Goondu review: Leica SL (Type 601)

December 4th, 2015 | by Wilson Wong
Goondu review: Leica SL (Type 601)
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Just when you think that Leica is done introducing new cameras for this year, the German company comes up with its SL (Type 601) mirrorless camera. Not that Leica fans are complaining, of course.

The lack of a mirror box, unlike in a digital SLR camera, may seem like a bad idea to professional photographers who appreciate the speed in framing a subject quickly.

Leica doesn’t disappoint with the SL, however. Displaying 4.4-million-pixels, its electronic viewfinder is very responsive and is certainly big and bright at x0.80 magnification.

Leica’s contrast-detection auto-focus system is able to get a fix on a subject quickly and also tracks through the frame very well – a boon for fast action shots.

The SL makes it so easy to frame and focus that I don’t miss the optical viewfinder on a digital SLR. It helps that I can engage burst shots with the Leica camera at 11 frames per second.

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Other than the “On/Off” marking, the rest of the camera is devoid of any other indicators, lending the Leica SL a sleek profile and minimalist look. It may seem intimidating but you can familiarise with the camera fairly quickly.

One thing the SL isn’t is lightweight. Those who think of mirrorless cameras as more portable options to digital SLRs will be surprised when they hold the new Leica camera in their hands.

That’s not a bad thing, though. As the SL’s body is cut from a block of aluminium, it feels well-built and solid. Certainly, it is no lightweight.

When I matched the 1.14kg Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f2.8-4 lens to the SL’s 847-gram body plus battery, the total weight at 1.98kg has as much heft as or may be even heavier than the Nikon D810 or the Canon 5D Mark 3 with their respective 24-70mm f2.8 lens attached.

The camera is devoid of all indicators or printed markers in the effort to make the camera sleek. For newbies, the SL may seem intimidating. Yes, there is a learning curve but I managed to get the hang of things quite quickly and was out shooting much sooner than I thought.

Good skin tones with that tanned look without getting the red hue.

So what’s the verdict? I didn’t miss my DSLR at all and that says a lot. Even though the SL does not have as many buttons to get to the right settings quickly, it is not frustrating to the point I would ditch it for other cameras.

As the buttons are customisable, I can assign each button according to my shooting style. It is just that I have to sometimes hold the button a tad longer just to get to the settings.

For example, the Menu button can double up as my ISO setting button if I hold it down for more than a second. If you use the camera often enough it will become second nature but I find myself having to try all the buttons just to recall my setup.

Shot together with the Godox WISTRO AD360 mobile strobe system.

I have used this camera as part of a model shoot along with a mobile studio strobe system in Manual mode. Except for a few times when the focusing didn’t catch the subject, the SL performed flawlessly.

The only main grouse I have with the SL is its inability to use either the aperture or shutter wheels to have direct control over exposure compensation.

For example, if the rear wheel is meant to be used as the Shutter control in Shutter priority mode, the aperture wheel should be used to control exposure compensation. Instead I was forced to get into the EV settings via another button, which slows things down.

The fastest way to solve this is to go full manual. Still, this should not have been an issue at all for a top-of-the-line camera like the SL. A quick tweak to the firmware should solve this issue. Good news is, Leica has also acknowledged this shortcoming and hopefully will provide a solution soon.

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Using the Leica SL to shoot nearby objects and boost the ISO to get that dimly lit keyboard.

ISO 6400 test. Very clean with good highlight control. Notice the details of the entrance of Orchard Gateway is still evident despite exposing the shot for the darker interior of the cafe.

The SL is a new system designed from the ground up, so you won’t find that many lens with native support yet. That’s understandable but do take note if you are investing in this new Leica.

The telephoto APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 1:2,8-4/90-280mm ASPH will only arrive in Singapore by the second quarter of next year and the Summilux-SL 50mm f1.4 ASPH at the end of 2016.

Of course, there are adaptors you can use with existing lenses such as the M-mount to the medium format S system. However, to coax the best performance from the new camera, the best way to go is still the native SL lenses.

Like other Leica cameras, the SL doesn’t come cheap. It will set you back S$11,000 and the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–90 mm f/2.8–4 ASPH zoom lens will cost S$6,850.

For those who appreciate a classy camera and top notch image quality, the SL does deliver by the truck loads. Just have the money ready.

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