Leica S2 vs Sony A850
The Leica S2 and the Sony Alpha A850 are two professional cameras that were announced, respectively, in September 2008 and August 2009. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are based on a medium format (S2) and a full frame (A850) sensor. The Leica has a resolution of 37.5 megapixels, whereas the Sony provides 24.4 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 S2 and the Sony Alpha A850? 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 S2 and the Sony A850 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 Sony A850 is notably smaller (5 percent) than the Leica S2. Moreover, the A850 is substantially lighter (37 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 table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. 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 S2||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1410 g||..||Y||Sep 2008||22,995|
|2.||Sony A850||156 mm||117 mm||82 mm||895 g||880||Y||Aug 2009||1,999|
|3.||Canon 1Ds Mark III||150 mm||160 mm||80 mm||1385 g||1800||Y||Aug 2007||7,999|
|4.||Leica S3||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1260 g||..||Y||Sep 2018||18,995|
|5.||Leica S-E Typ 006||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1260 g||..||Y||Sep 2014||16,900|
|6.||Leica S Typ 007||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1260 g||..||Y||Sep 2014||24,490|
|7.||Leica S Typ 006||160 mm||120 mm||80 mm||1260 g||..||Y||Sep 2012||21,950|
|8.||Leica S1||339 mm||214 mm||119 mm||2500 g||..||n||Aug 1996||21,490|
|9.||Nikon D750||141 mm||113 mm||78 mm||750 g||1230||Y||Sep 2014||2,299|
|10.||Nikon D3S||160 mm||157 mm||88 mm||1240 g||4200||Y||Oct 2009||5,199|
|11.||Nikon D3X||160 mm||157 mm||88 mm||1260 g||4400||Y||Dec 2008||7,999|
|12.||Nikon D3||160 mm||157 mm||88 mm||1300 g||4300||Y||Aug 2007||4,999|
|13.||Pentax 645D||156 mm||117 mm||119 mm||1480 g||800||Y||Mar 2010||9,995|
|14.||Sony A7C||124 mm||71 mm||60 mm||509 g||740||Y||Sep 2020||1,799|
|15.||Sony A7 III||127 mm||96 mm||74 mm||650 g||610||Y||Feb 2018||1,999|
|16.||Sony A99||147 mm||111 mm||78 mm||812 g||500||Y||Sep 2012||2,799|
|17.||Sony A900||156 mm||117 mm||82 mm||895 g||880||Y||Sep 2008||2,999|
|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 manufacturer’s suggested retail prices give an idea on the placement of the camera in the maker’s lineup and the broader market. The A850 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 91 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.
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. Furthermore, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more possibilities to use shallow depth-of-field in order to isolate a subject from the 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 Sony A850 a full frame sensor. The sensor area in the A850 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.
With 37.5MP, the S2 offers a higher resolution than the A850 (24.4MP), but the S2 nevertheless has marginally larger individual pixels (pixel pitch of 6.00μm versus 5.94μm for the A850) due to its larger sensor. However, the A850 is a somewhat more recent model (by 11 months) than the S2, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixels. Coming back to sensor resolution, it should be mentioned that the S2 has no anti-alias filter installed, so that it can capture all the detail its sensor resolves.
The resolution advantage of the Leica S2 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the S2 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 37.5 x 25 inches or 95.3 x 63.5 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 30 x 20 inches or 76.2 x 50.8 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 25 x 16.7 inches or 63.5 x 42.3 cm. The corresponding values for the Sony A850 are 30.2 x 20.2 inches or 76.8 x 51.2 cm for good quality, 24.2 x 16.1 inches or 61.4 x 41 cm for very good quality, and 20.2 x 13.4 inches or 51.2 x 34.1 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 Sony Alpha A850 are ISO 200 to ISO 3200, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 100-6400.
For many cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. 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 adjacent table reports on the physical sensor characteristics and the outcomes of the DXO sensor quality tests for a sample of comparator-cameras.
