Leica SL2 Review

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“A refresh to an already popular release ended up becoming their best all-round camera to date.”

Introduction

Initially released fall 2019, the Leica SL2 is the latest full-frame mirrorless camera from the camera maker now sporting the L Mount. And it marks their second-generation mirrorless system. It is the official successor to the original SL. And a camera Leica aims to fill in several shortcomings of the predecessor, most notably poor ergonomics, while simultaneously expanding its core capabilities. It features a brand new 47.3MP sensor, the latest Maestro III processor, and 5K video recording, among other advanced features. However, on paper, these specifications look largely identical to Panasonic’s newly released S1R and S1H flagships. So it raises the question, has Leica done enough to differentiate this camera from these two lower-priced, equally compelling alternatives? Today, we answer that question and assess the strengths, weaknesses, and whether or not these improvements are enough to make the camera competitive in today’s market.

leica-camera-sl2-specs

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Leica SL2?

Pros:

Image Quality

In image quality, this camera represents a significant improvement over the predecessor. It now features a similar 47.3MP sensor as the Leica Q2, practically doubling the predecessor 24MP sensor, along with the third generation Maestro III processor. The 14-bit DNG images its sensor produces delivers an impressive 14 stops of dynamic range, up from the predecessors 13 stops. On paper, these specifications would suggest that the camera inherits the same sensor from Panasonic’s S1R. However, Leica assures users that this is a new redesign that provides better cross-compatibility between the newer L mount and the existing M rangefinder mount. And, overall, the image quality this camera delivers is excellent.

The new processors also allow the camera to deliver continuous shooting speeds of 11 fps with the mechanical shutter or 20 fps using the electronic shutter. And the buffer’s no slouch either. Even considering its enormous file sizes, Leica rates the camera to deliver 78 DNG or 100+ JPEG images in a single burst. These kinds of results make it a serious contender for sports, wildlife, or journalistic applications for those already in the Leica ecosystem.

Video Quality

In video capabilities, this camera represents a significant milestone in performance for the company, and, arguably, it creates their best video camera to date. At first, it appears to be a very similar configuration to the Panasonic S1R and S1H. It shoots 5K video up to 30 fps, Cinema 4K up to 60 fps, and 1080p Full HD up to 180 fps in the MOV format. The more web-friendly MP4 format is also available, though it limits the camera to standard 4K UHD up to 60 fps. When shooting at 4K 30 fps, it shoots at 10-bit up to 400 MBps internally to the SD card and externally via HDMI using the All-I compression method. Do know that when shooting in 4K, the camera does feature a mild 1.1x crop. However, considering it’s almost a full sensor readout, this is mostly irrelevant during use. And the 5K resolution shoots in the less known 4×3 aspect ratio as well.

However, unlike the S1R, it features Leica’s L-log, HLG, and Like 709 profiles, allowing the camera to supply greater dynamic range and flatter footage. These profiles are a must for aspiring filmmakers who want maximum dynamic range and flexibility in post-production. This camera also features a Cine Mode, which changes the annotation of shutter speed, ISO, and aperture into film terms, and effectively turns the camera into a cinema camera. Interesting.

Like many cameras, it features the industry-standard 29 minutes and 59-second recording limit.

A couple of notes, without shooting in MOV at the 400 MBps data rate, you cannot access L-log, HLG, or 10-bit. And, the included color profiles for 8-bit on their neutral settings are quite contrasty. With that, it becomes challenging to improve the camera’s dynamic range when shooting in these profiles. And when shooting in MP4, the camera supplies 8-bit 100 MBps footage, so there’s a slight cost here to using the smaller codec. And also of note, to take advantage of the camera 5K resolution mode, it requires specific SD cards. In this case, the Sony Tough series UHS-II SD cards or similar that provides a data rate of 300 MBps or higher. Without the proper SD card, you cannot access this feature.

Overall, the quality it delivers is excellent, and it’s a fantastic option for videographers or filmmakers. And compared to the Panasonic S1R, it makes the more compelling option, though pricier.

Low Light Performance

Low light performance is good considering its resolution, but not industry-leading. It features a native ISO range from ISO 50 to 50,000. Though compared to the predecessor, it will start to experience noise one stop lower, due to their differences in resolution. Nevertheless, users can expect usable images up to ISO 3,200 or ISO 6,400, with minor post-production noise reduction applied. Interestingly, any noise that is present has a very organic looking noise structure, a Leica trademark design, making it almost appear like film grain. And overall, it’s quite pleasing.

