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Equipment

Leica SL: A Hate/Love Story

Published December 28, 2015

I’ve been a mirrorless camera fan for a while now, starting back when the Olympus OM-D E-M5 first came on the scene and continuing now through the Sony a7RII and the new Leica SL. There are lots of things I love about them, and lots of things I wish were better, but every new body keeps improving on the last. The a7RII has been my favorite camera of any kind since it came out, so when Leica dropped their full frame mirrorless, I was certainly intrigued. I’ve always loved their M mount rangefinders, and the lenses always live up to the hype. I even find myself using M mount glass on the Sony more than native E-mount lenses because I like Leica glass so much. But could this new camera pry me away from the Sony? I had to find out.

 

Sony a7RII vs. Leica SL

 

I took both the Sony and the Leica home together twice, with the same complement of lenses both times. I had the Leica 24-90 and Sony 24-70, and M-mount adapters for both cameras (Leica here and Sony here) so I could use the 21mm f/1.4 Summilux, 50mm f/.95 Noctilux, 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron, and 90mm f/2 APO-Summicron for side by side comparisons. But every time I picked up the Leica, I just hated it. It’s bigger and bulkier, and the menus and buttons were hard to navigate at a glance. There just wasn’t any reason for me to do much with the SL since the a7RII was everything I already needed, and at 42MP with great low light and AF performance. And let’s not forget to mention the Sony is less than half the price of the Leica!

But I had to give the Leica a fair shake, so I took it home a third and fourth time by itself. And now? Now I love that camera! It’s my new favorite camera.

So what changed? I had to get away from the a7RII to finally see what was so great about the Leica. And wow, there is so much to love! The EVF is by far the best I’ve ever used. In low light, I was able to focus the 90 Cron without much trouble, and even with the Noctilux wide open I was able to nail correct focus most of the time. It took me a minute to figure out where the focus magnifier function was, but once I found that, quick and accurate focus was easy. The EVF was far more of a pleasure to use than the one in the a7RII. It was brighter when I needed it to be, with lower noise and higher resolution. I’ve found that in really low light, noise can interfere with the peaking filter on the Sony. But I didn’t have that issue with the Leica.

 

Leica SL, 50mm APO-Summicron, f/3.5 1/800 ISO 6400

Leica SL, 50mm APO-Summicron, f/2 1/15 ISO 6400

Leica SL, 90mm APO-Summicron, f/2 1/60 ISO 6400

 

As a side note, you’ll notice some color casts to my images. I don’t like overcorrecting white balance to what’s “right”. I prefer to preserve the actual color of the scene as I saw it. If the light were pink or yellow, that’s what you’re going to see. Some of you will hate that, but then you should try this stuff out for yourself and see what it can do for you.

For autofocus, the Leica SL lives up to the hype. I had been pretty happy with the a7RII AF, even in low light and tracking. I’d deemed it good enough for wedding work, and had been using it exclusively for my last couple of weddings this year. But the Leica, it’s even better. I took it with the 24-90mm out to a local skate park to really push it (roller derby would’ve been a better test, but it’s the offseason around these parts — so perhaps for a future test), and it didn’t disappoint.

 

Leica 24-90mm f/2.8-4 Vario-Elmarit-SL @ 24mm, f/4 1/1000 ISO 200

Leica 24-90mm f/2.8-4 Vario-Elmarit-SL @ 24mm, f/4 1/1000 ISO 200

 

I was able to get these images of a skater jumping a crate almost without really thinking about it. AF tracked him coming in, then stayed locked for the 3-5 image burst through the jump. And moving my focus points around was much easier on the SL. Sony makes me have to go into the Fn menu and make a couple of selections first. Leica lets me do it like most other DSLR manufacturers, where I can just use the joystick on the rear of the camera as is.

