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SL System v. (All) — LONG READ


LD_50
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With all the threads on various forums, including this one, comparing camera bodies and systems I thought I would share my thoughts on the SL system. It seems that every time a new camera body from any maker is introduced, threads pop up not only asking for advice on whether to upgrade within a system (Canon to Canon, Leica to Leica, etc), but also whether to completely switch systems (Nikon to Canon, Leica to Sony, etc).

On top of these threads, we also tend to see a lot of threads and comments about how a camera maker is dying or will be soon because the newest camera has some feature or capability that others do not. Inevitably someone chimes in with their experience shooting professional sports with a Hasselblad 500 or Leica M3 as evidence that none of the advancements matter and it’s all down to the photographer. The truth is somewhere between the two for each of us.

My system progression has gone from Nikon (a bunch of F-mount cameras) to Leica (M and SL), with a Sony RX1 thrown in as well. 

When I was considering a move from my Nikon D700 to a new camera, I began to think about what matters most to me. I put together the following list of key attributes, and I would then add camera bodies that fit each the best. Scoring was then added so I would have a final result that could guide me toward the best solution for my needs. At that time AF and high ISO performance was at the top of my list for what I was shooting, so I continued down the Nikon path with a D4 and then D4s. It no longer is.

Today the list of what would work for me looks like this:

  1. Haptics and UI — I want the camera to feel great in use, including with gloves. This is obviously very much subjective. I want to be able to customize my key controls (EC, ISO, aperture, shutter, AF mode)
    • Leica SL2/SL2-S, Leica M10R, Hasselblad X1DII, Nikon Z7II, Leica S
  2. Viewfinder — I want a big, bright viewfinder with minimal lag and high resolution
    • EVF: Sony A1 (assumption, I haven’t used it yet), Leica SL2/SL2-S, several others are similar
    • OVF: Leica S, Nikon D6, Canon 1DX iii (Canon has higher magnification but I like the Nikon setup better), Leica M
  3. High ISO — I need great high ISO noise and color performance
    • Many 24 MP cameras fit the bill, medium format fits the bill
  4. Lenses — I like to have three high quality zooms from 20-200mm, a great 50mm prime, a ~100mm macro, and a few other great primes, M lens compatibility is a plus
    • Leica SL2/SL2-S, Canon R5, Nikon Z7II, Sony A1
  5. Weather sealing — I don’t want to worry about a case or a bag
    • Leica SL2/SL2-S, Olympus OMD EM-1 Mk ii, Nikon D6, Canon 1DXiii, Nikon Z7II
  6. AFs — I want the AF system to be accurate and quick
    • Sony A1 (assumption), Nikon D6 and Z7II, Canon R5 and 1DXiii, Leica SL2/SL2-S 
  7. AFc — I want to be able to occasionally capture moving subjects quickly and accurately
    • Canon R5, Sony A1 (assumption), Nikon D6 and Z7II
  8. Resolution — 20+ MP is enough for me at this point and I rarely want more. I’ll take it if high ISO noise and color performance is good enough.
    • Many cameras fit the bill

The list would look different for everyone. I ended up with the Leica SL, and now SL2-S because it fit the bill for just about every major category on my list. The next best for me might be another Nikon, because I always enjoyed using the cameras and they have some lenses I loved. The Canon lens system is appealing, their AF is great, but I have never enjoyed their control layout or UI. Sony is a technology leader but I don’t enjoy the layout or UI and I’m not a big fan of their lenses.

The point I’m making with this post is we all have different needs. 

This is obvious and yet the comparison threads seem to become very personal with sweeping statements about what a camera should or could be used for, and which camera maker is failing, and why one’s key specs are more important than another’s. 

