An Alternative View of the Leica S2 by Kurt Kamka

An Alternative View of the Leica S2

By Kurt Kamka

Photography either as a profession or as a hobby is one of those avocations that frequently end up being all about the buying, selling and trying out of gear. It’s the endless pursuit of the perfect lens, feature set or upgrade that is just one purchase away.

Like modern Sisyphus’, for many, the trying out of gear becomes the obsession. And, with a steady stream of new products to feed the addiction, the next new product introduction becomes a highly anticipated, hallowed event.

Raise your hand if the gear acquisition bug has ever bitten you. I know it’s bitten me, so I’ll raise both of my hands.

With so many systems and options available, a trend in recent years that, depending on your point of view, either adds to the addiction (or is the perfect antidote) is the introduction of lens mount adapters. Lens mount adapters allow you to mount alternative lenses (other manufacturer’s lenses) on a variety of camera mounts.

If you like manual focus and can work with stop-down metering, lens mount adapters can open up a whole treasure trove of classic, beautiful and even bizarre lens signatures for you to work with as you explore different looks for your images.

I first started experimenting with lens mount adapters when I was using a Canon 1DS and discovered that a Leica to Canon EOS mount adapter was available for the 1DS. I had to cut the mirror on my camera to prevent the mirror from getting hung up on the lenses I wanted to use, but it allowed me to mount Leica R lenses on a Canon body.

Over the years, I’ve used a wide variety of Leica, Zeiss, Voigtlander, Hasselblad on Canon, Nikon and Leica bodies.

So when I recently heard that a Hasselblad to Leica S2 adapter was available for the LeicaS2, I knew I had to give it a go. Mostly, because it would allow me to mount one of my all-time favorite lenses, the 110mm f2 Carl Zeiss Planar, on the S2.

Leica S2 with the Hasselblad  110 f/2 lens attached via an adapter

I like the image characteristics a larger medium format sensor like the S2 provides with a narrower depth of field … especially with faster lenses. So I found a dealer friend who happened to have an adapter and was willing to lend it to me during an S2 test drive.

As an f2 lens, the Zeiss 110/2 lens is wonderful for available light photography. I was pleasantly pleased to find that as a relatively small lens (manual focus lens design) when compared to the larger AF lenses in the S2 line-up, the Zeiss 110/2 was easy to handhold on the S2.

The Zeiss 110/2 has a distinctive lens signature that provides rich, high-contrast images and smooth bokeh. It is a match well-made for larger medium format digital sensors including the S2’s.

Leica S2 with the Hasselblad  110 f/2 lens attached via an adapter

I was also delighted to discover that the S2’s large viewfinder makes manually focusing the 110/2 no more difficult than manually focusing any other fast lens on a Leica M body.

As a result … I had a blast during my S2 test run. The accompanying shots are from a walk around the Wisconsin State Fair on a Saturday. I wandered around the fair for a little over three hours with just the S2, the Zeiss 110/2 lens and a hand strap.

The upside to this adapter madness? The realization that there a few more lenses (like those in the Hasselblad V line-up) that are “available” for use with the S2 … at a more reasonable price and with a distinctly different look than the growing set of optical marvels designed for the S2.

It might be another reason to choose an S2 or reconsider what you are currently using on your camera system of choice. Especially should you find that you find that you already have a few leftover lenses sitting around collecting dust.

Kurt Kamka

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  1. Cameras are like Capitalism and Communism. If you can.t afford it , you disagree. I just bought a Demo S2 and a 70mm for US$12.000oo. This camera is absolut marvelous, elegance, and quality best. Now i am selling my Hasselblad stuff to get the 35 and the 120 Leica Lens. Greetings from Colombia !!!

  2. Just a very basic mechanical question – One vendor offering the S2-Hasselblad adaptor states “Aperture control is fully manual using the stop-down lever on the lens.” Does that mean you have to hold down the stop-down lever on the lens at the same time that you fire the camera shutter? If so, it sound nearly impossible to use the Leica/Hasselbald combination without a tripod.

    OK, one more question – will a shutterless lens from a Hassey 2000FC work with the adapter?

    Ted K.

