miércoles, 5 de noviembre de 2008


Impressions After The First Grabbing

By José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA

The Leica S2 is the best professional digital reflex camera made in the world till now and current epicenter of a completely new autofocus reflex camera system and format (state-of-the-art 30 x 45 mm CCD) delivering a staggering 37´5 megapixels resolution
-utterly created from the scratch and achieving an image quality inconceivable until very recently outside the ultrasecret military scope, to such an extent that it sets a new standard in the professional digital photography realm, with a type of pictures in my viewpoint very similar to the ones yielded by the cream of large format cameras regarding all the key factors encompassing the concept of image quality, and at the same time the ease of handling,
multipurpose handheld usage capabilities, performance, quickness, low weight, reduced dimensions and ergonomics of a professional 35 mm camera-.
Have no doubt: the Leica S2 means a quantic leap in digital image quality and a full-swing turning point in the history of photography.

Photo: Justin Stailey


95 years after the introduction by Oskar Barnack of the Leica Ur and the progressive spread of 35 mm format - in my opinion one of the most important inventions made by human being in history and still very fashionable and exerting a great influence also in the digital domain of photography - , Leica has once more surprised the whole world with perhaps the best kept secret of all of its lifetime as a brand: the unveiling of the formidable autofocus medium format reflex Leica S2, a camera which since its very inception creates a new niche in the digital scope with its king size 30 X 45 mm super high quality CCD featuring 37. 50 megapixels, setting a new standard of digital image quality almost unthinkable till very recently outside the military sphere.

Everything with very small dimensions, volume and weight for its format and absolutely usable handheld for a highly wide range of photographic contexts: photojournalism, street photography, war photography, architecture, landscape, sports, nature and wildlife, fashion, wedddings, product photography, portraiture, studio work, polar expeditions, climbing pictures, still life, publicity and commercial advertisements in huge size without any loss of quality at all, etc, always with the biggest quality of digital image feasible today under the current state of science (together with the TIFF 1700 MB/2000 dpi 16-Bit 8 x 10 large format colour film and the TIFF 1700 MB/4000 dpi 16-Bit 4 x 5 large format colour film drum scannings made by Danny Burk, a remarkable fine art photographer and world class expert in scannings at top resolution with the biggest standards of image) available in the photographic market.

In an absolutely amazing way,
the S2 is even a bit smaller than a Nikon D3 or a Canon EOS1 Ds Mark III - excellent professional digital cameras, by the way- and as versatile as both of them as a great photographic pro tool able to cover handheld the most various photographic missions, with the manifold advantages it means for any professional photographer.As a matter of fact, the S2 has been created without having in mind tripods or monopods as necessary for its usage.

Photo: Morris Wolf

This close-up of other picture reveals how surprisingly small for its very big format the Leica S2 is. The comparison between the size of the camera body attached to the standard Summarit-S 70 mm f/2.5 ASPH lens and the human hands enable to properly realize the gist of the utterly new niche of superprofessional digital camera which is born with this flagship: a wholly handheld autofocus and multipurpose reflex camera, designed to be used always or almost always with hand and wrist as a professional DSLR full format camera in the line of the Nikon D3, Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, etc, but following in my opinion the steps of the best of the best of large format with low sensitivity black and white films and colour slides both in terms of image quality, aesthetical beauty, tremendous resolving power, sharpness and contrast nearly equal in center and borders alike, acutance, smoothness and creaminess in transitions, very wide tonal range, accuracy in colour and textures faithfulness, etc, together with the chance of making very king size enlargements - even of some meters high and wide- on photographic paper without any loss of quality. If we add to this its amazing ruggedness which allows it to endure without problems the harshest use in all kind of environments under extreme over and below zero temperatures, heavy rains, strong winds, sand, etc, because of its very painstaking sealing (which makes it probably the toughest professional photographic camera currently on earth including all formats in both digital and analog domains), we´re undoubtedly speaking about a full-dress photographic thoroughbred which is perhaps, from a global viewpoint including the aspects actually important, the best camera ever made in all the history of photography besides opening a new age within it.

Though this new SLR world flagship has already been considered as a digital medium format AF reflex camera by a lot of experts having much more knowledge than me, and probably it can be deemed that way in a number of aspects, in my opinion this tremendous photographic tool (specially designed for professional tasks in which the maximum conceivable quality must be obtained - regarding not only resolving power, sharpness and capacity of enlargement, but also impressive tonal range, creamy smoothness of transitions, acutance in the style of Tri-X in black and white and Kodachrome 25 in colour, without forgetting superb bokeh-aji or out of focus rendition following the steps of the Supreme Optical Mozart of Midlands, Ontario, during late fifties, sixties, seventies and beginning of eighties ) opens a new era in the history of photography, which however incredible it may seem, means a full-fledged homage to Oskar Barnack and the innermost roots of Leica, almost a century after the invention of the 24 x 36 format.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Id est, this utterly new 30 x 45 mm format, a new niche by itself, is a kind of enlarged 24 x 36 mm rectangular frame, preserving the aspect ratio 3 : 2 original concept -already studied and accoladed before in depth through centuries, among others by Pithagoras and Leonardo da Vinci- which has been the cornerstone of Leica and many other brands of photographic cameras for nearly a century and goes on very active and fashionable currently in XXI Century in the full format 24 x 36 mm digital sensor of the professional cameras of Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc, and also in Leica with the 24 x 36 full format autofocus Leica R10, already announced by Dr Andreas Kaufmann and which will be able to use both the new array of super high quality AF lenses which will be created for this camera and the already existing superb assortment of manual focusing Leica R lenses -without an adaptor-, a high percentage of which are the world reference of image quality in their respective focal lengths and apertures.

But there´s more: there are a lot of hints suggesting that regarding the vast array of lenses introduced for the Leica S2 ( a first phase with the launching of the Summarit-S 70 mm f/2.5 CS Asph, the Summarit-S 35 mm f/2.5 CS Asph, the Apo-Macro-Summarit - S 120 mm f/2.5 CS and the Apo-Elmar-S 180 mm f/3.5 CS -they all coinciding with the Leica S2 camera put into market- and a second one with the Elmarit-S 24 mm f/2.8 Asph, the Elmar-S 30 mm f/3.5 Tilt Shift, the Elmarit-S 100 mm f/3.5 Asph, the Apo-Tele-Elmar-S 350 mm f/3.5, and a gorgeous Vario-Elmar-S 30-90 mm f/3.5 standard zoom -equivalent to a 24-72 mm in full frame 24 x 36 mm format- rendering superprime quality at all apertures, both in center and borders, throughout its complete range of focal lengths and which will probably set a new benchmark of optical quality in professional zooms for digital medium format, bringing about the following evolutive era in this regard, leaving behind - it said with all respect - excellent medium format standard zooms like the Tamron PE 45-90 mm f/4-5.6 Asph for the analog Bronica ETRSi -equivalent to a 27-52 mm in 35 mm format- ; the SMC Pentax FA 45-85 mm, SMC Pentax FA 55-110 mm and SMC Pentax 33-55 f/4.5 AL for the analog AF Pentax 645 N and NII; the Sekor AF 55-110 mm f/4.5 - equivalent to a 35-70 mm in 35 mm format - for the current digital medium format Mamiyas 645 ZD and 645 AFDIII and also attachable to previous analog Mamiyas 645 AF and Manual.

Even the excellent HCD 35-90 mm f/4 and HC 50-100 mm f/3.5-4.5 zooms for the current Hasselblads H3DII-31, H3DII-39 and H3DII-50 will be very likely beaten by the new standard medium format Leica 30-90 mm zoom for the S2 in terms of image quality, aesthetical beauty of image, amazing evenness of extraordinary performance both in center and borders at all f stops, and also in lack of distortion and vignetting), the brutally high quality parameters, both in the center and corners, will clearly beat the professional drum scanned amazing resolving power, contrast, sharpness and lack of distortion and vignetting of super stellar medium format lenses of the analog domain of such top-notch cameras as Mamiya 7 and 7II, Fuji 645 GA AF, Pentax 645 manual focusing, Pentax 645 N autofocus, Pentax 6 x 7, Manual Focusing Fuji Texan Rangefinders 6 x 4.5, 6 x 7, 6 x 9, etc.

It will also undoubtedly outperform the historical world reference of handheld image quality in analogue domain: the unique large format Littman 4 x 5 cameras with Rodenstock Ysarex 127 mm f/4.7, handcrafted by the genius William Littman on chassis of classical Polaroids 110, always in search of the ´10 x 12 cm large format snapshot camera´.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Yes, I know that it is not the same a chemical b & w negative or colour slide digitized through a drum scanner, however good it may be, than an original digital archive captured from the very instant of the photographic act, but I´m referring also to aesthetical beauty of image and specially final results on photographic papers or printer papers in the style of Hahnemuhle, which is where actual differences in quality of image are seen, much more than on a computer screen or on the relevant MTF curves, whenever the latter are honest and accurate. And I´m convinced that apart from a tremendous resolving power, sharpness, acutance and very good bokeh, the type of image rendered by the Leica S2 will be a wonderful digital emulation of the one delivered by the best large format cameras and lenses with colour films between ISO 25 and 100.

The vast assortment of lenses available for the Leica S2 will probably clearly outperform (said with all respect) at f/8 and very clearly at full aperture the excellent image quality produced by lenses like the HC 35 mm f/3.5, HC 50 mm f/3.5, HC 100 mm f/2.2, HC 150 mm f/3.2, HC 300 mm f/4.5, HC 80 mm f/2.8, HC 120 mm f/4, HC 50-110 mm f/3.5-4.5, HCD 35-90 mm f/4-5.6, etc for the top-notch Hasselblad H3DII-31/39 and Hasselblad H3DII-50, or the Sekor AF 28 mm f/4.5 D Super Wide Angle, Sekor AF 35 mm f/3.5, Sekor AF 45 mm f/2.8, Sekor AF 55 mm f/2.8, Sekor AF 80 mm f/2.8, Sekor AF 80 mm f/2.8 D, Sekor MF 120 mm f/4D Portrait/Macro, Sekor AF 150 mm f/2.8 IF D, AF ULD 210 mm f/4 IF, AF APO 300 mm f/4.5 IF, AF 55-110 mm f/4.5, Sekor AF 75-150 mm f/4.5 D, AF 105-210 mm f/4.5 ULD, etc, for the medium format digital cameras Mamiya 645ZD 22 Megapixels, Mamiya 645 AF II and III, or even the Carl Zeiss made Sinaron AF Distagon T* 40 mm f/4, Sinaron Digital AF Planar T* 80 mm f/2.8, Sinaron Digital AF Macro Planar T* 120 mm f/4 and Sinaron AF Sonnar T* 180 mm f/4 for the medium format digital cameras Sinar Hy6 65 and Sinar Hy6-s65r.

And this is an absolutely impressive optical exploit for which Leica deserves great accolades, because the immense majority of all the previously quoted lenses for digital medium format Mamiya, Hasselblad and Sinar cameras, are excellent and among the best in the world, being between difficult and very difficult to beat in optical performance.

Regarding the current other brands making digital medium format cameras, some people are stating that with the S2 Leica will try to capture buyers of Hasselblad and other manufacturers of digital medium cameras.

Though I do respect those opinions, in my viewpoint, and albeit understanding that it may seem that way, sincerely I don´t think that Leica strategy is that, essentially because I think that the Leica S2 is a much more versatile camera than for example the excellent digital medium format cameras H3DII-31/39 or H3DII-50 with their vast array of top-notch Fujinon HC Lenses, and it seems clear that the Leica S2, because of its far superior lenses and much better image quality obtained, its steeper price and the very different photographic genres it is able to fulfill with cum laude marks, belongs to a different niche, really speaking to a completely new segment it has created by itself and which in my opinion has opened a new age in the history of photography.

