My Experience of Using the Leica SL (Typ 601)

This is my take on the Leica SL, the new world it created within the Leica ecosystem, how I used it and why I left it behind.

The Leica SL (Typ 601) is a 24 megapixel full-frame mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera introduced by Leica in October 2015. It is a L-mount camera that natively supports both SL and TL lenses from Leica as well as any L-mount lenses from other vendors of the L-Mount Alliance (Leica, Sigma, Panasonic). Also, it supports literally all Leica lenses ever made through use of adapters for M-Mount, R-Mount, S-Mount and even Leica CINE lenses. More importantly, it is Leica’s first full-frame mirrorless system with autofocus and promoted as a weather sealed camera system for professional applications.

A New World

At the time and to some degree even today, the SL felt like a new world within the Leica ecosystem that addressed many needs of professional photographers and somewhat represented a natural evolution of the R-System (Leica’s discontinued analog SLR series), at least on a conceptual level. As Leica never entered the DSLR market (apart from the digital module for the Leica R8 and R9 called DMR, making the R system the only hybrid analog digital SLR system that ever existed), the SL felt like a step into that direction, but with a modern and long term perspective in mind.

Image for post
Image for post
Leica SL (Typ 601) with Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 1:2.8–4/24–90 ASPH.

Leica SL (Typ 601) in 2020

Even though I believe that 24 megapixel are more than enough even for professional applications (apart from medium format photography for fashion etc.), it was an interesting revelation that the new lens system would take a similar approach as the M system, where literally every lens ever made is still good to go on the latest M-system cameras. As higher resolutions, such as 47 megapixels on the Leica SL2 or M10 Monochrome, come at the cost of more noise in higher ISO images, I believe that 24 megapixel will remain an established standard for quite some time.

Leica SL EyeRes ViewFinder

As I have always been sceptic about electronic viewfinders, I was and still am most impressed with the EVF on the Leica SL. It offers 0.8x magnification with an incredible amount of 4.4 million dots. Even though now surpassed by Panasonic S1 or Leica SL2, I felt that this was the best electronic viewfinder I have ever used and despite the SLs age, it is still among the best even today in my opinion. In fact, for me it was the only electronic viewfinder that didn’t feel like a considerable setback compared to optical viewfinders. Resolution, angle of view and the refresh rate of the viewfinder should exceed the human eye’s ability and for sure it was enough for me to feel like a natural way of looking at the scene through the lens.

Leica L-Mount

Since lens options were a bit limited at the beginning, the most prominent lens certainly was the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 1:2.8–4/24–90 ASPH, the systems equivalent to a standard zoom lens that was introduced with the camera back in 2015. In fact, it was the only lens available at the time the camera was released. Despite the somewhat unappealing specs of being a f2.8–4 lens, it certainly is the best zoom lens with autofocus I have ever used.

Image for post
Image for post
Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 1:2.8–4/24–90 ASPH

Adapters

Yet, the SL lenses are heavy and bulky, which might not be an issue for many but for me was a struggle to get used to. As I like to have the camera with me at all times, carrying around a huge kit comes at certain disadvantages and I will get back to this point later. Luckily, with some adapters it was quite easy to use more compact lenses on the SL.With those the SL did not feel like a large camera anymore. Despite lacking the unparalleled looks of the M10, the SL can be used as a compact system if needed.

Image for post
Image for post
Leica M-Adapter L

Customisable Controls

In combination with the amazing EVF and the SL’s joystick button on the back, the M-lenses were super easy to focus and the few settings I might need to adjust things on the fly could be set to any of the completely customisable buttons on the rear of the camera. Sadly, for the SL2, Leica chose to use the same button layout as on the M10 and Q2. Although I think it is a smart choice to homogenise the back panels of Leica cameras across all high end systems, I really enjoyed the customisable approach of the Leica SL and think it was a smart move in comparison to almost all other professional camera systems with hard to use back panels and super complex menu systems.

Image for post
Image for post
Leica SL (Typ 601) rear controls

A Tool for Work

I used the Leica SL for anything from reportage and street shooting up to event photography and portraits. The camera never failed me. It can be used in heavy rain, at low temperatures and even in salt water on the beach, catching the waves. The battery life could be better, but I never needed more than 2 full batteries in one day. Battery swaps are easy to do one handedly with the nice built in mechanism that ensures batteries don’t fall out of the battery compartment once the battery release is trigged.

Yet…

For me personally, the use of autofocus lenses became rarer and rarer over time. Even though everything about the SL lenses is amazing, I only used the SL-lenses whenever I had very specific need for their advantages over manual focus lenses. The main issue for me was the size and weight of the overall system as a day to day camera. The SL body weighs 847 g (1.87 lb) and the 24–90 zoom lens adds another 1140 g (2.51 lb). Other SL lenses are more or less the same, with the fixed focal length lenses being slightly lighter. All in all, this might not be super much compared to DSLR systems, but for carrying the camera around the neck all day, 2kg is just too much for my taste.

Image for post
Image for post
Leica SL (Typ 601)

Next Step

So, as a result I will part ways with the Leica SL and even though it was an amazing experience, I am heading towards where I have already been and always knew I would end up, the Leica M System. Considering all the effort it took to reach this conclusion, I could have probably skipped the journey of exploring systems X, Q, CL and SL and should have gone to the destination right away as rangefinder photography is what resonates best with me.

Written by

Engineer. Essentialist. Explorer.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store