24.20
Megapixels
Leica L bayonet 35mm
size sensor
image of Leica SL (Typ 601)
Front side of Leica SL (Typ 601) digital camera Front side of Leica SL (Typ 601) digital camera Front side of Leica SL (Typ 601) digital camera Front side of Leica SL (Typ 601) digital camera Front side of Leica SL (Typ 601) digital camera
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Leica SL (Typ 601)
Resolution: 24.20 Megapixels
Sensor size: 35mm
(36.0mm x 24.0mm)
Kit Lens: n/a
Viewfinder: EVF / LCD
Native ISO: 50 - 50,000
Extended ISO: 50 - 50,000
Shutter: 1/16000 - 60 seconds
Dimensions: 5.8 x 4.1 x 1.5 in.
(147 x 104 x 39 mm)
Weight: 29.9 oz (847 g)
includes batteries
Availability: 11/2015
Manufacturer: Leica
Full specs: Leica SL (Typ 601) specifications

SL (Typ 601) Summary

The Leica SL is a thoroughly modern, professional mirrorless camera. As you'd expect from Leica, the SL's build quality is above reproach. And whether coupled with one of Leica's new SL lenses or one of their other legendary optics via an adapter, the Leica SL captures very sharp, detailed images with very good dynamic range. The Leica SL is also a technological powerhouse, capable of capturing 24MP images from its full-frame sensor at a blistering ~11 fps, as well as being able to record excellent 4K DCI and UHD video. The Leica SL is indeed packed with advanced features and performance, but like every camera, it has some drawbacks despite the hefty price tag.

Pros

Superb build quality; Amazing EVF; Great image quality from RAW files; Good high ISO performance; Very good dynamic range; Very low shutter lag; Fast AF on stationary objects; Class-leading ~11 fps burst mode; 4K DCI and UHD video; Full HD up to 120p. Built-in Wi-Fi and GPS; Dual card slots; Decent battery life for its class.

Cons

Big for a full-frame mirrorless camera; Very slow buffer clearing; Contrast-detect AF system struggles with moving subjects; In-camera JPEGs are muted and dull; Very limited native lens selection (but supports many other Leica lenses via adapters); Expensive.

Price and availability

The Leica SL (Typ 601) began shipping in November 2015 at a price of US$7,450 body-only, and is only available in black.

Imaging Resource rating

4.0 out of 5.0

Leica SL Type 601 Review

Overview by
Preview posted: 10/20/2015

Updates:
10/13/2016: Field Test Part I and Performance posted
11/10/2016: Field Test Part II posted
: Conclusion posted

Leica SL Type 601 Review -- Product image

Back in the fall of 2015, Leica officially launched the Leica SL (Typ 601), a brand new mirrorless interchangeable lens camera system designed to offer a ‘new Leica experience’.

Inside the sleek, though rather large weather-resistant milled aluminum frame of the SL (Typ 601) is a 24-megapixel full-frame sensor without an optical low-pass filter, coupled to Leica's Maestro II image processor. ISO ranges from 50 to 50,000 equivalent and the camera is capable of pumping out an impressive 11 frames per second (fps) in 14-bit RAW (DNG) and/or JPEG format.

The camera is also capable of recording DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) video at 24fps and UHD (3840 x 2160) video at 30 or 25fps, as well as Full HD video at up to 120fps. Video can be captured using an L-Log Gamma profile, ensuring as flat an image as possible is captured to retain as much dynamic range and information as possible for post-production.

Leica SL Type 601 Review -- Product image

The lens mount on the Leica SL (Typ 601) is a new ‘Leica L Bayonet Mount’. While entirely new in design, this new mount not only works natively with the new SL-series of lenses, but also with T/TL-series lenses, though it’s limited to an APS-C crop mode. The Leica SL is also capable of accepting Leica M, Leica S, Leica R and Leica Cine lenses by using appropriate adapters, making it compatible with well over 100 existing Leica lenses.

Since most of the controls on the Leica SL are unlabeled, let's briefly walk through them along with some features. Looking at the front of the body, we see a lens release button in silver to the lower left of the lens mount, a depth-of-field preview/function button to the center left of the mount, and at the top right, we can see the camera's self-timer LED and white balance sensor.

Leica SL Type 601 Review -- Product image

On the top of the camera starting from the left we see the housing for a GPS antenna and receiver, the flash hot shoe with two grills for the stereo microphone above it, a 1.28-inch monochrome display for status and settings info, a silver "LV" button for exposure compensation as well as switching from playback and record mode, a large control dial, a silver shutter release button, and a silver/red video record button.

For composing and viewing images, Leica has included a large 0.66-inch 4.4M-dot "EyeRes" electronic viewfinder (EVF), which has 100% coverage, a magnification of 0.80x, a refresh rate of 60fps, a 22mm eyepoint and -4 to +2 of diopter correction, as well as an eye sensor.

