A LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER IN-DEPTH LEICA SL REVIEW
A LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER IN-DEPTH LEICA SL REVIEW: WILL IT DELIVER IN THE BIG OUTDOORS?
Since photographing landscapes is what I do, this in-depth Leica SL review will inevitably reflect my landscape photographer’s approach to photography. However, since I will deal with every aspect of the camera, I hope everyone looking at the Leica SL will find it interesting no matter what they shoot. More, this will be a user review, based on real world experience and with real world images: no resolution charts, no studio images, no controlled tests. If, on the other hand, that’s what you are looking for, there are many excellent reviews out there for you to read. For brevity’s sake, I won’t list them all here; a quick Internet search will provide you with what you need.
Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not affiliated with Leica in any way. I am a professional photographer looking for the best equipment for my work, I buy all my gear with my hard-earned cash and I don’t get paid by anyone to write articles for my blog.
WHAT I PHOTOGRAPH AND WHAT I NEED
I shoot landscapes, mostly on a tripod, almost always with various filters, very often using long exposures (from a few seconds to 2-4 minutes and up). I work under any kind of weather, so I need my gear to perform under adverse weather conditions. I work professionally, so I need to trust that my gear will keep working no matter what. More, since a part of my business is selling prints, I need to print my images and to print them big. This, in turn, means that I need a camera system providing me with plenty of resolution and micro-detail.
I have always loved Leica cameras and lenses and I have been shooting with Leica M rangefinder cameras, both film and digital, for a long time. I nearly always have a Leica M camera with me, and I photograph with it almost every day. However, I haven’t really ever used Leica M cameras for my landscape work. Despite my love for rangefinder cameras, they haven’t really been designed for that.
On the other hand, Leica M lenses are great; small and light, fast, they draw beautifully and are very sharp. I always wanted to be able to use them for my landscape work, so – lacking a viable Leica solution – I briefly considered Sony A7R cameras, but I discarded them quite quickly due to their poor performance with Leica’s wide-angle lenses, and their very poor user interface and menus as well.
A MEDIUM FORMAT PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE
In the past, I used high-resolution medium format PhaseOne and Leaf digital backs with tech cameras. After a short interlude with the Nikon D800E and the Sigma SD1 Merrill, I finally settled for Pentax 645 digital cameras, using a Pentax 645d first, followed by a Pentax 645z for the last couple of years.
While a great camera offering amazing resolution, great IQ and decent handling, for my kind of work the Pentax 645z was let down by the lack of lenses, by its bulk and by its weight. Sadly, over the years Pentax produced just three modern lenses for it: the 55mm f/2.8 (45mm FOV equivalent), the 90mm f/2.8 (72mm FOV) and the 28-45mm f/4.5 (22-35mm FOV equivalent).
While a spectacular performer, the 28-45mm is huge, heavy and with its limited range was neither wide enough nor long enough for my work.
On the mid-to-longer end of the range, I could use older Pentax 645 lenses: however, some are better than others, and even the better ones couldn’t resolve enough to put all the 50 Mp of the 645z’s sensor to a good use. But at least they existed. For wide-angle work, on the other hand, if you need to go wider than 22mm FOV equivalent there simply are no options. I had to buy a Pentax K3 with a 10-20mm Sigma lens to use both as a backup and to cover the 15-30mm range. Of course, the IQ of this combination wasn’t even remotely comparable with that of the Pentax 645z and 28-45mm: I ended up almost never using it, thus limiting my creativity. And then, of course, there was the problem of weight.
Doing landscape photography, you often have long hikes to get to your locations, and my Pentax 645 system was very heavy. Between cameras, lenses, filters, batteries, water, food, sometimes a laptop, etc. my bag weighted anywhere between 12-15 kg (26-33 pounds), not counting my tripod.
Of course, I am aware that my requirements are very specific, and I am sure that the Pentax 645z would make many photographers happy. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that, with its price-to-performance ratio, the Pentax 645z is probably the best kept secret in the Medium Format field today. So, for the last two years, I kept using it, while I kept looking for alternatives.
ENTER THE LEICA SL
And then, late in 2015, the Leica SL appeared. Upon its announcement, I gave it just a glance; interesting camera but not for what I do, I though. Until one day last spring, while I was in Milan visiting the great guys at NEWOLDCAMERA, my friend Ryuichi Watanabe, the owner and Leica expert extraordinaire, gave me a Leica SL with the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH to try. And that was it – love at first sight.
