People who have followed my writing for a long time know that there is no particular love lost between me and Leica. I don't have anything against them, it's just that I haven't drunk to Kool-Aid, and, to the worst of the snobs that any luxury brand will attract, if you ain't fer 'em you're agin 'em*. (There are a lot of nice folks that shoot Leica too, of course.)
However, I freely admit one thing: The Leica S—that's the name of the new version, which just became available for preorder yesterday—is the best camera in the world. It just is. It has the best lenses, a 30x45mm sensor that does a very good job recording the image of those lenses, and—almost alone in the entire photographic universe—Leica had the courage and the confidence to make it reasonably simple. Consumers have a plethora of choices when it comes to cameras these days, but cameras that embody the considerable virtues of intelligent simplicity are almost absent amongst our options**. (When I handed the Big Dragoon—the D800—to my friend Jack, who shoots with an S2, he said, "I'm not used to all the buttons and dials.")
The naming convention, notoriously, has changed. It's now just the "Leica S," like the Corvette is just the Corvette or the iMac is the iMac. Why not? Leica fans will have to tell me what the agreed-upon specifier for this camera is going to be, if indeed they've worked that out yet. The 2013 model, maybe?
It's expensive, yes. Very expensive. Not everybody has $21,950 to spend on a camera body (well, not everybody has $21,950 in their bank account, period, but you know what I mean). The slightly long (56mm-e) normal lens shown above will set you back an additional $4,995. And Leica has just introduced three news lenses with the new S: the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm ƒ/3.5 ASPH. super-wide (19mm-e), the Leica Vario-Elmar-S 30–90mm ƒ/3.5–5.6 ASPH. zoom (24–72mm-e), and the Leica TS-APO-Elmar-S 120mm ƒ/5.6 ASPH. tilt-shift lens (96mm-e). (I'm providing the links just to be consistent, but I don't think anyone has ever bought a Leica S through our links. You cheapskates! Just kidding.)
But those who take the plunge aren't just being brand snobs. There really is only one "Best Camera in the World," and the Leica S, in my opinion, is it.
*The phrase, worded here as per Pogo, originated with Jesus, in Matthew 12:30. It's been a popular form of coercion ever since. Many Biblical scholars, attempting to sift what Jesus might actually have said from the words St. Paul or others put into his mouth, agree that the phrase is most likely not an authentic quote of Jesus. Logically it is a form of false dilemma, "a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option" (Wikipedia).
**This despite the example of the late Steve Jobs, who was almost obsessive about simplicity and elegance. I only wish the Leica S designers had anywhere near the same category-wide influence.
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
raizans: "Someone should make a mirrorless camera with the same control layout. It's the best I've ever seen on a digital camera."
Michal Daniel (partial comment): "Best for what? Low light photography, given it tops out at measly ISO 1600? Nope. Best in terms of all around use? Weighs a ton, is bigger than a tank, so nope. Best when one needs long lens/zooms? Nope. Best bang/buck? Absolutely nope."
Mike replies: It doesn't weigh a ton, and it's not bigger than a tank. According to the specs at B&H, it's smaller and only 2 ounces heavier than the Nikon D3X and smaller and 10 ounces lighter than the Canon 1DX, both of which have smaller sensors. And it's smaller and 5 ounces lighter than the Pentax 645D.
It's actually quite reasonably sized and surprisingly handy for a camera with such a big sensor. (Its lenses are heavy, though. But perhaps not excessively so, considering their quality. The 70mm normal lens is only slightly bigger and heavier than the Nikon 35mm ƒ/1.4G prime, for instance, and I didn't find that lens intolerable when I rented it.)
Kenneth Tanaka: "An interesting proclamation. What is your basis for this declaration?"
Mike replies: If you guys are trying to provoke me into reviewing this camera, forget it. Even if I could get one to review, which I doubt.