  • For me, price is not even on my list. I’ll gladly save money if possible, but I won’t choose my camera system based upon price. Every comparison and every thread discussing Leica seems to center on this or devolve to it, but for me it’s not relevant. For some this is the key point, and therefore the list would look very different. Neither extreme is wrong and most photographers are in between, skewing toward the price end.
  • For certain types of photography AF performance would move up the list and a different camera would win out, as it did for me when I used to shoot Nikon D# cameras. Today that’s not as big a deal so the cameras that prioritize this have moved down my list. 
  • IQ is not on my list because just about every system can produce excellent IQ at this point. As long as there are high quality lenses available and the resolution is 20+ MP, I don’t see much reason to differentiate. 
  • Size and weight are not on my list. They used to be, leading me to the RX1 and then the M. My phone works for the carry all the time need I wanted to fill with the RX1. For many photographers this appears high on their list near price. If that’s the case, other attributes will suffer.

The most common threads I’ve seen recently on photography sites, forums, and comments revolve around the Sony A1 and Fuji GFX100S.

These two cameras appear to be marketed as disruptive in their own ways. With the Sony it’s a few standout features (30 fps and the AF tracking). With the Fuji it’s 100MP with IBIS in a FF-sized body.

  • The Sony’s 30 fps is impressive. It moves us into grabbing stills from video. That’s not an enjoyable way for me to shoot, but I can see why it’s awesome if you need the very best frame in the moment.
  • The Sony’s AF tracking looks really no more impressive than Canon’s R5, but it is getting a lot of attention. Both are awesome and I wish the SL2/SL2-S could compete for when I want this capability. In no way do I see this as some sort of death knell for Leica (or Panasonic or Hasselbad, etc).
  • The Fuji is similar to the Hasselblad X1DII and Leica S to me. You get extremely impressive IQ and resolution with a hand-holdable body. The lenses betray that for me with each system with their size and speed. Though if Leica offered an EVF in the S I would be very tempted.
  • The idea that I would purchase an SL2 and then jump ship to Sony because the A1 has amazing AF and burst performance would either mean that my needs changed dramatically, or I didn’t think through my initial purchase decision well.
  • If I was buying into a system for the first time, I can’t see how I would look at a Fuji GFX100S and a Leica SL2 and consider them competitive for most uses. They just don’t overlap much for me, except on price, which I don’t care much about when choosing a system. A Fuji FF option would be very competitive because the lenses would be more comparable to what I’m looking for.

This all leads me back to the SL system.

I’ve been shooting in the SL system for over 5 years. It’s been completely reliable and a joy to use. I’ve shot a little bit of everything, but mostly static or slow moving scenes. The IQ is fantastic with the Leica lenses. I’ve only added a single non-Leica to the kit so far (Sigma 105 macro) and it seems to be pretty good. The weather sealing and durability of the camera and lenses has been fantastic. The SL I recently sold worked as well as the day I bought it and I think it’s still a competitive camera today, absent price.

The AF on the SL worked fine for static subjects and the SL2-S seems to be improved for moving ones. They don’t compete with the top PDAF equipped cameras but they still suit my needs. The YouTube videos of eye tracking on the A1 and R5 are definitely impressive, but I think it’s overkill for what most of us shoot, most of the time. 

I occasionally feel the emotional tug from another system (typically Leica S) but I so far have resisted. I could shoot multiple systems but I don’t like having my gear sit idle and my M and RX1 already do most of the time.

I enjoy the discussions in this forum and others and only wish there was a more balanced approach, far less polarized and divisive. I imagine most photographers look at their system decisions in a similar way to what I’ve described here, though with a different priority on each attribute. That means there’s hope for Leica, Sony, Canon, Nikon, and the MF players in the future. I would hate to see any more systems die because we drive the market to a few extremes.

