Leica M9 vs S3
The Leica M9 and the Leica S3 are two digital cameras that were revealed to the public, respectively, in September 2009 and September 2018. The M9 is a rangefinder-focusing mirrorless camera, while the S3 is a DSLR. The cameras are based on a full frame (M9) and a medium format (S3) sensor. The M9 has a resolution of 18.1 megapixels, whereas the S3 provides 64 MP.
Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.
Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Leica M9 and the Leica S3? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.
The side-by-side display below illustrates the physical size and weight of the Leica M9 and the Leica S3. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive perspectives from the front, the top, and the back are available. All size dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
The M9 can be obtained in two different colors (black, silver), while the S3 is only available in black.
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Leica S3 is considerably larger (73 percent) than the Leica M9. Moreover, the S3 is substantially heavier (115 percent) than the M9. It is noteworthy in this context that the S3 is splash and dust-proof, while the M9 does not feature any corresponding weather-sealing.
The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Hence, you might want to study and compare the specifications of available lenses in order to get the full picture of the size and weight of the two camera systems.
The adjacent table lists the principal physical characteristics of the two cameras alongside a wider set of alternatives. If you would like to visualize and compare a different camera combination, you can navigate to the CAM-parator app and make your selection from a broad list of cameras there.
|1.||Leica M9||139 mm||80 mm||37 mm||585 g||..||n||Sep 2009||7,999||ebay.com|
|2.||Leica S3||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1260 g||..||Y||Sep 2018||18,995||amazon.com|
|3.||Canon T2i||129 mm||98 mm||62 mm||530 g||440||n||Feb 2010||699||ebay.com|
|4.||Canon T1i||129 mm||98 mm||62 mm||520 g||400||n||Mar 2009||799||ebay.com|
|5.||Leica M11||139 mm||80 mm||39 mm||640 g||700||Y||Jan 2022||8,995||amazon.com|
|6.||Leica M10-R||139 mm||80 mm||39 mm||660 g||210||Y||Jul 2020||8,295||amazon.com|
|7.||Leica M10-P||139 mm||80 mm||39 mm||660 g||210||Y||Aug 2018||7,995||amazon.com|
|8.||Leica M10||139 mm||80 mm||39 mm||660 g||210||Y||Jan 2017||6,595||ebay.com|
|9.||Leica S-E Typ 006||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1260 g||..||Y||Sep 2014||16,900||ebay.com|
|10.||Leica S Typ 007||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1260 g||..||Y||Sep 2014||24,490||ebay.com|
|11.||Leica X Typ 113||133 mm||73 mm||78 mm||486 g||350||n||Sep 2014||2,295||ebay.com|
|12.||Leica X Vario||133 mm||73 mm||95 mm||680 g||450||n||Jun 2013||2,850||ebay.com|
|13.||Leica M Typ 240||139 mm||80 mm||42 mm||680 g||..||Y||Sep 2012||6,950||ebay.com|
|14.||Leica S Typ 006||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1260 g||..||Y||Sep 2012||21,950||ebay.com|
|15.||Leica S2||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1410 g||..||Y||Sep 2008||22,995||ebay.com|
|16.||Leica M8||139 mm||80 mm||37 mm||591 g||..||n||Sep 2006||5,499||ebay.com|
|Note: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.|
The price is, of course, an important factor in any camera decision. The retail prices at the time of the camera’s release place the model in the market relative to other models in the producer’s line-up and the competition. The M9 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 58 percent) than the S3, which puts it into a different market segment. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.
The size of the imaging sensor is a crucial determinant of image quality. All other things equal, a large sensor will have larger individual pixel-units that offer better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Moreover, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more control over depth-of-field in the image and, thus, the ability to better isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be associated with larger, more expensive camera bodies and lenses.
Of the two cameras under consideration, the Leica M9 features a full frame sensor and the Leica S3 a medium format sensor. The sensor area in the S3 is 56 percent bigger. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 1.0 and 0.8. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.
