The Officially Unofficial Leica SL App Users Guide

Leica officially did not ask me to produce this guide, but I think I owe it to all the Leica SL shooters out there..... The Leica SL App is one of the best kept secrets of the Leica SL Type 601, so I'm presenting the "Officially Unofficial" users guide.

PS - this guide is virtually the same when used with the Leica Q ;-)

Why Use the Leica SL App?

The Leica SL app for your mobile device allows you to connect to the camera, enabling remote control of focusing, camera settings, and taking photos and video. It also allows you to review files on the camera, and download images and videos to your mobile device. It is a must-have for any travel photographer, or anyone who wants to work with their images on the go!

The Leica SL app is available in the iTunes store for Apple or Google Play for Android. I only own Apple devices, so all screen shots are from my Apple iPhone 6 Plus. The app also works on my Apple iPad Pro.

All brand names, product names, etc are the property of their respective companies. 

Installing the Leica SL App

The first step is to visit your respective app store and download the app. You can use the links above, or search "Leica SL" in your app store. Install like you would any other app.....

The Leica SL App seen in the Apple App Store

Connecting Your Camera

After you have installed the app, you will need to connect it to the camera. There are basically two ways - by scanning a QR code shown on the back of the camera, or by typing in a password. As far as I can tell, both work just fine. 

To start, you'll need to get your camera to broadcast the wifi signal that your phone will connect to via the app. Navigate to the 'WLAN' tab on your camera (I have this saved as a favorite).

The WLAN screen (hint: make this a page included in your favorites tab for fast access)

The WLAN screen (hint: make this a page included in your favorites tab for fast access)

On the next page you will see three choices. Select the "function" tab.

You will now see a setting that says "Remote Control by App" - this is the setting you need to link your phone and Leica SL. Click down on the joystick to proceed.

Your camera will now display a screen with two pieces of information. On the right side is a QR code that you can "scan" with the app to connect camera and phone. Or you can use the password on the bottom of the screen to link the two devices. It doesn't matter.

QR code on the right. Password on the bottom..... select your path from here

QR code on the right. Password on the bottom..... select your path from here

The QR Code Route

On the app home page you will see the "connect by QR code" button. Clicking that will enable the camera and a red square that you need to position over the QR code on the camera back. After the phone reads the code, it will bring up a screen in your settings to link the camera and phone.

The screen to have your phone read the QR code on the back of the SL screen.

The screen to have your phone read the QR code on the back of the SL screen.

At this point, depending on your device security settings, you may have a few prompts to enter a password to enable the connection. Once complete you should get a success prompt. Return to the Leica SL app and it will first say "Searching camera in Leica ...." and then change to "Tap to connect to Leica SL....". Tap where it says and you're connected!

The QR code scan will ask to install a profile. Follow all the prompts, then return to the app....

The QR code scan will ask to install a profile. Follow all the prompts, then return to the app....

The app will now try to connect to the wifi network broadcast by the camera

The app will now try to connect to the wifi network broadcast by the camera

Once the connection is made, the screen will say "tap to connect". Seems like an extra click - why not just auto connect?

Once the connection is made, the screen will say "tap to connect". Seems like an extra click - why not just auto connect?

The Password Route

I prefer the connect via password route, mostly because my iPhone remembers the password, so I can reconnect faster between shoots than with the QR code. But to each their own.....

Navigate to the settings and wifi network selection for your phone. Yes, your wifi has to be on and the camera needs to be on the screen where it is displaying the password and QR code. You should see a Leica SL wifi network appear after a few seconds. Click on it. It will ask for a password - use the number provided on the bottom of your camera screen. 

See the Leica SL network? Click to connect and type in the password from the bottom of the camera.

See the Leica SL network? Click to connect and type in the password from the bottom of the camera.

Once the wifi connects successfully, you return to the app and will see the same "Searching camera in Leica....." and "Tap to connect to Leica SL..." prompts. Tap and you are connected.

Controlling Your Camera

It is worth noting that turning off / time out your phone or camera can cause the link to disconnect, so be sure not to let the phone go to sleep if you are trying to remain connected.

Once the camera is connected, clicking the "Remote Camera Control" button on the app allows you to enter a remote controller mode, which is really the best part of the app. 

Once connected, you can click the remote camera control button to enable camera operations.

Once connected, you can click the remote camera control button to enable camera operations.

There are three tabs under the camera control - photo, video and play. Those are hopefully fairly intuitive names......

Inside the camera control screen

Inside the camera control screen

In the center of the frame you will now see a live view of what the camera sees. In this case, we see my cat looking out the window at the end of my desk. Stimulating, I know. As you move your camera around, this view will change, with a minor lag.

At the bottom you can see the camera's current settings (aperture, shutter, ISO, EV, white balance, etc). You can also see what mode you are in (aperture priority, manual, etc). There is a large button that acts as the remote shutter, and finally a button on the bottom right to adjust more advanced settings, like drive mode or exposure metering mode. 

The controls for adjusting some of the settings. In this case, I selected the ISO control.....

The controls for adjusting some of the settings. In this case, I selected the ISO control.....

Clicking on a setting like ISO will bring up a little bar where you can scroll left / right to adjust that particular setting. Some settings will be based on the lens - in this case I've got the Leica Noctilux attached, so I can't change the aperture in camera, only by changing it by hand on the front of the lens.

Some of the more "advanced" settings that can be adjusted from within the app

Some of the more "advanced" settings that can be adjusted from within the app

The app allows you to adjust all of the major settings of the camera, including file format (DNG or JPEG) remotely, which is great. Most wireless shutter releases do only that - but the app lets you not only collect images remotely, but also change every important setting. You could setup your camera on a tripod around a favorite bird spot and sit inside drinking a cocktail while remotely controlling the camera. I've used it for long exposures at night, when I wanted to sit someplace warm while the camera worked for several minutes. Opportunities abound!

Downloading Files to your Mobile Device

Under the play tab, you can see the images currently on the camera's memory card. Clicking an image brings up a large preview, which you can use to check the final product or show a client. If you shoot in .JPEG, you can also use the buttons on the bottom to download an image directly to your phone. Unfortunately, DNG files are not supported for download onto the phone. You also have options for favoriting a photo or deleting it, but I don't use these.

