A year with the Leica SL

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"A year with the Leica SL" by Jonathan Slack (websiteFacebook, see also the original Leica SL article here):

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Triumvirate. Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Introduction

On June 23rd 2015 a big box arrived at my door. It contained a prototype SL together with the 24-90 Vario Elmarit. There were no instructions and no clue on the body itself (apart from Leica on the front, and On/Off on the back). I had two different test cameras, one from June to July, and another for September.

At the time of the camera launch in October 2015 I wrote The Leica SL (a field report) as an introduction to the camera.

I bought my own camera with the 24-90 at the first opportunity, and then the 90-280 on it's release this spring. Looking through my Lightroom Library I have 6,000 saved images (I usually delete about 75% of the images I take, so that might be 15,000 images in total) taken with 23 different Leica lenses (SL, TL, M and R). The camera has been a constant companion, it's been to Crete and Venice, Wimereux and Sarnano, it's photographed weddings and christenings, dress rehearsals and tractor runs, skiing and dog shows, parties and private views.

Since the camera started shipping in November 2015 there have been two significant firmware updates, reaffirming Leica's commitment to improving existing products. There will be more in the future.

It seems to be time for a long time user report!

Rather than covering old ground and describing the camera in detail, I'm going to discuss it's position in the world of photography, after that I'll look at using the SL in a number of different shooting environments.

This century the progress of digital photography has been so incredibly fast that it has led to an impression of linear development, with the technology improving with each new release, and indeed, until the last couple of years this has certainly been the case, but I wonder whether this is still the right way to look at new cameras. As far as I can see, all the cameras produced in the last few years are capable of producing excellent images, but looking at reviews, there seems to be a mindset that it needs to keep on improving, and they concentrate on image quality and easily described features (Image Stabilisation, Focus Peaking, High Dynamic range) whilst ignoring the features which help us to make good images - principally those that help the camera get 'out of the way' leaving the photographer to concentrate on the image.

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Bier Lane. Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Image Quality and Megapixels

Recently Peter Walker posted a pair of images on the Leica User Forum. These show two similar views of Manhattan, one taken 15 years ago with a Hasselblad 205FCC 6cm x 6cm and a 110 mm lens on Fujichrome 100 and scanned using an Imacon Flexlight scanner, the other taken this year with a Leica SL and the 24-90 zoom at 68mm (about the equivalent focal length). It's well worth clicking on the link and looking at his images.

The point is that the SL image, despite having been taken with a much smaller 35mm sensor, is just as good as the state of the art film image, perhaps even better. Arguments about film vs digital get very heated and partisan, and they aren't relevant to this discussion, and I'm certainly not arguing against the charm of film. My point is simply that the SL with a 24-90 lens provides quite good enough image quality for any normal requirements.

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On the Corner. Leica SL with 90-280 APO Vario Elmarit SL

The world of photography however seems to need more and more: New Canon and Sony cameras produce images of 40 or 50 megapixels and there is talk of a 100mp 35mm sensor. Whilst I understand that for some (very few) applications this kind of resolution might be desirable, it certainly isn't necessary for printing normal sized images (you can get an excellent A1 print from a good 24mp file).

Despite this continuing demand for larger and larger files the new professional cameras from Nikon and Canon are still only 20mp. Other things being equal, more megapixels would be fine (even if only to allow cropping), but taking proper advantage of the larger resolution sensors requires better and larger lenses, sturdier support (tripods) and more powerful computers.

I'm not suggesting that improved sensor technology isn't a good thing, just that larger and larger files don't need to be part of that equation. Much better to use the improvements to make better quality pixels rather than more of them!

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Talking on the Telefonino (Venice) Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Haptics - fixed or flexible

Fixed Controls
Over the last few years there has been an increasing tendency for camera manufacturers to return to the labelled controls that the Leica M cameras never abandoned. So that you have a shutter speed dial, an aperture dial (usually on the lens), an explicit ISO dial and more recently exposure compensation dials. All nicely labelled with engraved values.

This has various advantages, it looks lovely for a start, you can see all the settings just by glancing at the camera, and if the camera is well laid out then things fall to hand really easily. M users have understood this for decades and it would be a sad day indeed if an M camera worked any other way. The Leica X and Q are beautiful examples of this philosophy, and Fuji have espoused it with their X cameras to great effect.

