pcmag.comWe review products independently, but we may earn affiliate commissions from buying links on this page. Terms of use. The Leica SL2 ($5,995, body only) is the company's first new L-mount camera since it announced a partnership with Sigma and Panasonic to leverage the existing lens mount a little over a year ago. And while aesthetics don't stray too far from the original SL, just about everything else is new. Leica has added stabilization to the sensor, upped the video tools significantly, and improved the weather protection. I've been using a pre-production SL2 for a few weeks and have some first impressions to share. Classic Looks The SL2's basic silhouette isn't that much different than the SL. Lines are rather stark, highlighted by the angular hump on the top, which houses the electronic viewfinder. The Leica logo is printed on it in block letters, matching the look of the R3, a 35mm SLR introduced in the 1970s. The original SL was very stark—it looked like a camera straight out of the Bauhaus school of design. The SL2 is certainly a camera that adheres to the form-follows-function design philosophy, but it has a bit more character. There's a raised area around the lens mount, for example, another small touch that makes it look a little more like the R3. Despite drawing inspiration from a classic camera, the SL2 is all modern inside and out. The chassis is magnesium, covered with a leatherette, with an aluminum top plate finished in matte black. We'll wait and see if Leica puts out special editions of this camera—I'd love to see an olive Safari version, personally. And Leica's design team, based in its Munich offices, went the extra distance when protecting the camera from dust and moisture. It has an IP54 rating, protecting it from dust and splashing water. Some extra engineering effort was required to get there—for example, the top control dial operates an internal switch magnetically, eliminating the need for an additional opening in the top plate. Physical improvements aren't limited to weather protection and aesthetics. The grip is a step up from the SL. It's got a bit more of an angle to the top, so the shutter release falls more naturally under your index finger, and there's an indentation on its interior, so your other fingers can more firmly grasp the camera. Finally, the material around the grip has a bit of elastic give, which improves comfort. (For more on what went into the SL2's development, read our interview with Leica execs Stefan Daniel and Peter Karbe.) I'd still pair the SL2 with a cross-body strap. It's not a light camera, clocking in at 2.1 pounds before you add a lens, which is a little bit much for a wrist strap. It measures 4.1 by 5.8 by 3.1 inches (HWD), a little larger all around than others in its class like the Sony a7R IV (3.8 by 5.1 by 3.1 inches), but not out of line for the class.L-Mount Lenses Leica sells the SL2 as a body only. The camera is natively compatible with L-mount lenses, a system devised by Leica and introduced in 2014 with the T. For a long time the system was rather obscure, supported only by Leica. But that changed last year, with Panasonic and Sigma pledging support to develop cameras and lenses in L-mount. Panasonic has already released three camera bodies and a spate of lenses, and Sigma has its fp camera shipping soon and is sure to further round out the L-mount lens library. If you're interested in the SL2, you won't be restricted to using Leica's native lenses. It certainly opens up some intriguing possibilities, like pairing the SL2 with the the svelte Sigma 45mm Contemporary lens, or using a top-end portrait lens like the APO-Summicron-SL 75mm with the Panasonic S1R. The SL2 and S1R offer identical sensor resolution—the basics of the imaging chip are the same. But the SL2's sensor features two, rather than three, layers of glass. It omits a light filtration layer and uses microlenses to better capture light coming it at askew angles. It's an advantage if you plan on using the camera with M-mount rangefinder lenses (via an adapter), as the sensor design will improve image quality at the corners and edges of your image. However, if you're using modern, autofocus L-mount glass, don't expect to see vastly different results versus the S1R. Controls and Interface The SL2's controls are pretty basic, but cover all of the bases. There are five programmable function buttons—two on the front, two up top, and one on the rear—along with dual control dials, a small joystick for focus point selection, and Play, Menu, and Fn buttons. Buttons are easy to program—a long press brings up a menu to reassign function—and default options are well thought out. The front buttons, positioned between the lens mount and grip, activate frame magnification as a manual focus aid and adjust autofocus settings. The top buttons switch between still and video capture and