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Leica S2 versus Nikon D800E

The Leica S2 and the Nikon D800E are two professional cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in September 2008 and February 2012. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are based on a medium format (S2) and a full frame sensor. The Leica has a resolution of 37.5 megapixel, whereas the Nikon provides 36.2 MP.

Body comparison

The physical size and weight of the Leica S2 and the Nikon D800E are illustrated in the side-by-side display below. Three consecutive perspectives from the front, the top, and the back are presented. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter. If you prefer, you can also use the toggle button to switch to a comparison in percentage terms (in this case, the camera on the left – the S2 – represents 100 percent across all the size and weight measures).

Leica S2 vs Nikon D800E front
S2 versus D800 top view
S2 and D800 rear side
Body view (S2 on the left)

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D800E is somewhat smaller (6 percent) than the Leica S2. Moreover, the D800 is markedly lighter (29 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 the specifications of available lenses in order to get the full picture of the size and weight of the two camera systems.

The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, just select a new right or left comparator from among the camera models in the table. Alternatively, you can also move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible comparisons there.

Camera Body Specifications
Camera Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Leica S2 (⇒ rgt) 160 mm 120 mm 80 mm 1410 g .. YES 2008 22,995discont. check
Nikon D800E (⇒ lft) 146 mm 123 mm 82 mm 1000 g .. YES 2012 3,299discont. check
Canon 1D Mark IV (⇒ lft | rgt) 156 mm 157 mm 80 mm 1230 g 1500 YES 2009 4,999discont. check
Canon 1Ds Mark III (⇒ lft | rgt) 150 mm 160 mm 80 mm 1385 g 1800 YES 2007 7,999discont. check
Canon 1D Mark III (⇒ lft | rgt) 156 mm 156.6 mm 80 mm 1155 g 2200 YES 2007 4,499discont. check
Leica S Typ 007 (⇒ lft | rgt) 160 mm 120 mm 80 mm 1260 g .. YES 2014 24,490 latest check
Leica S-E Typ 006 (⇒ lft | rgt) 160 mm 120 mm 80 mm 1260 g .. YES 2014 16,900discont. check
Leica S Typ 006 (⇒ lft | rgt) 160 mm 120 mm 80 mm 1260 g .. YES 2012 21,950discont. check
Nikon D810 (⇒ lft | rgt) 146 mm 123 mm 82 mm 980 g 1200 YES 2014 3,299discont. check
Nikon D610 (⇒ lft | rgt) 141 mm 113 mm 82 mm 850 g 900 YES 2013 1,999 latest check
Nikon Df (⇒ lft | rgt) 144 mm 110 mm 67 mm 760 g 1400 YES 2013 2,749 latest check
Nikon D800 (⇒ lft | rgt) 146 mm 123 mm 82 mm 1000 g .. YES 2012 2,999discont. check
Nikon D3S (⇒ lft | rgt) 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1240 g 4200 YES 2009 5,199discont. check
Nikon D3X (⇒ lft | rgt) 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1260 g 4400 YES 2008 7,999discont. check
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) 147 mm 123 mm 77 mm 1074 g 1000 YES 2008 2,999discont. check
Nikon D3 (⇒ lft | rgt) 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1300 g .. YES 2007 4,999discont. check
Pentax 645D (⇒ lft | rgt) 156 mm 117 mm 119 mm 1480 g .. YES 2010 9,995discont. check

The listed prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The D800 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 86 percent) than the S2, 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.

Sensor comparison

The size of the imaging sensor is a crucial determinant of image quality. A large sensor will generally have larger individual pixels that offer better low-light sensitivity, provide wider dynamic range, and have 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 are more costly to manufacture and tent to lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.

Of the two cameras under consideration, the Leica S2 features a medium format sensor and the Nikon D800E a full frame sensor. The sensor area in the D800 is 36 percent smaller. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 0.8 and 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.