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Strawberry time with Sarah and Duck Leica SL with Leica 75mm APO Summicron

Mixed Fixed and Flexible controls
Modern SLR cameras began to move away from this fixed model long before the onset of digital technology. With the move to the EOS mount Canon abandoned some of their labelled dials in the 1980s, details being shown on an LCD on the top plate of the camera. Nikon held on much later, but with the introduction of the G lenses and the F5 the aperture was controlled by the body rather than the lens, and the dials lost their markings (for autofocus cameras at least).

Most modern cameras have a mix of fixed controls (for instance the APSM dial) and flexible controls which can then be configured in the camera's menu system. The latest professional dSLR cameras (the Nikon D5 and the Canon 1Dx mark ii) work like this.

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Burano (Venice) Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

All Flexible Controls
In my original SL article I joked that the only writing on the Camera (other than Leica on the front) was on the On/Off switch, and I thought that I could probably remember how that worked! Of course, this is because the On/Off switch is the only control which has a fixed use (with the sole exception of the screen button, but I can imagine there might be plans for that later on). All the other controls are configurable, and many of them have dual functions (short press / long press) etc.

Basically, it would seem that Leica have seen direction of travel for professional level cameras, and taken it to it's logical conclusion. Of course, you might feel that you prefer all fixed function controls (as per Fuji Cameras) or a mixture (like most other cameras). However there are some ramifications, which I'll look at next.

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Criss Cross Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Seeing the settings
If you have fixed settings then of course it's easy to see what's what, even if the camera is turned off. You will, however, have to look at several different places to get all the information. With flexible settings, then you have to rely on the LCD on the top plate, this has the disadvantage that it isn't on all the time, but the advantage that everything can easily and quickly be seen in one place.

When actually shooting, most recent cameras will show all the settings either at the bottom of the LCD, and in the EVF. The SL is no exception here.

Changing the settings
For the occasional photographer it's pretty nice to have the controls marked clearly, but if you're using the camera every day then you really do know where they are, added to which one is often changing settings with the camera to one's eye, in which case it's important to know where they are!

A problem with fixed controls is that they are easy to change in the bag without noticing - even when the camera is turned off; some cameras have locks to prevent this, but of course they militate against rapid changing of the settings when shooting.

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Springtime Squirrel Sniffing (Venice) Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

User Presets
User presets are really convenient for quickly changing batches of settings to suit changing shooting situations. Almost all modern cameras have them. Of course, if you have fixed analog controls and dials, then the presets either have to ignore these settings - or else there will be a disconnect between the settings on the body and those in effect.

Future Firmware changes
It's been a welcome change in the last few years that more and more camera manufacturers are releasing more and more frequent firmware updates - even for older camera models.

Clearly, if the functionality of the controls is not fixed, then it gives the manufacturer more scope for making desirable changes in future firmware updates.

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Suffolk Fishermen at Covehithe Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Each of these methodologies has devotees and detractors and each will suit some users better than others. Fuji designs have obviously been coloured by the recent trend for nostalgia, and perhaps in that respect they have let their hearts rule their heads. Canon, Nikon and others seem to have changed incrementally but without really coming to a coherent overall concept.

It is clear that Leica have been thinking very hard about camera design since the start of the S development: The SL controls are logical, innovative and consistent, and with the new firmware it's really coming of age. A year down the line I'm finding it a joy to use - it's instinctive and doesn't involve looking much at the camera. Of course, there are things I'd like to see improved, but nothing which couldn't be fixed with a firmware update.

Whilst analogue controls are pretty and fun to use (and can't be bettered on a manual focus camera like the M series) for maximum flexibility and functionality on a modern autofocus camera the new control concept of the Leica SL is hard to beat.

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Talking Turkey - Venice Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Magic

Size and weight
There are lots of people who would like to see a Leica CL sized full frame camera with small, fast autofocus lenses (who wouldn't), but it seems that this isn't consistent with incorporating a motor in a lens design, or with the edge to edge sharpness that everyone wants from today's lenses (at least, not yet!).

The Sony A7 cameras are an interesting illustration of this point in that they've managed to make an extremely compact camera body, but it's becoming clearer and clearer that if you want high quality autofocus lenses, then they're going to be big (the new f2.8 G zooms are comparable in size with the SL lenses).

