Leica drops a surprise camera during Photokina, the Leica S (Type 007), a medium format camera that features internal and external 4K video recording. But, it's not for everybody...
It was inevitable; at some point, a camera maker would revamp one of its existing medium format cameras to shoot 4K video. RedShark Editor-in-Chief David Shapton wondered, in an earlier article, if medium format makes sense for video. The benefits of medium format photography are well-known: potentially sharper images, depth of field shallower than 35mm, and, as Shapton described, a certain creaminess to the images that "has nothing to do with sharpness and everything to do with the interplay between foreground and background."
The true promise of medium format 4K would come from cropping vertically and basing the frame on the full sensor width (7 or 8K, depending on the size of the sensor), then downscaling on the fly to 4K. Of course, this would take more processing power than is packed in most cameras, especially those for which video capture isn't their main function.
Is it medium format 4K?
Leica took a different course with its Leica S (Type 007). The James Bond reference aside, like its predecessor, the Type 006, the Type 007 packs a 37.5 megapixel sensor, but it ups the ante by going with a CMOS sensor,(as opposed to the Type 006's CCD), new image processing technology, and video recording capability at 1080p and 4K DCI. The 4K video (only 24p) is achieved by a sensor crop to Super35 and the full pixel read-out is converted to 4:2:0 8-bit 4K video internally to SD card, or 4K 4:2:2 8-bit out through HDMI. For those shooting in HD, you'll get that full sensor width image downscaled to HD, so its a trade-off: shoot in lower resolutions to possibly get a medium-format look, or shoot at 4K and enjoy that extra resolution at cropped Super35.
Cropping the sensor to Super35 means, if you're using medium format lenses, you'd only be using a small portion of the glass, in proportion to the crop. This would undoubtedly cause a decrease in resolving power - something to consider. Through an adapter, I suppose one could use full frame and APS-C lenses for 4K video recording, but that would necessitate procuring a whole new range of lenses, in addition to medium format.
So, it seems the Leica S (Type 007) is a digital medium format camera that shoots 4K video through sensor cropping, not one that shoots what could be considered 'medium format 4K video' (if such a thing will ever exist). And those photogs that purchase the Leica S (Type 007) who do a lot of video shooting may find themselves shopping for glass specifically for video.
For a select few
The Leica S (Type 007) will arrive in Spring, 2015, and resellers have begun accepting pre-orders for the $25,400 camera. That may seem like a lot of money for a camera that shoots 8-bit 4K, and you'd be right. But this camera isn't primarily for video shooters, even with the inclusion of interesting video features in this product generation. This camera is for high-end, professional photographers who work in digital medium format, who are looking to upgrade, and don't mind spending an extra $3000 or so dollars for some 4K and HD shooting capability. For medium format photogs who don't plan to dabble in video, the previous Leica S, the Type 006, is still available for $21,950 at B&H.
Check out the press release for the Leica S (Tyoe 007) on Page Two!
NEW: LEICA S HIGH SPEED, VIDEO RECORDING AND OPTIMUM IMAGE QUALITY – COMBINED WITH PERFECT HANDLING
With the Leica S (Type 007), Leica Camera AG, Wetzlar, presents the new top model of the Leica S-System. As a logical development of its predecessors, the new Leica S features a multitude of radically new components – like the Leica CMOS sensor and the Leica Maestro II image processor – and now opens up new dimensions in the field of medium-format photography.
For the first time, the combination of the highest burst rate, extreme sensor sensitivity and comprehensive capture modes for still pictures – and now also video in exceptional quality – provides photographers with the opportunity to exploit the superior imaging capabilities of medium format for productions that demand maximum mobility and drive. The Leica S significantly accelerates and simplifies the photographic workflow with a multitude of features that are unique to medium-format photography – and some of them not only there. In addition to the new body, a new lens also expands the capabilities of the S-System. With regard to speed and imaging quality, the Leica Summicron-S 100 mm f/2 ASPH. telephoto portrait lens represents a new benchmark. Finally, the Leica S-System also welcomes the new Leica S-E (Type 006) as a lower-priced entry-level model.
In the words of Stephan Schulz, head of Professional Photo at Leica Camera AG, ‘The logical expansion of the system is further confirmation that the dedicated digital concept of the S-System sets new standards in the world of medium-format photography while achieving the speed and handling of a 35 mm SLR. Viewed in terms of its rugged resilience, reliability and versatility, the new Leica S is the first choice for photographers who refuse to make compromises.’
