Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leica SL2-S: First impressions

Leica SL2-S: First impressions

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Introduction

Leica introduced the SL2 just about a year ago (on 6 November 2019) and with all that’s been happening since it seems more like a century ago.

I was initially rather grumpy about it (and I quote):

“The SL still fulfils all my requirements, and I’m still in love with the interface. So why would I want something different, and let’s be honest—how often does one really NEED 47MP. Added to which the strap lugs on the SL2 stick out, and it only has 3 buttons on the back (rather than the 4 on the SL), and they have writing on them!”

I had three SL2 cameras to test, spanning the period from January 2019 until September (with a few gaps). In the end I was convinced that the new camera was a real improvement, slowly discovering that I really did ‘need’ 47 mp and I soon bought my own SL2.

Glory Morning
Leica SL2-S  ISO 100 1/800th f4.5  Vario Elmarit 24-90

Today Leica is introducing the SL2-S, which is certainly the camera I would have wanted back then. The new camera is directed primarily at videographers and photographers who are more interested in speed or file size than they are in high resolution. Photojournalists, event and wildlife photographers spring to mind. The new ‘stealth’ look with the blackened out Leica points in that direction.

I had the SL2-S for only a couple of weeks at the end of August and the start of September this year, so this article is based on a relatively short time with the camera. I’m not going to do a detailed write up of the body and design, or of the operation of the camera, as these features are the same as the SL2.

Glory Morning
Leica SL2-S  ISO 100 1/100th f7.1  Vario Elmarit 24-90

What’s different?

Photography

The SL2-S has a brand new back-lit BSI-CMOS sensor with 24MP of resolution. It is capable of shooting 9 frames per second with the mechanical shutter and 25 using the HS electronic shutter. The SL2 also does 9 fps with the mechanical shutter, but only 24 in HS Mode. As the file sizes are much smaller on the SL2-S and the buffer is the same 4GB, this means that you can shoot many more shots in a burst (largely controlled by the speed of the SD card). I didn’t have a very fast SD card to test, but Leica claims that you can carry on shooting at 9 fps (mechanical shutter) pretty much until the card is full.

There will be a firmware upgrade in the first part of 2021 which will have improved AF. Eye Detection will be coming a little later. There will also be a transparent ‘overlay’ function so you can perfectly repeat the alignment of the previous image (hopefully it will come to the SL2 later on).

Fading Fern
Leica SL2-S  ISO 125 1/160th f3.9  Vario Elmarit 24-90

Videography

Here the changes are more notable. The Leica SL2-S shoots 10-bit 4:2:2 video with Leica’s L-LOG gamma at frame rates up to 60fps. Unlike the SL2, there is no limit to recording time with the new camera (beyond that imposed by internal or external memory).

The new firmware will allow segmenting video into one-minute chunks (to avoid data loss). It will also allow internal 10 bit 4K/60p and 50p with HEVC video compression and have an individual Viewing-LUT upload function.

There will also be an integrated waveform monitor and automatic follow focus.

Blackberry Time
Leica SL2-S  ISO 100 1/640h f4  Vario Elmarit 24-90

The Price

The SL2-S will be €1,500 cheaper than the SL2 (€4,500 as opposed to €5,990). Here in the UK it will cost £3,975 compared with the SL2 at £5,300, a difference of £1,325.

The Paint

The only visible difference is the stealthy black writing on the front of the camera (perhaps Leica should have blacked out the red dot as well). In fact the writing is in gloss paint, but the body in matte in common with the SL2.

Spiddley Spider
Leica SL2-S  ISO 100 1/250 f4.5  Vario Elmarit 24-90

What’s the same

Apart from the sensor and the price, pretty much everything is the same, same body, same processor with the same buffer and the same shot-to-shot times. The same weather sealing and image stabilisation. The same 5.76 million dot EVF with 0.78x magnification and the same 2.1 million dot LCD display.

That Tree Again
Leica SL2-S  ISO 100 1/125 f7.1  Vario Elmarit 24-90

High ISO

Sadly I’m not qualified to test or write about the camera’s video features so I’ll stick to discussing the image quality of the new sensor. In the limited time I had it, it seemed most relevant to check out the high ISO characteristics of the new sensor. To that end, I set up my trusty tripod in our rather dark sitting room to take some images of books. Here is the scene:

The Serpentine Bookshelf
Leica SL2-S  ISO 100 0.5 sec f2 Vario Elmarit 24-90

The SL2-S goes up to 100,000 ISO, but rather than leave the other side blank I’ve compared it with 50,000 ISO on the SL2:

The SL2-S was so obviously much better at 100,000 than the SL2 at 50, I’ve done another comparison with the SL2 at 25,000 ISO. Here perhaps the extra resolution gives the SL2 the edge, however, even at 25,000 ISO there is some minor banding on the SL2, more at least than there is in the SL2-S at 100,000.

This is an impressive improvement, closer to two stops than to one, and something that street and low light shooters are going to appreciate. Even if you would want to avoid 100,000 ISO, 25,000 is really pretty good.