  3. Kurt,
    I believe you buried the most successful images you shared down at the bottom of your article – most especially the one with the Carnie watching the Couple playing Ring Toss. Maybe the ones posted higher up conveyed your points about bokeh and contrast and narrow depth of field in a strong manner before ‘downsizing’ for the web, but they certainly fall flat (to my eyes) attempting to represent those qualities ‘as posted’.
    I’ve also re-read your article twice and it ‘feels’ like you’re attempting to champion the S2 as having more flexibility and economy than simply looking at it’s list price and the price of Leica S lenses would lead folks to believe due to it’s suitability for using a host of great Manual Focus medium format lenses. Unfortunately, to use a baseball metaphor, I come away feeling like you’ve written a ‘bloop single’ with a topic that could have easily been a ‘stand-up triple’ or possibly a ‘home run’.
    I use Leica R lenses on my EOS dSLR and a couple of M42 Lenses as well have made it onto my camera – All at a fraction of what might be nominally called ‘equivalent’ auto-focus lenses would have cost me. I whole heartedly agree with your premise of maximizing what ‘gear collecting’ has put in folks’ possession and letting folks know that they can mount them on an S2 OR can buy them for an S2 as an option to avoid the crushing price of S mount Glass. I’m just not so sure your writing carried that off as well as it might otherwise have done.

    Richard in Michigan

  4. I kinda lost the general drift of 75% of the contributions here.

    The S2 can’t produce a sharp image, its file quality sucks, the price is excessive, file quality of all cameras is equal? The list goes on.

    What amazes me is that noone got into the usual rant about size/weight and general clumsiness of a DSLR (larger than ff here, ha ha), particularly when used in “street” situations, as with these shots.

    But that’s probably because it’s a Leica.

  5. Wow, this post has created quite a bit of response! Lots of opinions here. Mine? Yea, the S2 is too expensive. After shooting MF film, even with the foldable Fuji…Id go with the film camera and film over spending $27k on an S2. But, the S2 is a damn nice camera. Worth $27k? Guess that depends on each individual. Thanks for the article Kurt!

  6. if we all would use just the tools we would need than probably more than 50% would admit that they a)only print a small percentage of imges and b) do not print really big
    Does this mean all those people should rather use a 4 MP camera, and everything else would be overkill?

    I also admit that for a little bit more quality cost rises exteremly. Of course one big benefit of the S2 and meium format is the resolution and ability for big prints. But I also believe that there are other things one can indeed see like signature of a lens, transition between focus plane and oof areas (and I can not agree at all that it is more abrupt but I believe it is less abrupt with a larger sensor), impressing micro detail due to no AA filter , moiree 😉 , …

    Film looks beautiful to me (not better than digital, slightly different) – but with digital I can do the whole workflow much easier and all myself and in much less time and -thats why I personally prefer digital by far. I kept some film cameras but in the end they have been unused for years. And if I take 1000 images with a difital camera which costs 20k € each single image is still cheaper than buying a film camera for 1k € and not using it. Thats me and others might take the time, or might have the film processing skills and equipment. Saying digital MF can not produce fascinating IQ and files is nonsense IMO.

  7. Jeez, amazing how a simple article on using an adapter can be twisted to support the self-agrandizing arguments of those who choose to shout the loudest on an internet forum. The purpose of the article wasn’t to claim the superiority of digital versus film (it provides a beautiful aesthetic now, but will it provide that same aesthetic to people looking at images 50 years from now with people who are used to only seeing digital images? who knows? Write an article on film versus digital, I’m certain there are many who would love to read it, including me), why having a fat wallet is wrong (something I’d like to find out if I could find a fatter wallet) or how someone else’s results are less than their personal standards of stellar.

    Here’s something that I posted on the LUF a few months ago, but I thought that it might be interesting with regard to how this discussion has gone.

    I’m willing to assist in this dreck purge, so here’s my unofficial list of what must be banned to the circles of photography forum hell:

    Circle 1: Family Pictures — Especially those featuring babies with snotty noses and faces stained by mashed peas. Be gone little odious ones. Take the secret smiles, footy pajamas and laughs you induce with you. Serious photography favors pain, sorrow and angst. Away with you Uncle Jessie, you are culturally irrelevant … show me an image of a Dinka warrior dancing in the dessert or a Cuban posing for $2 and a bottle of Coke … now that’s art!