Both Sony and Leica have managed to make small full frame cameras with a fixed lens (Sony RX1 and the Leica Q), but it's a different issue when designing a fixed focal length lens to a particular sensor configuration.

If you can't make small, high quality lenses, then perhaps it's neither helpful nor constructive to make small camera bodies; they don't balance well with heavy lenses! However the Leica SL balances well with the two zoom lenses (24-90 and 90-280). Compared to the Sony A7rii (625gm 1.38lb) the performance and build of the Leica SL (847gm 1.87lb) is much more akin to the professional Nikon D5 (1415gm 3.12lb) and Canon 1Dx (1530gm 3.37lb). There's a considerable weight saving, but without compromise in terms of handling (and you can always add the hand grip).

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Light at the end of the tunnel Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

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The Kiss Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

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Home from Burano with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Shooting Scenarios - Introduction

The SL was designed as a professional workhorse which could manage every scenario a photographer might need. I've put it through it's paces in a lot of different situations, and in each case it's come up with the goods effortlessly and without issue. It seems worth looking at a number of different possible situations and how the camera performs.

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Superdry Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Event Photography

There are always so many opportunities to miss the best shots when shooting events - whether it be a Wedding, a Party or even a Christening. One needs to have a good all round zoom lens and very quick responses.

In most cases re-shooting is impossible, so having the camera write to two fast SD cards simultaneously is reassuring.

I've found that shooting with the Vario Elmarit 24-90 using spot metering and Auto White balance with single shot (with focus priority) and single point AF gives maximum flexibility. The Auto White balance is pretty reliable (and of course one can always correct things in post processing if you shoot RAW). The spot metering follows the AF point automatically, so that the exposure is taken from the focus subject. The joy stick makes moving the focus point extremely fast and efficient and the incredibly fast single shot AF means that the focusing hit rate is really high. The 24- 90 zoom has a little more range than the traditional 24-70 zoom which can often help.

If the 24-90 is too large then there are a wealth of M lenses which can be used, or even the little T zooms.

I usually shoot RAW+jpg, together with the Leica SL phone / tablet app this allows one to post images directly to social media, which can be a real bonus in fast moving events.

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Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil with 35mm Summilux Asph f1.4 FLE 3 of the 4 Luminaries of the Leica Meet Group at the book launch in the Leica Gallery in Mayfair Jan 2016 Stephen Cosh, Gavin Mills, Olaf Willougby

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Walberswick Proudly Presents - Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

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Little Sol's Welcoming Party - Leica SL with Leica T 18-56 Vario Elmar Asph

Landscape Photography

The ability to zoom in to various parts of the image for accurate focusing, the long exposure options and the excellent LCD all make framing and accurate focusing and exposure possible when shooting on a tripod.

The good high ISO and the quiet, well damped shutter make opportunist Landscape photography easy, and the wide range of M and R lenses make it possible to shoot from ultra wide to telephoto with high quality glass.

For an assessment of the SL by a professional landscape photographer read Vieri Bottazzini's excellent Review: A Landscape Photographer's In Depth Leica SL Review

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Suffolk Sunrise - Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

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Suffolk Sunset - Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Still Life (product)

The zoom magnification in conjunction with the joy stick helps to achieve the really accurate focusing needed for this type of photography, both with the SL Auto Focus lenses and with M and R lenses. I've found the 60mm macro Elmarit R to be excellent, as is the standard zoom, but I'm hoping that Leica will bring out a dedicated macro lens for the SL in the not too distant future.

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Brushes - Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

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Garlic and Orange - Leica SL with 75mm APO Summicron M f2

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Tulips - Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Street Photography

There are so many possibilities here, you can go out with an M lens, zone focus and fire away; you can take the 24-90 Vario-Elmarit and use autofocus or you can take your pick of the small and excellent T zoom lenses (the cropped 10mp is often quite enough for most street work). The extremely fast shot to shot times, deep buffer and easily moved spot exposure all allow maximum flexibility.

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Talking Dog (Venice) Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

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Which Way (Sarnano) Leica SL with 75mm APO Summicron

Path photography

Jesko von Oeynhausen (product manager for the Leica M) coined the phrase. It was meant as a joke, but I don't think I'm alone in wandering around the countryside looking for images, it could be anything from a rainbow to a fisherman, a frog or a decaying piece of farm equipment (or indeed, a path). A kind of rural version of Street photography. The SL with the 24-90 is perfect for this, one minute it's a landscape camera, the next a macro or an action combo.

