Unashamedly aimed at professionals, the SL is Leica’s first CSC release to feature a full-frame sensor. A step up from 2014’s APS-C Leica T, it’s an entry into a section of the mirrorless market monopolised by Sony’s α7 series. With internal 4K recording, an unrivalled EVF, in-built GPS and Wi-Fi, there are features aplenty, but it’s also more than twice the price of its closest rival. It’s arguably the brand’s most forward-thinking release for a long time, but will it offer enough of the quality that Leica’s synonymous with to entice with such a heavy asking price?
At the core of the camera is that full-frame sensor, and with a 24MP resolution and no low-pass filter it provides the excellent level of detail that’s expected by professionals for large-scale prints. Thanks to the Maestro II processor, as previously found in the Leica S (Typ 007), the available ISO range stretches from 50 to a solid 50,000. Burst shooting is impressive too, with a maximum speed of 11fps, before the camera’s 2GB buffer fills after roughly 33 DNGs.
Fitted with an L mount (previously known as the Leica T Mount), the camera is natively compatible with the brand’s T series range of lenses in its 10MP crop mode, as well as the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 mm f/2.8-4 ASPH (£3150) standard zoom, and other forthcoming full-frame SL lenses. This gives it access to five optics at launch, with a further four announced for release. These autofocus lenses can take advantage of the camera’s 49-point contrast detect autofocus system, which is claimed to be faster than that of any other professional camera. We found it to be pleasingly quick and accurate under nearly all lighting conditions, though not notably dissimilar to the reliable systems offered by many competing CSCs.
The Leica SL has a fantastic 4.4MP EVF that measures 0.7in and offers a large 0.80x magnification. If you’re yet to be won round by the benefits of a good EVF, the various grid, focus peaking and image simulation options on this one should do enough to sway you. Complementing this is a 2.95in touchscreen with 1040k-dot resolution.
Capable of internally recording true 4K at 24fps and Ultra HD at 30fps, excellent slow motion footage can also be created from the SL’s fast 120fps Full HD (1080p) mode. There are internal stereo microphones for audio capture, while an adapter for audio in and outputs will be available in the future. The camera also has in-built Wi-Fi and GPS. Battery life is a reasonable 400 shots from one full charge, and there’s a hotshoe but no pop-up flash.
Build & handling
Leica’s are famous for their superior build, and the SL’s chassis is machined from a single aluminium block. Featuring dust and spray sealing and a scratch resistant rear display, it’s reassuringly rugged and seemingly built to last a lifetime. However, despite the large raised grip, it doesn’t offer the best support on the market, so two-handed use is essential. Operation is kept simple and minimalist, though as the buttons and dials are unmarked, what they control may take a while to memorise. A small LCD on the top provides setting reference at a glance.
The SL offers everything we hoped for – unrivalled build quality, impressive image quality, reliable autofocus and just about all the features essential on a professional CSC. However, at the moment native lenses are few and far between, and the (unsurprisingly) high asking price will alienate all but those with the deepest pockets. It’s a premium mirrorless camera, and performs like one, but at less than half the price, Sony’s full-frame dominance with its α7 won’t be beaten just yet.
- Body price: £5299 (As of July 2016)
- Effective resolution: 24MP
- Sensor: 24×36mm full-frame CMOS
- Processor: Leica Maestro II
- LCD: 2.95in 1040k-dot touchscreen
- Viewfinder: 0.6in 4400k-dot SXAG with 100% coverage and 0.80x magnification
- Autofocus: 49-point contrast-detect
- ISO: 50-50,000
- Shooting speed: 11fps for 33 DNGs
- Video: 4K at 30fps, Full HD at 120fps
- Pop-up flash: No
- Other features: GPS, Wi-Fi, two SD
- card slots, HDMI & USB 3.0 inputs
- Battery life: 400 shots
- Card type: SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-II supported on slot 1, UHS-I on slot 2)
- Size (WxHxD): 147×104×39mm
- Weight: 847g
- Visit: www.fujifilm.eu/uk
This review was first published in the March 2016 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.