The Isle of Arran, Scotland


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.

The Faroe Islands Photography Workshop

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.

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.

The Dolomites Photography Workshop

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!

Cinque Terre & Tuscany Photography Workshop

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.

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.

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.

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.

Iceland Photography Workshop

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.

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).

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.

Normandy & Brittany Photography Workshop

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.

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.

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!

Cornwall Photography Workshop

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.

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.

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.

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.

Glencoe & Isle of Skye Photography Workshop

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.

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.

– 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!

– 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.

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.

Asturias & Northern Spain Photography Workshop

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  1. A very enjoyable read with some beautiful images. Capture One I’m guessing is supporting the Leica, unlike the 645z, another advantage.

    • Hello Darren,

      thank you for your comment, I am glad you enjoyed the review & the images. Yes indeed, C1 supports the Leica SL, while they have no intention of supporting the 645z (which, to me, doesn’t make much commercial sense); since I am very used to C1 from my Phase days, and since C1 seems to be doing a better job with the SL’s files than ACR, I really find it an advantage.

  2. Hi Vieri,
    Great article and just what I was looking for to help me make my decision. I’m a full time Canon shooter with the full spectrum of bodies and L glass who quite frankly no longer wants to carry the weight of two pro DSLR bodies and assorted lenses. While I use the Canon’s for work, I usually carry a basis LEICA M-E kit on walk abouts and personal shooting days. I (probably naively) really never fully trusted the rangefinder capabilities for the type of photography I do which can range from portraits, travel, sports, street and some landscape. Truth is I’m one of those guys that does not have a niche photo style and believes I can shoot anything… not always with glaring results I need to add. As such I need to carry a kit that full fills the bulk of my range of subjects. As I’m sure with you and any other photographers out there, we are always pushing the limits to achieve better and more impactful images and whether we like it or not, the equipment makes a huge difference in so many ways.

    Last year I purchased my little M-E and was immediately in love with the simplicity and quality of the images it produced. But that being said, the M-E was usually relegated to the bottom of the bag because it simply didn’t give me the agility of the DSLR’s when it came to sports, events, etc. and other projects so I never really considered upgrading the M-E or adding additional M glass to the kit. It wasn’t designed for that either but I desperately wanted it to be. It unfortunately became my weekend walking system.

    Earlier this year I had a chance to board an Antarctica expedition and needless to say I stressed over the kit to carry for weeks. I wanted maximum resolution, agility, ruggedness and to limit the size of the kit. I took a hard look at medium format systems, specifically the 645z for it’s weather sealing and incredible image quality. But in the end I settled with choosing my 1DX, 5DSR, 5D iii, and a host of lenses ranging from 11mm up to 400mm zooms. Refusing to check anything into the airlines as is my common practice, I lugged all this into my expedition carry on pack. Not something I ever want to experience again. I ultimately dismissed the 645z for the same reasons you mentioned above, the lens selection although varied simply didn’t match (in my opinion) the already invested Canon glass I owned. Especially with the 5Dsr 50mp that I was carrying. Additionally, I didn’t want to carry a backup system of a totally different brand and format as that would defeat the purpose of having a backup. Ultimately, it was the 1DX I used 95% of the time to capture the crew, researchers and many scenic landscape images throughout the expedition. The main reason being it’s simply and quite frankly almost indestructible. The elements in the Antarctic are absolutely brutal and I witnessed many a prosumer canon, nikon, sony’s and even film cameras either freeze up or simply succumb to the inevitable sea splash drenching’s all of our gears received. Needless to say, some care needs to be taken when shooting in these elements and I was careful when needed but outright ruthless when it came to getting the shot. Either my camera dies or I get the shot. Luckily I got the shot but I didn’t risk the 50mp 5Dsr in these conditions. I don’t think it would have survived long.

    Upon returning I couldn’t be happier with the images form the 1DX for the people shots but the landscapes were a different story. 18 Mp simply isn’t enough. It is, and it isn’t. For digital use, 18mb is plenty. But for prints (which is what I’m looking to do with many of my scenic images) it does limit the size. I’m not by any means a pixel hound but if I’m selling a print, it has to be the best quality image or I’d rather simply not sell it.

