Discussion Forum Leica S System S2 Leica vs. Hasselblaud vs. PhaseOne
  • #960

    I am moving from 35mm to MF. It was recommended that I ask the members of reddotforum for their advice, comments and most importantly, their experience related to why they chose the S2 vs. the H4D-40, Pentax 645D and the Phase IQ140.

    I would be particularly interested in comments from those that may have used these systems and decided to switch to Leica.

    Thank you.


  • #961
    Pete Walentin

    Hi Craig,

    Welcome to the forum. Before giving an answer it would be very helpful to know if you are a professional, a hobbiest and where & what genre you are mainly shoting.


  • #964
    Al Tanabe

    Welcome to the forum! As Pete mentioned, what kind of images do you take? That is really important in deciding on the platform that you will end up with. You say that you are shooting Canon currently, what do you want to gain in the upgrade?

    If you are shooting studio, then all of the platforms you mentioned will work. Action, sports, then stick with Canon. With any medium format digital platform, the capture rate is around 1 image per second and compared to 35 digital capture, it is slow. All of the platforms you mentioned have only a central AF sensor compared to the multiple sensor arrays on 35.

    That out of the way, why I chose the S2 over the others. The platforms that I looked at were the Hasselblad H3DII 39 then the H4D 40 – I really looked at that platform through a generation of change! I had a CFV for my V system and looked at the H as a logical upgrade path. I also looked at the Mamiya/Phase system, the Pentax was not considered. As with everything in life, personal preferences play a big role in decisions. My goal was to reduce the amount of platforms in my possession, I had a Nikon system and a Hasselblad CFV system. I wanted the MFD quality and the handling of a 35 system, the only one that was available was the S2. The H4D 40 was a nice platform, support from the manufacturer very good and lenses and accessories plentiful. The size was the limiting factor, but the technology behind “true focus” was amazing, remember you only have a central AF point. The Mamiya/PhaseOne was nixed after I handled the camera and tried to tweak the focus – I could not. The lens was gear driven and I had to disengage the motor focus and reengage – won't put up with that in any modern AF design. Pentax, having seen the Mamiya ZD come and go so quickly kept me away.

    Pluses and minuses for the Leica S2, plus goes to handling and size, about the same size as a Canon/Nikon. Minus goes to the price of entry, it is about 30% more expensive than the H4D 40 with standard lens and the Leica lenses are about 40% more as well. Some would say that the number of choices that you have with Leica is limiting but take a look at the images that you have in your library and I will bet that most of the keeper images have been made by the equivalent focal lengths that are currently in the catalog.

    Plus – you can mount Hasselblad V, Pentax 6×7 and Mamiya lenses on the S2. That was a big plus that tipped the scale for me. For the occasional use lens like a 350, I don't want to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a Leica copy when a Hasselblad will do the trick. Some call it heresy to buy a high resolution camera and put an “inferior” lens on, well I would much rather get the shot than wishing I got the shot. In all fairness, Leica lenses are superior to the Hasselblad V lenses that I had/have, but only if you display the identical subject side by side will you see a difference. I do like to kid around that my Hasselblad V lens costs about the same as a S2 lens hood and it is true. Minus – the availability of Leica lenses, this will probably level out much faster than the M lens supply. There is a smaller pool of S2 customers to fill orders for.

    Getting into a little more detail on Hasselblad, they do have a great software package dedicated to their proprietary format, Phocus. I have used it extensively and found that it far exceeds the capabilities of Adobe or Phase One in bringing out the best in the file. The software is also FREE, with upgrades for life at the same price, FREE. Hasselblad also has excellent customer service, repairs are coordinated through their website, technical support via email or phone. If a repair is needed after contacting customer support, an RMA tracking number is issued and you can follow that throughout the repair process. They send you a message that the repair is being shipped from Denmark and repairs usually take three to four weeks including shipping to and from your door. Never had a complaint about the service received from them. Some people have beaten up Hasselblad for the “closed” platform I am not one of them. The fact is that by maintaining control over the tolerance, they can insure that the image quality will be at its' best. Digital has a very low tolerance for film plane error much different than film.

    I mentioned my frustration with Mamiya/Phase earlier with the AF technology. Their bodies are based on ten year old technology and is in need of a major refresh.

