How About Dynamic Range and Color Depth?
Before we go any further, we need to discuss a comparison of color depth and dynamic range. On paper (and in laboratory testing), the Nikon D850 has over one stop more dynamic range and better color depth than the Leica SL. Unfortunately, in my real-world test, I couldn't see that difference. I am using a Apple MacBook Pro with Retina screen - a device that is more than capable of displaying the difference - yet I don't see it.
Why not? I suspect it has to do with the specific scenes I shot. There were no shadow areas that both cameras could not recover easily. And, as you can see in the side-by-sides above, the final images are extremely close, especially since I gave rather basic edits to both images. If these photographs were fine art prints that I wanted to sell, there would be far more attention paid to the editing to extract as much glory from the shot as possible. But that's not the case here.
In the end, I think I would need a really high dynamic range image to make out that difference between the cameras. Something like my sunset in Horseshoe Bend or Elakala Falls.....
Results - Nikon D850 or Leica SL?
This is where it gets tough. In many ways, the cameras both performed exactly as they should have. The Nikon D850, which has twice the sensor resolution of the Leica SL, won any comparison looking for micro-details in the image. But the Leica SL also holds its own in real world shooting, where the difference in resolution only becomes noticeable when zooming in beyond 600%.
Leica clearly produces a better lens than Nikon, which should have never been in doubt. Leica is generally considered in a league of their own when it comes to lens designs. But the problem is that the improvement isn't that substantial. Yes, it's there, but only if you are pixel peeping, like we're doing here, are you ever going to notice.
Finally, we need to talk about the difference in user experience. I greatly prefer using a mirrorless camera with electronic viewfinder to a prism, meaning I favor the shooting experience of the Leica SL to the Nikon D850.
The result? I'm tangled in knots. Shooting experience is very important to me. That's why I shoot Leica M rangefinders - I like the experience of manual everything and the feel that comes from shooting with a rangefinder. I think the emotions from the act of taking the picture can carry over into the image itself. A chef will tell you that their food tastes better when they cook in a good mood, and I think the same is true for a photographer. Yet the results from the better specs of the D850 are hard to ignore.
My best case? Leica, can you please release some more lenses and issue a high resolution version of the Leica SL? Or Nikon, can you create a mirrorless camera with electronic viewfinder comparable to the one on the SL? Either way, I think the best camera is a combination of the best of both worlds.
What do you think? What do you see in the results above? Leave a comment!