Leica SL3 Leica SL3

My experiences with the Leica SL3

I would like to share my experiences with the latest top-of-the-line camera model from Leica, the Leica SL3. With this camera, I have successfully taken my first 10000 shots with ease, and I would like to document my journey. As a photographer who specializes in sports, events and portraits, I have put this camera through its paces, and I must say that it produces excellent results, even with complex autofocus tasks. However, there are a few areas where it falls short, and I will address them here. To test its versatility, I even used the Leica SL3 to photograph animals, particularly birds, and I was quite pleased with the results. Unfortunately, I have yet to test it for a major flash job, so I cannot comment on the effects of the new, slightly longer flash synchronization time of 1/200s. It's worth noting that the hot shoe on this camera is quite sensitive to even the slightest vibrations and tends to stop working relatively quickly. Despite these minor issues, I would still highly recommend the Leica SL3 to fellow photographers who value top-notch performance and versatility.

Transparency

clarity

tl; dr

The body

The Leica SL3 is a consistent further development of the Leica SL2. I used this intensively for almost four and a half years. So I can easily compare both cameras. Although the changes to the SL3's body are minimal and barely noticeable to the naked eye, even with both cameras side by side, it just feels even better in my hands. This is mainly due to the slightly more voluminous handle. This gives me the two millimeters that my fingers now end in front of the body and thus in front of the two buttons between the lens and the handle. This is a welcome change for me, but people with smaller hands may find it counterproductive.

Leica SL3 in my hands
Leica SL3 in use

If you are interested in this camera - which I assume if you are reading this post - then I recommend just touching the Leica SL3. But be careful: when I picked up the SL2019 in 2, I bought it straight away, even though I didn't want to buy a new camera at the time. On the one hand, because the camera feels so good and on the other hand, because this camera is simply made for photographers. More on that later…

The Leica SL3 has become roughly eighty grams lighter. This corresponds to a ten percent weight saving. At less than eight hundred grams, it is still not a lightweight. But it feels great and balanced in the hand - especially with slightly heavier lenses. And there are quite a few of them at Leica. 

There are many other innovations that I initially didn't know whether they were actually successful changes. But I have to admit that I have rarely been convinced so quickly. Leica has a good team to make user navigation clear. An on/off switch has become an illuminated multifunction button. Not only can it turn the camera on very quickly and turn it off a little more slowly, it also shows me that there would be a warning message in the viewfinder if I were to look through the EVF with the display deactivated. The button then lights up red. So simple, so well thought out. However, it would be optimal if the button would light up in blue when there is an active WLAN connection, for example. Unlike the previous model, an active WLAN connection can no longer be recognized, but it drains the battery in record time.

Features

With the menu, Leica has achieved a brilliant feat. I can now navigate very quickly using the touchscreen with a swipe of my finger or I can change the different menu pages as before by pressing the menu button. So for long-term users like me, the structure has not been destroyed and new users can get used to faster navigation straight away. If you like taking photos via the display, you don't even have to go to the menu to access common functions; you can also long-tap on the corresponding icon on the display. This will take you to the relevant settings page. The eight quick menu entries on the display can now be configured as you wish. For better readability, the displays change orientation when you hold the camera upright. This also works in the electronic viewfinder.

Speaking of the display: it can now be folded. It can be folded 90° up and 45° down. Taking shots close to the ground is now much easier. It conveniently turns on automatically when I unfold it. That's great. The fold-out display also makes a very stable impression. Unfortunately, it cannot be tilted accordingly for portrait shots and that is a bit annoying.

Cheers from the FC St. Pauli players

The top display has also become better. Before I raise the camera to my eye, I can use this square display to check all the settings and start taking photos straight away. Even an exposure balance is displayed there. However, the status for Bluetooth and WLAN has been removed there. This isn't a bad thing, at least for the Bluetooth connection for transmitting GPS data from the smartphone, because it works surprisingly reliably.

Leica seems to have connection problems with the app Leica photos finally got it under control. The WLAN connection is established securely even when the SL3 is sleeping. I can change the exposure settings and trigger the SL3 from several meters away - even through doors. That was completely unimaginable with the SL2. The previous model lost the connection even with direct visibility at a distance of two meters. But be careful: WLAN requires a relatively large amount of battery capacity and you should therefore make sure that you switch off the WLAN again when you no longer need it.

Leica SL3 controls

Before readers think that I'm just writing jubilee here, I'll come to the dial on the top left side of the camera. This is new and, in my opinion, completely unnecessary. As with the thumb wheel or the top right dial, I can only assign one of the four functions to these wheels: aperture, time, exposure compensation or ISO. Problem one: When I choose Auto ISO, I can't change ISO using the dial. Maybe Leica can expand the programming here.