    Backups, a hotly debated subject on some forums and for good reason. If you are a pro and saying that you will image with a MFD as that is what sets you apart from Joe down the street, then by all means you need to have a MFD as a backup. True, mechanical failures are more likely than a digital capture but they still do happen. A $20K investment in a backup system is cheap when you have a client who books 30% of your business per year on the hook. Used to be a lot easier in the film days, a Nikon FM could substitute for the F2 that went south. But a Nikon D700 is a poor substitute for a Leica S2. But you don't have to own a backup, you can rent one for jobs just in case. With a Mamiya/Phase, the cost of the camera and back would be about $30k for the IQ140 and you can buy a used body and P40+ as a backup for around $16K. The used kit can be depreciated and sold when you deem that the primary system is superseded by a newer system and relegated to backup status. A Hasselblad backup would be an older H3D 39 for under $9K, for the S2 well, used are hard to come by but can be found for in the $20K range.

    What ever your decision, it is a costly one and best be made by handling each platform.

  • #966

    Welcome, Craig! In moving from 35mm to MF, you might prefer to retain the familiar form factor by choosing the S2. That was part of my decision, and the other was the Leica user interface. I'm not a pro, and seldom use a tripod or long lenses for my street, documentary, travel, people type shooting.

    Back when I chose MF, I was a Pentax SLR user (along with a Leica M2), so the big P67 was immediately the attractive choice. I had used TLRs and Hasselblads, and tried out a Mamiya RB67, but the P67 just felt right. That was 35 years ago, and I'm still very fond of the P67, less so the P645 because of the shape and handling. But I have a bunch of 645 and 67 lenses, so with the advent of the P645D that had to be strongly considered.

    I had the opportunity to try out the S2 at a Leica roadshow event and immediately liked it. Reminiscent of a somewhat smaller P67, an advantage to me. I waited until the P645D was available, and the complex user interface was “strike two” after the unfavorable form factor. I have a Pentax K20D, but far prefer the simpler user interface of the Leica M8/9. So now I had two strong points in the S2's favor, plus the promise of optical superiority, balanced against the big cost.

    I'm glad I just bit my lip and bought it. Fortunately, there's an adapter to allow use of my P67 lenses for some inexpensive flexibility. I expect S2 owners come from varied backgrounds and develop their own priorities that have led them to the same answer. Happy shopping! 😎


  • #968

    Thank you everyone for responding. Per your comments:
    (1) My images are predominately nature/landscape and abstract (http://www.rudlinfineart.com)
    (2) I am coming from Nikon 35 mm world

    (3) I totally agree about the Phase One. It was awkward to hold and use, and
    the inability to quickly over-ride autofocus with a manual “tweak” I found intolerable.

    (4) True Focus does sound impressive. I have heard that it only works “close up”
    and may not be useful for non-studio work. Does anyone have experience with
    this feature outside the studio?

    (5) The tilt-shift adaptor for the H4D is also interesting. However, it is expensive,
    and I understand that David is working on a S2 solution that would be a fraction
    of the cost– and knowing his expertise and creativity, probably more versatile.

    (6) In reviewing my images, I must agree that there are really only a handful of
    focus lengths that I really use, even with the available of zooms for my nikon,
    and for the most part, there are S2 lenses for these.

    (7) Several responders mentioned using the adaptor for lenses other than Leica.
    I expect that the result are very dependent on the individual lens. Which ones
    seem to deliver good image quality (I say good because my impression is that
    none deliver an IQ like the Leica, which I rate as excellent). Do these alternative
    lenses still deliver the micro-contrast that drives me to switch to MF?


  • #969
    Al Tanabe

    Your portfolio of work is very nice, the images of the ESP were very well composed and processed. Your style of shooting could lend itself to all of the platforms that you are looking at. Now comes the hard part, choosing the system for you. It looks like you shoot on a tripod for a lot of the images, so even an older Hasselblad H3D 39 or H3DII 39 could fill the requirements. I mention this due to the cost of the system currently, as most digital users tend to gravitate to the latest and greatest platform, the older but still usable systems reduce greatly in price. H3D 39s can be had for sub $7K leaving a lot of room for lenses. At that price you could keep the Nikon system for the times you need the high ISO and speed. Hasselblad does have a refurb program that sells used systems that carry a warranty at attractive prices.

    Now if you want to, and have the money to spend on the Leica by all means, it will provide a high level of image quality. It really depends on you and your wallet that should determine what makes business sense in the end.

  • #974

    Atanabe, thank you for your kind words regarding my images. I do use a tripod
    90% of the time. (10% of the time I am hanging off a cliff or in some equally
    ridiculous position where I cannot get my tripod!)

