 48mm imagers used in certain other medium format DSLR products from the likes of Leaf and Hasselblad. The sensor communicates with a Maestro-branded image processor that Leica says offers reduced power consumption and "twice the speed of comparable medium-format backs". The Maestro chip is being produced for Leica by Fujitsu.

Leica S2 digital SLR with a selection of S-System lenses. Courtesy of Leica, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins. Click for a bigger picture!

Leica S2 DSLR with S-System lenses

This combination resides in a camera body whose exact dimensions aren't yet known, but which has been described by Leica as being "appreciably smaller" than existing 35mm full-frame professional digital SLRs. The body is sealed against dust, sand and moisture, described as having "extensive waterproofing". On the front of the camera's body is a Leica S-System bayonet lens mount, which accepts a newly developed series of lenses designed specifically for the camera.

Leica S-System lenses will feature weatherproofing and metal construction. The Leica S2 camera body will have a focal-plane shutter, and certain S-System lenses will also include integrated leaf shutters to allow for faster flash-sync speeds. Leica is promising lenses encompassing wide, normal, macro and telephoto models initially, and says it has plans to develop ultra wide, zoom, tilt / shift and super telephoto lenses in the future. Lenses available at launch should include 35mm, 70mm, 120mm and 180mm models, all of which will include leaf shutters.

The view through the Leica S2's viewfinder. Courtesy of Leica, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins. Click for a bigger picture!

The view through the Leica S2 viewfinder

As well as a TTL viewfinder with integrated diopter compensation and a display of basic exposure variables (as seen in the preview on the right), the Leica S2 includes a 460,000 dot LCD display with a 3.0" diagonal. The display has an anti-glare coating, and an ambient light sensor enables the camera to automatically adjust the backlight to account for lighting conditions. There's no live view function, with the LCD display being used solely for image review, as well as the camera's menu system - several screen shots of which can be seen below.

Four buttons positioned on either side of the LCD display adjacent to the top and bottom corners act as "soft" buttons, with their current function indicated on the LCD alongside the physical button. A second LCD information display can be found on the Leica S2's top panel, and unusually Leica has opted for an eyecatching color Organic LED (OLED) display for this, instead of the more traditional monochrome LCD. The display can show the operating mode, aperture, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, card type and capacity, and remaining battery life. When in the relevant operating modes, shutter speeds can be set using a physical dial on the top of the camera. The same dial when pressed downwards acts as a mode dial, with the OLED used to show the current mode. Selection between Aperture and Shutter priority modes depends on whether a shutter speed is set, or the dial is set to the "A" position for Aperture priority. A clickable wheel falls under the user's thumb, and can be rolled side to side to change settings. When clicked it acts like an Enter button, confirming settings changes for example.

The Leica S2 will include what Leica is calling an "ultra high precision" single-point autofocus system that the company also describes as "incredibly quiet". Shutter speeds will range from 8 to 1/4000 second, plus a bulb position. As you'd expect on a camera aimed at pros, operating modes will consist of Program, Aperture or Shutter-priority, and Manual. There's a flash hot shoe on the top of the camera body, as well as a connection for off-camera flash.

Other connectivity options will include USB 2.0 for data transfer, an HDMI connection for high-definition video output, and a LEMO remote connector which has a push and turn release to prevent accidental removal. Images are stored on dual card slots - one accepting CompactFlash media, and the other for Secure Digital cards, including the newer Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) types.

The Leica S2 offers both JPEG compressed and Adobe DNG Raw file output, and can also simultaneously save each image in both types. Leica expects 400 Raw files to fit on a 32GB SDHC card, suggesting a per-file size of a little under 80MB.

Leica has not officially announced pricing or availability at this time, but early suggestions are that the Leica S2 should be available in the summer of 2009, with a price tag in the region of €20,000 body-only. This would equate to somewhere in the region of US$30,000, ignoring exchange rate fluctuations, taxes and duties.

Accessories for the Leica S2 will include a portrait grip, which includes a duplicate shutter button and thumb wheel, as well as accepting a second battery. Further details can be found in the official press release below.

Leica S2
Leica's S2 digital SLR. Courtesy of Leica, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins. Click for a bigger picture!
Leica's S2 digital SLR. Courtesy of Leica, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins. Click for a bigger picture!
Leica's S2 digital SLR. Courtesy of Leica, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins. Click for a bigger picture!
A menu screen from Leica's S2 digital SLR. Courtesy of Leica, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins.
A menu screen from Leica's S2 digital SLR. Courtesy of Leica, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins.
A menu screen from Leica's S2 digital SLR. Courtesy of Leica, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins.

UPDATED 2008-09-24 19:00ET: A few further details have been added based on our Leica S2 video coverage.

Original Source Press Release:

Unexpected but inevitable. The brilliant new Leica S2 digital SLR.

Leica's 'Pro Format' image sensor (right), shown with an unidentified 35mm full-frame imager for size comparison. Courtesy of Leica, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins. Click for a bigger picture!

35mm full-frame and Leica Pro Format imagers
LEICA S2 – Remarkable new camera from Germany redefines the professional DSLR class with a custom 37.5-megapixel, 30 x 45 mm sensor built into a 35mm-sized body. Some companies tweak the features. At Leica, we transform the concept. That’s why the introduction of the flagship Leica S2 is not merely an incremental advance. It is nothing less than a watershed event that sets an entirely new performance standard for professional digital SLRS. With a custom 37.5-megapixel, 30 x 45 mm sensor that is 56% larger than full frame, it establishes parameters of imaging excellence that are well beyond those obtainable by conventional pro-caliber DSLRs. In the Leica tradition, it utilizes the classic 3:2 aspect ratio that corresponds to the human field of vision and is widely acclaimed as the “Leica Format.”

In designing this brilliant new camera, Leica’s engineers took a close look at the best existing DSLR designs and then synergized them into a radical but practical new camera that combines the performance parameters of a medium-format digital camera with the ergonomics, form factor, and handling ease of a 35mm SLR. The result is the new Leica S2, an entirely new, finely crafted, professional tool developed in-house by Leica with hands-on input from some of the most renowned professional photographers in the world. It incorporates an advanced new dual shutter system with in-body focal-plane shutter for fast lenses, and in-lens leaf shutters for high flash sync speeds, an ultra-high-precision autofocusing system, a new series of lenses designed for the highest possible performance with the new sensor, and a Maestro image processing system that provides twice the speed of comparable medium-format backs, reduces power consumption, and provides in-camera JPEG capability. Remarkably, all of this has been incorporated into a camera that is smaller than a full-size professional 35mm SLR, and still has the unmistakable look and feel of a Leica.

Like Leica cameras of the past, we designed the new Leica S2 from the inside out, and its robust styling is a classic example of form following function. We began with a cutting-edge, large-format CCD sensor and literally configured the camera around it rather than adapting existing technologies. In this way we achieved a new level of performance without sacrificing size or convenience. Yes the S2 Leica is our latest masterpiece, an unequivocal statement to the world that showcases our technological prowess. But it is more than just a technological tour de force. It is a statement of Leica’s continuing pre-eminence in the world of imaging that goes back nearly 100 years. Perhaps that is why our top executives in Germany have compared the announcement of the Leica S2 to the debut of the first Leica, the legendary model A in 1925. That seminal camera did nothing less than redefine 35mm photography in the 20th century and we believe that the Leica S2 may well do the same for DSLR photography in the 21st.

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