From the ground up, it is clear that the Leica S2 will be an expensive camera (though there have been some clues indicating that the German firm could try to drop the price to the utmost to make the camera a bit more reachable for professional photographers).. It couldn´t be other way with these Leica selfimposed parameters of best in the world quality of image, fairly small size for the very big format (a 56% bigger than the classical and still very influential nowadays 24 x 36 mm), very low weight of the body and lenses for its format, double autofocus speed than the digital medium format cameras currently made by other brands of the photographic market, etc.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

But at the same time, it is very important to bear in mind that from the very onset, Leica understood that having the best possible CCD digital sensor inside the S2 was of top paramount importance ( together with the ´ Maestro processor ´ developed by Fujitsu and a top-notch firmware) for the gorgeous synergy with extraordinary assortment of lenses available and the maximum possible digital emulation of the mythical analog large format image quality which goes on reigning supreme from 8 x 10 inches (20 x 25 cm) cameras digitizing their production through professional drum scanners.

In my standpoint, from the beginning Leica studied the market context, and knew in advance that all the digital medium format cameras brands would significantly drop their prices as a reaction to the introduction of the S2, something perfectly normal in a free market. No problem in that regard, and besides, Leica has always distinguished itself in its respect to the rest of also important brands of the photographic industry.

Leica knows that it is a medium-sized company, the world reference in many important aspects, classically in the rangefinder domain and currently also in the reflex scope with the S2 (and everything indicates that the 24 x 36 mm full format autofocus R10 dslr will be another flagship), always striving after creating the best of the best cameras and lenses, but at a high price according to its world class standard of excellence, with an unswerving commitment yo fulfill its potential as a firm in the professional and connoisseur imaging market, without never resting on its laurels or being smug, working hard and respecting the rest of brands as it has always made, taking it for granted that it will not be among the leader firms in sales (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Fuji, Olympus, etc) but very probably will go on being the best, now in the RF and reflex scopes alike, with the added benefit of a new superstellar niche created with the medium format S2 and a very yearned for autofocus full format 24 x 36 mm Leica R10 which though probably also expensive, will have a sensibly lower price than the Leica S2 and a lot of prospective customers if it can be used with the extraordinary and fairly comprehensive array of 35 mm Leica R manual focusing lenses, many of which are the world reference of quality in their respective focal lengths and maximum apertures.

Anyhow, it seems apparent that Leica future is very promising and from now on, the legendary German photographic firm will have more presence in the digital age, exerting a great influence in the photographic market, and likely establishing partnership with very important firms of different spheres, which undoubtedly will take advantage of the great prestige of Leica and the manifold synergies it yields, along with a very good treatment and respect and constant search of mutual profit.

As the old photographic adage - very frequently quoted by the great and recently sadly demised Herbert Keppler- says: ´ You get what you pay ´ . And this is not a classist or haughty philosophy by Leica, but the core of a steady search for top excellence, which has always been its raison d´être.

Price is an important factor in the purchasing decision of the prospective customer. And the most probable thing is that the Leica S2 won´t drop its price, in the same way as happens with Rolls-Royce, Porsche, Bugatti, and so on, though in my opinion to buy Leica products is much cheaper than many other hobbies, and above all, the Leica customers will be able to enjoy their cameras and lenses for many years, since Leica is not interested in the creation of cameras and lenses featuring a very calculated and studied quick or short time programmed obsolescence, always respecting very much either the choice of doing things that way by anybody, according to the laws of free market, or the desire of purchasers wanting that kind of photographic products.

Generally speaking, Leica cameras and lenses keep a high resell value for a long time, a topic to consider too.

In any case, the formidable Leica S2, which hasn´t got anything to do with any previous medium format camera system produced in the analog or digital domains, has been entirely made in Solms by a great team of approximately 200 experts, directed by Maike Harberts and Stephan Schultz as Product Managers and Peter Karbe as Head of the Optical Department at Leica Solms (Germany), and is much lighter in weight, smaller in size, unobtrusive and intuitive to use than all the medium format cameras created in the world till now. It handles as a classical analog professional 35 mm reflex in all respects or as a current digital Nikon D3 or Olympus E-3, though evidently, because of its price, its figures of sales will be of course much lower.

On the other hand, the Leica S2 synergy between the superlative quality of its medium format autofocus lenses, the superb KAF-37500 CCD digital image sensor, the state-of-the-art processing of the signal and the very high end firmware are so extraordinary, that post processing of the images for professional photographers is reduced to a minimum, which is of invaluable help to foster and hasten the workflow.

When holding it in the hands, the Leica S2 conveys a feeling of great solidness, rather finely craftmanship, outstanding DSLR-like ergonomics, very good large rubberized grip, and the certainty that it is fully apt with high marks for a very wide range of photographic genres, including above all the photojournalism. From the very first moment, one can realize the incredibly robust metallic build quality of this masterpiece, which has been designed to receive a continuous hard professional use for decades in the most extreme contexts, not to be kept as a collector item or an object of investment, but as a daily working tool, conceived not for the studio lights -though it can perform superbly in this environment or in all kind of indoor social events- but to be very portable and work outdoors grabbing it in hand without any tripod or monopod the immense majority of times.

With the S2, Leica has created an entirely new class of camera clearly aimed at the working pros, fulfilling real innovation and an incredible versatility and flexibility for all kinds of photographic tasks.

The experience is unique, simply different to all the previous models of cameras of various formats made before during XX and XXI Centuries, analog and digital domains alike, always having in mind that this is a very compact in size, quick and intuitive photographic working tool, as well as oozing class to spare.

First of all, the Leica S2 fits as a glove in your hand, the masses balance being remarkable -superb the engineering work in this and many other sides- and after some minutes, once you get the hang of it, you´ll craving for making pictures at every time and place. It is very comfortable to hold, absolutely spectacular and beautiful in design and it begs to be touched and extensively used everywhere.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

To all purposes and practical effects, due to its very small size, dimensions and weight for its format, the hand and wrist using convenience of the S2 is comparable to a professional full frame 24 x 36 AF reflex digital camera like the Nikon D3, Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, etc. Even, the size of the Leica S2 is somewhat less big.

Therefore, it is very comfortable to work handheld at every moment, whether in horizontal or vertical position, and the great masses balance of the camera allows to easily shoot without a tripod or monopod up to 1/60 s without using any tripod or monopod, a secure hand and wrist shutter speed which could probably be 1/45 s if we speak about experienced photographers boasting good pulse steadiness and breathing techniques. In my viewpoint, it could be stretched to 1/30 s if the photographer has a supporting base for his back.

The pith of everything is that with the S2 Leica redefines the professional DSLR world with a state-of-the-art custom-built 30 x 45 mm CCD sensor ( a completely new standard of image called Leica Pro Format ) built into a body size slightly smaller than the current best professional full frame 24 x 36 mm reflex digital cameras from Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc, rendering a tremendous image quality comparable in my opinion to the best of 8 x 10 ( 20 x 25 cm ) large format ISO 25 and 50 chemical films digitized through the best professional drum scanners but with the great advantage of producing direct unrivalled RAW and DNG digital archives - minimizing noise to the utmost, even at high isos, but preserving the mythical properties of large format image-, specially thanks to the utterly new superb assortment of nine Leica medium format AF lenses - in my viewpoint, with difference the most important factor of all- specially made from the drawing board to match both the Kodak KAF-37500 CCD sensor and the great ´Maestro´ microprocessor made by Fujitsu.

That´s to say, almost without noticing it, we have in hand a revolutionary concept in the history of photography: a professional autofocus camera featuring the size of a top-notch full format 24 x 36 mm dslr, but holding inside a very cutting-edge medium format Kodak CCD sensor and delivering an 8 x 10 large format image quality -specially thanks to the new line-up of S Lenses made by a great group of opticians led by Peter Karbe- , with the very decisive added bonus of great portability and handheld usage at every moment, both indoors and very specially outdoors, being able to undertake any photographic work or assignment. An actual multipurpose jewel to tote around working with it.

Evidently, the Leica S2 is a great magnitude historical technological tour de force, but it is of top paramount importance to bear in mind that the key aspect for the prestigious German firm has been trying to offer the professional photographer the best polyvalent medium format reflex digital camera lenses feasible, and in my opinion they have certainly attained it. And in this respect, both the handling features of the S2, its incredible handheld shooting abilities, the type of image it delivers with the brand new Leica-S medium format lenses, etc, were made more paying a lot of attention to the feedback of many professional photographers with many decades of experience than focusing only in MTF curves, laboratory tests, etc.

Leica wanted a superprofessional DSLR camera for pros using it and working with it handheld, very hardly, day by day, hour after hour, in the harshest picture taking toils, and here it is in the shape of S2, a dream come true.

Regarding strength and capacity to endure the hardest professional use, the Leica S2 is an actual tank, almost utterly made of metal, with a very high quality rubber handgrip which perhaps could be changed before the launching into market of the Leica S2, announced for the forthcoming 2009 summer. It would also be desirable if possible a reduction in weight from the current approximately 1,300 g to 1,200 g.

As to professional ruggedness, the S2 goes even a step beyond most toughest legendary professional cameras in the analog domain, like the Canon EOS 1-V, Nikon F6, Leica R6, Leica R8 and R9, etc.

The weather and dust seal it sports is really impressive and enables the use of this camera in all kind of deserts, steppes, jungles, Polar and Siberian areas, high Himalayan summits, etc, without problems.

So, the robustness and sealings against dust, dampness and all sort of splashes sported by the S2 are far superior both to the rest of digital medium format cameras of other respected brands currently in production and also to the rest of professional full frame 24 x 36 mm dslrs made nowadays by other respected important makes.

The same applies to all the S- System lenses for the Leica S2: the mechanizing, impressive appearance and construction thoroughness of both the new metallic bayonet and the mount of the medium format objectives (necessary to match the coverage circle required by the new 37. 5 megapixels Kodak-37500 30 x 45 mm CCD format) are gorgeous, everything greatly handcrafted with the best available materials and able to endure the roughest professional use for a lot of years.

The only ´drawback´ could be the lack of a built-in self cleaning system, something perhaps of trifling significance for some people, but very important in my standpoint. I think that all the firms have much to learn in this regard from Olympus and its very high end digital sensor self cleaning system through ultrasound vibrations, unbeaten till now.

I deem that it would be of great help for Leica the creation of a self cleaning system of its own following the steps of the Olympus Zuiko Digital 4/3 AF reflex system Japanese pundit Sumio Kawai state-of-the-art self cleaning device featuring a vibration of the optical glass filter in the ultrasound frequency range, removing dust and all kind of debris. It is a work of art boasting a Supersonic Wave Filter located in front of the CCD, between the low pass filter and the shutter, and the dust captured by the filter is quickly removed by ultrasonic activation before the shutter release.

Olympus are clearly the best in this key factor, and presently I deem as an error the lack of a good and effective CCD self cleaning device in any professional digital camera and above all to underestimate the necessity of keeping all varieties of dusts, salt, thin dirt and all kind of particles from adhering to the CCD, either because of lenses changing or due to friction of the shutter or other moving parts inside the camera. This is an important topic, because professional photographers are bound to change lenses often and though probably the Leica S2 Kodak medium format CCD will be easy to clean from time to time, I think that under the present professional working parameters in which speed is seminal, a good CCD self cleaning device inside the S2 would be a key factor saving cleaning time to pros and enhancing the chances of purchase of the camera, as well as greatly reducing the possibility of image quality degraded by stray particles which sometimes appear and need to be mended by Photoshop, etc, and dedicate time to that labor.

It´s the core around which the whole Leica S2 camera was configured instead of adapting already existing technologies.