    Circle 2: Pets — Beasts and brutes all of you. You won’t find many photos of floppy ears, cocked heads and wagging tongues in the fine museums of the world. Sappy is for the untrained eye and the bucket-weilding syrup salesmen of the backwoods. However, if you decide to run over a few of those pets and post them as a roadkill trilogy … a treatise of man’s indifference to his natural world … now that’s art!

    Circle 3: The 21st Century — Not on our watch! Asphalt and yellow arches will never replace buttresses and cupolas. All proper photos should feature cobblestones, stone stairways, quaint shops and 18th century architectural lampposts. Best of all, include a craftsmen, a few pigeons and a homeless beggar in as many of those images as you can … now that’s art!

    Circle 4: The Hap-Hazzard — The earth is flat! We, the photographic elite, shall gouge our highly-trained photographic eyes out with pokers lest we see another tilted landscape, dust spot or unsharp subject. To deliberate and refine is divine. Never trust your eye or your instinct. For maximum effect, dramatically unveil one new photo every six years, never mind that it represents an instant of time. Add generous amounts of grain, convert to black and white and most importantly, shoot in film … now that’s art!

    Circle 5: Joy — As stated in Circle 1, serious photography favors pain, sorrow and angst. Van Gogh famously sold only one painting during his lifetime. Imagine how many more he could have sold on his online painting blog if he would have focused on the dark places of his personal pain instead of using it to help him focus on elevating the ordinary to the sublime. In serious photography, joy is found in viewing the opposite of joy in others … now that’s art!

    Circle 6: Narrow Depth Of Field — If you want photographic credibility, change your initials to HCB. God knows that you can’t achieve any acclaim should your images utilize techniques not employed by those photographers elevated to the Photographic Pantheon. All original ideas, concepts and techniques have already been utilized. Why mess with a good thing? Trade your hometown and homeboys for homage … now that’s art!

    Circle 7: Photos Without Critique — We use our favorite brand of gear and because we use it, our standards are lofty. Of course they are our standards, so listen closely and we’ll whisper in your ear how you can join us on our exclusive cloud. Just like each camera must be housed in the finest Italian leather case, so should each image be accompanied by the most constructive of critiques. One word responses and simple exclamations shall be stricken from the record. Nothing should be taken at face value … all must be elevated with incantations of indispensable yet indecipherable instruction … now that’s art!

    • Kurt,

      Well said. Don’t forget that the life of blood of well run forums, blogs, sites such as Steve’s here, are arguments, disagreements, discussions. They bring life and traffic. As long as they are polite and don’t cross certain lines, there is no right or wrong. That’s just life. How boring would it be if one would simply agree with everyone else and say..”wow, great bokeh, look at that amazing DOF, creamy!” Come on…it’s all good. 🙂
      Thanks for the article and keep up the good work.


  8. Wow… hot debate going on here. I think though I must concur with Max on a particular point. There are certain objectives that can be achieved with a certain quality/size of tool. If the tool is too small/of too low a quality, then it said to not be up to the task, if the tool is too big/or too high a quality, then it is said to be wasted. Provided you are clear what the objective is, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that analysis. Much like, if you want break up some small pieces of wood for a fire and that is your objective, you don’t need a chainsaw, a small axe would suffice. It comes down to what you are trying to achieve, your objective.

    Using the S2 to ‘shoot toes’ or basically anything mundane is fun from a ‘look at the size of my ….’ point of view (basically the reason for buying anything that is way more powerful than required). People don’t buy a 30 room mansion because they have 30 friends that would like to sleep over… their objective is nothing about having sufficient accommodation.

    Anyway, to say something is fit for purpose simply because it can be used (chainsaw-firewood S2-toes) is simply not true if your purpose/objective is to either cut wood or capture an image. If your objective is flex your power/financial muscle and show everyone just how big it is, then 100% true! I have nothing against a bit of flexing but let’s call it what it is and not mix up tools for different objectives.

    • Good point, Stephen! But I don’t see it as a valid argument. I know everybody here agrees with you. Why is there a sports car marked? People don’t need to drive fast, and it is not legal most parts of the world, but many likes to drive designer vehicles and why would people like to buy expensive cars when a cheep car would transport you from A to B just the same. I would never buy a expensive car nor would I judge people who has. I would never judge other people who put their S2 images on flickr embarrassing or silly.

