Leica never ceases to please all lovers of premium cameras with new releases. However, this time the German company decided to take a slightly different path (yes, we won’t see another $6000 B&W camera). The new Leica SL2-S is cheaper than all previous models and is focused on video shooting. It’s not just a lower resolution modification of the SL2: it’s a camera aimed at a completely different market. What is unique about the new model – we understand in the article.
Design, body and controls
Ports, memory cards and battery
This is the third full-frame camera in the SL line with an L mount. If the older SL2 with its 47-megapixel sensor is more focused on high-resolution photography, then the new one is much more like a hybrid camera, equally good for stills and videos.
The new Leica has a 24-megapixel sensor that will allow users to shoot 4K/30p video with oversampling (roughly speaking, very good detail), taking information from the entire width of the sensor. In addition, the camera is equipped with a built-in image stabilizer, which is very useful for handheld video shooting, especially when using unstabilized lenses. The SL2-S can also shoot in 4K/60p, but then the smaller APS-C sensor area is used. We will talk more about the characteristics of the video recording of the novelty a little later.
In general, we have already seen exactly the same matrix in a number of cameras from other manufacturers – Sony a7 III, Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 and Nikon Z6 II. It provides not only high-quality video recording, but also fast burst photography up to 25 frames per second. So the novelty is suitable for working with any fast-moving objects: you can easily capture sports activities and wildlife. At the same time, unlike all the manufacturers listed above, the Leica camera takes RAW images in DNG format, which is most convenient for working in Photoshop and Lightroom.
The system compensates up to 5.5 stops of exposure, making it possible to shoot photos at slower shutter speeds in low light conditions. In addition, the camera can shift the sensor to create 96-megapixel multi-shot images by combining 8 frames. This mode is only available when shooting with a tripod.
Sample photos taken with the new Leica SL2-S can be found here.
Here Leica still relies on a depth-sensing contrast system similar to Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus system. In practice, such autofocus is fast and usually accurate, but it lags behind similar phase autofocus systems (for example, Sony) when shooting moving objects. In 2021, Leica promises to release a major update to the SL2-S that will add an eye/face/head/body detection and tracking system. This should make it easier to capture people in both photos and videos.
Design, body and controls
The SL2-S is large (146 x 107 x 83mm) and heavy (931g), but, as befits a Leica camera, size and heaviness are an indicator of class and build quality. The case is made of a solid metal block (magnesium alloy) with an IP54 degree of protection. This means that the camera is safe from small amounts of dust and water splashes. None of the SL2-S’s direct competitors are IP-rated (however, when it comes to weatherproofing, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the differences between the cameras are).
The novelty has a pronounced grip of a well-thought-out shape – the camera could even be used with one hand, if not for its weight and the weight of most L-series lenses. There is even a recess for the fingertips on the grip.
Camera design in the style of classic single-lens reflex cameras with a corrugated body texture. The Leica engraving on the viewfinder block on the front is in black. This sets the SL2-S apart from the older model and a number of other Leicas, and should probably draw less attention to a premium camera. However, the branded red logo on the left will no doubt give a signal to all the insiders.
On the back you’ll find the standard Leica layout: Play to view footage, Menu to access menus, Fn to activate a custom function.
With a long press on Fn, you can choose which function will be activated with a single press. This is a fairly convenient way to customize a button without having to look for the desired option throughout the menu.
Pressing Menu takes you to the quick menu, where you can control basic functions through the touch screen, including shooting mode, focus settings, etc. An additional press of the button takes you to the main menu, where all other camera settings are located.
On the top right of the body is a rear command dial that can be used to navigate the main menu and quickly change shooting modes (aperture priority, shutter priority, programmable and manual). The rear dial thus replaces the traditional mode dial.
The AF joystick can be used to move the AF area around the frame, as well as control settings in the main and quick menus. Pressing the button next to the joystick switches the rear screen and electronic viewfinder between them by default. With a long press, you can change the function of the button (similar to Fn).
On the top panel there is an additional display of a rather large size, where you can see the current camera settings and exposure. To the right of it are two customizable buttons. In general, Leica did not stint on customization – two more such buttons are located on the front panel, directly accessible to the middle or ring finger.
