Leica S

I finally got tired of waiting for one of the new, mirrorless, medium format cameras--either the Hasselblad X1D or the Fujifilm GFX-50c--to come to market in order to get a backup medium format camera into my kit for location shoots.  My choices, given my impatience, were to buy another Phase One, an H5 or H6 series Hasselblad, a Pentax 645Z, or a Leica S.  My backup camera needs to fit into a carry-on sized hard case that includes: a Phase One XF IQ3-100, a Schneider 120mm f/4 macro, a Schneider 55mm f/2.8, laptop, batteries, chargers, tethering cable, remote trigger cable, memory cards, external storage, color calibrator, lens cleaning gear, etc.  

Space rules out carrying Hasselblads because I would need back, body, and a 120mm Hasselblad lens which is too much.  I could buy another Phase Back and XF body (which I might eventually do) which could be a bit more compact given that I wouldn't necessarily need a second Schneider 120.  But that's an expensive option, even if I went with a 50 megapixel back.  It's also a weird option because I'd be laying out a ton of money and it would be solely a backup camera; given that I already have one, it does not open up any new shooting scenarios.

This left me with the Pentax and the Leica.  The Pentax is cheaper than the Leica, and a bit higher resolution (50mp vs 37mp).  But the Pentax is a bit bigger than the Leica, and the Leica glass (modulo a track record of auto-focus motor failures that has the forums lit up at the moment) is better than Pentax glass, and arguably better than the Schneider glass that I use on my Phase One.

With that information in hand, I made a bet, based on my recent surprising success with the Leica Monochrom M, and bought the Leica S with their shockingly good APO Summarit 120mm f/2.5 macro lens.  I've shot perhaps 50 frames with the camera so far, but the early results are quite pleasing.  ISO is good through 1600 and acceptable at 3200.  That coupled with the f/2.5 aperture makes this camera very nice for natural and low-ish light, handheld shooting.  The autofocus system is fast and accurate, even in dim light.  The 120 lens is stunningly good.  The camera feels great in the hand.  It's battery charger is quite compact.  And the image quality for natural light shots is great.  (I have not yet taken it into the studio.).

(The one thing that is noticeable with this camera's sensor after having gotten very used to the IQ3-100, is that it has nowhere near the dynamic range of the big Phase One.  You can pull the shadows around a little bit and the highlights almost not at all with the Leica, whereas the IQ3-100 files, or parts of them, can oftentimes be wildly under- or over-exposed and you can still pull something useful out of them.  That plus the fact that you have to go around your elbow to get files into Capture One because Phase One doesn't support competing medium format cameras in their software, are really the only two shortcomings of this camera that I see so far.)

Here are a few shots from this morning.

Leica S + APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2.5

Leica S + APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2.5

More to come in the future.  I think that other than becoming a reasonably solid backup if my P1 ever craps out in a photo shoot, that the Leica S's combination of fast auto-focus, decent ISO performance, and form factor are going to have me shooting around with it outside of the studio far more than I ever have with my Phase One gear.  

It takes me a while to get every new camera "dialed-in", that is to say, me understanding how the optics and sensor are going to perform under different circumstances so that I can shoot with complete confidence, and me figuring out how to get the right look out of the files that come out of the camera.  Within a few weeks I should start having images that are above the bar.

Kevin Scott