Problem two: I need a second hand to adjust it. But I usually have these under the lens. Proper use is only possible if I use a fixed focal length - all other lenses are too heavy or can be operated manually.

Problem three and for me this is the most serious: both upper dials adjust too quickly in hectic everyday life. It would have to “snap” more to be a better help. I have now placed the aperture on the left wheel, because I rarely adjust it and when I do, it is before I raise the camera to my eye. At the top right I have configured the exposure compensation and the time on the thumbwheel. I use the latter most often. 

Leica SL3 from behind with stable folding display and now the familiar three buttons on the right.
Stable folding display and now the familiar three buttons on the right.

The three buttons next to the display have only moved to the right side. Since I shoot with my left eye, I can use the buttons even when I look through the viewfinder. As a left-eyed photographer, I can't use the touch screen for this. Otherwise I unintentionally move the focus point with my nose. By the way, one of the few features that I miss from the Sony - they thought about people taking photos with their left hand and switched off half of the touch display. This means I can move the focus point with my finger on the touch, even though I'm currently looking through the viewfinder. The nose doesn't bother you because the touch part is switched off.

With the Leica SL3, moving the focus point using the joystick is much slower. There seems to be an error in this regard in the current firmware. Even though I turned off the touchscreen when using the electronic viewfinder, the focus point moves to the center when I double-touch the touchscreen. 

Overall, I have the impression that the controls of the Leica SL3 have now been closely aligned with its sister model from Panasonic. Their model in the L-Mount series also has the same dials and buttons to the right of the display. There are probably cost-saving synergies.

Shutter speeds and processing speed

Another error must have crept into the shutter in the current firmware 1.10: the mechanical shutter actually has an exposure time of up to 1/8000s and the electronic one then offers 1/16000s in third steps. This represents a deterioration compared to the 1/40000s of the SL2. Although I rarely chose this short exposure time so often, it was a really good feature in extremely bright lighting situations. Back to the suspected error: In the current SL3, in hybrid mode, which combines mechanical and electronic shutter, the mechanical shutter is used up to 1/4000s and the electronic shutter at shorter speeds. It says otherwise in the operating instructions. The mechanical shutter should also be used in hybrid mode up to 1/8000s. By the way, the longest exposure time is 60 seconds. However, I can also use the bulb mode to expose for 30 minutes.

Incidentally, the shutter lag is much better than with the SL2. When you see something in the viewfinder and press the shutter button, it only takes a fraction of a second to get the actual image. That's really great. But I'll just come to a disadvantage of the high-resolution sensor.

Marcel Hartel sensitively on the ball during the game against Paderborn - photographed with the Leica SL3 and the APO-Vario-Elmarit 90-280mm

The use of CFExpress Type B cards is also new. This innovation is absolutely understandable because otherwise the amount of data with a 60 megapixel sensor would simply be too large. Especially if you film in 3K with the Leica SL8. In addition, data transfer on the home PC is significantly faster. I therefore find the introduction of the CF Express very welcome. However, I already have two CF Express cards. Newcomers may be put off by the high cost of the cards.

Unfortunately, I didn't find any information about the conformity of the cards on the Leica website, but I can say that my two Lexar cards (128 and 512GB) work smoothly, but have to be reformatted in the camera every time after data transfer to the computer. Unfortunately, I didn't find any information about the supported writing speed either. I suspect that the Leica SL3 does not yet support the new 4.0 standard as it was only adopted in the second half of 2023. In this context, it is really a shame that Leica is active on social media, but does not provide answers to technical questions.

By the way, the card gets warm quickly at 5 frames per second. This is something you shouldn't forget when photographing in warmer climates. In general, I have the feeling that the camera warms up more quickly during intensive autofocus operations than the pre-production model. But I don't have the weather at the moment to make a more precise statement.

(Edit on April 23.4rd: I just discovered that the left edge of the viewfinder shows when writing processes are taking place on the card. As a glasses wearer, my eyes are probably too far away from the inner display to have noticed this earlier. A small red light lights up when the card is busy. At the bottom right you can see how many pictures you can still take in series until the buffer is full.)

The batteries used are also new, but only in capacity (2200 instead of 1860mAh). So there is compatibility with the old batteries - and from the new batteries to the old cameras. Both are very pleasing and unfortunately not a given these days. However, some features of the SL3 do not work with older batteries with lower capacity. You won't find any information about this on the Leica website either. I found out that the burst mode only supports two images per second. When it comes to film modes, the restrictions are more extensive. Instead of 4k or 8k, recording in FullHD is only possible. The camera will show you if the old batteries are not able to film with this setting.

