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Leica S2 vs S3

The Leica S2 and the Leica S3 are two professional cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in September 2008 and September 2018. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are equipped with a medium format sensor. The S2 has a resolution of 37.5 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.

Headline Specifications
Leica S2
versus
Leica S3
Leica S2   Leica S3
Digital single lens reflex Digital single lens reflex
Leica S mount lenses Leica S mount lenses
37.5 MP – Medium Format sensor 64 MP – Medium Format sensor
no Video 4K/24p Video
ISO 80-1,250 ISO 100-50,000
Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
3.0" LCD – 460k dots 3.0" LCD – 922k dots
Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive) Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive)
1.5 shutter flaps per second 3 shutter flaps per second
Weathersealed bodyWeathersealed body
160 x 120 x 80 mm, 1410 g 160 x 120 x 80 mm, 1260 g
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Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Leica S2 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.

Body comparison

The physical size and weight of the Leica S2 and the Leica S3 are illustrated in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive perspectives from the front, the top, and the back are available. All width, height and depth dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.

Size Leica S2 vs Leica S3
Compare S2 versus S3 top
Comparison S2 or S3 rear

In this particular case, the Leica S2 and the Leica S3 have exactly the same width and height, and, thus, have identically-sized bodies. However, the S3 is markedly lighter (11 percent) than the S2. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.

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.

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Body Specifications
    Camera
Model
Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
Weather
Sealing
Camera
Launch
Launch
Price (USD)
Street
Price
1.
 
Leica S2 160 mm 120 mm 80 mm 1410 g .. Y Sep 2008 22,995ebay.com
2.
 
Leica S3 160 mm 120 mm 80 mm 1260 g .. Y Sep 2018 18,995 amazon.com
3.
 
Canon 1Ds Mark III 150 mm 160 mm 80 mm 1385 g 1800 Y Aug 2007 7,999ebay.com
4.
 
Leica M10 139 mm 80 mm 39 mm 660 g 210 Y Jan 2017 6,595ebay.com
5.
 
Leica S-E Typ 006 160 mm 120 mm 80 mm 1260 g .. Y Sep 2014 16,900ebay.com
6.
 
Leica S Typ 007 160 mm 120 mm 80 mm 1260 g .. Y Sep 2014 24,490ebay.com
7.
 
Leica S Typ 006 160 mm 120 mm 80 mm 1260 g .. Y Sep 2012 21,950ebay.com
8.
 
Leica S1 339 mm 214 mm 119 mm 2500 g .. n Aug 1996 21,490ebay.com
9.
 
Nikon D3S 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1240 g 4200 Y Oct 2009 5,199ebay.com
10.
 
Nikon D3X 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1260 g 4400 Y Dec 2008 7,999ebay.com
11.
 
Nikon D3 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1300 g 4300 Y Aug 2007 4,999ebay.com
12.
 
Pentax 645D 156 mm 117 mm 119 mm 1480 g 800 Y Mar 2010 9,995ebay.com
Note: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.

Any camera decision will naturally be influenced heavily by the price. The listed launch prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The S3 was launched at a somewhat lower price (by 17 percent) than the S2, which makes it more attractive for photographers on a tight budget. Normally, street prices remain initially close to the MSRP, but after a couple of months, the first discounts appear. 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.

Sensor comparison

The imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors 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. Further, a large sensor camera will give the photographer additional creative options when using shallow depth-of-field to isolate a subject from its background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be more expensive and lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.

Both cameras under consideration feature a medium format sensor and have a format factor (sometimes also referred to as "crop factor") of 0.8. Within the spectrum of camera sensors, this places the review cameras among the large-sensor cameras that aim for top notch image quality. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.

Leica S2 and Leica S3 sensor measures

While the two cameras under review share the same sensor size, the S3 offers a higher resolution of 64 megapixels, compared with 37.5 MP of the S2. This megapixels advantage translates into a 31 percent gain in linear resolution. On the other hand, these sensor specs imply that the S3 has a higher pixel density and a smaller size of the individual pixel (with a pixel pitch of 4.59μm versus 6.00μm for the S2). However, it should be noted that the S3 is much more recent (by 10 years) than the S2, and its sensor will have benefitted from technological advances during this time that compensate for the smaller pixel size. 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 S2 are 37.5 x 25 inches or 95.3 x 63.5 cm for good quality, 30 x 20 inches or 76.2 x 50.8 cm for very good quality, and 25 x 16.7 inches or 63.5 x 42.3 cm for excellent quality prints.

The Leica S2 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 80 to ISO 1250. The corresponding ISO settings for the Leica S3 are ISO 100 to ISO 50000 (no boost).

In terms of underlying technology, the S2 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.

S2 versus S3 MP

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.

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Sensor Characteristics
    Camera
Model
Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
1.
 
Leica S2 Medium Format 37.5 7500 5000none23.912.5222482
2.
 
Leica S3 Medium Format 64.0 9800 65334K/24p25.614.4314398
3.
 
Canon 1Ds Mark III Full Frame 21.0 5616 3744none24.012.0166380
4.
 
Leica M10 Full Frame 23.8 5952 3992none24.413.2213386
5.
 