      • Per, I think you are actually agreeing rather than disagreeing. Expensive cars go from A – B just the same as inexpensive cars, the reason people buy expensive cars is more to do with status rather than transport. In fact, many people collect expensive cars and never even drive them. Does a person need 10 cars in his garage for transport? More than likely not, so why does he have them? Because he (or she) likes the feeling he gets knowing he has them and when he invites friends to come and have a look, this is because he enjoys their reaction and probably the comments they make. There is nothing wrong with doing this. There is however something wrong when a person with 10 expensive, luxury cars tries to justify it by saying he needs them to get him from A – B because this is obviously not true.

        Taking mundane amateur photos with a S2 is a bit like taking a Porsche to a racing track (where speed and time is what matters) and driving it around the whole time in 1st gear only, ignoring the rest of the gears. Most people there would be annoyed by this and think “What is that person doing with a car like that? They don’t even drive it the way it is supposed to be driven”. I think it is normal to think like that and would go as far as to say that most people do. Driving it in first gear only at a luxury car exhibition however is fine and even recommended. The objective of bringing the car is different though. I have no problem with either. Just don’t drive in first gear around the track or 200mph through the people watching the exhibition! 😉

        • Haha, great response, Stephen 😀 I know what you mean, but if people wants to drive the super cars in first gear, they can freely do so… are we getting a bit too overheaded with the exsamples 😀

          What is mundane amateur photo’s? are “mundane” they unworthy of the S2?

          • Sorry, Per, can’t help it..I love these arguments 🙂
            There is NOTHING wrong with amateurs taking mundane photos with a $20K camera if they can afford it and chose to do so but it is also true that they could achieve the same results with a $500-1000 camera or yet, even better results with a $50 Holga if they learned something about photography. At the end of the day, enjoy that S2 or a Ferrari but you are not going to hear me say, “wow, look at those images. That guy really is doing a great job with that $20K camera and exploiting its full potential” or “damn, he drives just like Michael Shumacher and he should be on the track.” If it’s bad, it’s bad, and using expensive tools to make it bad will always be more noticeable and judged upon. Human nature, I guess.
            The only difference with a Ferrari, which I should point out, is that the machine itself is a peace of handcrafted artwork that can be in fact appreciated for what it is, if one choses. A digital camera?? Please!
            Peace, my friend. 🙂

      • I agree with both of you. I just don’t see what the big deal is about these files VS the M9 or Canon 5D Mark II. Just to blow up the file past 20X30? Most people wouldn’t know the difference that this file came from a S2. Which is my point. If you can’t tell it’s leaps and bounds above the M9, why spend that kind of cash?

  9. Now that the quite unexpected heat of this discussion has died down “-) , maybe it’s time to draw some conclusions.

    1 Looking – carefully – at pictures is better than judging-from-the-hip.

    2 These images are razor sharp, in an extremely thin dof. f2.0/100mm.

    3 The transition form “sharp” to out of focus appears to be very abrupt; that reduces the “3D” look.

    4 The points-of-focus appear mostly to be randomly chosen (I’m probably wrong here). Possibly the tension and interest these images could have appears when viewed at a lot bigger size than our screens allow.

    5 As for the insanity of actually owning cameras like this one, I sometimes think Leica’s target (R, M, S, X, compacts) customer/punter is the well heeled traveler; the “Louis Vuitton set”. Maybe that should be Hermès. People that are prepared to buy into the illusion and image, but can’t necessarily produce an interesting image.
    Nothing wrong with that…

    Present company excluded! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  10. Robert,

    I will email you and continue to love-fest 🙂
    In the meantime, I agree 100% with the way digital works for pros who shoot commercial stuff. It just makes sense, especially if the economics work out.
    For us mere mortals, I’d take this anytime…my 1954 Rolleiflex and a roll of Ektar this past weekend, developed in my laundry room tonight with Tetenal C41 Kit and scanned on a Nikon LS9000 @ 4000 dpi for a juicy 225mb file…not bad for an old piece of junk that cost me $500..

  11. A cool way to go given Leica has not released many lenses for the S2, 3 last time i checked perhaps 4 or 5 now and there are no legacy Leica MF lenses that I know off.