    Which brings me back to why I’m writing you this long drawn out note on your article. I’m simply done with the weight. It helps that my work has moved more into the editorial genre the last year so I don’t really care for speed or machine gun motor drives as much as I did in earlier years. I’ll always have my canon kit for those needs, but for my everyday shooting and editorial work, I need quality, durability, agility, discretion and to drastically reduce the footprint.

    Enter the LEICA SL. It seems to be the perfect balance of Mp, durability, physical footprint and quality. I pondered the M240 or 262 and compared it endlessly to the SL but your article really helped me to narrow down the choices to the SL and drop the M from the running. Now my huge question back to you is….. What about the recently announced Hasselblad XD1? Limited lens choices for now but a medium format mirrorless 50mp with a footprint similar if not a little smaller than the SL. Weather sealing and ruggedness have yet to be determined but all indications are that it will be a well protected system.

    My last and most painful decision point is just this now. Wait to see what the reviews on the Hassel look like or jump into the SL. For me, I get the feeling the SL might edge out the hassel because lets face it, I am not a full time landscape photographer so technically don’t need the 50mp, but at the same time, I always seem to end up taking landscapes where the 50mp is a welcomed bonus. Financially I can’t throw 15-20k on hope, and professionally, I need to make a decision somewhat quickly as I’ll be doing a lot of editorial work in India later this year and want to take whatever system I end up choosing with me. If it’s the hassel, I’ll still need to carry a canon backup. SL, I’ll have the M-E in a crunch. Arrrggggg!!!

    Curious as to what you think.

    Thanks for reading this far and apologies for the babble. Hopefully others who enjoyed your article as much as I did will join in the discussion.

    All the best,

    • Hello Roger,

      first of all, thank you for reading my article and for your message, much appreciated. About your question. The Hasselblad X1D looks very very interesting to me, I think it’s great that Hassy went that route and I hope that more MF manufacturer will follow suit. However, I think it is a very different camera compared to the SL; in fact, I think that the only thing they have in common, at least for the moment being, is being mirrorless. Let me expand a bit.

      The SL. A mirrorless FF camera, with 2 native zoom lenses and 1 (soon to be) prime, very fast in operation, with in-camera shutter and with the possibility to adapt basically every M, R and S lens Leica ever made, Nikon F lenses, Canon EOS lenses, and all MF lenses out there, including very fast lenses.
      The X1D. A mirrorless MF camera, with 2 (soon to be 3) prime lenses, no zooms, very slow in operation, without in-camera shutter (perhaps they will give it an electronic shutter, which is not the same thing) and with the possibility to adapt only H lenses as I wrote this, overall not so fast lenses.

      So, while camera bodies are about the same size, the adapted lenses will make a difference in size and weight: adapt M lenses to the SL, and you’ll have a small, light and very high-quality package (including some very particular optics available, fast WA, Noctilux, etc), reaching from 12mm to 600mm. T-S lenses and zoom included. Adapt H lenses to the X1D and you’ll have a large, quite heavy package with lenses ranging from 19mm to 240mm FOV equivalent, no T-S and only 2 zooms included.

      It seems to me that the SL is an extremely versatile, fast camera with great image quality but only 24 Mp. The X1D is a very specific, slow and limited tool but (probably) extremely good at what it does, with 50 Mp for those – like me – who needs them and (probably) great image quality. The question is, which tool do you need for your work… :D

      For your Indian trip, it seems to me that a SL with the 24-90mm would cover all your needs, in a relatively compact package. If the size / weight of the 24-90mm is too much / too slow for you, get the SL with a couple of M lenses or three, and you are all set: great IQ in a very compact package. If you decide to use M lenses, a M-E body as a backup would be perfect.

      Last, the SL while relatively new is starting to be a well-known quantity; it has reached FW 2.0, it’s stable, lenses work well, adapter and accessories are out, etc. The X1D is not even out yet.

