Leica SL2-S Review: “The Dark Knight”
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
We have with us the all-new Leica SL2-S, so let’s start off with the camera design. Simply put, it’s the same as the SL2, the only difference you’re going to notice is that bold Leica lettering on the front is all black. It’s actually a black lacquer paint inside, which is a subtle touch, but it’s that subtle touch to give the whole camera this dark look, except for that red Leica dot.
A lot of shooters out there might end up taping up Leica cameras so you don’t show the red dot if they’re in unsafe areas. I just love the whole stealthy look of it overall because when you take the camera out and shoot with it, this matte black doesn’t scream anything when you’re shooting it on the streets. No one really notices unless you use a massive 50mm Summilux lens, but if you use anything smaller like the 50mm Summicron, 35mm Summicron or even the Sigma lenses, this is almost undetectable. Nonetheless, that’s the only difference from the SL2 and the SL2-S, but it’s about what is inside of this camera that is the big difference.
The sensor no longer is that 47MP sensor, we now have a 24.6MP BSI CMOS backside-illuminated sensor. We’re not going to go into all the technicalities of this sensor, but in layman’s terms, it’s much better in low-light situations as you don’t have to crank up your ISO as high and your image quality is much better. The sensor is the star of this camera, and of course your ISO performance is better with this as well, from 50 up to 100,000. No one’s going to shoot at 100,000 but even at 50,000 ISO, you might find some of your images are usable. Probably not for prints or professional publications but there won’t be any issues uploading them to social media and the likes.
Leica is also touting this as a 2-in-1 camera. Now the SL2 was essentially the same thing, 5.9k video recording in it, you have 10 bit 4:2:2, you could record internally, externally, all that fun stuff. You get pretty much the same here, except you’re not getting 5.9k. You’re getting up to 4K60, but you got to record externally for that. But 4K30, you can shoot L-Log if you want, you have LUTs (lookup table) in there, classic or natural that can give a preview of the LUTs. You can also download them from Leica’s website and then put them into your editing software, so if you want to shoot L-Log you can do that.
There’s a lot of great things with this camera also, like unlimited recording: there’s no longer a 30 minute or 29 minute recording time limit on it as long as the battery lasts or unless your SD card runs out of storage space. That is a very welcomed addition, so Leica is sort of getting more into that videography space with this camera. A lot of people are saying but isn’t this like a Lumix S5, just a lot more expensive?
We’re going to say no, it’s more like an S1 but more expensive, because you have the same EVF as you have on the SL2, the 5.76 million dot EVF, you have the same display in the back of this camera, there’s no handicapping in this camera besides the sensor, which is not a handicap, for that matter. It’s just lower megapixels and different in terms of specs and video recording, so to us, it’s more like an S1 versus an S1R versus calling it an S5 rebadged as a Leica SL2-S.
People are asking if the camera is smaller. No, it is exactly the same size. You are paying a premium for this camera though, Leica is giving you premium build quality through and through. One of the things about this camera that we noticed, a couple of the differences, of course, is the colour tones coming out of the sensor, the Maestro 3 processor. With the SL2, some people liked it and some didn’t like it. It had somewhat of an HDR look to your image, very contrasty, sometimes difficult to edit. With the SL2-S, the color is a little bit nicer, it’s a bit smoother, more cinematic and it’s much easier to edit now.
People say it’s because it’s a 24.6MP sensor versus 47MP. We disagree, we think Leica has tuned the colour science a little bit more in this camera than the SL2. Maybe they’ll update it at this in a future update for the SL2, we don’t know, but we really like the colours coming out of this and the colours for video are also really fantastic as well. If you want to shoot just straight out of camera, if you want to shoot L-Log, you’re going to notice that the video quality is really good out of this SL2-S.
Battery life, you get up to 510 shots for photography out there so there’s a little bit of an improvement on that. Let’s talk about one of the elephants in the room, autofocus.When the SL2 came out to market, the autofocusing was okay. It wasn’t fantastic and we sort of saw the same auto-focusing from the S1, the S1R and the S1H when they first launched, as we saw in the SL2. Subsequently, Panasonic did update those cameras at the end of November. Leica has not updated the SL2 as of yet, they’re saying in the first half of 2021. The SL2-S performs much better than the SL2, in terms of autofocusing. As a matter of fact, we’re shooting on an S1H right now, and the autofocusing is very comparable to the S1H, S1R and the S1 in terms of that update, so it’s something that I think users out there who wanted better autofocusing are really going to like. The tracking is improved, the face recognition is improved, the speed at which it autofocuses is faster, you can use multi-field now and it’s good, the tracking sticks on like glue.
With any camera out there, they’re going to have their strengths and weaknesses, but if you understand the SL2 and SL2-S’s strengths, you really can get some fantastic images out of it. You can capture sports, you can capture fast action, but you’re not going to get that same performance as you would get out of a 1DX or a Nikon D6 or an a9 II from Sony.
The low-light performance out of this camera is really impressive, and I think that that’s what makes this SL2-S a very attractive camera for a lot of people out there, especially those who do shoot in a variety of low-light conditions and lighting conditions in general, the SL2-S will serve you much better than the SL2. The SL2 is really for those that need high resolving images if it’s going to be for magazine covers or if you’re going to print in very large format sizes, that’s where the SL2 is going to come into play.
Overall I think the SL2-S is a really attractive camera for the Leica family, but there is the price point that needs to be taken consideration. Obviously, this is coming at a premium, especially when you’re coming in on a 24.6MP sensor. There are a lot of other cameras out there that are going to be significantly less than this S variant here, with pretty much almost all the same specs. But if you’re a fan of Leica, price is secondary. Its passion and its build quality and its history and its lineage, that comes first.
Content by Bobby Tonelli