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-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 centered around a Sony-sourced, medium-format CMOS image sensor surpassed earlier CCD-based efforts in many ways.
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Leica S (TYP 007): Price
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The Leica S (Typ 007) is based around a CMOS picture 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 digital 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 when compared with the 5.4-micron pixels of the Sony chip.
The output from this new CMOS image sensor is managed by a Leica Maestro II picture processor, rather than the first-generation Maestro processor of the prior camera. Both are structured around Fujitsu Milbeaut processor chip cores, as also seen in image processors from the likes of Nikon, Pentax, and Sigma.
Collectively, the sensor and processor pairing allows 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 quality — the Leica must deal with only 131.25 megapixels per second of data, in comparison with 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 rate. That compares very favorably indeed to the 645Z, which can manage just ten natural frames in a burst. Even taking into account the resolution difference, the Leica can buffer 2.3 occasions as much data as does the Pentax.
One would expect an advantage for Leica in the sensitivity section too, given the larger pixel size, but here the Leica S (Typ 007) trails Pentax by quite some distance. The Leica today 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 isn’t even close to the ISO 204,800-equivalent setting supplied by the 645Z. Of program, that’s simply a paper comparison of specs — it’s quite possible that the Leica offers 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 edge over the single-stage autofocus of the Leica. Still, Leica says that its one cross-type point is now faster, more reliable and more specific than that in the previous-generation Leica S, so there’s been an improvement here.
Toughness is hard to call in either direction. Both cameras are water- and dust-resistant and both have a solid build. Pentax opts for a magnesium-alloy body (front, back, top and bottom) over a die-cast lightweight aluminum chassis, where Leica provides instead chosen a magnesium-alloy top deck, fiberglass-reinforced polycarbonate baseplate, and die-cast aluminum elsewhere.
Size and pounds are unchanged from the prior Leica S, and a little less than those of the 645Z. That camera isn’t quite mainly because wide as the Leica S (Typ 007), but it’s both deeper and taller and weighs about seven ounces more body-only. Both cameras possess 150,000-cycle shutter mechanisms and steel 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 simply because fast as 1/4,000 second are feasible, and flash X-sync is at 1/125 second, however, with specific lenses that feature central shutter mechanisms, Leica also features the ability to sync flash to 1/1,000 second.
This being a medium-format DSLR aimed at pros, there is surprisingly no built-in flash. Instead, external strobes are catered for with a standard hot shoe and flash sync terminal.
Of the six offered Leica S-mount lenses, six have got central shutters. There’s only one zoom in the range and nine primes of which one is a tilt-shift lens. Jointly, they cover everything from 24 to 120mm, but with many gaps in coverage between each prime focal length. (Only 30-90mm is covered by a zoom.)
Pentax, by contrast, offers 16 lenses including six zooms and offers two, even more, zooms on the roadmap. Its lenses cover 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, as well. Of training course, you can install 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 look at the courtesy of a pentaprism and reflex mirror, it has 98% protection and 0.87x magnification. A diopter correction function is usually provided, with a variety of -3 to +1 diopters, and the focusing display screen is interchangeable.
At first glance, the specification of the 3.0-inch, 921,600 dots (640 x 480 pixel) rear-panel LCD monitor is also identical, but regarding Leica, both brightness and contrast of the panel provide been elevated. It’s still included in scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass.
At the same time, the color Organic LED info display on the top deck has been changed by a larger, square transflective LCD screen. The good news: Transflective LCDs are great for viewing also in direct sunlight, and a built-in backlight ensures you can still see it at night. The bad news: It’s not color anymore, 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 capability 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 fps.
The new live view mode is controlled by an also-new top-deck key 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 picture, albeit just 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 watch mode, the metering place will also be located wherever you’ve positioned the concentrated point.
Also brand-new because of the CMOS sensor is the ability to capture movies, a feature already provided by the Pentax 645Z. However, Leica will take the medium-format video setting crown, with several crucial features missing from that camera. The feature is definitely again controlled with a fresh top-deck button.
For one thing, 4K capture at 24 frames per second is possible. (You can even opt for 30p, 25p or 24p capture at Full HD / 1,920 x 1,080 pixel quality.) The Pentax 645Z, in comparison, 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 online connectivity, all features that are lacking from the Pentax. Focus peaking can be available in movie mode, though 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 amounts and exposure immediately 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. This means you can most likely expect much higher file sizes from the Leica, but also fewer 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 components 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 smartphones and tablets but doesn’t specify whether these are on Android, iOS, or both. It is additionally vital to note that the GPS receiver will not be obtainable in all markets.)
Still, images and movies can be stored on CompactFlash or Secure Digital cards. CF support includes UDMA7 cards, while SD support contains SDHC and SDXC types.
A high-definition Type-C HDMI video output is supplied, along with USB 2.0 High Rate 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 pack life rating has been disclosed.
Both Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Leica Image Shuttle are included in the product bundle, with Lightroom getting 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-start of the Typ 007 — is almost exactly double that. Unless there’s another very significant lower price for that camera, which is currently called the Leica S-E (Typ 006), then the S (Typ 007) will probably 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 end up being 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.
Leica S (TYP 007): Conclusion
With regards to construction, the Leica S is really a dream. It feels as though it had been carved from a strong block of Unobtainium. Fit and end are high quality, and, much like an S Course Mercedes, commensurate using its price.
My primary criticism of the brand new S is that, for me personally at the very least, it must function well in real life as a photographic device, and isn’t just to be utilized as the badge of prestige or even prosperity. In this, the new Leica S is basically successful. It’s a fantastic camera in lots of ways. But personally, I think that Leica must extend itself a bit with regards to interface. Traditionalists will applaud that of the brand new S, while those via cameras with an increase of contemporary designs could find it a little bit old-fashioned.