Focusing Performance

Like many other Leica cameras, it features a contrast-detection only autofocusing system, which Leica calls Object Detection AF. However, this system is entirely updated from the predecessor. It now has a total of 225 autofocus metering fields, Depth Mapping technology, and also features face/body detection, a first for a Leica camera. While the camera lacks eye-detection, the face and body detection do work well for subject tracking and are quite tenacious. This system may not be the top performer of its class, but it is more than adequate for most shooting circumstances. The only time it struggles is when tracking fast or erratic movement within the frame, otherwise its a well-implemented system. The camera even offers extensive customization over the tracking sensitivity, to best optimize its performance to the specific shooting demands. And Leica has included a helpful iAF mode, which intelligently switches between single-shot AF and continuous autofocusing for tracking. Overall, the performance delivered here is extraordinarily fast, accurate, and consistent for shooting stills.

Like other mirrorless cameras, it too features helpful manual focusing assist tools like peeking and magnification. However, these features automatically engage when you set the attached lens to manual focus and adjust the focus collar, which is quite helpful. When combined with its class-leaded viewfinder, this camera delivers an excellent manual focusing experience.

Battery Performance

It uses the same Leica BP-SCL470 battery as the predecessor and the Q2, which Leica rates for 370 shots per charge or 140 minutes of video. This type of performance is excellent, considering the camera’s specifications.

Display & Viewfinder

It features an electronic viewfinder with a class-leading resolution of 5.76M dots and a large medium format resolution of 0.78x. It also now provides a variable refresh rate, which, by default, is 60 Hz. However, you can set it to 120 Hz for added realism and reduced latency. In all, these changes represent significant improvements over the predecessor’s 4.4M resolution viewfinder.

It features a 3.2-inch rear touchscreen display with a resolution of 2.1M dots. The LCD also sports full menu navigation, touch focus, touchpad AF, and image review. Leica has coated the display with an anti-fingerprint and anti-scratch film for durability. And overall, the screen is bright enough for composing outdoors in bright sunlight.

It features a 1.28-inch trans-reflective monochrome top LCD, which displays critical shooting parameters when composing at waist level.

User Interface

Leica has re-designed the user interface slightly, but it still follows traditional Leica design. The menus are now almost entirely touch-enabled, and on-screen settings are large enough for convenient operation without mistakenly engaging unwanted settings. They’ve also implemented a unique way to switch between photo and video modes by simply swiping across the rear screen. And there are dedicated menus for photo and video modes as well, making it the ideal hybrid setup. Overall, the user interface is excellent and arguably the best in class. And even complete beginners will feel immediately welcomed, and quickly master navigating this camera.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

It inherits a similar button layout to the CL and M10 cameras for better translation between the different systems. However, it follows the same foundational design as the R3, giving the camera a nostalgic appeal that’s in line with their heritage. Like the predecessor, it features a full-metal housing made of aluminum and magnesium wrapped with leatherette for a premium, but robust build. The camera is also fully weather-sealed and water protected in compliance with the IP54 rating. And it even features a redesigned shutter, which combines with its added weight to create quite a stable shooting platform for larger lenses.

Compared to the original SL, one of the most notable improvements comes in the form of a deeper and more pronounced grip. Not only is it more comfortable, but the added leatherette material also delivers a supremely confident and reassuring grip.

It features two customizable function buttons in the grip, for immediate access to the variety of programmable features they offer. And three other customizable buttons on the rear of the body. Unlike the competition, these buttons are not predefined, nor are they labeled on the camera’s body. This is an easily overlooked change, but one that is quite helpful and avoids confusion. While the camera features fewer buttons than the competition, it does mean that new users won’t feel immediately overwhelmed with learning its layout. And, overall, the interface here is excellent. Though it may at first look sparse, it features enough physical controls for full manual shooting without the need for the menus.

It has a rubberized AF joystick for menu navigation and autofocus point selection. It can also function as a custom button for back button focus.

The rear control dial also functions for both exposure changes as well as menu navigation, which you can click to register an input similar to pressing an OK button.

Niche Features/Extras

It features a USB-C port, which supports not only the faster file transfer speeds. But it also supports charging and continuous operation during charging, which is perfect to operate the camera via battery bank for longer shoots.

It has a headphone input.

It has a microphone input.