Kevin Purcell: "The proper specifier is the type number. The 2012 Leica M is Type 240, the 2012 Leica M-E is Type 220. Leica has already said that's the 'official' way to differentiate the Leica M models. The type number should be engraved on the hotshoe. The 2012 Leica S is Type 006."
PWL: "The best camera in the world? Piffle. As far as I'm concerned, the best camera in the world is whatever camera I happen to be using at the moment...."
Mike replies: That might well be true for you, and I wouldn't presume to argue, but with 25 years of working for and with photographers, students, and enthusiasts of every description under my belt, my considered opinion is that in the vast majority of cases the truth is the exact opposite of that. That is, utterly regardless of what camera they are using, photographers will discover and complain about its shortcomings, bemoan the lack of the accessories they want, nitpick about feature and design choices they wish were different, and ultimately find the camera they "happen to be using at the moment" to be disappointing and/or inadequate. That includes me, I should admit.
That's purely empirical, of course, based on nothing but long experience and lots of interaction with people who love photography.
The only consistent exceptions I can think of are people who use wooden folding flatbed field view cameras, Rollei TLRs, or film Leica rangefinders, especially the ones without built-in metering. I can think of several examples, for each type, of people who have used the same camera for years and years...and no other example is coming to mind just at the moment except Jim Hughes. Jim used the same camera for many years; I just can't recall offhand what it was. A Retina, perhaps?
That's not exactly fair to digital, because digital has been a moving target so far in its still-early evolution. To say that no one I know of has used a digital camera for more than about half a dozen years isn't an indictment of digital cameras per se, it's just an acknowledgement that digital is evolving quickly and hasn't stabilized yet (if it ever will, I don't know). I will say that at least four very smart people told me that the Leica M8 would be the last digital camera they were ever going to buy, and none of the four still own their M8's.
Stephen Best: "I don't see how anyone could settle for a lesser camera than this. Don't people take their photography seriously enough? I mean, when you're taking pictures of your dog on the back porch (and posting 800px wide images to your site) don't you want every molecule to stand out? Maybe galleries could enforce some standards here and only show work taken with this camera (and approved lenses, of course). Photography has clearly gone to the dogs when people are allowed to use just any old camera for the job."
Mike replies: Whole lotta sour grapes here, but that's all you. Nothing you've so sarcastically ridiculed is stated or implied in my post.
JohnMFlores: "I think that I'd have performance anxiety using that camera. The whole time holding it I'd be saying, 'I am not worthy. I am not worthy.' Even worse, I'd agonize over finding worthy photons to capture with it; it would be kind of a waste to use it on cat pictures for Facebook."
Armand: "You have to use it to believe it!"
Thor: "'Best anything' is always subjective, even in the best of circumstances, but, urm, Mike, you've not even laid hands on the Leica you've so acclaimed, have you? Talk about iffy, if not a bit out of character, especially to those of us who have been following your blog for a while."
Mike replies: True, but I've laid hands on the S2, and my leap of faith is in assuming the new camera isn't worse. Then again, I'm always saying that with cameras you should never assume....
R. Edelman: "I've handled the original model S2 version, and it was wonderful. Well balanced, with a great viewfinder, and controls that had no play yet moved with perfect smoothness. It is a beautiful camera. It's handling, size and weight makes it appropriate for wedding as well as studio photographers. The images that I have seen from the S2 have a wonderful quality about them. I am no Leica fanboy. I admire some, but not all Leica equipment. The S model is expensive, but it is very good, and I would love to own one."
Stephen Scharf: "Nonsense. The best camera in the world is the (now, my; muhahahahaha) Fujifilm X-Pro1."
MartinP: "The costs of hardware, within the price-range of such cameras as the Leica S, are not a huge concern—because they are business expenses and are calculated to be worth only a residual amount after five years (or seven, depending...). The size and design of the S is just about the same as the S2, which I have used, briefly, and the simplicity of use was such a relief. It's a very well thought out, simple, practical design to actually use for stuff. And it is pretty small too."