The Leica SL2s Camera Review | My New Favorite Camera

Don't buy a Leica, but maybe buy a Leica? Here's an ode to the simplistic fit, tactile dials, and beautiful nature of my new favorite camera that I was hesitant to love: the Leica Sl2s.

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I didn't want to fall in love with this camera as much as I have. I attempted to convince myself to either give up on it or perhaps return it after a few uses. Spending a couple of days with it would quench my curiosity. The Leica Q2 became my gateway drug, leading me to constantly compare it to my Sony A7R4 after each use. I found myself wondering: Is the Leica SL2s essentially a full-frame version of the Q2? The short answer is yes. However, like many things in life, the long answer is more complex and demands further discussion. The Leica SL2s doesn't offer everything the Sony A7R series does, but it embodies more of what I desire and perfectly fulfills my needs. So, here we are.

When I refer to the Leica Q2 as my gateway drug to the SL2s, here's what I mean: Using the Q2 makes you realize how other cameras can distract from the photography process with their myriad buttons, settings, menus, sub-menus, dials, knobs, joysticks, etc., all taking away from the simplicity of capturing an image. The Q2 emphasizes the essence of photography: frame, focus, and capture.

The Leica Q2 possesses a distinct quality and finesse; there's nothing cheap about its feel. It's inspiring to hold, offering an undistracted experience. You simply raise it, shoot, and it reliably captures perfect images without fuss. This led me to wonder if the SL2s could offer a similar experience but with the added versatility of interchangeable lenses.

From the moment I unboxed the SL2s, I knew I would unlikely return it. Its feel, fit, and finish were unparalleled, reminiscent of the Q2 and the Contax G2 (a topic for another discussion, but notably exceptional).

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The Fit

The SL2s feels like it was designed explicitly for taking photos, a surprisingly rare quality in many cameras. Often, cameras compel you to awkwardly position your fingers between the body and the lens, leave a finger searching for a comfortable resting spot, and generally present a plastic feel that belies their premium price. The Leica, however, does not disappoint. Its design is ergonomic, instilling confidence and immediate inspiration. The cast aluminum body leaves no room for doubt about its durability.

The viewfinder is a standout feature that distinguishes it from others. The circular viewfinder invites your eye, and as you look through, you're met with a digital display surpassing any I've previously owned or used. It's clear, easy to focus, and crystal clear. The fixed LCD on the back, which I prefer over the more common movable screens on other cameras, is clean and user-friendly. It's a touchscreen that functions perfectly, just as one would hope.

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Simple Menus

This brings us to the menu system. Having been familiar with Leica's menu system from the Q2, I found the SL2s (and SL2) to possess the most user-friendly and intuitive menu of any camera system I've owned. Canon comes close, yet their system often feels laden with nuances and complexities, causing frustration when navigating to less frequently changed settings. Sony, on the other hand, is notorious for its deep menus. After over a decade with Sony, I still find myself lost in its intricate tiers and layers, a labyrinth I avoid when time matters.

Leica's approach, however, is refreshingly simple, clean, and intuitive. Like Sony and Canon, Leica allows you to add frequently used settings to a quick menu accessible with a single button press. However, unlike the other systems, delving deeper into the menu for rarely used settings doesn’t lead to frustration. It's puzzling why other brands haven't emulated Leica's system, but there's something genuinely wonderful and distraction-free.

Simple Buttons

The button layout on the Leica SL2s is equally straightforward, clean, and efficient. Programming any of the buttons is intuitive—simply press and hold them, then assign the desired function. Their placement is well-considered, making distinguishing each button by its position easy. This allows you to effortlessly find the button you need in the dark or without looking.

The button configuration is as follows: On the front of the camera, mid-body, two buttons are accessible with your middle finger. I assign the lower front buttons to switch between focus modes and the upper one to engage manual focus magnification.

Atop the camera, two well-placed buttons are easy to use without visual guidance. I set one for adjusting the ISO and the other to toggle between video and photo modes. As I frequently work on projects that require photography and videography, this setup enables a quick and seamless transition between the two, facilitating the capture of both mediums efficiently.