It features built-in 5-axis image stabilization, making it the first camera to provide this particular feature. Leica rates it to deliver 5.5 stops of stabilization, effectively allowing users to shoot at 1/10 of a second handheld without fear of blurry images.

It features dual SD card slots, both of which are UHS-II compatible.

It has a full-sized HDMI port for more convenient connections to external recorders or other devices.

It inherits a similar Multishot Mode to Panasonic’s High-Res Mode, which creates a 187MP DNG image. It does this by taking a series of 8 images then shifting the sensor a 1/2 pixel to generate the render in camera. This feature is perfect for architecture, product, still life, and some landscape applications requiring maximum resolution and flexibility post-production cropping.

Cons:

Autofocus Performance

Focusing performance is excellent, though not perfect. The depth mapping technology works extraordinarily well for single-shot and tracking normal movement. It’s arguably the best implementation of contrast-detection based AF to date and directly comparable to Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus technology. However, this system doesn’t work well for tracking fast-moving action or video recording. In both of these situations, the focus hunts and constantly jitters to double-check focus, which makes it quite disconcerting during use.

Sure, the camera provides face tracking and eye detection, which works well. But, the system doesn’t display which eye it’s using as a focal point, nor can you select the dominant eye manually. Instead, Leica says users must trust that it’ll determine the correct eye automatically. Sadly, that isn’t always the case, and it can easily result in out of focus images.

Display

The rear screen is fixed and lacks any articulation due to concerns about the camera’s long-term durability and overall robustness. This is valid, but it does mean the camera is not ideal for shooting at awkward angles.

Ergonomics

Due to its aluminum and magnesium build, it’s quite heavy and weighs 928g body only. Unfortunately, this camera is heavier than many digital SLR cameras in its class and is quite physically demanding. If you want a lightweight, compact camera, look elsewhere.

Is this a good beginner camera?

No. While this is an excellent camera with the performance and capabilities that are sure to make it relevant for years to come. It doesn’t make for a sensible beginner’s camera. The main reason is it’s demanding price. If you desire a more beginner-friendly option in the Leica ecosystem, consider the Leica T or M2 cameras instead.

What are the best lenses & bundles for the Leica SL2?

General Photography:

Leica Vario-Elmar-S 30-90mm f3.5-5.6 ASPH

Specifically for Macro Photography:

APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2.5 Lens

Specifically for Landscape & Astrophotography Photography:

Leica Elmarit-S 2.8/30 ASPH

Specifically for Portrait Photography:

Leica Summicron-S 100 F/2 ASPH
Leica SUMMARIT-S 70mm F/2.5 ASPH. Lens

Specifically for Sports & Wildlife Photography:

Leica 180mm f/3.5 APO ELMAR-S Lens

Specifically for Product & Still Life Photography:

APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2.5 Lens

SD Cards:

Sony TOUGH-G series SDXC UHS-II Card 64GB

Is the Leica SL2 a good camera for you?

Possibly.

The reality is that it delivers a satisfying shooting experience that very few cameras in its class can provide. And while on paper, its specifications look largely similar to the Panasonic S1 cameras, and they share several core components. Leica has put their unique spin and flair to create a compelling entry into this class. The reality is that specs alone are not the main driving forces as to why we purchase cameras. Design and usability are equally as important. And this camera delivers with beautiful design and a simple interface with a strong supporting lens ecosystem that provides impeccable image quality. The only question is whether or not these are worth the extra money to you or not, and that is ultimately your choice.

Should current SL owners upgrade? Yes. The original SL had many flaws that Leica needed to address. And with this release, Leica has improved not only the physical design and ergonomics. But they’ve simultaneously added advanced features and functionality to address virtually every possible shortcoming. And this camera undoubtedly makes a worthwhile upgrade.

In the end, the SL2 is an excellent all-round camera that only has one minor drawback with its slower autofocusing system compared to the competition. Nevertheless, it represents a unique and unofficial merging of Panasonic’s S1R and S1H flagships coupled with Leica’s unique styling, design, and flair. And it is undoubtedly a competitive option that will remain relevant for years to come.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
4.3

Summary

The Leica SL2 delivers a satisfying shooting experience that very few cameras in its class can provide. While on paper, its specifications look largely similar to the Panasonic S1R, Leica has put its unique spin and flair to create a compelling entry into this class. And it represents a unique entry into this space that makes for an undoubtedly competitive option that will remain relevant for years to come.