Fujifilm and Hasselblad are credited with bringing medium format to the masses with the GFX 50S and X1D respectively, but the Leica S was launched way back in 2008 and is arguably the first truly ‘portable’ medium format camera.
Its last update was the S2 back in 2011, though, and given Leica’s price and exclusivity it’s no surprise it dropped off the radar somewhat.
But the Leica S3, launched at Photokina 2018 brings the Leica S back with a bang. The headline specs are its 64-megapixel sensor (14MP more than the Fujifilm and Hasselblad) and 4K uncropped video capture, which is very impressive from a sensor of this size and resolution.
Unfortunately, Leica can’t tell us how much the Leica S3 will cost, but the previous Leica S2 sold for £16,000/$23,000 body only, so the S3 certainly won’t be cheap.
Build and handling
Mirrorless cameras may be dominating the headlines, but Leica has stuck with a DSLR design for the S3, and when you put the camera to your eye you’re instantly struck by the size, clarity and brightness of the optical viewfinder.
The S3 has the same elegant, minimalist, rounded body shape of the previous model, with a stark selection of unmarked buttons on the rear and a control dial (also unmarked) and status panel on the top plate. The S3 is not a camera for beginners.
It’s bigger than a full frame DSLR, naturally, but not by as much as you’d expect. The extra height in the body gives you a good grip around the body (the height of a grip is just as important as its depth) and the relative lack of controls means that you can heave this camera about without accidental button-presses.
The S3’s design is likely to divide opinion. It’s sleek, rounded and elegant and a pleasure to handle, but it’s a camera you’ll have to learn.
The Summarit-S 70 f/2.5 ASPH CS lens is the closest thing to a ‘kit’ lens for this camera and focuses remarkably quickly and smoothly for such a big lens.
The S3 we tried was an early pre-production model, but we look forward to testing the image quality just as soon as a loan sample becomes available. 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.
The price is likely to keep the S3 pitched at connoisseurs and very well heeled professionals only, but its design, handling and feel are pure ‘Leica’. If you can afford it, you’ll love it for that alone.