Leica S-E Typ 006 Medium Format 37.5 7500 5000none25.113.7276393
6.
 
Leica S Typ 007 Medium Format 37.5 7500 50004K/24p25.113.7276393
7.
 
Leica S Typ 006 Medium Format 37.5 7500 5000none23.912.282476
8.
 
Leica S1 Medium Format 26.4 5140 5140none........
9.
 
Nikon D3S Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832720/24p23.512.0325382
10.
 
Nikon D3X Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032none24.713.7199288
11.
 
Nikon D3 Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832none23.512.2229081
12.
 
Pentax 645D Medium Format 39.5 7264 5440none24.612.6126282
Note: DXO values in italics represent estimates based on sensor size and age.

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. The S3 indeed provides for movie recording, while the S2 does not. The highest resolution format that the S3 can use is 4K/24p.

Feature comparison

Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The S2 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 S3 offers a wider field of view (98%) than the one in the S2 (96%), so that a larger proportion of the captured image is visible in the finder. In addition, the viewfinder of the S3 has a higher magnification (0.87x vs 0.86x), so that the size of the image transmitted appears closer to the size seen with the naked human eye. The following table reports on some other key feature differences and similarities of the Leica S2, the Leica S3, and comparable cameras.

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Core Features
    Camera
Model
Viewfinder
(Type or
000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Specifications
(inch/000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Max
Shutter
Speed *
Max
Shutter
Flaps *
Built-in
Flash
(yes/no)
Built-in
Image
Stab
1.
 
Leica S2optical Y3.0 / 460 fixed n 1/4000s 1.5/s n n
2.
 
Leica S3optical Y3.0 / 922 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0/s n n
3.
 
Canon 1Ds Mark IIIoptical Y3.0 / 230 fixed n 1/8000s 5.0/s n n
4.
 
Leica M10optical n3.0 / 1037 fixed n 1/4000s 5.0/s n n
5.
 
Leica S-E Typ 006optical Y3.0 / 922 fixed n 1/4000s 1.5/s n n
6.
 
Leica S Typ 007optical Y3.0 / 922 fixed n 1/4000s 3.5/s n n
7.
 
Leica S Typ 006optical Y3.0 / 922 fixed n 1/4000s 1.5/s n n
8.
 
Leica S1optical nnone / none none n .. 0.01/s n n
9.
 
Nikon D3Soptical Y3.0 / 921 fixed n 1/8000s 11.0/s n n
10.
 
Nikon D3Xoptical Y3.0 / 922 fixed n 1/8000s 5.0/s n n
11.
 
Nikon D3optical Y3.0 / 922 fixed n 1/8000s 11.0/s n n
12.
 
Pentax 645Doptical Y3.0 / 921 fixed n 1/4000s 1.1/s n n
Notes: *) Information refers to the mechanical shutter, unless the camera only has an electronic one.

The S2 writes its imaging data to Compact Flash or SDHC cards, while the S3 uses Compact Flash or SDXC cards. Both cameras feature dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. The S3 supports UHS-II cards (Ultra High Speed data transfer of up to 312 MB/s), while the S2 cannot take advantage of Ultra High Speed SD cards.

Connectivity comparison

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 S2 and Leica S3 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.

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Input-Output Connections
    Camera
Model
Hotshoe
Port
Internal
Mic / Speaker
Microphone
Port
Headphone
Port
HDMI
Port
USB
Port
WiFi
Support
NFC
Support
Bluetooth
Support
1.
 
Leica S2Y- / ---mini2.0---
2.
 
Leica S3Ystereo / monoYYmini3.0Y--
3.
 
Canon 1Ds Mark IIIYmono / ----2.0---
4.
 
Leica M10Y- / -----Y--
5.
 
Leica S-E Typ 006Y- / ---mini2.0---
6.
 
Leica S Typ 007Ystereo / monoYYmini3.0Y--
7.
 
Leica S Typ 006Y- / ---mini2.0---
8.
 
Leica S1-- / --------
9.
 
Nikon D3SYstereo / ---mini2.0---
10.
 
Nikon D3XY- / ---mini2.0---
11.
 
Nikon D3Y- / ---mini2.0---
12.
 
Pentax 645DYstereo / ----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 S2 does not provide wifi capability.

Both cameras feature a PC Sync terminal to control professional strobe lights, which will be appreciated by studio photographers.

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 S2 has been discontinued (but can be found pre-owned on ebay). As a replacement in the same line of cameras, the S2 was succeeded by the Leica S Typ 006. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Leica website.

Review summary

So what is the bottom line? Is there a clear favorite between the Leica S2 and the Leica S3? Which camera is better? Below is a summary of the relative strengths of each of the two contestants.


Reasons to prefer the Leica S2:

  • More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in September 2008).


Arguments in favor of the Leica S3:

  • More detail: Has more megapixels (64 vs 37.5MP), which boosts linear resolution by 31%.
  • Broader imaging potential: Can capture not only stills but also 4K/24p video.
  • More complete view: Has a viewfinder with a larger field of view (98% vs 96%).
  • Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.87x vs 0.86x).
  • More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (922k vs 460k dots).
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (3 vs 1.5 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 150g or 11 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
  • 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.
  • Faster buffer clearing: Has an SD card interface that supports the UHS-II standard.
  • More affordable: Was released into a lower priced segment (17 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More modern: Reflects 10 years of technical progress since the S2 launch.