Edited by LD_50
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LD_50

With all the threads on various forums, including this one, comparing camera bodies and systems I thought I would share my thoughts on the SL system. It seems that every time a new camera body from any maker is introduced, threads pop up not only asking for advice on whether to upgrade within a system (Canon to Canon, Leica to Leica, etc), but also whether to completely switch systems (Nikon to Canon, Leica to Sony, etc). On top of these threads, we also tend to see a lot of threads and com

Steven

Debatable. And vague. What do you include in the IQ? The colour science too?  As many of us, I have many cameras and many camera systems. I am probably the first and only person on this forum to own the Leica SL2-S and the Sony A1. Besides build quality and joy of use, my A1 is far superior to my SL2-S in every single aspect, except ONE. The A1 can do everything that my SL2S can do, better, and faster. And it can do MANY things that my SL2S cannot even dream of considering to do. But there

Tom1234

Hansvons: Myself, as someone who went to film school years ago, I am one of Leica's potential markets.  Their approach to issue new lenses that have something different from their old lenses is an artist's approach and I love that.   From what you are saying and I am saying together, Leica is a strange bird, iconoclastic brand, a mix of market approaches, well pick you favorite name, yet always high end in some way and always delivering a unique user experience in some way. The hi

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9 hours ago, LD_50 said:

I would hate to see any more systems die because we drive the market to a few extremes.

Good read, but regarding your closing statement above.... for the average joe, the Leica SL is one of the most extreme camera systems on the market.

Other camera systems have a much larger shooting envelope that caters to a broader audience.

Asking Leica to work on it's extremes, such as it's poor AF performance, slow release of SL lenses or firmware updates, is far from what I consider polarizing or divisive.

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5 minutes ago, Mr.Q said:

 

Good read, but regarding your closing statement above.... for the average joe, the Leica SL is one of the most extreme camera systems on the market.

Other camera systems have a much larger shooting envelope that caters to a broader audience.

Asking Leica to work on it's extremes, such as it's poor AF performance, slow release of SL lenses or firmware updates, is far from what I consider polarizing or divisive.

I can see the SL system being considered extreme, but I can only see that in terms of price. Outside price it’s a fairly straightforward and conservative system. 
 

The polarizing and divisive comment was regarding some of the forum banter. The extremes comment was meant to say that if everyone tried to outdo Sony, which is what many of the commenters seem to want, we’d end up with all the systems being the same. I enjoy the oddball entries to the market and the diversity they bring (Leica, Hasselblad, Olympus, etc). 

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Well interpreting the word literally, extreme would mean "furthest from the centre or a given point"

Positive Extreme
1. Best in class EVF
2. Great image quality
3. Great build quality
4. Best platform to adapt Leica legacy lenses
5. Good ergonomics/haptics (subjective)

Negative Extreme
1. Expensive
2. Largest and heaviest
3. Slowest AF
4. Fewest selection of native lenses (as in Leica lenses, ie reason to buy into SL system)
5. Flash/strobe support
6. Lack of tilting screen (subjective)

Objectively, it's a polarizing camera.
If you don't agree, that may be the reason why you feel the discussions are polarizing.

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4 minutes ago, Mr.Q said:

Objectively, it's a polarizing camera.
If you don't agree, that may be the reason why you feel the discussions are polarizing.

The list I put together for my camera system choice included various types of cameras. Your list of extremes appears to be focused on a given category (FF mirrorless I assume).

Looking at the camera market as a whole as I described I was doing, the SL doesn’t have the best EVF (Sony has it in two different cameras). It’s not the largest nor the heaviest, it doesn’t have the slowest AF, and it shares the fixed rear screen with a lot of cameras. Also a lot of cameras have great IQ and build quality, and many have ergonomics/haptics that are considered great. You’re right about the Leica native lens support lacking, though the alliance makes for a larger variety. 
 

All that said my opinion of the SL system is not the reason I feel the comments here and elsewhere are polarizing and divisive. The polarizing and divisive comments come from people attacking each other personally. They come from making sweeping statements about how a camera should or could be used. They come from stating features are meaningless or unnecessary because photographers years ago didn’t have them. We can have discussions and accept that everyone has different wants and needs with their camera, and those wants and needs are all valid.

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3 minutes ago, LD_50 said:

The list I put together for my camera system choice included various types of cameras. Your list of extremes appears to be focused on a given category (FF mirrorless I assume).

