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Friday, 21 December 2012


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The best camera in the world is the one you have in your hand when the image you have been seaking appears!

Yes, the Leica S sounds good, and has similar resolution to the D800, but what about the other characteristics that determine a "best"? What is the dynamic range? Is an 'ISO' of 1600 max good enough? I have used higher numbers successfully on my Nikons. What about pixellation? Noise? etc.,etc. Would it do better than your D800? (And I wonder if the D800E would have done better re pixellation?). Many factors to consider for a 'best'. Do you have more you didn't include?

Mike, "Best" is relative. I wonder what I would do if I had a Leica S. Probably sell it and get a coat pocketable camera. It would be much more useful for me…

I agree though that it is a piece of art.


From every single regard you mention, I'd probably agree with you (if I ever had the chance to use a Leica S, that is). If I owned one, The Best Camera in the World would probably just end up sitting unused on a tripod somewhere, because it's too damn big.

I agree that Leica snobbishness gets old. That being said, I've been kind of wondering why you chose the D800 over a used M9, Mike, now that used M9's are at (or maybe a little under) the $4K mark. I know that the high ISO isn't as good in the M9, but it's still usable, and it seems like it would be right up your alley, in terms of size and functionality.

An interesting proclamation. What is your basis for this declaration, Mike?

If you buy the S2-P and one each of the lenses I get $65K. That's more than I paid for my house.

[...And less than some people pay for their second (or third, or fifth) cars. On the other hand, I just talked to a guy who adopted a child from deep rural Russia, and in the town she came from, a man who could pay for a $65,000 house would be fantastically wealthy. Money's always relative. --Mike]

No live view? Pffft.

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. Come on, Mike. I DO wish you'd have never made this post. Strikes me as totally ridiculous. Happy holidays.

I just took a 360 degree look at the camera at the B&H site. I love the fact that there REALLY aren't any buttons on this camera other that the one you press for pictures. All camera makers should take a close look at the design of this camera.

I guess Tom Hogan is not going to like the camera. He loves buttons. The more the better.

Now back to taking pictures. Enough about hardware.

Mike, I guess Ken Rockwell may not agree with you.:)

Merry Christmas, Mike
By my measure you already own the best camera in the world. I'm a D800e owner and totally captivated user myself.

To be pedantic, it's not like this is a buttonless camera. There are at least 6 buttons (and a joystick and scrollwheel) on the back of the camera, two buttons on the front, and two selectors on the top. That's not exactly no "buttons except the one you press for pictures." It's step in the right direction, I'm not arguing that, just setting the record straight.
It's not the monumental block of granite floating in space that some of you have made it out to be....but it's closer to that than most bodies.
And I'd still shoot with it until I wore it out if somebody would send one my way.

I'm assuming this is the follow-up joke to the previous posting.

[Nope, not joking. --Mike]

It's funny that folks are asking for an explanation.

As we all know (including you, Mike) there is no "best" camera.

And if there were a "best" camera, it certainly wouldn't be the M9 -- this in reply to someone who couldn't understand why you chose a D800 over an M9. I'll answer that question for you: an M9 has an antiquated and not very accurate viewfinder, is slow to use, can't practically handle lenses longer than 90mm (even though there is a 135mm), has no lenses longer than 135mm, is laughably expensive for what you get, has a sensor that is markedly inferior to several other sensors, not just the D800's, and ownership of an M9 opens you to ridicule by intelligent, sensible people, which is the worst kind of ridicule.

"If you guys are trying to provoke me into reviewing this camera, forget it."
Not even if we say 'please'...?

I guess I'm an exception to the folks who always want a different camera. I bought a Nikkormat Ftn in 1969 with money I got for high school graduation. I used it as my primary camera (along with some others, admittedly, including Nikon F and Leica M2 and M3, but that's because I was a newspaper photographer in the days before zoom lenses. I carried all four of those cameras for work every day with 24, 35, 85 and 200mm lenses mounted. The Nikkormat had the 200 on it and served as my spot meter.) until the Nikon FE arrived on the scene. That was my primary camera for more than 20 years, until I went digital.

Since going to digital I've been hunting for the digital FE. I'm thinking I may have found it in my current camera, a Nikon D7000. I like working with one tool that I know well. I can adapt to any idiosyncrasies it may have. I don't need anything too exotic...just a reliable tool to take photos.