    It is indeed a difficult decision, solely because of the cost.

    I appreciate all the input and advice.


  • #1193
    Bobby Lee

    Hi all,
    I am a professional photographer working in the industrial and corporate area of photography.
    I have a chance to work side by side a H4D 40 with my S2. I do not think there are much difference in the image quality for photographers who make a living with commercial clients since most of the clients do not notice the differences in terms of lens quality (image quality). I know many fellow photographers bought new digital camera with higher pixel just because clients want to make larger output or even worse, their retouchers want more information for copy and paste!
    However, if I have to identify the difference between the H4D and the S2 besides the image quality. I would say the H4D 40 is like a truck which design (or no design) to be a workhorse for professional. But it has too many buttons to look after, too noisy (mirror sound) and difficult to handholding it for a long period of time (especially in vertical format).
    With the S2, it is like a simple operate sports car, you hardly feel you are at work with this camera! You just enjoy the quality of the images.
    Of cause the S2 camera system is not complete and we can only working with a handful of accessories. And the lenses from Leica are a lot more expensive than Hassel and PhaseOne but the quality from the S lenses are no doubt the winner!
    ps. Hassel really spent a lot in designing the ‘true focus'. It works great but I think manual focus perform well with the S2 even with the original focusing screen.

  • #1320

    This is my first post in this forum. Greetings!

    I am looking at MF digital due to an interest in landscape and fond memories of MF film. What I like most about using the larger format is the ease of composition. With modern 35mm optical viewfinders, I can never see the entire frame and have to peer around the edges – with a Yashicamat or waist level finder on a Pentax or Hasselblad, the entire picture is clear (if reversed). Perhaps live-viw will get good enough someday that I won't miss the ground-glass. I use a Canon 1DsII and can see about 80% of the frame. With the M9, I can see the 50mm frame lines, but anything wider (and the info strip at the bottom) gets clipped. 28mm, my favorite, is hopeless.

    My question: how do the optical viewfinders on these MF digital systems compare, both to each other and to the “full frame” Canon/Nikon/Sony models? The S2 seems to have an extremely large and glasses-friendly viewfinder, but I would value any real world experience you may have.

    Thank you,


  • #1323
    Josh Lehrer


    The viewfinder of the S2 is very large and bright without a doubt, but it is also very color-neutral. My experience with some of the viewfinders on other brands of MF cameras has been that they often exhibit a slight green or yellow cast.

    I frequently use non-Leica lenses on the S2 with the standard focusing screen, and find that the viewfinder is more than bright enough to manual focus these lenses even when stopped down to around f/8 or so.

    Check out this link for a few images and a video through the viewfinder of the S2 using the upcoming microprism focusing screen. It should give you an idea of the viewfinder's size and brightness.

  • #1325

    rudlinfineart;722 wrote: I am moving from 35mm to MF. It was recommended that I ask the members of reddotforum for their advice, comments and most importantly, their experience related to why they chose the S2 vs. the H4D-40, Pentax 645D and the Phase IQ140.

    I would be particularly interested in comments from those that may have used these systems and decided to switch to Leica.

    Thank you.


    In my case I didn't switch, the S2 was a supplement to a Hasselblad H4D/40 & H4D/60. After working with the S2, I sold the H4D/40 because the S2 was better suited for the more mobile work I was doing with the H4D/40.

    I also tested the two against one another, and found that it was pretty close in terms of Image Quality, with the edge given to the S2 (probably because of the S optics). So I wasn't giving up anything (except Hasselblad's True Focus APL which is amazing), and gained the easy to handle and transport less bulky DSLR type form factor.

    Now because of a shift in the type of work I do for money and pleasure (which aren't mutually exclusive : -), the S2 gets more use than the H4D/60.

    What is the most important aspect of making a selection this important and expensive is really understanding your applications and how you intend using the system.

    The Hasselblad is extremely easy to use and the buttons can be customized to keep it simple and fast to work with. With the last firmware upgrade, the H4D camera became even easier to use and added very useful features like a spirit level in the viewfinder and on the LCD, and the LCD was doubled in resolution and is now is just as good as the S2's LCD read-out.

    Other differences include such things as the Hasselblad HC 120 macro that stops down to f/45 to provide DOF needed compared to the S120 Macro that only goes to f/22 … but is the fastest max aperture 120 macro available. Which is better depends on use and creative intent.