I immediately loved the simplicity of the Leica SL’s design: perfectly clean, no clutter, no mess. I loved the build: the camera exuded quality, it felt perfectly built and strong. While not heavy in absolute terms, the Leica SL felt dense and “heavier than it looks”, so to speak. I loved that both the camera and all SL lenses are weather sealed. I loved the camera’s ergonomics: despite the non-sculpted handgrip, holding the SL felt great, as if it were made for my (relatively big) hands. More, as big as the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm is, it felt really well balanced on the Leica SL.
I loved the genius user interface with its 4 unlabelled, assignable buttons doing it all, complimented by 3 more customisable buttons on the front and top of the camera. The joystick added a further touch of genius to it, and we’ll see why during this Leica SL review. I loved the built-in GPS and WIFI, both fundamental for my work.
And, last but certainly not least, I loved the EVF. Having used many EVF cameras in the past, at first, I had my reservations about Leica’s choice of putting an EVF on a professional full-frame camera.
A look through the viewfinder made all my concerns go away: the 4.4 Mp EVF, with its 100% image cover, 0.8x magnification and practically no lag (at least in good light), is a work of beauty. Great colours, sharp, huge images popping right in front of you. Nothing like the EVFs of the past that I remembered: this felt like looking through a medium format viewfinder!
Now, love at first sight is great and all. However, when choosing which gear to buy and use, first and foremost it has to make sense for me. So, I went home and did my homework; as a result, I decided that the Leica SL could in fact make sense. I bought one together with the 24-90mm lens last April on my way to Scotland, where I was going to teach two landscape photography Workshops (see VIERI BOTTAZZINI WORKSHOPS for more information) and where I planned to do some personal work as well.
In Scotland, I had two days before the first Workshop to get acquainted with my new camera. While I would never suggest anyone to travel with a new, untested camera, in this case I decided to take the risk. Since I am often going to Scotland, this was a repeatable trip, and I already had a good portfolio of images from both the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Arran in case I the unlikely event that couldn’t figure the camera out in time. More, as a backup I brought my M240 and a few lenses along. On one hand, I wanted to test my Leica M lenses on the Leica SL, and on the other hand the Leica M240 made sure that I’d not come home empty handed in the very remote case the Leica SL would not perform at all. And off I went, leaving my Pentax 645z kit home.
Let’s see now more in detail in this Leica SL review how the camera performed in the field!
SETTING UP THE CAMERA
Thanks to the simple and straightforward menus, and even though a couple of items could be labelled better (i.e. what Leica calls auto-focus “steps” are, in fact, the number of auto-focus points), setting the camera up is very quick and easy. It took me about one hour, right before going to the airport, to set it up to my liking.
FRAMING AN IMAGE
The Leica SL’s EVF is great, best in class at the time of writing. In the field, I found it even better than an optical viewfinder for many applications, including the use of filters. The first time I used a 6-stop ND filter with the SL, I was really pleasantly surprised to see that… I was seeing!
A grainy image, to be sure, but nevertheless a workable image. Using an optical viewfinder, I had to take out my filters to reframe or refocus. With the Leica SL, the other hand, I could just keep working. Pretty amazing. Of course, you can set the EVF to your liking: always on, always off if you are just using Live View on your camera’s monitor, or you can use eye-recognition to automatically switch between the two when you look into the EFV.
Last but not least, a built-in diopter correction (-4 to +2) makes it easy for people like me to use the camera without having to change glasses. Overall, the Leica SL’s EVF won me over: it’s easily the best EVF on the market, and one of the best viewfinders I have ever used, period.
Beside the EVF, you can frame your images using Live View, taking advantage of the great monitor on the back of the camera. As well, you can use the Leica SL app (see below), which works very well and offers you an even bigger screen (depending of course on the device you pair the camera with), together with a very complete range of camera controls. Whichever you choose, the Leica SL offers you various screen configurations; as a Landscape photographer I find the electronic level very useful, while I prefer to turn everything else off.
FOCUSSING AN IMAGE
As many photographers, I like to decouple the shutter button from starting autofocus. This way, I can focus, recompose, set the camera on my tripod, wait if needed, and take a photograph when the conditions are perfect, without having the action of pressing the shutter re-start autofocus messing up with all the work I have already done.