Files available to view on the camera's memory card

Files available to view on the camera's memory card

Clicking on a photo brings up a large preview, and options to download it

Clicking on a photo brings up a large preview, and options to download it

Leica SL Album

Any photos you download to your phone get saved in a special album called "Leica SL" - you can access this album via the app, or through your photos. For me, the view in app is rather useless; once I've downloaded the image, I will use my Apple Photos app to view them.

Photos saved in the Leica Photos album..... seems duplicative to me, but no biggie.

Photos saved in the Leica Photos album..... seems duplicative to me, but no biggie.

How I Use the App

The Leica SL app has had a surprising number of uses for me, and I use it as well with my Leica Q. I used the app to do comparisons between two lenses in a store - it allowed me to download full resolution previews and compare the bokeh effect between the old and new Noctilux before buying one. I have used it to do long exposures at night in the desert, star trails in England, and for long exposures where I don't want to introduce camera shake. On numerous occasions, the app has allowed me to download an image while traveling, edit it with Lightroom Mobile, and share it on my blog or social media. 

I have never used the video functions of the app, mostly because I don't use the video functions of the Leica SL.

Overall, the app is a great addition. It's not perfect, but I appreciate that I don't need to carry more equipment to remotely control my camera in the field. I'll always have my phone in tow!

Leica Announces Details on APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280mm Lens

Hooray! Today Leica announced the release and pricing of their second lens in the SL lineup, the Leica APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280mm f/2.8-4 telephoto lens.

I’m very excited about the announcement as several London-based Leica dealers indicated they thought Leica was behind on the release and it would not come in 2nd quarter 2016, like initially forecast. But this announcement proves them wrong and finally gives us something to get excited about.

Stock photograph of the 90-280mm lens mounted on the Leica SL body. Image from LeicaRumors.com 

Although I adopted Leica M-series cameras last year, it was not until the Leica SL was released that I could finally separate from my Nikon equipment completely. I had retained my Nikon gear for those times when I needed a fast autofocus telephoto lens, something that wasn’t a strong part of Leica’s lineup until the SL was announced. Even though this lens wasn’t available until now, knowing it was coming gave me the confidence to part with my Nikon 80-400mm lens and dSLR body.

The Leica Camera press release published today has a few small surprises with regard to this lens. First, and most exciting is that “….the overall length of the lens does not change when either focusing or zooming.” Awesome! Although I have not seen it in person, the 90-280mm lens appears similar in size to my old Nikon 80-400mm, except that lens did expand during zooming. I fully expected this lens would likewise extend in length while zooming, and am pleasantly surprised to hear that will not be the case. Second, the lens retains the weather sealing against dust and water, like the rest of the lineup. I expected it would, but happy to have confirmation. Finally, the press release makes mention of a detachable tripod place and rotating tripod collar, which I’m looking forward to seeing and really studying for quality. 

Weight and size wise, this baby is certainly larger than the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH lens. It weighs approximately 800grams more…. if that is as meaningless to you as it is to me, then here are some common objects that weigh 800grams:

  • Eight average sized apples
  • Just less than two loaves of bread (US) or one UK loaf of bread
  • A single mens shoe

In other words, this baby isn’t a compact or lightweight lens….. it’s a heffer, but so are most 280mm lenses, so lets not hold that against Leica.

Leica is also advertising the lens will have a non-rotating filter thread that accepts E82 filters and will include a lens hood with the purchase. The focus distance will range from 0.6 meters - 1.4 meters, which is surprisingly close for a lens with this sort of zoom. 

I am hoping that the bokeh of this lens will be similar to the surprising bokeh of the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm ASPH lens; this will certainly be one of the first things I test once I purchase a copy.

The lens should be fully available by 24 March 2016 and is slated to sell at £4,650 in the UK, which works out to $6,550 US Dollars, as of the time of writing. That pricing is very competitive and on par with Canon’s pricing for telephoto lenses.

I’ll update this post as I get additional information and will prepare a full review once I have had an opportunity to purchase and shoot a copy myself.

Noctilux vs Vario-Elmarit 24-90mm on the Leica SL

Leica is regarded as one of, if not the, best camera lens manufacturers in the world. The crowning jewel of Leica lenses is the Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 lens that retails for a cool $11,000. On the Leica SL (Type 601), the Noctilux has become my go-to 50mm lens because of it’s incredibly thin depth-of-field and night vision like capabilities. 

But I wanted to see how the Noctilux - the best lens in the world - compared to the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH lens that was released with the SL. The comparison isn’t exactly fair… the Vario-Elmarit has a best aperture of f/3.6 at 50mm (compared to f/0.95), but I was curious to compare bokeh on like apertures as well as sharpness.

A quick note - I’m not a professional lens comparer, but I am a professional photographer who wants ‘good enough’ comparisons. If you are looking for results in a lab, look elsewhere!

For this test, I setup my Zone VI large format camera against a neutral wall and put the Leica SL on a tripod nearby. The primary light source is a large window to the right of the camera, although there was also a floor lamp on elsewhere in the room.

All photos were taken at ISO 800 and the Vario-Elmarit was set to 50mm. The focus point was the shutter speed numbering scale on the front of the lens. Files were shot at .DNG and converted to .JPEG in Lightroom with minimal image adjustments (all adjustments were synchronized between images).

Finally, it’s worth noting that the EXIF data for the images shot with the Noctilux does not accurately reflect the exact apertures I used; since the SL cannot communicate directly with the lens, it makes a ‘best guess’ at the aperture. I am providing the aperture values off the top of the lens for the Noctilux images and any images where the aperture and EXIF value don’t match are denoted with a “ * ”. 

Click on any image for a full-sized preview.

The first comparison is at f/8. I chose f/8 because it’s an aperture that should render most of the camera in sharp focus. Side-by-side the results are very similar, but a crop shows the Noctilux renders the entire camera in focus, while there is still a bit of soft bokeh on the Vario-Elmarit. I was a bit surprised by this, considering the Noctilux has the ‘king of bokeh’ title!