The viewfinder image and shutter release show very good response times. Photographed at Zurich airport while waiting for boarding to begin.

Under my real conditions, the new batteries last around 500 to 700 shots (according to the CIPA standard 260 shots). I shot a two-day event with 3500 releases and some film sequences with two batteries, always charging one battery while the other was in the camera. That's a far cry from other professional cameras, but not a hindrance - as long as there's a power outlet nearby. By the way, it is also possible to charge the SL3 using a power bank. There is an optional accessory with a battery as a USB-C connection. Certainly interesting for studio photographers. At least you can now take burst photos with all battery levels. Eureka! With the old batteries, when the charge level in the SL40 and SL2s was around 2%, there was an indication that fast continuous photo shooting was not possible. Which is why I have half a dozen old Leica batteries here - €150 each.

A charger for the batteries is missing in the scope of delivery. So you have to add this investment to the purchase price of the Leica SL3, which is not a bargain anyway. The “USB-C Power Set” with a charging cradle for two batteries, an additional battery and the corresponding cable and plug costs €370.

The new autofocus

Let's come to the most important and long-awaited innovation of the SL3: autofocus. On the positive side, it has really become a lot faster. Even with the slow (but grandiose) SL-Summilux 50 allows you to take photos of oncoming walkers at an open aperture of 1.4. With faster optics, like the legendary one APO Vario Elmarit 90-280mm, of course much more is possible. Here is an example with this combination at 4 continuous images per second in AF mode. I deliberately chose this example because the first image is blurry due to my operating error.

That was unthinkable with the SL2(s). If the first picture wasn't sharp, you had no chance of even one picture in the series being sharp. So the autofocus is already fast. For football - and probably other sports as well - using follow-up autofocus would be the best option. However, the hit rate in this mode also depends on the light and the JPG settings - more on that later. The number of images per second also plays a role. More on that in a moment. Even if the tracking focusing field has found a clear contrast edge as an anchor, far too many images will not be in focus. That's why I've gotten the best results so far with the AF mode field. That was/is already the case with the SL2(s).

Sports photography with the SL3?

When you see quick action in front of your lens, you notice that 60 megapixels doesn't make an action camera. This is not due to the autofocus, but rather due to the slow readout speed of the sensor. In no time, you've lost track because the viewfinder takes too long to display a current image again. With continuous shooting at four frames per second, it looks like an old silent film: choppy still images that have nothing to do with what is actually happening in front of the lens. The effect occurs with faster series of 4 frames per second and more. Interestingly, things get slightly better when the refresh rate is set to the lower 60B/s rather than the full 120B/s. 

What is new and unwelcome is that in continuous autofocus mode the image appears blurry while focusing. This only applies to the viewfinder image, but it's still irritating at first. The camera seems overwhelmed when too much is happening in the image. But once the shutter button is pressed, the actual photo is razor-sharp - unless you didn't focus correctly 🙂

What's disappointing is that the AF-C mode only adjusts the focus up to 5 frames per second. And only up to 4 images per second with the full 14 bit color depth. This is disappointing because, for example, the Nikon Z9 - although a year older and €1000 cheaper - continuously focuses up to 9 frames per second. OK, it only has 45 megapixels and I couldn't find any information about the color depth, but the autofocus is still significantly superior to the Leica, even with the SL3.

Nevertheless, it is of course possible to take action-packed sports photos with the SL3 - but it is definitely not its preferred area of ​​use.

Animal AF in beta mode

What's new is animal autofocus, which rightly bears its "beta" in the mode name. Although animals are relatively reliably provided with an appropriate AF box, they are not just as reliably focused on their heads. Even if the animal is not moving, not all images in a series will be in sharp focus in this mode. It is still worth using this focus mode because moving animals or animals behind objects are detected more quickly. Unfortunately, reliability is a bit lacking here too, but Panasonic is releasing an AF version 2.0 for their S5II models at the end of the month and perhaps Leica can also benefit from it.

In my experience, the autofocus is still too slow to photograph birds flying in. Admittedly, this is a particularly challenging discipline for the AF.

The autofocus of the Leica SL3 for portrait photography

In mid-March I photographed an event and experimented a lot with different focus methods. The person recognition sometimes produces very good results. It becomes problematic when there are several people in the frame. The autofocus then quickly jumps back and forth between people. Even if you have focused on one person, it often happens that the AF suddenly selects another person and focuses on them. Because the AF is now so much faster than on the SL2, this functionality is annoying. I would like a way to keep a person focused permanently in focus.