    Alot of odd debates going on here, end of the day if you can afford a 1000 dollar camera or a 30,000 dollar camera you can do whatever you want with it weather thats photos of your kids, a flower you like, or full time studio work. The price is because you can, not because you must. A pro buying a S2 is not just going to do there high paying jobs with it, if they see a pretty flower or a cool looking cat there not going to go pickup a “cheap” camera for that shot, they will use there beloved S2.

  12. Amazing razor sharp super thin shalow depth of field, Kurt. Looks like you enjoyed your self with the setup. It would be nice to see a image with the setup S2 and the zeiss.

  13. The images are not really good examples to show the potential of that camera/lens combo. The images are a bit weak in storytelling and/or composition. That’s fine. I think the point is that older lenses still have huge potential on modern cameras and Steve shows this on a daily basis.
    In regards to the gear race I wonder why we buy all that stuff. Me included. Why do we spend so much time, money, energy to photograph people at a fair, on the street, somewhere else? Amateurs spend thousand and thousand to get pro equipment. Do we believe that one day these photos will be famous? Probably not. Do we enjoy if family and friends call us the greatest photographer ever? Maybe, but is this worth all that money? Is this a personal challenge to prove that we can do this? Maybe. Maybe it is just a distraction from all that daily stress. If that’s the case then I could spend the money on massages as well. Maybe to open our eyes to the world outside…., yeah, but a simple camera does that already. I understand that we want more resolution, more detail, better iso but I can’t even answer the question why. Yes, to take better images but why?

    • d!irk…that’s correct and, as I always say…gear means absolutely nothing. But who really buys a camera like the S2 anyway? I doubt it is the enthusiastic, wealthy amateur. It is geared toward the pro who has to shoot digital MF because to spend to that kind of cash to post a bunch of non-sense on Flickr would just be plain silly and downright embarassing.

      • I can understand the amateur who wants to shot S2 for own personal fun and I always encourage to share even if its flickr. I find it strange that you call it “embarassing”. I find it great that some people can afford the S2 and the images Kurt has here is a 3 hour test of the setup. You know nothing about what the enthusiastic, wealthy amateur wants so stop claiming you do.

        • Per..thanks. You are entitled to your opinion and I am to mine. As you can read above, I have said “I DOUBT it is the enthusiastic, wealthy amateur”. I have not made any claims to KNOW that. Can you prove to me, to extinguish my DOUBTS, that the S2 is indeed bought by wealthy amateurs to take casual snapshots of their children, or vacations, etc? I don’t have any issues with anyone wealthy enough to buy the S2 and enjoy it as they see fit but in my opinion is just a waste. Again, nothing more than my opinion, really. No offense to be taken whatsoever.

          • A waste? Because it is expensive? I, my self, will never be able to buy a S2 but I find it great some can and I can’t see why it should be a waste no matter how the S2 owner choose to use it. You obviously have a issue that some one can afford it, otherwise you would not call it a waste.

          • I will probably never buy one either because I can’t see that it would make my images any better or different. I don’t have any issues at all with anyone being able to afford one and take pictures of their toes, dog and nothing else every day. But, I just think it’s a waste and that is my opinion. Why do you have an issue with my opinion not agreeing with yours? If you find it okay to spend $20K and use the camera as a glorified point and shoot, I am fine with that. I respect your opinion and have no problem with that at all.

          • I do respect your opinion, Max, I am finding your arguments to be contradictory. The S2 has a huge resolution, great build quality, amazing sharpness when used correctly, basicly a great photographic tool and you say rich owners use it for photographing “toes, dog and nothing else every day”. That is so prejudice.

        • Come on, keep putting words in my mouth. All I said is that I find it to be wasteful if a wealthy amateur buys the S2 just to do that. I did not say that every wealthy amateur does that. I am sure that the S2 is a very capable tool in the right hands just like a $50 Holga is one and I have seen some quite unbelievable images taken with that piece of worthless plastic.

      • MOST of the shots I’ve seen shot with the S2 were shot by wealthy amateurs — you can see them on flickr if you do a search. Honestly, you could have told me some of these shots were made on a micro 4/3 camera and I’d believe you.

        This is not just a case of the endlessly-repeated cliche about “it’s about the photographer rather than the equipment.” This is a case of mediocre equipment. I’ve seen plenty of mediocre 120 film shots, and they still have better resolution than the S2.

