Leica S1 vs S3
The Leica S1 Pro and the Leica S3 are two professional cameras that were announced, respectively, in August 1996 and September 2018. The S1 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, while the S3 is a DSLR. Both cameras are equipped with a medium format sensor. The S1 has a resolution of 26.4 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 S1 Pro 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.
An illustration of the physical size and weight of the Leica S1 and the Leica S3 is provided in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
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 smaller (74 percent) than the Leica S1. Moreover, the S3 is substantially lighter (50 percent) than the S1. It is noteworthy in this context that the S3 is splash and dust-proof, while the S1 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 following table provides a synthesis of the main physical specifications of the two cameras and other similar ones. In case you want to display and compare another camera duo, you can use the CAM-parator app to select your camera combination among a large number of options.
|1.||Leica S1||339 mm||214 mm||119 mm||2500 g||..||n||Aug 1996||21,490|
|2.||Leica S3||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1260 g||..||Y||Sep 2018||18,995|
|3.||Canon RP||133 mm||85 mm||70 mm||485 g||250||n||Feb 2019||1,299|
|4.||Canon SL3||122 mm||93 mm||70 mm||449 g||1070||n||Apr 2019||599|
|5.||Fujifilm X-T30||118 mm||83 mm||47 mm||383 g||380||n||Feb 2019||899|
|6.||Leica M-E Typ 240||139 mm||80 mm||42 mm||680 g||..||Y||Jun 2019||3,999|
|7.||Leica CL||131 mm||78 mm||45 mm||403 g||220||n||Nov 2017||2,795|
|8.||Leica M10||139 mm||80 mm||39 mm||660 g||210||Y||Jan 2017||6,595|
|9.||Leica TL2||134 mm||69 mm||33 mm||399 g||250||n||Jul 2017||1,950|
|10.||Leica Q Typ 116||130 mm||80 mm||93 mm||640 g||300||n||Jun 2015||4,249|
|11.||Leica S-E Typ 006||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1260 g||..||Y||Sep 2014||16,900|
|12.||Leica S Typ 007||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1260 g||..||Y||Sep 2014||24,490|
|13.||Leica S Typ 006||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1260 g||..||Y||Sep 2012||21,950|
|14.||Leica S2||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1410 g||..||Y||Sep 2008||22,995|
|15.||Sony A6400||120 mm||67 mm||50 mm||403 g||410||Y||Jan 2019||899|
|16.||Sony A6100||120 mm||67 mm||59 mm||396 g||420||n||Aug 2019||749|
|Notes: 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 S3 was launched at a somewhat lower price (by 12 percent) than the S1, which makes it more attractive for photographers on a tight budget. 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 imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors of image quality. A large sensor will tend to have larger individual pixels that provide better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color-depth than smaller pixel-units 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 are more costly to manufacture and tend to lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.
Both cameras under consideration feature a medium format sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. The sensor area in the S3 is 4 percent bigger. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have format factors, respectively, of 0.85 (S1) and 0.8. The sensor in the S1 has a native 1:1 aspect ratio, while the one in the S3 offers a 3:2 aspect.
With 64MP, the S3 offers a higher resolution than the S1 (26.4MP), but the S3 has smaller individual pixels (pixel pitch of 4.59μm versus 7.01μm for the S1). Yet, the S3 is a much more recent model (by 22 years and 1 month) than the S1, 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 S1 are 25.7 x 25.7 inches or 65.3 x 65.3 cm for good quality, 20.6 x 20.6 inches or 52.2 x 52.2 cm for very good quality, and 17.1 x 17.1 inches or 43.5 x 43.5 cm for excellent quality prints.
The Leica S1 Pro has a native sensitivity range from ISO 50 to ISO 1600. The corresponding ISO settings for the Leica S3 are ISO 100 to ISO 50000 (no boost).