The next comparison was to evaluate the ‘best possible bokeh’ from each camera by shooting at the largest respective apertures (f/0.95 for the Noctilux vs f/3.6 for the Vario-Elmarit). Clearly the soft bokeh of the Noctilux won here (no surprise), but I was really more curious to compare detail at the focus points. Both were equally sharp along the numbers, but the Noctilux displays some very strong chromatic aberration along the lever that cocks the shutter and the edge of the lens. The colors between the two are remarkably similar, and although I can pick out differences of darkness between the lenses, those are adjustments that could be made in Lightroom.

Note: This is best viewed on a computer or tablet - the mobile version removes the side-by-side images.

Noctilux 50mm ASPH @ f/8*

Vario-Elmarit ASPH, 50mm @ f/8

Crop of Above
Noctilux 50mm ASPH @ f/8*

Noctilux 50mm ASPH @ f/0.95

Crop of Above
Noctilux 50mm ASPH @ f/0.95

Noctilux 50mm ASPH @ f/4

Noctilux 50mm ASPH @ f/5.6

Noctilux 50mm ASPH @ f/2*

Crop of Above
Vario-Elmarit ASPH, 50mm @ f/8

Vario-Elmarit ASPH, 50mm @ f/3.6

Crop of Above
Vario-Elmarit ASPH, 50mm @ f/3.6

Vario-Elmarit ASPH, 50mm @ f/4

Vario-Elmarit ASPH, 50mm @ f/5.6

Vario-Elmarit ASPH, 50mm @ f/4

The final round of comparisons were aperture-for-aperture side-by-side shots at f/4 and f/5.6. Like with the first comparison at f/8, the Vario-Elmarit shows more bokeh and softness along the back of the camera, while the Noctilux has rendered the camera as fully in focus.

So what have I learned from all this nonsense?

  • The best possible bokeh comes from the Noctilux at f/0.95 (if this surprises anyone, we have a problem).
  • At f/4, the better bokeh actually belongs to the Vario-Elmarit. Shooting the Noctilux at f/2 actually renders bokeh very similar to the Vario-Elmarit at f/4
  • Even at f/8, the Vario-Elmarit maintains some soft bokeh compared to the Noctilux
  • Sharpness and color rendition is very similar between the two lenses. Any differences could easily be the result of Lightroom adjustments (and could be resolved in Lightroom).

So what?

Well that’s the $11,000 question! This is where individual photographers need to evaluate their particular needs. If you want the look of the f/0.95 Noctilux, you aren’t going to get it from the Vario-Elmarit. Likewise, if you have little use for a lens faster than f/4 at 50mm, then you can save some serious cash!

Review: How Does the Leica SL Like the COLD?

When Leica announced the new SL (Type 601), they marketed the camera at landscape photographers. Features like the solid aluminum body, GPS, and extensive weather sealing all appeal to a clientele that is notoriously abusive of our cameras. The marketing worked, and I ditched my remaining Nikon equipment and went ‘all in’ on the Leica SL system.

In my review of the camera, I tested it in a variety of routine environments: light rain, sand, and some chilly weather. But for Leica to really compete with the Nikon and Canon market, they had to produce a camera that could keep up and tough it in the most extreme conditions.

For five days, I used the Leica SL in the far north of Sweden in conditions beyond what Leica recommends - that would be conditions of extreme cold. During this five day period, the outside temperature never rose above freezing - most days the daytime high was -30*C. That’s bitter cold. 

It's so cold that it's beyond the suggested working conditions of the Leica SL, as stated by Leica (approximately 0-40*C).

It was colder outside than my household freezer; I could have used a freezer to 'warm' the camera from being outside!

I have used a Nikon D610 and D800 in similar conditions, so I needed the Leica SL to perform equally (or better) than those cameras in the extreme cold. Hours of unprotected exposure to these type of temperatures is hard on anything, but the Leica SL handled the weather with the grace you’d expect from a company that prides itself on exceptional engineering and design. 

Overall, the Leica SL’s performance was outstanding. 

I carried the Leica SL on a heavy duty strap made from the same material as seat belts..... no reason for risks in this environment!

High Points

  • Batteries: The first thing someone shooting in extreme cold stresses about is the battery life of their camera. I carried two extra batteries in a coat pocket along my chest to keep them warm, and found that three batteries was more than enough for me to shoot all day without having to stress about having enough juice. Of course the battery performance in the cold was not as good as the battery is during the day; I easily got about two hours of continuous use. Once a battery started to get low, I would swap it with another and re-warm that battery, which extended the life of them significantly. For comparison sake, the battery in my GoPro Hero 4 lasted about 15 minutes in the cold before I had to replace it……

    It is worth noting that the Leica batteries will not charge if they are too cold. After bringing the Leica SL back indoors, it took about 45 minutes before the battery was warm enough to start to re-charge.

    Finally, I encountered one incident where I had some snow melt on the o-ring for the battery and then re-freeze when I took the camera back outside. I had to warm the battery hatch area a little for the battery to eject as it froze in place. Once I realized this was a potential issue, I was careful to make sure the battery didn’t have any moisture on the o-ring before inserting it into the body and I never had another issue.
     
  • Ergonomics: I wrote about the great ergonomics of the Leica SL in my complete review, but the controls feel very different when using them through thick mittens and glove liners. While it was possible to use the Leica SL with bulky gloves, it was cumbersome, so I normally just used glove liners when shooting.
     
  • Toughness: For a camera that costs as much as the Leica SL does, I wasn’t exactly gentle with it on this trip. The camera went dogsledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, hiking, etc. It was dropped a few times and I tripped snowshoeing and landed on top of it, burying it several inches into the snow. It was accidentally banged and bumped. Yet for all this abuse, the Leica SL looks like it has spent the last few days relaxing on a shelf…. no scratches, chips, dents, etc. 

Weather sealing, one of the selling points of the Leica SL, was critical in this environment. I also was extra careful to turn off the camera during long periods between shots to preserve precious battery life. PS - that's the Really Right Stuff L-plate on the camera.

I might be crazy to subject a camera this expensive to conditions like this.... but the Leica SL proved it has a "don't give a damn" attitude about the cold!