There is a single button and a thumb joystick on the back of the camera, above the screen, and to the right of the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). I use the button to alter the EVF's function while the joystick adjusts the focus point selector.

These buttons are incredibly intuitive and can be customized for various functions according to your preferences.

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I recall the early days when Sony entered the mirrorless camera market, and a common criticism was the limited selection of lenses. Sony took this feedback to heart and rapidly expanded their lineup, offering a wide range of high-quality lenses for virtually any need. I was concerned about this abundance when considering the Leica SL2s, fearing a limited selection. However, my worries were unfounded. While Leica offers fewer modern autofocus and telephoto lenses, I've come to appreciate that having a smaller selection can streamline and enhance the shooting experience, making it less about the gear and more about capturing moments.

However, true treasures are found in the world of adapted lenses. There are many options for adapting lenses from Leica M, Leica R, Zeiss ZM, Canon EF, and even vintage Contax G systems. My go-to setup includes the Leica 24-90mm for most of my commercial work and general use, offering unparalleled clarity and sharpness. For a compact, all-day option, I've adapted a Contax G 45mm lens that's both lightweight and exceptional. An adapted Zeiss Milvus 18mm perfectly suits my night photography needs and expansive landscapes. With these selections, I have everything I need and more. For those preferring minimalism, just the Leica 24-90mm or the equally impressive Leica 24-70mm could suffice. Leica also offers an extensive range of remarkable prime lenses, and both their M and R series lenses are easily adaptable, presenting fantastic options for any photographer.

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Like the Q2, shooting with the SL2s is a joy. Its controls are well-placed and minimalistic, limiting distractions and allowing you to focus on framing, exposing, and capturing. Over the year I've owned this camera, I've found myself slowing down my process and becoming more precise in capturing what I'm after rather than indiscriminately experimenting with settings. A standard critique of Leica is its slower autofocus compared to Canon or Sony. While "slow" might be an overstatement, it doesn't match the responsiveness of its competitors. However, I've not found this a problem, even when photographing fast-moving subjects like mountain bikes and cross races. Indeed, Sony might capture my dog running toward me with slightly better accuracy, but the marginal difference in autofocus speed has not been a significant issue.

So, what sets it apart besides ergonomics? Several points come to mind. Firstly, it's a 24-megapixel camera, which is purely beneficial. The presumption that more megapixels equate to higher quality ignores that the image surface area remains unchanged. A 24-megapixel resolution has been advantageous for memory storage and offers outstanding dynamic range and video capabilities. I've seamlessly used this camera for both commercial video and photo work. Switching between the two formats is incredibly easy with just a push of a button on top, which can be customized.

Shooting at night has yielded remarkable photos, even without a tripod. I regularly shoot at 12k ISO without any issues. The images are clean, sharp, and, as one might describe, a good cup of coffee, full-bodied. While most modern sensors perform similarly, and all images can be color-corrected to taste, Leica files are particularly straightforward to work with straight out of the camera. Their color science and how pictures render, even in RAW, are user-friendly. I've recovered details from shadows and reduced what I initially thought were blown-out highlights more effectively than with any other camera. Even when I suspect incorrect exposure, I am often proven wrong upon editing. Leica maintains its reputation for producing photo-centric cameras, and working with these files reminds me why. The Leica naturally captures images as my eyes wish to see them.

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The Leica is expensive. There is no way around it. But at this point, Sony and Canon are making camera systems equally pricey. While it is not a camera for someone just starting, and there is no way to state that it is objectively “better” than other camera systems, I can safely suggest that it is the perfect one for some of us.

The ergonomics, image quality, and simplicity of use make working with a Leica an absolute joy. I especially appreciate Leica's approach to updating existing hardware rather than constantly releasing new models, which shows its commitment to sustainability and customer value. Since purchasing mine, the camera has only improved, a rare quality in today's fast-paced tech environment.

The camera has gotten better since I bought it. In an age of so many good camera options, I recommend investigating the Leica. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy using it. A Leica camera effortlessly gets out of the way, allowing you to focus on your photography without distractions. It has transformed my approach to photography, enabling me to concentrate more on capturing the essence of my subjects beyond the lens.

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