Looking at the camera market as a whole as I described I was doing, the SL doesn’t have the best EVF (Sony has it in two different cameras). It’s not the largest nor the heaviest, it doesn’t have the slowest AF, and it shares the fixed rear screen with a lot of cameras. Also a lot of cameras have great IQ and build quality, and many have ergonomics/haptics that are considered great. You’re right about the Leica native lens support lacking, though the alliance makes for a larger variety. 
 

All that said my opinion of the SL system is not the reason I feel the comments here and elsewhere are polarizing and divisive. The polarizing and divisive comments come from people attacking each other personally. They come from making sweeping statements about how a camera should or could be used. They come from stating features are meaningless or unnecessary because photographers years ago didn’t have them. We can have discussions and accept that everyone has different wants and needs with their camera, and those wants and needs are all valid.

I completely agree with your last paragraph.

As for the EVF, I've looked through the latest Sony A1 EVF and the one on the SL2 is better. Not on paper but the SL2 EVF is brighter with better clarity. Maybe it's due to the better optics, I'm not sure.

I was referring to the Sony's, Canon's, and Nikon's (you can throw in the GFX in there as well) when I said the SL2 was the biggest and heaviest.  You have to use SL lenses to make a case for the SL2 having the best image quality.  The Sigma lenses are available in other mounts and the Panasonic offerings are nothing to write home about.  Not sure which other mainstream MILC has slower AF with a fixed rear screen. I guess the Sigma FP? 

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8 minutes ago, Mr.Q said:

I completely agree with your last paragraph.

As for the EVF, I've looked through the latest Sony A1 EVF and the one on the SL2 is better. Not on paper but the SL2 EVF is brighter with better clarity. Maybe it's due to the better optics, I'm not sure.

I was referring to the Sony's, Canon's, and Nikon's (you can throw in the GFX in there as well) when I said the SL2 was the biggest and heaviest.  You have to use SL lenses to make a case for the SL2 having the best image quality.  The Sigma lenses are available in other mounts and the Panasonic offerings are nothing to write home about.  Not sure which other mainstream MILC has slower AF with a fixed rear screen. I guess the Sigma FP? 

I’ll take your word for the EVF quality in the Sony as I haven’t used the A1 or A7S III with the new EVF. I assumed with the higher resolution, much higher magnification, and zero blackout capability it would be better. I’ll probably check it out at some point but I’m happy with the SL2-S EVF. 

GFX100 is larger and heavier than the SL, as are a number of other cameras (D6, Phase One, S3, etc). The 100S is about the same size and weight. The Hasselblad X1D II has slower AF (my subjective opinion). But I was comparing cameras across categories, including the M, DSLRs, medium format, FF, m43, APSc when deciding on a system, as I assume most people do. 

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15 hours ago, LD_50 said:

Q is not on my list because just about every system can produce excellent IQ at this point.

Debatable. And vague. What do you include in the IQ? The colour science too? 

As many of us, I have many cameras and many camera systems. I am probably the first and only person on this forum to own the Leica SL2-S and the Sony A1. Besides build quality and joy of use, my A1 is far superior to my SL2-S in every single aspect, except ONE. The A1 can do everything that my SL2S can do, better, and faster. And it can do MANY things that my SL2S cannot even dream of considering to do. But there is one thing it cannot do: deliver the same IQ. 

By IQ, I mean everything that is involved in the final result that I see (on a computer screen): it cannot compete with the 3D depth and micro-contrast I get out of the Leica. It cannot compete with the colours that I get out of the Leica, neither SOOC, nor once edited in LR. And the lenses that I mount on the A1 cannot compete with the lenses I could mount on the SL2S. My two favourite sony lenses are the Zeiss 55 1.8 and the newest 35mm 1.4 GM. None of those come close, in IQ, to the SL 35 APO. 