      For me, as a landscape photographer, the X1D with the 24 H, 45 and 90 would be and interesting, small, high-IQ kit; but certainly not as versatile as the SL kit I am using now. For the work you do, I’d probably go with the SL now, and eventually switch in a year or so once the X1D settled, reviews / user reports come in, and if you’ll see that it is, in fact, the tool you need. To end this long rambling: the best camera is the one that you have with you, they say; I’d add, the best camera is the one that exists, and the X1D is not even out yet.

      Hope this helps! Best,


  3. Thanks for an honest and informative review. You’ve mentioned that you don’t like the artefacts in long exposure. How bad is it and what shutter speed that they start to show up?

    • Thank you very much Enche Tjin, I am glad you enjoyed the review. Let me quote from my “Long Exposure” section above:

      Still, even with FW 2.0 installed some very faint banding is present in exposures longer than 10 seconds, banding that becomes more evident for exposures longer than a minute and definitely visible after 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 white dots. I shared my findings on this with Leica, and I hope to see these issues fixed with the next FW update.

      Hope this helps. best


  4. You’ve done a good job detailing your SL experience. I’ve had my SL since early January. I am NOT a professional, just a happy shooter. My SL experiences have been a little different from yours. I skipped the 24-90 zoom (I found it very awkward balancing on the SL). I have an S and am waiting for the S to SL adapter to (finally/eventually) ship. I’ve considered the upcoming 50mm SL lens but since I have the S, I like the idea of one lens working well on two different camera bodies.

    I’ve initially bought my SL to use with my M lenses and I sold my M240 thinking the SL would be a fine M replacement; it is not. I have found that while the M lenses work fine on the SL (28mm Summicron, 50mm Summicron, 50mm .95 Noctilux and 90mm Summicron), these M lenses defeat the purpose of using a fast, modern, auto focus-centric body. I am now considering an M262 to use with my Noctilux and 90 ‘Cron (I have a Monochrom and the 28 and 50 ‘Crons work very well on the MM).

    As nuts as this may sound, I’ve found my happiest shooting experiences with the SL are when I have the little 23mm Summicron Leica T lens on the SL. OK, only 10MP and NOT full frame resolution (but pretty good, nonetheless), but this package is lightweight, versatile, flexible, mostly discreet and does the job.

    To sum this up, I find the SL to be a fine image capture device (I find it hard to call a camera since it is so computer-like) but currently a more incomplete package than Leica likes to advertise (for me, missing the S to SL adapter). I find M lenses are best left on an M.

    I have no SL regrets; I’ve taken maybe a thousand shots with the 23mm Summicron T lens and can get some nice 11×14 prints. And one day soon (in Leica time, by the end of this year) I’ll have the S to SL adapter. Then the fun really begins.

    • Hello Gary,

      thank you for your message, I am glad you enjoyed the review. You raise some very interesting points re: M lenses and the S-to-L adapter. Let me try and answer them.

      To me, the SL is not an M replacement since you frame and focus your subject in a totally very different way; this is basically what differences the SL and the M (resolution is the same, size / weight are nearly there) using M lenses on both cameras. This in turn, to me, defines the user experience with a camera against the other. If you prefer to frame and focus your M lenses using a rangefinder, then you’ll prefer the M; if you prefer to frame and focus your M lenses using an EVF, then you’ll prefer the SL. Using M lenses on the SL doesn’t defeat the purpose of the SL, IMHO; on the contrary, it adds a vast range of manual focus lenses to the (for now) limited options of native SL auto-focus lenses. Let try and expand on this a bit.

      If I read you correctly, since you mentioned the absence of the S-to-L adapter and your happiness with the 23mm Summicron T, it seems to me that you were looking forward to a AF-experience with the SL, so to speak, and not being able to have it with your S lenses for the lack of an adapter and with your M lenses because they are MF, you felt that you didn’t use the SL’s potential and features to their max, therefore being better served by a digital M. Assuming that I am right in my analysis, I definitely appreciate your point but I think that looking at the SL only in terms of AF and speed is not telling the whole story: as I mentioned at the beginning of my reply, to me what really defines the SL vs the M is the way you frame and focus your subjects.