Weak points

Using the Leica SL in these extreme conditions caused me to find a few points where improvements could have been made to improve the shooting experience in the extreme cold:

  • Disable touch screen: With bulky gloves, I kept accidentally hitting the touch screen, causing the camera to re-focus or otherwise do something I didn’t really want. It’s not fair to blame Leica for my clumsiness when I’m dressed in a billion layers, but I never had this problem with a Nikon because there wasn’t a touch screen! A software update where I could opt to disable the back LCD’s touch function would be appreciated.
     
  • Freezing to me: Solid metal construction can actually be a bit of a curse when it’s -30C! I would hold the Leica SL up to my eye and experienced a few times where the body of the camera was so cold that the condensation of my breath would cause the camera body to freeze to my face. HA! I’ve always joked that I have a camera glued to my face, but that really re-defined it! Solution: pack gaffers tape and lightly tape the metal areas along the bottom left as a temporary barrier against the cold.
     
  • Locking lens hood: The hood on the Leica 24-90mm lens is very good and clicks into place solidly in normal conditions, but the cold caused the lens hood to knock loose more often than in normal temperatures. Nikon has a metal latch on the 24-70mm, and that would have been very handy in these conditions as I frequently was having to check to ensure the lens hood hadn’t dislodged from the lens. 

The all metal body of the SL did get so cold that I had to be careful of it freezing to my face. The fix for this was easy - a little gaffers tape on the metal side protects the cheeks!

The Leica M7 joined the freezing party and, like the Leica SL, had no objections to the super cold temperatures.

Leica marketed this camera at photographers like me…. it worked, and I couldn’t be more glad that it did! The Leica SL performed exceptionally in an environment where most electronic devices just roll over and die. If you have been waiting to jump on the Leica SL train because of concerns with the camera’s performance in crazy environments, don’t hesitate. It would be a real challenge to subject the Leica SL to treatment more cruel than what I put it through this week, and I’m now even more confident in the incredible engineering and performance of this machine!

Confirmed - it was cold!

Really Right Stuff L-Plate for the Leica SL

When Leica released the Leica SL (Type 601), they targeted the camera at landscape and nature photographers; a group of folks who frequently use tripods. When I got my SL body, one of my first projects was to rummage through my drawer of L-plates and tripod base plates to find a suitable choice for this body. Unfortunately, makers like Really Right Stuff have not introduced a plate specifically for this camera, and the ones I already owned were too big to suit.

Thankfully, Really Right Stuff has a great website and support team. After a few emails and pulling out the calipers to measure against their blueprints, I decided to purchase the Really Right Stuff MC-L Multi-Camera L-Plate for my SL. 

Turns out, it fits like a glove! The plate mounts snug to the bottom of the camera while not being oversized. In fact, the plate leaves space so that the battery hatch and release switch can be accessed without removing the plate- a huge plus.

The Really Right Stuff MC-L plate weighs only 3.2oz and has the quality I've come to expect from their products. With this plate securely mounted, I can now use my acra swiss style clamp on the tripod to get photographs in both the horizontal and portrait orientation while keeping the weight of the camera over the center of the tripod.

I'll be putting the plate to the test next week when I head into the Arctic to shoot the aurora borealis, but I have every expectation that it will handle the task admirably! 

The Really Right Stuff MC-L Multi-Camera L-Plate

Solid construction and dovetail grove for acra swiss style tripod clamps

The Really Right Stuff L-plate mounted to the bottom of the Leica SL

The length of the L-plate, when mounted in the second slot like pictured, still leaves space to access the battery hatch and release. 

The plate is almost the same width as the Leica SL body. It is just barely wider, but the extra width is almost unnoticeable. 

If I needed to access the connections on the side, I could mount the plate on one of the other slots to permit enough clearance.

The plate would not interfere with a strap that went through this side of the body and gives plenty of clearance for all types of straps.

Quick Shot: High Tide at the Cliffs

If you didn't read my Leica SL review, then you probably missed these photographs I took with the new Leica SL while visiting the Hunstanton Cliffs last weekend. My goal was to test the camera in a variety of different shooting styles and techniques and to really test alot of the features a landscape photographer would use. But if you are just here for the pretty photographs, we'll cut straight to those and I won't bore you with camera mumbo-jumbo if that's not your bag!

Unfortunately, I didn't consult a tide chart before heading out, so we were at the cliffs during high tide. While this normally wouldn't be a problem, the thing I was hoping to photograph - a shipwreck on the beach - was underwater! So I'll go back next week after checking the tide chart to get the photograph I really wanted..... but I think these make some great substitutes for an underwater shipwreck!


The Leica SL (Type 601) Camera Review

The SL (Type 601) is Leica Camera’s first foray into the world of mirrorless cameras. On the surface, this camera looks over priced and unable to compete with the dominance of companies like Sony…… but looks are often deceiving! As it turns out, the Leica SL is just what the photography market ordered and is a masterpiece by the Germany camera maker.

In fact, this isn't just the best Leica ever made, it's arguably the best digital camera ever made for professional photographers.

Release Thoughts

When I first heard about the Leica SL in the press releases, I was not impressed. The photos provided by Leica made the camera look monstrous and none of the technical specs jumped off the page. I was quick to dismiss it.

After the camera started to ship, some of the regular internet blogs I followed started to discuss the Leica SL and there was a overall sense of pleasant surprise; I wasn’t the only one to write off the camera before using one. Since initial looks and previews were positive, I decided to go play with a demo unit at the Leica Store in Mayfair London during a weekend trip to explore the London winter markets. 

I was so impressed, I pre-ordered my own copy that day.

Unboxing

I was having a bad week; a mouse had chewed through plumbing in our house, causing mass flooding. Thankfully nothing was damaged, but it was a close call as the ceiling nearly collapsed in my photo studio. I was lucky to salvage everything without issue! 

When the Leica Store Mayfair emailed me mid-week to let me know that an SL had arrived and it was mine for the taking, it did a wonder for my morale. New toys and gadgets can fix almost any problem! I asked Leica if they would charge the battery for me, as I’d come down to London to pick it up on Saturday and would want to shoot around town after I picking it up. True to their word, Leica generously charged everything and had it ready to go so I could enjoy a first day of shooting. Kudos to the Mayfair team for superb customer service!

