Leica S2 - Nick Rains

July 09, 2016

I have been shooting with the Leica S2 camera for a week or so and have some initial impressions...

This is one amazing camera.

I think of it of the Aston Martin of cameras, it's a beautiful piece of industrial art and the quality of build is unlike any other camera I have ever seen, including my wonderful Ebony 4x5 camera. It feels so solid and the finish is just so fine that you cannot help but feel confidence in it's performance. It's also remarkably small, similar in size to Canon 1Ds Mk3 or a Nikon D3X. It's heavy, but not unpleasantly so, and this is due to the robust construction. Leica claim that it is almost waterproof and demonstrate putting it under a running tap. I didn't test this - I'm happy to take their word for it - but the lens has a rubber seal on the base and all the camera openings are 'ruggedised'.

This confidence in the quality is well founded - the lens (I only had the 70mm) must be one of the sharpest lenses ever made. I am used to the performance of the Canon EF135f2L and the Canon EF300f2.8L, generally regarded as some of the finest glass out there but this lens takes it to another level. It's as sharp at f2.5 as it is at f11 which makes it unusually hand-holdable for such a hi-res sensor. I shot some stuff out of a chopper up in the Whitsundays and was quite happy to shoot at f2.8 and f4 to get a shutter speed of 1500th or thereabouts. The results are tack sharp.

Some diffraction error does creep in past f11, the image is slightly softer at f22 but this is physics, not a lens flaw. For perfect, high depth of field images it may be necessary to resort to focus stacking but this would only show up in the finest and largest prints.

The other aspect that blew me away was the bit-depth and dynamic range. The potential for opening up the shadows from the 16 bit files is immense. This image of me shot on the S2 was made as a grab shot, on full auto, and it obviously heavily backlit and under exposed.

This second version is from the same DNG file but with Fill Light set to 55 in Lightroom 3, an amount I would rarely use due to noise exaggeration. The final result look like I has been carefully photographed with a reflector, the background is not blown and the shadow detail is remarkable. There is some noise in the corner of my eye but in an A2 print, this does not show at all.

Needless to say, when the exposure is correct there is zero noise and the sharpness is very impressive.

The opening image of Brisbane skyline is made from two images stitched together, making a 12000px wide image. The shot was made at f5.6 with a 15 second exposure. At 240dpi this makes an almost 50" (125cm) print with no enlargement. I have printed sections of this file at full size on A3 paper and it's superb.

In short, this is one amazing camera that fits between the bulky MFDB systems and the traditional 35mm systems. All Leica need now are a decent range of lenses and accessories and I think they might be on to a winner.


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