Also on the top panel is a “hot shoe” for connecting an external flash.
Viewfinder and rear display
The viewfinder alone might be a reason for someone to choose the SL2-S. It is large, bright and detailed (resolution – 5.76 million dots). The only 24MP camera that you’ll find the same viewfinder detail in is the Panasonic Lumix S1. All other manufacturers equip their 24-megapixel models with a viewfinder of a similar size, but with a lower resolution.
The rear display is good in terms of specs (3.2 inches, 2,100k dots), but it’s fixed in place, which is a little disappointing given the hybrid camera orientation. Its touch functions are not limited to selecting an autofocus point and viewing photos – with the help of swipe gestures, you can switch between shooting and playback modes, between photo and video, adjust autofocus options. When framing through the viewfinder, you can also control the AF point.
Ports, memory cards and battery
Behind a rubber door on the left side of the case are headphone and mic ports, as well as a full-sized HDMI port (it feels much more secure than the micro and mini ports on most cameras). With this set, Leica once again emphasizes that the camera is well suited for videographers. For charging and transferring footage, there is a USB-C port protected by an additional rubberized door.
On the other side of the camera are two SD card slots, both of which support fast UHS-II format cards. They are the recommended ones if you plan to shoot high quality video or burst shooting at a maximum speed of 25 fps for this camera.
The battery capacity of the Leica SL2-S is rated at 510 shots per charge (CIPA rated), but in practice you’re likely to be able to do much more. Usually, a value in the region of 500 shots is enough for a couple of days of intensive shooting.
The SL2-S has a range of advanced video features. The camera can shoot in DCI and UHD 4K 60p/50p resolution and APS-C crop (Super35 format), with 8-bit 4:2:0 recording on a memory card, or 10-bit 4:2:2 on an external recorder. For full-frame shooting, you will have to reduce the recording speed to 29.97p – in this mode, the camera can shoot 10-bit 4:2:2 video with oversampling both on a memory card and on an external recorder. (If you don’t understand what a lot of this means, don’t worry: these characteristics are more important for advanced videographers already.)
Since information is captured from the 6K zone of the matrix, you don’t have to worry about quality and detail. Also, most likely, it favorably affects the ability to shoot in low light conditions.
High-speed shooting is available at 1080p at up to 180 fps, but no autofocus. The camera has no video recording time limit. However, data on how quickly the SL2-S overheats is not yet available.
Some more information for advanced videographers: SL2-S supports V-Log and HLG formats. At the same time, two LUT correction options are available for convenient preview while shooting in Log – the standard Natural and Classic “flat” profile, which simulates Kodachrome film. The camera can display what the LUT will look like when applied.
In terms of audio recording, the SL2-S has wind noise reduction, mic level control, and timecode. An upcoming firmware update will add more features for professional videographers, such as an oscilloscope (waveform).
The SL2-S is, in our opinion, a very successful attempt by Leica to create a versatile hybrid full-frame mirrorless camera that will suit not only photographers, but also demanding videographers.
Externally, the novelty differs little from the older SL2 – it is a large and heavy full-frame camera with a high-quality weather-resistant metal body. At the same time, the S-version is cheaper by a thousand dollars and is equipped with a lower resolution matrix (24 megapixels versus 47 megapixels). Compared to the older model, it is aimed at those who do not need a huge resolution and who want to shoot higher quality video.
However, for landscape photographers and anyone who occasionally needs super-detailed shots, the SL2-S has a dedicated 96-megapixel tripod mode.
The camera has a comfortable layout of controls, a well-thought-out grip and an excellent high-resolution viewfinder.
Our colleagues at dpreview.com, who have already been able to test a sample of the camera, speak of excellent photo quality. In terms of video, the SL2-S can shoot very detailed oversampled 4K, and it has all the necessary features for advanced videographers (although some of the options will only appear after a firmware update – in about six months).
All in all, the SL2-S is a great all-around camera option for all Leica fans and premium cameras in general.
* In preparing the article, materials from dpreview.com (Jeff Keller, Carey Rose) and bhphotovideo.com were used.