The Leica SL (Typ 601) - Just what is going on here?

The following was written as a comment on a Mirrorlessons post yesterday:-

'I'm sure it will be a quality camera and i imagine the lenses will be spectacular. The camera isn't that bad in terms of size (people holding it in videos give a better impression of how big it is) but it's heavy. 847g without a lens. The more I think about the more puzzled I am at where Leica think there is a market for this.

DSLR users? No. Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera users? Well maybe, if they win the lottery, but otherwise it's out of most peoples price range. I may well be a target user. I've had M8, M9 and I currently own a Leica T and a Q. But I can't see either how I can afford it without selling everything else or justify it in terms of what it offers.

There's no doubt that they pulled out all the stops in terms of things like AF speed, the EVF and the overall 'pro' spec., but it may well just end up being a camera for the well-heeled to pop into up-market shops in Dubai to get a camera to photograph their polo ponies with!!

The M series, the Leica T (Typ 701) and the Leica q (Typ 116) are all relativeley small, light and 'discreet' cameras and this has been their forte. The SL isn't like that. I guess you would imagine that Leica did some market research, but then they haven't had a lot of success with non-rangefinder 35mm cameras. The R series fim cameras never really took off and the Leica T (despite my loving it) has been a commercial failure.

I thought that Leica were on the right track with the Q. Not as outrageously expensive as the M series, but quality through and through and the creator of some incredibly detailed images.

And finally it strikes me that the SL could have attracted a lot more attention from pros if it had a higher pixel count (36MP) was around a 1/3 cheaper and all the lenses were available from day 1. As it is I think all it will do is attract more 'chest bling' type criticism and disengage Leica even more from the bulk of the camera market, who they do need to cultivate if they are ever going to stop relying on handouts from billionaires.'

Before I get into the substance of my article, do make sure you read this 'hands-on' by Mirrorlessons. Really excellent and perceptive wiriting. 

There are now some raw samples available (see links at top of page) and it's now possible to make a more informed decision as to what is on offer here. The images, with the 24-90mm zoom (cost in the UK - just over £8000) are very good, there is no denying that. However, after viewing these I had a look at some of my Canon 5Ds + 40mm f/2.8 files (cost to me £2117) and after downsizing them to the 24MP file size of the Leica, I could see no discernable difference. In fact at higher ISO's the Canon was marginally better. So. Nikon, Canon and Sony FE owners aren't going to be rushing to buy the SL because of superior image quality. And it seems that if they did they would be stuck with 24-90mm zoom, the four APS-C lenses for the Leica T (Typ 701) and adapted lenses for a while. So just what is going on here? 

To be honest I'm puzzled. Everybody who reads this blog on a regular basis will be aware that I am a serious Leica fan. And when I saw the pictures of the SL, lust overcame me. Some think the camera ugly, but I don't and if I had a spare £8000 lying around I would order the camera / lens kit like a shot. And to be honest, despite what I'm writing in this article I may well still do just that. But if I do, I won't pretend that I'm doing it for professional reasons, My Leicas are my 'personal cameras' which of course I use to earn a living, but I own them because I want to, because Iike the brand and I love handling them and creating images with them. But this time (unlike with the T and the Q) Leica are making that scenario a really hard sell.

For the kind of money they are asking, I would expect some pretty amazing image quality. And from the raw files above that isn't really the case. Yes the images are very sharp and I can see that the 24-90mm is flawless. But if it's unable to significantly best my Canon 5Ds + 40mm 'pancake' combination, which I don't think it does, then what exactly would I be buying? The claims are for the fastest AF ever and the best EVF ever. Plus Leica are pushing the 4K capabilities. However I've looked at some footage and I have to say I wasn't blown away by that either. I'm used to the superb 4K output from my Panasonic G7 and GX8 and I certainly haven't seen any 4K footage from the SL that is superior to those cameras.