Many cameras achieve this offering a dedicated “AF-ON” labelled button together with a menu option to decouple AF from the shutter button. The Leica SL’s solution is very simple and elegant: just set focussing to Manual Focus. This obviously stops the shutter button from triggering AF; in Manual Focus, however, pressing the joystick on the back of the camera will still always start auto-focus. In practice, the joystick will be your AF-ON button.
What is even more brilliant is that the joystick itself will still move your focussing point around the whole frame, even in MF mode. More, if you swap your SL auto-focus lens with an adapted Leica M lens, which is obviously manual focus, and back, you don’t have to remember to change anything: leaving the camera always in MF will just work for all the above situations.
More, in manual focus mode, or when using manual focus lenses, pressing the joystick will start focus magnification, a feature I love to have on the Leica SL and that makes manual focussing a breeze. Simple and efficient: in a word, perfect.
Since I don’t photograph sports, I don’t have dogs running around or kids playing sports, and since my landscapes are generally very still, in this Leica SL review I couldn’t put the Leica SL autofocus through any really stressing speed test.
For my use, the Leica SL’s contrast-based auto-focus proved very quick and almost silent, but more importantly it proved always very precise, even in low light. In daylight, it focussed perfectly even through a 6-stop solid ND filter (!), which is pretty amazing. The only way I could put the Leica SL’s AF off was by trying to autofocus a couple of hours after sunset in almost complete darkness, or in daylight through a 10-stop solid ND (!).
Other than that, it just worked flawlessly. More, gone are the days of few AF points all cluttered in the middle of the frame: the Leica SL can spot-autofocus in 529 different places distributed all over the frame. Last, in Live View you can also start autofocus just by touching your selected focussing spot on the rear monitor.
Overall, focussing images on the Leica SL is fast and easy both with autofocus, using manual focus with Leica SL and with manual lenses. The camera offers a lot of flexibility and all features are very intelligently implemented.
REVIEWING AN IMAGE: THE REAR MONITOR
One of my complaints with previous digital Leica M camera’s monitors was that they always seemed be a couple of generation behind. This trend stopped with the Leica M240, which sports a pretty good 3″, 920.000 dot LCD. The Leica SL raised the bar even more: its 2.95″ 1.040.000 LED screen is fantastic in normal conditions, but what’s most important for me, it’s brilliant even under bright sunlight. A real joy to use.
More, Leica made this a touchscreen; you can use it to start autofocus as I mentioned above, you can use it to scroll between images during image review and you can also enlarge and reduce an image’s size with gestures, pretty much like you would do when using a smartphone or tablet.
Before Firmware 2.0, you had to shoot RAW+JPEG to enjoy a full-featured preview: FW 2.0 fixed that, and now even RAW-only shooters can enjoy a full-featured image preview.
THE FOUR-BUTTONS INTERFACE
I have read many things about the 4-buttons interface on the Internet, and while I respect all the colleagues who found this a bit tough to get to grips with, I have to completely disagree. To me, this is a great solution.
I might be biased, since I used to enjoy a similar interface on my PhaseOne backs, but I’d go as far as saying that this is the best interface I have ever used. The menus are simple and configurable, and there is zero button clutter on the back of the camera. The camera comes with a preset configuration, but if you prefer a different arrangement, just assign your most used functions to each of the four buttons and you are good to go.
You can even use the touchscreen to change options in your four most used shortcuts. I wish the next Leica M had the same interface, but I guess this will remain wishful thinking. The only thing I would like to see is more customisation options. For reasons unclear to me, Leica decided to make only a limited number of menu items assignable to the four buttons and to the other customisable buttons as well.
While I don’t need to be able to choose between every menu item in the camera, a few more would make sense: in particular, what is sorely missing is the possibility to assign any WIFI options to one of the buttons (see the next paragraph).
WIRELESS CONNECTIVITY IN THE FIELD: THE LEICA SL APP
A free iPhone / iPad app, also available for Android, allows you to connect your device to your camera, both through a WLAN (i.e. in studio) and in the field with no WLAN present. The app works great, allowing you basically full control of the camera, full access to all the images in it, and so on. It’s fast and reliable, working without crashes or glitches. I used it a lot in the field, especially when my camera was set in a way that made looking through the viewfinder or at the monitor not really comfortable, i.e. very low on the ground and the like.
Unfortunately, pairing the camera and the device is a bit tedious (probably due to Apple iOS security protocols). First, you have to install the camera’s profile on your device. An operation that, for some obscure reasons, you have to redo every time the two devices for whatever reasons uncouple (devices going to sleep, turn camera off, move out of range, etc.).