What’s in a name

So, what does the S in SL2-S stand for? I’m afraid we aren’t going to get a definitive answer to that, it could be Speed or Sensitivity, or perhaps even Stealth or Small (file size), or all of the above. I’ve asked the question of those who ought to know and they aren’t telling!

Happy Birthday
Leica SL2-S  ISO 1600 1/100 f4.8 Summilux M 1:1.4 50 Asph

Shooting with M lenses

Of course, the main purpose of the camera is for fast AF and video, but I know that quite a lot of people are going to be interested in how well it does with M lenses. Sadly I didn’t have time to do any very careful comparisons of corner definition and vignetting with the SL2, but the general impression was that the SL2-S was at least as good and probably better.

However, focusing was better on the SL2-S, especially when zooming in on the EVF (which has a slight visual susurration on the SL2). It also seemed that nailing focus generally was easier on the newer camera. This might be because of the lower resolution but, whatever the cause, it was tangible. I have established that the SL2 and SL2-S have the same sensor stack. It would be nice to do a proper comparison, but not having a camera I’m going to have to leave that up to others!

Grass
Leica SL2-S  ISO 100 1/400 f4. Macro Elmarit R f2.8 60mm

Who is it for?

Well, as Leica say in their press release:

“The SL2-S is the perfect choice for customers who favour fast operation over the exceptionally high resolution of the Leica SL2”

But I think it’s going to appeal to a wider audience than that, especially at the considerably reduced price point. I think the very good high ISO, together with fast AF (and eye focus in the spring) is going to make the camera very popular with all kinds of wedding and event photographers, especially with the ability to mix and match Leica, Panasonic and Sigma lenses (there really are a lot of L mount lenses around). If you’re going to shoot 2,000 shots at a wedding, you really don’t want them to be 85mb per shot (40 is bad enough!). Added to that you really don’t need the resolution.

Buzz
Leica SL2-S  ISO 100 1/320 f4. Vario Elmarit 24-90 SL

More than that, quite a lot of people are already using the SL2 with M lenses, and I think a lot more will find the SL2-S even more attractive. I’ve heard from many saying that they really don’t want 48mp, mainly because of the storage requirements, but also for the heavier processing load.

The new fast M lenses (90 Summilux, 75 Noctilux, 50 Noctilux) all handle better on an SL body and, for many people, focusing on an EVF-based camera is simpler than using a rangefinder. The SL2-S is less challenging to focus with M lenses and has a better magnification experience.

Wizard
Leica SL2-S  ISO 100 1/5000 f4.5 Vario Elmarit 24-90 SL

Conclusion

The Leica SL2-S has much improved video, with better things promised with firmware upgrades in the near future.

Vine
Leica SL2-S  ISO 100 1/1600 f2/8 Macro Elmarit R f2.8 60mm

It is also a fine stills camera, allowing really fast shot-to-shot times and extremely good high ISO. It’s great to focus with M lenses and produces excellent image quality. For many people, 24MP is still the sweet spot for resolution.

Added to all of this it’s considerably cheaper than the SL2, so it’s likely to attract new Leica users. Once again, Leica has produced a sensible and interesting camera which is going to appeal to a lot of different users, both old and new.

Read Jonathan’s review of the Leica SL2

S for Stealth?

For more images of the camera and in use, see our announcement article

Read more on the Leica SL, SL2 and SL2-S

Read more on the L-Mount Alliance between Leica, Panasonic and Sigma

8 COMMENTS

  1. Particularly enjoyed the first (untitled) image, and then Wizard further down. Thanks for showing.

    But frustratingly unable to read the caption on the blue tent birthday card, next to the Matisse/Miro/Picasso-esque card on the middle shelf 🙂

  2. Hi Jono, your usual competent review. it is a welcome addition to the Leica SL options for those wanting video, higher ISO, and more speed.
    However, I am a methodical photographer who needs ISO 1600 max and do not shoot video. I hate the added cost of video and menu complexities. Rendering is more important to me and there is a magic with my M9 ccd sensor. Leica releases other cameras and glass that people do not understand such as monochrom cameras and one of my favorite rendering lenses-the m 28/5.6 summaron. Hence, I hope Leica would see the light and produce a ccd SL2 with 24MP. They would probably be surprised at the demand as there are surely a number of pure photographers out there that do not shoot black cats in abandoned coal mines. Please convince Leica. Thanks again for your great article and photos. Also hope you are testing a SL2-M….

    • I forgot to mention that the interest in the ccd rendering is shown by those clinging to their 10 year old color and monochrome M9 cameras as well as the used prices on 10 year old steam engine powered digital camera technology.

  3. Hi Jonathan, thanks for the (as usual) excellent review! Any chances of Leica coming out with a lighter FF L-mount body (a la Sony A7c) in the future?

  4. Hmm, with the image on the right being SL and left being SL-2, why is the image on the left, given its better low light performance has a slower shutter speed in the same setting than the SL2? Isnt it supposed to have a faster shutter speed when you hold apeature and iso constant?

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