Updated: Aug 19, 2021
The Leica SL2. Nothing else is quite like it. It’s a solid block of aluminium and it feels nothing short of premium, as expected of Leica. A whole new sensor, a wide range of lenses, a one-of-a-kind experience. You asked for this review. We finally delivered.
To talk about the SL2, we need to also talk about its sister camera, the Lumix S1R, because these cameras share a lot of the same technology. There are some very definitive differences though, so let’s talk about the SL2 first.
Leica is renowned in the photography world, and for good reason. They have so much history, and the craftsmanship, the build quality and engineering that they’re known for all come together in the SL2 in a way that makes it the best built full-frame camera system on the market.
Other cameras do feel good in the hand and they have decent build quality but once you pick up the SL2, you’re spoiled. It’s amazing to hold and to use. There have been design changes from the original SL; the SL was a very strong statement of a camera with angular edges, while the SL2 is a bit more refined, taking some DNA from the R series cameras, with rounded edges that make it look a bit friendlier and softer.
From the aluminium plate on the top and bottom to the leather around the outside and the new grip with the rubber insert for your fingers, Leica has thought of everything when it comes to ergonomics and usability with this camera, while keeping it simplistic at the same time.
It’s easy to put a lot of buttons on a camera, but it’s harder to take a lot of buttons away and still make it easy to use. Leica has hit a home run with the SL2.
Compared to the S1R, which is like a swiss army knife, having all the buttons you’re used to in a lot of DSLR cameras, it has that robust build quality to it but it’s a different camera system altogether.
The S1R is a high megapixel full-frame camera system, the same megapixels as the SL2, but it’s meant for photographers. Leica doesn’t have a video camera in its arsenal like how Panasonic has the S1H, so they packed a lot more video features into the SL2.
We’re talking 5K video recording, 10-bit 4.2.2 colour and more, all inside the SL2. Plus, you get that great 47.3MP full-frame sensor in it as well, so you’ve got the best of both worlds in the SL2.
But how’s it like to use? Well, the first thing you’re going to notice when you use the SL2 is the image quality. Of course, the lens used plays a part, but it’s also because of the sensor. It’s designed differently from the S1R and has a layer of glass inside and the result in a sharper image out of the SL2 compared to the S1R.
There’s also the Maestro 3 processor in this which gives the traditional Leica colour. Yes, you can go to Lightroom and Capture One and adjust your images, but what comes out of the camera naturally is beautiful. Skin tones look great, the tonality is fantastic, reds really pop on the SL2 and you get a nice, warmer tone overall that’s different from the S1R’s cooler tone.
Photos out of the SL2 are just easier to edit, and there’s micro-contrast to the image which gives it almost a pseudo medium format look.
There are two UHS-II card slots and while that’s great, it would have been nice to have an XQD or CFexpress card slot because of the buffering. When we asked Leica why they didn’t put that in, the answer was that they wanted synergy between their cameras, so users could use the same cards throughout, whether it be on their SL2, Leica M or others.
A feature many people have been waiting for in a Leica camera is IBIS, in-body image stabilisation. This is where Leica and Panasonic have shared technology because that amazing IBIS that you have in Panasonic cameras is in the Leica SL2, and it’s industry-leading.
When it comes to video, IBIS is a very welcome addition. As good as the video was on the original SL, having IBIS in the SL2 for video is fantastic.
Battery life is a hot topic of conversation with the SL2. With the battery grip attached, you get two batteries, and for good reason. The SL2’s battery is pretty decent depending on how you photograph. It might last a full day, it might not. You might even need two or three batteries if you’re going to do a lot of sports photography or high-frame-rate modes and you’re going to keep the camera on the whole time.
It’s gonna chug through battery pretty quickly if you’re going to do any type of 4K video, but our recommendation is to get into the habit of turning the camera off between shots or locations to save a bit of battery.
Leica is a bit conservative on battery life when it comes to video, because after a certain percentage point, it won’t allow you to shoot in 4K. That’s where the external battery grip comes into play, and it might be a worthwhile investment if video is a big part of your workflow.
Ports-wise, there’s a welcome addition to the SL2, and that’s the mic input jack. On the Sl, you needed an adapter that would plug into the camera. There’s also a full-size HDMI port as well as USB 3.0 port for charging the camera hidden behind a rubber door, which is pretty snug since the camera is pretty much weather resistant.
The display on the back is a 2.1-million dot fixed display. No articulating display because Leica really wanted this camera to be robust and durable, and the repairs would be quite costly if an articulating screen were to break, so they decided to keep it flat.
The EVF is a 5.76-million dot EVF, which is fantastic to use. There are other EVFs with the same specs out there, but Leica has actually improved the optics in terms of glass inside it, so the images are actually sharper, the colours are vibrant and the image just comes alive in the EVF.
The auto-focusing on the SL2 has been another point of contention because it’s a contrast-based system instead of a phase-detect system which is pretty common in other camera manufacturers. As a result, you won’t get that eye-tracking and overall tracking ability that you would get on a phase-detect system, but it’s still very usable in terms of photography.
If you do sports photography or other high-speed action photography, you might find the auto-focusing system a bit lacking, but if you’re just shooting portraiture, street photography and the likes, it’ll work completely fine. There are various settings you can use to tweak the system, but it’s not the strength of the SL2.
That being said, we do believe the system will be improved with future firmware updates. We tested out the camera with a bunch of lenses, so here’s a quick rundown.
The first lens we tested was the 50mm f/2 APO Summicron, and it’s one of the stars of the Summicron lineup. It’s a lightweight lens that performs so well, it’s sharp and has great fall off. These lenses are designed to go up to 100 megapixels, so while they’re expensive, you have to factor in the longevity and how long these lenses will last you.
The next lens is the 90mm f/2 APO Summicron, and it’s a strong performer. It’s a fantastic portrait lens and because it’s a small lens, it’s relatively lightweight and fits well in a camera bag. Comparing sharpness though, this is maybe a hair less sharp compared to the 50mm and the 35mm.
Moving on, we have the 16-35mm f/3.5 – 4.5 Super-Vario-Elmar-SL lens. It’s a fantastic zoom lens, and even though it’s a variable aperture lens, it’s a great wide-angle lens.
Next is the Lumix S Pro 24-70mm f/2.8. S Pro essentially means that it’s certified by Panasonic to meet Leica’s standards, and in testing, we did notice that they are very close to Leica in terms of image quality.
Build quality obviously will be slightly different, but the overall image quality is fantastic. Fall off is great with beautiful bokeh and images are bitingly sharp.
We have a lens that’s not out on the market yet, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4. It performs beautifully and is exceedingly sharp. It’s smaller, lighter and performs even better than the original 85mm f/1.4, which was considered like a Zeiss Otus level.
The final lens we tested was the Lumix S Pro 70-200mm f/2.8. It’s a beast of a 70-200mm lens, with fantastic image quality, even though it’s one of the heavier ones we’ve tried. There’s a dual system autofocus system in this, so there’s both stepping and linear motors inside, resulting in a very fast focusing lens.
That’s it for the SL2, it really is a fantastic camera. It’s not without its faults, no camera is perfect. The autofocus system could be improved a bit, the buffering could be improved a bit, but overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives.