With the recent string of successful camera and lens introductions over the past few years, Leica has made the process of choosing a camera much more difficult. In the not-so-distant past, certain individual systems outshone the rest for different applications. Decisions were straightforward. But now? The Q, TL2, CL, M10, SL and S007 are all incredible cameras, each extremely capable in its own right. So, how do you pick just one? Admittedly, I don’t have an easy answer, and continue to struggle with this very conundrum every time I prepare for an outing. After a decent amount of debating pros and cons for each scenario, along with some serious soul searching, I do end up making up my mind.

The Leica SL

And while I have spread the love across a variety of systems over the last two years, my most used camera system during this time has been the Leica SL. Paired with the outstanding 24-90 zoom, the SL is simply a go-anywhere, do-anything combo. It’s fast, it’s fun and the images are stunning. The 4.4MP EVF is a pleasure to use. No lag, no delay, no blackout. So, the SL has become an easy go-to for me. For added flexibility, I’ll add M lenses for low light or ultra-wide capability, which often means throwing a 35 Lux or 18 Super-Elmar in my bag.

On a week-long vacation to the Southwest in October, the SL was my constant companion. With the 24-90 plus the 18mm M lens, I could do it all. And with weather sealing to boot, the camera joined me on all my adventures. Canyoneering in Zion with 60-foot rappels, driving high-speed ATVs through the desert in Lake Powell, exploring Antelope Canyon, and hiking down into the Grand Canyon from the North Rim were all no problem. The 24-90 zoom made easy work of most situations, as the focal range provided a good variety of perspectives. And, not having to stop to get into my backpack to change lenses allowed me to keep moving.

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Me, rocking the SL on a desert ATV tour

Okay. No surprises or new information here. The SL is awesome (You can read my full review here: Leica SL (Typ 601) Review: A Professional Mirrorless Camera). And, while this article is about my thoughts on the future of the S-System, I think that the perspective of the SL is important to the discussion. Using the two systems one right after the other makes clear to me, in spite of how often I use the SL, why the S is still superior for certain applications, and what might make it even better in the future.

Back to the Leica S (Typ 007)

Because scheduling was tight, I didn’t have a chance to return home after our Southwest adventure. I’d have to fly directly to Maine, gear up and lead two back-to-back landscape workshops. So, I swapped out the SL and zoom for the S007 and a backpack full of S lenses. Why? Simply, because it puts the SL to shame for landscape photography. The SL is certainly no slouch when it comes to image quality, matching well to the output of the M10 and the Q, both superb performers in their own rights. But the S just moves that bar a lot higher. And it’s not just the additional resolution.

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Leica S007 on left, Leica SL on right

The color out of the S is gorgeous. Only the recently released M10 equals it. Per pixel acuity is staggeringly good. The S lenses are amazing. An insane 15.3 stop dynamic range allows for single shot HDR in Lightroom, easily handling scenes that would require exposure bracketing and multi-frame blending in post on the SL.

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Leica S007 with 24mm Super-Elmar-S

Then there are the lenses. Oh, how I love the S lenses. My favorites are the 45 and the 120. And the 30. And the 24. The 180 is pretty killer too. And the 100 is lusciously creamy. The 35 is great for walk-around. As is the compact and lovely 70. Ok, I literally just named all the S prime lenses. Asking me to pick favorites is like choosing between my children. I don’t struggle the same way when paring down M lenses, as I have definite preferences. But, on the S, I will carry almost a full complement in my pack.

That's a lot of S lenses.

Bag ‘o glass

So, how did it perform for fall foliage in the White Mountains and along the Maine Coast? Again, no surprises here. The S007 just dominates landscape photography, while the ergonomics make the camera such a pleasure to use. As amazing as the EVF is on the SL, using the optical viewfinder of the S is like coming home. Big, bright, clear. A perfect window to the world, rendered by whatever delicious S lens graces the front of the camera. And the images. So much detail. Unequaled malleability in post. Colors rendered represent the best part of reality, riding the line between accuracy and artistry.

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Leica S007 with 45mm Elmarit-S

Back in August, I also relied on the S007 for all my photographic heavy lifting. I co-led a workshop to Iceland for ten days, knocking out 4,000 shots. And while it seems almost impossible to take a bad picture in Iceland, I felt my images from this recent trip were so far beyond what I came home with from my first time there. My biggest challenge upon returning home was (and still is) whittling down my first-round pick count from over 800 keepers to something a little more manageable.

