Leica S3 Announced – Medium Format Shooting at a Premium Price

A few days ago, Leica announced the release of its latest Medium Format DSLR camera: the Leica S3, which was first shown at Photokina 2018. This beast of a camera features a 64MP 30 x 45mm CMOS sensor, and it can shoot video in C4K at up to 24P in 4:2:2 8-bit. Unfortunately for filmmakers, the uncompressed HDMI output is limited to Full-HD resolution only. Let’s take a closer look at Leica’s latest flagship camera!

Leica S3 – 64MP Medium Format Sensor

Ten years after the release of the S2, Leica is finally launching its latest flagship Medium Format camera: the Leica S3. From the outside, the Leica S2, Leica S Typ 007, and the latest S3 look pretty similar. If you are a Leica shooter, you will probably feel right at home with this new version. However, things are different on the inside.

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The Leica S2 on the left, Leica S3 in the middle, and Leica S Typ 007 on the right. Image credit: Leica

Indeed, the Leica S3 features a large 30 x 45mm Leica ProFormat CMOS sensor. You can capture stills at a maximum resolution of 64MP, which makes the S3 a direct competitor of the FUJIFILM GFX50 and GFX100. For video shooters, there is no lowpass filter in front of the sensor: therefore in video mode, there should be some moiré.

In terms of sensitivity, the S3 can go from 100 up to 50,000 ISO. Also, Leica claims that the sensor can reach 15-stops of dynamic range.

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Image credit: Leica

Leica S3 – Lens Mount and File Formats

The Leica S3 features an S-mount. You can use every S-Lens you might already have, but you can also “mount lenses from other medium format systems with appropriate adapters,” according to Leica.

At the moment, Leica has several lens adapters available, including Contax 645, Hasselblad V and H, Mamiya 645, and Pentax 67. These lens adapters should at least support autofocus and aperture if your lenses are compatible. In video mode, there is a focus peaking guide to help you capture razor-sharp footage.

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Image credit: Leica

You can choose to shoot stills in either lossless compressed DNG or JPEG. Your files are saved either on an SD (SDXC) card on the right side of the camera, a CF card (UDMA7) on the left side of the camera, or directly on a computer.

To handle the massive files generated by such a huge sensor, the Leica S3 boasts a Maestro II image processor. The S3 is not made for sports shooters, as the camera’s maximum burst mode is three frames per second, with a limit of only six frames continuously if you are shooting stills in lossless compressed DNG. There’s no buffer limit if you are shooting in JPEG.

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Image credit: Leica

Leica S3 – Video Capabilities

With such a big sensor and image processor, the Leica S3 can shoot video in up to C4K (4096×2160) at up to 24 frames per second, and in Full-HD at up to 30P. For slow-motion lovers, sorry, there are no 50P (and higher) framerates available at the moment.

In C4K, the Leica S3 uses the full sensor width (no crop) and records footage internally in 4:2:2 8-bit using a Motion JPEG codec encapsulated in a MOV file. You can record the uncompressed signal coming out of the mini-HDMI port (HDMI Type-C), but only in Full-HD resolution, and still in 8-bit 4:2:2. Therefore, there seems no real advantage in using that output for video recording.

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Image credit: Leica

On the audio side, you’ll need an audio adapter: the Leica Audio-Adapter S. This adapter plugs into the LEMO connector on the left side of the camera gives you a 3.5mm mini-jack microphone input as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack.

According to Leica, if you are shooting stills, you can capture up to 1.000 shots with a single battery if you are not using Live View. There is no info about the estimated battery life in video mode.

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Image credit: Leica

Finally, there is a little detail that caught my attention. Indeed, at the bottom of the camera, there are two mounting points: a 1/4-20″ and a 3/8-16″ screw holes. This is especially useful to mount a quick release plate at the bottom of the camera via two screws. Two screws ensure a rock-solid connection between your quick release plate and the camera, with no twist. It’s a simple thing, but other DSLR/Mirrorless camera manufacturers should take high notes and implement this type of mounting plates onto their upcoming cameras.

Price and Availability

The Leica S3 should be available at the end of this month, and you can already pre-order it for $18.995. You got it, this camera is not for everybody, and you better have deep pockets if you want to start investing in the Leica S ecosystem.

What do you think of the Leica S3? Did you ever shot video using a Medium Format camera? What are your thoughts about the future of Medium Format video? Let us know in the comments below!

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