Home L-Mount Is Leica now on the right course? SL2 points the way

Is Leica now on the right course? SL2 points the way

1262
11

Leica should be congratulating itself this week, following what can only be described as a successful launch of the SL2. The new camera — and it is a new camera, not really an upgrade — has been almost universally well received. Leica has invested a great deal of marketing money in this camera and the reaction shows that it has been cash well spent.

From what I gather, bloggers and journalists from around the world were flown to Wetzlar at Leica’s expense and, presumably, royally entertained.

Leica even laid on models, including that that bearded gent with the flourishing beard and Village People titfer. He’s appeared in countless articles and videos. Leica UK pushed out the boat, too, with a press launch at the up-market Brasserie of Light in Selfridges. And, I hear, there was an even bigger event at the Royal Opera House on Wednesday evening. This, I think, was mainly for the benefit of the dealer network.

Controversial

The company’s investment is not misplaced. The SL, when it arrived four years ago, was fairly controversial. Not everyone appreciated the brutal Bauhausism of the design, although few complained about the image quality or that wonderful viewfinder. Most criticism came from those who found the camera (and, perhaps more importantly the lens system) far too heavy.

I was one of them. I bought and then sold the SL simply because I thought it too heavy. I then suffered withdrawal systems and bought another body at a really knock-down price. It was so cheap that I was able to sell it after a year and make a £400 profit. Now how’s that for a miracle? It joins the only other camera I have ever made a profit on. That was the Leica Q which rose in price so much that the second-hand value soon exceeded my purchase price.

While you definitely need a few well-tended muscles to cope with the SL and, say, the 24-90mm Vario-Elmarit, it has to be remembered that this is a professional-standard camera that actually needs the bulk and weight. With world-class lenses attached, the SL (and SL2) needs a firm base to work from. It is not a camera for lugging around on holiday, nor, I suspect, for city snaps. It will do both those jobs well, of course, if you have the stamina.

Enter the competition

It is no secret that the SL was not a major seller towards the end. It suffered immediately early this year when Panasonic launched the S1 and S1R. And the fact that Leica withdrew the camera so many months before its replacement is sufficient evidence of the problems faced. The SL2 changes all that, although I suspect the old SL will continue to thrive and prosper on the second-hand market.

I confess I have changed my views after using the Panasonic S1 for some months. Here is a camera that feels lighter than the original SL despite being nearly 200g heavier. It is better balanced and seems more secure in the hand (probably because it is). While the SL2 is 80g heavier than its predecessor, this is completely lost in the feel of holding the body. Like the Panasonic, it feels lighter than the original SL. And it is still the best part of 100g lighter than the Lumix.

The weight will not put off serious photographers. I have several friends such as Tom Lane and Dunk Sargent who have been glued to their SLs for the past four years. Both, I suspect, will be in the queue for the SL2. As Dunk told me this week, the SL2 will work perfectly with R lenses — which are his preferred choice of glass — and the added stabilisation will be crucial. He even sees inflation in R lenses (and M lenses, by the way) because the SL2 will complement manual lenses so well.

New camera, not an upgrade

I said earlier that the SL2 is a new camera, not an upgrade. While there is a family similarity between the SL and SL2, this is deliberately contrived for continuity purposes. In reality, beneath the skin, the SL2 is new and, I suspect, owes more to the Panasonic S1R and S1H than to the old SL. When you compare the cameras side by side the differences are obvious. The old camera had a very bland slab of a front plate that emphasised the designers’ form over function approach. I never considered it attractive. And with an M lens attached, it was very much tail heavy. M lenses are so small that they were almost lost on that vast expanse of black metal.

The new SL2, with its wrap-round “leather jacket” and smoother contours, is a different beast. The leather cover improves the feel of the camera and the redesigned grip, with the rubbery indent for the fingers, is something of a masterpiece. As a result, this camera not only handles far better, it feels lighter than the SL. This has been reinforced by many bloggers and journalists erroneously stating that the SL2 is lighter than the SL. However, it transpires that someone had mischievously quoted the SL2 without battery and SD cards against the SL with all its tackle in situ. This is a basic error but, for some reason, it gained credence throughout the blogosphere. Whoever uses a digital camera without a battery? I seem to have been one of the few commentators who looked into this and did some basic calculations.

