Hands on with Leica SL

I attended the Leica SL launch event in Luxe Museum, Singapore and get to try on the all new full frame mirrorless camera from Leica, dubbed the SL. At one glance, it looks like a combination of Leica T, Q and S series. The aluminium block machining, the top plate LCD display, the touch screen and EVF and so on.

I managed to test the camera with the native L mount 24-90mm zoom lens and M mount lens for brief moment. First up, the auto focus is fast. I can’t be completely sure whether it is faster than the Sony A7 series or not, but I must say Leica has done a pretty good job in the auto focus of this camera. I hardly get a miss in the launch event which was under poor lighting condition, and the auto focus locks on even when I’m aiming the points on low contrast and dark subjects such as black shirt, dark banner and so on. I’m only testing on the centre focus point for this, and I believe there will be a more “scientific” test coming soon by the reviewers.

Next up, the electronic viewfinder. It’s really good. Though under the low light condition it seems a bit washed out, at least it doesn’t exhibit noise which made it hard to judge your exposure and focusing. I haven’t fully tested on the refresh rate and lag so I can’t comment much on that, but resolution and usability alone is pretty impressive.

Akin to Leica’s philosophy of simplicity in camera body design, the SL may not appeal to those who loves knobs and dials and buttons. There are customizable buttons and dials on the SL, but they are ever so limited. The joystick for shifting focus point should made DSLR users feel at home, though I would have preferred it to be positioned a little more to the right. The top plate LCD gives you all the shooting information you need in a clear and uncluttered manner.

Is the SL a perfect camera? Not really. The on/off switch is positioned on the left, which means one will need two hand to operate the camera. I would prefer the traditional on/off switch which surrounds the shutter button. Well, it’s not really that one can operate the camera with one hand, because the camera is… heavy. If you are comparing to DSLR, the weight is pretty similar, but if you compare to mirrorless such as the Sony A7 series, it’s pretty heavy. The straight grip on the body doesn’t help much either on the ergonomic front. The grip is deep enough but lacking of contour to accommodate a firmer grip.

So will I buy the SL? I don’t think so. At this moment my aim is still to downsize my photography gears in terms of size and weight while striking a balance on image quality. The weight of SL will pretty much kill me off. But hey, the SL is not meant to target user like me to begin with. The SL is more appealing to those existing Leica camera users who are planning to expand their gears with a high performance camera such as a DSLR. Before this there’s no other choice for them to choose in order to stay within the Leica’s ecosystem. But now, they can choose to purchase the SL and continue to use their existing Leica lenses, getting the option to auto focus when required, getting a zoom lens when required and so on.

All in all, I wouldn’t say the Leica SL is groundbreaking for the camera industry. It does excel in certain areas, but to call it leading the industry chase is a bit too much. However, the SL does allow Leica to be in a better position to keep their users within the brand by addressing their needs, and probably catching a few new one along the way. What I do feel excited about is what to come in the new M camera. Looking at the advancement of R&D in recent Leica camera, I’m really looking forward for Leica to surprise me with the next M release.

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