When it debuted at the end of 2015 the Leica SL was both way ahead of its time and an incredibly hard sell. The camera launched with a single lens to put on its brand new L mount — a 24-90 zoom — and a lot of questions about who would actually want a rather large $6,000 mirrorless full-frame camera. What it had going for it though was a design and build quality that simply didn’t exist with the Sony A7.
Four years later and Leica has given it another shot with the all new SL2 ($5,995).
At a Glance
The SL2 has a redesigned body featuring improved ergonomics and more user-friendly controls, with a 4-axis stabilized 47-megapixel full-frame sensor.
It’s compatible with the ever-deepening range of L-Mount lenses from Leica, Panasonic, and Sigma. Alternatives are the Sony A7rIV ($3,498), which has a much more impressive spec sheet but lacks the same premium build quality and design, and the Hasselblad X1D II ($5,750), which costs nearly the same and shares a similar luxurious build but has a larger, more impressive medium-format sensor — yielding better images but also slowing the camera down considerably. The SL2’s body will cost $5,995 (same as the outgoing SL)
Refined, Utility-Focused Redesign
Externally, there’s a host of minor changes: the body is subtly sculpted and reconfigured to be less of a monolithic design object and more of a functional, professional camera: the body is now made of a blend of magnesium and aluminum, with a midsection wrapped in leatherette. The viewfinder hump is more pronounced and the grip is deeper and more contoured. On the back, the control system has changed to mirror that of the Q and M10 and the back buttons are now labeled. The result is less customizability but a much more intuitive user experience. As an added bonus, the camera now carries an IP54 weatherproofing certification (meaning it’s highly splash and dust resistant). All this is to say, the camera has been refined to be easier and more comfortable to use, and the design of the SL2 has taken a small step towards the background in favor of genuine utility.
A Huge Stabilized Sensor, Modern Amenities
The inside is where all the fun stuff is happening, though. The sensor has gone from 24 megapixels to 47 and the sensor now features in-body stabilization. Thanks to a new Maestro III processor, you’ll be able to pull 10 frames per second with the mechanical shutter and 20 with the electronic one. Both card slots now support speedy UHS-II SD cards. The viewfinder was one of the best when it debuted long ago and the new one is hoping to regain the throne. It’s gone from a 4.4 megapixel LCD to a 5.76 megapixel OLED. The back screen has grown slightly from 2.95 inches to 3.1 and doubled in resolution.
Video-wise, the camera can now shoot 4K up to 60 frames-per-second reading from the full sensor and up to 180FPS at Full-HD. The SL2 boasts a cool new “Cine” mode that makes the camera look and feel a lot like a professional cinema camera by changing ISO to ASA, f-stops to T-stops, and shutter speed to degrees. The goofy mic/headphone breakout cable is replaced with dedicated jacks and a full-size HDMI connector. USB-C connectivity rounds out the input/output upgrades.
A New Mirrorless Landscape To Contend With
When the original SL debuted, the idea of a “full-frame mirrorless” camera was really nascent, its only real competition came from the Sony A7. Now though, the SL2 has to face off with the Nikon Z7, Canon’s EOS R line, Panasonic’s S1R, even Sigma. What Leica has been able to do with its half-decade head start though is refine, take feedback and build a native lens portfolio that’s able to cover any focal length that you could imagine (and with the L-mount alliance, you’ll be able to use Panasonic and Sigma lenses as well with no adaptors). What’s more, the SL2 is really the only game in town when it comes to a “premium” full frame mirrorless experience that’s built to an outrageously high standard, both in terms of durability and general luxuriousness.
Thoughtful Evolution in a Magnesum and Aluminum Shell
With the SL2, it seems as though Leica’s big bet has come good. The SL2’s upgrades and changes aren’t a wholesale rethink, they’re fairly modest updates that mostly bring the camera into the present, but those, paired with the original ethos of the SL and the far more developed market for mirrorless full-frame cameras, means that the main selling point of the SL2 isn’t just to do with the name on the front. We’ll wait to make the really lofty claims until we can get more time with it, but the SL2 seems like a hell of a camera.
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