One of the plated winches aboard the awesome J Class yacht Shamrock. Picture by Leica S2 with the 70mm f2.5 lens. 160 ISO, f5.6 at 250 sec.
You’ve heard it all before, the Leica S2 is one amazing camera with a price tag to match. I was lucky enough to get to play with one for a few hours out in the real world and not in some shop. Thanks to Marc at DPM Images in Toulon. I was in Cannes at the annual classic yacht regatta and what better place to test the S2 and it’s 70mm lens.
At the same time, I thought it would be interesting to also take pics with the M9 and compare the cameras. I know this is rather odious as they are so different but when you’re carrying around £30k worth of kit it pays to get the most out of it. In any case I was interested.
The picture of the winch above shows fantastic quality, no distortion and a soft bokeh. What you would expect from what is to all intents and purposes a medium format camera. It’s massive 30 x 45mm sensor is about twice as big in area as the M9’s sensor and it’s DNG files are over 70 meg! It’s so funny to remove the lens and see the massive mirror inside. It’s so big you could use it for shaving!
So, first impressions. I’m a died in the wool M user. One of the things I hate about most SLRs is that they are simply too big to have with you at all times and the S2 is no exception. It is big, but no bigger than a Nikon D3 and it’s considerably simpler to use. It looks ridiculously basic next to the D3 with all it’s many buttons, dials and levers. The S2 has a speed dial, one rotating dial at the back which is used for selecting many of the options and 4 buttons around the monitor. That’s about it. There’s an on/off switch obviously and a depth of field preview and that’s your lot. Talk about clean.
It’s a nice looking camera thanks to it’s uncluttered design. After just a few minutes I felt that I had a handle on the functions and could easily work my way around the menus. So off I went to take some pictures. The autofocus seems to work well though the motor is noisy, more noisy than the shutter which is surprisingly quiet considering how big the mirror assembly and shutter are and it helps to make the whole camera surprisingly unobtrusive for it’s size. I was surprised how few people even noticed it. Even the many pros that are always image hunting didn’t recognise it for what it was. Just as well really. My time with the S2 was limited and I didn’t want to waste a minute talking to anyone about it.
Like I said, I’m no fan of big cameras but the S2 gives you wood. Just looking through the lens is fantastic. It’s all just so smooth and beautiful and so capable. When I see my M9 images on the screen I am still blown away by the quality even after a year of using it. The S2 is exactly the same just bigger. At 7500 x 5000 (approx) pixels in size, the images the S2 makes are ENORMOUS and my poor computer just can’t handle the file sizes at all.
Just for the fun of it I did some comparison shots and blew them up to 100% so you can see for yourself. I used an Elmar 50mm f2.8 collapsible lens on the M9 which was about as close as I could get to the S2’s 70mm lens. I took identical shots with both cameras. See the results below.
Leica S2 at f5.6 the 70mm lens has a very shallow depth of field. Colours are bang on, these winches really do look like this.
Here’s a 100% crop. That is one staggeringly good quality. MASSIVE!!
This is the M9 version. Nothing wrong with this image. Depth of field is more but apart from the amount of pixels there’s not much in it.
Here’s the M9 100% crop. Beautiful just a lot smaller than the S2’s image.
Leica S2, 70mm lens, 160 ISO f4 at 250 sec. This is the end of the boom on Avel a very old sailing boat owned by the Gucci family. Look at that super soft Bokeh. Just gorgeous. All of these pictures are straight out of the camera, nothing has been done to them at all.
Here’s the 100% crop of the above image. Looks like there’s a bit of camera shake here despite the 250 sec shutter speed. Not surprising that some care needs to be taken with a mirror as big as this. No doubt for consistently sharp shots a high shutter speed or a tripod is needed. Asides from the slight shake, it’s still pretty impressive.
Here’s the M9 shot. Nice shot but quite different. Bear in mind that the 2.8 Elmar is a very old design, I wonder how a faster, more modern 50mm would have faired.
M9 100% crop of above image. Sweet. No camera shake here. The image might be smaller but it’s beautiful.
So there you go. The S2 takes pictures like a M9 only bigger. It is an awesome and awe inspiring camera. With some care and thought some truly spectacular shots could be produced. Although it can be used in the street it’s much more a studio camera.
So the conclusion: The Leica S2 is incredible. The images that this camera is capable of will blow you away. That’s partly the lens and partly the sensor and the fact that it’s enormous. It’s user friendly, nice looking and quite inspiring. It is quiet, surprisingly discreet and wonderfully made.
On the down side there are only four lenses available for it and it costs more than most people earn in a year. To any decent pro, this is not a problem, no doubt this camera will quickly earn back it’s cost. That big mirror needs a fast shutter speed or you risk camera shake. Of course Leica offer a range of lenses that have a shutter built in which address this issue.
I only took shots at 160 and 320 ISO so I can’t comment on the noise levels. At 320 there’s practically nothing however. The S2 only goes to 1250 ISO. This camera is not to be compared to your average Nikon. It is out on it’s own. Obviously a camera like this is not for everyone but for those who need such huge and perfect images and have the skill to get the best out of the camera will not be disappointed.