Ashwin Rao (a great friend of mine and a super guy) just wrote a really comprehensive article on Steve Huff Photo about the Leica SL. He really likes this camera.
I have a different opinion and I'll share it here for further discussion.
A Contrarian’s View of the Leica SL
I thoroughly enjoyed Ashwin’s review of the Leica SL and I have the highest respect for him (and he’s a great friend too.) I have a different take on the SL and I thought it might be helpful to share some thoughts here on SteveHuffPhoto for people in the prospective market for the SL.
Let me set the stage by saying that I am a true fan of Leica. I have owned two M8’s, two M8.2’s, two M9’s, two M240’s and two Monochrom’s along with up to 22 Leica lenses at one silly point. I am now down to a more reasonable set of lenses and still have the Mono and the M. I also have a Sony A7R2, Nikon D4 and Leica D-Lux 109.
I had a chance to use the SL for a while and decided not to buy one. Initially I was confused by the positioning of this camera. Here was a full frame 24mp sensor much like the M240’s in a body significantly larger. I think Leica’s top goal was to produce an autofocus camera that could lead the company forward for the next decade. Since many Leica shooters are getting older and their eyesight isn’t what it used to be, I have seen several “for sale” ads for manual focus Leicas giving this reason for the sale. The first lens Leica introduced for the SL is the 24-90mm f/2.8-f/4. This lens is HUGE. It is similar in size to my 70-200 lenses for the Nikon. I enjoy using my Leicas to take photos of people in lots of situations and the compact, unthreatening nature of the camera/lens allows people to relax, giving me more natural shots. This is impossible using the 24-90 lens. People see this just like they see a large DSLR.
At this point there is only one AF lens available for the SL, so we don’t know what the future holds, but if the 24-90 is setting the stage I do not hold out hope for small AF lenses from Leica.
The SL body itself is extremely solid and well made, but no more so than the Nikon D4, a benchmark in rugged usability. The lower edge of the Leica SL is quite sharp, and my broad palms bring that edge to rest just inside my palm – very uncomfortable. The battery grip adds the extra depth I need, but makes the already large body even larger. Just look at the type of camera bag you need for the SL compared to the M and that tells an interesting story. Where I would sling the M on my hip and go out shooting, now I need a huge bag. This is one reason I don’t use my Nikon D4 for this purpose.
So how about using M lenses? Fortunately my eyes still work so I can easily focus the M240. Does the SL make better photos with M lenses than the M? I am not sure anybody could tell when looking at prints up to 20×30. On a screen it would be impossible to tell. The SL with M lenses becomes much larger for the shooter, more intimidating camera to the subject than the M.
How about autofocus? There’s no doubt the SL wit the 24-90 is quite good at autofocus, but nowhere near as good as the Nikon D4 with its library of dozens of fast lenses. I shot fast moving sports professionally for three years and there’s no way the Leica could keep up with the D4 or the Canon 1D Mark X. Having exactly one lens to choose from also removes it from consideration as a serious sports camera, although that’s not what Leica was going for with the SL.
How about using other lenses, like Leica R glass? I don’t own any R glass, but if I did I could do that today with my Sony A7R2 and focus them quite easily.
What if I am after the ultimate image quality in a full frame 35mm digital camera? It’s too early to tell, but I suspect that using lenses that are native to the system it would be hard to pick a winner between the SL and the Sony A7R2. Certainly with M lenses the SL will do a better job at the corners, but as I said earlier unless you’re looking at large prints you won’t see the difference with native glass.
In summary, I am not sure for whom the Leica SL is designed. There are better cameras for sports, smaller cameras for M lenses and candid portraiture, and several other cameras for mounting R glass. There are certainly other cameras that make superb images. All of them are cheaper than the SL and SL lens.
Please don’t think of me as Scrooge, it’s just one photographer’s opinion. Merry Christmas all.