Leica @ The Photography Show - The Leica SL (Typ 601)

After last years appearance it was nice to see Leica back again with a large stand. Complete with red telephone and post boxes to push home the red dot branding. I went to have a hands on with the Leica SL (Typ 601) and somewhat worryingly for my bank balance I really liked the feel of it. However, this was when it was paired with an m-mount lens. The two zooms released already, the LEICA VARIO-ELMARIT-SL 24–90 mm f/2.8–4 ASPH. and the LEICA APO-VARIO-ELMARIT-SL 90–280 mm f/2.8–4 are a different story however. These are VERY 'chunky' lenses, the 90-280 especially as it has built in OIS and two AF motors. I had trouble lifting the SL body with this lens and having got it up to my eye wanted to put it down again pretty quickly. 

And this puzzles me. Exactly what are Leica aiming for with lenses this big and heavy? The Pro mirrorless, serious competition to Nikon and Canon DSLR's seems to be somewhat nullified by these lenses. Optically superb they may well be, but their size (and price) puts restrictions on where and when (and by who) they get used. A portable S2? Well not in my book.  

You may be surprised that I'm recommending Steve Huff's Leica SL review. Now I may not like his 'tabloid' style, but he does write good sense about Leica's and actually uses them on a regular basis, which is more than most Leica 'reviewers' do. He basically argues that this is the best camera to use those much respected M lenses on and having used that combination I'm inclined to agree with him. The viewfinder is excellent (though not the eighth wonder of the world I was expecting from some reviews) and accurate manual focusing is easily achieved without using focus peaking. He also argues again, rightly in my view, that this is superior to the rangefinder system of the M cameras. Certainly there will be a lot more accuracy in terms of composition. 

Image quality will be spectacular. The SL sensor is an improved version of my leica Q (Typ 116) and that is pretty special in itself. Add in all the other specs. of the camera (and 4K video) and you have a mighty impressive picture creating machine. But as far as I'm concerned, not for the pro DSLR market that Leica seem to be aiming at. Because I can't see many pros loosing a bundle of money selling off their Canon and Nikon camera / lens outfits and buying into Leica SL. It just wouldn't make sense financially and anyway they would want to see some long term proof of reliability before they even went near it. Plus the Canon and Nikon Pro networks are well established and Leica have nothing similar. 

I do think however that a lot of Leica rangefinder users may well not upgrade to the next M version and buy the SL instead. Because with only the limited amount of time I spent with it, I easily preferred it to any of the M rangefinders I used. So those Leica old school fetishists can play around with their M series with minimal options and / or no live view screens (a seriously stupid concept - if you want a 'film type' experience, bu a film camera!!) and those who want all the advantages of mirrorless with the build quality of DSLR's and like using stellar manual focus lenses can use the SL. 

Now I'm very tempted by this. Recently I've been upsizing my Leica Q raw files in Iridient Developer to the same size as those from my Sony A7r II and Canon 5Ds. And I can't actually see any difference. Now in Photoshop I can, because Adobe do all sorts of 'hidden' processing, but in IR, the image, the whole image and nothing but the image comes out and the Q produces some astonishingly sharp images.  I much prefer Leica colour and contrast anyway so I'd be getting pretty much what I've always wanted. And strange as it may seem, this is a more cost effective option. The two Leica zooms cost an almost unbelievable £7800. Now even with the prices of M lenses you could get a few M primes for that and quite a lot if you buy S/H or go for Zeiss and Voigtlander options. 

And it strikes me that is a great option for many photographers. It's clear that the SL (Typ 601) IS 'pro mirrorless' and an awful lot of the issues I have with Sony FE, for example, instantly disappear. Including of course battery life. (By taking away lens OIS and AF motors and the power drain from the camera is much reduced)

Now am I tempted? Well yes of course I am. I'm a Leica fanboy anyway and the body and menu / control design is typical of Leica and exactly what I like using. The SL is a seriously well built and designed camera and of course will hold it's value much better than any plasticky feeling Sony. As indeed will M mount lenses. And if I did buy a body, then I'd knock my gear down to that and my other red dot cameras, the Leica T (Typ 701) and the Leica Q (Typ 116). Because somewhat surprisingly to some I imagine, I see Leica as the future. They seem to be pushing the T mount system into new territory, and both the T and SL strike me as the most modern cameras out there. And they make the best of the past (those M lenses) a part of that. However, it's still a lot of money and to finance this option, most of my gear would have to be sold. So I need to be sure. There is a possibility that I may be able to try out an SL for a few days and hopefully that promise will be honoured, because I doubt I'll take the plunge without doing that. 

So an interesting time at the Leica stand and one that has clarified some things for me. Maybe the holy grail of a camera that delivers great stills and 4K quality AND I actually love using is a possibility. Time will tell.