Digital Cameras

​The Leica SL (type 601) – full frame, mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera

​The Leica SL (type 601) – ful...
Leica SL - launching in November with a 24-90mm F/2.8-4 standard zoom lens
Leica SL - launching in November with a 24-90mm F/2.8-4 standard zoom lens
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Leica SL - at US$11500 for a body and lens kit, this is aimed well into the premium segment.
1/5
Leica SL - at US$11500 for a body and lens kit, this is aimed well into the premium segment.
Leica SL - initial 24-90 lens will soon be joined by 50mm and 90-280mm offerings.
2/5
Leica SL - initial 24-90 lens will soon be joined by 50mm and 90-280mm offerings.
Leica SL - minimalist controls simplify the shooting process and put the focus on creative. As with other Leica cameras, there's a fair bit of "hold down this button and roll this dial" kind of thing going on.
3/5
Leica SL - minimalist controls simplify the shooting process and put the focus on creative. As with other Leica cameras, there's a fair bit of "hold down this button and roll this dial" kind of thing going on.
Leica SL - launching in November with a 24-90mm F/2.8-4 standard zoom lens
4/5
Leica SL - launching in November with a 24-90mm F/2.8-4 standard zoom lens
Leica SL - the company's first full-frame mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses
5/5
Leica SL - the company's first full-frame mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses

Leica has released details of its full-frame mirrorless, interchangeable system – the Leica SL. Using the same excellent 24-megapixel CMOS sensor as the Leica Q we reviewed in June, the SL debuts with a 24-90 mm f/2.8-4 zoom lens. It looks like a beast, but it’s going to sit in an awkward spot – it’ll struggle to compete with full-frame workhorse DSLRs for resolution, lens choices or autofocus speed, and it’s far too big to enjoy the portability advantages of other mirrorless full-frames like Sony’s A7R II. And the price? Put it this way: if you sold both your kidneys at the average Iranian black market rate, you’d still be short.

The specs on the Leica SL are impressive. We know the sensor is great, the EVF is a 4.4 million pixel beauty with a latency time "below the threshold of perception," it shoots 11 frames per second for quick action shots and the company boasts that its contrast-detect autofocus system is the fastest on the market. Presumably they mean the fastest on the mirrorless market.

It launches with the fastest zoom lens in the full frame mirrorless class as well – a 24-90 mm Vario-Elmarit-SL with an aperture of f/2.8 at the wide end and f/4 at full zoom. This will soon be joined by a 50mm f/1.4 and a cannon of a tele zoom in the 90-280 f/2.8-4.

Leica SL - initial 24-90 lens will soon be joined by 50mm and 90-280mm offerings.
Leica SL - initial 24-90 lens will soon be joined by 50mm and 90-280mm offerings.

The control system is typical Leica – minimalist to a fault, with just a few unmarked buttons and dials that can be assigned to different functions. It won’t be a pick-up-and-shoot special, there’s going to be a learning curve.

It looks like video is more than an afterthought here. The SL shoots in 8-bit 4K with a built-in flat color mode to maximize post-processing abilities. There’s 3.5mm audio in and out jacks for external microphones and headphones, and a full size HDMI port that lets you record even higher quality 10-bit 4:2:2 footage using an external recorder. 1080p recording will support up to 120 frames per second for slow-motion.

There’s no two ways about it – for a mirrorless camera, the Leica SL is a whopper. Billed as the professional shooter’s mirrorless system, the SL dwarfs the rest of the segment. In fact, with a battery and the 24-90 lens on, it’s similar in size and some 13 percent heavier than a Canon 5D Mk3 DSLR with a 24-70 f/2.8 II lens (1,987 g vs. 1,745 g). With the giant 90-280 lens on board it’ll hang even heavier on the shoulder.

Leica SL - minimalist controls simplify the shooting process and put the focus on creative. As with other Leica cameras, there's a fair bit of "hold down this button and roll this dial" kind of thing going on.
Leica SL - minimalist controls simplify the shooting process and put the focus on creative. As with other Leica cameras, there's a fair bit of "hold down this button and roll this dial" kind of thing going on.

I have no doubt the Leica SL will deliver excellent image quality, but it’ll sit in an awkward spot in the market. At such a size and weight, you lose the key thing people tend to be looking for when they go mirrorless – portability.

It’s also eye-bleedingly expensive. The body is US$7,450 and the 24-90 lens is $4,050, giving you a $11,500 starter kit … ouch. The Sony A7R II with a 24-70 f/4 Zeiss lens will run you less than $4500 – with nearly twice the sensor resolution and truly uncanny low-light performance.

The news is worse if you’re in Australia, where the Leica kit will cost you AU$17,900, or about the drive-away cost of a new small car. That’s just comical, as far as I’m concerned.

Still, Leica’s minimalist creative approach has won it a lot of fans, and there’s no shortage of people out there who already have cars, as well as money to burn. The SL will doubtless be a quality piece of gear for those that can afford it.

3 comments
Greg Riemer
Great cameras, at least they used to be, but the people that buy them have way more money than brains. Their desire to (and bank account to) pay anything for a Leica has resulted in Leica's to build anything even uncompetitive clunkers and being able to sell them for stupid money. The people at Olympus who invented mirrorless interchangeable lens camera systems have got this boat anchor beat 10 ways to China using technology to capture 50MP pictures for a fraction of the cost.
minivini
I can not imagine how this company manages to not only stay in business, but still have enough budget for r/d. Maybe their binoculars are profitable enough to funnel funds into their imaging department? Yes, they make great optics and iconic camera bodies, but their lenses are no longer better than the best Nikon, Canon, Fuji, et al. They're certainly not worth the double to quadruple price premium. This is a nice looking camera that appears to be as capable as the newest Sony a7 design. It should be priced accordingly. They will eventually begin to lose their fan base and have some tough decisions to make. I'll buy their field glasses all day long, but their camera and lens prices are just silly.
Teszter
Nice article! Great humourous bits! I have seen some images taken with this camera. They look stunning at first; then, when you go 1:1 on your big monitor, they reveal themselves surprisingly grainy and oftentimes out of focus. Quite a shame. Definitely worth holding on to your kidneys!