With 64MP, the S3 offers a higher resolution than the M9 (18.1MP), but the S3 has smaller individual pixels (pixel pitch of 4.59μm versus 6.91μm for the M9). Yet, the S3 is a much more recent model (by 9 years) than the M9, and its sensor will have benefitted from technological advances during this time that enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixel-units. Coming back to sensor resolution, it should be mentioned that neither of the two cameras has an anti-alias filter installed, so they are able to capture all the detail the sensor resolves.
The resolution advantage of the Leica S3 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the S3 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 49 x 32.7 inches or 124.5 x 83 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 39.2 x 26.1 inches or 99.6 x 66.4 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 32.7 x 21.8 inches or 83 x 55.3 cm. The corresponding values for the Leica M9 are 26.1 x 17.4 inches or 66.2 x 44.1 cm for good quality, 20.8 x 13.9 inches or 53 x 35.3 cm for very good quality, and 17.4 x 11.6 inches or 44.1 x 29.4 cm for excellent quality prints.
The Leica M9 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 80 to ISO 2500. The corresponding ISO settings for the Leica S3 are ISO 100 to ISO 50000 (no boost).
In terms of underlying technology, the M9 is build around a CCD sensor, while the S3 uses a CMOS imager. Both cameras use a Bayer filter for capturing RGB colors on a square grid of photosensors. This arrangement is found in most digital cameras.
Consistent information on actual sensor performance is available from DXO Mark for many cameras. This service is based on lab testing and assigns an overall score to each camera sensor, as well as ratings for dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), color depth ("DXO Portrait"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"). The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.
|1.||Leica M9||Full Frame||18.1||5212||3472||none||22.5||11.7||884||69|
|2.||Leica S3||Medium Format||64.0||9800||6533||4K/24p||25.6||14.4||3143||98|
|5.||Leica M11||Full Frame||60.3||9528||6328||none||26.3||14.8||3376||100|
|6.||Leica M10-R||Full Frame||40.9||7864||5200||none||25.3||14.3||2924||95|
|7.||Leica M10-P||Full Frame||23.8||5952||3992||none||25.1||14.1||2739||93|
|8.||Leica M10||Full Frame||23.8||5952||3992||none||24.4||13.2||2133||86|
|9.||Leica S-E Typ 006||Medium Format||37.5||7500||5000||none||25.1||13.7||2763||93|
|10.||Leica S Typ 007||Medium Format||37.5||7500||5000||4K/24p||25.1||13.7||2763||93|
|11.||Leica X Typ 113||APS-C||16.1||4928||3264||1080/30p||23.6||12.8||1491||78|
|12.||Leica X Vario||APS-C||16.1||4928||3272||1080/30p||23.4||12.7||1320||78|
|13.||Leica M Typ 240||Full Frame||23.7||5952||3976||1080/25p||24.0||13.3||1860||84|
|14.||Leica S Typ 006||Medium Format||37.5||7500||5000||none||23.9||12.2||824||76|
|15.||Leica S2||Medium Format||37.5||7500||5000||none||23.9||12.5||2224||82|
|Note: DXO values in italics represent estimates based on sensor size and age.|
Many modern cameras cannot only take still pictures, but also record videos. The S3 indeed provides for movie recording, while the M9 does not. The highest resolution format that the S3 can use is 4K/24p.
Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The M9 and the S3 are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The viewfinder in the M9 offers a wider field of view (100%) than the one in the S3 (98%), so that a larger proportion of the captured image is visible in the finder. On the other hand, the viewfinder of the S3 has a higher magnification (0.87x vs 0.68x), so that the size of the image transmitted appears closer to the size seen with the naked human eye. The adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Leica M9 and Leica S3 along with similar information for a selection of comparators.