That big Leica looks wonderful and I'm sure it's great to work with. But I don't spend that much for my trucks. That's one fine camera that will never make it into my bag.

Having the most expensive Leica doesn't make you a photographer; only a Leica owner!

"...no one I know of has used a digital camera for more than about half a dozen years"

I've had my 5D for that long. Still loving it. Great portrait camera with a prime.

Still, if I was offered an S2, I wouldn't say no.. some of the portraits I've seen taken with it are sublime.

This can't be the best camera when it is so butt ugly (aesthetic argument). And it can't be the best camera when it excludes 99.99% of the world by price (moral argument).

No, Mike, I actually am not goading you to do a "review" of this camera. I just wondered what experiences and/or observations prompted you to make this declaration.

Personally I've no substantial hands-on experience with the S2. I chose the Phase One route principally for the immense versatility such an open-system platform offered for the substantial investment. I've been delighted and richly rewarded for that choice. But I would like to try the Leica S someday and wondered why such a Leica-phobe would make such a personal anointment, even for a model that's not yet begun shipping, out of the clear blue.

That's all.

For a comparative review between the S2 and D800E, have a read of what the uber-capable Ming Thein was to say on his blog:


He's a gearhead and an excellent commercial photographer. Part of his conclusion reads as follows:

"You’ve probably read all the way to the end of this review hoping I’ll pronounce one better than the other; the reality isn’t that clear cut. The Leica S2 wins on lens quality (by a large margin), resolution (by a hair), dynamic range (though this may be debatable) and build; the D800E wins on color, practical usability (ISO 6,400 at medium format resolutions, anybody?), lens selection, speed and portability."

I'm not among those who have said that the Leica M8 will be my last digital camera. But the two M8.2s I own have been the only digital cameras I've owned since transitioning from film 4 years ago.

No reason to change what works. Except, that is, if the new M is adequately weather sealed (as projected), in which case one of the M8.2s will go (the other will stay). And the processor in that new M will be the same Maestro processor as in the S.

One of the nice Leica owners (says my mom)

PS Sold my film Ms and wooden view cameras after switching to digital. Horses for courses.

I won't buy it. It doesn't have a pop-up flash—that's a dealbreaker!

It very well could be the finest camera in the world. I would love to try it! But "if you can't be with the one you love...love the one your with." I do love my Pentax K-5.
The S is an extraordinary achievement, the dynamic range of the images and the resolution are over the top. The ergonomics of the camera lend it so well for location work, like on the French Riviera. These giant Leica lenses must be fabulous as well, if they are anything their 35 mm lenses.

The best camera in /my/ world is a $300 K-01; add $100 at your local thrift store to get five or six K-mount primes and you are truly set. Your images will be outstanding, and your image will suffer only among camera snobs :^)

Have a great holiday season, use what you have not what you crave!

John says..."and ownership of an M9 opens you to ridicule by intelligent, sensible people, which is the worst kind of ridicule."

Impossible, since intelligent, sensible people don't ridicule people for the cameras they own. The pics are the issue, and the camera used is generally impossible to determine looking at the print.

It's been a while since I looked inside the Bible, but I'm pretty sure I read in there somewhere that Jesus shoots a Leica...with a Summicron if memory serves. Merry Christams Mike!

At $27K for the body and lens you might think this is priced high but if you consider an M9 body and a couple of M lenses, then you're just about to the same price as this camera plus one lens. Hmmm… If I sell my M stuff on ebay… this could get fun!

That's quite the bold statement Mike. Sounds more like something Ken Rockwell would say while (temporarily) enamoured with the latest and greatest. Considering that "the best camera" means many different things to many different people.

And I'm at least partway in agreement with you too. Heck, Hasselblad has, or at least had, an even more expensive body out there, so clearly price and sensor size isn't the only differentiator of "the best camera".

Would it be a little bit fair to say that sticking with one digital camera for a long time is like sticking with one film camera AND one particular film choice for a long time?

How many people with film cameras did that? (I really have no idea... just thinking out loud...)

"The Best Camera in the World"

Why didn't you just paint a big red bullseye on your back? That assertion is going to get a lot of pushback, no matter who says it. Not that it concerns me, not in that income bracket. But come to that, neither are you or (probably) 99% of your readers.