The SL comes in a large black cardboard box. It’s about the same size as the boxes from Nikon for the D800 and D610. Unlike the M series cameras, which come with a box that is reminiscent of a jewelry box, this one is more straight forward and not as luxurious. But who cares about the box? The SL isn’t made for people who want schnazzy boxes, it’s made for photographers! 

Inside the box is a large foam insert with slots for all the components: battery, charger, cables, camera strap and the camera itself. 

The only surprise in the unboxing is that the SL does not come with a UK plug adapter as standard. I found this a little surprising considering the Leica M-P (Type 240) includes this and I purchased the camera in the UK. They offer a European two pin and the American two prong plugs, and I have plenty of adaptors, so no problems.

Charger & Batteries

The Leica SL takes a proprietary lithium ion battery that is sealed with a gasket so that, when inserted into the camera body, it maintains the weather sealing. The battery bottom also acts as the door for the battery hatch. Initially I though this was a little strange, but on reflection, I like the design. I have nearly ripped the battery hatch door off my Nikons before, so Leica has just removed a potential failure point.

The charger is like most Leica chargers; it includes lights to tell you when the battery is 80% charged and then fully charged. Batteries are inserted into the charger and then popped down snuggly into the charging station. Unlike the Leica M charger, where the cord is only a few inches long, the cord on the SL charger is long enough to be plugged into a floor level outlet while still resting on a table. 

A spare battery runs £95 GBP / $150 USD, which is reasonable. 

Strap

Leica provides a fairly solid camera strap with the SL. It has a stretchy neoprene neck pad and would probably be fairly strong if someone tried to cut it off you. That said, I won't be using the camera strap provided because I prefer even more solid designs, but what they give isn't terrible. There is no big and obscene Leica branding - of course the camera itself isn’t very subtle about being a Leica!

USB Cable

Provided with the Leica SL is a USB 3.0 cable that is also longer than expected. I don’t shoot tethered to my laptop very often, but it seems like the cable is just barely long enough to permit some tethered shooting. 

Accessories

At the time of launch, Leica announced several other accessories for the Leica SL that could be purchased after market. These include a battery grip, protective cover film for the back LCD screen, and a series of filters for the also released lenses. At this time, I haven’t purchased any accessories for the SL beyond what was provided, so any feedback on those will wait until they are released/purchased.

Construction & Build

Leica makes a lot of collector cameras - sets designed for the obscenely rich to buy and put on a shelf (I feel bad for those cameras). The Leica SL is not a collector camera. It’s not for those looking for a sexy and delicate camera. This is a photographers camera, and it shows.

The body is milled from a single solid block of aluminum, which makes it extremely solid and rugged. Design graphics provided by Leica show they have included a ton of little rings and gaskets to weather seal the camera from water and dust. In fact, Leica has even produced a video showing the Leica SL having a bucket of water dumped on it! As a landscape and outdoor photographer, this was a tremendous selling feature. 

The camera has a very simplistic design - rather than overwhelm the user with a zillion little labelled buttons, they have stuck to their value of “the essentials” and provided intelligently designed controls. I really like this; there are several buttons on the Nikon’s I’ve owned that I have literally never never used. Ever. Of course the risk with cutting buttons is creating cluttered menus, but even here, the construction and design is brilliant. The SL cleverly adds long press functionality like seen on some recent Apple products to give each button a series of options and commands. That allowed them to quickly cut the number of controls needed to a bare minimum without risking frustration from photographers who needed to work hard to change a setting like ISO.

Beyond the physical construction, Leica has taken some steps to appeal to tech savvy photographers by including elements like GPS and wifi into the camera. 

Ergonomics

The truth is, Leica didn’t design this camera for a woman’s hands. The majority of the people who buy and use an SL are men who will have bigger and longer hands than I do. As a result, I am always concerned that a camera’s ergonomics won’t fit me quite right.

Alas, the Leica SL fits comfortably in my small hands. All the controls are easily within reach and I actually think the size of my hands plays to my favor when holding the SL. My right thumb can easily reach the scroll wheels and joystick control while holding the camera to my face, and my right hand comfortably wraps around the hand grip. 

Weight wise, the Leica SL body is lighter than I expected it would be, considering the construction of the body. It’s heavier than a Leica M, so if that’s what you are accustomed to, it’ll seem like a brick, but for dSLR shooters, this isn’t “heavy.” Leica says that, with the battery, the camera weighs 850 grams. I can’t visualize 850 grams, but according to my calculator, that’s the same as holding five Apple iPhone 6’s. It’s also the same weight as the Nikon D800. The lens combination obviously has huge impact on the overall weight of the camera too.

Camera Sensor

The Leica SL comes with a 24 megapixel full frame (6000x4000 pixel) CMOS sensor. It has an infrared filter, but no low pass filter, which helps ensure maximum sharpness. This is probably the same sensor that was used in the also recently released Leica Q and that has received rave reviews. Side by side comparisons of the Leica SL and Leica Q still show differences in image quality, and that's because image quality is also based on processing, software, and other factors beyond the physical sensor. 

Battery Life

Using the camera all day (10+ hours) while walking around London and shooting in a variety of environments with the GPS enabled, I finished the day with the battery still having almost 50% of the original charge. I also used the onboard wifi and connected with the iPhone Leica App during that time, both of which really can tax batteries. In normal shooting conditions, assuming you aren't using too many of these features, a battery will easily last a day of shooting.

Of course I am too paranoid about missing a shot because of a dead battery, so I always carry a backup.

Lens Choices

Leica proudly boasts how the Leica SL can, with the right set of adaptors, be used with almost every lens they've ever made. But in reality, most of us will use the newly released SL series of lenses or will mount M lenses. 

SL Lenses

As part of the announcement of the Leica SL, Leica announced three lenses that would be released over a one year schedule to mount directly onto the SL mount. These lenses are designed to take advantage of all the camera's features, but owners of existing Leica glass can mount those lenses with a series of adaptors, so we aren't stuck waiting for lens releases. The most commonly mounted lenses will probably be the M series glass, so I'll address that below.

Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH

The first lens released with the SL is available at the time of shipping, and it's the most versatile of the lenses announced for the SL to date. A 24-70mm lens is considered one of the gold standards for professional photographers to own and Leica is improving on this common focal length by offering a 24-90mm with extra reach. This is a variable aperture lens, meaning it is f/2.8 at 24mm and f/4 at 90mm. Because it is an electronic lens, the aperture between those focal lengths varies and is digitally controlled; apertures in electronic lenses don't have to move in 1/2 or whole stop increments. Here's the largest aperture provided at some common focal lengths:

  • 24mm: f/2.8
  • 28mm: f/2.9
  • 35mm: f/3.1
  • 50mm: f/3.6
  • 75mm: f/3.8
  • 90mm: f/4

Leica doesn't build a lot of zoom lenses, and the reason is pretty simple - the engineering required to make a zoom lens that maintains consistent image quality through the zoom range is extremely complicated. Leica has very high standards that they have built a reputation on - and that reputation can't afford to release a flop lens. The Leica 24-90mm lens lives up to all of Leica's exacting standards, delivering fantastic clarity, contrast, color saturation, detail and sharpness at all focal lengths. At the same time, it's about the same size and weight as the 24-70mm lenses made by Canon and Nikon, so they achieved this incredible quality in a reasonably sized package.

For folks accustomed to using the M lenses, it will feel like they are hauling around a bazooka with this lens, but if you are like me and are used to the Nikon 24-70mm lens, this will feel very natural. Leica's goal when releasing the SL was to appeal to photographers like me who have always needed dSLRs, but with lenses like the Leica 24-90mm, I'll be ditching my remaining Nikon gear.

When I first heard about the lenses released for the Leica SL, I wasn't sure I wanted to buy the lens. I figured I could continue to use my M series glass and keep the setup more compact. After shooting with the demo body and lens at the Leica Store Mayfair, I changed my tune. The 24-90mm was incredibly fast to focus and staggeringly sharp. The only thing my M lenses offer over this lens is faster apertures and smaller size. Because this lens was really delightful to shoot with, I opted to purchase it, while still maintaining two of my M lenses for those times when I want a more compact and lightweight setup. 

Leica APO Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280mm f/2.8-4

Just like the 24-70mm is a standard midrange zoom used by most professional photographers, the 70-200mm lens is considered the professional's telephoto of choice. Keeping with that, Leica has announced, but not yet released, a 90-280mm f/2.8-4 lens to meet the needs of professionals who are considering leaving their dSLR setups. Unfortunately, the lens is probably not going to be widely available until summer 2016, and I haven't seen any reliable pricing information. There have been some photos of demo units floating around at some Leica stores, but otherwise, little is known about this lens outside Leica's promotional materials. The good news is that with a focal length this long, Leica is promising superior autofocus and image stabilization (they claim it can compensation for 3.5 stops of camera shake). 

From the photos I've seen, the lens looks to be approximately the same size as the Nikon 80-400mm zoom that I've used for wildlife photography. If that's the case, it'll be larger than the other 70-200mm lenses on the market - but it also offers 80mm more reach than it's competitors. Either way, I will be eager to try one as soon as possible to see if this lens can meet my needs for wildlife shooting.

Leica Summilux-SL 50mm f/1.4 ASPH

Leica rangefinder users will probably be most excited for this 50mm prime, which is set to release late 2016. Again, no pricing information, but I can assume it will be a pretty penny. The 50mm Summilux lens for the M series cameras costs between $3,500-4,000 (depending on promotions), and it is a manual focus lens. Add autofocus and a much bigger lens (more glass), and I can't imagine this baby will be cheap. For that reason, I'll stick to the M series 50 Summilux, unless Leica blows me away with reasonable pricing.

For those who can afford what I imagine will be a pricey lens, the 50mm Summilux in the SL mount may be the lens that draws Leica rangefinder users to the SL. Those who are accustomed to prime lenses and crave lens speed over zoom will swoon for this lens, so I imagine it'll be a top seller. I also expect Leica will release several other fast primes in the SL mount - I'd guess a 35mm comes next?

M Lenses

The Leica SL is an incredible camera, and unless you really lust over a rangefinder, I suspect many M shooters will ditch their trusty M bodies in favor of an SL. The SL is nearly the same size and weight as an M, but with way more features, so why wouldn't you?

The appeal of using the SL with M lenses is that the electronic viewfinder can display any focal length lens without needing crazy adapters. No add-on field-of-view optics - just look into the viewfinder. What it shows is what you'll get! And if you like to shoot with a narrow depth of field at apertures ranging from f/0.95 to f/2, you're more likely to hit precise focus with a digital viewfinder than blindly trusting the calibration on the rangefinder. 

To use an M lens on the Leica SL, you'll need the Leica M-Adapter T (aka a M to T adaptor). The adaptor is pretty small and reasonably inexpensive and, as an added bonus, can read 6 bit coding on M lenses and transfer that information to the camera.

Camera functions like autofocus are disabled when you mount an M lens (for hopefully obvious reasons), and you can choose to shoot in aperture priority or manual mode. Features like focus peaking in the electronic viewfinder make achieving tack sharp focus much easier and turning those features on and adjusting them is easily done in the menus. Firmware update 1.2 also enabled a super zoom in for focusing by just pressing down on the joystick while looking through the EVF. It's a fantastic feature!

....And it Makes Some Fine Images!

Image Quality

I always shoot in RAW (14 bit color depth) and edit my images to get the maximum quality in the finished result. Since RAW images assume no sharpening, contrast, color saturation, etc, RAW images tend to look dull until edited. The RAW images from the Leica SL are far from dull!

The first time I downloaded the images into Adobe Lightroom, I kept excitedly telling my husband how great they were. Although they were still RAW files, there was incredible dynamic range, color, and detail present. A few selective adjustments and the images really popped - easily the best quality I have natively seen from a camera. The image results totally dominate the RAW files created by the Leica M-P (Type 240). Likewise, they far exceed results I’ve seen from any of my Nikon’s. 

