Leica S-E (Typ 006)
Introduction to the shock, dust and splash proof digital medium format SLR by Leica
19 Photos • 13 January 2016
This article is dedicated to the Leica S-E (Typ 006) this is the blue grayish version of the Leica S (Typ 006), the prior and the latter are are exactly the same apart from the colour of the top plate.
I bought my Leica S-E last year in 2015 and felt I had to use it for a while before sharing my experience. It certainly has taken my experience with the Leica brand to the next level.
I have now used the camera for all sorts of photo subjects and will add more photo samples to this article in time. There will also be some .DNG files available for download.
The Leica S cameras are digital medium format single lens reflex cameras. In the digital medium format world it fits but at the same time it is different than all the others. The Leica S has a rather small sensor compared to other digital medium format cameras. It also has the odd small-format 3:2 aspect ratio rather than 1:1 (6×6) or 4:3 (6×4.5) like most medium format cameras or digital backs.
At first it might seem as a full-frame DSLR on steroids.
Leica calls this sensor format the ‘Leica Pro Format’ they state they have chosen this format as a sweet spot between ‘645’ and the ‘standard 35mm’ film formats. Because both formats have up- and downsides Leica claims to have landed somewhere in the middle for the best of both worlds. Namely the depth of field on ‘645’ cameras can be so small you always need to stop down to enlarge the depth of field to get a photo with a large enough depth of field to make it usable.
On the other hand the Leica S has a bigger sensor than full-frame so it can create some very pleasing fore- and background unsharpness. And has a great resolution vs pixel size ratio.
The lenses for the Leica S system
Of course a great camera is nothing without equally great lenses, Leica however made sure there is plenty to choose from with even some third party options. The Leica S lenses may well be the best performing medium format lenses available with not just great imaging performance but also weather sealing, and autofocus, with the possibility of having a central shutter for high speed flash syncing.
From the technical analysis of the S-lenses the conclusion is evident: the lenses are at the top of the medium format league and a quantum leap in quality compared to the competition and also to the M-series of lenses.Erwin Puts
As of the date I am writing this article there are ten native Leica S lenses available, of which most are also available in ‘CS’ version, meaning they have a central leaf shutter build in the lens, for high speed flash syncing up to 1/1000 of a second.
1 Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3,5 ASPH.
2 Elmarit-S 30mm f/2,8 ASPH. (CS)
3 Vario-Elmar-S 30-90mm f/3,5-5,6 ASPH.
4 Summarit-S 35mm f/2,5 ASPH. (CS)
5 Elmarit-S 45mm f/2,8 ASPH. (CS)
6 Summarit-S 70mm f/2,5 ASPH. (CS)
7 Summicron-S 100mm f/2,0 ASPH.
8 Apo-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2,5 (CS)
9 TS-Apo-Elmar-S 120mm f/5,6 ASPH.
10 Apo-Elmar-S 180mm f/3,5 ASPH. (CS)
Numbers 2,4,5,6,8 and 10 are available with Central Shutter for high speed flash sync.
Number 8 and 10 are both apochromatically corrected.
Number 8 is the only lens that is of fully spherical design, with no aspherical (asph.) lens elements, yet it is highly apochromatically corrected.
Number 9 is the only tilt shift lens available for the Leica S system, with a rather long focal length of 120mm this is not very useful for architecture photographers, but more for product photographers who work in studios. The lens is said to be a Schneider lens design. The lens has no autofocus and the aperture has to be set on the lens rather than the camera (like with other Leica S lenses)
There are also five adapters available from Leica of which two retain full autofocus and autodiaphragm.
1 S-Adapter C (For lenses of the Contax 645-system)
2 S-Adapter H (For lenses of the Hasselblad H-system)
3 S-Adapter V (For lenses of the Hasselblad V-system)
4 S-Adapter P67 (For lenses of the Pentax 67-system)
5 S-Adapter M645 (For lenses of the Mamiya 645-system)
Number 1 and 2 retain full automatic compatibility with the Leica S system cameras and the respective lenses including autofocus, autodiaphragm, and for the Hasselblad H-system lenses even the central shutter will function, hence with a maximum shutter speed of 1/750th.