adjust the ISO sensitivity, while the rear button is used to switch between the EVF and rear LCD. You have the option of setting different functions for each button in still and video mode if desired. There's no Mode dial—you can change the camera mode via the touch-screen interface, or by pushing in the rear dial. This ties in with the camera's general design philosophy, which uses the touch-screen interface as an extension of the physical controls. Pressing Menu brings up an on-screen panel. It gives you quick access to all aspects of exposure, along with drive, focus, metering, white balance, and other expected options. You can navigate via touch or using the joystick control. It takes the place of the more standard d-pad, and can be pressed in to confirm choices. The menu system itself is text-based and straightforward. There are six pages of menus and submenus, so it's a little dense. But there is an option to curate a favorites page with frequently used settings. Viewfinder and LCD The SL2's EVF is of very high quality. It's an OLED panel, with 5.76 million dots of resolution and a high magnification rating. In most focus modes the feed is very sharp, and with the aid of focus magnification, it's possible to nail focus with exotic wide-aperture lenses like those in Leica's Noctilux family. But there is a loss of quality when utilizing some aspects of the camera's autofocus system—more on that later. I did run into some issues with the EVF eye sensor. It's intended to automatically switch from the rear LCD to the viewfinder when you bring the camera to your eye, but there were several instances where the feed cut out and switched to the LCD, even with my eye to the finder. Even though it seems contrarian, I noticed fewer instances of this happening by switching the eye sensor sensitivity to Low, rather than the default High setting, which makes me think the setting is actually related to how quickly the sensor adjusts to changing conditions. I'm convinced the issue is caused by my eyeglasses. There is a diopter built into the viewfinder—it turns comfortably with detent stops at each setting. But an astigmatism in my shooting eye means I need to use corrective lenses, even after adjusting the diopter. The 3.2-inch LCD is a fixed design, bucking the trend of mirrorless models with articulating rear screens, and is bright enough for outdoor viewing. It is very sharp as well, packing 2.1 million dots of resolution into its frame. Leica doesn't typically put tilting LCDs in its cameras, so it's not that surprising that it's missing from the SL2. It's a feature I look for, simply because it makes it easier to frame up a shot from a low angle, without having to get down low to the ground. If it's a must-have, you can use all of the same lenses with the Panasonic S1R, which is based on a similar image sensor and includes a fully articulating LCD. Connectivity and Power The SL2 is powered by the same battery as its predecessor. It loads directly into the bottom, so you can swap out cells quickly, without the need to open or close a door. There's a simple latch that ejects it, and a safety mechanism to prevent it from falling out of the compartment. In-camera charging is supported via USB-C, and Leica includes an external charger to replenish the power outside the camera as well. On-the-go charging is certainly appealing, as the battery life isn't spectacular. I'd recommend carrying at least one spare for extended outings. A vertical shooting grip, which holds an additional battery, is available if you prefer a beefier camera and longer battery life. In addition to USB, the SL2 sports HDMI for uncompressed video output and 3.5mm connectors for an external mic and a set of headphones for audio monitoring. There's no PC socket for flash sync, a concern only if you've not moved to wireless control for your monolights. Leica includes dual memory card slots, a must for wedding shooters and others who can't explain a missed shot due to a card failure to a client. Both support UHS-II transfer speeds, and I'd certainly reach for a fast card given the sensor resolution and video capabilities. Pay for Wi-Fi? There is also Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, so you can connect the SL2 to an Android device, iPhone, or iPad and share images using the Leica Fotos app. The version that supports the SL2 wasn't available for testing when I had the camera on hand, so I wasn't able to put it through these paces. Leica is taking a two-tiered approach for Fotos 2.0, which is the version you'll use with the SL2. There's a free version available, and it does cover the basics—wireless transfer for JPG images and videos, as well as remote control. There's also a Pro version of the app, priced at $49.99 annually. It adds some more advanced features, including Raw transfer support, Lightroom Mobile integration, and a