Chillout TGIFridays return with a hands-on review of the new Leica SL2-S, which we briefly discussed in our launch report. Here is our thoughts after a week as our daily camera.
My first encounter with the Leica SL2-S was brief, but rather interesting as this is a new full frame camera from Leica, building on the success and the excellent ergonomics of the SL2. Here is the list of the earlier SL editions, and I do recommend a quick read before starting on this article.
Review: Leica SL2-S
Retail price is set at S$7,200 inclusive of GST. Compared to the SL2 which is priced at S$9,400. Both prices for body only.
Much remained the same, and much has changed to get to the SL2-S. First, the full frame 36mm x 24mm sensor remains, though its been updated from the SL’s 24 Mp to SL2’s 47 Mp to the SL2-S’s BSI 24 Mp sensor. The SL2-S will be offered in the current Leica catalog alongside the SL2. The intent for both bodies are different. The SL2 is intended for high resolution work, while the SL2-S is optimized for speed.
The SL2-S body
The SL2-S Launch Impressions piece has detailed the differences from the SL, and I will not repeat it here. But to add to what I have written with usage notes.
The most interesting feature is of course the BSI sensor. This also marks the departure from the Leica SL line from the almost parallel Panasonic Lumix S1R, S1 and S5 (video centric) lineup. This BSI sensor is an out-of-the box look at imaging technology, and literally turns the sensor upside down. The net benefit is better signal to noise ratio, resulting in better performance in low light and high ISO. We first encountered the BSI sensor in the superlative Phase One XF IQ4 150, and also in the Fujifilm GFX 100 and the Fujifilm GFX 100S (full review coming soon).
And to add icing to the cake, the SL2-S’s sensor is equipped with an In Body Image Stabilization system (IBIS) which provides up to 5.5 stops of vibration resistance. This is equal to the SL2, while the original SL does not have IBIS. These two factors combined is potentially a game changer for those who shoot hand held in low available light.
Accompanying the benefits of low light performance of the new BSI sensor is the ability to shoot at ultra fast burst rates of up to 25 frames per seconds, and demonstrated in our First Impressions launch report.
The Auto Focus remains to be contrast detect, and in my handling of the SL2-S over the week, it is noticeably better than the original SL2S, which I suspect will be upgraded by firmware to the same level in the next firmware update. Leica does this firmware updates fairly regularly. While good, and enough for shooting watches, in the dark studio it hunts a bit, but this is ameliorated by turning on the modeling lights on the studio strobes. I sometimes loathe to use the modeling lights as they tend to get hot. The autofocus is also nothing to compare to the leaders in the market, like the Sony A7 mkIV, Sony A1, or the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6.
On the body, as mentioned in the Impressions article, there only subtle changes made. The Leica logo is presented in black out on the viewfinder hump, the material of the grip is different, and there is a small indentation made on the inside of the grip. What is amazing is that though the original SL and SL2 grips are near perfect, the addition of this notch makes it even better. The camera can hang off one’s fingers without fear of it falling off, perfectly balanced.
The two systems share the L-Mount, a mounting system designed by Leica, and is offered as part of the L Alliance where the lenses can be manufactured and use interchangeably between Leica, Panasonic and Sigma. In this review, for watch work, which is more than 80% of what I do on a daily basis, I have the Leica APO-Macro-Elmarit-TL 60 mm f/2.8 ASPH as the native macro lens. As stated in earlier reviews, this is a 1:1 macro lens, but in use on the SL system will cause the system to crop the final image to APS-C size. On the SL2, this reduces the resolution from 47Mp to 20.2Mp, which is a very usable size. In the original SL as well as the SL2-S, the crop yields only 10Mp, which is good for most work except for larger prints.
For my work on Deployant website, this resolution is sufficient. Through the kindness of two friends, I also have access to the Sigma 70mm F2.8 DG MACRO A as well as the Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro A, both offering life size images at the full frame sensor, and both in native L Mount. I will do a comparative discussion between the Leica 60TL and both Sigma Art 70 and Sigma Art 105 lenses in a separate review.