Leica SL Type 601 Review -- Product image

On the back of the camera is a 3-inch 1.04M-dot touchscreen LCD (with LED backlight)  that features an anti-fingerprint and anti-scratch coating along with a viewing angle of 170º. On both sides of the LCD are what Leica calls "Menu control/function buttons" which are context sensitive or "soft keys". Starting at the top left and moving to the right we see the power switch, the EVF with its eye-sensor above the eyepiece, a function button, a pressable joystick control, a combined status/card access LED/ambient brightness sensor, and a back control dial with integrated button.

Leica SL Type 601 Review -- Product image

Exposure modes offered by the SL are program (with shift), aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual. Metering modes available are multi-zone, center-weighted and spot, and +/-3 EV of exposure compensation is available. A 3- or 5-shot exposure bracketing mode is also provided which includes an in-camera HDR mode for JPEGs, and an intervalometer mode is available as well.

Shutter speed range is from 60s to 1/8,000s using a mechanical shutter with up to 1/16,000s possible with the electronic shutter, and a bulb mode for exposures as long as 30 minutes is provided. Maximum flash sync is 1/250s and the shutter is rated for 200,000 releases.

As mentioned previously, ISO sensitivity ranges from 50 to 50,000 equivalents. A smart Auto ISO function is provided where you can set the maximum ISO, a minimum shutter speed or whether you want the camera to adjust ISO to maintain a shutter speed of 1/focal-length or 1/2*focal-length which is handy for zooms.

Leica SL Type 601 Review -- Product image

Images and video clips captured with the camera are stored on SD/SDHC/SDXC cards via two card slots, one of which supports the UHS-II standard, while the other supports the UHS-I standard. You can configure the SL to write to both slots simultaneously so that slot 2 is a backup of slot 1, or have the camera write to them sequentially so that the camera switches to slot 2 after slot 1 is full.

Stills are saved as 14-bit DNG files and/or 8-bit JPEG files, and video is saved using H.264 compression in MOV format with 48KHz 16-bit LPCM stereo audio, or in MP4 format with 256Kbps 16-bit AAC stereo audio.

Speaking of video, the Leica SL captures a variety of resolutions and formats. 4K DCI (4096 x 2160) is captured only at 24p, while UHD (3840 x 2160) is captured at 30p or 25p. Both 4K resolutions use IPB compression. Full HD (1920 x 1080) and HD (1280 x 720) are available 24, 25, 30, 50, 60, 100 and 120p using IPB compression, and 24, 25, 30, 50 and 60p using ALL-I compression. All resolutions are captured with a Super 35 crop (about 1.5x), although Full HD and HD are also available using the full 35mm frame width. Video clips are limited to 29 minutes and a maximum size of 4GB. Zebras, histogram, and focus peaking are supported, however continuous autofocus is not.

Leica SL Type 601 Review -- Product image

The Leica SL includes a USB 3.0 Micro Type B port for incredibly fast data transfers, and an HDMI 1.4 Type-A port which can stream clean 4:2:2 10-bit 4K video for external recording, although when simultaneously recording internally, the bit-depth drops to 8 bits.

Other wired connections include the previously mentioned TTL flash hot-shoe, an x-sync socket, as well as a proprietary multi connector that provides stereo mic and headphone jacks via the optional Leica AA-SCL4 audio adapter cable, and supports Leica's RC-SCL4 remote cable release. There's also a proprietary multifunction interface in the baseplate for an optional Leica HG-SCL4 grip.

Leica SL Type 601 Review -- Product image

The Leica SL (Typ 601) also features built-in IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi for connecting to your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet for image browsing and transfer as well as for remote control, and integrated GPS for keeping track of where your images were taken.

The camera is powered by a proprietary 8.4V 1860mAh BP-SCL4 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack that is CIPA rated for 400 shots per charge, and a dedicated battery charger is included in the bundle. (Internal charging is not supported.) Battery life can be doubled via a second battery installed in the optional HG-SCL4 Multifunctional Handgrip which features a shutter release button, twin control dials and a joystick control for more comfortable portrait shooting.

Leica SL Type 601 Review -- Product image

The Leica SL (Typ 601) began shipping in November 2015 at a price of US$7,450 body-only, and is only available in black. The optional HG-SCL4 Multifunctional Handgrip lists for about US$850, and a second battery goes for about US$210.

In addition to the Leica SL (Typ 601), the German manufacturer released the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH OIS zoom lens, the first of three ‘SL’ lenses Leica announced in 2015, with a list price of  US$4,950.

The follow-up Leica APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90–280mm f/2.8-4 OIS went on sale in early 2016 for about US$6,400, while the Leica Summilux-SL 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH went on sale in late 2016 priced at about US$5,300. Both of the zoom lenses feature image stabilization.