It features a 30 x 45 mm delivering 37.5 megapixels sensor which is 56% bigger than 24 x 36 mm, and settles image excellence parameters which go well further than those attainable by pro full frame dslrs, because if for instance we cram 24 or more megapixels inside a 24 x 36 digital CMOS, on keeping the dimensions of the full frame sensor and doubling the resolution of already existent 12 megapixels professional 24 x 36 dslr cameras, the size of the photodiode is reduced to its half, which inevitably brings about a worse dynamic range, inferior performance in high key areas and a frequent acceptable image limitation to ISO 1600, however much the DSPs, the pixel structure, the noise control or the light quantity received by each cell may be improved, and besides, those new technical advances could be also used on their turn on medium format digital CCDs, with which the professional medium format digital reflex cameras will always have the upper hand, with the added benefit of featuring a CCD which delivers much better image quality than a CMOS not only in terms of resolving power, contrast, sharpness and very low noise but also in very wide tonal scale sporting smooth gradation, acutance, colour fidelity, separation between different hues, capture of even the most minute details and intricate structures, visual elegance and impact, bokeh, etc, id est, all the different qualities inherent to the medium format image quality and its aesthetic beauty.

So, truth is that though these new professional 24 x 36 mm dslr cameras featuring 24 or more megapixels will allow to make good very big enlargements, the quality of image will be affected and shall be slightly inferior to the 12 megapixels flagships of each brand at low isos (while being wholly beaten at intermediate and high ISOS) and clearly outperformed at low, intermediate and high ISOS by excellent medium format professional cameras like the Mamiya ZD, Mamiya 645 AF II, Mamiya 645AF III, Hasselblad H3DII-31, Hasselblad H3DII-39, Hasselblad H3DII-39, Sinar Hy6 (a great medium format digital camera, 2008 TIPA award and the only camera in its class able to encompass 6 x 4.5 cm and 6 x 6 cm sizes), etc, very specially from 59 x 79 inches (1.5 x 2 m) enlargements on, where the mamiyas, Hasselblads and Sinars will deliver much better image quality than the current 24 megapixels or future 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100 megapixels 24 x 36 dslr which may appear in future.

When comparing for instance 2 meters enlargements made on photographic paper or with plotters from a 24 x 36 mm CMOS 24 megapixels Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III ( or a Sony Alfa 900 or Nikon D3x) and any of the current medium format digital Hasselblads, differences in favour of the latter ones in terms of image quality are ostensible.

And a similar great advantage in big sizes of printing is shared by the rest of medium format digital cameras made by the aforementioned brands, for which the full frame 24 or more megapixels dslrs are no match.

And besides, the digital medium format cameras are now and will be also in future far superior to the 24 or more megapixels 35 mm cameras, churning out images featuring a great margin to work on high keys and low keys areas, along with much greater possibilities fine tuning the Unsharp Mask in Photoshop, providing greater local contrast in all parts of the tonal scale and making details easier to see.

And pictures taken with medium format digital cameras shall also prevail hands down in terms of image quality and impact in both boardroom conferences and professional presentation (multimedia, powerpoint, etc) of all kind of products made by top-notch digital projectors like the Canon Realis SX50 or compact high end DLP cinema projectors like the Christie CP-2000-M delivering an output power up to 12,000 ANSI lumens and also highly suitable for exhibiting pictures of all kind of commercial products and events projected on enormous screens, without forgetting very up-to-date multipurpose and multivenue professional digital projectors like the formidable Canadian made BenQ MP724 DLP which delivers a tremendously razor sharp image quality excelling in sharpness, contrast and superb colours, both in large meeting locations such as auditoriums, conference halls, lecture halls, etc, and medium-size classrooms or meeting rooms, or the state-of-the-art Leica Pradovit D-1200 digital projector, featuring an actual resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels and and extra compact size made of high quality aluminium, weighing only 3.5 kilograms (the world´s smallest and lightest in its class integrating DLP technology from Texas Instruments) and delivering a tremendously high image quality, truly photorealistic with superb brightness and contrast (1400 ANSI lumen and 2500:1 respectively), thanks to the great optical performance of its high speed zoom Leica Vario-Elmarit-P 33-42 mm f/2.8-3.1 (equivalent to a 59-74 mm f/2.8-3.1), with a projection range between 1 and 15 meters, id est, a screen width choice between 0.5 and 6.8 meters, always with the possibility of optimizing image to a wide range of different types of rooms, apart from being prepared to receive images coming from a computer, laptop, DVD, Blue-ray, HD-DVD player, HD camcorder, HDTV receiver, together with composite and S video interfaces ports for LAN and VGA cables.

And regarding the Leica S2, differences in image quality with respect to the new professional full frame 24 x 36 mm dslrs of different brands featuring 24 or more megapixels will be even bigger, since in my viewpoint the quality of image rendered by the Leica S2 (though till now the advanced working prototypes have been only operative at ISO 100 with the 70 mm CS standard lens) clearly belongs more to the realm of the best 8 x 10 (20 x 25 cm chemical captor) large format cameras and their 25 ISO and 50 ISO films production digitized through the best professional drum scanners, id est, the absolute cream of the crop of digital image quality available for professional photographers.

This state-of-the-art medium format Kodak KAF-37500 CCD introduces an utterly new format, also sporting a very recently designed slimline infrared filter.

Kodak has held a great previous experience making top-notch digital sensors for professional Leica digital cameras, as happened with the 1.37x FOV crop 26, 4 x 17, 6 mm Kodak sensor rendering ten megapixels inside the Leica Modul R digital back for the R8 and R9 cameras and the 10.3 megapixels Kodak KAF-10500 27 x 18 mm CCD sensor for the Leica M8 and Leica M8.2.

But the Kodak KAF-37500 CCD belongs to the most up-to-date generation of three state-of-the-art CCD digital sensors made by the legendary Rochester firm to match the best medium format digital cameras as the Leica S2, Hasselblad H3DII-50 and Sinar Hy6-65.

Regarding pure resolution figures, it is clear that the Kodak KAF-50100 featuring an image surface of 48 x 36 mm ( double the size of 35 mm and the most widespread standard in the digital medium format domain till now) and 50 megapixels of the Hasselblad H3DII-50 is the mightiest of the three, and evidently it gives an excellent image quality linked to the top-notch assortment of medium format HC lenses made by Fuji.

On its turn, the Kodak KAF-31600 CCD sensor boasting 31.6 megapixels of the Sinar Hy6-65 gets a very good balance between light sensitivity, wide dynamic range and accurate colour faithfulness as decisive factors in a very professional medium format system rendering superb image quality, with the further advantage of a built-in digital image processing in great synergy with the camera.

Notwithstanding, and always with maximum respect to other also important brands, I think that the S2 goes a step beyond and opens a new age in the history of photography, with their new Leica-S best in the world medium format lenses as epicenter of the feat.

This is a decisive topic. From a theoretical viewpoint, cameras featuring medium format Kodak CCDs featuring 50 megapixels or more- or those made by other brands which could appear in short or medium term - should always win the day in image quality when compared to the Leica S2, whose CCD sports 37´5 megapixels.

But I don´t think so at all.

Evidently, we´re speaking on digital medium format and systems which give enough quality for the vast majority of professionals, though it seems also apparent that the small size and low weight, versatility, all around handheld capacity for the most different photographic genres and flexibility of the S2 are currently unique in the medium format scope.

But in terms of pure digital image quality, things are much more complex than they could seem.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Recently, I had the chance of talking to a great Leica expert and seller, Carl Merkin, who exhibited some pictures of his own in a hall of the Louisville Brown Hotel. The photos, I think to remember 15 x 20 inches enlargements (30 x 40 cm) both in black and white and colour, were great. The point is that he assured me that he had made the pictures with a 5 megapixels camera. I asked him: Really? And his answer was: Yes, forget about megapixels. The important thing is the lens !

Well, this blunt utterance by the Stalen Island Leica pundit could seem a bit exaggerated, but I deem that there´s a high percentage of truth within it and based on his great knowledge and experience.

We´ve the example of the excellent 4/3 system Olympus E-1 professional camera featuring only five megapixels and a little 17.4 x 13.1 mm Kodak KAF-5101CE Super Latitude Electronic Transfer Design CCD - with a diagonal of 22.5 mm - , that was linked to the super professional prime lenses as the Zuiko Digital ED 150 mm f/2 (11 elements in 9 groups including ED / Super ED Lens Elements), Zuiko Digital ED 300 mm f/2.8 (13 elements in 11 groups, including 3 ED lens elements), or superprofessional zoom lenses as the Zuiko Digital ED 7-14 mm f/4 (18 elements in 12 groups, including an ED Glass Aspherical Lens, an ED Lens and a Super ED lens) Zuiko Digital ED 35-100 mm f/2 (21 elements in 18 groups, including a Super ED Lens and 4 ED Lenses) or the Zuiko Digital ED 90-250 mm f/2.8 (17 elements in 12 groups, including 3 ED lenses) can achieve an image quality clearly better (specially regarding dynamic range and colour accuracy) than other reflex cameras featuring 10 megapixels bigger sensors attached to good or very good lenses.

It was the key factor throughout the analog era and it will be even more in the current digital one -which is still at its dawn-. The optical quality of lenses shall go on being undoubtedly the most seminal factor among all the aspects taking part in the creation of the digital image. And in this regard, the very frequent statements by the world class British legendary optician Geoffrey Crawley are highly revealing.

The upshot of it is that I´m convinced that the completely new S line-up of Medium Format Leica Lenses (there have already been a lot of clues suggesting with little margin for error that they are with difference the best photographic objectives made till now in the world, drawing identically as sharp at the edges of the image as in the center for the first time in history) will make the Leica S2 prevail in terms of professional image quality, when compared to digital medium format cameras featuring CCDs between 50 and 80 megapixels made by other brands in the upcoming years, however good their CCDs may be.

As a matter of fact, the logical thing would be that Kodak KAF-50100 for the Hasselblad H3DII-50 and the Kodak KAF-37500 CCDs image sensor for the Leica S2 alike would be also available to other already existing photographic firms making digital medium format cameras or even to any other ones which could appear.

These two state-of-the art medium format image sensors, the best in the world right now, are based on the new Kodak TrueSense 6.0 micron Full Frame CCD Platform, which belongs to the fourth generation of digital technology made by the Rochester company for professional photography, and whose main trait is that it raises the resolution and performance of the camera, reducing both the pixel size and the time elapsed between the click of the shutter realease button and real capture time, increasing the camera response, optimizing the frame rate, lowering the power consumption and improving colour fidelity whilst keeping very significant performance features dating back to the previous generation of technology.

Nevertheless, there´s another weighty aspect, perhaps underestimated, to wit: the Kodak KAF-37500 featured by the Leica S2 takes advantage of a 6 micron pixel size, deemed highly suitable when searching for the best possible size to noise / image quality dimension.

It´s true that the quality of 24 x 36 mm sensors has imporved hugely, and currently there are full format digital professional reflex cameras attaining an impressive image quality, like the Nikon D3 and D700 (also stellar performers at high and very high ISOS), Canon EOS 1DS Mark III, Sony Alfa 900, etc, but generally speaking pixels must be smaller inside these excellent 24 x 36 chips and it will always bring about tackling much more complex technical hindrances than the larger CCDs sported by the professional digital medium format cameras which give better image quality, specially at low ISOS (at high ISOS the best professional dslrs like the Nikon D3 clearly get the upper hand, though perhaps things could level if Leica finally decides to extend the sensitivity of the S2 to 3200 ISO, something which undoubtedly would make the camera much more yearned after).

Actually, there´s a significant recurrence in a concept dating back to the film era which also exerts a powerful influence now in the digital age, namely the concept that medium format and large format cameras - independently if they use chemical emulsions or digital CCDs- render higher image quality and specially more ´clarity´ and beauty than those obtained with 24 x 36 full format cameras - whether they use film or digital sensors- .