I also had on loan the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH and the Apo-Summicron-M 90mm f/2 ASPH, both superb lenses which were also used in our Leica SL2 review.
As usual, as the camera served as our main camera in its tour of duty, it went to several of our watch shoots. A few were of watches which are still under embargo, watch out for those in the coming weeks, but we also photographed some which we have already published the full reviews.
In reviewing the photographs I took with the SL2-S, I have nothing but good things to say about the image quality. Even when operated in crop APS-C mode with the TL60mm, the image quality shines. I leave you to judge for yourself.
Originally review photographs were made with the Panasonic Lumix GH2 with Leica Macro Elmarit 45mm lens, but I rephotographed this new edition with the salmon dial with the Leica SL2-S and TL60. The story behind this new salmon piece is due to be published soon.
I originally photographed this watch in 2018, but managed to photograph the same watch again with the Leica SL2-S and TL60mm.
As a walkabout lens, the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH proved to be an invaluable tool. Here, is a photograph taken while exploring a neighbourhood which is slated for demolition – the Tanglin Halt area, which holds some nostalgia to many Singaporeans.
The lens is a good performer for architecture, and works well in colour as shown above or in black and white.
I also had the Leica Apo-Summicron-M 90mm f/2 ASPH, which is a superb lens of that focal length for portraiture work, as shown in this example of my friend and professional photographer TS Sim.
Here is an orchid I took in my garden, hand held, available light, resulting in an ISO (automatically selected by the SL2-S) at 5000 for a shutter speed of 1/250s at f/4.
The competitive landscape for a full frame digital mirrorless camera is vast. Every major manufacturer except for Fujifilm have an entry. We exclude the pure medium format play manufacturers like Hasselblad and Phase One in this list. From Nikon Z6, Nikon Z7, Canon EOS R5, Canon EOS R6, Panasonic S1R, Panasonic S1, Sony A7mkIV, and Sony A1 are all jostling for breathing space in this market. On top of that, the SL2 faces competition from its siblings – the SL2 as well as the M10R and the Q2. Other than the Nikon Z6 and the Panasonic S1 which feature 24Mp full frame sensors, the others have a higher resolution sensor.
All are very capable cameras. All able to produce stunning images in the hands of a competent photographer. And the final choice will come down to which one is more familiar, which ergonomics is more comfortable. And if one needs to change system to adopt one. The cost of switching systems is not inexpensive, and is a true deterrent to many.
The Leica Sl2-S is a superbly built camera. The ergonomics are superior to almost all others in the market. The menu system is intuitive and easy to operate. The camera in combination with either native Leica lenses or with the superb Sigma Art L Mount lenses can make absolutely stunning images. And recently, Leica cameras are now supported by probably the best raw editor in the market – Capture One.
It seems that Leica can do no wrong. Performance wise it is up there with the best. Image quality is top drawer. I am fully satisfied with the images I obtained with the camera and lenses.
With the SL2-S, Leica adds a less expensive, though still rather very high priced option to the SL2, in exchange for a lower resolution sensor than the SL2. And this is the only nit I have to pick with the SL2-S. Not its performance, nor its superb image quality, nor its handsome good looks, but its premium pricing. Though it can be argued that after all this is a Leica product, and premium pricing is a given. But it must be said that the SGD 7200 asking price places it the highest end of the 24Mp, full frame market. Add to that, the equally premium priced native lenses, and one is set out for an expensive proposition. Of course when used in combination with the superb Sigma Art lenses, the total expense is somewhat reduced. And for those where this is important, that red Leica logo (akin to Rolex or Patek Philippe in the watch world) counts for a significant amount of goodwill, and may balance the equation. This is a historied and legendary camera company worthy of its place at the very top of the industry.
I don’t think you can complain about the Leica’s price when compared with the prices Watch brands are charging.
They border on the ridiculous.