better experience when using it on an iPad Pro. The Pro is exclusive to iPadOS. Finally, for studio use, tethered capture is available via USB. Leica Image Shuttle works with Adobe products, but if you use Capture One, you'll have to set up a watched folder to import photos as they're captured. Autofocus Performance The SL2 offers very responsive autofocus—and speedy performance in general—but there are caveats. The camera powers up quickly, going from off to grabbing an in-focus image in about 1.5 seconds, very much in line with other full-frame cameras. Initial focus acquisition is speedy—shorter than 0.05-second in our tests—and also quite accurate. The camera has some impressive burst shooting capabilities too. It can fire off shots at 20fps with the fully electronic shutter, and manages a little bit better than 10fps with the mechanical shutter. But the SL2 locks focus in for a sequence, so if you're trying to capture a moving subject, you'll get a speedy burst of misfocused images. You'll need to drop to the medium burst rate for the SL2 to acquire focus for every shot. Doing so slows the capture rate to a more down-to-earth 5.8fps. It does well locking onto a target as it moves away and toward the lens. Leica includes three basic autofocus modes—Intelligent AF, AFs, and AFc. AFs and AFc are familiar terms—with AFs the focus system locks after acquisition, while AFc continues to search for focus as long as you half-press the shutter. Intelligent AF does a little bit more behind the scenes to determine when to drive the focus, but I wasn't able to identify any discernible difference between using it and AFc in practice. More influential of how the camera focuses is the the focus area. There are six options: Multi-Field, Spot, Field, Zone, Tracking, and Face/Body Detection. Multi-Field covers almost the entirety of the sensor, and lets the SL2 decide what to focus on—it works pretty well in practice. Spot is good for finding small targets—it's a crosshair focus point that moves across the frame using the focus joystick. Field and Zone work similarly, with increasingly larger areas of interest. Subject tracking is hit or miss, depending on the level of light. The system is pretty easy to use—the camera shows a rectangular focus box, white before you focus and green when it locks onto a subject. In ample light, it works well, tracking the identified subject as it moves or you move the camera, for as long as you keep autofocus active. But in dim light—any situation dark enough for the focus assist beam to turn on in our tests—it just doesn't work. The box lights up green and the camera focuses properly, but it doesn't follow your subject. It's an odd behavior, because Face/Body Detection works perfectly fine in the same conditions. We are working with a pre-production camera with beta firmware, so there's a chance that it's simply a quirk that will be ironed out before the camera ships. We hope to take a look at a final production model to confirm, and will update our findings when we do. See How We Test Digital Cameras Face/Body Detection works well, in bright and dim conditions. It does a solid job identifying people and faces. Eye detection is supported too, although the SL2 doesn't actually show which eye is targeted by the autofocus system. Competing cameras, like the Sony a7R IV and Panasonic S1R, go the extra step and identify the exact focus point in the viewfinder. At press time, I'd classify the SL2's autofocus system as a decidedly mixed bag. Accuracy is spot-on—we expect that from a contrast-based focus system—but it's not as effective as tracking subjects as other cameras, nor can it keep up with models with on-sensor phase detection when photographing fast-moving action. If your needs aren't as demanding, the SL2 will do a fine job for situations where you won't turn on burst shooting. But, at least with the beta firmware we've been using to date, the camera isn't competitive with the high-resolution models with on-sensor phase detection for subject tracking. Both the Sony a7R IV and Nikon Z 7 are better choices there. I'll also note that the SL2's metering system operates a bit differently than that of other brands. It offers Multi-Field, Center-Weighted, and Spot options, par for the course with most cameras. In scenes with mixed lighting, Multi-Field exposes scenes to prevent clipping of highlights. This tends to deliver an underexposed image. You'll want to work with EV compensation more often than with other camera systems that tend to meter a bit more intelligently. Stabilized Sensor The SL2 sports a 47MP full-frame sensor with the same fundamental design as one found in the Panasonic S1R. The Leica version omits a layer of optical glass, so you'll get better clarity when pairing it with Leica's wide-angle M rangefinder lenses, especially at the edges and corners of the frame. It