|1.||Leica M9||optical||n||2.5 / 230||fixed||n||1/4000s||2.0/s||n||n|
|2.||Leica S3||optical||Y||3.0 / 922||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.0/s||n||n|
|3.||Canon T2i||optical||n||3.0 / 1040||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.7/s||Y||n|
|4.||Canon T1i||optical||n||3.0 / 920||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.4/s||Y||n|
|5.||Leica M11||optical||n||3.0 / 2333||fixed||Y||1/4000s||4.5/s||n||n|
|6.||Leica M10-R||optical||n||3.0 / 1037||fixed||Y||1/4000s||4.5/s||n||n|
|7.||Leica M10-P||optical||n||3.0 / 1037||fixed||Y||1/4000s||5.0/s||n||n|
|8.||Leica M10||optical||n||3.0 / 1037||fixed||n||1/4000s||5.0/s||n||n|
|9.||Leica S-E Typ 006||optical||Y||3.0 / 922||fixed||n||1/4000s||1.5/s||n||n|
|10.||Leica S Typ 007||optical||Y||3.0 / 922||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.5/s||n||n|
|11.||Leica X Typ 113||optional||n||3.0 / 920||fixed||n||1/2000s||5.0/s||Y||n|
|12.||Leica X Vario||optional||n||3.0 / 920||fixed||n||1/2000s||5.0/s||Y||n|
|13.||Leica M Typ 240||optical||n||3.0 / 920||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.0/s||n||n|
|14.||Leica S Typ 006||optical||Y||3.0 / 922||fixed||n||1/4000s||1.5/s||n||n|
|15.||Leica S2||optical||Y||3.0 / 460||fixed||n||1/4000s||1.5/s||n||n|
|16.||Leica M8||optical||n||2.5 / 230||fixed||n||1/8000s||2.0/s||n||n|
|Notes: *) Information refers to the mechanical shutter, unless the camera only has an electronic one.|
One feature that is present on the S3, but is missing on the M9 is a top-level LCD. While being, of course, smaller than the rear screen, the control panel conveys some of the essential shooting information and can be convenient for quick and easy settings verification.
The M9 writes its imaging data to SDXC cards, while the S3 uses Compact Flash or SDXC cards. The S3 features dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. In contrast, the M9 only has one slot. The S3 supports UHS-II cards (Ultra High Speed data transfer of up to 312 MB/s), while the M9 cannot take advantage of Ultra High Speed SD cards.
For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Leica M9 and Leica S3 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
Mic / Speaker
|1.||Leica M9||Y||- / -||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
|2.||Leica S3||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||mini||3.0||Y||-||-|
|3.||Canon T2i||Y||stereo / -||Y||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|4.||Canon T1i||Y||mono / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|5.||Leica M11||Y||- / -||-||-||-||3.2||Y||-||Y|
|6.||Leica M10-R||Y||- / -||-||-||-||-||Y||-||-|
|7.||Leica M10-P||Y||- / -||-||-||-||-||Y||-||-|
|8.||Leica M10||Y||- / -||-||-||-||-||Y||-||-|
|9.||Leica S-E Typ 006||Y||- / -||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|10.||Leica S Typ 007||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||mini||3.0||Y||-||-|
|11.||Leica X Typ 113||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|12.||Leica X Vario||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|13.||Leica M Typ 240||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
|14.||Leica S Typ 006||Y||- / -||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|15.||Leica S2||Y||- / -||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|16.||Leica M8||Y||- / -||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
It is notable that the S3 offers wifi support, which can be a very convenient means to transfer image data to an off-camera location. In contrast, the M9 does not provide wifi capability.
Studio photographers will appreciate that the Leica S3 (unlike the M9) features a PC Sync socket, so that professional strobe lights can be controlled by the camera.
Travel and landscape photographers will find it useful that the S3 has an internal geolocalization sensor and can record GPS coordinates in its EXIF data.
The S3 is a recent model that features in the current product line-up of Leica. In contrast, the M9 has been discontinued (but can be found pre-owned on ebay). As a replacement in the same line of cameras, the M9 was succeeded by the Leica M Typ 240. Further information on the features and operation of the M9 and S3 can be found, respectively, in the Leica M9 Manual (free pdf) or the online Leica S3 Manual.