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SLOW Leica SL with 90-280 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

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Campion Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

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Dandelions Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Action Photography

In the early days of mirrorless cameras, the Contrast Detect autofocus really couldn't compete with the phase detect of traditional dSLR cameras for continuous focus. Things have changed and tracking works pretty will with the SL; especially with the 90-280 zoom. Together with the really fast burst rate, infinitesimal black out and lack of mirror slap. The camera is a creditable tool for sports or action photography.

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Oscar concentrating Leica SL with 90-280 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

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The Chase Leica SL with 90-280 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

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Attack Leica SL with 90-280 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Nature and Wildlife

I often head out with the SL and the two Vario-Elmarit zooms, camera and lens over one shoulder and a small bag with the other lens over the other. This gives me a range from 24-280, weather sealed with image stabilisation throughout. If I tuck the little Wide Angle Tri Elmar in a pocket I can go right out to 16mm. The close up facility of both the zooms means that I can catch everything from a damsel fly to a rare bird or a wide skyscape.

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Catch Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

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San Ginesio Sunset Leica SL with 50mm APO Summicron (thank you Vieri)

Photojournalism

Each year I shoot the Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run in aid of Breast Cancer Research. The remit is to get a good picture of all of the ladies on their tractors at each of 4 points on the run. Then, to get these images up on the website and on FaceBook the same evening. This year I took 1200 photos and posted 664 on the internet the same day. They then need to be available for the newspapers to pick and use without too much hassle for me, or for them.

This poses several problems - the first one is to get sharp shots of the faces of the tractor drivers; AF cameras like to focus on the front of the tractor, not the face of the driver, and they are driving at about 10mph straight towards the camera. The tractors are all decked out in more or less flourescent pink, which makes the exposure quite a challenge. The english weather is another problem - last year it was pouring with rain, this year the weather was lovely, but it was cloudy one minute followed by bright sunshine the next. It's important to get the ladies' attention and better still if they wave at the camera, and this means shooting with one hand and attracting their attention with the other. The vertical exhaust pipe on the tractor adds a little to the complication; they often have mirrors (or bunches of pink flowers) attached to them, and the driver's face tends to disappear behind this.

This year I used a single focus point about a third of the way from one side and down from the top of the frame, tracking focus was too difficult to accurately pinpoint the face, so I used continuous focus. For the metering I used spot metering (which follows the focus point). I'm still alive, which proves I got the required shots, and they've been used on the front page of the local paper (with a double page spread inside).

It's important to get the exposure and framing as good as possible so as not to end up with hours correcting it for each image. I've used the SL two years in a row for this job, and it's really come up with the goods, especially this year with the firmware changes.

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Julie at the Brockdish Water Splash on the 2013 Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run Leica SL with Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit (and yes, those breasts pulsate and rotate)

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Libby Searle on the off-road section Leica SL with Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit

My Wife Emma drove her 1953 Fergie tractor on the 13th Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run .

This is a fantastic cause, and if you've enjoyed this article I'd be really grateful if you could donate to Emma's Just Giving page - every little bit helps!

To Donate Please Click Here

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Emma at the Brockdish Water Splash on the 2013 Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run Leica SL with Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit

Candid and Portrait

Perhaps the SL with the 24-90 is a bit 'in your face' for candid photography, but put on something smaller (a T or M lens) and it's great.

The huge bright EVF makes manual focusing really easy: of course there is always the option of zooming in or focus peaking, it takes a little practice, but I've found it best to use the full frame without any focus assistance. In very low light the EVF remains bright and clear (if a little grainy).

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Martha Leica SL with Leica 18-56 Elmar Asph

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Scarlett Leica SL with Leica M 50mm Summilux Asph In Great Granny Sheila's finery

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Michael the Hat Leica SL with 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL Asph.