Rethink

I confess I was very surprised when I picked up the SL2 at Wednesday’s press conference (not having been invited to Wetzlar on an expenses-paid advance junket). It felt more like the Panasonic S1 than the old SL. In fact, I believe I prefer the feel to that of the Lumix range.

During the presentation I was impressed by Robin Sinha’s rationale for having one camera rather than Panasonic’s three. The SL2 combines the special video features of the S1H with the practicality of an excellent stills camera, the S1R. And since many owners are likely to have TL lenses on their shelves, they have a ready-made SL/S1 option by shooting at 20.2MP with these cropped lenses — which are all of impeccable image quality, by the way. I would have no hesitation in using TL lenses for the sort of image quality I need for Macfilos or, for that matter, for most purposes.

From a Leica perspective, too, the SL2 overcomes the criticism that other mirrorless cameras attract for their supposed incompatibility with M lenses. It’s a marginal incompatibility, granted, and users such as our own David Babsky stand by the use of M lenses on the Sony A7 range.

But Leica does take special pains to make sure that all its system cameras (TL/CL,SL) work better with M lenses than with other mirrorless cameras. The lens profiles are built in and Leica cameras will attempt to estimate the set focal length of manual lenses for use in EXIF data. The sensors of all Leica system cameras are modified (at extra expense which other manufacturers couldn’t justify) to ensure greater compatibility with M lens. All this is more useful to busy photographers than you might think.

But why use M or R lenses in any case because they have no auto focus? Well, the primary reason is that they provide image quality to equal the auto-focus monsters in the SL range while being so much smaller and lighter. Even the 75mm Noctilux is a baby compared with, say, the 50mm Summilux-SL. Another reason is that most buyers of the SL also own M or R lenses.

Nimble

In a rapidly declining market for “real” cameras, Leica stands out as a small manufacturer nimble enough to accurately target a specialist audience. And, it has to be said, an audience with money. The current range, from the two film cameras, through the old rangefinder campaigners to the new SL2, the company has a very attractive range. The new commonality of control and menu structure is evidence of Leica’s new offensive; even the M cameras are in on this act.

Only the CL, in my opinion, has been rather neglected of late, despite it being the original testbed for the new three-button control system. It would be nice to see some TLC and attention lavished on this backwater of a camera. And just where the TL2 stands, I do not know. If Leica is serious about staying in the APS-C market (of which I have my doubts), then a new CL, borrowing from the Panasonic-led technical advances in the SL2, should be on the stocks.

In general, though, Leica now has a strong range and occupies a premium segment that is less likely to be subject to the turbulence being experienced by mainstream manufacturers. They, somewhat like the Titanic, are slow to stop and turn round to meet changing tastes.

Leica, on the other hand, has the nimbleness of smaller scale. It also looks to the technological future. It has expanded into smartphones, in cooperation with Huawei, and is deeply into computational photography, apparently frolicking among the chips in Silicon Valley. The winds seem to be set fair for the future and the Herr Doktor Kaufmann should be feeling very pleased with himself this weekend.

What’s your view on the future of Leica and the current range?

11 COMMENTS

  1. It’s interesting reading your comments. I’m highly unlikely to buy an SL2 as it’s a lot more camera than I will ever need. However I was looking at the specs of the SL2 and wondering how much of that technology could be transferred to a CL2. Top plate display, EVF, joystick, weatherproofing.

    I like the size and weight of the CL and don’t want it to grow bigger. IBIS would seem almost inevitably to grow the bulk of the CL at the expense of nimble handling, so maybe that can be lived without.

    If you can increase the sensitivity of the sensor to make higher ISO more useable, do you need IBIS?How many more MP do you actually need is the second question around a CL2? I would likely never print anything above A1 size, and most likely smaller, so how necessary is a 47MP sensor if you’re not shooting professionally?

    Much to ponder beyond just the launch of what looks like a terrific camera.

