Leica SL2 – quick first impression

Leica SL2 with APO-Summicron-SL 35mm
Leica SL2 with APO-Summicron-SL 35mm

Monday I received an unexpected call from Master Camera: my order had arrived. Surprising, because I am probably the first one with a Leica SL2 who ordered after the start of sales. Last month the camera was introduced, and I didn’t have time at first. And because I had no desire for a new camera, I didn’t look at the Leica SL2 until days after its official launch. However, I had to realize that I was immediately caught by it. Nevertheless, I spent the following weekend with intensive research before I ordered it. And now I hold it in my hands.

Switch on for the first time

Recently I explained in detail why I said goodbye to the Leica M in digital form. So for some – and also for me – owning a Leica SL2 comes as a surprise. I am fascinated by the radical reduction to the essential without missing anything. And of course the quality of the lenses. That’s why I didn’t even sell my most frequently used M optics.

When I held the Leica SL2 in my hands, I immediately felt at home again. Added to this is the loving technical masterpiece, which makes you think that no computer specialist has designed the camera, but a photographer. The haptic and use of a Leica merely is unmatched.

It becomes clear, e.g. when changing the battery. The battery is not accessible behind the usual plastic flap. The change of the battery is initiated with a small lever on the ground plate and is nevertheless secured against uncontrolled falling out. That way of changing makes the battery replacement fast and controllable, even in hectic situations.

The Leica SL2 is not a sports camera, and I don’t want it to be one – that’s why I have Sony. Although the Leica SL2 can capture 20 frames per second, the continuous autofocus only works at up to 6 frames per second. For me, the Leica SL2 is a consistent further development of the Leica M. The body is also only about 200g heavier. Of course larger than an M, but with a sensational viewfinder, no more problems with the adjustment of the rangefinder and an excellent image stabilizer. By the way, the Leica SL2 is barely bigger than a Nikon Z or Sony A when compared to a comparable mounted optical system. I admit, however, that the joystick is set a bit far inwards so that I can imagine that smaller hands than mine could have a problem in use. You should try it out…

Yesterday I finally had an hour to make my first steps with the Leica SL2. The Hamburg Dom is excellent for testing the autofocus under less than optimal conditions. But first I was convinced by the image stabilizer. I claim that the IBIS of the Leica SL2 is one of the top performers on the camera market. Without any problems, I could hold one second exposure time with my 35mm optics. I didn’t stabilize myself anywhere. I just stood there.

One second exposure time handholding with a 35mm lens

The autofocus of the Leica SL2 is limited to contrast-detection autofocus. On paper that sounds worse than the combination of phase and contrast-detection autofocus often used by other manufacturers. Yesterday’s test on the Dom didn’t fail at all. The autofocus was always accurate. Here is an example of a scene with many reflections.

The autofocus focuses on the face behind a glass pane without any problems – despite the many reflections.
Here the 100% crop of the picture above. Thanks to the 47MP sensor there are some reserves for cropping.

The use of so-called “person detection” is somewhat confusing. Other camera manufacturers call this AF function “Eye AF” or eye autofocus. Rectangles are wildly wandering over the viewfinder. Looks strange, but works perfectly. The person standing in the green box is focused. And of course, I can use the joystick to place the desired person in the green rectangle if there are several detected persons.

The autofocus focuses on the face behind a glass pane without any problems – despite the many reflections.

But after all the praise I noticed three negative things. The battery capacity is not the best. Yesterday I used the viewfinder at 120Hz because I wanted to see the optimal performance of the EVF on the Dom that evening. And it’s terrific. You can adjust the display that there is no additional information like exposure time and aperture, disturbing your view of the scene. It’s a bit unusual at first but incredibly focusing on the subject.

The second negative is the number of characters for the Exif data to enter my email address. It’s too low for my address. That’s a pity. (Fun-Fact: the other day someone wrote to me nicely because he now has my old Leica M10 and he noticed that my name is still in the Exif data of his pictures.)

And then there’s the Leica Photos App. The connection works perfectly and simple. But essential functions are not implemented yet. So I can’t write GPS data into my Exif data or transfer images from the camera to the iPhone. Edit from 12/6/20: Now I know better. The GPS signal is only in WLAN mode transmitted. I don’t think that’s practical. That means I have to have a WLAN connection between my iPhone and my camera all the time. It’s battery wasting, and as soon as I get a mail etc., the link has to be re-established. I read in the forum that Leica wants to change the way how the GPS data is getting to the camera to the usual Bluetooth connection. I was now able to see my pictures of the camera in the Photos app. I only had to use brand new SD cards and format them twice in the camera. The transfer of the DNG files then went smoothly, even if the file size took some time to transfer. The button for Lightroom is then under each image and opening it in the Adobe App works flawlessly.

Seconds ago on my camera, now in Lightroom. No problem thanks to the Leica Photos App. However, the Pro Account is required for 55€ per year.

Nevertheless, the trial period for the paid part of the app is limited to 7 days. (Yes, of course, you can argue about the price of 54,99€.) It would have been a nice gesture if buyers of the Leica SL2 could use the app, for example, in the first year for free.

Last but not least, a hint for the people who like to shoot with the back-button-focus method. Operate the Leica SL2 in manual focus, but put the autofocus function like AF-S on the joystick.

Of course, one hour at the Dom is not enough to put the camera through its paces. That comes with time. I deliberately chose this heading. Conclusion: The start has already been successful. More to come…

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