I shoot quite a bit at night and in really low light, so I’m always pushing high ISO performance on every camera I use. I’m already impressed with the a7RII at ISO 6400 and 12800, especially considering it’s 42MP. But with the Leica, it’s cleaner. This is pretty subjective, but even if I resize the Sony files to the same size as the Leica files, I prefer the look from Leica. And that’s with the same lens and same exposure settings. Banding can be an issue on both cameras, so that’s something to watch for in dark scenes. On the Leica SL, it’s mostly vertical banding across a landscape oriented frame, but so far it’s been pretty inoffensive. On the Sony A7rII,  it can sometimes be more like a checker board or gingham pattern, and it’s troublesome. Here is a couple files at ISO 3200, 6400, and 12500 for your reference:

 

Leica SL, 21mm Summilux, f/1.4 1/15 ISO 3200

Leica SL, 21mm Summilux, f/1.4 1/60 ISO 6400

 

Leica SL, 21mm Summilux, f/2.8 1/2 ISO 6400

Leica SL 50mm Noctilux, f/2 1/15 ISO 12500

 

Leica SL, 21mm Summilux, f/2 1/40 ISO 12500

 

I must also mention how much I like the built-in wifi and smartphone app on the Leica. It’s easier to set up than the Sony thanks to the ability to scan a QR code on the camera through the app. It’s also a more polished interface, so it’s easier to use as well. Just one more little perk.

For the kinds of work I do, this is now my goto camera. I’m mostly shooting street work, portraiture, landscapes, documentary, and some action/wedding things here and there. Would I buy the SL? Probably not. Leica is expensive, and they’re not going to apologize for that. But if you can afford it, you won’t be disappointed. I would buy the Sony and probably that Mikaton Speed Master (I’m saving that for a future blog post), but as long as I can rent, I’ll be taking the Leica and Noctilux and whatever other Leica glass I can get my hands on.

 

Author: Joey Miller

I’m Joey. I love cameras, especially old film cameras, and I can’t remember the last day I didn’t take a photo. Digital cameras are great, and they keep me employed, but I also still like processing my own film. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. I shoot every single day, no matter what.

Posted in Equipment
  • Ajit Menon

    Have you checked to see how well it does with angle lenses? From what I have read, I have heard that wide angles exhibit the same “smearing” across the edges as the Sony does and the sensor does not correct for it as the M system does. I’d be curious about that!

  • Azurael

    iPhone user? Sony’s Wi-Fi works fantastically with NFC, tapping an Android phone against the camera initiates a wireless connection for shooting or transfers a single image across from playback mode in a matter of seconds.

    It’s not really fair to blame this on Sony, it’s Apple who prevent 3rd party apps using NFC. It even seems to have led to Panasonic abandoning it on their newer models, which is a shame. QR codes are a pain in the backside by comparison.

  • Maxim Podtopelny

    So using SL you don’t feel lack of A7RII’s sensor stabilization right?

  • Joey Miller

    I was really put off by the size at first, but after using it for a bit, it was surprisingly comfortable. It feels about the same size as a D750 or 6D. I think the flat, monolithic looking front makes it seem bigger than it is. That 24-90, however, is HUGE. Seems bigger than any of the 24-70s out there, except maybe the new Nikon VR version.

  • Thinkinginpictures

    NEVER!!!!

  • Y.A.

    Size wise it’s obviously a behemoth compared to the A7 bodies, but how does it compare to DSLRs? Camerasize.com’s scaling for it looks to be off but it doesn’t seem to be the behemoth I thought it was.

  • Fred4d

    I think the original A7 design was not aimed at any sort of rapid refocus use, so the interface reflects this. Sony has perfectly good joy stick controls on the A77(II) and A99 so they do know how to do it right. Perhaps the A9 will get the joy stick.

  • almeich

    You can also use the front and the rear wheel to move the flex focus point, very convenient, if have followed the advice above: (program the center (or some other (my edit)) button to activate the movement of the focus point).

  • Yeah it would be nice if they let you save the settings to a memory card like Nikon and Canon do so you can quickly get the camera to your preferred set-up.

  • Joey Miller

    It’s superior to the Sony batteries. I dare call it “normal”. I went through a weekend of moderate shooting without the need to recharge. With the Sony, I always have a couple of spares on me.

  • Joey Miller

    I knew there was a way! Thanks for that. The Leica will do it right out of the box. I wind up having to change tons of settings on every a7RII I take home because we always reset them to defaults after rental.

  • Good article, as for the Sony, you definitely do not have to go to the fn menu or any menu to move the focus points around. You can easily program the center button to activate the movement of the focus points and then the four directional keys on the wheel will move the focus point anywhere you want. Still not as easy as a direct joystick but much easier than you described. Simply configure the center button (or any other button of your choosing) for “Focus Settings” and then with the AF set to Flexible Spot you can move the points around at will without ever having to go to a menu by just hitting the center button first.

  • Eric Calabros

    and battery life?

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