For many cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.
| DXO |
|1.||Leica S1||Medium Format||26.4||5140||5140||none||..||..||..||..|
|2.||Leica S3||Medium Format||64.0||9800||6533||4K/24p||..||..||..||..|
|3.||Canon RP||Full Frame||26.2||6240||4160||4K/30p||..||..||..||..|
|6.||Leica M-E Typ 240||Full Frame||23.7||5952||3976||1080/25p||..||..||..||..|
|8.||Leica M10||Full Frame||23.8||5952||3992||none||24.4||13.2||2133||86|
|10.||Leica Q Typ 116||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||1080/60p||24.3||12.7||2221||85|
|11.||Leica S-E Typ 006||Medium Format||37.5||7500||5000||none||..||..||..||..|
|12.||Leica S Typ 007||Medium Format||37.5||7500||5000||4K/24p||..||..||..||..|
|13.||Leica S Typ 006||Medium Format||37.5||7500||5000||none||23.9||12.2||824||76|
|14.||Leica S2||Medium Format||37.5||7500||5000||none||..||..||..||..|
Many modern cameras cannot only take still pictures, but also record videos. The S3 indeed provides for movie recording, while the S1 does not. The highest resolution format that the S3 can use is 4K/24p.
Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The S1 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 following table reports on some other key feature differences and similarities of the Leica S1, the Leica S3, and comparable cameras.
|6.||Leica M-E Typ 240||optical||n||3.0||920||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.0||n||n|
|10.||Leica Q Typ 116||3680||n||3.0||1040||fixed||Y||1/2000s||10.0||n||Y|
|11.||Leica S-E Typ 006||optical||Y||3.0||922||fixed||n||1/4000s||1.5||n||n|
|12.||Leica S Typ 007||optical||Y||3.0||922||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.5||n||n|
|13.||Leica S Typ 006||optical||Y||3.0||922||fixed||n||1/4000s||1.5||n||n|
One feature that is present on the S3, but is missing on the S1 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 S1 writes its imaging data to external storage, while the S3 uses Compact Flash or SDXC 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 S1 Pro and Leica S3 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
| WiFi |
| NFC |
|6.||Leica M-E Typ 240||Y||mono||-||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
|10.||Leica Q Typ 116||Y||stereo||mono||-||-||micro||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|11.||Leica S-E Typ 006||Y||-||-||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|12.||Leica S Typ 007||Y||stereo||mono||Y||Y||mini||3.0||Y||-||-|
|13.||Leica S Typ 006||Y||-||-||-||-||mini||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 S1 does not provide wifi capability.
Studio photographers will appreciate that the Leica S3 (unlike the S1) 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 S1 has been discontinued (but can be found pre-owned on eBay). As a replacement in the same line of cameras, the S1 was succeeded by the Leica S2. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Leica website.
So what conclusions can be drawn? Which of the two cameras – the Leica S1 or the Leica S3 – has the upper hand? Is one clearly better than the other? A synthesis of the relative strong points of each of the models is listed below.
Arguments in favor of the Leica S1 Pro:
- More legacy lens friendly: Can take a broad range of non-native lenses via adapters.
- More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in August 1996).
Reasons to prefer the Leica S3:
- More detail: Has more megapixels (64 vs 26.4MP), which boosts linear resolution by 62%.
- Broader imaging potential: Can capture not only stills but also 4K/24p video.
- Easier setting verification: Features a control panel on top to check shooting parameters.
- Rear screen: Has a backside LCD (3.0") for image review and settings control.
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (3 vs 0.01 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
- More compact: Is smaller (160x120mm vs 339x214mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
- Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 1240g or 50 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
- Better sealing: Is splash and dust sealed for shooting in inclement weather conditions.
- Better lighting: Features a hotshoe and can thus hold and trigger an external flash gun.
- Easier geotagging: Features an internal GPS sensor to log localization data.
- 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.
- More affordable: Was released into a lower priced segment (12 percent cheaper at launch).
- More modern: Reflects 22 years and 1 month of technical progress since the S1 launch.
If the number of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the S3 is the clear winner of the contest (14 : 2 points). However, the relevance of individual strengths will vary across photographers, so that you might want to apply your own weighing scheme to the summary points when reflecting and deciding on a new camera. A professional wedding photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a travel photog, and a person interested in cityscapes has distinct needs from a macro shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.