I don't do scientific reviews, because I also don't shoot with a lab coat and clipboard. I shoot in the real world and use real world photos as the basis for my review, and I have been nothing but impressed by the image quality that comes from the SL. Leica's engineers clearly have worked very hard to squeeze every drop of goodness out of this sensor and it makes the sensor of the Leica M-P (Type 240) look like a kids toy. Lenses like the 50mm Summilux f/1.4, which have a distinctive "Leica look" only look better with the SL!

If you are a landscape photographer, then this is your camera. I am totally blown away by the quality of this camera, especially with the 24-90mm lens. The following images were all taken with that combination, and required minimal editing in Lightroom to deliver the results you see here.....

Window Dressing - Leica SL & 24-90mm @ f/3.3, 1/40 sec

Incredible detail and color - the sand looked more black to my eye, but the Leica SL captured all the little golden flecks that really give the sand interest and texture. f/4 @ 1/160th

Of course, the Leica SL generates some lovely images to convert to black and white. This was converted using Nik Silver Effects...... oh, and this was hand held at f/22 @ 1/6th!

The Leica 24-90mm practically serves as a macro lens, offering incredible color and detail on a nice short focus. f/22 @ 1/80th

Check out the detail and sharpness! I barely touched any sliders in Adobe Lightroom to get this image from the RAW .DNG file.

Color bands on the Hunstanton Cliffs on the coast of England. f/4 @ 1/60th

Leica wants the SL to appeal to landscape photographers. With results like this, that won't be an issue! f/7.1 @ 1/100th

Leica wants the SL to appeal to landscape photographers. With results like this, that won't be an issue! f/7.1 @ 1/100th

Lots of texture with shadows and highlights, yet the Leica SL renders it beautifully.

Nice results when using a neutral density filter on a f/22 @ 2.5 second exposure. Nice and sharp and clean.

Great cropping potential with a 90mm lens and some tremendous image quality. This is a 100% crop and the bird eyes are still tack sharp.

ISO Performance

Like I previously mentioned, I am not a scientist, so I don't shoot crazy side-by-side comparison photos. But I am a real photographer that shoots in real environments, and the ISO performance of this camera, when used in the real world, is incredible. I normally shoot at auto ISO settings and only override the camera if I want something like a long exposure via neutral density filter. Using manual ISO, the Leica SL did a nice job maintaining a low ISO while balancing a shutter speed I could hand hold; when shooting in Aperture Priority, I normally found the camera would prefer ISO 50 while maintaining shutter speeds above 1/80th. I did shoot some photographs of my Christmas tree and found unbearable noise didn't show until above 25,000 and 50,000 was pretty noisy - but it's also stupid crazy ISO to really shoot at. If you are shooting at ISO 50k, you've made the decision to sacrifice quality in favor of getting an image, so who cares?

Video

One of the features that appealed to me on the Leica SL is the video functionality built into the camera. Video features never made sense to me on the Leica M series - it’s not the kind of camera I would use to film anything beyond a 10 second memory clip. For that reason, I still had been holding onto my Nikon D610 for video work.

Now that I own the Leica SL, I’ll be selling the Nikon D610 as the SL has met and surpassed the video capabilities. I am not a professional videographer, so I’d be speaking out of turn to evaluate the video quality, but 4K video should be more than enough for me to film short snippets for YouTube videos.

The video specs are as follows:

  • Resolution: 4K (4096 × 2160) @ 24 fps; 4K (3840 × 2160) @ 25 and 30 fps; 1080 @ 24, 25, 30, 50, 60, 100 and 120 fps; 720 @ 24, 25, 30, 50, 60, 100 and 120 fps
  • L-Log gamma selectable
  • HDMI video output (enabled recording via external monitor)
  • Compatible with Leica Cine-Lenses
  • Record in MP4 and MOV formats
  • Stereo microphone, 48 kHz
  • Audio in/out via additional connector
  • Up to 29 min recording duration

Shooting Experience

Electronic Viewfinder

The EVF has to be one of Leica’s crowning achievements in this camera and I suspect it will force other camera manufacturers to step up their game when it comes to viewfinders. 

Until demo-ing the Leica SL, I had never used an EVF. The Nikon’s, Leica M, and analog film cameras that I’m most accustomed to using are optical viewfinders - either a rangefinder or a mirror with prism. I had never been drawn to an EVF because it seemed like it would introduce problems; a mirror doesn’t use any battery power! My experiences using Live View features has never been all that great - it’s a "nice to have" feature but lags and is slow to start. Installing a small Live View screen into a viewfinder just struck me as opportunity to fail, not to succeed.

What I’d failed to consider was the benefits of an EVF. Most notably, the EVF allows you to preview and review images in the viewfinder. I don’t have to take my eye away from the eyepiece to check if the camera captured the image correctly anymore. I don’t have to consult with the back screen for any detailed information. While I shouldn’t have been so surprised that an EVF offered more functionality than a traditional optical viewfinder, I had never put any thought into the issue. So if you are used to an optical viewfinder, try an EVF just to see if it changes your life like it did mine!

The EVF in the Leica SL is 4.4 megapixels and is very sensitive. According to Leica, it has a 37 degree field of view and is full frame. There is an external diopter control for those with glasses, and folks with glasses can also adjust the eyepiece auto-on sensitivity. I found that it did a nice job adjusting to ambient light and was easy to use in near total darkness later a night. It is also very fast and responsive to the human eye and automatically turns on/off when you look through it. Unlike most Live View functions, which need a second or two of startup time, the EVF is almost instant, so if I miss a shot, it’s not because of the EVF!

While I can tell it isn’t an optical viewfinder, the EVF is nearly life-like in the quality, colors, and rendition of the image. I appreciate the various in-screen information that can be displayed via the EVF, including a histogram to see clipping, focus peaking, or zooming for precise focus. Again, none of these features should surprise me, but coming from an optical viewfinder world, I find the ability to access this information via the eyepiece really wonderful. 

We will talk about pricing later in the review, but this EVF is incredibly well built and designed, and I think the difference in price between this and competitor cameras can easily be justified by considering the EVF’s clarity and performance.

