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Leica S3 Review

Although Fujifilm and Hasselblad are credited with popularising medium format photography with their respective GFX 50S and X1D models, the Leica S introduced back in 2008, is widely considered the first medium format camera that can be considered genuinely “portable.”

However, the S2 was the company’s last major upgrade. Considering the high cost and limited availability of Leica products, it is not surprising that the brand has partially fallen off of people’s radars.

But with the new Leica S3, introduced at Photokina 2018, the Leica S is back and better than ever. The sensor has a resolution of 64 megapixels, which is 14 megapixels more than the Fujifilm and Hasselblad cameras. Additionally, it can record 4K video without cropping the image, which is highly outstanding for a sensor of this size and resolution.

Unfortunately, Leica cannot provide us with any information on the price of the Leica S3. Still, considering that the body solely of the preceding Leica S2 sold for £16,000/$23,000, it is safe to assume that the S3 will not be inexpensive.

Leica S3 Build Quality

Mirrorless cameras may dominate the news, but Leica has stuck with a DSLR design for the S3. When you put the camera to your eye, you are immediately struck by the size, clarity, and brightness of the optical viewfinder. Mirrorless cameras may dominate the headlines, but Leica has stuck with a DSLR design.

The body of the S3 has the same refined, uncluttered, and rounded appearance as the model before it. There is a stark selection of unmarked buttons on the back of the device, a control dial (which is also unmarked) and a status panel on the top plate. The S3 is not an appropriate camera for novice photographers.

It is inherently larger than a DSLR with a full frame, but the difference is not as great as you might anticipate. The extra height in the body provides you with a solid hold around the body (the height of a grip is equally as crucial as its depth), and the relatively few buttons ensure that you can throw this camera about without accidentally pressing any of the button controls.

The design of the S3 is expected to provoke conflicting reactions from consumers. It is smooth, polished, and sophisticated, and it is a joy to hold; but, it is a camera that will require some learning.

Leica S3 Sensor & Video

The S3 has a 64-megapixel CMOS sensor that measures 30 x 45 millimeters to create a high degree of clarity, sensitivity, and a broad dynamic range that is certified for up to 15 stops. Its excellent resolution is one of its defining characteristics.

In addition, this “Leica ProFormat” sensor does not have an optical low-pass filter built into its design. This was done to achieve the highest possible level of sharpness. The modernized design, in addition to improving resolution, enables a broad sensitivity range that extends from ISO 100 to ISO 50000 and supports continuous shooting at up to 3 frames per second.

In terms of focusing, a predictive phase-detection autofocus system is speedy, quiet, and advantageous for tracking moving subjects because it utilizes a single central cross-type point. This type of point can be found in the camera’s sensor.

The upgraded sensor not only allows for the taking of still photographs but also enables impressive video capabilities. It can record in DCI 4K at 24 frames per second and Full HD at up to 30 frames per second, and both formats can utilize the entire width of the sensor.

The 3.5mm port allows for the connection of an external microphone, and the HDMI Type-C port enables external recording in 4:2:2 8-bit color sampling. It can support up to Full HD resolution.

Leica S3 Performance

For such a large lens, the Summarit-S 70 f/2.5 ASPH CS lens focuses incredibly quickly and smoothly, making it the most comparable lens to a “kit” lens that can be used with this camera.

Although the S3 model that we tested was an early pre-production version, we are looking forward to evaluating the camera’s image quality as soon as a loan sample is made available to us. Leica is confident, however, that its S-series lenses easily have the resolving power to match the 64MP sensor and could cope with future resolutions of 100MP and beyond.

Only connoisseurs and professionals with very deep pockets will likely be able to afford a Leica S3, but the camera’s design, handling, and overall feel are quintessential Leica. If you can pay for it, you will find it well worth the money.

Leica S3 Specs

Lens MountLeica S
Sensor ResolutionEffective: 64 Megapixel
Sensor Type30 x 45 mm (Medium Format) CMOS
Mirror Lock-UpYes
Capture TypeStills & Video

Exposure Control

Shutter TypeMechanical Focal Plane Shutter, Leaf Shutter
Shutter SpeedMechanical Shutter
1/4000 to 120 Seconds
Bulb/Time ModeBulb Mode, Time Mode
ISO Sensitivity100 to 50,000 in Auto Mode
Metering MethodCenter-Weighted Average, Multi-Zone, Spot
Exposure ModesAperture Priority, Manual, Program, Shutter Priority
Exposure Compensation-3 to +3 EV (1/2 EV Steps)
Metering Range1.2 to 20 EV
White BalancePresets: Auto, Cloudy, Color Temperature, Daylight, Flash, Fluorescent, Halogen, Incandescent, Shade, Tungsten
Continuous ShootingMechanical Shutter
Up to 3 fps at 64 MP for up to 6 Frames (Raw) / Unlimited Frames (JPEG)
Interval RecordingYes
Self-Timer2/12-Second Delay

Still Image Capture

Aspect Ratio3:2
Image File FormatDNG, JPEG
Bit Depth14-Bit
Internal Recording ModesM-JPEG/MOV 4:2:2 8-Bit
DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) at 23.98 fps
1920 x 1080p at 23.98/25/29.97 fps
External Recording Modes4:2:2 8-Bit via HDMI
1920 x 1080p at 23.98/25/29.97 fps
Broadcast OutputNTSC/PAL
IP StreamingNone
Built-In Microphone TypeStereo

Interface

Media/Memory Card SlotSlot 1: SD/SDHC/SDXC
Slot 2: CompactFlash (UDMA 7)
Video I/O1 x Mini-HDMI Output
Audio I/O1 x 1/8″ / 3.5 mm TRS Stereo Headphone Output
1 x 1/8″ / 3.5 mm TRS Stereo Microphone Input
Other I/O1 x Leica S LEMO USB-C (USB 3.2 / 3.1 Gen 1) Data Output
1 x Leica S Remote Terminal Input
WirelessWi-Fi
Global Positioning (GPS, GLONASS, etc.)GPS

Monitor

Size3.0″
Resolution921,600 Dot
Display TypeFixed LCD
Secondary DisplayTop: Status Display

Viewfinder

TypeOptical (Pentaprism)
Coverage98%
MagnificationApprox. 0.87x
Diopter Adjustment-3 to +1

Focus

Focus TypeAuto and Manual Focus
Focus ModeContinuous-Servo AF, Manual Focus, Single-Servo AF

Flash

Built-In FlashNo
Flash ModesFirst-Curtain Sync, Hi-Speed Sync, Second-Curtain Sync
Maximum Sync Speed1/125 Second (Focal Plane Shutter)
1/1000 Second (Leaf Shutter)
Dedicated Flash SystemTTL
External Flash ConnectionHot Shoe, Proprietary

Environmental

Operating Temperature32 to 77°F / 0 to 45°C
Operating Humidity15 to 80%

General

Battery Type1 x S BP-PRO1 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion, 7.3 VDC, 2300 mAh
Tripod Mounting Thread1 x 1/4″-20 Female (Bottom)
1 x 3/8″-16 Female (Bottom)
Accessory Mount1 x Hot Shoe Mount
Material of ConstructionMagnesium Alloy
Dimensions (W x H x D)6.3 x 3.15 x 4.72″ / 160 x 80 x 120 mm
Weight2.77 lb / 1260 g (Body Only)

Packaging Info

Package Weight7.185 lb
Box Dimensions (LxWxH)13.9 x 9.8 x 7.4″
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