        When it comes to film vs. digital in the 35mm world, it’s a matter of taste and what you enjoy — there’s no question that 35mm digital cameras deliver an image technically on par with 35mm film, if aesthetically different. But when it comes to MF, any 120 film camera blows the S2 out of the water.

        • Well, David, that was indeed my original point in the first post. I don’t think the quality of the S2 is even close to 120 film and for $20K++ it’s just not acceptable. If the main buyers of the S2 are indeed wealthy amateurs, congrats to Leica for targeting a segment that will keep them in business, just like Ferrari stays in business selling to the same people. I don’t know why some have an issue with me not sitting here glorifying these images or any S2 image I have seen so far. Can ANYONE honestly tell me that, if given blind (not knowing the camera used) they would be able to tell that these images were taken with a $20K+ “digital tool”? Hey, at least when I see or hear a Ferrari coming down the road, I know it’s a Ferrari. The driver may not be Michael Shumacher but there is no mistaking the machine. There is nothing else like it and I’ve owned four of them over the past ten years. In the case of cameras though, it is THE DRIVER who matter most because there is no individuality or signature in a digital image from a Leica S2 or many other cameras. I’ve wasted lots of money myself on digital toys over the years so I am not simply passing judgement on others who do the same. These are just my opinions and everyone can feel free to politely agree or not. It’s all good. 🙂

          • I agree with Max. Medium format film is so much better, and cheaper than a 29K kit. I love the look of the film much better than what the S2 is showing. No contest.

    • I’ll be a gentleman here, and say that what you find good, bad or interesting might not be what intrigues others.

      Personally, I’m fascinated by the bits and pieces of every day life that describe the experience of living in a particular period of time or a far-away place. Time is the great equalizer of talent, storytelling … and criticism. For instance, take a look at the images in this link:

      The fair images might’ve been deemed throw-away at the time … but now they wonderfully immerse the viewer in another time/place. I’m not saying that the images I used as examples are works of art, but I feel comfortable with them capturing/conveying what I wanted them to convey in the short time I had to work with the camera.

      • O.T. well maybe it’s on topic. I saw this the other day. I have one thing to say.

        You just gotta love film – gotta gotta gotta. If you are a photographer you don’t have to shoot it but you must love it. I love it so much that I overcome the laziness and shoot it at least half of the time. Digital is great because it is no effort – none – no having to stock film, not having to worry about the right film speed, not having to develop it. Not having to get it developed, not having to scan it to share on the internet. But…

        Can anyone honestly say that some sort of Digital capture would make these shots better? You could argue that they would be no worse but here is the rub, they might be. They might be JPG’s that someone ran a filter on, they might have the latest popular preset run on them. There are a lot of things that might be worse if they were. Not many people throw film away – even the dud’s of that moment are kept.

        all that aside – I love film. these shots look fantastic.


          • I am partial to film and that is obvious but I was floored when Steve pointed at that link and saw those images. That’s right and 1939-1943 for goodness sake. We are here arguing about a $20K medium format digital and look at those images. Incredible, timeless, just beautiful. Sharp, vibrant, 3D, stunning! 70 years ago…hello??

          • Max –

            I think we have spoken before you probably already know i am a film bigot for a lot of the reasons wrapped up in what you just said. I also like that I NEVER get rid of negatives. Some bad ones turn into good ones a decade after I shot them. On an on – you’ll have to email me so we do waste steve’s bandwidth here to prattle on about it.

            All that being said I did shoot MF digital for about 6 years. Pure economics. When I was shooting commercial stuff I shot hundreds of rolls of 120 for a job – hundreds. There were some years I would shoot like 10,000 rolls of 120. You do the math on how fast you burn up enough film / development / scanning – yes scanning, film has been scanned for a long time for publication drum scans aint cheap. I actually was cost positive in year one and that was with the best that money could by – Hasselblad H2D w/ Leaf Aptus and lenses. The Leaf was a far cry better than ANY FX/DX sensor camera – even now There are not really any Nikon/Canon that can compete from a DR = RES – Color standpoint. Add in the client demand, AD insistence on instant on set approval of shots, NO RESHOOTS ever. Digital is a commercial shooters dream. Pure economics.