Leica S2 and Nikon D800E sensor measures
Sensor size

With 37.5MP, the S2 offers a slightly higher resolution than the D800 (36.2MP), but the S2 nevertheless has larger individual pixels (pixel pitch of 6.00μm versus 4.88μm for the D800) due to its larger sensor. However, the D800 is a somewhat more recent model (by 3 years and 4 months) than the S2, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that further enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixels. 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.

S2 versus D800 MP
Sensor resolution

Consistent information on actual sensor performance is available from DXO Mark for most cameras. This service determines an overall sensor rating, as well as sub-scores for low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and color depth ("DXO Portrait"). The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.

Sensor Characteristics
Camera Sensor
Class
Resolution
(Megapixel)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Leica S2 (⇒ rgt) Medium Format 37.5 7500 5000 no - - - -
Nikon D800E (⇒ lft) Full Frame 36.2 7360 4912 1080/30p 25.6 14.3 2979 96
Canon 1D Mark IV (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-H 16.0 4896 3264 1080/30p 22.8 12.0 1320 74
Canon 1Ds Mark III (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 21.0 5616 3744 no 24.0 12.0 1663 80
Canon 1D Mark III (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-H 10.1 3888 2592 no 22.7 11.7 1078 71
Leica S Typ 007 (⇒ lft | rgt) Medium Format 37.5 7500 5000 4K/24p - - - -
Leica S-E Typ 006 (⇒ lft | rgt) Medium Format 37.5 7500 5000 no - - - -
Leica S Typ 006 (⇒ lft | rgt) Medium Format 37.5 7500 5000 no 23.9 12.2 824 76
Nikon D810 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 36.2 7360 4912 1080/60p 25.7 14.8 2853 97
Nikon D610 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 24.2 6016 4016 1080/30p 25.1 14.4 2925 94
Nikon Df (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 16.2 4928 3280 no 24.6 13.1 3279 89
Nikon D800 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 36.2 7360 4912 1080/30p 25.3 14.4 2853 95
Nikon D3S (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832 720/24p 23.5 12.0 3253 82
Nikon D3X (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032 no 24.7 13.7 1992 88
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832 no 23.5 12.2 2303 80
Nikon D3 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832 no 23.5 12.2 2290 81
Pentax 645D (⇒ lft | rgt) Medium Format 39.5 7264 5440 no 24.6 12.6 1262 82

Many modern cameras cannot only take still pictures, but also record videos. The D800 indeed provides for movie recording, while the S2 does not. The highest resolution format that the D800 can use is 1080/30p.

Feature comparison

Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The S2 and the D800 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 S2, the Nikon D800E, and comparable cameras. The full specs-sheets can be found in the camera manual or, for example, in the dpreview camera hub.

Core Features
Camera Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(Y/n)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(Y/n)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec))
Build-in
Flash
(GN)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Leica S2 (⇒ rgt) optical YES 3.0 460 fixed no 4000 1.5 no no
Nikon D800E (⇒ lft) optical YES 3.2 921 fixed no 8000 4.0 12 no
Canon 1D Mark IV (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 920 fixed no 8000 10.0 no no
Canon 1Ds Mark III (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 230 fixed no 8000 5.0 no no
Canon 1D Mark III (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 230 fixed no 8000 10.0 no no
Leica S Typ 007 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 4000 3.5 no no
Leica S-E Typ 006 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 4000 1.5 no no
Leica S Typ 006 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 4000 1.5 no no
Nikon D810 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 1229 fixed no 4000 5.0 12 no
Nikon D610 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 921 fixed no 4000 6.0 12 no
Nikon Df (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 921 fixed no 4000 5.5 no no
Nikon D800 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 921 fixed no 8000 4.0 12 no
Nikon D3S (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 921 fixed no 8000 11.0 no no
Nikon D3X (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 8000 5.0 no no
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 8000 8.0 12 no
Nikon D3 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 8000 11.0 no no
Pentax 645D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 921 fixed no 4000 1.1 no no

Both the S2 and the D800 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on ebay. The S2 was replaced by the Leica S Typ 006, while the D800 was followed by the Nikon D810.