To avoid that, you could set up a WLAN on your device instead. Turn on WIFI on your camera in “Create WLAN” mode, go to “Function”, choose “Remote Control by App”, get the provided SSID name (something like “Leica SL-xxxxxxx”) and password, enter the camera-provided password on your phone / tablet’s WIFI settings and you are all set, your device will join automatically the SL network every time it is on. Then, to pair your devices, you have to turn on WIFI on the camera (every time, since it doesn’t stay on) and this takes a few menu clicks. Even if you add WLAN to “Favourites”, as I did, you still have to open your Favourites menu, scroll to WLAN, open the menu, open the “Function” menu in it, scroll to “Remote Control by App” and activate it. I am sure you’ll understand why I wish Leica decided to include “WLAN – Remote Control by App” to the list of items that you can add to your four buttons’ assignable functions list.
Having a camera with built-in GPS is great for Landscape photography. The Leica SL’s GPS just works, if you need it just set it to ON and forget it. The camera locks into the signal very quickly and it works all the time, perfectly.
Working three weeks in Scotland under the rain, near the sea and close to waterfalls, both my camera and my lens got sprayed and soaked repeatedly. And they just didn’t care, they kept working perfectly no matter what. Exactly what I need.
THE LEICA VARIO-ELMARIT-SL 24-90MM f/2.8-4 ASPH
When I bought the Leica SL, there was just one native SL lens available to buy, the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. Many, including myself, wondered why Leica didn’t make it a constant f/2.8 lens. Leica answered that this is the best zoom they ever made and that the variable aperture allowed uncompromising image quality. I don’t design lenses, so I have to take Leica’s word on it; all I can say that the lens, as it is, is nearly perfect.
While a bit on the heavy side, the lens is a joy to use. It draws beautifully with great colours, outputting images that are sharp all over the frame. I didn’t particularly test it for bokeh, but whenever I got something out-of-focus, it indeed looked very nice.
For my work, 90mm is about as long as I need 95% of the times, so between the 24-90mm and a couple of Leica M wide-angles I am all set. I surely hope Leica will add a native Leica SL wide-angle option in the future, though, to have autofocus, weather sealing and the image quality of a lens expressively designed for the Leica SL.
ADAPTING M LENSES TO THE LEICA SL
With the help of the Leica M-adapter T, for this Leica SL review I could use all my M lenses on the SL, 6-bit coded or not, as I would on a Leica M. Sometimes, even better than on a Leica M, as it’s the case with very wide-angle lenses. A menu let you choose whether to let the camera automatically identify the lens, thought its 6-bit code, or to choose one lens yourself (since FW 2.0 you can also customise the list).
In Scotland, I used mostly my Leica 16-18-21mm f/4 Tri-Elmar-M (WATE) and my Voigtlander Heliar Ultra Wide-Angle 12mm f/5.6 ASPH (the LTM version via a M adapter). It was great to finally be able to shoot as wide as 12mm, something I longed for for a very long time.
The Leica SL deals with Leica M mount wide-angle lenses with style, producing images almost devoid of any vignetting and without any colour shift. In particular, I found that the camera worked fantastically well with the WATE, a lens that I really recommend on the Leica SL.
My old Voigtlander 12mm screw-mount lens, despite not being the modern one optimised for digital, also produced very good, contrasty images, sharp nearly up to the far corners. However, the lens suffered heavily of the “Italian Flag” syndrome, a magenta band on one side, a green band on the other. This is remediable by either using a program such as CornerFix, by developing your RAWs in PhaseOne CaptureOne Pro and using the “correct cast” feature there, or, finally, by converting the image to black & white thus racially removing the issue. Overall, I was very much looking forward to seeing how the Leica SL would behave with adapted Leica M lenses, and as expected the camera didn’t disappoint.
The Leica SL, thanks to its Maestro II processor, is a very fast and responsive camera. Off-to-shot time is very quick, AF is very quick, preview and image review / zoom in / zoom out are very quick, writing files is very quick and I never run out of buffer. Again, keep in mind that I shoot landscapes, not sports, and with my work I am not really stressing the SL’s speed. After all, I am not used to go machine-gunning a sunset!
Using the camera with GPS always on and WIFI often on, I managed to get through one day of work with one battery most of the time, and that despite doing battery-intensive long exposure work. During three weeks of intense work, I probably had to change batteries mid-shooting 3-4 times at the most. That said, if you do landscape photography, no matter which camera you use I’d definitely recommend having at least one spare battery with you at all times.