    The Phase One IQ digital backs are far better suited for more controlled field use, and unlike the S2 can be used on technical cameras sporting the best optics available for MFD photography. Even though the Hasselblad backs can also be used on a technical camera, the back is not self powered and requires a separate power source. In the studio, the Hasselblad works wonders tethered to a computer which provide the power to the back when mounted to a technical camera with full movements.

    There is no right answer, just the right answer for what and how you want to shoot.


  • #1349

    Follow-up on eye relief:

    I went to B&H. They didn't have any MF cameras I could look through (except for an H1 in the used department). I looked at all the 35mm floor models and found them all about the same. Most but not all of the viewfinder visible with glasses.

    But I was told that
    1) No camera has a better viewfinder than the current crop of FF 35mm cameras. (Odd, and I don't believe it.)
    2) They would, however, tell my wife that only an S2 would save my eyesight.;)

    The search continues.


  • #2412

    Just to add info for the next person googling this topic…

    I have a Phase One DF paired with a Phase One P65+, and now the S2. The handling between these two cameras is very different. The S2 is like a large dSLR and its viewfinder easily surpasses the Phase One DF in terms of brightness, perhaps size and clarity. To put this into perspective, one of my favorite lenses is the Mamiya 645M 200mm F2.8 APO. This is a totally manual lens and requires stop-down metering. On the Phase One DF my manual focus keeper-rate is around 10-20% at wide apertures. On my first outing with the S2 (using the Leica S / Mamiya adapter), after 174 pictures, 155 images where in focus to an acceptable degree. That's 89%! Half of those pictures were with the Mamiya 200mm F2.8 APO.

    The Phase One DF system is best suited on tripod (in my opinion) and using MLU. My handheld shooting results are not good and the lack of results led to the S2 purchase. With the Leica S2, I as popping off handheld shots easily. Zooming in on the rear LCD to check focus & sharpness is very doable; the LCD is much better than the rear LCD on the Phase One P+ series. The S2 auto-focus is slow, but it's more accurate than the Phase One DF. A big difference in the shooting experience is that the Phase One P65+ base ISO is 50 and the S2 is ISO 160. So, there is a big, big difference in shutter speeds. I could boost the P65+ ISO to 100 or 200, but all of its 60 megapixel goodness is at ISO 50.

    So, while the S2 wins in the handling department, the P65+ outputs better files. The files (at ISO 50) are cleaner, the color graduations are much better and hold much better in post processing, and the dynamic range is slightly better. Lightroom 4 blurs that dynamic range comparison a little bit, but I still think the ISO 50 shots from the P65+ have more headroom in the highlights. And Phase One's Sensor+ performance is quite impressive. Shooting a P65+ back at ISO 800 or 1600 sort of defeats the purposes of all that quality, but the ISO 800 performance is — good! ISO 1600 is usable and looks fine in print.

    My gut feeling is – if ergonomics are very important and you want to use the camera like a dSLR, get the S2. On the other hand, if file quality is “the” most important aspect and you're willing to battle with the camera, then get the Phase back. I really like Phase One backs and find their files to be simply amazing, but their system is handicapped by the Phase One DF. I've used other Phase backs with the Mamiya 645AFD II, the difference between the 645AFD II and the DF in terms of the viewfinder and autofocus is slim and none.

  • #2424

    And to follow up to my post above. I did finally look through an S2 (apologies to the lone salesperson at Photo Village – I must have looked disreputable, because he closed the outside door before he would unlock the glass case and kept his body between me and the exit the whole time I held the camera 🙂 ) Anyway, the viewfinder is amazingly good. With glasses on, I could see the entire frame with the exception of the tiniest bit of the corners, but certainly enough for accurate composition. After all those tiny windows into dark tunnels from other 35 and MF bodies, it was a real pleasure.

    This just makes the S2 vs. tech camera problem harder. The logical thing would be tech cam (which I have used and greatly enjoyed) for landscapes and stick with Canon for AF needs, but my, that S2 was a nice thing to hold…



  • #2425

    I think Leica just made it easier to decide on any dual system considerations.

    The Hasselblad H and S2 became a no brainer the minute Leica announced the fully functional H to S adapter … be it a Hasselblad H systems camera, or a H1/H2/H2X with a Phase One back.

    In effect, any pro or serious enthusiasts now has access to a back-up rental system of dual shutter H lenses available most anywhere in the world.


