My new (5-year-old) Leica SL
When I first saw the Leica SL, I was amazed by its brutalist audacity. Coming from the M series, this was not what I pictured when thinking “Leica”.
And yet the SL appealed to me immediately. It was powerful, flexible, beautiful, and very, very expensive. In fact, it was so expensive that I eventually stopped thinking about it. Then, when the SL2 came out last year it all came rushing back.
So, after five years, I bought one.
This came only a month after I purchased my dream digital camera, the Leica M10-P . Why would I do that? Well, as much as I adore the M10-P; its size, classic design, build quality, and optical rangefinder, I’m finding that I struggle with focusing. Rangefinder focusing has, for years, been my favorite way to manually focus a camera. Snapping those two offset squares together was fast and accurate, regardless of lighting. My eyes must be getting old because I now have trouble doing it.
When talking about the SL, people tend to talk about three things: Size, price, build quality, and the viewfinder.
One of the first things people mention is the price. OK, sure, when new, it was crazy expensive. Fine, but I paid only about 1/3rd of the original price, so let’s move on.
Leica doesn’t build cameras to a price point. They build them to a standard. A very high standard. This, then, is part of why they’re so expensive. And the minute you pick up the SL you can feel it. It is a brick. Solid, heavy, dense, and confidence-inspiring. Machined from solid blocks of aluminum, the camera feels amazingly well-built. Every control feels precise and just right. I value these things highly in a camera.
The SL is weather sealed, which is important to me, even though I rarely find myself needing it. I can’t explain it, but knowing I can use the camera in freezing or rainy weather is comforting, even if I hardly ever do it.
How about that electronic viewfinder? The internet was right, it’s awesome. For a long time, I was dead set against using an EVF. Then, they got better. And better. The EVF on the SL is so good that I barely notice it’s an EVF, except that it shows exact content and exposure of the image I’m about to make. It’s great. I thought the viewfinder on the Leica Q was good, but this is even better.
An EVF like the one on the SL makes manual focusing easy. This is awesome because I have a few nice Leica M-mount lenses that work perfectly on the SL using an adapter. Using M lenses on the SL seems to be as popular as using native lenses. After a day of testing, I can see why. The big, bright viewfinder and focus peaking is a combination practically purpose-built for it.
Let’s talk about the size. The SL is a big, heavy camera.
Here it is next to the M10-P
No doubt about it, it’s big, but put an M-mount lens on it and things get much more manageable.
For me, there are two modes when it comes to taking photos; I’m either out specifically to take pictures or I’m not. If I’m out to take pictures, the size of the camera does not matter. I might feel differently if I was into street photography or planned to hike miles uphill for landscapes, but I normally do “editorial” type photography or portraits. Camera size isn’t a meaningful factor for me. If I’m not out specifically to take photos, I put the little Ricoh GRIII in my pocket.
Aside from my focusing problems with the M10-P, I bought the SL because I wanted something more flexible. And I still wanted a Leica, for all the reasons above.
Sometimes, I want more than what the M cameras can do. You know, fancy things like focus automatically and use zoom lenses. For this, I bought one autofocus zoom lens, the Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 Art lens and it seems fine as an all-purpose lens, especially considering the cost compared to the other options.
For specific things like portraits, I may consider one of the 85mm or 105mm L-mount options by Panasonic or Sigma. The Leica SL lenses are still way too expensive to consider, as lovely as they may be.
I’ve only had the SL for a couple of days, so it’s too soon to tell how well it will work in real life, but so far it’s everything I expected.
Prepare for an onslaught of dog photos, self-portraits, and snapshot of random objects around the house.