So again the big question is who is this camera for? Is it for the luxury brand market market? Well it seems not. Firstly, this is a heavy camera with some big heavy lenses. Hardly suitable for 'chest bling.' And Leica are really pushing the 'Pro' angle. Though with one 'full-frame' zoom lens available for the system for the foreseeable future, that isn't my idea of a 'pro' system. So is this some seriously upmarket enthusiast camera, for those who like to demonstrate their disposable income and who like to exercise their bragging rights concerning the AF speed, EVF quality etc.? Unfortunately, I think that that may well be the case. Because there is no way on earth that this can be considered a 'pro' system at the moment. Sure, you can use almost every Leica lens with it, which includes the Leica cinema lenses. Now I may be wrong, but I can't see lots of pro photographers and videographers rushing out to buy this. Most 'pros' I know tend to stick with what they know (they aren't all like me!!) and have experience of what works and what does the job. The SL is an unproven system and will remain so for some consderable time. If photographers and videographers start using this and feeding back some positive experiences then (maybe) in time it could gain a reputation. But that is a long way down the line, unless Leica start giving this kit to 'name photoraphers' and getting them to endorse it.


SO WHAT OF THE LEICA T (Typ 701) and the LEICA Q (Typ 116) ???

To be honest I don't think the SL affects either camera. Except to say that the Leica T might get a bit more attention as it's now 'part of a system' instead of being out there on it's own and the fact that until Leica gets some lenses out for the SL, the only AF alternatives for the SL in terms of a telephoto, wide-angle and fast prime lens are the 10MP APS-C crops that these T lenses can provide. Of course they would work very well for 4K video as well. I also gather from someone who has used them on an SL that the AF for these lenses is miles quicker than on the T. 

Both the T and the are a different kind of camera. The SL can hardly be described as 'discreet' but the T and Q are most definately that. Small, light cameras that allow photographers to work unnoticed, which is probably not the point of the SL at all. It stikes me as a camera that is in fact meant to be noticed. Now whether or not you think that's a good or bad thing depends on the kind of photography you undertake. 


BOTTOM LINE

I'm sure that the Leica SL (Typ 601) is a fine camera and (when they are available!!) there will be a fine range of lenses as well. Everything might not quite be as great as Leica would like us to think it is, judging from Mathieus fine hands-on preview above, but Leica don't make compromises on quality and they certainly don't make mediocre, overated cameras and lenses. And from the still and video samples it's clear that this is one of the best (if not the best) 24MP cameras out there. The best mirrorless camera ever? Well that's a hard sell with the Sony FE range and in particular the A7r II out there. But there is no doubt that that it's a serious piece of kit. And if anybody is worried about the robustness of the system, then having used the Leica T (Typ 701) for a long time now I can testify to just how good those one-piece aluminium bodies are. And with the T in mind it's a real shame Leica didn't use the 'killer' feature of the T, that amazing live view screen, on the SL. There's a lot of real estate on the back of the camera doing nothing and a larger screen would have made a significant difference.

'Pro' camera? Well I think not, because I can't see a lot of pro's going for it. 'Pro-Spec' camera for enthusiasts? Well maybe, but the price will deter most. 'Pro-Spec' camera for Leica fans who can afford it, well yes , of course. Plus, though it's my personal opinion, I think it looks just great. Though whether the attention it will get will be welcome to the photographers who buy it is another matter. Not sure I'd want to carry one of those around in some of the more 'atmospheric' urban areas of the UK!!

Will I buy one? Well maybe. One thing I shouldn't do is go and have a look at it when it comes out. Because I just know I'll love it and have to have it. I know myself well enough to not rule a future purchase out. And this has nothing to do with my professional work. I just love the damn things and lifes too short to deny myself something I would love to own and that I can (at a stretch) afford. Whatever the outcome of that, it does once again demonstrate that Leica have always been, are and will continue to be the most innovative camera maker out there. No other company would have come up with, or even contemplated, this. It's different, it's new, it's modern and it doesn't look like anything else on the market. And it's got that red dot. To some of us that's a temptation, a magnet, financially a curse and an addiction I can't shake. It seems to make me loose even the small amount of common sense I have left when it comes to buying photographic gear. So even after writing the above, don't be surprised if you wake up one morning to see my 'first impressions' post on this camera.