            That being said I never ever gave up shooting film, never sold my Hasselblad 200’s and 500’s – Still have all of it and it works great. That stuff is a joy to use vs. todays digital junk – what an indulgence. A slow thoughtful indulgence and the results are always a little bit like Christmas day – when you see that film or that contact sheet it just looks freaking great. There is never that feeling of uggghhhh now I’ve got to do post. Even shooting fashion on film was fantastic my stuff looked great – if it needed retouched for the AD’s sake it had nothing to do with color, light, comp, or composing shots. It was pure skin retouch and that was someone else’s job.


      • Hi Kurt
        The link is great. I think that even at the time that they were taken that people recognized the great storytelling in each of these images. They are close when you want them to be close and zoomed out enough when you want to see more of what is around. Nothing distracts and they all hit the right moment, the decisive moment. I like those a lot. Anyhow, we all judge image quality in relation to the equipment that has been used. Using a S2 at a fair leads to great potential. Personally I think that something is off in the images and I was wondering if that is based on style, color, framing, or a limitation that the camera creates in such an environment. Actually I like the cropped version of the bottle image. It feels stronger. I think the moment with the fries is great too because there is a reaction of the boy and the father that comes together. I just wish it would be closer. I personally like when things suddenly fit together like a puzzle. Anyhow, images don’t need to be work of art to make a point but that leaves us with color and detail to judge the potential of a camera. Small images on the web don’t do that in my opinion.

  14. Hi guys,

    I think for large sensors I still prefer a camera and a separate back so you can adapt… Like Mamyia/PhaseOne or even Contax with a PO back… I dunno, you can upgrade the sensor as technology evolves…

  15. As David S. has mentioned, and again this is said with the UTMOST respect for Kurt as the photographer, a camera like the S2 is a joke. Medium format has a LONG way to go in digi-world to appeal to anyone that doesn’t absolutely HAVE TO shoot digital medium format and can foot the bill.
    This will not find any arguments anywhere: there is no medium format sensor that will equal the quality of a film image shot with a Blad, Rolleiflex, Contax 645. Quality wise I will blow away every one of those images with my Rolleiflex and roll of Ektar and I’ve just saved $20+++K (again, nothing to do with the photographer, just a gear related observation). You want to play at this level then buy a Contax 645 and slap on a Phase One back if you really need to and at least one has the choice of shooting serious film with it. A $50K Phase One P65 MAY get you close but I’d rather use that as down payment on a nice vacation house in Montana. Again, give me an S2 that can output the same quality of a Blad, Rolleiflex, etc for $1K to $5K and I will consider it. Until then, forget contest. Sorry!

    • Do you have a side-by-side shot to demonstrate this? Same lens. Same body. Same shot. One with a high-end digital back and the other with MF film scanned with a high-end scanner. Full resolution files. I would really love to see a comparison.

      • No I do not because I can’t afford to spend $20-75K on a MF digital format system. On the other end, I have not seeing anything out there that can prove me wrong. Have you? What I have seen are images that still don’t compare to a Velvia 50 output on a light table, print, or high quality scan (150MB at 4000DPI or better) and certainly not worth that kind of cash, unless of course someone else is paying and you need to use it for a job.

        • I agree with Max. The digital Medium Format cameras, especially the S2 and Hasselblad are way out in the stratosphere in price. Also, I don’t like the files coming out of the S2 at all. I’ve not seen any file I’ve liked compared to the digital M cameras. Now, the S2 may have a higher pixel and sensor size but I don’t see anything special about it. If you look at old film shots taken with medium format cameras, there is a certain 3 dimensional glow, just like the Leica Film M cameras. Something about film. Digital isn’t quite there yet. It has a distinctly different look.Sometimes I like it, and sometimes it’s off-putting. I really don’t know how much better digital technology will be, even if there was a larger sensor. It’s still digital and has that digital look. Some digital cameras and lens combos produce files that have that wonderful glow. But many of these digital cameras just make flat-looking files. It’s frustrating for someone who grew up with film. I think that’s why Movie Directors will use 35mm film stock until the last of it is gone. It has that certain quality. Spending excessive amounts of money on cameras gear, which although I would love to do, just doesn’t produce anything better in the file for me. Unless you go from a small sensor in a pocket digital to a D-SLR. There I see a difference. Other than that, certain digital cameras appeal to from the files they produce. I love the files from my Canon G9, Leica D-Lux 4 and the Canon 5D Mark II (the last of which I don’t own. I use Nikon). I’ve upgraded 3 times with my Nikon D-SLR. I’ve checked files from all three cameras. They all have that same look, and I can’t honestly say one is better than the other. As we get in closer, perhaps, but again, who blows up past 20X30 prints?