| DXO |
|1.||Leica S2||Medium Format||37.5||7500||5000||none||..||..||..||..|
|2.||Sony A850||Full Frame||24.4||6048||4032||none||23.8||12.2||1415||79|
|3.||Canon 1Ds Mark III||Full Frame||21.0||5616||3744||none||24.0||12.0||1663||80|
|4.||Leica S3||Medium Format||64.0||9800||6533||4K/24p||..||..||..||..|
|5.||Leica S-E Typ 006||Medium Format||37.5||7500||5000||none||..||..||..||..|
|6.||Leica S Typ 007||Medium Format||37.5||7500||5000||4K/24p||..||..||..||..|
|7.||Leica S Typ 006||Medium Format||37.5||7500||5000||none||23.9||12.2||824||76|
|8.||Leica S1||Medium Format||26.4||5140||5140||none||..||..||..||..|
|9.||Nikon D750||Full Frame||24.2||6016||4016||1080/60p||24.8||14.5||2956||93|
|10.||Nikon D3S||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||720/24p||23.5||12.0||3253||82|
|11.||Nikon D3X||Full Frame||24.4||6048||4032||none||24.7||13.7||1992||88|
|12.||Nikon D3||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||none||23.5||12.2||2290||81|
|13.||Pentax 645D||Medium Format||39.5||7264||5440||none||24.6||12.6||1262||82|
|14.||Sony A7C||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||4K/30p||25.0||14.7||3407||95|
|15.||Sony A7 III||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||4K/30p||25.0||14.7||3730||96|
|16.||Sony A99||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||1080/60p||25.0||14.0||1555||89|
|17.||Sony A900||Full Frame||24.4||6048||4032||none||23.7||12.3||1431||79|
Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The S2 and the A850 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 A850 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. On the other hand, the viewfinder of the S2 has a higher magnification (0.86x vs 0.74x), 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 Sony A850, and comparable cameras.
|3.||Canon 1Ds Mark III||optical||Y||3.0||230||fixed||n||1/8000s||5.0||n||n|
|5.||Leica S-E Typ 006||optical||Y||3.0||922||fixed||n||1/4000s||1.5||n||n|
|6.||Leica S Typ 007||optical||Y||3.0||922||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.5||n||n|
|7.||Leica S Typ 006||optical||Y||3.0||922||fixed||n||1/4000s||1.5||n||n|
|15.||Sony A7 III||2359||n||3.0||922||tilting||Y||1/8000s||10.0||n||Y|
One feature that differentiates the A850 and the S2 is in-body image stabilization (IBIS). The A850 reduces the risk of handshake-induced blur with all attached lenses, while the S2 offers no blur reduction with lenses that themselves do not provide optical image stabilization.
The S2 writes its imaging data to Compact Flash or SDHC cards, while the A850 uses Compact Flash or Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. Both cameras feature dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails.
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 Sony Alpha A850 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
| WiFi |
| NFC |
|3.||Canon 1Ds Mark III||Y||mono||-||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
|5.||Leica S-E Typ 006||Y||-||-||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|6.||Leica S Typ 007||Y||stereo||mono||Y||Y||mini||3.0||Y||-||-|
|7.||Leica S Typ 006||Y||-||-||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|15.||Sony A7 III||Y||stereo||mono||Y||Y||micro||3.1||Y||Y||Y|
Both cameras feature a PC Sync terminal to control professional strobe lights, which will be appreciated by studio photographers.
Both the S2 and the A850 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The S2 was replaced by the Leica S Typ 006, while the A850 does not have a direct successor. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Leica and Sony websites.
So how do things add up? Is the Leica S2 better than the Sony A850 or vice versa? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.
Reasons to prefer the Leica S2:
- More detail: Offers more megapixels (37.5 vs 24.4MP) with a 24% higher linear resolution.
- Maximized detail: Lacks an anti-alias filter to exploit the sensor's full resolution potential.
- Better image quality: Features bigger pixels on a larger sensor for higher quality imaging.
- Richer colors: The pixel size advantage translates into images with better, more accurate colors.
- More dynamic range: Larger pixels capture a wider spectrum of light and dark details.
- Better low-light sensitivity: Larger pixels means good image quality even under poor lighting.
- Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.86x vs 0.74x).
- More prestigious: Has the Leica luxury appeal, which ensures a high resale price.
- More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in September 2008).
Arguments in favor of the Sony Alpha A850:
- Better moiré control: Has an anti-alias filter to avoid artificial patterns to appear in images.
- More complete view: Has a viewfinder with a larger field of view (98% vs 96%).
- More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (922k vs 460k dots).
- Faster shutter: Has higher mechanical shutter speed (1/8000s vs 1/4000s) to freeze action.
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (3 vs 1.5 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
- Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 515g or 37 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
- Sharper images: Has stabilization technology built-in to reduce the impact of hand-shake.
- More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (91 percent cheaper at launch).
- More modern: Was introduced somewhat (11 months) more recently.
If the count of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a measure, the match-up finishes in a tie (9 points each). However, the relative importance of the various individual camera aspects will vary according to personal preferences and needs, so that you might like to apply corresponding weights to the particular features before making a decision 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 S2 and the Sony A850 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 specs-based evaluation of cameras can be instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the S2 or the A850 perform in practice. At times, user reviews, such as those published at amazon, address these issues in a useful manner, but such feedback is on many occasions incomplete, inconsistent, and unreliable.
