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Leica SL2-S Camera Review

Leica has been going from strength to strength during the last few years, with a slew of updated cameras within their growing range of mirrorless full frame L-mount, medium format S system and rangefinder options. The new SL2-S full frame camera joins their line-up as the more affordable video and stills hybrid shooter, accompanying the high resolution 47MP Leica SL2, and arrives with some very impressive specs. We take a deeper dive into this hybrid camera’s specifications, looking video and stills capabilities.

SL2-S camera weather sealing

Table of contents

Who is the Leica SL2-S For?

This newest model is a hybrid camera in all senses. It can shoot at impressive burst speeds (25fps in electronic shutter), record impressive internal video (4K/30p 10bit 4:2:2) and happily fire away in near darkness (ISO 100,000). Not only does the camera deliver a host of advanced technical capabilities, but also sports extremely versatile compatibility with other Leica system lenses. We all know that Panasonic Lumix, Sigma and Leica are creating superb L-mount lenses, but other Leica camera owners can also mount their lenses with a simple adapter. This means that M mount, S mount and R lenses can all be used on the SL mirrorless system. Clearly this makes it extremely easy for Leica users to side grade and get their hands on this extremely competent SL2-S whilst capitalising on an existing lens collection.

We can also envisage SL owners upgrading, as the SL2-S presents quite a leap forward across all features particularly with internal video recording. Photographers and videographers who may be considering moving to Leica could be forgiven for making the leap for this particular model, regardless of whether they are coming from a DSLR or mirrorless system. Leica not only design desirable cameras, but are also cramming technology in which competes with the best of the market.

Bright LCD screen

Headline Camera Specifications

  • New 24 megapixel CMOS-BSI sensor
  • Up to ISO 100,000
  • 25fps electronic shutter, 9fps mechanical shutter up to 999 shot buffer
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilisation
  • 4K at 30p 10bit 4:2:2 / Cinema 4k at 30p 10bit 4:2:2 (internal)
  • 96MP multi-shot
  • High res EVF, LCD and top info LCD
  • IP54 weather protection
  • All-metal aluminium and magnesium chassis
  • New Capture One 21 integration with tethered shooting
  • Bluetooth, WiFi and Leica Fotos app connectivity

Quick photo menu separate from video

The SL2-S utilises Leica’s Maestro III processor as does the SL2, which allows the camera to provide 24MP images in Adobe DNG format, at up to 25fps (electronic shutter) with a 4GB buffer. That is seriously quick for any camera and will keep pace with any action, sports or wildlife requirements. This same processor also allows the camera to record 4K video (full video specs below) with no recording time constraints and no overheating. When recording internally, the only constraints users will have is the capacity of either of the two high speed UHS-II SD cards. These are recommended over UHS-I due to quicker write speeds.

The sensor is an entirely new CMOS-BSI (back-illuminated) full-frame sensor which is optimised for mirrorless but is happy with analogue M lenses. Keeping up with the Jones is no bad thing as the SL2-S also employs multi-shot technology for tripod mounted captures delivering 96 megapixel images. This is done by merging eight separate images into one highly detailed image file. This represents a printable size well suited to high end interior photography, architectural work as well as still life, art and any genre where large printing is required from a non moving subject.

This body also provides up to 5.5EV stops of compensation with 5-axis in-body stabilisation. Combine this with ISO up to 100,000 and handheld shooting can continue well into twilight or any low light situations.

Video Specifications

Pro video set-up with the SL2-S camera

The Leica SL2-S is a highly capable video camera which will satisfy not only casual video makers but will also appeal to professional film makers. Internal recording capabilities are more than competitive and the planned 2021 firmware update will introduce 4K/60p internal recording with enhanced AF fictionality and a number of other advanced movie features (see below).