Shooting Scenarios - Conclusion

The point of showing all these different situations was to emphasise how flexible the SL is. Of course, if you only shoot sports, then a Nikon D5 with appropriate lenses might be the better answer; if you only shoot landscape then one could certainly argue the case for a Leica S or a Hasselblad medium format and if you only shoot environmental pictures of people then the case for a Leica M is pretty conclusive. However, the Leica SL can handle all of these situations with ease, I really can't think of a situation where it would fail to come up to the mark, more than that, it's hard to think of another camera which can cover all these situations so well.

Long Term Use

Build Quality and Wear and Tear
I use my cameras every day - they are often in my hand for several hours at time - we've had a wet winter, and now a wet summer; the SL has been soaked a number of times and it's performed flawlessly. The only sign of wear is slight greying on the dials, and also on the edges of the hot shoe plate. it's improved it's looks rather than otherwise. The picture above is after 8 months of continual use. No scratches and the (unprotected) LCD also shows no sign of scratches or scuffs.

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Be Very Afraid (the obligatory Cat Picture) Leica SL with Leica R 60mm macro elmarit

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JUMP Caspar Leica SL with Leica 90-280 Vario Elmarit

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Cutlery Cupboard Leica SL with Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit

GPS and WiFi

The GPS just works - it's seamless, appears to use little battery life, and it's accurate as well, which leaves very little to say! I leave it on all the time.

I was going to do a section in the Scenarios on Travel Photography, but it seemed to be represented in all of the different categories. However, I think the GPS function is the icing on the cake of the SL as a travel camera.

The WiFi implementation is also really good - it does require you to shoot DNG + JPG, as the native smart phone apps don't necessarily deal with DNG files, but this isn't much of a hardship as it doesn't seem to have any noticeable performance hit. It's great for posting instant pictures to social media when out on a shoot, and the camera control app works really well for remote shooting.

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Lands End Walk - GPS Map image from Lightroom

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Rock Formations near Nanjizal Leica SL with Leica 90-280 Vario Elmarit

Conclusion

The Leica T was a statement of intent from Leica, and although it isn't 'state of the art' in terms of technology, it was a real step forward in interface design. The Q proved that Leica could actually produce a cutting edge camera which wasn't just interesting, but performed better than it's competition.

With the Leica SL they have produced a workhorse of a camera; it's a proper professional tool without any compromises in terms of operability or image quality. More than that, it's a real joy to use, with a logical and intuitive interface, state of the art performance and a couple of practical zooms with prime lens quality results. It's seriously rugged and reliable and you can use it with all your legacy M, S and R lenses.

Over the last year I've used the SL in lots of different situations, from flower macros to pink tractors, and in each situation it has performed effortlessly and satisfyingly. The results have been universally good, even in very trying conditions. A year with the system has emphasised it's virtues. Future firmware updates and more lenses can only make it better.

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Rape Track SL with Leica 90-280 Vario Elmarit

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Sunlight Splasing throught the Trees SL with Leica 50 Summilux Asph

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Scarlett is 3 (hooray) Leica SL with Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit

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The Author Leica SL with Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit

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This Way Leica SL with Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit

More Images by Jonathan Slack.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • CharlieP

    Great article and some really good tips. I’m about to head off on a cruise of the Western Isles with my SL. I haven’t been using the GPS due to battery paranoia after using Sony A7 series but I can now see it’s a must for the trip. The SL camera performed flawlessly for me on a tour of Jordan earlier this year so expecting the same again and had not found the extra weight an issue at all lugging it all over Petra. I have not used the 90-280 much yet but have high hopes for shooting dolphins and seals next week. There is no doubt the SL is the best camera I ever owned.

    • Jonathan Slack

      HI Charlie
      I’m sure you’ll love the 90-280 on your trip – I’m jealous!

  • Bo Dez

    Brilliant review and stunning pictures Mr Slack. Some very great captures and compositions here, so nice to see a review with real photography to illustrate a review (and a very well written one at that!)

    Respectfully I don’t agree in the pixel count though. Canon and Nikon have 24MP cameras because they have other 35mm bodies at 50MP and 36MP. 24MP is not enough in my opinion as an only offering and Leica need to address this asap.

  • sperdynamite

    I’m so glad you are able to experience what Nikon/Canon and Sony users have had for years because Leica put a red dot on an A7 in exchange for over $7000.00 dollars. Yawn. Wake me up when the next M is leaked.