This very interesting subject has been deeply studied among others by the great image creator and internationally reputed photographic expert Ctein ( who has been a fine print maker for more than thirty years and features a very comprehensive knowledge and expertise on analysis of pictures and final copies on photographic paper of all kind of formats and being in my viewpoint the best dye transfer print maker master in the world - his made in another planet ´ The Jewels of Kilawea´ dye transfer prints beat any other kind of photographic prints, whether colour or black and white, because of its incredible richness, depth and fidelity, brutal subtlety of tones and hues, together with a brightness range going beyond 500:1 from the blackest blacks to the whitest whites-) which has reached rather unquestionable conclusions: whenever the lens is good, the immense majority of times the bigger the size of the CCD the yielded image will feature apart from a higher image quality, a better look and aesthetical beauty. And I think he´s completely right: this premise still comes greatly into place in the digital realm.

There are a myriad of examples of this, both classical - for instance the great 8 x 10 large format b & w portraits by Yosuf Karsh- and currently the photojournalism often made by Magnum photographer Carl de Keyzer and Mamiya 645 AF with Phase One P45 39 megapixels digital back ( with which he has made the project on Chinese immigrants in Spain ) getting results nearly equivalent to high quality scans from 4 x 5 film slide. Even the Magnum master photographer Elliot Erwitt excelled using the large format Speed Graphic 4 x 5 and medium format Rolleis at the beginning of his career, though later he changed to rangefinder Leicas, and last year he acquired a Canon EOS 5D and a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, though he has often stated that for b & w photography he prefers chemical film. My personal opinion - I may be wrong - is that the black and white pictures taken by him with 4 x 5 Speed Graphics and 6 x 6 Rolleis at the beginning of his career and the currently 8 x 10 taken for himself with 8 x 10 Sinar and Deardorff are the ones looking better and sporting more impact and aesthetical beauty, obviously without forgetting many other iconic images made with 35 mm cameras as ´ California 1955 ´ taken with a rangefinder Leica. And nowadays, Alec Soth uses large format Ebony SV810 and a Nikkor 300 mm lens for most of his pictures, as happened with his book ´By the Mississippi´.

Therefore, when maximum image quality and better look is needed, it seems clear that both in analog and digital scopes, medium format and large format are the best choice, though as Ctein explains sometimes bench tests don´t reflect it, which shows a limitation of those bench tests and that the feedback of professional photographers and the criteria of experts in analysis of images are undoubtedly a better method to assess the real quality of an image, something that Leica have always kept very much in mind.

This way, both thinking in a short, medium and long term, and always understanding that the quality of the medium format 30 x 45 mm CCD delivering 37. 5 megapixels, the image processor, the internal firmware, etc, are very important aspects, my opinion is that from the very onset of the Afrika Project, it dawned on Leica that the most decisive factor to settle differences with regard to image quality would be the prowess in the creation of the best feasible AF medium format lenses in the world.

And I must be sincere at this point: I thought that it was impossible the designing of photographic lenses whose MTF chart did not fall off ........ Even less in medium format, whose big image surface has traditionally allowed the creation of very good lenses but through almost a century, the designers of medium format lenses, because of the advantage of the much bigger surface, first with chemical films in XX century and now with digital CCDs, haven´t been bound to reach the optical quality of super stellar and stellar performance lenses of the 24 x 36 mm reflex domain -the reference till now (only beaten by the no compromise design of the 35 mm lenses for rangefinder cameras which haven´t to save the tilting mirror) as the Summicron-R-50 mm f/2, Apo-Macro-Elmarit-R 100 mm f/2, Apo-Macro-Summicron-R 180 mm f/2, Apo-Telyt-R 280 mm f/4, hypercoveted Noct-Nikkor 58 mm f/1.2, Nikkor AFS 200 mm f/2 G ED-IF VR, Nikkor Ai-S 135 mm f/2, Canon FD 24 mm f/1.4 Aspherical, Canon EF USM 50 mm f/1.2 L, Canon EF USM 300 mm f/2.8 L, Canon EF USM 135mm f/2 L, Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-S 40 mm f/2 Superluminous Pancake, Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-T 180 mm f/2 ED-IF, Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-T 250 mm f/2 ED-IF, Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-T 350 mm f/2.8 ED-IF, Pentax screw mount Super-Takumar 55 mm f/1.8, Pentax screwmount Super Takumar 50 mm f/1.4, Carl Zeiss Tele-ApoTessar T * 300 mm f/2.8, Carl Zeiss Jena Topogon 25 mm f/4, Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21 mm f/2.8 , Tele-Tessar T* 85 mm f/4 ZM, Canon EF 300 mm f/2.8 L USM, Pentax SMCP-FA 77 mm f/1.8, and many more.

But now, things could have changed in a very unexpected and spectacular way if perhaps the legendary German firm has managed to reach with its new lineup of Leica-S medium format lenses specially created for the KAF-37500 CCD the brutally high levels of quality both in center and borders, at all diaphragms and focusing distances of such lenses like the Apo-Macro-Elmarit-R 100 mm f/2 or the Apo-Summicron-R 180 mm f/2 at all diaphragms and focusing distances from maximum aperture.

Or perhaps even better than the Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 in terms of resolving power, sharpness and contrast ..., without the smallest hint of distortion and vignetting at all apertures.

On the other hand, the best possible binomial CCD + Lenses becomes utterly decisive when wishing to make big enlargements on photographic paper or top quality printer paper like Hahnemuhle, etc.

And regarding this seminal aspect, CCDs have proved till now, specially at low and intermediate ISOS a remarkable superiority on full frame 24 x 36 mm dslr professional cameras CMOS. We´ve got the very representative example of the rangefinder Leica M8 digital (27 x 18 mm 10 megapixels Kodak KAF-10500CCD), which delivers better results between ISO 200 and 640 on enlarging to big sizes than the Nikon D3 (12 megapixels CMOS) and the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III ( 21 megapixels CMOS), because the dynamic range of the M8 CCD and the optical quality of its Leica-M lenses are clearly superior, along with the advantage of the lack of blurring filter inside its 1.3 x cropping factor CCD.

This is something very remarkable, because both the Nikon D3 and the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III feature respectively 2 and 11 megapixels more than the Leica M8, but in spite of it, because of the reasons previously quoted, the Leica M8 keeps more detail in king size prints, something to which we´ll have to add the advantage of the M8 from the viewpoint of its 16 bit depth compared to the the 14 bit depth of the Canon EOS 1 Ds Mark III - the Nikon D3 also sports 16 bit depth- , though both Japanese professional 24 x 36 mm flagships win clearly the day from ISO 1600 on, specially the Nikon D3, clearly till now number one on earth regarding top-notch image quality at high isos, always understanding that Leica M8 and rest of rangefinders, thanks to their razor sharp and very luminous lenses and the lack of a slapping mirror, immense majority of times don´t need to shoot over ISO 2000 and are able to work handheld at lower shutter speeds and sensitivities without using monopod or a tripod (something which can be enhanced even more with the handcrafted Tom Abrahamsson´s softies, which often allow to make pictures hand and wrist at 1/8 sec and even 1/4 sec with people having great steadiness).

Bearing in mind all of these factors commented before, we can imagine the tremendous difference in image quality that undoubtedly will mean the partnership Leica S2 body + state-of-the-art Kodak KAF-37500 CCD delivering 37. 50 megapixels + the best medium format lenses in the world + the Fujitsu Maestro DSP + the lack of blurring filter + the without tripod or monopod multipurpose handheld capabilities because of the small size and weight for its format, etc it can be said without reserves that the Leica S2 can be a superstellar camera which will mark a before and an after in the history of digital photography, producing extraordinary quality files to start with, something of absolutely top paramount importance to attain the best feasible final results, since however good the softwares can be now and in future, they can´t yield superstellar image quality from average, good or very good original files.

Therefore, my opinion is that the Leica S2 will hugely excel at achieving analog large format 8 x 10 film like colossal tonal range in the original file, with the added bonus of a direct digital archive in terms of lack of grain -though grain and noise are not exactly synonymous concepts- /when scanning chemical films at high resolution, there´s a moment when inevitably grain appears, specially with emulsions featuring a sensitivity of ISO 400 or more) and the attainment of a superlative level of detail, without forgetting an amazingly top quality and very useful interpolating capacity, since the algorithms used will greatly benefit from the extraordinary quality of the native digital RAW archives made by the S2, apart from the software parameters made by the pros to implement the subsequent interpolations to make very big enlargements and the also important role performed by the excellent firmware and software of the Leica S2, which have been created to support the 30 x 45 mm and 37.5 megapixels medium format Kodak KAF-37500 CCD, which in association with the stratospheric medium format Leica S System Lenses will follow in my viewpoint (though through other routes) the track of the super high quality digital image of the future anticipated in 1996 by Ran Ginosar and S. Chen regarding the designing for advanced focal plane arrays and electronic cameras of adaptive sensitivity CCD image sensors in which the sensitivity of each individual pixel is controlled by changing its exposure time in order to guarantee that it is working in the linear range of the CCD response and not in the cut-off of saturation regions, in such a way that the CCD array as a whole will even improve the dynamic range of a concrete CCD sensor, always having as a reference to emulate the human eye and its retina capturing for instance even the most minute details in both high key and low key areas of very contrasty scenes, all of which was widened in 1998 by Y.Y.Zeevi, S. Wolf and Ran Ginosar in their deep research Spatio Chromatic Image Enhancement Based on a Model of Human Visual Information Processing.

The Leica S2 takes advantage of a dual shutter system. To begin with, the camera features a built-in focal plane shutter reaching 1/4000 sec, a very fast maximum speed for a medium format camera, stretching to 8 seconds + B in the slowest range.

But there´ll be a second choice, since some of the objectives - the first four ones introduced - will be CS, id est, Central Shutter (with the leaves of it built-in inside the barrel of each lens) and photographers will be able to synchronize flash at all speeds, something which will indeed make the camera even more longed for by the pros.

The blackout of the mirror is much shorter than in other medium format cameras, and it features a vibration distinctly resembling more a 24 x 36 mm dslr in this respect. The work of Leica engineers regarding the deadening of the big mirror and the rather discreet shutter noise for its format, must have been very painstaking.

This is one of the key sides in the real innovation implemented by Leica with the formidable medium format AF reflex S2, since on being for instance twice as fast as the one featured by the Hasselblad H3DII-39, the Maestro image processor (specially designed by Fujitsu to hugely optimize the S2 CCD, lenses and firmware functioning, achieving the highest image quality with minimum energy output) enables the yielding of market leading processing time and to shoot images in a number of different formats: RAW, JPEG and DNG, maximizing future compatibility to the utmost.

It is a masterpiece of electronics manufactured with 90 nm technique on 300 mm wafers, achieves much higher image quality due to built-in new noise reduction functions and intelligent diminishing of chroma noise.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

This way, the Fujitsu Maestro DSP suceeds in attaining a bigger general efficiency, an improved focusing in borders, much quicker processing speed, higher operating frequency, a significant improvement as to noise reduction, and everything with the great advantage of possessing enough reserve to fit any possible increase of pixels in future.

Calling a spade a spade, the Maestro is now probably the most advanced DSP on earth outside military and space research spheres, and Leica fought to the last ditch to have the best of the best in this decisive aspect, because the DSP processor is the brain of any modern professional digital camera, and it is very important to get a perfect synergy between the new CCDs and the chips that must govern not only the camera functions, but also the management of the original archives generated by the captor, since the built-in firmware included inside the camera body will only be able to fulfill its tasks on the basis of the DSP or DSPs.

In this regard, Hasselblad has done things fairly well with the great Apochromatic correction of its current line-up of medium format lenses for the H3D-31, H3D-39 and H3D-50, though there have already been some clues indicating that the synergy between the KAF-37500 and the Fujitsu Maestro DSP + the absolutely decisive factor of the formidable optical quality of the new AF medium format lenses of the Leica S2 will mean a significant leap beyond in performance.

On the other hand, this state-of-the-art fifth generation ´Milbeaut´ Fujitsu Maestro DSP (whose very high speed operation is attained through R-80 and FR-V Fujitsu´s CPUs - both of them sporting VIWL architecture- in symbiosis with top-notch additional accelerators, bringing about a superb image processing performance due to the combined faster operation of both software and hardware) enables the Leica S2 to simultaneously generate DNGs and JPEGs, each one boasting extraordinary quality. This can become another significant factor, because usually professional medium format digital cameras have got great difficulties to render acceptable JPEGs in real time.