Back to your statement. Yes, all cameras can deliver great IQ today. Even a 500 dollars camera. But all cameras are not equal in IQ. Leicas, with their lenses lineups, are in another league as Sonys, Canons, and even Fujis. This barely subjective, sorry. I know people will think I'm an extremist by saying that, but as always, I accept to be challenged on this statement, with a good old classic blindest. 

A1 + 35GM vs. SL2S + SL35APO. Throw anything you want at me, SOOC, and I'll get a perfect score. In every scenario, the SL2S combo will be superior in IQ

 

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P.S. the ONLY things that my A1 can do that I wish my SL2S could do are: 

- Tilt screen (not flip out like the A7SIII, I hate that). 

- Brighter monitor in sunlight

- Good AFc performance with video 

- Option to close the GODDAMN shutter when changing lenses. 

If Leica can give me this, I swear in front of witnesses to not buy a new camera for one decade. 

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2 hours ago, Steven said:

...If Leica can give me this, I swear in front of witnesses to not buy a new camera for one decade. 

The original American saying is, When the going gets tough, the tough get going; but in this case the writing on the t-shirt is more appropriate.

M3 | Summicron 50 | Agfa Scala | Accra


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17 minutes ago, Nowhereman said:

The original American saying is, When the going gets tough, the tough get going; but in this case the writing on the t-shirt is more appropriate.

M3 | Summicron 50 | Agfa Scala | Accra


________________________
Frog Leaping photobook

😂 

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6 hours ago, Steven said:

I confirm this 100%. 

The SL2's EVF is FARRRR superior, especially with color reproduction. With the A1, everything looks yellowish, desaturated and different from the monitor. 

I’m surprised the SL2 EVF is better, but as you mentioned, color is a big part of the perceived quality.
 

6 hours ago, Steven said:

P.S. the ONLY things that my A1 can do that I wish my SL2S could do are: 

- Tilt screen (not flip out like the A7SIII, I hate that). 

- Brighter monitor in sunlight

- Good AFc performance with video 

- Option to close the GODDAMN shutter when changing lenses. 

If Leica can give me this, I swear in front of witnesses to not buy a new camera for one decade. 

I too would be interested in a tilt out rear screen, or a tilting EVF. 

What is the value of the shutter closing when changing lenses? I’ve always considered the shutter more delicate than the sensor cover glass. I don’t think dust abatement will hold up if the dust is sitting inside the camera on the shutter, as it will likely blow around when the shutter moves. 

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6 hours ago, Steven said:

Back to your statement. Yes, all cameras can deliver great IQ today. Even a 500 dollars camera. But all cameras are not equal in IQ. Leicas, with their lenses lineups, are in another league as Sonys, Canons, and even Fujis. This barely subjective, sorry. I know people will think I'm an extremist by saying that, but as always, I accept to be challenged on this statement, with a good old classic blindest.

 

My point was not that all cameras deliver the same IQ, but many can deliver great IQ. Each system offers trade offs. I chose the SL system because it works for me in this area, but I acknowledge that other systems will produce great IQ, sometimes better, in different shooting scenarios. Some examples:

  • If I need lighting, many systems can produce better IQ than my SL system. 
  • If shooting landscapes and printing or displaying large, several systems can produce better IQ (Fuji GFX, Phase One, Leica S, etc)
  • If shooting wildlife, Nikon and Canon (maybe also Sony) can produce better IQ with their excellent super-telephotos
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11 minutes ago, LD_50 said:

My point was not that all cameras deliver the same IQ, but many can deliver great IQ. Each system offers trade offs. I chose the SL system because it works for me in this area, but I acknowledge that other systems will produce great IQ, sometimes better, in different shooting scenarios. Some examples:

  • If I need lighting, many systems can produce better IQ than my SL system. 
  • If shooting landscapes and printing or displaying large, several systems can produce better IQ (Fuji GFX, Phase One, Leica S, etc)
  • If shooting wildlife, Nikon and Canon (maybe also Sony) can produce better IQ with their excellent super-telephotos

Agreed. Sorry if I missed your point the first time. 

Edited by Steven
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