When photographic situations are optimal the Leica S lenses deliver the best performance compared to all other medium format lens manufacturers. More about this can be read on Erwin Puts his website.
The Leica S (Typ 006) was announced in September 2012 as a successor to the Leica S2 and Leica S2-P, it has the same sensor, but most of the other parts and electronics around the sensor have been upgraded hence the better ISO sensitivity ratings.
The Leica S (Typ 006) features a 30x45mm Leica Pro Format CCD sensor with 37.5 megapixels resulting in a 6 μm pixel pitch. The sensor achieves a dynamic range of 12 stops and creates true 16 bit DNG RAW files.
The ISO image sensitivity rating goes from 100 to 1600 in whole stop steps: 100,200,400,800,1600.
The camera has a metal blade vertical focal plane shutter. It’s fastest shutter speed is 1/4000 second and can be set in half-stop increments up to a maximum of 125 seconds depending on selected ISO rating. (The higher the set ISO image sensitivity the shorter the maximum shutter speed duration.) The flash sync speed of the vertical focal plane shutter is 1/125 second. (For faster sync speeds you need one of the lenses with a Central Shutter.)
The camera has 921.500 pixel 3” TFT LCD display with with 16 million colours for accurate playback of your images and viewing of the menus. It features an Anti-glare dirt-repellent Corning Gorilla Glass scratch-resistant cover glass.
The camera also features a full-colour OLED display on top beside the shutter speed dial for settings and battery level.
It has a LEMO and standard flash connection socket on the side of the camera, and a hot shoe on top of the camera for flash connectivity.
The camera captures 1,5 frames per second.
The camera accepts SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards in it’s SD card slot, and CompactFlash cards in it’s CF card slot.
The camera body including a battery weighs about 1250 grams.
When people see the Leica S cameras they usually don’t suspect it to be bigger than ‘full-frame’ sensor wise. In a way it’s not bigger than a Canon 1Dx or Nikon D4 for example. The only thing that is substantially bigger are the lenses.
When I first held the Leica S (Typ 006) I immediately felt that quite some thought went into the ergonomics and handling of the camera as everything was laid out in a smart and ergonomic way.
When picking up the camera with my right hand my index finger automatically sits on top of the shutter release, and my thumb in between the ‘joystick’ and ‘scroll-wheel’. With a flick of my index finger I can rotate the shutter speed dial from the AUTO stance to whatever shutter speed I desire. And with my thumb I can push the joystick to activate autofocus (when the camera is set to manual focus) or scroll the scroll-wheel to change desired aperture. All is easily visible on the Full-Colour topdeck OLED display.
With my left hand I support the lens and my thumb and index finger automatically sit on the focussing ring.
All in all you pick up the camera and soon you’ll know exactly how to set the most important aspects of photography: Shutter speed, aperture, and focus.
Besides this there are four buttons beside the screen on the back, the top right button will with a short single press immediately playback your photos. The other buttons will show a basic informational screen on a short press. With another short press you can then acces the menu items ‘Camera, Image and Setup’.
Besides this you can fully customize all four buttons to have easy acces to a certain menu or setting by long pressing the buttons (half a second). You can even change the function of the stop down button on the front of the camera to any desired function instead stopping down the lens for depth of field preview.
I have set the buttons as follows:
Top left: ISO menu
Top Right: Exposure Compensation menu
Bottom Left: White Balance menu
Bottom Right: Exposure Metering menu
The Leica S (Typ 006) feels like big slow DSLR which it is. The looks of the camera can be deceiving, you might expect the speed and agility of a Canon 1Dx or Nikon D4 when you look at the form factor. The Leica however is slow, compared to those cameras. To really compare it we should compare it with other medium format cameras.
How ever I don’t compare camera’s usually since every camera has it’s own purpose and up and downsides.
What I can say about the Leica S (Typ 006) is that it’s an amazing camera to work with, with the best viewfinder and ergonomics I have ever seen on a SLR.