Kind of neat to think about anyway.....I guess.

Mike, just to honor the courage of writing an article with this title ;-)
I agree with you about the merits of this camera, the simplicity of the Leica S and the picture quality is superb. I just hope they start again to produce cameras where the build quality is equal to their brand and their history. Happy holidays!

...or wait, maybe its "The best came is the one that you don't own"

I'd buy the Leica S with a pair of lenses immediately if I could afford it. Perfect digital version of the Pentax 67 I've owned for over 25 years.

I'm one of those people who keeps a camera a long time - Canon F1N with 35mm, 85mm and 135mm lenses and one film (HP5+) for 25 years; had the same 3 focal lengths since moving to digital.

My Canon 5D is still in use after 6 years, only added the 5D2 for live view (essential for shooting down a microscope), and now the 5D3 for the improved focus accuracy.

I think DSLRs have finally matured - I could imagine shooting either the 5D3 or the D800 for the next 20 years - and as long as I had 35mm/1.4, 85mm and 135mm/2.0 lenses, I wouldn't much care which one it was.

"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. Btw, happy hols.

[True, but I've laid hands on the S2, and I'm assuming the new camera isn't worse. Then again, with cameras you should never assume.... --Mike]

Whoever on here said that he doesn't spend that much on his trucks, hit the nail on the head...this camera is PRICED to be the best camera in the world, but that doesn't make it so...At the risk of running afoul of Leicaphiles, and let's face it, who cares, really; I've spent years hearing how Leica stuff was superior to anybody else's and the lenses were the sharpest, and blah, blah, blah...

Amazed me when I borrowed an SLR back in the day and the lenses weren't all that sharp, and ditto for the rangefinder too, well, then, when confronted with the evidence, it was "they had that certain something, that certain 'look', that no other lens had". What they had was not the absolute best performance with a huge price tag!

What I salute Leica for is running a nice little business selling exactly what they want at whatever price they want, and getting people to drink the Kool-Ade on it and join the religion. One wonders if Steve Jobs didn't investigate them before he really took off, learning how to make a religion out of it.

BTW, David Bostedo, I know guys that have been shooting the same camera and Tri-X for 40 years! So the answer is....yes!

Of course, what everyone is saying on here, that the BEST camera is the one you like and can get the work out of you need, is absolutely correct, which means to me that when it comes to digital, no one has created the best camera in the world...

The best camera the best wife the best son the best job the best singer the best restaurant the best beer the best wine the best car the best the best, well I continue with my iphone and S100.

I've been plenty happy with my Hassy for the last few years and I haven't been bothered to look much at the current crop of digital wonder cameras. Perfect camera? I'm not so bold as to jump to such conclusions, but it works exceedingly well for my purposes and I'll remain loyal until the film supply runs dry. The only G.A.S. I suffer from is for framing supplies; I have three mat cutters and I don't know how to stop...

Bravo, Mike! The issue here for me isn't so much the image quality of the shots a person can get with a Leica S but rather what the camera means to the gear industry. We need to move beyond the Nikon vs. Canon debates. We need to stop thinking of the big sensor Nikons, Canons and Sonys as being "full frame" because there is no such animal - there is only big and bigger. We need to move beyond the benchmark of sports photography defining what amounts to great image quality. And we need to refocus our energies on what we previously considered the art of photography and less on the microscopic views of the images we capture.

The Leica S is the camera Nikon and Canon should be selling but won't for whatever reason therefore it defines the industry.

My iphone is smaller and fits in my pocket! Merry Christmas or whatever your holiday of choice is.

It doesn't matter.

I know what you did. You mailed Leica an old collar of Lulu's and they designed a camera that can take good pictures of it.
Merry Christmas Mike!

Mike, I completely understand your statement in that the word 'best' encapsulates more than the nitty gritty of comparison performance. It's a camera that just 'grabs' you (or not, for the naysayers) and shouts, 'just look at this' or something of the sort. I would be tremendously excited at having the chance to own one of these - it's just that kind of camera. In our humble store I point to the D800 as being the best generally available camera - often to quizzical looks and contending responses when someone states that it's not great for sports, sigh.
Often we will discuss in the shop which cameras would go into a 'hall of fame', and there are a few, consistently, however, the Nikon D700 is very highly favoured, maybe 5 or so years ago it could have been called the best ? Certainly I believe that it is still one of the runners up.
Bottom line is that if I had the money I would buy the Leica S system. Am I guessing that you may not, Mike ?