Summary

So what is the bottom line? Is the Leica S2 better than the Nikon D800E or vice versa? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.


Arguments in favor of the Leica S2:

  • More prestigious: Has the Leica luxury appeal, which ensures a high resale price.
  • More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in September 2008).

Reasons to prefer the Nikon D800E:

  • Broader imaging potential: Can capture not only stills but also 1080/30p video.
  • Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.2" vs 3.0") for image review and settings control.
  • More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (921k vs 460k dots).
  • Faster shutter: Has higher mechanical shutter speed (8000/sec vs 4000/sec) to freeze action.
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (4 vs 1.5 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 410g or 29 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
  • Easier fill-in: Has a small integrated flash to brighten shadows of backlit subjects.
  • More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (86 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More modern: Reflects 3 years and 4 months of technical progress since the S2 launch.

If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the D800 is the clear winner of the contest (9 : 2 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.

S2 02:09 D800

In any case, while the comparison of the spec-sheets of cameras can offer a general idea of their imaging potential, it says nothing about, for example, the handling, responsiveness, and overall imaging quality of the S2 and the D800 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 why hands-on reviews by experts are important. The following table reports the overall rankings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera review sites. The full reviews are available, respectively, at cameralabs.com, dpreview.com, ephotozine.com, imaging-resource.com, and photographyblog.com.

Review scores
Camera camera
labs
dp
review
ephoto
zine
imaging
resource
photography
blog
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Leica S2 (⇒ rgt) - - - - - 2008 22,995discont. check
Nikon D800E (⇒ lft) - 84/100 Gold 5/5 4.5/5 5/5 2012 3,299discont. check
Canon 1D Mark IV (⇒ lft | rgt) - 89/100 Gold - 5/5 - 2009 4,999discont. check
Canon 1Ds Mark III (⇒ lft | rgt) - HiRec 4.5/5 - - 2007 7,999discont. check
Canon 1D Mark III (⇒ lft | rgt) - - - reviewed - 2007 4,499discont. check
Leica S Typ 007 (⇒ lft | rgt) - - - - - 2014 24,490 latest check
Leica S-E Typ 006 (⇒ lft | rgt) - - - - - 2014 16,900discont. check
Leica S Typ 006 (⇒ lft | rgt) - - - - - 2012 21,950discont. check
Nikon D810 (⇒ lft | rgt) - 86/100 Gold 5/5 4.5/5 4.5/5 2014 3,299discont. check
Nikon D610 (⇒ lft | rgt) HiRec 87/100 Gold 4.5/5 4.5/5 4.5/5 2013 1,999 latest check
Nikon Df (⇒ lft | rgt) - 81/100 4/5 4/5 4/5 2013 2,749 latest check
Nikon D800 (⇒ lft | rgt) HiRec 82/100 Gold 5/5 5/5 5/5 2012 2,999discont. check
Nikon D3S (⇒ lft | rgt) - 89/100 Gold 4.5/5 5/5 5/5 2009 5,199discont. check
Nikon D3X (⇒ lft | rgt) - 86/100 4/5 5/5 5/5 2008 7,999discont. check
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) 89/100 HiRec 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2008 2,999discont. check
Nikon D3 (⇒ lft | rgt) - HiRec 5/5 reviewed 4.5/5 2007 4,999discont. check
Pentax 645D (⇒ lft | rgt) - - - 4.5/5 - 2010 9,995discont. check

The above review scores should be interpreted with care, though. The ratings were established in reference to similarly priced cameras that were available in the market at the time of the review. Thus, a score needs to be put into the context of the launch date and the launch price of the camera, and rating-comparisons among cameras that span long time periods or concern very differently equipped models make little sense. Also, kindly note that some of the listed sites have over time developped their review approaches and their reporting style.

Other comparisons

In case you are interested in seeing how other cameras pair up, just make your choice using the following search menu. Alternatively, you can follow any of the listed hyperlinks for comparisons that others found interesting. If the camera you are interested in is not available, please send me an email, and I will try to add information on that model to the database.

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