      With the M, you have a “window on the world”, so to speak; you see what’s going on around your frame, you have an unfiltered view, you are more “in the moment”, and so on. On the other hand, this doesn’t come free: we all know the advantages and the special feeling of the rangefinder experience – and its disadvantages. With the SL’s EVF, you have precise framing (unparalleled with the M’s), precise focus anywhere in the frame (unparalleled with the M’s), at the expenses of being “looking at a TV screen” as many would say, of missing a coupled-diaphragm as with any AF modern lens and of having to focus wide-open and stop down before taking the shot (even if I find that focusing at your desired aperture works fine). It is completely up to you to know and choose which user-experience suits you best: whichever you’ll choose, your images will look great, which this is what counts in the end; I think that we are incredibly fortunate to have the choice between two such different ways of using our wonderful M lenses to make wonderful images.

      About the S-to-L adapter, it is true that they are scarce, but they do exist: I have one in my hands as we speak. I didn’t try it yet, because I am waiting for my S 007 to arrive in order to upgrade the FW of my S lenses (24, 35 and 70mm, none CS) just to be safe before testing them on the Leica SL. I am planning a few articles in the near future on using S lenses on the SL, which you might find useful.

      All the best,


  5. Vieri,
    Great review. I finally got it to load on my computer.
    I currently shoot with an S 006 with 4 S lenses, 30,70,120 and 180. I am not very good with WA lenses. How would you compare over all IQ compared to your S 007? I really want to purchase the SL with the 24-90 zoom. From what I understand the 24-90 zoom is best in class when compares to Nikon/Canon/Sony. The largest I print is 20″x30″ on my HP Z3200PS 24″ printer.


    • Steven,

      thank you very much for your kind comment, I am glad you enjoyed it. About your questions, I think that the 24-90mm is an amazing lens, working perfectly with the SL – and it doesn’t really feel that big on the camera body. I printed SL images up to A2 (about 17×24″) with great results, but since I haven’t printed anything I shot with the S 007 yet I am not comfortable in comparing the two. On screen, both camera’s images look great, but as we know the proof is in the print (at least, for me it is).

      Perhaps you might want to read this:


      to get an idea of how good the 24-90mm is (at least at the wide extreme, more comparisons are in the works)

      and this:


      to see ow the same lens performs on the S using the same subjects. This should give you an idea about how the two camera systems compares, at least using 24mm lenses.

      Hope this helps, best


      • Thanks Vieri,
        yes I did read those articles you had mentioned.
        very informative indeed.
        I will keep you posted on what I end up doing though it looks like I am going to get the SL


  6. Hi Vieri,

    I am a owner of the SL and the 24-90, I also own the M10 and a Summilux 35 FLE. I wish to ask you whether as a landscape photographer you find the 24-90 too narrow at the wide end? How often do you find yourself wishing to go wider? I am contemplating either getting the Super Elmar-M 21/3.4 to use on both my SL and M or wait for the upcoming 16-35 SL zoom, I guess the latter would give me more flexibility and peace of mind (the SL option will have weather sealing)?

    Also, do you find the mandatory dark frame noise reduction severely limiting for long exposures (since it forces you to wait an equal amount of the exposure after each shot taken at 1 second or longer)? Other manufacturers allows NR to be turned off so it is more feasible for long exposures (such as star trails).

    • Hello Oliver,

      Thank you for your comment. As far as your questions: yes I do, for my work 24mm is definitely too long. I use a Voigtlander 15mm, which I love: great lens, great IQ, small, light. Plus, for when I really want to go extremely wide, I also have a Voigtlander 10mm, the widest rectilinear lens ever made for any FF system. Of course, these utra-wides are not easy to use, and not suitable for every landscape. Between the two, the 15mm sees a lot of use – the 10mm much less so, of course, but it is a good option to have sometimes (and it’s so small and light that you barely feel it in the bag). The 21/3.4 SE is a great lens, wonderful IQ, small and light. I have been thinking about getting one many times to fill the gap between 15mm and 24mm, but I always felt that it was a bit too close to make a significant difference. I also thought to get 12mm and 18mm lenses to compliment the 24-90mm, but in the end I stayed with the 15mm. What would solve all your problems is the 16-18-21mm Tri-Elmar, a beautiful lens as well.