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Leica S007 with 45mm Elmarit-S

With the hyperfocal readout on the top display, DOF is no longer a guess. High contrast scenes are easily handled. And, of course, the S is as rugged as they come. My 3-Series Gitzo got knocked over when we got slammed with an unrelenting 40 MPH wind during an early morning shoot in the Highlands, with the S taking a dive into the rocks and mud. After a quick water bottle bath in the field, the camera was as good as new. Besides the amazing locations, the camera system deserves some credit for assisting me in averaging over 80 keepers per day.

Very wet from waterfall mist

The S007 loves braving the elements

What about the next generation Leica S?

The S007 continues to impress me, and remains my favorite system for landscape photography, but now that the camera is a little over two years old, many have started wondering what the future holds for the S System. I’ve increasingly heard concerns that Leica is “abandoning” the system and that there has been no activity. Well, I suppose apart from firmware updates, this is true to an extent. Not the abandoning part, but the stagnation aspect.

Leica S Body_S-Lenses_Range

The current S-System

The lens line is complete. So, I wouldn’t expect any development there. And, the camera has only been on the market for two years. The M240 was around for four years until the M10 was introduced. No one worries about the future of the SL. Yet, it too, shares the same 2015 vintage as the S007. So, while I don’t think a new S is exactly around the corner given past product life-cycles, we certainly can speculate what a future S camera might look like. No harm in some wishful guessing, right?

I’m going to lay out my wish list for the next generation Leica S. Follow along with me and vote on the mini surveys I’ve put in for some of the more significant items. At the end, there is a poll where you can select from a summary of all possible features.

Higher Resolution

Right off the bat, despite the warm fuzzy feeling I get ogling the crazy details of S files on my 34 inch monitor, the top request has to be a bump in resolution. In fact, I think everyone agrees that a resolution increase is overdue. Three years ago, after Leica released specs on the S007, I questioned why Leica was choosing not to jump on the 50MP bandwagon, instead opting to keep the same 37.5 MP as the S006. The answers from the engineers at Leica were so enlightening I wrote an article about it. You can read the reasoning here: Why Leica is staying at 37.5MP for the S (Typ 007)

Leica Production_59

But, three years later, I’m hoping that Leica has figured out how to squeeze more pixels in the next S without sacrificing performance. Now, for the math that makes pure speculation seem more legitimate. A 20% increase in linear resolution would take the S sensor pixel dimensions from 7500 x 5000 (37.5MP) to 9000 x 6000 (54 MP). A 30% increase would take this even further to 9750 x 6500 (63 MP). Having spoken to many S users over the last few years, I’m sure that a 54 or 63 MP sensor at the heart of an S camera would scratch that megapixel itch. What do you think?

What resolution sensor would you like to see in the next generation Leica S?

ISO and Dynamic Range

Naturally, I’d love to see the higher resolution sensor maintain clean ISO 6400 and still deliver 15.3 stops of DR. I wouldn’t complain if either of these specs could be improved upon, but I’m satisfied with both. How about you?

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S007 hand held at high ISO

What would you like to see for usable ISO in the next generation Leica S

Maestro III

If we assume that we’re all good on the sensor side, we can safely say that the S lenses are certainly up to the task. But what about processing speed? You see, even though the linear resolution would only see a 30% bump assuming a 63 MP sensor, the resulting pixel data would increase by a whopping 70%. Could the current Maestro II  handle this volume of data with no change? Well, the current processor in the S007 can crunch through 320 megapixels of sensor data per second. Even at 63 MP, the camera could theoretically still offer a frame rate up to 5 fps.

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This assumes that the sensor readout could keep pace. Nonetheless, this is impressive, considering the Maestro II is going on three years old. Ignoring how good this current hardware is, for the sake of discussion, let’s also add a Maestro III processor to the wish list, guaranteeing that all shooting and playback operation are as instantaneous as possible. Agree?

How important is speed to you on the next generation Leica S

Buffer Memory

And with the increase in megapixels, I’d like to see the buffer memory upped from 2GB to 4GB. This would allow for longer continuous burst shooting.

Touchscreen

I’d also love to see the 3” touchscreen from the SL find its way onto the back of an S. When I switch to the S007 after using the SL for a while, I will invariably attempt to double-tap the screen to zoom during playback. Of course, nothing happens except for feeling stupid. As we see more Leica cameras incorporate the hybrid touch interface (SL, Q, CL, TL2), it seems natural to extend this to the flagship S. Would you like to see a touchscreen like SL on a future S?

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The CL now makes four Leica cameras with touchscreen. Time for the S?

How important is a touchscreen on the next Generation Leica S

USB 3.1 Type C

Lots of pro shooters rely on tethering for their photography. Moving to the latest standard of USB 3.1 Type C would go a long way to improve that experience, allowing for significantly faster transfer rates. If the same port could supply power to the camera, which the spec allows for, even better.

