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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 successive views from the front, the top, and the rear are shown. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter. You can also use the toggle button to switch to a percentage comparison if you prefer that the measures are being expressed in relative terms (in this case, the camera on the left side – the S2 – represents the basis for the calculations 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) 6.3 in 4.7 in 3.1 in 49.7 oz .. YES 2008 22,995discont. check
Nikon D800E (⇒ lft) 5.7 in 4.8 in 3.2 in 35.3 oz .. YES 2012 3,299discont. check
Leica X-U Typ 113 (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.5 in 3.1 in 3.5 in 22.4 oz 450 YES 2016 2,950 latest check
Leica M Typ 262 (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.5 in 3.1 in 1.7 in 24.0 oz .. YES 2015 5,195discont. check
Leica S Typ 007 (⇒ lft | rgt) 6.3 in 4.7 in 3.1 in 44.4 oz .. YES 2014 24,490 latest check
Leica S-E Typ 006 (⇒ lft | rgt) 6.3 in 4.7 in 3.1 in 44.4 oz .. YES 2014 16,900discont. check
Leica S Typ 006 (⇒ lft | rgt) 6.3 in 4.7 in 3.1 in 44.4 oz .. YES 2012 21,950discont. check
Leica M9 (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.5 in 3.1 in 1.5 in 20.6 oz .. no 2009 7,999discont. check
Nikon D810 (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.7 in 4.8 in 3.2 in 34.6 oz 1200 YES 2014 3,299discont. check
Nikon D610 (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.6 in 4.4 in 3.2 in 30.0 oz 900 YES 2013 1,999 latest check
Nikon Df (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.7 in 4.3 in 2.6 in 26.8 oz 1400 YES 2013 2,749 latest check
Nikon D800 (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.7 in 4.8 in 3.2 in 35.3 oz .. YES 2012 2,999discont. check
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.8 in 4.8 in 3.0 in 37.9 oz 1000 YES 2008 2,999discont. check
Sony A7R (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.0 in 3.7 in 1.9 in 16.4 oz 340 YES 2013 2,299discont. 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 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. 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.

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 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

Since 2007, DXO Mark has published sensor performance measurements that have been derived using a consistent methodology. 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 table below summarizes the physical sensor characteristics and sensor quality findings and compares them across a set of similar cameras.

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
Leica X-U Typ 113 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 16.1 4928 3264 1080/30p - - - -
Leica M Typ 262 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 23.7 5952 3976 no - - - -
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
Leica M9 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 18.1 5212 3472 no 22.5 11.7 884 69
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 D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832 no 23.5 12.2 2303 80
Sony A7R (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 36.2 7360 4912 1080/60p 25.6 14.1 2746 95

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but also of capturing video footage. 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 adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Leica S2 and Nikon D800E along with similar information for a selection of comparators. 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
Leica X-U Typ 113 (⇒ lft | rgt) no no 3.0 920 fixed no 2000 5.0 YES no
Leica M Typ 262 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 921 fixed no 4000 3.0 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
Leica M9 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 2.5 230 fixed no 4000 2.0 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 D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 8000 8.0 12 no
Sony A7R (⇒ lft | rgt) 2400 no 3.0 1230 tilting no 8000 4.0 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 conclusions can be drawn? Is the Leica S2 better than the Nikon D800E or vice versa? A synthesis of the relative strong points of each of the models is listed below.


Reasons to prefer 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).

Arguments in favor of 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 a 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 number of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the D800 is the clear winner of the contest (9 : 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.

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 where reviews by experts come in. The adjacent table relays the overall verdicts of several of the most popular camera review sites. You can find the full text of the reviews, 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
Leica X-U Typ 113 (⇒ lft | rgt) - - - - 3.5/5 2016 2,950 latest check
Leica M Typ 262 (⇒ lft | rgt) - - - - - 2015 5,195discont. 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
Leica M9 (⇒ lft | rgt) - - 4.5/5 4.5/5 - 2009 7,999discont. 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 D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) 89/100 HiRec 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2008 2,999discont. check
Sony A7R (⇒ lft | rgt) HiRec 82/100 Gold 4.5/5 5/5 5/5 2013 2,299discont. check

The above review scores should be interpreted with care, though. The ratings are only valid when refering 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, please note that some of the review sites have changed their methodology and reporting over time.

Other comparisons

In case you would like to check on the differences and similarities of other camera models, 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. If you cannot find the camera you are interested in, please send me an email, and I will try to add information on that model to the database.

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