This high-end 24MP full-frame mirrorless camera stands out through its EyeRes viewfinder and a very high level of overall quality along with a control that may be unusual but is quite effective. The Leica SL is the first non-rangefinder 35mm full-frame digital camera made by Leica and their first full frame mirrorless camera so it is clear that the company had a lot of new ground to cover with this product.
The Leica SL has a price that is higher than the M10 but it is far more accessible than the medium-format S line so the target of this camera is the advanced amateurs or professionals since it brings together some of the features and design of the S, M and Q series. As for the main things worth noting it has:
– a 24MP full-frame CMOS sensor
– electronic viewfinder with a 0.8x magnification providing a 4.4 million dots image
– 11 fps continuous burst shooting
– Maestro II image processor
– Native ISO range of 50-50000
– 529-spot point contrast-detect AF system
– Dual SD card slots
– 4K video recording at 4:2:2 10-bit HDMI out
The mount is the same as the one of the T model and the shooting speed is almost similar to the one of the Nikon D5 but as the focus is locked and the lens choices are a lot more limited you won’t get a very flexible device. The Leica SL is weather-sealed and thus you can take it outdoors without any worries and perhaps this was the intention of the designers as the 24MP resolution makes it kind of limited for the studio.
Handling and Controls
The camera is quite light and thin but the grip is problematic when you use one of the native lenses and this will make the repeated use of the camera quite a burden. The designers didn’t think to add any ergonomic contours and with the native lenses which are very large everything feels unbalanced.
The other parts though are really well thought of, the buttons and the shutter feel great and the weather-sealing doesn’t hinder the tactile feedback. The twin control dials provide good feedback in general but they take some getting used to as there are moments when they ignore your command.
The screen on the rear has a great quality and comes with touch functionality and the LCD display on the top is also easy to read. The SL offers an AF joystick that also works to confirm selection in the menus. The thing that is the most amazing about this camera though is the electronic viewfinder which comes with a stunning resolution, a great refresh rate and a magnification ratio that makes it the benchmark for electronic viewfinders at the moment.
We mentioned that the controls might seem a bit unorthodox at first and that is because Leica like to design things their own way. The manual will put you up to speed though and then everything starts to make sense. The buttons can be customized and there are four soft-buttons that can carry out different commands depending on the way you press them (long or short press).
The Leica SL provides great response and you will be able to go through images, menus or settings without any lag. The AF joystick permits a very efficient selection of the AF point and since we are talking about speed, some might have a problem with the fact that the focus, exposure and white balance are locked for continuous shooting until you drop to seven fps.
Another slow part is the time it takes the camera to write information on a card as the buffer really requires a long time to clear. To add to that, you cannot separate your Raw and JPEG files which means that the DNG files cannot go faster than the UHS-II card slot and the JPEGs to go to the UHS-I slot.
The starting of the camera is really fast and you get a live view almost instantaneously but it takes around one second to get a shot to fire. This is really fast and makes the camera work well in any situation where speed is of the essence.
Battery and Connectivity
The battery is CIPA rated for 400 shots and that is generally enough for a whole day but it doesn’t stand out as an impressively long lasting one. The connectivity is in the form of the built-in Wi-Fi which connects to the app designed for the camera and that is available for the iOS 10 and for Android. This allows you to control the camera remotely and download the images to the phone.
The Leica SL also provides GPS abilities and the Auto ISO provides a choice of minimum and maximum values as well as allowing you to specify a shutter speed threshold or the option to let the camera adjust the threshold depending on your focal length. There is an ISO shortcut button to turn it on or off with ease so it is quite a great design from this point of view.
The autofocus boasts to be the “fastest of all professional cameras” and you can get 11fps burst shooting but the system’s speed is very dependent on the lens and on the light as when this is too dim the camera will fail to find focus.
The image on Raw files is great due to the impressive sensor but the jpeg version has really dull colors and as the camera lacks the anti-aliasing filter the chances of false color or moire effects will be hard to remove. The video quality is good as the camera offers UHD 4K capture at up to 30fps and Cinema 4K at up to 24fps. You also get 10-bit 4:2:2 video output over HDMI.
Overall as it takes features from the other series, this could be considered an all-around camera that is quite distinctive, as all Leica products tend to be. If you want a flexible camera that can handle various situations and also don’t mind spending some serious money on it then the Leica SL is for you. The EyeRes is probably the best thing about this camera and overall this is a great product but it doesn’t do anything much better than other cameras which cost even less so it is the best choice only if you want the Leica exclusivity.