This is why hands-on reviews by experts 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 S2||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2008||22,995|
|2.||Sony A850||3/5||..||75/100||..||4.5/5||Aug 2009||1,999|
|3.||Canon 1Ds Mark III||..||..||+ +||4.5/5||..||Aug 2007||7,999|
|4.||Leica S3||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2018||18,995|
|5.||Leica S-E Typ 006||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2014||16,900|
|6.||Leica S Typ 007||4/5||..||..||..||..||Sep 2014||24,490|
|7.||Leica S Typ 006||..||..||..||..||..||Sep 2012||21,950|
|8.||Leica S1||..||..||..||..||..||Aug 1996||21,490|
|9.||Nikon D750||5/5||+ +||90/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2014||2,299|
|10.||Nikon D3S||5/5||..||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||Oct 2009||5,199|
|11.||Nikon D3X||..||..||86/100||4/5||5/5||Dec 2008||7,999|
|12.||Nikon D3||..||..||+ +||5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2007||4,999|
|13.||Pentax 645D||5/5||..||..||..||..||Mar 2010||9,995|
|14.||Sony A7C||3.5/5||..||86/100||4/5||4/5||Sep 2020||1,799|
|15.||Sony A7 III||..||+ +||89/100||5/5||5/5||Feb 2018||1,999|
|16.||Sony A99||5/5||..||84/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2012||2,799|
|17.||Sony A900||..||+ +||+ +||4.5/5||5/5||Sep 2008||2,999|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
Care should be taken when interpreting the review scores above, though. The ratings were established in reference to similarly priced cameras that were available in the market at the time of the review. A score, therefore, has to be seen in close connection to the price and market introduction time of the camera, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. Also, kindly note that some of the listed sites have over time developped their review approaches and their reporting style.
Other camera comparisons
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Specifications: Leica S2 vs Sony A850
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 S2||Sony A850|
|Camera Type||Digital single lens reflex||Digital single lens reflex|
|Camera Lens||Leica S mount lenses||Sony A mount lenses|
|Launch Date||September 2008||August 2009|
|Launch Price||USD 22,995||USD 1,999|
|Sensor Specs||Leica S2||Sony A850|
|Sensor Format||Medium Format Sensor||Full Frame Sensor|
|Sensor Size||45.0 x 30.0 mm||35.9 x 24.0 mm|
|Sensor Area||1350 mm2||861.6 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||54.1 mm||43.2 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||37.5 Megapixels||24.4 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||7500 x 5000 pixels||6048 x 4032 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||6.00 μm||5.94 μm|
|Pixel Density||2.78 MP/cm2||2.83 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||no AA filter||Anti-Alias filter|
|Movie Capability||no Video||no Video|
|ISO Setting||80 - 1,250 ISO||200 - 3,200 ISO|
|ISO Boost||no Enhancement||100 - 6,400 ISO|
|DXO Sensor Quality (score)||..||79|
|DXO Color Depth (bits)||..||23.8|
|DXO Dynamic Range (EV)||..||12.2|
|DXO Low Light (ISO)||..||1415|
|Screen Specs||Leica S2||Sony A850|
|Viewfinder Type||Optical viewfinder||Optical viewfinder|
|Viewfinder Field of View||96%||98%|
|Top-Level Screen||Control Panel||Control Panel|
|Rear LCD Size||3.0inch||3.0inch|
|LCD Resolution||460k dots||922k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Fixed screen|
|Shooting Specs||Leica S2||Sony A850|
|Focus System||Phase-detect AF||Phase-detect AF|
|Continuous Shooting||1.5 shutter flaps/s||3 shutter flaps/s|
|Image Stabilization||no shake reduction||In-body stabilization|
|Fill Flash||no On-Board Flash||no On-Board Flash|
|Storage Medium||CF or SDHC cards||CF or MS cards|
|Second Storage Option||Dual card slots||Dual card slots|
|Connectivity Specs||Leica S2||Sony A850|
|Studio Flash||PC Sync socket||PC Sync socket|
|USB Connector||USB 2.0||USB 2.0|
|HDMI Port||mini HDMI||mini HDMI|
|Wifi Support||no Wifi||no Wifi|
|Body Specs||Leica S2||Sony A850|
|Environmental Sealing||Weathersealed body||Weathersealed body|
160 x 120 x 80 mm
(6.3 x 4.7 x 3.1 in)
156 x 117 x 82 mm
(6.1 x 4.6 x 3.2 in)
|Camera Weight||1410 g (49.7 oz)||895 g (31.6 oz)|
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