Leica Introduces the S3 Medium Format DSLR Camera

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Long awaited and highly anticipated, Leica has, at last, formally announced the S3 Medium Format DSLR camera. Originally unveiled at Photokina 2018, this camera has been on the minds of medium format traditionalists for a while. Bucking the trend of new medium format cameras going the mirrorless route, Leica is sticking with the tried-and-true DSLR design, and keeping compatibility with its lineup of excellent S-System lenses. Bringing the system up to date, though, the S3 sports a new sensor, improved video capabilities, and similar wireless connectivity to what's been popping up in its M-mount rangefinders currently. In a very Leica way, the S3 looks to be a camera firmly rooted in tradition and heritage, but features some critical tweaks just to keep everyone on their toes.

Leica S3 Medium Format DSLR Camera
Leica S3 Medium Format DSLR Camera

The most important update the S3 brings is its inclusion of a new 64MP CMOS sensor. It's the same 30 x 45mm "Leica ProFormat" size as previous S cameras, but the heightened resolution should reap even more benefits from the excellent lenses. Along with greater resolution, the new sensor also has expanded sensitivity, from ISO 100-50000, to suit working in low light, and it can shoot at up to 3 fps, although I think most people won't be focusing on using this camera for moving subjects. As a DSLR, it also incorporates a predictive TTL phase-detection autofocus system, which uses a central cross-type point for quick and accurate focusing performance.

The S3's 64MP CMOS sensor

Beyond stills, the updated sensor also benefits the video end of things, and supports DCI 4K recording at 24 fps and Full HD up to 30 fps. Compared to the S (Typ 007), 4K recording now uses the full width of the sensor to make better use of the available focal lengths and to achieve a more striking medium format look when recording. An external microphone can be used via the 3.5mm port and external recording at Full HD is supported via HDMI Type-C with 4:2:2 8-bit color sampling.

Seals and ports

Some of the key features of the S3 go back to the fact that it is a DSLR in the age of mirrorless: such as the inclusion of a huge 0.87x optical pentaprism viewfinder, which has exchangeable focusing screens for a very fluid and intuitive viewing experience. Another unique feature of the S3, and S-System cameras, in general, is that the bodies support a dual shutter system; they have a built-in focal plane shutter but are also compatible with a handful of Central Shutter (CS), or leaf shutter, lenses for higher flash sync up to 1/1000 of a second.

Top view of the S3

Finally, the S3 also sees a bit of an upgrade in terms of its connectivity. Built-in Wi-Fi lends compatibility to the recently updated Leica FOTOS app for versatile mobile editing capabilities on an iPad, iPhone, or Android device. Tethered shooting is supported, too, for an efficient studio workflow, and the camera is also weather-sealed for those outdoor jobs in inclement weather.

What are your thoughts regarding the S3? Do you think a DSLR is still relevant in the age of mirrorless? Are you a Leica S-System fan? Let us know your thoughts on this new medium format body, down below.

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3 Comments

I've purchased Canon 5DII here in the past and a couple $2K lenses for it, but this camera is just out of reach. On that note it would be fascinating to know exactly how many & where the units that are sold are in service. I would guess that multi-millionaires have them at their ski lodges and yachts. And super high end commercial photographers with boutique clientele use them to lull clients while having a great time themselves handling such a nice object. The idea that you need two if you are commercial on a job is an eyebrow raiser. But we are left to wonder, who does use these to do what lots of cheaper tools will accomplish with less worry over so an valuable object?

I would consider an ad campaign that at least hinted at the celebrity value rather than making believe they are better cameras. Of course they are better, they are Leicas. They could keep the "Leica colors" and "Leica way" shtick, but ad something like Blackglama furs did back in the day when they would wrap Liz Taylor in a mink coat and just say, "What becomes a legend most?"

These cameras are about who YOU are, not about what the camera is, so say so.

Hmmmm. I am not in the market for a medium format camera, but if I were, I'd give stronger consideration to the Fuji GFX 100. It's also hard to see the virtue of a DSLR design with the inherently slow and dark lenses used in medium format photography. DSLR has plenty of life left in it, but why not mirrorless for this medium format camera? I would far prefer a large, modern EVF to a pentaprism when using an f/4 lens. With phase detection and faster autofocus now coming to mirrorless cameras, the DSLR design makes even less sense. I don't see this camera as rooted in tradition so much as rooted in a failure of innovation. YMMV

All valid points, Andrew. On the other hand, I think there's still a strong draw to the SLR for some, and it gives a viewfinder experience  that cannot be replaced by an EVF, regardless of using an f/4 or not. I think there was also significant consideration given to the existing system of lenses for the S system, and for existing S users looking for a higher resolution option than the S (Typ 007). It's undeniable that the GFX 100 brings more "tech" to the table, but then again Leica is rarely one of the leaders in introducing cutting edge technology (see the M system, for example); I think they like their unique position in the industry and obviously succeed in making cameras that other brands wouldn't even consider.

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