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Hands-on: What you need to know about the new Leica SL2

07 Nov

Hands-on with the new Leica SL2

It’s been four years since the launch of the SL – Leica’s first full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (no, we’re not counting the M9). The new SL2 updates its predecessor in every important way.

We’ve been using one for a little while, and in this article we’ll give you a rundown of the most important features. Click through to learn all about the new Leica SL2.

New 47.3MP full-frame sensor and processor

The SL2 features a new 47MP full-frame sensor, and ‘Maestro III’ processor. One of the SL’s original selling points was a special microlens array, tweaked to deliver optimal image quality when shooting with adapted M-series lenses. The SL2’s sensor follows suit, making it potentially very appealing to M-series shooters looking for a practical mirrorless solution – especially for wide-angle lenses, which can vignette heavily when adapted to other systems.

Leica claims that the new sensor in the SL2 will feature 14 stops of Raw dynamic range. Assuming that performance will be similar to the sensor in the previously-tested Q2, this should mean that the SL2 is highly competitive with its full-frame peers, but around 1EV behind the absolute best of them. We certainly don’t have any complaints after our initial shooting, but we’ll be testing IQ in full once we receive a reviewable camera.

5-Axis in-body stabilization

As well as more pixels and those fancy microlenses, the SL2’s sensor is also mechanically stabilized – a first for the SL line. Leica claims a benefit of up to 5.5 stops (CIPA) which should greatly increase the SL2’s versatility in some shooting situations, particularly in poor light. This is in line with the figures quoted for Panasonic Lumix S1R, which it’s probably safe to assume features both a closely related sensor and suspension stabilization mechanism.

Redesigned body and ergonomics

The SL was a camera that probably looked great in a design program on someone’s computer screen, but which a lot of photographers found rather uncomfortable to shoot with, thanks to its preponderance of bare metal surfaces, its heavy weight and a lot of sharp edges. The SL2 looks enough like its predecessor not to represent a complete departure (and it’s not substantially smaller or lighter) but its an altogether more rounded, more comfortable camera, with a much nicer grip.

Leica has also refreshed the control logic of the SL2, to bring it closer to the Q2 and M10-series. As such, even though Leica has added several new customization options, the SL2 is a simpler camera to pick up and use straight out of the box. With an IP54 certification, it’s somewhat tougher than the original SL, too – at least on paper.

5.76M-dot EVF

Like its close cousin the Panasonic Lumix DC-S1R, the SL2 offers a high-resolution 5.76M-dot OLED viewfinder and a binoculars-style diopter control around the eyepiece. The EVF offers around a 25% linear resolution improvement over the 3.69M-dot panels used by most of its rivals, and in use it’s superb: bright, contrasty and very crisp.

3.2″ rear touchscreen

Another major upgrade compared to the original SL is the rear LCD, which has been increased in size and resolution. With a 3.2″ diagonal and an effective resolution of 2.1MP, the panel is a significant step up in terms of usability compared to the screen on the back of the original SL. Touch-sensitivity has also been improved over the SL, providing a fast and convenient means of adjusting settings during LCD shooting. During EVF shooting, you can quickly change your desired AF point using the small joystick at upper right.

Just like the SL, the SL2’s rear screen is fixed, something which is becoming increasingly rare among full-frame cameras, and which may bother some potential customers (especially videographers).

Twin UHS-II slots

The SL2 has two card slots, both of which support the UHS-II standard. As we’d expect, you can tell the camera to treat the second slot as overflow, backup, or split file types between the cards, recording stills on one and video files on the other.

Multishot mode

Leica has made use of that suspended sensor to add a ‘Multishot’ mode, which combines multiple exposures (up to eight) to create DNG files of up to 187MP. This feature will be added next year via a forthcoming firmware update.

In this picture you can see the small 1.3″, 128 x 128 pixel LCD status panel on the SL2’s top plate, which shows key shooting settings.

Continuous shooting and ‘Leica Object Detection’ AF

We’re not used to saying this about Leica’s cameras, but the SL2 is fast. While it probably won’t give the Sony a9 II or Canon EOS-1D X Mark III a run for their money, the SL2’s maximum continuous shooting rate of 20 fps in electronic shutter mode is very respectable, and 10 fps in mechanical shutter mode isn’t too shabby either. There are a couple of catches though: we’d expect image quality to take a hit in e-shutter mode under certain lighting conditions (specifically under some types of artificial lighting), and focus is locked in both 10 and 20 fps shooting. Autofocus tracking is available at 6 fps.

Leica Object Detection AF appears to be closely related to Panasonic’s face / eye / body-detection, and detects human subjects starting with their body shape, before narrowing down (if it can) to faces and eyes. There are a total of 225 autofocus points, and like previous Leica cameras (and the Panasonic S1-series), AF is contrast-detection.

Video

The Leica SL2 has a very respectable suite of video features, with a headline resolution of 4k/60p, captured from virtually the full width of its sensor. An even higher-resolution 5K/30p mode is available from a cropped region, but we’re still waiting for full details on exactly how much of a crop is employed.

Video can be shot in 8 or 10-bit modes straight to the memory card, or output as a 10-bit stream via the full-sized HDMI port. Three video gamma profiles are available: Rec. 709, L-Log Rec. 2020 and HLG Rec. 2020.

Meanwhile, the SL2 can of course also capture HD video, at up to 180fps. A new ‘Cine mode’ essentially switches the SL2 into fully manual operation (including focus) and translates key exposure settings into video-appropriate language: shutter angle, ASA and T-stop.

Ports, connectivity and battery

Alongside a full-size HDMI port, the SL2 also features a headphone socket and mic jack (both 3.5mm) as well as a USB-C 3.1 port. The SL2 can be charged over USB but cannot be powered solely by it.

Battery life from the included BP-SCL4 is a stated 370 images (CIPA) which is pretty standard for this class of camera (it’s actually a little better than the stated battery life of the Nikon Z7), but as usual we’d expect you’ll get a lot more shots per charge than that in normal shooting.

Pricing and availability

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity are also built-in and Leica has updated its Fotos app, which also now comes in a ‘Made for iPad’ version. This offers Lightroom integration and extra pro features available for $ 50 per year.

The Leica SL2 will be available in Leica stores and Boutiques starting on November 21st for $ 5,995. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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