Cameras

Modern and Classic Mix Beautifully in the New Leica SL

A non-rangefinder 35mm camera from Germany? Yes please!

Leica SL hero Credit: Leica

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Ahead of this year's Photo Plus Expo in New York City, Leica is finally showing its hand. Not satisfied with its more entry-level Leica T system, the German photography company has been busy preparing for its own full-frame camera system. The upcoming Leica SL (Typ 601) is a distinctly European take on what a modern camera should look and act like.

Building on the Leica T in more ways than one, the SL and its accompanying system leverages some of the best camera technology that Leica has in its system. Featuring a full-frame, 24-megapixel sensor without an anti-alias (AA) filter, the Leica SL uses the same physical mount as the T system, but will feature a new full-frame lens lineup.

That means that Leica has built the camera to automatically crop when a T lens is mounted, giving you 10MP shots and compatibility with several existing lenses. The ISO range is 50-50,000, assuring that the you can properly expose in bright and dark conditions. Perhaps the only thing giving us pause in the spec sheet of the SL is the lack of phase-detect autofocus, relying purely on contrast detection.

leica-sl-front-noctilux
Credit: Leica

The brand-new Leica SL compact system camera.

Featuring an aluminum monocoque design that Leica mills from two ingots, the SL has a distinctive appearance and is sealed against dust and moisture. Its black finish reminds us of the Leica R series of film SLRs. Unlike the Leica T, the Leica SL has a more prominent handgrip with a machined crosshatch texture.

Inside the branded pentaprism is a massive 4.4-megapixel electronic viewfinder with x.80 magnification and an eye sensor. From a control standpoint, the SL is minimalist, but not like the uber-pared down Leica T. There's a rear touchscreen, but it's augmented with two prominent physical dials and other controls. On the top is an LCD that reminds us a whole lot of what you see on the Leica S.

leica-sl-back
Credit: Leica

While video has been a weak point for Leica until recently, the SL shoots 4K and HD resolutions right out of the box, onto SD cards. Video nerds can revel in the fact that the footage you can capture is 4:2:2 at 10 bits using an external recorder. Otherwise, footage onto an SD card is pretty ordinary at 4:2:0 with 8-bit color depth.

Although it'll play nicely with the existing Leica T lens lineup from day one, the SL is getting three lenses of its own to kick things off.

Although it'll play nicely with the existing Leica T lens lineup from day one, the SL is getting three lenses of its own to kick things off right. A Vario-Elmarit SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 is the standard zoom, with a long telephoto Apo-Vario-Elmarit SL 90-280mm f/2.8-4 also coming around the same time. Both zooms have OIS built-in.

If you're into primes, there's a Summilux SL 50mm f/1.4 coming in this first wave, as well. Of course, Leica sells adapters for all its legacy lenses, and, unlike the Leica T (when it shipped) the SL has focus peaking to make manual focusing a cinch.

Of course, this being Leica, the new SL won't come cheap. We've been told that this new model will be $7,450.00 when it launches next month. The first lens that will be on sale this year, the 24-90mm, will be $4,950.