Video improvements

I personally don’t use the S for video work. The SL is just so much better suited to fill that role. But, the prospect of a large frame video camera with S glass is still appealing. Upgrade to HDMI 2.0, offer full-frame 4K or 5K capture at 10-bit 422 and you’ve got something really interesting.

How do you feel about video on the next generation Leica S

UHS-II Support

Moving to a faster SD card spec seems like an easy one. In fact, change the mixed SD/CF card combo of the S007 and migrate to the twin SD configuration of the SL. Make both UHS-II if possible, allowing fast throughput for mirrored DNG shooting.

Self-cleaning sensor

One of the few annoyances with the S007 is that the sensor is a dust magnet, especially with my frequent lens changes in some inhospitable locations. A self-cleaning sensor might not eliminate this issue completely, but it should help.

Electronic Shutter

With the fastest S lens coming in at f/2, the S doesn’t need as extreme shutter speeds as the SL or CL, but the option of a silent shutter could come in handy in many professional applications. With E-shutters on many current Leica models, this should be doable.

Longer exposures

As a landscape camera, I often want to use longer exposures than the S007 allows me too. Give me 30 minutes at base ISO, and 30 seconds at ISO 3200 and I’ll be happy. Also, give the option of disabling long exposure dark frame subtraction. That feeling of watching a rapidly changing sunset vanish as you wait for the “Noise Reduction” message to clear? Yeah, I could do without it.

Things not to change

Now that I’ve listed what I’d like to see changed, here is what I feel shouldn’t be sacrificed:

  • Body Design – I love the S camera body. It is one of the most comfortable cameras to shoot. Very ergonomic with almost perfect balance in the hand.
  • Viewfinder – Why mess with the best optical viewfinder on the market? Exactly.
  • Dynamic range – I’ve been spoiled by the 15+ stops of DR on my S007. I’d hate to give up ground here in favor of resolution.
  • Color – The colors out of the S are gorgeous. Keep the rendering. Okay, if it needs to be changed, M10 rendition would be okay, too.
  • Battery – Keep the same Typ 007 battery for maximum compatibility.
  • Top display – The S007 and SL share the same monochrome LCD top display. It’s great for info at a glance, with easy readability in both bright sunlight and at night.
  • Speed – The S007 is the fastest MFD camera on the market with a frame rate of 3.5 fps and instant playback and image zoom. Let’s keep it that way.
S007 top display

Top display of the S007 shows live DOF readout

Undecided: Mirrorless vs. SLR

I know a lot of people want to see Leica come out with a mirrorless S body using the same EVF used in the SL. I’m split on this one. Shooting with the SL is such a joy. Being able to see your picture, before you take it, is a great experience. As is zooming in to 100% to check focus. But, that optical viewfinder on the S is so, so nice. Am I old fashioned? Perhaps, but I’m also quite comfortable with EVF shooting.

And maybe Leica will indeed move to EVF as they feel more pressure from Fuji and Hasselblad’s mirrorless offerings. Honestly, I could probably be happy either way. But, the EVF experience would have to be like the SL, and not the Hassy X1D, which has over a one second viewfinder blackout and laggy display. Leica specifically waited out the mirrorless game until they had all the necessary tech to make EVF shooting as seamless as optical. Anyone who has used the SL can attest to this.

There are other considerations to think about as well. A move to mirrorless would require yet another line of lenses, as well as an adapter to work with existing Leica S optics. And, battery life would most certainly suffer. On the S007, I can go nonstop for a full day in the field with just one battery in the camera and a single spare in my bag. With the increased power requirements of live view, I’d probably need three or four at a minimum.

That’s my take. What do you think?

What are your thougts on a mirrorless Leica S?

Final Thoughts

I suppose we will have to wait and see where Leica decides to take the next S. I’ve outlined my wish list here, but take it all with a grain of salt. While I am intimately familiar with the S System, I have no idea, or inside info as to what Leica is planning for their next medium format camera. What do you think the next S should be? Vote on the mini surveys I’ve sprinkled in the article, the aggregated poll here, and leave a comment to let me know your thoughts.

What imporovements do you want to see on the next generation Leica S? (check all that apply)

 

 

 

 

About The Author

Profile photo of David Farkas
Leica Specialist

David Farkas is a self-admitted Leica junkie and an avid photographer since he was seven years old. He also owns and operates leading Leica dealer Leica Store Miami in beautiful Coral Gables, Florida with his wife Juliana. David has years of experience shooting with just about every Leica camera and lens made within the last few decades.

7 Responses

  1. Profile photo of Jack MacD
    Jack MacD

    David,
    Nice of you to let us give feedback in your polls.
    A quibble: You said the lens line up is complete. At the initial announcement many years ago they showed a 350mm S lens. I do not believe the line up is complete until we see something beyond the 180.