How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Leica S1 and the Leica S3 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera and Best DSLR Camera listings whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.
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 S1 and the S3 in practical situations. User reviews, such as those found at amazon, can sometimes inform about these issues, but such feedback is often incomplete, inconsistent, and biased.
This is why expert reviews are important. The table below provides a synthesis of the camera assessments of some of the best known photo-gear review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], 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 S1||..||..||..||..||..||Aug 1996||21,490|
|2.||Leica S3||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2018||18,995|
|3.||Canon RP||4/5||+||..||4.5/5||4/5||Feb 2019||1,299|
|4.||Canon SL3||..||o||79/100||4/5||4/5||Apr 2019||599|
|5.||Fujifilm X-T30||5/5||+ +||84/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2019||899|
|6.||Leica M-E Typ 240||..||..||..||..||..||Jun 2019||3,999|
|7.||Leica CL||..||..||..||..||4/5||Nov 2017||2,795|
|8.||Leica M10||4.5/5||..||..||4/5||4.5/5||Jan 2017||6,595|
|9.||Leica TL2||3.5/5||..||..||4/5||4/5||Jul 2017||1,950|
|10.||Leica Q Typ 116||5/5||..||80/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jun 2015||4,249|
|11.||Leica S-E Typ 006||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2014||16,900|
|12.||Leica S Typ 007||4/5||..||..||..||..||Sep 2014||24,490|
|13.||Leica S Typ 006||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2012||21,950|
|14.||Leica S2||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2008||22,995|
|15.||Sony A6400||4/5||+||85/100||4.5/5||4/5||Jan 2019||899|
|16.||Sony A6100||..||..||82/100||4/5||5/5||Aug 2019||749|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
The review scores listed above should be treated with care, though. The assessments were made in relation to similar cameras of the same technological generation. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and rating-comparisons among cameras that span long time periods or concern very differently equipped models make little sense. 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? If you would like to see a different side-by-side camera review, just use the search menu below. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored.
Specifications: Leica S1 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 S1||Leica S3|
|Camera Type||Mirrorless system camera||Digital single lens reflex|
|Camera Lens||Leica R mount lenses||Leica S mount lenses|
|Launch Date||August 1996||September 2018|
|Launch Price||USD 21,490||USD 18,995|
|Sensor Specs||Leica S1||Leica S3|
|Sensor Format||Medium Format Sensor||Medium Format Sensor|
|Sensor Size||36.0 x 36.0 mm||45.0 x 30.0 mm|
|Sensor Area||1296 mm2||1350 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||50.9 mm||54.1 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||26.4 Megapixels||64 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||5140 x 5140 pixels||9800 x 6533 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||7.01 μm||4.59 μm|
|Pixel Density||2.04 MP/cm2||4.74 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||no AA filter||no AA filter|
|Movie Capability||no Video||4K/24p Video|
|ISO Setting||50 - 1,600 ISO||100 - 50,000 ISO|
|Screen Specs||Leica S1||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||3.0inch|
|LCD Resolution||no LCD||922k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen|
|Shooting Specs||Leica S1||Leica S3|
|Focus System||Manual Focus||Phase-detect AF|
|Manual Focusing Aid||no Peaking Feature||Focus Peaking|
|Max Shutter Speed (mechanical)||..||1/4000s|
|Continuous Shooting||0.01 shutter flaps/s||3 shutter flaps/s|
|Fill Flash||no On-Board Flash||no On-Board Flash|
|Storage Medium||external||CF or SDXC cards|
|Second Storage Option||Dual card slots|
|Connectivity Specs||Leica S1||Leica S3|
|External Flash||no Hotshoe||Hotshoe|
|Studio Flash||no PC Sync||PC Sync socket|
|USB Connector||no USB||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 S1||Leica S3|
|Environmental Sealing||not weather sealed||Weathersealed body|
339 x 214 x 119 mm
(13.3 x 8.4 x 4.7 in)
160 x 120 x 80 mm
(6.3 x 4.7 x 3.1 in)
|Camera Weight||2500 g (88.2 oz)||1260 g (44.4 oz)|
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