The viewfinder is large and clear, with a great matte screen supplied with the camera at the bottom it shows a virtual horizon, or spirit level which is great to keep the camera straight and especially useful when working on a tripod. It shows your exposure mode P/A/T/M. Then shutter speed and aperture and exposure compensation or when working manually under/over exposure according to your selected exposure parameters and light measurement. Then it has a focus confirmation showing frontfocus, correct focus or backfocus kind of like the light meter in the Leica M series: > o <. It shows your exposure metering mode Spot [o], Center-weighted [()] or Matrix [(o)]. Then it shows the number of photos for which space is still available on your memory card. And selected ISO speed. Overall a very clean and focused on the essentials viewfinder, although I wish I could enable/disable certain digits, like number of exposures left, with 128GB cards available this should never be important anymore, especially not for my photography style.
The diopter of the viewfinder is easily adjustable from -3 to +1 by turning the ring around the viewfinder, I use this quite a lot because sometimes I prefer taking photos without my glasses and then it’s easily accessible. Sometimes a bit too easy though, because it has happend a few times that it would be set at +1 or -3 without me doing this on purpose, probably when the camera rubs past my jacket or something, a little lock on this would be welcome.
Something I miss is an iris in the viewfinder to close the eyepiece to keep light from entering the viewfinder and throwing off the light meter. On the Leica R series this was very common, you could close the viewfinder with a flick of a lever. With the Leica S (Typ 006) they deliver a magnetic round cover, to cover the viewfinder. Not very elegant, and easy to misplace, or forget.
The ISO image sensitivity might be a bit limiting to say the least but noise reduction on medium format files is easier than on smaller format sensors and for the things I photograph I usually don’t need high ISO sensitivity. However when I used the Hasselblad HC 300mm f/4,5 I sometimes wished I could use a stop faster ISO without losing image quality. When using it during the darker days in Norway it was especially challenging.
The autofocus is quick and extremely precise, this is especially apparent when using the longer lenses like the Apo-Elmar-S 180mm f/3,5 ASPH., the Zeiss Tele-Apotessar T* 350mm f/4 or the Hasselblad HC 300mm f/4,5. The Contax Zeiss and Hasselblad lenses in my opinion perform better on the Leica S with the adapters than they do on their native cameras. So hands down to Leica for creating a camera and autofocus system that works equally well with it’s native lenses as with third party lenses.
In lower light, and then I mean nearly dark the lens sometimes struggles to find precise focus and hunts a bit during the finetuning of the focus.
To come back to the menus they are clear and obvious in their shape and style, and with the customisable shortcuts I’ve discussed before you can easily turn the camera to your needs of photography.
The camera has built in GPS for recording the location into the EXIF data of your RAW files, but also to automatically keep your camera’s clock set correctly, even when you travel. Something the Leica M (Typ 240) really could use (only does it with the multifunctional grip which has GPS). The M (Typ 240) has such a bad built in clock you need to adjust it every month or it will run minutes too late.
Another well thought out feature if you ask me is when you turn on the camera it will automatically test the lens and while doing this set the focussing distance to infinity. This makes the camera’s initial focus (usually on something further away than 1,5 meters) much quicker.
The battery on the Leica S (Typ 006) does not sit behind a latch, but rather is part of the body when inserted and sealed by a rubber edge. When you eject the battery the battery drops about 1,5 CM from the camera body, but no further. You have to gently push the battery inward to release it and actually be able to eject it fully. This is a smart way to keep the battery from accidentally falling out when you would accidentally slide the battery ejection lever.
All in all a well thought out camera, that has already seen some good improvements over it’s predecessor the S2 and S2-P.
Thanks for reading
Below you will find a few more photos taken with the Leica S-E (Typ 006). I hope you have enjoyed reading and checking out the photos in my article and as always feel free to subscribe to my newsletter to receive an email when I publish a new article, or to leave your thoughts in the comments bellow.
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More Articles about the Leica S system
This is a growing list with more articles about the Leica S system:
.DNG files from the Leica S-E (Typ 006)
The files include my edits done in Lightroom, but these can be easily reset to their original values in Lightroom.
Please note: Copyright remains mine and mine only.