FIRMWARE UPDATE: THE BEAUTY OF FW 2.0
Leica recently issued Firmware 2.0 for the Leica SL, which added many features and fixed a lot of bugs. Of particular interest for me as a landscape photographer is the option to shoot exposures up to 30 minutes directly in manual mode without having to use Bulb. As well, FW 2.0 fixed some nasty artefacts appearing in long exposures from 10 seconds up, artefacts that really worried me before FW 2.0 arrived. The fact that FW 2.0 added an abundance of new features, besides fixing bugs, reassuringly shows Leica’s commitment to developing the Leica SL and its ecosystem.
The Leica SL can output 14-bit DNG Raw files or 8-bit JPEGs. My setup is RAW + a low-quality JPEG for quick review on a computer or tablet. After every shoot, during post-processing I routinely examine all my selected images at 200% to clean them from spots and dirt. Of course, at the same time, this allows me to get a very good look into my files. I have been doing so for a number of years now with a number of different cameras, including top of the line Medium Format digital backs.
In short, I think that by now I know a good file when I see one, and I have to say that the Leica SL files look great, very “organic” rather than digital, for lack of a better word. The camera with the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH outputs very detailed images with very high micro-contrast. What matters more to me, its files can sustain a lot of post-processing.
White balance is very well implemented on the SL, auto WB works pretty well, as do the usual presets. That said, I always shoot RAW setting my WB to daylight for consistency, and then set my WB precisely in post-processing, so WB is not a huge issue for me anyway. If you shoot JPEG, though, you’ll be very happy with the Leica SL’s WB implementation.
THE LEICA SL AND MEDIUM FORMAT
I kept reading online that the Leica SL’s image quality was medium-format-like, and since I am well used to shoot medium format, I was curious to see for myself. I have to say that, as far as the look of the images go, their depth, their micro-contrast and the way the camera and the 24-90mm draw together, there is definitely some truth to this claim. Viewing images either on screen or on prints as big as A2 (17″x24″) or even A1 (24″x34″) you could easily believe that the Leica SL images have been created by a medium format camera.
However, the Leica SL’s pixel count is very far from what a medium format camera or digital back offers, and this obviously puts a physical limit to the amount of details the camera can record, no matter how much the lens resolves.
Comparing the micro-details of images shot with the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH with images shot with the WATE and the Voigtlander 12mm, I have the feeling that native SL lenses could easily resolve up to 40 Mp sensors and more. Given the widespread availability of 36 Mp sensors on the market, I think that part of the reasoning behind Leica’s decision to limit the Leica SL to 24 Mp, besides speed, might have been not to jeopardise Leica S’s sales.
Whatever the case, I wish for the next iteration of the Leica SL to have 36-40 Mp, at least. In my opinion, the best solution would be if Leica offered two versions of the SL. A “speedy”, 24 Mp one, aimed at the sport / fast shooting market; and a “resolution” one, featuring 40 Mp or more, aimed at the high resolution / slower shooting market. A Leica SL with 40+ Mp would definitely be challenging medium format, I think.
The way a camera deals with long exposures is really important to assess a camera’s image quality, both for me and for many landscape photographers. Due to sensor overheating, reading noise and other issues, long exposures usually put a lot of stress on any camera’s image quality. Sadly, in my Leica SL review I found the SL pre-firmware 2.0 to be no exception. Banding and other nasty artefacts, such as hundreds of 1-pixel-wide white dots, larger black dots and the like, appeared in exposures longer than 10 seconds. I did my work in Scotland with a pre-FW 2.0 Leica SL, and when back home I had to spend a lot of time cleaning my long-exposed files in post-processing.
Thankfully, FW 2.0 was a great step forward for those of us working in the landscape with the Leica SL. The possibility to select exposures as long as 30 minutes in manual mode was very welcome, as was the debugging work done on the long-exposure artefacts and on the long-exposure timer counter. Still, even with FW 2.0 installed, some very faint banding is visible in exposures longer than 10 seconds. Banding becomes more evident for exposures longer than a minute and is definitely visible for exposures longer than 150 seconds.