According to Leica tradition, exterior controls on the camera have been kept to a minimum.

There´s a command dial on right top of the camera to set shutter speeds and selecting putting the camera in Auto or Bulb Mode. This shutter speed dial takes control of both shutter mechanisms too.

Besides, there´s a little OLED menu screen also on top of the camera, on the left of the quoted command dial , which shows data relative to the exposition settings introduced by the photographer and the sensitivity (between ISO 100 and 1600 for the moment), together with the battery condition and the remaining shots in the card.

The other switch is located on the upper left of the back of the camera, by the big viewfinder, and it enables either turning on and off the S2 or choosing between Central Shutter (CS) focus and Focal Plane Shutter (FPS) focus.

So, menus are intuitive and quick, as working essence of a classical Leica minimalist conception based on as few controls, command dials, buttons, knurled knobs, etc, as possible.

At the back of the camera, the 3 inches screen is large, bright and clear, with two feasible settings: brightness of image and brightness backlight, together with an automatic light sensor which balances the screen illumination. Even under harsh light conditions, the screen can be seen without problems, though very probably it features a top-notch anti reflection system. And besides, it sports the added bonus of an immediate playback zooming

Reaching the menu access buttons is rather a cinch.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Surrounding the big three inches screen of the back of the camera, there are four menu access thin buttons, vertically elongated in shape:

a) The top left vertically elongated thin button.- It activates the screen on being pressed. Immediately after it, we see four quadrants showing different settings and the soft keys, enabling the photographer the access to menus of Camera, Image and Setup, along with image playback - located on top right - .

b) The top right vertically elongated thin button.- It´s devoted to EV lock when you´re in shooting mode, with the constant chance of customizing it AF-On, AF Lock, EV Lock and dual AF / EV lock.

c) The photographer can arrange to his preferences the rest of vertically elongated thin buttons -top left, lower left and bottom right- in order to use them as fast access keys in shooting mode, so as to be able to access Exposure Value Compensation, White Balance, ISO number setting, Advance Mode, etc, only pressing one button and configurating those parameters at will.

On its turn, the thumb wheel located on top right of the back of the camera (which also acts as a push button) follows the quick and intuitive philosophy of the Leica S2 functioning, and once spinned to the chosen menu item and then pressing it, we activate the sub menu, scroll, press once more and after this, we press the shutter beginning making pictures again.

To modify the shooting modalities, you must press the thumb wheel, turning until getting P, A or M at will. And to set S mode, you´re bound to turn the shutter off from A to S.

To change f stops, we need to spin the thumb wheel.

Simply superb, king size and of great help during the photographic act. Very bright and on a par with great historical vewfinders like the ones featured by Olympus OM-1, Olympus OM-2, Leica R8, Leica R9 and medium format Pentax 645.

Inspired on the Leica R9, being available center weighted, multi zone and spot.

The Leica S2 can use both Compact Flash and SD Cards and with all respect, this is in my opinion a feature to improve because the door for cards seems to be a bit flimsy.

The camera boasts a 1GB buffer, very suitable to match the Fujitsu Maestro digital signal processor along with UDMA cards.

Likewise, the Leica S2 boasts WiFi capacity, taking out one of the strap lugs and inserting an antenna, apart from other devices for external storage.

It also sports high speed USB and a special cable, together with a cover holding HDMI and PC Sync.

The HDMI cable enables to reach outputs of either 1080 or 1920 x 1200 for the reviewing of images through external LCD monitors at high resolution, and simultaneous storage on SD and CF cards.

Very convenient and ergonomic. It fits very suitably to the photographer´s hand. The main battery has to be introduced inside its bottom. We haven´t the typical door. You must only press the safety button and after turning the lever, the battery will go out. This is a highly reinforced and sealed area.

Nicely conceived and above all different, because you don´t need to turn a wheel to attach and detach it to the camera body. Instead of it, it boasts an original device based on a single slide on the back, on which we must put the thumb and then slip it to the left. After this, the grip should be put on the bottom of the camera body, releasing immediately to tightly lock it to the S2.

It´s probably the best vertical grip made until now for a professional reflex digital camera

Not as tremendously fast as the best professional full frame 24 x 36 dslrs or the 4/3 sensor Olympus E-3 - currently the fastest camera in the world as to this side - but very quick for a digital medium format camera (actually twice as fast as the best Hasselblads, Mamiyas, Sinars, etc) and highly accurate, even when tackling little contrasted subjects and dimly lit environments.

There´s only one AF point in the center, though perhaps there could be modifications in this regard.

On the other hand, the manual focusing is child´s play and likewise very comfortable and exact.
Any photographer can indulge himself / herself relishing the velvety focusing helicoid of the Leica-S System lenses and a first class ground glass focusing screen. World class mechanical and optical thoroughness made in Germany.

Coming back to the autofocus mode, as already quoted, it can be openly said that it is pretty fast, very accurate and above all greatly reliable for a very wide range of professional photographic tasks.

The delay between the automatic focusing action and the shutter release has been reduced to very low figures of milliseconds.

And the maximum apertures between f/2.5 and f/3.5 of the whole lineup of new medium format Leica-S lenses ( very luminous for its format, both CS and S objectives) are indeed of invaluable help to get this AF high speed and accuracy.

Anyhow, as to the S2 very fast and accurate autofocus, in the light of cold reason, some things should be clear:

a) Generally speaking, the AF of the Leica S2 is no match for the formidable autofocus systems of the current professional full format 24 x 36 mm digital reflex cameras like the Canon EOS 1 Ds Mark II and III, Nikon D3, Olympus E-3, etc, not only when using AF single mode with static subjects, but specially when top full frame dslrs take advantage of their technologically very advanced and constantly updated AF Continuous to track moving motifs like sportsmen, animals, cars, planes, etc, in a jiffy, aside from the fact that the 24 x 36 mm full frame pro dslrs feature different focusing points (for instance 51 in the current Nikon D3 and D3x), which is another valuable trait, mainly in sports and wildlife photography.

But to put things straight (and albeit changes could maybe happen as to more AF points), I deem that in spite of not being a camera created for sports photography, the current AF featured by the S2 is really top-drawer and more than enough in terms of quickness and accuracy for the fulfilment of most of the very high marks. And to be truthful, ap'art from its remarkable accuracy, the Leica S2´s AF is twice faster than the current best professional digital medium format reflex cameras made by other brands.
b) Nevertheless, I think that the introduction of an active autofocus, complementing the current passive one would be a fairly useful trait for the Leica S2, because to a greater or lesser degree, however good they may be, the passive autofocus systems (based on an AF sensor or sensors located inside the camera which analyze the subject, bringing about the lens focusing and stopping at the point where the motif shows the highest contrast, being able to function accurately enough through all distances and focal lengths) depend on the brightness and contrast of the subject, needing a large lens aperture and sufficient subject contrast and light level to be able to focus.

A good active autofocus (system in which the camera projects an infrared beam to the subject, which is reflected back, enabling the camera to evaluate the camera to subject distance, so attaining a very accurate focus) operates independently of lens diaphragms, subject contrast and light levels, which very often optimizes in geometrical porportions the chances of very accurate focus in relatively short distances, though it is not suitable for taking pictures with long focal length teleobjectives or powerful zooms requiring a highly accurate focusing on subjects which will be rendered with a very narrow depth of field, since the infrared beam can´t reach medium and long distances, and at the same time, the infrared beam couldn´t be used in AF tracking mode.

But I do insist on it: a built-in Active AF System in the Leica S2 would be a very profitable asset, specially regarding indoor social, show business, and photojournalism genres, one of the best conceivable working grounds for using the camera handheld, where there are a lot of situations at short or medium distances from the photographer in which faint light and low contrast are rather usual and often the most suitable contexts to get the best pictures without using any artificial light so as to capture the genuine atmosphere of the place at that moment. And here is when a good active AF excels and completely beats any passive autofocus based on phase differential detection or contrast measurement, allowing a much higher rate of well focused pictures.

Anybody having used the excellent 6 x 4.5 cm medium format autofocus rangefinder Fuji GA 645 (dual system AF through either active infrared beam or passive contrast detection) or the 35 mm Chinon IV (dual AF mode merging both TTL passive AF and Infrared Active Multi AF featuring triple infrared beams getting a wider focusing area than the usual infrared AF devices sporting only a central beam) from the nineties, know the great advantage of an active af system to save important pictures in close and mid distances in those environments or subjects lacking enough light or contrast where the widespread passive autofocus systems often exhibit a wandering performance.

c) Regarding the suitability of the Leica S2 for sports photography, it is rather apparent that the professional full frame digital dslrs like the Nikon D3, Canon EOS 1 D Mark III, Canon EOS 1 Ds Mark III or the 4/3 system Olympus E-3 are the pick of the crop in this respect with their impressively swift and accurate AF systems, both for still and in motion subjects, apart from sporting a number of AF points choices which can come in handy in various photographic contexts. And besides, the very intricate AF Continuous Tracking Systems foster even more their advantage in this domain, achieving a very high percentage of razor-sharp results.

Notwithstanding, and however odd it may seem, I´m convinced that the Leica S2 can be a great camera to make sports when in the hands of professional and experienced photographers, in spite of featuring only 1.5 frames per second, which is more than enough when compared to most medium format models, but anyhow in my opinion a very low rate, though always bearing in mind that the absolutely key factor on designing the Leica S2 was to attain the best digital image quality on earth.

So, how could the Leica S2 compete in the sports domain where competence is ruthless among the most important brands of professional dslrs reigning supreme?
In my standpoint the answer is: Greatly, though the photographer will need a lot of previous experience in sports photography, including a comprehensive knowledge on the specific sport he´s covering (types of attacks, defenses, favourite plays and skills by the different players, when crunch time is taking place, lighting conditions of each court or location, etc).

To use a Leica S2 in this environment will require a longer learning curve than with stellar performers pro 24 x 36 dslrs (and the excellent 4/3 Olympus E-3) optimized for this photographic genre, but with the new German medium format autofocus dslr results could be tremendous and utterly shiny for high quality publications, specialized magazines, etc, where the chance of getting out of this world 8 x 10 large format filmlike full pages, double pages or covers (I´m referring to brutally high image quality in terms of resolution, definition, acutance and aesthetic beauty of image together with crispness, gorgeous bokehs, etc, not to aspect ratios which are different) with a wholly handholdable monster like the S2 (slightly smaller in size than a Nikon D3) could be a very significant factor to evaluate, because it goes without saying that medium format and above all large format are visually more elegant than 35 mm and the reference of quality and impact for big-sized magazine reproduction.

There have been remarkable examples of the use of medium format cameras by pros, for example Doug Pensinger (covering NBA matches with a 6 x 6 cm Hasselblad 500 ELM and Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 and Fuji Astia 100 slide, and getting great pictures of fighting for the rebound inside the paint by rival centers), Mike Powell (using a medium format Mamiya 645 Pro with a 55 mm f/2.8 A N/L Mamiya lens to make pictures of the decathlete Dan O´Brien at low speed with Fuji Velvia rated at ISO 40 to attain deeper colour), etc.

I´m persuaded that sports pros like these could get stratospheric results of different competitions with a Leica S2, which is a much more convenient and quick camera to use handheld, reaching a top speed of 1/4000 sec (with the versatility it means) and yielding extraordinary direct digital RAW archives which would allow the photographer to use high isos without noise up to 1600 ISO or perhaps to between ISO 2000 and 3200 if Leica decides to increase the sensitivity of the camera.