New image sensor and new processor for increased quality and higher speed
Amongst the most remarkable innovations in the Leica S are the new Leica CMOS sensor and Maestro II image processor. Thanks to these, it has been possible to enormously increase the speed and versatility of the S-System and raise it to a level that was previously unheard of in the medium-format segment. With a burst frequency of up to 3.5 frames per second, full-HD video in full-frame medium-format sensor size and 4K video recording, fast Live View mode and exceptional imaging quality at all ISO settings, the Leica S (Type 007) once again documents its status as the benchmark in the medium-format segment. The 2 GB buffer memory ensures smooth shooting of rapid sequences and, despite its more than doubled burst rate capability, the new focal plane shutter in the camera offers a further significantly increased service life of at least 150,000 cycles.
Fast, predictive autofocus module for subjects in motion
The revised autofocus system brings not only higher speed, but also more reliable and more precise focusing. To ensure optimum sharpness and precise tracking of moving subjects, the Leica S (Type 007) features a predictive autofocus mode: the camera registers the motion of the subject and determines the distance to it at the moment of exposure. In combination with its fascinating imaging quality and high burst rate, the Leica S sets entirely new standards for professional medium-format action photography.
Integrated Wlan, GPS system and levelling aid for precision and uncomplicated workflows
The Leica S is currently the only professional camera to feature an integrated GPS module that can record the geographical positioning data of the momentary location in the Exif data of the image file whenever needed, as well as automatically set the local system time. On the basis of the coordinates, appropriate software installed on a computer, for instance the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom® package supplied with the camera, can display the precise location of each image on a map and register the corresponding place names as search keys for archived photos. The new dual-axis levelling aid (spirit level) displays the precise horizontal and vertical orientation of the camera in the viewfinder to allow photographers to align the subject with absolute precision and without any need for external aids. In combination with an app for smartphones and tablets, the camera’s integrated Wlan module enables remote control of the camera and remote image assessment in Live View mode to provide simpler and intuitive workflows.
With a resolution of 921,600 pixels, a 3" diagonal, full sRGB colour space and increased contrast and brightness, the display allows optimum assessment of subjects and images in every situation. The glass plate protecting the monitor is manufactured from tough and scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass®.
The panel on the top deck of the Leica S has been redesigned as a trans-reflective display with a larger area and optimised information content to ensure optimum legibility – even in bright sunlight. Two new control elements on the top deck enable direct selection of Live View mode and the activation of video recording.
Leica S-Cameras are designed and constructed for many years of daily use. The new stainless-steel bayonet guarantees even greater endurance under even the toughest conditions. The Leica S (Type 007) possesses all the proven quality characteristics of the S-System. These include the large 30 × 45 mm Leica Pro Format sensor and its micro-lens layer that guarantees consistently uniform brightness from corner to corner. The camera and S-Lenses are extremely ruggedly built and sealed against environmental influences like dust and rain. The system’s unique dual-shutter concept offers photographers the choice of using the camera’s fast focal plane shutter with speeds up to 1/4000 s or the electronically controlled central shutter of the CS lenses that allows flash sync at all shutter speeds up to 1/1000 s. The ten currently available Leica S-System lenses, six of which are also available with a central shutter, offer photographers all important focal lengths and a first-class tilt/shift lens. At the same time, numerous third-party medium-format lenses can be mounted on the Leica S with adapters: for instance the Leica S-Adapter H for Hasselblad H lenses and the Leica S-Adapter C for Contax 645 lenses, both of which provide full compatibility – including autofocus, central shutter control (Hasselblad) and automatic aperture control.
The Leica S is uncompromisingly built for maximum dependability in use and also features details like cable connections with strain relief, separate slots for CompactFlash and SD memory cards, further optimised energy efficiency and a scratch-resistant display. The Leica S therefore stands alone as an ideal and extremely reliable tool for achieving maximum quality results in the studio and on location under even the most unfavourable conditions.
The Leica S is supplied complete with the Leica Protection Plan. The LPP offers photographers an extended warranty for a period of three years, a replacement camera to cover repair times and numerous other benefits.
The launch of the Leica S (Type 007) is planned or spring 2015; the price is not yet available.