Festive cheer to you and yours,
Mark Walker.

In fairness comments on this site should try to make some kind of point. This does not. For some reason this thread has triggered a number of unrelated observations and since I have some time on my hands I feel the need to share. You have been warned.
1. I am one of those Rolleiflex people you referred to. It was my camera of choice for personal work when I was still shooting a lot of film. A 2.8f, a propack of TXP and Mrs Plews beside me singing in the wilderness...
2.That Leica is the most beautiful digital camera I have yet seen.
3. A Bugatti Veyron may be the best car in the world but I wouldn't drive it to the grocery store.
4. Duane Michals did some of his best work with an Argus C3 (so did my dad).
5. You can strap almost any Nikkor on to a D3200 and get 80% of the way to what that Leica can do and you can accomplish this for pocket change. I take that as proof that we live in an age of wonders.

Michal writes "Best for what? Low light photography, given it tops out at measly ISO 1600? Nope."

I'm always confused by statements like this. Herman Leonard shot jazz club photos (with lights, but clubs today have lights too) on films no faster than ISO 200; even with pushing tricks his effective speed can't have been higher than 400.

And he shot the photos on a Speed Graphic, which, to Michal's other point, is both larger and heavier than an S2.

ISO 1600 gives you good photos in VERY dark conditions; the room I shot this in (at 1/15 and f/1.4 on ISO 1600) might as well have had bats hanging from the ceiling:


I never understood that old saw that the best camera is the one you have on you. I can't count the number of times I've seen a great picture only to be sorely disappointed that I have a little jpeg-only tiny sensor digicam on me. Occasionally a bad shot full of noise, compression artifacts and lacking dynamic range is better than nothing, certainly for whatever purpose I took the camera out for in the first place (typically snapshots). But sometimes it isn't really better than nothing.
It's sort of like saying the best car is the one that's in the driveway when you have to go to work. Well, my Ford Focus is certainly better than nothing as it gets me there, but it's not a "best" in any sense. Not that I care - I'll never in my life own a "best" car.
As for the Leica, I can see the rationale for labeling it "Best" with the understanding that "Best" isn't "best" for any significant number of people. Even if you can afford it, depending on what you shoot, a lot of other cameras will get the job done better. But if you really wanted to name one camera as the best camera, given that you'd come up with a list of 100's of cameras if you looked at what's best for each individual photographer, the S seems like a good choice to me.

I completely agree with your proclamation!
My rationale is most and best pixels per button.

I was pleased to see that when I google "the best camera in the world" your post is on the first page. Success.

The Leica S is a precision instrument and I agree that it is the best camera in the world. Many thousands of frames shot with the S2 over the past few years have me completely hooked with the S system. It's far more versatile than most people realize. I walk around with it around my neck without any difficulty, it's lighter than a 1D Canon with a 24-70mm lens attached. I can shoot a quick snapshot with the familiarity of any DSLR but the resulting quality blows away anything else out there. No it can't shoot at ISO25,600 or 15 frames per second. But no one ever takes their Ferrari's off-roading either.

The vast majority of pictures are shown in web pages having a resolution of let´s say 1200 x 800. All monitors in the world show the pictures a little different way. Some are darker than others. Some are in bright light some are watched in total darkness, some monitors are old some new. I´d say that for an average person it just does not matter anything at all what camera is used to take the picture he/she is looking.
People just do not care about pixels, about wb etc. They just look at the pictures to see if they can tell who is in that picture. There are very few people in the world who really can tell a difference between a professional and an amateur quality picture. It just means nothing what cam one uses to take a picture if we consider the audience and that is the only thing we should consider, pictures are made for those who look at them..
And if one thinks about exhibitions everything depends on how far one looks at the pictures. If You look at a huge picture from 15 meters away- it could as well be 72 dpi, You cannot tell the difference.
So almost any camera can produce as "good" pictures as this Leica. Visuals means something not the camera brand if we think of audience.
The most important thing for photographer is ergonomics, forget about pixels etc. If a cam is difficult to hold or it´s very difficult to focus manually or change aperture or speed it´s useless.
The heavier the cam is ( to certain limit) the better it is. Bigger cam with most analog knobs is always better. If You can shoot with both eyes open, good. If your finger´s first joint reaches the shutter knob the better.
Jore Puusa
Helsinki, Finland

I'm a Leica guy, and I can't see how this is the best camera in the world for anyone other than studio photographers -- and maybe not even them. The size, ISO limitations, and price all make this a lousy camera for a number of applications. I'm not sure that it can even compete with something like a D800.