          I can’t even imagine the file storage of the S2. So, even if you could afford this camera and a lens, then you’d better have numerous RAID systems.

          That’s why I like taking the crappiest, smallest camera out sometimes and using it, because it’s more satisfying to get a good file out of one of those.

          Anyway…I think this type of camera is out of many people’s reach.

          • Very enlightening, thanks! And that brings the question: if that is indeed the case, that 35mm digital surpassed medium format film back in 2003, why is even medium format digital even necessary and the cost of admission so high, seven years later (which is like 30 in digital camera evolution time)? Also, if that is the case, why does anyone even need to buy a Nikon D700 or a newer Canon, or Leica M9, if quality was already beyond the pinnacle in 2003? Just wondering, that’s all.

  16. I shoot with a Hassy 110/2 (Kodak DCS Pro Back, and Mamiya ZD) and it can be incredibly difficult to shoot with due to its impossibly thin depth of field when shot wide open.

    It’s hard enough when you have a static subject, but doing street type photography with it is a real hit or miss type of activity. I do agree that a lot of the examples shown here look soft, but I also see that it is mainly due to that razor (really, RAZOR) thin depth of field. It also seems that the photographer stayed away from the heavy-handed post-processing that can make nearly any image “pop”.

    The 110/2 is a challenging lens to shot with. But when you nail it, the results are pure magic.

    • Hey you guys have great eyes. These really do look a little soft. I’m wondering if they’ve lost a little sizzle in the down-sizing.

      Some of the softness that you are seeing, though, can definitely be attributed to the post processing as a) I didn’t add any sharpening and b) technique (I only had the lens and camera for a couple of days). Given a bit more time, I’m certain that my results would “pop” more. As Jeff mentioned, depth of field is razor thin and I mostly tried shooting at f2 as an experiment to find out if I’d be able to shoot with the lens at f2 on the S2.

      In the end, I felt very comfortable with the results I was able to get. With a little extra sharpening and post processing mumbo jumbo, I’m certain that images from the combination would be quite striking.

      Also, as a side note, I’ve never had any issues achieving precise manual focus with my M9 (with fast lenses like the 75/1.4 and 50/0.95). I just thought that I’d post the results of an experiment that I thought was interesting to demonstrate the idea of using alternative lenses on a variety of systems … even those with higher price tags.


  17. I gotta say, the images from the S2 do absolutely nothing for me. This is not a knock on the photographer or the images, but the file quality.

    They are no great leap forward from the M9 or 5DII, in my opinion. It is certainly not the leap that 120 film is from 135. The S2’s files don’t even compete with MF film.

    If you want MF, shoot 120 film. Save yourself $29K and Buy a Hasselblad 500C/M for a grand.

    • My thoughts exactly. I would be very disappointed with even a slightly out-of-focus shot on my M.

      Its true, though, that photography as a hobby seems like gear mania at times. Especially on online discussion forums. And Steve’s site. Love your site Steve!

  18. Beautiful images! I am a sucker for quality glass and frankly, sensors are a dime a dozen, ok maybe not now with the S2 but give it a few years 😉 that glass on the other hand… timeless. Thanks for the article and images. Really nice!

    • I think you’ll find they have a very finely defined point of focus, if you look closely. Maybe not where you’d expect it to be.

      Unsharp they are certainly not.

      • Thanks, Michiel. The dof is thin … with a bit of sharpening and conversion to black and white, one can see that my intention was capturing the tattoo on the back of the man’s arm. Interestingly enough, the dof is thin enough to render the beer bottles out of focus.



  19. Interesting – I totally agree with checking out great lenses (and the Zeiss 110 is one of them) on new bodies you happen to have. I am having a blast with my micro 43 body for that. However at the S2 price point I think I will stick with my Hasselblads for shooting my favorite Zeiss big glass. Too bad the 40 CFi FLE is not really “wide” on the S2.


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