So what is the bottom line? Which of the two cameras – the Leica M9 or the Leica S3 – has the upper hand? Is one clearly better than the other? Below is a summary of the relative strengths of each of the two contestants.
Arguments in favor of the Leica M9:
- More complete view: Has a viewfinder with a larger field of view (100% vs 98%).
- More compact: Is smaller (139x80mm vs 160x120mm) and thus needs less room in the bag.
- Less heavy: Is lighter (by 675g or 54 percent) and hence easier to carry around.
- More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (58 percent cheaper at launch).
- More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in September 2009).
Advantages of the Leica S3:
- More detail: Has more megapixels (64 vs 18.1MP), which boosts linear resolution by 88%.
- Better image quality: Is equipped with a larger and more technologically advanced sensor.
- Richer colors: The sensor size advantage translates into images with better, more accurate colors.
- More dynamic range: Larger sensor captures a wider spectrum of light and dark details.
- Better low-light sensitivity: Larger sensor produces good images even in poorly lit environments.
- Broader imaging potential: Can capture not only stills but also 4K/24p video.
- Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.87x vs 0.68x).
- Easier setting verification: Features a control panel on top to check shooting parameters.
- Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.0" vs 2.5") for image review and settings control.
- More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (922k vs 230k dots).
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (3 vs 2 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
- Better sealing: Is splash and dust sealed for shooting in inclement weather conditions.
- Easier geotagging: Features an internal GPS sensor to log localization data.
- Faster data transfer: Supports a more advanced USB protocol (3.0 vs 2.0).
- Easier file upload: Has wifi built in for automatic backup or image transfer to the web.
- Better studio light control: Has a PC Sync socket to connect to professional strobe lights.
- Greater peace of mind: Features a second card slot as a backup in case of memory card failure.
- Faster buffer clearing: Has an SD card interface that supports the UHS-II standard.
- More modern: Reflects 9 years of technical progress since the M9 launch.
If the number of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the S3 is the clear winner of the contest (19 : 5 points). However, the pertinence of the various camera strengths will differ across photographers, so that you might want to weigh individual camera traits according to their importance for your own imaging needs before making a camera decision. A professional wildlife photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a family photog, and a person interested in architecture has distinct needs from a sports shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.
In any case, while the comparison of technical specifications can provide a useful overview of the capabilities of different cameras, it says little about, for example, the shooting experience and imaging performance of the M9 and the S3 in practical situations. User reviews that are available, for instance, at amazon can sometimes shed light on these issues, but such feedback is all too often partial, inconsistent, and inaccurate.
This is where reviews by experts come in. The following table reports the overall ratings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], digitalcameraworld [DCW], dpreview [DPR], ephotozine [EPZ], photographyblog [PB]). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.
|1.||Leica M9||..||..||..||..||4.5/5||..||Sep 2009||7,999||ebay.com|
|2.||Leica S3||..||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2018||18,995||amazon.com|
|3.||Canon T2i||..||+ +||..||77/100||4/5||4.5/5||Feb 2010||699||ebay.com|
|4.||Canon T1i||..||+ +||..||74/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Mar 2009||799||ebay.com|
|5.||Leica M11||4.5/5||..||4.5/5||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jan 2022||8,995||amazon.com|
|6.||Leica M10-R||4.5/5||..||4/5||..||..||4/5||Jul 2020||8,295||amazon.com|
|7.||Leica M10-P||..||..||3/5||..||..||4/5||Aug 2018||7,995||amazon.com|
|8.||Leica M10||4.5/5||..||..||..||4/5||4.5/5||Jan 2017||6,595||ebay.com|
|9.||Leica S-E Typ 006||..||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2014||16,900||ebay.com|
|10.||Leica S Typ 007||4/5||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2014||24,490||ebay.com|
|11.||Leica X Typ 113||3.5/5||..||..||..||3.5/5||4/5||Sep 2014||2,295||ebay.com|
|12.||Leica X Vario||3/5||..||..||..||4/5||4/5||Jun 2013||2,850||ebay.com|
|13.||Leica M Typ 240||4/5||..||..||..||4/5||..||Sep 2012||6,950||ebay.com|
|14.||Leica S Typ 006||..||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2012||21,950||ebay.com|
|15.||Leica S2||..||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2008||22,995||ebay.com|
|16.||Leica M8||..||..||..||+ +||..||..||Sep 2006||5,499||ebay.com|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
The above review scores should be interpreted with care, though. The assessments were made in relation to similar cameras of the same technological generation. Thus, a score needs to be put into the context of the launch date and the launch price of the camera, and comparing ratings of very distinct cameras or ones that are far apart in terms of their release date have little meaning. Also, please note that some of the review sites have changed their methodology and reporting over time.
