Wednesday, September 19, 2018



My article yesterday about “Leica Medium Format” created a lot of interest.  But it only contained my own thoughts regarding this subject.  I think it would be of interest to expand on the topic.

In a recent article David Farkas of Leica Store Miami asked the following question:

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 stayingat37.5MP 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?

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?

S007 hand held at high ISO

 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.


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?

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.


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?

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

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.
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. 

For other articles on this blog please click on Blog Archive in the column to the right

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