Joystick

Leica did away with the extra buttons that clutter the back of other SLR cameras by utilizing a series of smart controls. One of these controls is a little joystick near the viewfinder. The location of the joystick is such that you can use your thumb to control the joystick while still looking through the viewfinder, which is great, because the joystick can allow you to move a focus crosshair around. The joystick was also very fast and smooth; it reminded me of the joystick on a video game controller with the smooth operation.

One of the cool features is that with firmware 1.2, you can click in on the joystick with a manual focus (M series) lens and the camera will zoom in the EVF to help you achieve pinpoint focus. If you are shooting a lens like the f/0.95, that'll be a huge focus assist.

The joystick also controls functions in the menus, which makes it a breeze to zoom through the menu screens.

Leica SL App

Many people dislike the Leica apps that allow integration with a smart phone, but, for me, the app is actually one of the surprises of this camera and shouldn’t be overlooked. Like the EVF, this app will change the way I shoot.

The Leica SL app is found in the Apple iTunes or Android app stores and using it requires the camera to be put into wifi mode (which probably shortens the battery life) and it then broadcasts its own wifi signal. To connect your phone to the camera, you either enter a unique password, or scan the QR code that comes up on the back of the camera. Once connected, the app serves as a remote control for the camera.

Using the app, you see a real-time preview of what the camera sees. You can touch the screen on the app to move the focus point or adjust shooting settings like aperture or shutter. There is a capture button that then lets you take the image remotely. Virtually all major camera controls are adjustable via the app.

Why is this important? Let me tell you how many hundreds of dollars I’ve wasted on remote controls and other external operations for my other cameras..... None of them worked as well as this did. If I had owned this camera on my recent trip to Wales, I would have used it to shoot long exposures without having to touch the camera and risk introducing camera shake. It’s completely brilliant and very easy to use and allows me to forgo more gadgetry like shutter releases.

Another added bonus of the app is that it allows you to view photos on the memory card and download them to your phone. Awesome. Now I can use the app to grab that photograph I just took and upload it to Facebook before I’ve even left the site. With the improvement of Adobe’s Creative Cloud system, this type of technology will change the way photographers share images with clients in near-real time. 

Touchscreen

Leica did something very cool when they made the screen on the back of the camera touch enabled. I actually forget that the back screen is touch enabled because I am not used to a feature like that! But with the touch screen, you can easily control the focus points, or quickly swipe through photos. It's a handy bonus feature built in - one I didn't need to be sold on the camera, but that only makes it that much better!

GPS

The Leica SL includes built in GPS functionality, which I rather enjoy. As an outdoor and landscape photographer, this enables me to view images spatially on a map and not have to worry about keyword tagging the location of the photo. I always wanted to play with GPS accessories for Nikon, but was too cheap to buy the accessories to enable GPS tagging. I wouldn’t have blamed Leica if they didn’t include the GPS, but the fact that they did is just another great bonus. I found the GPS acquires a signal in surprisingly fast time, but I haven’t been able to accurately evaluate the impact to the battery life. Using the GPS all day walking around London, I only half drained the battery, so as long as I carry a spare battery, it shouldn’t be an issue to use for a day of shooting. 

Problems & Complaints

No camera is perfect, but the Leica SL is damn close... that said, I can offer one problem and two complaints:

SD Card Issue

There seems to be an issue where using a large memory card in slot 1 causes a slow start up. As far as I've been able to diagnose, the problem is that the camera wants to index the memory card before being ready to shoot. When I put a 128GB card into slot 1, it takes almost 7 seconds to be ready to shoot. If I put a 16GB card into that slot, it takes 1.5 seconds. Using that same 128GB card in the Leica M-P (240), it starts immediately, so that tells me the problem is software based. I recorded a video of the issue and have swapped emails with Leica - they confirm the issue can probably be fixed in a future firmware update. If Leica fixes this (which I believe they will), then I won't have any issues with the software.

On/Off Switch

So this will sound crazy, but the Leica SL is the first camera I've owned where the on/off switch isn't located where accessible with my right hand. As a result, it takes two hands to get the camera 'ready to shoot' - my right hand holding the grip while the left flips the power switch. This is a muscle memory problem, but it will take me a few weeks to get used to this arrangement. 

Camera Strap Lugs

I love the way the Leica M camera straps attach with the little lugs on the side. The SL has slots where the strap feeds through, and that irritates me because I can't use some of the great straps I own already. Even when I buy a new strap, I don't like the way it sits on my body with the straps fixed in that position. Sure, I can use a sling strap that attaches to the tripod mount on the bottom, but then that blocks access to the tripod mount. It may seem fickle, but its the little things that make the biggest annoyances. Of course, that's not a reason NOT to buy the SL!

Pricing

When it comes to Leica, pricing can be an awkward subject. 

“Oh, that’s a nice camera, what does it cost?”

Holding a Leica, I always feel like I’m being judged. Is she filthy rich? (No: I sold all my Nikon gear and some other old stuff to purchase this)

When you really break apart this camera and compare it to some of the ‘competition’, I think Leica actually priced this camera very fairly. Sony doesn’t make a body like this, and neither does Nikon or Canon, so determining the market value is a bit tricky. The Nikon D4S, which is the top of Nikon’s line and is presumably the type of camera competing with the Leica (despite differences like EVF, sensor resolution, shooting speed, etc), costs $6,500 at the time of writing. That’s $1,000 less than the Leica. But no one is gawking at that saying “wow, Nikon is just inflating their brand!”

Bottom line, I won’t pretend that at $7,500, the Leica SL is a cheap camera, because it’s not. But I also will stand here and say with a straight face that Leica priced competitively when compared to other top-of-the-line cameras from Nikon and Canon. I think the Leica SL will also sell very well because there are far more features built in for the price than something like the Leica M, which lacks EVF, auto focus, etc.

About this Review

I buy all the gear I review - no freebies, no demo units. This camera was paid for with my own hard earned bucks, and therefore I'm not indebted to anyone to say nice things. The fact that I've paid this much for the camera and am absolutely silly stupid in love is 100% genuine based on the goodness the Leica SL has delivered!