Other camera comparisons
Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you would like to check on the differences and similarities of other camera models, just make your choice using the following search menu. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored.
Specifications: Leica M9 vs Leica S3
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.
|Camera Model||Leica M9||Leica S3|
|Camera Type||Rangefinder camera||Digital single lens reflex|
|Camera Lens||Leica M mount lenses||Leica S mount lenses|
|Launch Date||September 2009||September 2018|
|Launch Price||USD 7,999||USD 18,995|
|Sensor Specs||Leica M9||Leica S3|
|Sensor Format||Full Frame Sensor||Medium Format Sensor|
|Sensor Size||36.0 x 24.0 mm||45.0 x 30.0 mm|
|Sensor Area||864 mm2||1350 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||43.3 mm||54.1 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||18.1 Megapixels||64 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||5212 x 3472 pixels||9800 x 6533 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||6.91 μm||4.59 μm|
|Pixel Density||2.09 MP/cm2||4.74 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||no AA filter||no AA filter|
|Movie Capability||no Video||4K/24p Video|
|ISO Setting||80 - 2,500 ISO||100 - 50,000 ISO|
|DXO Sensor Quality (score)||69||..|
|DXO Color Depth (bits)||22.5||..|
|DXO Dynamic Range (EV)||11.7||..|
|DXO Low Light (ISO)||884||..|
|Screen Specs||Leica M9||Leica S3|
|Viewfinder Type||Optical viewfinder||Optical viewfinder|
|Viewfinder Field of View||100%||98%|
|Top-Level Screen||no Top Display||Control Panel|
|LCD Framing||Live View|
|Rear LCD Size||2.5inch||3.0inch|
|LCD Resolution||230k dots||922k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Fixed screen|
|Shooting Specs||Leica M9||Leica S3|
|Focus System||Manual Focus||Phase-detect AF|
|Manual Focusing Aid||no Peaking Feature||Focus Peaking|
|Max Shutter Speed (mechanical)||1/4000s||1/4000s|
|Continuous Shooting||2 shutter flaps/s||3 shutter flaps/s|
|Fill Flash||no On-Board Flash||no On-Board Flash|
|Storage Medium||SDXC cards||CF or SDXC cards|
|Single or Dual Card Slots||Single card slot||Dual card slots|
|UHS card support||no||UHS-II|
|Connectivity Specs||Leica M9||Leica S3|
|Studio Flash||no PC Sync||PC Sync socket|
|USB Connector||USB 2.0||USB 3.0|
|HDMI Port||no HDMI||mini HDMI|
|Microphone Port||no MIC socket||External MIC port|
|Headphone Socket||no Headphone port||Headphone port|
|Wifi Support||no Wifi||Wifi built-in|
|Geotagging||no internal GPS||GPS built-in|
|Body Specs||Leica M9||Leica S3|
|Environmental Sealing||not weather sealed||Weathersealed body|
139 x 80 x 37 mm
(5.5 x 3.1 x 1.5 in)
160 x 120 x 80 mm
(6.3 x 4.7 x 3.1 in)
|Camera Weight||585 g (20.6 oz)||1260 g (44.4 oz)|
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