    • Yes, these are all valid points and they boil down to individual preference and requirements. Few of us look at need when considering a camera and, I suspect, most of us buy something that is more capable than we need. If I were honest with myself, I could fully justify using nothing more advanced than, say, a Sony RX100 or Leica C-Lux for all the photographs published on Macfilos. Few would notice the difference. My excuse is that I need to evaluate different cameras and lenses, so that’s my position. But, of course, what you say makes sense.

  2. Based on everything I read about the SL2, I would consider getting it but for my arthritic shoulders. I could see using it with my M primes. Further, with 47mp you could crop instead of carrying heavy tele or zoom lenses. I am now intrigued to see if the next iteration of the M series will also have a 47mp sensor.
    I think Leica’s diversified approach to revenue, i.e. collaborating with Huawei, serving the pro market with the SL2, attracting the boutique market with special editions, is serving them well at least as far as profitability is concerned. I hope it remain so for a long time, I can’t imagine photography without Leica.

    • The next M will not have the same sensor for technical reasons. It is rumoured that it will be in the early 40s, perhaps 41 or 42.

  3. Leica had their marketing dialed in for the SL2’s release. I tend to distill even my social networking to Das Wesentliche, and the last 48 hours as a result have been a near-constant feed of Steve McCurry, the Red Dot, and this SL2. Oddly the GAS has not set in, but what I found most compelling were Dr Kaufman’s comments on Leica’s approach to computational imaging and his regard for the M’s place in the future. I was worried with the recent rumors and Mr Puts’ comments, but can rest assured the future of the M remains bright. Cheers to this SL2 for what it brings to the table and signals for what lies ahead.

  4. I have used a SL at Leica Akademie outings, and loved it but found the 24-90 to be a fabulous lens but for me way too heavy..I use a Q for Street Photography and my lovely old M9 and my M lenses that I adore.
    I am fascinated by the prospect of using the new SL2 with the Leica 35mm F2 Asph APO-Summicron SL, as 35mm is probably my favourite focal length, but I suspect that might be a little too heavy for me and not as nimble as my Q.

    I love my M9 and M lenses, and I like very much the idea of using my M lenses with the SL2, but it’s probably out of my price range, and a pre-loved SL might be more realistic for me.
    However,the one thing that is important here for me is that the new SL2 will attract a lot of interest from M lens users and Street Photographers as it offers so many opportunities and options, and it is really making me think how tempting an SL 2 could be, but I wonder if the bulk of the SL or SL 2 might just be a little too much.

    Methinks the only way I will find out is to give the SL2 a try. Great article, and the prospect of an SL2 is exciting.

    • I agree on the weight of the 24-90mm, although it is an absolutely superb lens and covers a very useful range of focal lengths. Your reference to the Q/Q2 is also spot on because frankly, why use an SL2 with even the 35mm Summicron-SL if the Q2 does a similar job. I think 50mm (say the Summilux-SL or a Sigma equivalent) might be more useful in that it can be cropped effectively up to at least 75mm.

      I am hoping to get my hands on a review copy of the SL as soon as it arrives and I will definitely try it out with the 35 Summicron, the 50 Summilux and the 24-90. For fun, I will also try it with the Panasonic 24-105 which, despite being an “un-pro kit zoom” it isn’t at all bad. It has the advantage of covering a wide focal length range and is lighter than the Leica 24-90. Another lens that is worth trying is the Sigma f/2.8 45mm. It’s a really good little lens and is tiny and light. I’ve been using it a lot on the Panasonic S1 and it performs really well.

  5. Thanks Mike,

    Very useful comments, I will look forward to hearing how you get on with a review copy of the SL2 and the M lenses together with the 24-90 and the 24-105..the Sigma 45 f2.8m sounds interesting too.