The Leica SL3 also finds the people in the picture through the small, clear fields of writing on a frosted glass pane - photographed at a trade fair with the SL3 and the SL Summilux 50mm at an open aperture of f1.4
The Leica SL3 also finds the people in the picture through the small, clear fields of writing on a frosted glass pane - photographed at a trade fair with the SL3 and the SL Summilux 50mm at an open aperture of f1.4

Unfortunately, when it comes to individual portraits, Leica missed the chance to correct one of the few bad design decisions in recent years. When the SL2 came onto the market in 2019, Leica tried to establish facial recognition. At that time I had just come from Sony with the eye autofocus and had direct comparison options. In fact, I had more keepers during portrait sessions with the Leica than with the Sony, just judging by sharp eyes in the images. Unfortunately, marketing sometimes works differently and Leica absolutely had to have eye autofocus.

What followed was the worst decision that could have been made. Leica made boxes around the eyes. However, their frames were so thick that it was often no longer possible to see through the viewfinder where the person I was photographing was looking. Now I would have hoped that a brand that I value because it aims its menus and camera functions very well at photographers would belittle these terrible thick frames. By the way, I think the solution that Panasonic has established is the best here. Because of that and because I'm excited to see how this brand solves the sensor's slow trigger speed, I'm looking forward to its successor model, the S1R.

Filming with the SL3

No, the SL3 has a separate interface for time codes in videos, but this camera will never be used in serious film projects. The sensor readout time is simply too slow. As soon as you film in motion, things get weird. The phenomenon is called rolling shutter. Nevertheless, you can still film very well with the camera. The editor of my first project with the SL3 was very impressed with the quality of the files.

However, I'm too inexperienced with film to go into depth here. The complete decoupling of the settings between photo and film is still very good. This is visually even better represented because the photo menus are highlighted in red font or with a red bar, while video settings are yellow. So you always know where you are. You can switch between the two modes with one click. This is very pleasant.

Further change

The Leica Looks are new. Here too, marketing probably thought that something had to be done to counter the hype surrounding Fuji's film simulations. Unfortunately, I don't like the three that have been published so far at all. Aside from the fact that I noticed a negative impact on autofocus performance, there are other inconsistencies in the menu navigation. To understand this, let's first look at the AF mode menu.

At first glance, the person detection and animal (beta) modes cannot be recognized. But you see the two little dots on the left? These show you that there is a second page for this menu. Needless to say, I didn't see these the first time I used the Leica SL3. Not even on the fifth call - it was in artificial light in the Leica Store.

At first glance, this selection screen also looks like the one just shown. Because of the two dots on the left edge of the picture, another selection page is to be expected. However, there are currently none. Plus, you won't see which look you chose - or if you even chose one. Even worse: you can’t “deselect” him at this point. To deselect one of the looks, you have to switch to another menu. In the “Film Look” menu you have to select one of the looks that have been tried and tested for years to get rid of the Leica look. You can't choose both at the same time.

Does everything sound logical? Wait until you see the check mark next to the corresponding film look, even though you have selected a Leica look. I have never experienced such a mess at Leica. I can only hope that the next firmware fixes these small but annoying bugs.

There is also no option to control a flash system via cable. I know from other Leica users that the presence of a built-in memory was desired, although I personally find it too cumbersome to use. I don't know whether there will be a pixel shift option in one of the next firmwares. She is currently missing. I think the most important thing would be for Leica to communicate openly. Much-needed information for people who want to use their cameras professionally is left out in the cold.

Enough complaining, let's get to the strengths.

The absolute strengths of the Leica SL3

The camera housing was beyond any doubt in the previous models. I have rarely used camera bodies so intensively and seen so few signs of wear on the bodies after years. Leica can do that and speaks for a professional camera. Even in the pouring rain, the camera and its lenses simply deliver.

The colors and dynamics of the SL3 are at the usual sensational Leica level. It is the same sensor as the Leica M11, but improved again. I have no idea how Leica manages to do this again and again. I don't know whether this is due to the newer Maestro chip. 

Colors on the Hamburg Cathedral at night

The HighISO quality is definitely better than the M11. I can still remember the times when my Nikon D3 with 12 megapixels was the queen of the night. The Leica SL3 is significantly better in this category with 60 megapixels. This is fascinating to me and shows what technological progress can mean.