      About the NR frame, I understand people wanting to be able to turn that off. For my work it is not very limiting; my long exposures are generally up to 3-5 minutes maximum. However, I don’t do much night sky photography, and when I do I prefer not to do star trails anyway, so I can’t comment on that.

      Hope this helps! Best regards,


  7. The SL is a wonderful camera with superb design.
    As a professional photographer and film maker I love it. Vieri’s review is excellent and very sensible.
    For video, I use the SL as an adjunct to my main professional broadcast video camera and the SL makes beautiful video pictures. I also have Leica Q and D Lux and all three of these cameras match for video picture quality – absolutely beautiful. Of course, the SL does not have XLR audio inputs but it does have a microphone and headphone adapter socket so it can produce good sound. Also very easy to hand-hold if necessary although mine is usually on my Miller Solo tripod with a professional Miller fluid head.
    All in all an wonderful camera. So much better design than all the competition. I absolutely love it!

  8. Excellent review by Vieri and very sensible comments. As a professional still photographer and filmmaker using professional broadcast video cameras, I have found that the SL gives wonderful video pictures with an excellent range of frame rates. Of course, it does not have the XLR inputs of a full video camera but the audio adapter from Leica works extremely well and I use it professionally. It would be ideal for doing interviews without carrying a larger broadcast camera.
    The video pictures from the SL also match my Leica Q camera and my Leica D Lux camera . All of the video from these cameras is absolutely beautiful. I bought the 24 to 90 zoom lens with the camera and I’m just about to buy the 16 to 35 lens and I also use the 21 mm and 28 mm lenses left over from my Leica M cameras which are also fantastic but the SL is even better for what I do. The M lenses make the whole set up very small and easy to carry.
    Normally, I use the SL on my Miller solo tripod with a Miller fluid head which works extremely well but I have also filmed part of an airshow using the SL handheld with a 24 to 90 lens and this worked perfectly, too.
    A B+W polarising filter is very easy to fit onto the 24 to 90 lens without removing the lens hood.
    Having used many other professional still cameras, I must say that the SL is the first camera I have used which I cannot fault in any way. Its handling is absolutely perfect and it is very easy to use.
    Truly a masterpiece of design.

    • Thank you very much Michael for both your comments, much appreciated! I am glad you enjoyed the review, and that you are enjoying the Leica SL as a professional video tool. I don’t do video, but everyone that I am talking to and uses it have only positive comments about it.

      As you said, the SL is truly a magnificent camera and a wonderful image-making instrument! :)

      Best regards,


  9. Hello, Vieri,

    I read in your comments that you do some amount of night sky photography but not star trails. May I know which lens you use for night sky photography, and what are your settings?

    Also, if I were to shoot at say ISO 1600 f1.4 14s exposure, would I be better off underexposing by 1 stop and shooting for 7s, then increasing the exposure in LR? Would this affect shadow noise? And reduce sensor related noise?

    I understand that you prefer long exposures in landscape photography for the feel and effect you want to create. However, if you were to underexpose by 1 stop, and had the option of either reducing ISO by 1 stop, or shutter speed by 1 stop, which would you prefer (to control inherent noise, assuming you would bring up the exposure by 1 stop in LR)?

    Thanks very much.

    • Hello su,

      thank you for your message. About your question, I don’t see why I would underexpose 1 stop at the moment of shooting to then add +1 in post, instead of just shooting with the correct exposure in the first place, seeing that for my work I always shoot at ISO 50 anyway.

      About night photography, settings depend from one scene to the next; I normally use the 12mm Laowa these days, which is pretty good at f/2.8, or the Leica 16-35mm which is amazing.

      Best regards,


  10. Thank you very much Vieri for your long and detailed review! Now I can strongly make my decision to wait for the Leica SL 2!
    Again thank you very much!!!


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