    John H☺️

  6. I have an SL which I am extremely fond of. Hand injuries have forced me to need IBIS on occasion. A few weeks ago I had the chance to try a S1R, but I was hoping for an SL2 announcement to see if it had IBIS. I spent some hours with the S1R and SL 24-90, SL 50/f1.4, SL 35/f2, M35/f1.4 and Sigma 45/f2.8.
    Some things I REALLY liked:
    IBIS, and the bouncing IBIS feedback ball (for lack of a better term) was a hoot!
    Articulating screen, especially portrait
    Zoom around a spot focus point in HIGH res
    EVF scaling for eyeglasses! Woo Hoo!
    Lighted buttons
    Size and weight was not an issue
    Not so well, but not critical:
    Battery door felt like it was going to fall off at any time
    Power passthrough on battery door had a sloppy rubber plug (it fell out). I doubt it would stop water.
    Worrisome:
    M lenses- I only had the M35 f1.4 with me, and there were some wonky artifacts around the edges. Actually not that unpleasant, and the casual eye may not even see them. Kind of a ‘smearing’ effect. It was a bit of a chore to register the lens (not natively recognized), but I suppose that would get easier- I was new at the menus.
    Grip- Full disclosure: I need X-Large gloves. I found the grip to be painful with any of the heavy lenses. The outcropping for the release and forward wheel is quite aggressive, and straight across with a hard edge. The corner of it made a pinch point that dug into my finger (picture on request!). And just carrying it at my side with the ‘less pronounced’ grip than the SL meant all the pressure was on my finger tips. (I know, the gym). So.. the gentleman let me take the body home- SANS BATTERY (don’t ask)- for 2 weeks (just gave it back). It sat on my table with various glass on it and I would randomly pick it up, trying to re-train my fingers to work around the ‘ledge’. Couldn’t do it- it was (to me) very uncomfortable with any heavy lens (24-90, SL 50/1.4). Tolerable with the SL f2’s (35 & 75), and not an issue with the Sigma 45/ f2.8, which is an interesting lens! I guess the takeaway is if you need X Large gloves, spend some time with the grip!

    Anyway, the SL2 announcement happened, it had IBIS, should be a shoe-in with M lenses and I love the SL style grip, so I ordered one and a SL 50mm F2 sight unseen. Both are sparse to non-existent in the states, and now there’s that pesky 25% tariff plus 6% sales tax that I’m trying to work around. We’ll see how that goes- I’m probably not going to get any sympathy from you VAT guys!

  7. Leica now probably have the strongest line up of cameras they have ever had at any point in their existence. This is quite remarkable when you think about where they were a few years ago ( hanging on by a thread with just the M system and facing the onslaught of digital technology).They have played to their strengths which are, as they like to say in their advertising, concentrating on essentials and the pursuit of excellence in lens design, also without compromising with cost. What is a joy with the SL and SL2 is that they have remembered that we make photographs with our eyes and not just lenses. That is the reason for that amazing viewfinder on the SL series that recalls the big, bright, glass focus screens that appeared in SLR cameras back in the day.( I can’t look at the SL or SL2 without seeing the R3MOT in my mind’s eye! ) Then there is the design. Simplified menus instead of complex ones, so we can focus more time on the subject not on a screen. All wonderful things if you happen to be a photographer rather than a blographer. I can even forgive the distortion reality field..the SL2 is actually heavier but it feels lighter. Ha ha! Truth be told, if you thought the SL was too heavy you are still going to find the SL2 heavy and there really isn’t any change there.The body design also isn’t so different, if you didn’t like the SL’s looks you aren’t going to be excited about the new version either ( I happen to love it!) And come on, let’s be honest, we all know that for a camera this capable in terms of photo and video imaging the battery life is far short of where it should be. And no matter how good those new SL lenses are, and they are Sehr Gut ( Thank you, Mr. Karbe! ) they are just too big to haul around outside of the studio.
    But these things aside, and if using the M lenses, R lenses or TL lenses ( nice to have options isn’t it?) on the SL2 body, then the new camera has to be an amazing proposition for those of us that are concerned with image quality first and can afford the price premium which will be forgotten once you own and start using the camera. The important thing is you can configure an SL2 how you like, choosing the lens system you also like. I haven’t been able to get my hands on an SL2 yet but I can’t stop thinking about what I’d be able to do with it. I suspect I’m not the only one. Leica are making all the right moves..

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.