Thursday, 17 September 2009

Did Leica miss an opportunity with the S2?


So Leica has joined the otherwise diminishing number of makers of medium format cameras (along with, more recently, Hartblei). What marks the S2 out from the rest of the digital medium format brigade, other than the fact that this system has the smallest image area of any camera to be dubbed medium format, is the aspect ratio of the chip. Leica have opted to use a 2:3 format just like 35mm style cameras, whereas most other of the larger chips offer something around 3:4 or 4:5.

Why does this matter? Well, only in the sense that the majority of published images are not reproduced at 2:3. If you look at the average proportions of images being reproduced in print the ratio is much nearer 3:4. That means that some of the resolution is lost in cropping, leading to an almost routine reduction in pixel count in the final image.

Of course 35mm cameras managed with this format for many years, but it should be remembered that the choice of format was, in the first place, one of convenience for historical reasons (and of course Leica was the company responsible for that decision too). Then along came digital SLRs and most (at first all) followed the same pattern, wasting the opportunity to change to a better format. Medium format digital took a more flexible approach and opted, in most cases, for something better suited to the needs of the market, until now. Thanks Leica.

PS. The Hartblei's isn't a digital camera system specifically, as it can take film backs, and also Hartblei might already consider themselves a medium format camera maker as they have, for some years, supplied modified Kiev cameras.

Image: illuminated path, Turville

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