A good sports photographer doesn´t need AK-47 Kalashnikov frame rates like 8 frames/sec or 10 frames/second, because having a deep knowledge on the sport he´s tackling, together with the features of the players, features of the arenas, etc, and above all anticipation and certain doses of intuition based on experience, shall be more decisive factors to get good pictures capturing the most decisive and spectacular moments. And regarding this, it has been proved that when using very high rates of 8 or 10 shots per second, very often the best pictures would have been every two.

There were a lot of examples of this during the first half of eighties, a great period of world class sports photography with people like Bob Martin, Chris Cole, Simon Bruty, Gerard Vandystadt, Giuliano Bevilacqua, Steve Powell, Tony Duff, Jean-Marc Barey, David Cannon, Ben Radford, Mike King, Trevor Jones, Roger Labrosse, Jean-Marc Loubat, Alain Patrice, Emmanuel Zurini, Pascal Rondeau, Yann Guichaoua, Oli Tennent, Y. Arthus Bertrand, Billy Stickland, Michael King, Christian Petit, John Nicholson, etc, who made fantastic sporting pictures using cameras like Canon T-90, Canon F-1 New, Nikon F3, etc, with superb manual focus lenses. And they didn´t need to make eight or ten frames per second rates to be able to capture the most important moments of the various competitions they covered. Three or five were more than enough for them, and if the Leica S2 would feature a 3 frames/sec rate, it would be a tremendous weapon for sports in the hands of an experienced photographer. Even perhaps with a bit less, though being bound to work hard, results could be stratospheric and would deserve the toil.
Granted that it will depend a great deal on the features of each sport. And there are some of them requiring working at very long distances like soccer, American football, European rugby, Formula 1, sailing, ski, etc,where frequently very long and heavy f/2.8 teleobjectives from 400 mm on must be used on monopods (for the time being the longest S- System lens is the Apo-Tele-Elmar-S 350 mm f/3.5 (equivalent to a 280 mm f/3.5 in 35 mm format). In principle, the S2 would be more cumbersome to use, though perhaps in future Leica could make a long teleobjective in the range 450-500 mm f/3.5 for the S2 (a medium format long teleobjective boasting a f/2.8 maximum aperture would require a great amount of glass, very high production cost and above all it´d be an excessively bulky and heavy lens with astronomical price). Such a kind of f/3.5 or even f/4 lens would be probably enough if the Leica S2 is able to deliver professional quality up to ISO 2000 or even much better to ISO 3200, albeit I deem that the Apo-Tele-Elmar-S 350 mm f/3.5 + a top-notch Leica Apo teleconverter 1.4 x ( 490 mm f/4.8 - 392 mm f/4.8 in 35 mm format - retaining an excellent image quality as has always been usual with the superb Leica Apo-Extenders 1.4x and 2x) could be a very interesting choice using the camera on a monopod at high ISOS between 2000 and 3200, specially with indoor and night sports without flash. And it goes without saying that if the quoted Apo-Tele-Elmar-S 350 mm f/3.5 (which gives the same viewing angle than the Apo-Telyt-R 280 mm f/4) had a built-in system enabling the photographer to set the lens to focus through its entire range to cut focusing time (as happens for instance with the Canon EF 70-200 mm f/2.8 L USM professional zoom with its 1.5 m - & and 3 m - & choices), it would be great.

Taking into account that getting critically sharp pictures with long telephotos isn´t always easy, since all long lenses magnify vibrations, the very small size and weight of the Leica S2 camera and its lenses for its format, would be a very significant advantage in this sports photographic domain, compared to the rest of professional medium format digital cameras made by other brands, even when compared with the Mamiya ZD (sporting a 36 x 48 mm Dalsa CCD 22 megapixels digital back) and the Mamiya 645 AF D III (compatible with Phase One and Leaf digital backs), cameras featuring a very good price / performance/ size ratio.

Though the only one point central AF featured by the Leica S2 advanced prototype object of this article holds its own very well, being highly fast and accurate (and this should be the first and foremost factor), there are a number of picture taking environments in which to have different focusing points available comes in handy.

Perhaps with the sole middle AF point the accuracy is optimized to the utmost (something of top paramount importance to get maximum quality for the Leica S2 world class lenses) reducing as much as possible for example the distance with regard to the impressive focusing precision manually attained during nineties in research made in laboratory with Micro-Nikkor 60 mm f/2.8 lens + manual camera body on Nikon Multiphot technical stand (by means of accessory eyepiece magnifier and microscope fine focusing on the area surrounding the microprism screen) for ultraprecise focus.

Anyway, in my viewpoint instead of an only central AF point it would be desirable an AF system maybe similar - though even quickier and more accurate if possible - to the 4 CCD line sensors one featured by the Mamiya 645AFD III (which can be placed on the center, right or left side of the screen, with the advantage of an auto position enabling the camera to focus on the nearest subject), which has proved to be very accurate, fast and silent (the latter due to its corelees motor) under verious lighting contexts and sports the added benefit of being dual: TTL phase difference detection and an infrared AF sub beam that starts automatically in Single AF Mode under dim or low contrast.

Therefore, the AF module of the S2 must be brutally precise so as to get maximum correct focus and sharpness, so I´m convinced that it will be surrounded not by plastic (which expands and contracts with temperatures and humidity changes, which with affects very slightly the AF precision) like in vast majority of AF modules, but by a tougher and higher quality material.

The Leica S2 will be compatible with the SCA 3502 shoe mount flashes, though there have been very persistent rumours on a new professional Metz flash for the S2, which will be introduced just after the launching into market of the camera and perhaps will be even better than the excellent Metz-58 AF-1 Digital featuring USB port allowing future firmware updatings.

Metz has traditionally been a flash maker brand loved by Leica enthusiasts, because of many reasons, the most important ones being maybe the impressive quality of light they offer, their very nice and sturdy finish and the highly comprehensive array of mounts and acessories available for different brands.

They will be in my opinion the cornerstone of the whole Leica-S system, both with the S2 and subsequent cameras belonging to this new niche established by Leica ( reinventing a kind of Super 35 mm format midway between the 24 x 36 mm standard and the medium format).

Truth is that the current medium format digital cameras like Mamiya ZD, Mamiya 645 AFD-III, Hasselblad H3DII-39, H3DII-50, Sinar Hy6-65, etc, deliver an excellent image quality (though limited to low and intermediate ISOS up to now), specially the Hasselblads with the superb Fuji HC and HCD featuring EBC Multicoating.

Always in my viewpoint, the two most important factors - among others already quoted and also very momentous - for the success of the Leica S2 will be the optical quality of the lenses and its incredible small size, weight, volume and portability for its size, which enable any photographer to flawlessly cover handheld practically any photographic task.

But to get these very exclusive features in a medium format camera, Leica has been bound to work extremely hard and they had to take a very critical decision: the choice of the best possible CCD in terms of the balance between size, quality of image it delivers and synergy with the Fujitsu DSP and above all the new Leica-S medium format lenses, because it was of paramount importance to almost utterly avoid the need of a tripod or monopod when using the S2, a camera 100% designed for maximum quality results using it hand and wrist.

Evidently, they could have chosen bigger medium format digital sensors like the widespread 38 x 46 mm, but the smallest possible size, volume and weight in all the important elements was absolutely top priority in the creation of the S2, and if Leica selected the Kodak KAF-37500 CCD delivering 37´5 megapixels, there will be very powerful reasons for it.

Probably, the choice of a state-of-the-art 38 x 46 mm CCD like the KAF-50100 delivering 50 megapixels would have compromised the very thorough search by Leica of maximum portability and total handheld multipurpose shooting capacity for the professional photographers, not only of the camera body but also of the lenses, which would have had to be made also bigger in size, volume and weight.

So, once clear the choice of Leica in favour of the 30 x 45 mm new format (reinventing somehow the 35 mm now with a king size super rectangular surface and preserving the 3:2 golden ratio), inevitably a question arises: How will Leica manage to compete with the rest of other medium format brands making digital medium format cameras which now feature bigger 38 x 46 mm CCDs rendering 50 megapixels and above all the new digital medium format cameras that probably will appear in the next two years taking advantage of CCDs sporting up to 80 or even more megapixels or perhaps CCDS boasting perhaps bigger than 38 x 46 mm sensors?

This is in my opinion the crux of the whole story.

Under the current state of things in digital era, it is not possible to trust mainly on a big surface of image, however a very important factor it may be, as it really is, to get very good or excellent image quality.

For many decades, during the first half of Twenty Century, it was common enough to get great pictures with 6 x 9 cm folding medium format cameras as the Zeiss Super Ikontas C and many others, whose lenses often didn´t reach the 40 pairs of lines/mm, but in spite of it, the quality of image was very good, because of the very big surface of the chemical captor.

Currently, in the professional dslr medium format realm, there are some different factors taking part in the creation of the image, which must feature the best feasible synergy to attain excellent image quality: the CCD, the DSP, the optical quality of the lenses, the quickness and accuracy of autofocus, etc.

But I do insist on it. The optical quality of the lenses is the most fundamental factor of them all, even more if Leica will have to compete with other brands digital medium format cameras featuring bigger size CCDs rendering more megapixels, something that surely will make a lot of people think that in a medium elapse of time the 30 x 45 mm CCD of the Leica S2 will be small and other medium format companies using bigger CCDs will beat the Leica S2 in image quality.

It´s only my opinion, but I´m absolutely convinced that it won´t be that way at all and the Leica S2 will be very difficult to beat regarding image quality and many other decisive parameters during the next years.

How can it be possible in a photographic market increasingly becoming a maelstrom of new technologies,better CCDs, improved electronics, quicker autofocus, more up-to-date and powerful DSPs, arrival of new firms like Sony, Red One, etc ?

Lets´s have a look at the wholly new assortment of medium format AF Leica-S System lenses created from the scratch for the S2:

- Summarit-S 70 mm f/2.5 CS Asph (the standard lens, equivalent to a 56 mm lens in 35 mm format).

- Summarit-S 35 mm f/2.5 CS Asph ( equivalent to a 28 mm wideangle lens in 35 mm format).

- Apo-Macro-Summarit-S 120 mm f/2.5 CS (equivalent to a 96 mm lens in 35 mm format).

- Apo-Elmar-S 180 mm f/3.5 CS (equivalent to a 144 mm lens in 35 mm format ).

- Elmarit-S 24 mm f/2.8 Asph (equivalent to a 19.2 mm lens in 35 mm format).

- Elmar-S 30 mm f/3.5 Tilt Shift (equivalent to a 24 mm Tilt Shift Lens in 35 mm format ).

- Elmarit-S 100 mm f/3.5 Asph (equivalent to a 80 mm lens in 35 mm format ).

- Apo-Tele-Elmar-S 350 mm f/3.5 (equivalent to a 280 mm f/3.5 in 35 mm format).

- Vario-Elmar-S 30-90 mm f/3.5 Asph standard professional zoom (equivalent to a 24-72 mm zoom lens in 35 mm format).

Therefore, the array of medium format AF Leica-S System lenses is very comprehensive and encompasses the vast majority of focal lengths necessary for professional photographers, including a tilt-shift, a superwideangle lens and a professional standard zoom which very probably will match the quality of the rest of concrete primes whose focal lengths are included within its range.
So, taking into account the very persistent rumours regarding the incredible MTF charts of the new Leica-S System made for the S2, delivering stratospheric quality, both in center and borders of the image surface and utter lack of measurable distortion at all apertures and above all, drawing identically as sharp in the edges of the frame as in the center, something which would go beyond the best of the best Leica M (Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 Asph, Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 Asph, Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2, Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2, etc) and Leica R lenses (Summicron-R 50 mm f/2, Apo-Macro-Elmarit-R 100 mm f/2, Apo-Summicron-R 180 mm f/2, Apo-Telyt-R 280 mm f/4, etc), because all of them are extraordinary but I don´t remember than any of them draws identically as sharp in center and borders at all f/stops, including full aperture. It´s true that in some of them like the gorgeous Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 and the Apo-Summicron-R180 mm f/2 their impressive performance, even at full aperture is similar to f/8, however incredible it may seem, but truth is that till now there have always been some measurable drop of the quality in borders, mainly at the widest diaphragms, though in stellar performers like these ones it was very little, but in any case measurable. And we´re speaking about probably two of the best six 35 mm lenses made in the world till now, and likely the references of both 35 mm Leica R and M System.