    • Les

      The A7 is a fiddly consumer camera with a tiny battery, an appealingly bad interface, a so-so viewfinder, and an inability to use Leica M lenses (without horrible imaging artifacts).
      Surely it serves a purpose, but I fail to see how it’s relevant here. Is it just because it uses the same size sensor? Give it a rest…

      • sperdynamite

        Lol you comment on every post and never allow anyone to criticize Leica in any way shape or form. As an M 240 owner and pro user I am allowed to voice my opinion even if it doesn’t reflexively fellate the great-red-dot.

        • Les

          Sperdy,

          I hardly comment on every post, and I am very open to Leica criticism, other than the automated “so expensive,” you must have me confused with someone else.
          The problem I have is that any mention of the SL automatically triggers Sony-dudes to comment “I have a camera too, it takes pictures…”. It’s getting old.

          The Sony is a nice little consumer camera. Unfortunately, it’s a small camera that needs big lenses and lots of babying. If that works for you, that’s great, but why bother mentioning it all the time? All of us here are familiar with those Sony products. You are just creating noise at this point.

          • sperdynamite

            I’m not going to engage with you because it’s like arguing with Donald Trump. The facts have to fit your narrative or they can’t be discussed. It’s so pointless.

          • Les

            There’s no argument here. Just wondering why you feel the insecure need to add a comment about your Sony camera in almost every post.

            Here we have a beautifully written and illustrated review, and, once again, you can’t help but sully it with your Sony advert. Like some spoiled toddler who can’t stand to be quiet for even a minute. “I also have a camera! It makes the photographs! Look at me! Wake me up because this bores me because it’s not about me! And my camera! Did I mention that it’s a Sony! It’s a Sony!”

            Enough already.

          • sperdynamite

            You just can’t help yourself can you? http://gph.is/1lSTFxA

    • Jonathan Slack

      Nothing wrong with the A7 cameras (or the Canikon ones for that matter).
      But the SL does bring things to the table in terms of the size and quality of the EVF, the speed of response and general operation (the A7ii seems very sluggish and clattery in comparison), not to mention ruggedness (there’s one on top of the new Leica building shooting time laps for the next two years – don’t think I’d do that with an A7), battery life, twin cards – of course, these are all things that exist on the professional Canon and Nikon cameras – but then they cost as much.

      • sperdynamite

        People keep fixating on the A7 comparison I made because it has an EVF, but in actuality the camera is most similar to a Nikon D600. I think deep down you must know that saying the SL is comparable to a D5 or 1DX is a false equivalency. They only thing they have in common is a high frame rate, but the SL is crippled in this mode be it’s AF is locked during bursts. You can SAY the SL is geared towards pro photographers like a D5 is, but I can SAY the sky is green too. It doesn’t make it true. You could have been making these pictures with a D600 and a fixed aperture zoom for years, if you really wanted to use a 25mpish camera with mixed AF performance. That’s why I’m sticking with the M. I know it has old tech in it, but with the M that’s almost the point. The SL is a technology platform, and in that way, it can’t compete (same failing as the R system). And congratulating Leica for their enormous zooms and complete failure to provide timely accessories, let alone the mythical 50SL, is not helping. If they wanted to WOW people with the SL they should have released it at this Photokina ready to go with 2 zooms and at least 1 or 2 primes. At least then they could have sold the system on the quality of a good 50/1.4.

        • Jonathan Slack

          Well, I hardly discussed the A7 in the article, because I don’t think the two cameras are very comparable. What you are telling me is that the prime requisite of a ‘professional’ camera is tracking AF at high burst rates. I take what you say about the D600, but the SL has a much quieter shutter, a much bigger viewfinder and takes all the Leica excellent quality manual focus primes . .

          . . and I certainly can say that the SL is geared towards pro photographers like a D5 – because it certainly was – whether it succeeds is the question, and I’d say that in some respects it’s better and in some it’s not as good (astonishing really!).

          There’s nothing mythical about the 50 f1.4 – it was always due at the back end of this year, and as far as I’m aware it still is. As for the huge zooms – they’re equivalent in size to the Canon and Nikon equivalents (and indeed the new Sony zooms). Let’s face it – lens availability is always levelled as a criticism at new camera systems (and it’s always a problem!)

          I’m sticking with the M as well – because I still seem to take my best photographs with a rangefinder, but that’s a different story and not quite relevant to my article.