certainly adds appeal to the SL2 for longtime Leica M owners. The EVF offers more precise focus than a rangefinder—a plus for using it with exotic f/0.95 and f/1.2 lenses. Some photographers will go as far as to buy other cameras and have sensors modified to get better images out of a vintage Summicron—Kolari Vision is the leader in swapping out on-sensor filters to improve edge clarity. The sensor is stabilized, using a similar five-axis system as the S1R, the Sony a7R IV, and the Nikon Z 7. It's a new feature for Leica, though. The stabilization works well, smoothing out handheld video and making longer handheld exposures possible. I found it to be effective for shutter speeds as long as 1/5-second when paired with the 40mm Summicron-C. While it won't be available at launch, Leica promises to leverage the stabilization system for a high-resolution multi-shot mode. Due out in 2020, it will work in a similar fashion to systems on other cameras, capturing multiple shots of the same scene in rapid succession, and shifting the sensor in between each. The SL2 will output 187MP images in this mode. View All 29 Photos in Gallery The sensor has a wide ISO range, starting at 50 and ranging all the way up to 50000. The JPG output shows plenty of detail at the lowest sensitivity, with no visible loss of quality through ISO 800. We see evidence of smudged edges at ISO 1600 and 3200, but it's very slight. There is definite loss of sharpness around the edges of lines at ISO 6400, and it increases at ISO 12500 and 25000. The output at ISO 50000 is blurred. The camera also supports Raw capture, in the Adobe DNG format. I took a look at Raw output in Lightroom, which opens the files but doesn't yet offer a profile tuned for the SL2. We see a little bit more detail when compared with JPGs starting at ISO 1600 and ranging up through ISO 25000, but Raw output at ISO 50000 is just as rough as the JPGs. The larger advantage to working with the DNG format is greater flexibility for editing photos—they contain a lot more information from which to work. Strong Video Chops The SL2 isn't just for still shooters. It's a heck of a video camera too, with support for 4K video at 16:9 or 17:9 at up to 60fps, as well as 5K at the classic 4:3 ratio at up to 30fps. If you drop to 1080p, you can push the frame rate all the way to 180fps for slow motion. You will need to switch to MOV format to access the best quality video—the camera ships with MP4 recording turned on, which is at lower quality with fewer options available. In the MOV file format, you can record 4:2:2 10-bit footage directly to a memory card at 400Mbps at 4K settings up through 30fps; it drops to 4:2:0 8-bit at 150Mbps for 50 or 60fps capture. There are more basic options at lower bitrates available in MP4 format. There are a few different color profiles built in. You can mirror the still settings (Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, and Monochrome High Contrast), or record in HDR with an HLG profile, or go for low-contrast flat footage with the L-Log setting. The Premium L-Mount Option Make no mistake, the Leica SL2 is a luxury item. It's built from more premium materials than cameras that churn off assembly lines, and you can feel the care that's been put into its construction as soon as you pick it up and peer through the viewfinder. For some, that experience makes the price tag worth it. And the SL2 backs up its cost. It offers excellent dust and splash protection, an intuitive interface, and smartly customizable controls. Its sensor delivers excellent results, for both stills and video, and adds stabilization to any lens—appealing to M system owners after a more modern supplement to a rangefinder. It delivers speedy, accurate autofocus with native L-mount lenses as well, a system bolstered by Panasonic and Sigma. I've only had access to a pre-production camera, running beta firmware, and there are some definite rough edges. I observed some odd operating quirks, including an eye sensor that doesn't always work as it should, and tracking autofocus that seems to turn off in dim light. Likewise, I've not yet been able to test the Wi-Fi features at all, as the app isn't out yet. There are some things that firmware isn't likely to address, like battery life that isn't as good as competing models, or a contrast-based focus system that doesn't track subjects with the aplomb of competing phase-detection technology. We'll take a look at a production-model SL2 when it's available and update our coverage. Leica expects to start shipping on November 21, so check back around then for our findings and an official rating. Leica SL2 Bottom Line: Leica's take on a modern mirrorless camera, the SL2, features a high-resolution full-frame sensor, speedy autofocus, and a stunning design—but you pay for it. Top Comparisons

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