This way, I´d even dare to make the following guess. If the very steady rumours as to the quoted incredible MTF charts of the new medium format AF Leica S System are confirmed at any moment, I think that Leica could have made the best lenses in the history of photography, all formats included, with the aim of being able to offer the best digital image quality in the world - large format 8 x 10 image quality, inlcuding the tremendous dynamic range and aesthetical appearance of it, in spite of the different aspect ratio- during the next years, and perhaps the parameters with respect to each focal length of the lineup of medium format AF Leica S System Lenses would be the following:

a) The Summarit-S 70 mm f/2.5 CS Asph (56 mm in 24 x 36 mm format) would go a step beyond in optical performance over the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 Asph and the Noctilux-M 50 mm f/1 Asph.

b) The Summarit-S 35 mm f/2.5 CS Asph ( wideangle 28 mm in 24 x 36 format ) would go a step beyond in optical performance over the superstellar Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 designed by Michael Heiden.

c) The Apo-Macro Summarit-S 120 mm f/2.5 CS ( 96 mm in 24 x 36 format ) would go a step beyond in optical performance over the Apo-Macro-Elmarit-R 100 mm f/2 ROM

d) The Apo-Elmar 180 mm f/3.5 CS (144 mm in 24 x 36 format ) would go a step beyond in optical performance over the Apo-Telyt-M 135 mm f/3.4

e) The Elmarit-S 24 mm f/2.8 Asph (19.2 mm in 24 x 36 mm format) would go a step beyond in optical performance over the Elmarit-R 19 mm f/2.8 ROM and even over the Elmarit-M 21 mm f/2.8 Asph.

f) The Elmar-S 30 mm f/3.5 Tilt Shift ( 24 mm Tilt Shift in 24 x 36 mm format ) would go a step beyond in optical performance over the PC Super-Angulon-R 28 mm f/2.8 ROM and even beyond the mythical Olympus OM Zuiko 24 mm f/3.5 Shift , with the added bonus of featuring tilt apart from shift.

g) The Elmarit-S 100 mm f/3.5 Asph (80 mm in 24 x 36 format ) would go a step beyond in optical performance over the Summilux-R 80 mm f/1.4 ROM and even over the Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2.

h) The Apo-Tele-Elmar-S 350 mm f/3.5 ( 280 mm in 24 x 36 mm format ) would go a step beyond in optical performance over the Apo-Telyt-R 280 mm f/4 ROM.

i) The Vario-Elmar-S 30-90 mm f/3.5 ( 24-72 mm in 24 x 36 mm format ) would go a step beyond the formidable duo of Vario-Elmarit-R 35-70 mm f/2.8 Asph ROM and Vario-Elmarit-R 28-90 mm f/2.8-4.5 Asph ROM zooms, with the added advantage of stretching the wideangle limit to 24 mm, something very useful to professional photographers.

I must admit that I thought that getting this with medium format lenses was impossible, and if the very persistent rumours come true, probably this would be the greatest photographic optical achievement in history and a full-fledged turning point in the designing of lenses, which´d open a new age in this regard.

Perhaps this was the only possible way for Leica to get into the medium format domain - though I think that the S2 is a market niche in itself- , because the medium format digital reflex cameras and lenses of Hasselblads, Mamiyas, Sinars, etc, are excellent.

Thus, it seems clear that Leica has worked tremendously hard and very thoroughly in order to design the Leica S2 as a stratospheric photographic digital medium format camera with seemingly even more stratopsheric lenses, probably also featuring a superb optical performance in the nearest distances (a traditional drawback with medium format objectives).

But coming back to the Leica-S medium format lenses, those so incredible MTF charts beating the best of the best of Leica M lenses (something highly amazing, because reflex lenses must be
designed bearing in mind the slapping mirror of the reflex cameras, something which doesn´t happen with objectives for rangefinder cameras that can be made without any compromise approaching more to the CCD or film plane) would mean something hugely dazzling: Leica would have been able to go beyond Olympus in the designing of reflex lenses made from the scratch for a digital CCD,but this time not for a 4/3 or full frame 24 x 36 dslr, but for the medium format professional reflexS2, with the great advantages it means, specially in the wideangles.

Yes, I know that my reasoning can sound a bit odd, because both Leica M and a very high percentage of Leica R lenses are the best in the world for 24 x 36 mm format. O.K. Even, the vast majority of them deliver great optical performance connected to digital rangefinder and reflex cameras (through adapter till now in the case of R objectives), as proved with Leica M8 and Leicas R8 and R9 Digital Modul R, Olympus E-330 (Gary Todoroff), Olympus E-3 (David Young), Canon EOS 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D, etc. But the very good results are due to the impressive pure optical quality of the Leica lenses which endure very well the more difficult than with film synergy when linked to digital cameras.

But in my opinion, truth is that in order to optimize the optical performance of objectives which have to match the CCDs and CMOS of reflex digital cameras, if the best of the best feasible designing of lenses is the goal, the most suitable choice is and will be more and more the construction of superprofessional lenses specially created for specific CCDs and formats, because the imaging characteristics of the large CCDs are fundamentally different from those of film, and there are many aspects which can prevent them from achieving their full performance potential, amongst them when a high angle of incidence can avoid that enough light reach the sensor elements at the periphery of a CCD, bringing about a poor colour definition, mainly when shooting with wide angle lenses.

In my viewpoint, there hasn´t been doubt till now: the best in this regard has been Olympus Zuiko Digital AF with its extraordinary telecentric super professional lenses for the 4/3 system, formidable objectives truly designed for digital like the ED 150 mm f/2, the ED 300 mm f/2.8 and some other aforementioned superb zooms.

With all respect to Leica, I think that till now Kunio Yokoyama,Yasuji Ogata and Kazuo Ushiyama, current Olympus Zuiko Digital supreme optical shoguns, have clearly been the world dominant forces regarding the designing of reflex lenses specifically made to match digital sensors, by means of a tremendous mastery of lens grinding (for instance the bending of both the large diameter ED glass aspherical concave lens and the other aspherical lens included inside the optical formula of the Zuiko Digital ED 7-14 mm f/4 is an impressive masterpiece of optical knowledge and key factor in the superb image quality delivered by this super professional zoom in spite of the small 4/3 digital sensor).

At this level, no machine can do the whole brutal precision needed to grind the best of the best aspherical surfaces featured by a modern world class lens. Only a very selected group of lens designers/wizards posessing the awesome optical knowledge and many years expertise are able to accomplish it. There´s no computer which can give the last touches in this aspherical surface grinding domain to optimize the synergy of the best lenses with digital CCDs to the utmost, a very critical and decisive topic in any top quality photographic digital system.

Hints indicate that perhaps Leica (with Peter Karbe -in my opinion currently the best optical designer in the world- and the rest of world class experts of the Leica Optical Department in Solms) have been able to make an authentic feat: to go a step beyond Olympus Zuiko Digital in the creation from the scratch of completely new lenses specially adapted for digital CCDs, in this case for a 30 x 45 mm CCD featuring 37´5 megapixels, whether they´re telecentric designs or not.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

But on reaching this point, everything becomes mind-boggling, because the new AF medium format Leica lenses and the zoom are surprisingly small and light for its format and this is a very strange thing, because when tackling the specifical designing of telecentric lenses for digital reflex cameras or even using other ways to make them, the size and weight increase considerably. Id est, it would be very difficult to transfer for instance the Olympus Zuiko truly designed for digital CCD super professional lenses to full format 24 x 36 mm professional dslrs of the most important brands, without getting very bulky lenses.

Then, what´s happening? We all know that traditionally Leica has been and goes on being the world flagship regarding optical quality of its 35 mm lenses. But this new assortment of medium format AF lenses (significantly smaller and lighter than the rest of lenses of medium format Af digital reflex cameras currently made by other brands) means a more than quantum leap, above all bearing in mind that Leica seems to have had the incredible optical and engineering prowess to also keep one of its historical epicenter line of conduct: the shortest diameter of its frontal lens and maximum feasible miniaturization, low weight and volume.

And this must have undoubtedly been something brutally arduous to achieve for Leica, which has attained it with its new assortment of medium format S System lenses, featuring full-blown innovation.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

The unit object of this article is an advanced working prototype of the Leica S2, in which only was possible to make pictures at ISO 100 (probably Leica will fight hardly to the last moment in order to get extraordinary image quality at intermediate, high and very high ISOS before launching the camera into market) and take it for granted that discretion will be very high regarding infos on the image quality of the S2, specially from ISO 400 on, though in my viewpoint there can be few doubts that it will be very difficult to beat to put it smoothly.

At ISO 100, in my opinion results are incontestable, stratospheric. Tremendous detail, sumptuous colours, amazing resolving power, sharpness, gorgeous contrast, etc. Everything already observable on zooming on the large back screen. If Leica manage to keep this extraordinary level of image quality up to the range of ISO 1600 or much better to ISO 3200 - something which in my standpoint would increase chances of sellings in geometrical proportions- following in this regard the steps of the excellent Nikon D3 (at present the best digital reflex camera in the world as to great image quality at high and very high ISOS) but now in medium format, with the advantages it means, the S2 will pay off and its unique niche will be powerfully enhanced in the photographic market.

On the other hand, the S2 has the great advantage of featuring the state-of-the-art 37.5 megapixels medium format Kodak KAF-37500 CCD boasting a four channels reading which achieves great quickness and top-notch signal / noise ratio, something that is even enhanced by both the Pulse Flush system (attaining less noise and minimizing blooming risk) and the condenser microlenses (not featured by the KAF-50100 CCD) whose function is increasing the sensitivity before the signal amplification.

And these just aforementioned traits are fundamental and mean significant values for the Leica S2 over the professional full format 24 x 36 mm dslr cameras when trying to get excellent image quality at high isos.

So, there are a lot of clues hinting that the image quality of the Leica S2 will be superb at high ISOS (greatly beating in this regard to the rest of digital medium format cameras made by other brands),but in any case, I think that a limit of ISO 1600 wouldn´t be enough. I deem that the current market tendency requires to take the limit to a minimum of fully operative 3200 ISO.

Ten years and a half ago, Ctein proved that the great analog 6 x 4.5 cm medium format rangefinder camera Fuji GA645 used handheld with 120 Kodak Pro ISO 1000 colour film was able to deliver superb results comparable to 35 mm Kodak Ektar 25 colour film, thanks ( aside from the bigger chemical captor surface) to the stellar Fujinon Super EBC 60 mm f/4 lens featuring 7 elements in 6 groups and the excellent anti-reflection Electron Beam Coating.

I´m persuaded that with the S2 Leica will take things even much further when referring to excellent image quality at high ISOS, because the new medium format Leica digital camera features a 37.5 megapixels state-of-the art Kodak 30 x 45 mm CCD (currently one of the three best in the world digital sensors together with the KAF-50500 and the Fuji Super CCD EXR), a superb and very up-to-date Fujitsu Maestro DSP unit, the best medium format lenses on earth as most decisive element and other key factors previously quoted.

Probably some people will be wondering if the Kodak KAF-37500 CCD delivering 37.5 megapixels will be enough to compete in a market in which there´re are currently 50 megapixels CCDs for medium format digital cameras and other new CCDs featuring 60, 80 or more megapixels will be also probably introduced.

My opinion is that things won´t change regarding the Leica S2 reigning supreme.

Even, it is important to understand that from a linear scaling viewpoint, the Leica S2 CCD is ´only ´a 25% bigger than 35 m format.

However strange it may seem, I think that it will be even better for Leica.

I´ll do my best to explain myself.

Does an increase of ´only ´ a 25 % of increase in CCD surface make a difference?