Personally, I wouldn't want one, even at a fraction of the price.

This camera can also use Hasselblad HC lenses. which means it can of course use a tele.. the 300mm hc lens which is excellent.. it can also use zoom,the S 35-90,the HC 50-110 and hc 35-90.. leica are also planning to build a 350mm tele.. it can also use Phase one lenses.. so the 75-150 also fits.

It is very versatile and I.Q is excellent,in the future Leica will add a higher resolution CMOS sensor,this system is still developing..

Best camera in the world? It only goes 1.5 frames per second. The Nikon 1 goes 5 frames per second, so it's more than 3 times better. Then again, the Leica S has built in GPS. Overall, I'd call it a tie. :)

I'll just say that last month I was talking to a master printer who has made a lot of prints for several photographers whose work everyone here knows. His prints are some of the very best I've ever seen. His take? In general, he likes working on S2 files more than he likes working on D800 files. And the S should be better than the S2....

Meanwhile I continue to be *very* impressed with the X-E1.

I'd love one. It's a view camera I can actually carry and get usable output from in the digital age.

That said, I'll settle for my M9-P, X100, x10 and my secondhand D90. Put 'em all together and I've got a pretty good rig, I reckon.

But the S is definitely lust-worthy. Hell, it's sponge-worthy.

I have been using the S2 for the past two years and hope to take delivery of an S early next year. The S-System is a camera for people who appreciate beautifully crafted tools where quality is not compromised by meeting specific price points in a crowded market. Leica set out to make the best camera they could and have succeeded. They can't make them fast enough...

If anyone wants to see a little more of Leica's image quality beyond that available on websites, I have a new (free) iPad app just released called Photique which aims, among other things, to be a publishing portal for photography articles as well as for my own photography collections. One of the portfolios available is from China where I exclusively used the S2 as a travel camera. The iPad's retina screen shows up IQ far better than websites can, especially as the platform allows me to show images up to 4000x2048px at 100% on the screen. That's roughly 1/2 the linear resolution of the native S2 DNG files but still gives an excellent impression of what the camera is capable of.

Not saying it's the best camera in the world - no one camera can be the best at everything - but it is stunning. Now the lenses, well, they may indeed be the best every made and I don't make that claim idly. I have used them, all of them, but don't take my word for it, check out the MTF charts and you'll see that no other lenses come close. I actually think they are a bit 'over engineered' because they are capable of resolving detail far beyond any current digital sensor, let alone the modest 37.5MP of the S body.

Nick Rains

In response to the bigger than a tank comment - for quick visual reference, I give you the currently much-loved D800 for comparison -


Yes, it is about 1/2 lb heavier.

Interesting the comments. I get it Mike. I have an old Leica 5cm lens a friend gave me. I use it on a Bessa R. It is comparable to the best lenses I own such as my Contax Zeiss 50mm, Rollei 6x6 and Mamiya RB. They make really good products. I guess the comments might have been inspired by the lack of details on how you got to your conclusion. But I have seen images on Flickr and I'm sure it is a great camera.

This might be interesting:
Amazing spanish try-out: leica S2 vs. Nikon 800

I can't help but chuckle a bit when I read these "best in the world" proclamations. A quick example: how exactly is this Leica a good street night life camera? You say it isn't that heavy- sure, compared to other tanks. Heavy is already gone past you and you didn't notice.

I respect you Mike and I actually think this Leica S system is excellent but "best camera I. The world" is a blanket statement that deserves a good deal of opposition. Reminds me when IGN declared that Nintendos Mario 64 was the best game ever done (at that time). Tough luck if you like a mystery game and don't like 3d platformers...

The best camera for a photographer is the best one that matches his needs and wants, as the tool it is, to create his photography.

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