More, artefacts in the shape of 2-3-pixel wide black dots appear in exposures longer than a minute. In exposures longer than 150 seconds, you’ll get some 2-4 pixel wide, cross-shaped artefacts as well. The good news is that all these are limited in number and very visible, therefore easier to clean up than the pre-FW 2.0 files with their hundreds of white dots, despite their being smaller. I shared my Leica SL review findings with Leica, and I hope to see these issues fixed with the next FW update.
During long exposures, a timer appears in the top panel display counting up to the total exposure first, and then back down to zero during the black frame exposure taken by the camera for noise reduction purposes. However, the top display is not always visible, i.e. you can’t see it with the camera in vertical orientation and tripod on a cliff side, or on a river side, or on the sea side, or with the camera in horizontal orientation on a very tall tripod, and so on.
More, the camera monitor only displays the first and last 3 seconds of the counter, leaving you literally in the dark for all the rest of the time. The iPhone app, on the other hand, shows nothing during the actual exposure but shows in full the dark frame’s count back to zero. I hope Leica will fix these inconsistencies in the next round of FW updates as well, to make long exposures even more user-friendly.
The Leica SL offers very complete video options, but not being a videographer, I haven’t tested them.
WHICH RAW CONVERTER IS BEST WITH THE LEICA SL?
I normally use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) in Photoshop CC to convert my RAWs (is the same engine you’ll find in Lightroom, if that’s your software of choice), and therefore for this Leica SL review I automatically started working on my Leica SL Scotland’s files with ACR. However, after having had to clean a few long exposure files with their pre-FW 2.0 dreadful white dots, I decided to see if PhaseOne’s CaptureOne Pro (C1 Pro) would do a better job with the Leica SL files than Adobe Camera Raw.
Wow, what a difference that made! First of all, C1 Pro has a function called “Single Pixel”, found in the Noise Reduction tab, that allows you to automatically clean all the dreadful 1-pixel-wide white dots (I found that a setting of about 55 would do the trick, in case you have some long exposure, pre-FW 2.0 files that you need to clean). More, I found that C1 Pro was able to pull much more details from the Leica SL files compared to Adobe Camera Raw: so, if you have a Leica SL and have C1 Pro handy, I definitely suggest you give it a try and see how you like it.
As you know, I need to print big. So, is 24 Mp enough for large prints? Well, 24 Mp give you a native resolution of 300 dpi at 13″ x 20″, which is about A2 in metric, and more than 200 dpi native resolution up to 20″ x 30″ inches prints (about A1 in metric), which is pretty good indeed. This, of course, if you don’t do any cropping. More, the Leica SL files are so detailed that you could easily up-res them at least up to 300 dpi for 20″ x 30″ images without any perceivable loss in image quality.
Some very careful up-res will allow you to print even bigger without problems. I tested my files up to A2, and I have to say that I am very impressed with the results I got. Of course, having more resolution is always an advantage for landscape; it would allow you more room for post-processing and cropping, plus more sampling is always a good thing when you have to print large. Hopefully we’ll see more Mp in a future iteration of the Leica SL line.
SYSTEM’S BULK AND WEIGHT
Let’s see how much my Leica SL landscape system weights compared to its competitors.
1. Leica SL (847 gr with battery), Leica 24-90mm f/2.8-4 Vario-Elmarit (1.140 gr), Leica 16-18-21mm f/4 Tri-Elmar (335 gr) and M-T Adapter (48 gr): 2.370 gr or 5.22 pounds;
2. Nikon D810 (970 gr with battery), Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 (1.070 gr), Nikon 16-35mm f/4 (680 gr): 2.720 gr or 6 pounds;
3. Canon 5D Mark III (940 gr with battery), Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 (805 gr), Canon 16-35mm f/4 (615 gr): 2.360 gr or 5.20 pounds;
4. Sony A7R II (625 gr with battery), Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 (886 gr), Sony 16-35mm f/4 (518 gr): 2.029 gr or 4.47 pounds;
5. Pentax K-1 (1010 gr with battery), Pentax 24-70mm f/2.8, (787 gr), Pentax 15-30 f/2.8 (1.040 gr): 2.837 gr or 6.25 pounds.
and finally, just to compare it with my previously used camera:
6. Pentax 645z (1.550 gr with battery), Pentax 645 28-45mm f/4.5 (1.470 gr), Pentax 45-85mm (815 gr): 3.835 gr or 8.45 pounds (without any wide-angle options).