  • #2428

    Marc – I agree with you in premise, but in practice, I'm not so sure. My first reaction was “hell yeah!”, then I started doing the math and to get a single HC lens up & running on the S2 is ~$4500 assuming ~$2500 for the typical used HC lens. Using Ebay as guide and my price shopping with a couple Leica stores here in the US, a used S lens is ~$5500. Once we're in this deep, $1k doesn't really move the needle much in either direction. For people with HC lenses, this is obvious upside. For people without HC lenses, eh… I dunno. Time will tell. And if planning to use more than one HC lens, then the economics scale better.

    I think one of the bigger pluses are the dumb adapters. I can actually SEE focus on the Leica S2. I thought I was going blind because my manual focus hit-rate on the Phase One DF body was dismal. There are still misses with the S2, but with the Mamiya 645M 200mm F2.8 APO as an example at F2.8; my hit rate on the Phase system was ~10%. With the S2, I can say it is 50%. Actually it's higher, but I don't have near enough experience on the S2 to make any grand proclamations. But, without a doubt, manual focusing on the S2 is worlds easier (than the Phase One DF).

    So, this opens up options that I had previously dismissed, such as the well known Hass 110/2 – which all in with an adapter, we're talking maybe $2000-3000 depending on lens condition and which adapter you vote for (Leica vs third party). I've been wanting to buy the Mamiya 645M 300mm F2.8 APO again, but had held off. Now, with the S2, I might just do it. A mint condition 300mm is ~$2,000. It's not quite fair to compare that lens to the Hass HC 300mm because the Hass is most obviously smaller, but also F4.5. As for optical-bang-for-buck, I rather have the Mamiya 300mm F2.8 APO.

    In terms of pushing money around between lenses and adapters, I'd be more inclined to look to the Mamiya 645M and Hass V lenses. I know your case is very different (Marc) since you already have HC lenses. I still think the HC adapter is great add and I will consider it in the future, especially if S2 owners start reporting very positive experiences.

  • #2431

    I think you may have missed my point. The H system is ubiquitous at rental houses, therefore provides access to both back-up, and special application lens use on the S2. For example, I recently sold my HC300/4.5 due to limited use, and will simply rent it when needed.

    The other aspect of dumb adapters verses one like this is more than just AF verses manual focus, it is access to a huge range of focal lengths with central shutters and high sync speeds, or Focal Plane use to 1/4000 with a flip of the FP/CS switch (the switch we paid for and haven't been able to use up until now). So true cost comparisons should be S/CS lenses not just FP versions. If you don't need that feature, that is different. I do, and so do a lot of others that work with lighting … and was one of the attractions of the S2.

    If one does true Macro work, then cost is of little consequence … the $5,000 HC 120/4-II Macro focuses to 1:1, and has a central shutter … the Leica 120/2.5CS lens does 1:2 for $8,500. Total cost for the HC120/4-II with the adapter is $1,500 less, and gets you to that 1:1 mag. at full resolution on the S2. Trust me the HC120-II is no slouch for Macro type work … my HC120/4 v1 easily beat my Zeiss 120CFi with tubes on the same camera in the same light. The newer HC120-II version is even better.

    Anyway, there are a lot of advantages, and not much downside with this smart move by Leica. There are a LOT more people with H systems out there than S systems.

    It is conceivable that rental houses could provide an S2 with H adapter for a number of fashion shooters currently working with H cameras … a different handling and shooting experience, especially on location.

    This isn't to suggest the H lenses are a replacement scenario for the S lineup, however, there are some very good H lenses which have no counterpart in the S system and probably won't for the foreseeable future.

    As soon as I get the H to S adapter, I'll run some locked down comparisons in a controlled environment … which will be easy, since it is just a matter of swapping lenses.

    My HC lens line up is 28, 50, 80, 100, 120, 150, 210 … unfortunately, I sold the 35-90 and 300 to help fund the S2 system … not the best move in retrospect, LOL!

    All the best,


  • #2432

    Marc, I look forward to your test results. It'll be interesting to see how the HC lenses are treated in LightRoom and how the lens corrections fair on the Leica system. Likewise, I'm assuming all the EXIF info will be there as well.

    For my needs, it's mostly the 100/2.2 that i'm curious about. Though, I'm hoping Leica rethinks the 100/3.5 and gives it a much faster aperture, such as F2 or even F1.8. Having a fast portrait prime like that could be a differentiator for Leica.

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.