  • Oded Sudarsky

    Thanks for a very enlightening review! Lovely images. The 4th one (Talking on the Telefonino) is pure genius: The present-day woman’s shadow looks like a antique statue, a visual allegory to the classic roots of modern Europe.

    • Jonathan Slack

      Thank you Oded – I was pleased with the telefonino shot too 🙂

  • SomeoneNotImportant

    Fair enough. Cute to read BUT:
    The comparision Fujichrome and Digital Capture is just RIDICULOUS if the scanning was done on an Imacon.
    Forgive me but the imacon is a kindergarden device when compared to a HeidelbergDrumscanner with it’s photomultiplieres.
    Don’t get me wrong, i’ve owned (and still own) several Ms, analog, digital- I got the SL to test and shot a lot of Editorial work with all generations of the S.
    For a very personal portrait sitting i’d never ever consider digital capture.
    A roll of 6×6 transparency film or even Portra400, a Rolleiflex or 503CW, a Scanner Operator with 20+ years experience in color and lithography and all the smart asses and pixel peepers will finally back up.
    Amen.

    • Paul

      Wow, not quite sure how a $20,000 virtual drum scanner could be classified as a kindergarten device. Do you have any example scans of the Flextight X5 vs Heidleberg for the same 120 slide you can show us?

      • SomeoneNotImportant

        Heidelberg/Linotype Hell with its photomultipliers, the way a qualified operator can control grain with different apertures…
        The Heidelberg Drumscanners were a fortune back in the days. Cost were higher than 20,000Dollars.
        Technology wise and quality wise, flexscan/imacon are kindergarden, yes.

      • Brennan McKissick

        The X5 shouldn’t cost anywhere near what it does so I wouldn’t judge it based on its price. The whole Imacon line still runs on damn FireWire. It hasn’t been updated in at least 10 years.

      • sperdynamite

        I’ve ‘seen’ comparisons and a Flextight is not actually that far off from a drum scan. Sometimes the drum scan is much better, but this is certainly not always true. Plus the fact is that photography studios and archivists have successfully used Imacons and even Nikon “Coolscans” (and if we’re telling secrets…even *gasp* Epson flatbeds(!!!!) *spits out champagne*) over the years. If they quality was ‘soooo bad’ then obviously this would not be the case, nor would Imacon/Hasselblad be able to get away with charging so much for them. You could argue that my lowly desktop V700 is ‘kindergarten’ for scanners, and yet, I’ve made many pretty good scans from it. I’m aware that there are better scanners, just like I’m aware that whoever printed Avedon’s portfolio is probably a better printer than me, but that doesn’t make me throw my scanner out the window. Drum-Scanner-Bros need to chill.

  • Paul

    Very nice images indeed. I wonder if the author could comment more on the use of M lenses on this body? How did you find the focussing and framing experience compared to an M? Can you discuss how this works?
    I think Sperydy makes a fair point though in that the author has had this camera for a year but not really commented on why the professional dSLR user should consider this camera over their current system (the size is about the same and the price much higher). The author is hardly impartial in regard to Leica reviews.
    *However* it’s good to see Leica providing a professional option for the mirrorless camera market, something they are first to do. The M of course was the first full frame mirrorless digital camera and the Leica SL is in my view the first full frame mirrorless digital camera that would be considered a professional workhorse camera. So kudos to Leica for that. But like the S I don’t think this will be a high volume camera for Leica. Personally I’m more interested in what the next M has in store? Hopefully they’ve managed to shrink it a little…

    • TomV

      a M en

    • Jonathan Slack

      Hi There Paul
      Thanks for the kind words on the images.
      Well – M lenses work extremely well, they are recognised and profiles applied accordingly. Focusing is as good as it can be on an EVF, with flexible magnification if required (though, truth be told it’s easy enough to focus without any aids). There isn’t an issue with smearing or soft corners, indeed some lenses work better on the SL than the M (the 28 summilux for instance – the 28 ‘cron is better on an M). It’s unquestionably the best non-rangefinder experience I’ve had with M lenses.
      But from my point of view the problem is that it doesn’t have a rangefinder!
      As for the professional dSLR user – well, the performance is pretty equivalent to a D5 or 1Dx, but with a little more resolution – and it’s a great deal quieter – the body is smaller (but not the lenses of course) In the UK the body price is about the same. I realise many wouldn’t use it instead of the behemoths for sport, but for event shooting I’d say it had advantages in that it’s much less obtrusive, and of course you can stick a 50 summilux on and get results pretty close to using an Otus at half the size. It’s a cracking camera for weddings and I find it does well for landscapes and nature photography as well.
      I think the point I was trying to get across was that for many different jobs the SL will come up with the goods reliably and without fuss – a Jack of All Trades rather than a master of one.