  • 4K at 30p 10bit 4:2:2 / Cinema 4k at 30p 10bit 4:2:2 (internal)
  • 4K at 60p 10bit 4:2:2 / Cinema 4k at 60p 10bit 4:2:2 via external video recorder
  • Endless filming with no time limit
  • Full sized Type A HDMI 2.0 input
  • Leica L-Log movie recording with two viewing LUTs for EVF/LCD monitor or for external HDMI monitor.
  • Full frame 35mm C4K (17:9) 4096x2160 pixels, sensor range 6000x3168 pixels
  • Full frame 35mm 4K (16:9) 3840x2160 pixels, sensor range 6000x3368 pixels

Needless to say that 4K and C4K represents a standard which most film makers are very happy with today, particularly when unrestricted by overheating. See below’s forthcoming firmware updates for yet more pro video features being introduced to this capable camera.

Video only menu items

Build Quality

Some of the most compelling reasons to invest in any Leica system are the classic styling of their cameras together with all-metal, German-made camera bodies. The SL2-S continues this tradition with top and bottom plates hewn from aluminium, a magnesium alloy chassis and IP54 weather sealing throughout. The weather sealing allows the camera to receive direct water from any direction and continue to function perfectly, ideal for outdoor photographers and video makers.

Our used Leica camera department regularly sees Leica models in pristine condition which are over 10 years old, testament to their build quality. Cameras are built to last a lifetime and regularly do, as is the case where lenses are concerned. The ability to use lenses from most any other Leica systems furthers the commitment to their heritage which began in 1869, world-class quality and lifelong durability. We posted a blog some time ago which is still relevant today ‘Why Leica’s worth the money’.

Outdoor IP54 sealing for wet weather

Firmware Update 2021

Leica are working hard on firmware updates planned for the first half of 2021, which will elevate SL2-S features even higher. Highlights include numerous advanced video functions:

  • New Autofocus algorithm for improved eye/face/head/body recognition and focus tracking
  • Internal 10 Bit 4K/60p & 50p with HEVC video compression (h.265)
  • Long-GOP recording for 10 Bit codecs with 150 – 200 MB/s (same Image Quality as All-Intra, less than half of data volume)
  • Segmented Video (1 minute segments to avoid data loss)
  • Individual Viewing-LUT upload function
  • Enhanced Live View for better low light image composition control
  • Image Overlay. Allows alignment of the camera position on basis of a previous taken image, that is displayed in a transparent mode in the EVF or on the LCD.
  • Automatic Follow Focus operation
  • Wave form monitor for professional exposure control
  • Colour bar with audio signal as reference for correct colour grading and sound control in postproduction
  • Tally Mode for multiple camera shooting

Video rig

Conclusion

The SL2-S fills a gap in Leica’s full frame mirrorless line-up for users who shoot both video and stills, where the higher resolution 47MP SL2 is overkill for many. Bringing 24MP allows users to shoot at higher frame rates without filling the buffer, without overheating and still provides enough pixels to crop-in for most applications. ISO ratings are extremely competent, with in-body stabilisation facilitating smoother movies and sharper images.

The L-mount lens line-up from the Alliance is producing some of the best new lenses for any system available on the market, including all popular workhorse focal widths. All three companies are announcing new lenses regularly, with highly favoured models being released across all levels. Panasonic Lumix and Sigma are both known for their high end optics and of course Leica glass is timeless, with decade old lenses still in broad circulation.

It’s not all about technical abilities with Leica however, although recent leaps in technology may suggest otherwise. Leica users are passionate about the style of images which their equipment can produce. The noise textures and ‘look’ from Leica camera and lens combinations is instantly recognisable which says a lot for the optical designs.

Accessories remain constant throughout the Leica SL range too, in fact the BP-SCL4 battery can be used throughout Q and SL cameras, and the Handgrip HG-SCL6 fits this and previous SL models too.

To find out more about Leica and L-mount lenses we have the following posts available in our blog:

  1. Leica Q2 Monochrom and colour Q2 compared
  2. M10-R Digital Rangefinder Specs and samples
  3. Lumix 24-70mm F2.8 S Pro Lens Review
  4. Leica Q2 hands on review
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By Nick Dautlich on 10/12/2020

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