I absolutely think so. Not simply a difference. But a very important difference if we add to the 25% bigger CCD the best in the world lenses made till now on earth factor if the quoted MTF charts are confirmed.

In my opinion, this fascinating topic has very important links and deep roots in the top quality cinema made with chemical film, namely with:

1) Super 16 mm cinematographic film.- It features approximately a 20% bigger used surface than the standard 16 mm, on augmenting the exposed negative area, extending it over the zone of the film which was reserved for the optical soundtrack of the standard 16 mm. It was created to shoot feature films for 35 mm exhibitions with a lightweight 16 mm camera, and it delivers an increase in image quality between a 20 % and a 65 % depending on the aspect ratio, with a significant improvement in definition and being very suitable for its blow up to 35 mm cinematographic format, specially with the intermediate digital system.

There are still many enthusiasts of using reflex Bolex 16 mm cameras and Macro-Switar lenses, etc, who have them converted to Super 16 mm, paying high figures, because the betterment in image quality is very important, to such an extent that Aaton and Arriflex made specific cameras for this format epitomized by the models Aaton 7LTR, Arriflex 16SR, Aaton XTR and Arriflex 16SR3.

2) Super 35 mm cinematographic film.- It sports roughly a 25 % larger image frame than the standard 35 mm cinematographic emulsion, by using the negative space normally reserved for the optical analog sound track, attaining a very significant increase in image quality.

Since the arrival of DIs, Super 35 mm photography has become very widespread in high level cinema productions, because the cropping and anamorphosing phases can be fulfilled digitally through a computer, so avoiding the previous method of creating a further optical generation with increased grain as well as offering an interesting 4:3 aspect ratio on camera negative.

I do believe that however different both worlds may be, these premises are rather valid in digital photography -providing the decisive lenses are top-notch-, though I deem that globally the Leica S2 will take much more benefit from the 25% increase in CCD used surface -in respect to the 24 x 36 mm sensor of the current full frame professional dslrs- than the cinematographic Super 16 mm and Super 35 mm films, because in the case of the S2, the new medium format Leica camera will have the great added assets of best in the world medium format lenses (the most important key factor of all) and the state-of- the-art Fujitsu Maestro DSP, which in my viewpoint answers by itself to other important question: Will the images yielded by the Leica S2 be better enough than the ones produced by professional full format 24 x 36 mm dslr cameras like Canon EOS 1 Ds Mark III, Nikon D3, Sony Alfa 900, etc, to justify the introduction of the new 30 x 45 mm format by Leica?

I think so. Absolutely. I´m convinced it will be a stratospheric image quality and very probably the best produced in the world till now with a digital camera, emulating a great deal the best of the best of large format 8 x 10 cameras results, not only in terms of resolving power, sharpness and contrast - which shall be undoubtredly superstellar- but also regarding the very important dynamic range, clearness, out of focus rendering, and to say it in a nutshell all the aspects related to global aesthetic beauty of image and specially final results on photographic paper enlargements, which unlike the computer screen, shall go on being the best touchstone to check the actual quality of a photographic camera and its lenses, together with the feedback from professional photographers and great experts on photographic images like the Magician of the Dye Transfer, Pete Turner, Mark Dubovoy, Joyce Tenneson, Allan Jenkins, Al Weber, Chris Gatcum, Bruce Barnaum, Philippe Bachelier, Gary Wostenholme, John Custodio, Dominique Granier, Paul Schranz, Juan Manuel Castro Prieto, Kenneth Sklute, Rick Sammon, Jon Pepper, Leah Karnatski, etc.

However, the topic is complex, because evidently the quoted current 24 x 36 mm full format dslr flagships from Canon, Nikon, Sony and other more that will appear, will go on being clearly the dominant force from the viewpoint of sales in the photographic market, and truth is that the quality of image they are offering now is very good, with the added advantage of a proved great suitability to get professional image quality at high isos, something epitomized by the gorgeous Nikon D3. These cameras are hugely versatile, give enough quality for many photographers and day by day introduce new functions and breakthroughs and the adoption of video starts being a trend. It seems clear that Leica knows very well all these very important factors and bore them in mind before coming to grips with the very complex and expensive investment on the S2 and its unutterable R & D team of approximately 200 experts working to give birth to this dreaming machine.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Leica has attained an unprecedented feat in the history of photography with its super state-of-the-art S-System medium format lenses, because if it is already very difficult to design top-notch lenses specifically created to cover the full frame 24 x 36 mm CMOS dslr cameras to avoid aberrations, vignetting, distortions, etc (the digital sensors are much more critical than film to get a good synergy with lenses), to design super top-notch lenses for bigger sensors must have undoubtedly been for Solms a brutal fight at the end of its tether and something absolutely out of parameters, since the bigger the size of the digital sensor, the difficulties to achieve very good luminosity from corner to corner of the frame and correction of aberrations and distortions do increase in geometrical proportion. You have always the resource of augmenting the diameter of the lenses doing your best to get the quality you´re searching for, though doing so lenses will be very bulky, heavy and astronomically steep in price.

That´s why what´s even more fascinating is that Leica has managed to reduce the size and weight of the S2 lenses to the utmost, following its innermost tradition in this respect, specially regarding the minimum feasible front lens diameter, because the S System Lenses are really small for its 30 x 45 mm ProFormat CCD which sports a diagonal of 54 mm.

There are a lot of hints suggesting that the new Leica S medium format lenses are the best in history, (all formats included) with out of this world MTF curves which don´t fall off at any area of the chart irrespective of the aperture used, with the same brutally high optical performance both in the center and the corners of the image and utterly lacking any distortion, vignetting or aberrations, apart from delivering a resolving power, contrast, accuracy of colour, etc, really incredible.

However amazing it may seem, perhaps these new S System lenses are even better corrected than the cream of the crop of superstellar optical performers like the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 Asph, Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2, Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2, Apo-Summicron-R 180 mm f/2, Apo-Telyt-R 280 mm f/4, etc .........

Much larger optical elements are required to make the change from 24 x 36 mm sensor lenses to a medium format 30 x 45 mm CCD lenses, with the subsequent more than strenuous designing effort and brutally high optical knowledge and expertise at full-blast, for it is noticeably harder to manufacture fast aspherical lenses in medium format size and in the current state of science and perhaps there´s a boundary on how large the diameter of the aspherical elements can be while at the same time being made following the traditional greatly handcrafted Leica methods.

This way, what can be the market expectations for the Leica S2?

Great in my opinion. A state-of-the-art medium format 37.5 megapixels CCD in colossal synergy with the best medium format lenses in the world (featuring very wide apertures for the format, including the 30-90 mm zoom), delivering large format film like 8 x 10 quality, a world class and very fast Fujitsu Maestro DSP, rather a quick and accurate autofocus, an almost indestructible build quality, the best on earth anti dust and anti splashing seals, and it all squeezed into a camera body slightly smaller in size, volume and weight than a current professional 24 x 36 mm professional dslr, used always handheld for a great number of different photographic works and assignments, and many other important virtues seem to be an alluring temptation, though in the beginning, because of the steep price (though if we think about the cost of getting a top notch digital 24 x 36 mm camera and lenses, medium format digital camera and lenses and large format camera and lenses, perhaps things could be seen in other ways), it will probably be only within the reach of great news agencies, publicity firms, very famous photographers, etc, albeit Leica has announced that they will strive after offering as much competitive price as possible.

Notwithstanding, my global perspective -I may be wrong- is that for Leica the most important thing is that Canon, Nikon and a newly arrived Sony - together with other very important brands like Pentax, Olympus, Fuji, etc- continue being the driving forces in sales. I imagine that was taken for granted, in spite of the fact that the chance of development of an autofocus 24 x 36 mm Leica R10 with a comprehensive assortment of new autofocus lenses created from the scratch -using if possible the technology of the medium format Leica S2 and its objectives- would have in my standpoint even more selling chances, above all if the owners of the superb Leica R manual focusing lenses are able to connect them to the R10 and using a good system of focus confirmation.

I do deem that this could be another great gamble for Leica to go on even more definitely commanding the reflex market from the pure quality of image obtained side, though also in this case the optical quality of the lenses shall have to be the best in the world, because in the full frame dslr market, struggle is very ruthless, and the rest of firmly established photographic brands will launch into market new superb professional dslr cameras in shorter elapses of time. There isn´t any other way: the Leica R10 will have to be a superstellar product as to the really significant aspects, though perhaps Leica can afford not be in a hurry, because it has never been part of its philosophy.

Leica is a medium-sized firm, with great historical prestige and mythical lifetime, whose living epicenter has always been the search for maximum feasible quality and constantly trying to be the best.

Now, with the introduction of the Leica S2, the more than 150 years old German photographic firm is not only the best in the world in its classical rangefinder domain (whose current flagships are the digital Leica M8 and M8.2 rangefinders) but also in the reflex scope with probably the best kept secret in the history of photography and the most incredible exploit made by Leica throughout its whole lifetime together with the creation by Walter Mandler at the Ernst Leitz factory in Midlands, Ontario (Canada) of the IMAX lens for the hugely big screen of this enormous cinema system, another tremendous optical feat, because the distance between the projector and the super screen was rather short and it was necessary to make a very special objective featuring a diameter of 8.8 cm,with two elements outside the lens barrel and in contact with the huge negative -ten times larger than the cinematographic 35 mm-.

It seems very likely that the Leica S2 (the fastest, smallest and highest image quality digital medium format camera in the world) will become the technological starting platform for a very high percentage of future Leica products ( not only the also very awaited by Leicaphiles autofocus Leica R10, but also a wide range of very top-notch stuff made by the German firm once it is definitely based at the new and amazing Wetzlar Park facilities), with which I think that from now on Leica will be able to reach new customer groups.

The Leica S2 will have as absolute top priority the obtainment of the purest and highest quality image captured by the lens, avoiding to the utmost the widespread philosophy of using extensive software to improve the original file trying to correct any imperfection, and to all intents and purposes, this professional super workhorse will be able to successfully yield a tremendously high image quality, irrespective of the nature of the photographed subject: landscapes, studio or outdoor portraits, studio publicity shots featuring controlled lighting and a number of fine details and microcontrast (four instances which require a CCD sporting great resolution); high contrast locations (needing a CCD able to implement a very wide dynamic range); the tricky low light contexts (where a CCD boasting a noiseless high sensitivity top performance won´t leave you in the lurch if trying handheld shots without using flash to properly capture the authentic atmosphere of the place at that moment), etc.

At the same time, Leica will never follow the massive trend of cramming a lot of megapixels inside the sensor and then tweaking the image with software.

The goal for the German photographic firm will be to feed the CCD with the purest and best feasible original image from the very capturing moment (which shall greatly ease a stellar performance in everything which takes place afterwards) and let professional photographers and connoisseurs to decide.

Because of this way of thinking and making things, I do think that on and on Leica will significantly expand its business imaging sectors, with its formidable R & D staff of about 90 highly engineers, opticians and rest of highly deft experts as main technological and scientific driving force.

This time, I´m persuaded that Peter Karbe, product managers Maike Harberts and Stephan Schulz and all the other members of the formidable team of approximately 200 people who have worked in the S2 (always understanding that the camera could be even further improved during the forthcoming months until its 2009 summer launching into market), have laid the foundations of a new era in the history of photography, everything supervised by the wisdom, entrepreneurial skills, insight, financial support, vision of future and passion for photography -he constantly attends to important photographic exhibitions at Westlicht Schauplatz für Fotografie in Wien and many others worldwide, apart from having his own photographic gallery in Salzburg- of a man, Dr Andreas Kaufmann, who at the helm of the German legendary photographic firm, has given new life to Leica after fighting and working very strenuously until putting it once more in the place it deserves: as in its best halcyon days, not only in the RF domain but also now in the reflex one, walking firmly through the XXI Century.

" The S2 model is the most important new Leica since the M3 over 50 years ago "

Bill Rosauer