      But it wasn’t meant to be a polemic, so I wasn’t trying to explain to anyone why they should switch!

  • Roelv1

    For me most of those images are much too clinical. Technically very, very good, but they lack character. That is the trend. More and more perfection, but also more and more boring. Almost kitsch. For far less money one can buy something more interesting.

    • TomV

      I felt the images were wonderful. Also, when presenting photos in conjunction with a technical review, images need to be selected that highlight or at least present to be shown demanding technical factors to be judged. On one hand I applaud Leica for pushing innovative boundaries and coming out with new lenses, but on the other I’m dissapointed in the SL / T style glass, it’s counter to the M and R style handling I’m used to. Price… really it’s an issue. Sony is absolutely a valid talking point when taking about the SL, for image pipeline, the Leica doesn’t really bring much to the table and possibly, the Sony brings more. True the Sony has user interface issues. True the Leica feels more luxurious and has a much much better EVF – and makes it easier to achieve the maximum potential of the SL. The reviewer is obviously an outstanding photographer. However when talking about user interface, I’m not really convinced that the new Leica menu system, screen, “hot buttons” is really what it’s all cracked up to be. At the risk of sounding like a fuddy duddy, when buying a camera I generally don’t ask to be challenged to rethink the way I approach a camera, and just with it to operate like my last one. I guess I’m really asking for an EVF equipped M that can also shoot DCI 4K like the SL when I need it to, but otherwise handles like the film loading M’s from yesteryear for stills capture. (Capture – it’s a chase, why I like manual systems where I feel in control and often fail, rather than the “programming” approach of autofocus where on can spray and pray and in post reveal an image that makes the cut)

  • Brennan McKissick

    I would love to see an unbiased review of this camera. The contrast AF quits working at the highest FPS and I’m pretty sure that you can move focus points on other cameras and they can also track the subject so hitting focus on someones face shouldn’t be an issue at any speed. I mean, tractors moving 10mph is hardly a test of any AF system. You could manual focus and get a high hit rate haha.

    • Jonathan Slack

      Actually Brennan the tractor test is quite a good one – they’re coming right at you – and you need to focus on the face of the driver, not the front of the tractor . . . and you need to do it for 600 shots without getting it wrong – it’s an interesting exercise which the original A7 signally failed on.
      Still – I’m not denying that the contrast AF is not as good at tracking as a dSLR, but the camera has other advantages.

      • Brennan McKissick

        You couldn’t focus on their face with a D700? Leicas and other manufactures do not just focus on different things inherently. I’m a big Leica guy and I love most of their products but I hate when it appears that something is being put out as “innovative” when there have been cameras for the past 5 years that could do the same thing. It might be innovative in the sense that it’s the first camera with a red dot that can do it…

        • Jonathan Slack

          It was difficult with a Nikon D700 (actually it was better with an Olympus E-M1 a couple of years later – I have done it with manual focus too) – for 600 different shots in a day (four of each person at each of 4 spots) – controlling the focus point really fast whilst shooting the camera one handed is part of the issue – One hand because the other is needed to get the lady’s attention when their face isn’t behind the exhaust pipe. So you need to move the focus point and shoot one handed sometimes they’re obscured by the tractor in front until they’re right on you – so maybe you have a second to get it right . . and a 95% hit rate is completely unacceptable – they all need to be right – and you never have time for two shots!

          I’m not – and I didn’t, suggest for a minute that the SL was the best camera in every situation, clearly it’s not – what I was suggesting was that it was a good solution in most situations. . .and certainly in this one.

          If you doubt me – give it a go –

  • Beautiful images. Thanks for sharing your experience with the SL.

  • Kim

    Hi. If you compare the SL to Canon or Nikon bodies, how well does the SLs finish stand normal use over time?

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