    I voted for 80 meg resolution as long as Dynamic Range stays 15+, but for marketing reasons. Going to 50 is OK for me but for someone entering the system they will care m ore. Me, I print 90”x60″ as is, so higher resolution just allows for cropping. I hope they will delay this next camera until they can get to 80. I will probably be able to see a difference in a print then.

    Going to a mirrorless S would have been fine if there never was a reflex S. Then as they built the lens system they would be set. I believe going forward that optical viewfinders will be unique viewfinders and it would be nice for Leica to have one of the few. But this is a pro system and if other pros want mirrorless, then Leica should go in that direction. I will prefer to stay optical in part because I have lenses for optical.

    For me, other than a long lens on the S, I am happy with the system. But to keep current owners and bring in new owners they must progress. They keep surprising me.

    ReplyReport user
    • Bob Hamilton

      I totally agree. How can any system be considered “complete” when the longest native focal length is the equivalent of 145mm in full frame terms? I wrote many times to Stephan Schulz about this issue and Leica’s failure to follow through on the lens roadmap they issued at the system’s launch all those years ago, even to the point of suggesting the compromise of a matched tele converter for the 180mm lens, and eventually received the response from him that, despite many individual requests for such a compromise, Leica had decided that there was no return on investment for them and that they would, therefore, not pursue development of a longer focal length alternative for the S system. That, to me, was the nail in the coffin and the indication that the S system was in its end of life cycle and would receive no more investment and development from Leica, the future being obviously seen by them in the SL system. As a consequence, I have sold off my S equipment, after many years of devoted Leica camera usage. Why continue to flog a dead horse?

      Reply
  2. Hien Nguyen

    David,

    As we’ve discussed at the NH workshop (which was terrific, btw), one of the biggest reasons I didn’t go with the Leica S system (and opted for Phase One) is the after sales support. After I damaged my Phase on that trip, I sent it back to DT and Phase sent me a loaner of everything that was damaged for the entirety of the time they needed to be serviced. Everything is as good as new now. I also decided to trade my 50 mp back for the full frame 100 mp Trichromatic back, so having a generous upgrade program is also important.

    I would love to see the next iteration of the S to have, in order of priority:
    – More resolution
    – Cooperation with Profoto so their HSS protocol is compatible with all Leica system cameras
    – Mirrorless (a large EVF with at least the same resolution as the one in the SL)
    – Ability to turn off noise reduction for long exposures
    – Self-cleaning sensor
    – On sensor image stabilization

    And from the “Professional Services” division of Leica:
    – Better customer support (such as the loaner program if the S needs to be serviced)

    Reply
  3. Gary Morris

    I have owned the SL (now sold) and I have an S006. Since owning both camera types, I have felt that the future would be a merger of the two systems. SL body and 4K or 5K EVF with S-size sensor. Lenses from the SL and the S via adapters on this new, unified body (that is if Leica ever ships any more SL lenses; otherwise the S lenses are more than sufficient). 75-100MP sensor and a processor and buffer that would enable 8-10 shots per second for up to 100 shots. Finally, S006 color rendering.

    My 2¢. Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Are you listening Wetzlar!

    Reply
  4. Daryl

    David, the roadmap for the S lens included a 350mm and a tilt shift wide, yet to be introduced. The 350mm I am thinking is delayed due to AF issues. While I find the AF to be extremely accurate the 120 and 180mm need a slight tweak for dead on focus. My SL/S adapter with these lenses is more accurate. Due to this, I lean toward the EVF with it’s magnified finder option and one of several reasons many are feeling abandoned are these non addressed issues in current bodies. The lenses are phenomenal, that goes without saying however Leica’s achilles heal is body features and function. To have these S lenses and not have the option to take them to their limits is, I feel, a missed opportunity for Leica. I really love the S system, and I enjoy work-arounds, as a landscape shooter stitching overcomes 100mp sensor resolution very easily but not always, having greater resolution is necessary for certain shots and makes me think that other systems are addressing this now. That means giving up Leica lenses, and there’s the issue, wanting to use Leica’s lenses on a current feature body. Come on Leica, keep up:-)

    Reply
  5. Steen Bjerregaard

    Very important to get improve sharpness system, the S007 works very slowly, both the house and the lenses, and is important with multiple sharpness points in the viewfinder, such as on SL.

    Reply
  6. Profile photo of Mark Gowin
    Mark Gowin

    David,

    I appreciate your thoughts and polls on this topic. One thing that I would like to see improved that you didn’t touch on in your article is a better rear display. I would like to see a rear screen with better dynamic range, color, and brightness.

    Mark

    ReplyReport user

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