Leica Unveils S2 Medium Format-ish DSLR

Leica Sep 22, 2008

After a triple whammy of camera announcements last week, Leica AG dropped the proverbial bomb at Photokina 2008. Dr. Kaufmann unveiled their latest creation: the Leica S2 Professional Leica S2 - Front w/Vertical gripDigital SLR. This beast not only propels Leica into the world of Autofocusing Digital SLRs (which they were sorely deficient in for years), but also places them in a brand new market for them: Medium Format.

Long the stronghold of the likes of Hasselblad, Mamiya, Sinar, Rollei and Bronica, Leica charges at the gate with a camera that sports a 45x35mm sensor (vs. the 36x24mm sensor in a full frame DSLR vs. 60x45mm sensor in a full frame MFDB – Phase P65+ back) with a resolution of 37 megapixels. Remember, these are big, fat medium format pixels oozing with with dynamic range. The body itself is sits between the Canon 5D and 1DsMkIII in size and way smaller than the likes of anything offered by the Medium Format guys.

One other change is that this camera will be distributed, sold and serviced through Phase One’s network of dealers. While this might miff the current Leica dealers, the camera’s internals were designed in cooperation with Phase One so it makes sense that they would distribute, sell and support it.

Prices for the body and 70mm f/2.5 lens is rumored to be around $18,000USD. Expected availability is Summer 2009.

UPDATE: Here is the Leica – Phase One Press Release

LEICA CAMERA AG AND PHASE ONE CONCLUDE STRATEGIC ALLIANCE

Leica Camera AG and Phase One A/S have agreed to enter into a long-term strategic alliance. Both companies are in mutual agreement on the terms of close future cooperation in the technical development and marketing of premium products for the professional photography segment. The objective is to offer photographers innovative high-end solutions that guarantee the greatest possible creative freedom and set standards in terms of performance, quality and technological maturity. Close cooperation has also been decided upon for the expansion of effective service and marketing structures.

The CEO of Leica Camera AG, Dr Andreas Kaufmann, welcomes the collaboration with Phase One: ‘Our two companies are an outstanding match for each other due to the similarity of their corporate cultures, their extraordinary innovative strengths and their dedication to absolute quality. We complement each other very well, particularly in the marketing segment. This will enable Leica to establish a strong and sustainable position at the leading edge of the professional segment. Together with Phase One we will soon be able to begin offering professional customers a new range of products and services.’

In addition to digital backs for medium format and view cameras, Phase One, the world’s leading manufacturer of camera systems for the professional segment, also offers industrialgrade software and image processing solutions specially designed to meet the most demanding requirements of professional photographers. According to the CEO of Phase One A/S, Henrik Håkonsson: ‘Thanks to first class internal development and technological alliances, Phase One maintains its leadership in the provision of software and image processing solutions for the professional segment. As a consequence of this strategic alliance with Leica, Phase One now has access to the vast optical expertise of the market’s quality leader and we can improve our product offerings to the world’s best photographers.

Leica Camera AG in Solms offers precision optical products of uncompromising quality and mechanical precision for the industrial and private high-end segments. The Leica range embraces a broad spectrum of cameras and precision optical products for analogue and digital photography, projectors and a range of binoculars, spotting scopes and rangefinders for field observation. Thanks to systematic investment in the manufacture of aspherical optical elements, Leica possesses vast expertise in the manufacturing, the optical calculation, the measuring and testing technology, as well as in the construction of lenses and the assembly of aspherical lens systems. Further information about Leica Camera AG and its products can be found at www.leica-camera.com.

UPDATE 2: Official Press Release from Leica on the S-System

A new dimension for professionals
LEICA S2 – Radical new digital SLR camera system from Leica

Responding to the commercial needs of professional photographers, Leica Camera AG in Solms will introduce the Leica S2 at photokina in Cologne (23rd-28th September 2008), a new digital Leica SLR camera system for professional photographers. A new system concept has been developed, entitled “Made in Solms”. For this camera concept, renowned professional photographers have been involved in all parts of the development process. The outcome is a system designed specifically to deliver the fastest, high end resolution work, requiring the minimum of post production. Excellent news for commercial photographers seeking to exceed demanding client expectations in a working time which allows improved income for their talents.