If the count of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a measure, the S3 is the clear winner of the contest (13 : 1 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 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.

S2 01:13 S3

How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Leica S2 and the Leica S3 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best DSLR Camera listing whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.

In any case, while the comparison of the spec-sheets of cameras can offer a general idea of their imaging potential, it says little about, for example, the shooting experience and imaging performance of the S2 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.

Expert reviews

This is where reviews by experts come in. The adjacent summary-table relays the overall verdicts of several of the most popular 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.

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Expert Camera Reviews
     Camera 
 Model 
 AP 
 score 
 CL 
 score 
 DCW 
 score 
 DPR 
 score 
 EPZ 
 score 
 PB 
 score 
Camera
Launch
Launch
Price (USD)
Street
Price
1.
 
Leica S2............ Sep 2008 22,995ebay.com
2.
 
Leica S3............ Sep 2018 18,995 amazon.com
3.
 
Canon 1Ds Mark III......+ +4.5/5.. Aug 2007 7,999ebay.com
4.
 
Leica M104.5/5......4/54.5/5 Jan 2017 6,595ebay.com
5.
 
Leica S-E Typ 006............ Sep 2014 16,900ebay.com
6.
 
Leica S Typ 0074/5.......... Sep 2014 24,490ebay.com
7.
 
Leica S Typ 006............ Sep 2012 21,950ebay.com
8.
 
Leica S1............ Aug 1996 21,490ebay.com
9.
 
Nikon D3S5/5....89/1004.5/55/5 Oct 2009 5,199ebay.com
10.
 
Nikon D3X......86/1004/55/5 Dec 2008 7,999ebay.com
11.
 
Nikon D3......+ +5/54.5/5 Aug 2007 4,999ebay.com
12.
 
Pentax 645D5/5.......... Mar 2010 9,995ebay.com
Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.

The above review scores should be interpreted with care, though. The ratings are only valid when referring to cameras in the same category and of the same age. A score, therefore, has to be seen in close connection to the price and market introduction time 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, kindly note that some of the listed sites have over time developped their review approaches and their reporting style.

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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.

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    Specifications: Leica S2 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 Specifications
    Camera Model Leica S2 Leica S3
    Camera Type Digital single lens reflex Digital single lens reflex
    Camera Lens Leica S mount lenses Leica S mount lenses
    Launch Date September 2008 September 2018
    Launch Price USD 22,995 USD 18,995
    Sensor Specs Leica S2 Leica S3
    Sensor Technology CCD CMOS
    Sensor Format Medium Format Sensor Medium Format Sensor
    Sensor Size 45.0 x 30.0 mm 45.0 x 30.0 mm
    Sensor Area 1350 mm2 1350 mm2
    Sensor Diagonal 54.1 mm 54.1 mm
    Crop Factor 0.8x 0.8x
    Sensor Resolution 37.5 Megapixels 64 Megapixels
    Image Resolution 7500 x 5000 pixels 9800 x 6533 pixels
    Pixel Pitch 6.00 μm 4.59 μm
    Pixel Density 2.78 MP/cm2 4.74 MP/cm2
    Moiré control no AA filter no AA filter
    Movie Capability no Video 4K/24p Video
    ISO Setting 80 - 1,250 ISO 100 - 50,000 ISO
    Screen Specs Leica S2 Leica S3
    Viewfinder Type Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
    Viewfinder Field of View 96% 98%
    Viewfinder Magnification 0.86x 0.87x
    Top-Level Screen Control Panel Control Panel
    LCD Framing Live View
    Rear LCD Size 3.0inch 3.0inch
    LCD Resolution 460k dots 922k dots
    LCD Attachment Fixed screen Fixed screen
    Shooting Specs Leica S2 Leica S3
    Focus System Phase-detect AF Phase-detect AF
    Manual Focusing Aidno Peaking FeatureFocus Peaking
    Max Shutter Speed (mechanical) 1/4000s 1/4000s
    Continuous Shooting 1.5 shutter flaps/s 3 shutter flaps/s
    Fill Flash no On-Board Flash no On-Board Flash
    Storage Medium CF or SDHC cards CF or SDXC cards
    Second Storage Option Dual card slots Dual card slots
    UHS card support no UHS-II
    Connectivity Specs Leica S2 Leica S3
    External Flash Hotshoe Hotshoe
    Studio Flash PC Sync socket PC Sync socket
    USB Connector USB 2.0 USB 3.0
    HDMI Port mini 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 S2 Leica S3
    Environmental SealingWeathersealed bodyWeathersealed body
    Battery Type BP-PRO1 BP-PRO1
    Body Dimensions 160 x 120 x 80 mm
    (6.3 x 4.7 x 3.1 in)
    160 x 120 x 80 mm
    (6.3 x 4.7 x 3.1 in)
    Camera Weight 1410 g (49.7 oz) 1260 g (44.4 oz)
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