As you can see, the Leica SL body is lighter than either Canon, Nikon or Pentax alternatives; on the other hand, the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH is slightly heavier that all alternatives (but it offers 20mm more reach); and the Tri-Elmar is lighter than all the alternatives (but is 14mm shorter than all the alternatives). The total system’s weight is lighter than Nikon and Pentax, and equal to Canon. Of course, Sony’s A7R II system is lighter than everything else.
Obviously, the Pentax 645 system is by far heavier than everything else, even considering the lack of an ultra-wide-angle option. While it might not be a fundamental point for everyone, and certainly not for photographers working in a studio setting, weight is something to take into serious consideration when you have to walk long hours to get to your shooting location.
As a result of this Leica SL review, I found it to be a great camera for landscape photography, thanks to its ease of use, its weather-resistant body & lenses, its amazing EVF and its very well implemented GPS and WIFI. The native Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm & 90-280mm lenses, plus one or two adapted Leica M or Leica R lenses while waiting for Leica to give us a native wide-angle option, will cover all your needs beautifully. The files it outputs are extremely detailed, with great colour and micro-contrast. They have a medium-format look to them (especially with the native Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH) and can sustain a lot of post-processing. If you print your images, with the Leica SL you’ll be able to print pretty large without any visible loss in quality.
If you have a set of Leica M or Leica R lenses, the Leica SL is a great platform to put them to a good use for landscape photography: the lenses will work exactly as they do with your Leica M and Leica R cameras, or better.
As with any new products, it is expected to find some quirks and little problems that need ironing out. With the recently released FW 2.0, Leica proved to care about the Leica SL and to be working very hard to develop a feature-rich, bug-free camera for us to work with, something boding very well for the future. Overall, I highly recommend the Leica SL.
WHAT I LOVED
– Image quality almost rivalling medium format;
– The native Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH, with its amazing resolution power and beautiful rendition;
– The possibility of using my existing Leica M lenses almost natively and without color shift, softness or other problems;
– Build, size, and weight: while built like a tank, the Leica SL is smaller and lighter than the competition (Sony A7R aside);
– Weather sealed body and lenses;
– The user interface and the simplicity of use;
– The amazing EVF, best in class;
– GPS and WIFI implementation and the Leica SL app;
– The camera’s feature set;
– The user experience: the Leica SL makes me want to get out there and work!
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE (EVEN AFTER FW 2.0)
– 24 Mp barely enough for landscape work, 36-48 Mp would have been much better;
– Lack of native wide-angle lens at launch, even though the Leica-M 16-18-21mm f/4 Tri-Elmar works very well with the Leica SL;
– Long-exposure artefacts and long-exposure-counter inconsistencies (hopefully the next FW iteration will fix this);
– Not enough customisation options for the 4-buttons interface (hopefully the next FW iteration will fix this);
– Having to set up the whole camera again every time I do a firmware update: it’d be great if the Leica SL could save and reload settings automatically;
– The 20-character limitation to copyright information and the absence of the © sign, making it impossible for me to enter something as simple as “© 2016 Vieri Bottazzini” or even “(c) 2016 Vieri Bottazzini” due to lack of room (hopefully the next FW iteration will fix this);
– Limited file name customisation: being able to change only the file name’s first letter doesn’t help much. I wish at least to have the same capability given to the Leica M240.
WILL I KEEP IT OR WILL I SELL IT?
After seeing in this Leica SL review what the camera can do, I’ll keep it, definitely. Compared to my Pentax 645z system, I am now able to fully use my wonderful Leica M lenses, I am now able to shoot wide-angle lenses up to 12mm wide and easily use filters on them, I have GPS and WIFI built-in and working, I saved a lot of room and weight in my bag and I have much more fun working. All this, while retaining the image quality that I need for my work and for my prints, despite losing 25 Mp in the trade-off. While I will be looking forward to a higher-resolution Leica SL in the future, today for me the Leica SL is a no brainer.
There are many Leica SL reviews out there, all worth reading for many different reasons. It is not possible to mention them all, but if you haven’t read it already, I would like to recommend you here my good friend Jono Slack’s article A YEAR WITH THE LEICA SL. I found Jono’s approach to reviewing the camera and his perspective on the development of camera industry together with the role of the Leica SL in it very interesting, his knowledge of the camera is as wide as can be and – last but not least – I recommend it for the great images that go with the article and for the large variety of subjects tackled by Jono in his work.
Thanks for reading this in-depth Leica SL review, I hope you enjoyed it! Why don’t you share it with your friends, or drop me a comment to let me know how you feel about this?
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