Designed from scratch the new German made camera is ground breaking, as unlike most other pro digital systems, it does not use a conventional medium format or 35mm platform. The LEICA S2 has a sensor size that exceeds the 35 mm format and incorporates many of the advantages of professional systems. The new 37 mega pixels CCD sensor with a breathtaking image resolution will produce images at the top of the professional game for a number of years. In particular, the lenses set new performance benchmarks enabling the sensor to overdeliver per pixel. The pixels are distributed on a sensor 56% larger than full size 35mm.

The compact design and handy metal body is smaller than those of comparative products from different manufacturers. Ergonomic and a pleasure to use, the camera is set to become a professional photographer´s favourite. The camera´s bespoke sensor has enabled the Leica designers to produce the smallest camera in its class.

It´s super modern new and innovative processing technology is twice as quick. The Leica “MAESTRO” image processor developed with Fujitsu specifically for the LEICA S2, allows the camera´s lenses, firmware and sensor to function at their optimum. It produces market leading processing time and the highest level of picture quality with minimal energy output. It enables picture quality and super quick transfer time with minimal energy output.

In spite of the sensor size, the extremely compact body is fully protected against dust and splashes. For this class of camera, the LEICA S2 has a particularly precise and quick autofocus system that makes focusing easier. The large, bright viewfinder makes picture composition easy. Taking many pictures in quick succession is also possible, and there is a high sensitivity setting to use when lighting is problematic.

New lenses designed specially to suit the demands of this format offer unrivalled imaging quality and set new benchmarks for the camera market as a whole. Thus the LEICA S2 lens system meets the needs of professional photographers. The optic calculation incorporates all the factors and requirements of digital technology, meaning that software to correct image artifacts becomes superfluous.

The constant high image quality is present right into the corners of the images, from close up to infinity. Even at wide apertures, maximal contrast, high resolution and detailed colour reproduction are guaranteed. The between-the-lens shutters in some of the system lenses enable lightning fast synchronisation for the quickest possible exposure time. The quick and precise autofocus of the Leica S lenses can be adjusted manually at any time. Like the camera, the lenses are made from metal and come with a weatherproof seal. The lenses are thus particularly robust and protected from dust and dampness.

The LEICA S2 is particularly easy to handle and choosing the settings is pretty much intuitive. Ergonomically designed, the body sits comfortably in the hand whether in vertical or horizontal position. The bright, high-resolution display with quick zoom-in function enables exposures to be seen perfectly even in daylight. The camera concept can be integrated seamlessly into the professional digital workflow.

With Dr. Andreas Kaufmann as its main shareholder, Leica Camera AG is entering a new era. Following in-depth and successful re-structuring, the business can now concentrate on investing in new products. Leica has made a quantum leap in the field of digital technology, enabling it to combine the advantages of highly developed digital technology with the classic Leica values concerning optics, mechanics and optimal image results. The result of this is uncompromising cutting-edge technology; the LEICA S2 is the first to offer all these things to professional digital photographers. The LEICA S system sets the trend for future Leica products in terms of technology and leads the way for future product ideas from Leica Camera AG.

Preliminary Analysis
Based on available information, the S-System is a bold move by Leica. Always considered a Premium Brand, Leica needed to chart new territory in order to keep itself fresh and a market leader. Entry into the DSLR arena would have placed Leica at a disadvantage against market heavyweights Canon and Nikon (and they would have to duke it out with Sony who recently introduced a full frame 35mm DSLR). By jumping to medium format, a blossoming area in digital photography where equipment costs are much higher than the more pedestrian 35mm format, Leica stood poised to bring their expertise to bare on a market hampered by large camera systems and slow image acquisition speeds. Add to this their Bauhaus style ergonomic designs, dust and weather seals, high performance optics designed for the sensor (taking a page from the Four Thirds manual it seems) and teaming up with a leader in the development of medium format sensors and software, Phase One, all adds up to a tremendous market opportunity for Leica. What remains to be seen is whether professional photographers and rental houses will go for it.

The official Leica S-System site is located at http://www.s.leica-camera.com

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