Leica SL Field Test Part I

The big Leica SL goes to the Big Apple

by Eamon Hickey |

Leica SL (Typ 601) field test photoEver since I started taking pictures 35 years ago, I've always appreciated the mostly consistent (there have been exceptions) mechanical and optical excellence of Leica products, especially the company's core professional interchangeable-lens systems. I also think the company has an interesting take on camera system design, which often (though, again, not always) produces gear that works really well. I threw my hat in the ring to field test the Leica SL Typ 601 because I was interested in seeing how Leica would apply those qualities to the task of designing an entirely new platform for professional photography in the digital age.

Smaller size and lower weight is not the name of the game with the Leica SL system
To many veteran photographers, the Leica name means compact cameras and lenses, but compactness is clearly a much lower priority for the SL system. The body itself, while big for a mirrorless camera, is not huge -- about the size and weight of an enthusiast DSLR -- but the VARIO-ELMARIT-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH OIS lens that I got with it is a beast. It's obvious that Leica is giving greater weight -- no pun intended -- to performance, versatility, and top-tier image quality in the design of this system. Fair enough -- that's an understandable tradeoff. That said, hanging a Leica that's this big from your shoulder takes a little getting used to.

Leica SL Field Test Part II

Testing performance, manual focus, 4K video and more!

by Eamon Hickey |

Leica SL (Typ 601) field test photoExcept when I'm reviewing cameras, I don't shoot a lot of action or sports, per se, but I've always appreciated a highly responsive camera -- you just don't want to miss a shot because of a sluggish camera. (A sluggish photographer is another matter altogether.) To me, this is often an underappreciated quality in a camera. With one important exception, the Leica SL performed extremely well in all my shooting with it. It responds instantly to command inputs, and I'm positive that it would never slow me down from shot-to-shot, waking from sleep, switching modes, starting up, or other such operations. In our performance tests, the lab encountered mediocre "power on to first shot" times, but in the field, this wasn't an issue for me.

I did, however, run into the other performance issue that the lab found: very slow buffer clearing when shooting Raw or Raw+JPEG images. In my view, this is the one significant performance black mark for the Leica SL. At 11 frames-per-second burst speed, when shooting Raw files, you only get about 3 seconds of shooting before severe buffer stall sets in, and then you're stuck at 1 or 2 fps for as much as 45 seconds or a minute afterwards (even with fast UHS-II cards). That means a lot of action subjects -- even set-up action like a skateboarder or a bicycle trickster that a pro might shoot for a commercial lifestyle assignment -- must be shot in JPEG only. That's a notable drawback for a camera intended for professional photographers. It forced me to shoot JPEG only when I didn't really want to on one occasion when I came across a juggler in Washington Square Park.

Leica SL Conclusion

A thoroughly modern professional mirrorless camera

by Eamon Hickey |

There’s no doubt that the Leica SL really is a “new Leica experience” -- the mirrorless design and the camera’s impressive list of features and specifications guarantee that. That list includes a 24-megapixel full-frame (35mm format) sensor without an optical low-pass filter; a superbly built, weather-resistant metal body; fast autofocus; an ~11 frames-per-second burst rate; a remarkable 4.4M-dot “Eye-Res” electronic viewfinder (EVF); and a new “L” bayonet mount that supports, at this writing, 3 native FF lenses as well as Leica’s TL-series of lenses made for APS-C format cameras. It can also accept a range of other Leica and third-party lenses through adapters. Finally, the SL does video -- really nice 4K video, to be exact.

All you have to do is pick up the Leica SL, especially with one of its native lenses mounted, to know that compact size and light weight are not primary design goals with this mirrorless system. But we found the SL very comfortable to hold and use despite its DSLR-like size and bulk. We also liked the camera’s very modern, extremely flexible control design, which comprises twin control dials, a joystick, and at least 8 highly customizable buttons, all unlabeled. Once set up, this system allowed us to shoot very quickly and efficiently in all circumstances. One minor quibble we had is that the top-deck control dial is harder to reach than we’d like. Also, we occasionally fumbled with the joystick, activating its lateral commands, which move the active autofocus zone, when we were trying to simply press it straight in to activate a different function (you can customize which function it performs when pressed in).

 

In the Box

The Leica SL retail kit contains the following items:

  • Leica SL (Typ 601) Camera Body
  • Body Cap
  • BP-SCL4 Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery
  • BC-SCL4 Battery Charger
  • USB 3.0 Micro Type B Cable
  • Camera Strap
  • Manual
  • Lens Cleaning Tissue
  • 2 Year Warranty or 200,000 Shutter Releases

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory cards. UHS-II compliant cards recommended.
  • Extra BP-SCL4 Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery
  • HG-SCL4 Multifunctional Handgrip
  • Lenses
  • Lens Adapters (as required)
  • SF-40 External Flash
  • AA-SCL4 Audio Adapter
  • Large Camera Bag

 

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