Leica SL3 with ISO10000
Leica SL3 at f/2 and 1/13s exposure time – so it was really dark – at ISO10000!

The image stabilization has not improved compared to the previous model and is still at a good level.

Photo of the cathedral ride with Leica SL3 with Apo-Summicron 35mm at 1/5 second exposure time
Leica SL3 with Apo-Summicron 35mm at 1/5 second exposure time

Before I conclude, here are a few snapshots from an hour in Nice.

My personal conclusion about the Leica SL3

The Leica SL3 is a successful update. Portrait, landscape and architectural photographers will have a lot of fun with this Leica. Especially with the excellent SL optics, the transitions from sharp to blurred are as natural as with hardly any other brand. At the same time, the micro-contrasts bring out wonderful details. Sports photographers or people in general who like to take quick photos definitely need to know what they want.

I definitely enjoy using the Leica SL3. This is due to the clear operating concept, which really appeals to me as a photographer. The colors and the exposure latitude are also features that I enjoy every day.

  1. Thank you very much for your report! Although I don't have quite as many pictures as you of my SL3's watch, I can underline everything you describe. I also have the impression that the “software” is simply not ready yet. I can only hope that an update will come soon. I would particularly be happy if you could lock the dials individually. Accidentally changing things really annoys me. Especially when I'm filming and don't notice it right away. So I've spent hours trying to save a few scenes in the post. It would be damn cool, at least for me, if you could switch through the profiles with the left dial. This would make it possible to quickly switch video resolutions. Please Leica, do something!

  2. I can fully support the report. I was allowed to test the camera in advance in the beta version and already noted some of the points described here. But it was probably already too late before the launch and it was no longer possible to implement everything.
    I consciously decided against the camera, although there are also many positive points. But the SLS-S is still the more practical camera for me.
    And yes, Leica missed some opportunities with the SL3. A pity.
    Nevertheless, the overall package of camera and optics is something very special and you can't get it anywhere else.

  3. Thanks for your experiences, when I read it I'm happy to have my Z9 with the superb AF.
    Best workhorse - but my SL2-S is more fun 🫶🏻
    Feel free to continue writing experience reports about cams and lenses, very interesting and educational - THANK YOU for that 🙏🏼
    Forza FCSP

    1. Thanks for your encouraging comment. I used to often write about cameras etc. Nowadays I have less and less desire to do that because you can take good pictures with any camera - apart from very special requirements. Ultimately, everyone has their own ideas and wishes for their own camera.

  4. Thank you for your contribution! Although I haven't taken as many shots as you with my SL3, I can confirm everything you describe. I also have the impression that the software is not yet fully developed. I really hope an update will be available soon. I would particularly appreciate it if the dials could be locked individually. It's really annoying when they get accidentally moved, especially while filming if you don't notice it right away. I've spent hours trying to save a few scenes in post-production because the settings had changed unintentionally. For me personally, it would be very practical if you could switch through the profiles with the left dial to quickly switch between different video resolutions. Please, Leica, rethink this!

    1. Thanks for your detailed comment. Michael wrote something similar regarding the profiles. I put the profiles on one of the buttons, but yes - using the dial would be a lot quicker.

  5. I still haven't been able to get used to the SL3 yet. I know a lot of what you write. And that, for me, continues to make the SL3 a tool that I don't particularly love or enjoy using. In addition, to date, Wetzlar has not only commented on the massive problems I have with three cameras - despite a few "inquiries". In general, I have almost completely lost the joy and desire to take photographs. Personally, I haven't done anything with the SL3 except for a walk over the cathedral. I continue to have difficulties at work, so sometimes I just use the more reliable SL3. It's stupid, I know.

    1. I bought the Lumix S5IIx and am thrilled. This is the camera I would have expected from Leica. I'm now looking forward to the SL3 counterpart from Panasonic - either because they can do it better or because Leica will then be able to get the SL3's problems under control with firmware. The SL3 did a great job handing over the bowls on Monday.

  6. I think that Leica was under a lot of pressure with the release of the SL3, which is why I don't see small software errors or different desired functions as being so tragic if they can be corrected later.
    Better than if it had come onto the market months later. However, most of the points criticized don't bother me as much. I don't use it as a video camera, but it's good that it could do that in an emergency. I only take photos and it's wonderful for that. For quick photos, what it can do is enough for me.
    The most important thing for me is the image quality and also the APS-C mode with 26MP, no other full-format camera can keep up in terms of quantity.
    That's why I would be most happy about the missing MultiShot function in an update.

    Have fun taking photos.. 😉
    Lars ST.

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