Leica’s SL has been in the news recently because of the unprecedented near 30% discount (disguised as a trade in) on the current model. An SL2 will arrive later this year but, in the meantime, there are bargains to be had on the old model. Or, perhaps I should use the past tense because, not surprisingly, most those used SL bodies at £2,400-£2,600 have already been snapped up.
For just a couple of hundred more than a new Panasonic Lumix S1, a used Leica makes some sense, despite lacking features such as in-body stabilisation. In the long term, it will depreciate less than a new Panasonic.
Even I was tempted by those low prices. I’ve owned the SL twice and, as documented here on Macfilos, both times I decided eventually that it was too heavy (for me, I stress, and not necessarily for you).
This is still one of my favourite lenses of all time. It’s the zoom I was happy to use (subject to the weight question) without my mind wandering constantly to my beloved primes.
Recently I have been taking an academic interest in the new Lumix models. The L-Mount Alliance and the prospect of even more lenses for the SL/S1 cameras is an incentive to get back into the game, if only for test purposes.
The Panasonic S1 and S1R are without doubt impressive cameras. They handle extremely well, perhaps better than the SL with which they share a very similar chassis. The viewfinder is absolutely stunning, even compared with the ground-breaking finder in the SL. With its in-body stabilisation, the Lumix S1 ought to be a great alternative to the SL for use with M lenses.
Some experts argue that the sensor coating is too thin to work well with M glass (Leica uses a thicker coating on the SL sensor primarily to enhance compatibility with M lenses). They say that the natural home for M lenses is a Leica camera. The same arguments, though, have been applied many times to the Sony a7 and, latterly, to the Nikon and Canon mirrorless full-frame cameras. I have to say, though, that I have enjoyed using M lenses with the Sony and I could live with minor shortcomings of the new Lumix cameras if, indeed, there are any in this respect.
The 24MP Lumix S1 is also attractively priced at £2,200 (although expensive in relation to the Sonys, for instance) and, the kit, including the Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm f/4 Macro OIS lens, is great value at £2,999 (buying the camera and lens separately would cost £3,500). There are already some good trade-in offers featuring Panasonic micro four-thirds kit. For instance, trade in a Lumix G9 and the Leica DG 12-60mm and Park Cameras could offer up to £1,289 off the price of the S1 kit, thus bringing it down to a palatable £1,710.
And do bear in mind that within a few months the usual Panasonic discounting will be in full flood. It won’t be too long before the S1 body price sinks below two thousand and that kit will be on offer for around £2,699 (at a guess…).
From what I have read in initial reviews, the 24-105mm isn’t quite comparable in image quality with Leica’s 24-90mm SL. The Leica lens has a more solid construction, painstaking optical design, peerless quality control and relatively fast f/2.8-4.0 aperture range. The mass-produced Lumix 24-105 is
two one stop slower at the wide end with its constant f/4 aperture. In practice, though, this wouldn’t worry me too much. As it is, it presents as a good starter lens. Buyers know that they will soon have access to the impressive range of Sigma Art lenses, not to mention a good used Leica SL zoom or prime.
If you are in the market for the S1 at £2,000, it’s worth getting the Lumix S 24-105mm for the extra £800. It makes sense, unless, that is, you already own the 24-90mm Vario Elmarit-SL or wish to use the camera exclusively with your M glass.
While I haven’t yet had the chance to spend time with either the S1 or S1R and have not taken any pictures, I have handled both several times in various showrooms. They’re as big as the SL, if not a tad bulkier, and they weigh even more (1,021g compared with the SL’s 847g). This is perhaps unsurprising given the additional amount of electrical gubbins included in the newer models. With the 24-105mm mounted, the Lumix S tips the scales at 1,700g compared with the SL and 24-90mm at 1,987g.
The Panasonics, however, have the advantage of five years of additional feature development. If you lust after all the latest bells and whistles that’s something to consider. The SL is clearly on its last legs, although still performs as well as it ever did. The forthcoming SL2 will narrow that gap (if not eradicate it completely) but it will come at a price – almost certainly at least twice as expensive as the Panasonic S1. Many potential buyers, I know, are wondering why they should wait for the SL2 when a Panasonic version of the camera exists at such a low price. This, no doubt, is the reason Leica decided on the trade-in offer in order to unload existing stock in the face of this new competition.
24 MP = Happiness
I know, of course, that the SL2 will have a 47mm sensor (reportedly the same as the Q2 sensor) so its direct competitor is not the S1 but the S1R which currently retails for £3,399. But this rather misses the point because many buyers are totally happy with 24MP and have no wish to cope with the storage and processing penalties that the larger sensor brings. I hear this time and time again and I have come to realise (with the Q2) that these concerns are real. Unless Leica caves in and produces two versions of the SL2 (which I think is highly unlikely) then the S1 with its 24MP sensor (or the current SL) will be the only games in town if you don’t want the bigger sensor.
My reservations on weight apply equally to the new Panasonics as to the old SL. Yet I wouldn’t mind trying one or other of these new cameras as a direct comparison with the SL. The S1R, in particular, would make a good testbed for use with TL crop lenses which should use about 20MP of the 47MP on offer. The lightweight TL lenses should certainly perform well on the Lumix cameras, offering a good range of focal lengths without breaking the back.
I now accept that if you want the best performance and all mod cons such as IBIS and ILS, it’s difficult to make these cameras much smaller or lighter. Sony manages to pull off the conjuring trick with the a7 but, weight aside, using those smaller bodies with large, heavy lenses brings its own problems of balance and handling. The chunky feel of the SL and S1/R models actually gives much more confidence when used with lenses such as the 24-105 Lumix S or 24-90 SL.
I know many friends and readers who use and love the SL. If I were a few years younger and a bit more agile, I would probably join them. I would never have sold my SL and 24-90 zoom in the first place because it really did produce the goods.
Just to prove that the SL is still a great camera, Om Malik, the founder of GigaOm, has described his love affair with Leica’s mirrorless beastie. It makes for informative reading.
If you should spy a bargain-basement used SL and intend to use it with M lenses, then go for it. At current prices, it makes a good alternative body for M rangefinder owners. Then again, cast a glance at the Lumix S1 before making your final decision.