Leica SL2-S Review
By Yvonne
2022-10-18

Leica SL2-S is a striking camera with high-end design. However, it's a beautiful mirrorless camera that anyone can afford.

Leica SL2-S Review

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The pros

  • Full-frame stabilized sensor
  • 24MP BSI CMOS design
  • Electronic shutter at 25 fps
  • Intelligent autofocus system
  • Stunning OLED viewfinder
  • Weather protection IP54
  • Video in 4K60 at 10 bit quality

Cons

  • With continuous focus, limited to 5 fps
  • Fixed rear display
  • Pricing for premium products

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Leica SL2-S Specs

Name Value
Dimensions 4.2 by 5.7 by 3.3 inches
Weight 2 lb
Type Mirrorless
Sensor Resolution 24 MP
Sensor Type BSI CMOS
Sensor Size Full-Frame
Lens Mount Leica L
Memory Card Slots 2
Memory Card Format SDXC (UHS-II)
Battery Type Leica BP-SCL4
Minimum ISO 50
Maximum ISO 100000
Display Size 3.2 inches
Display Resolution 2.1 million dots
Touch Screen Yes
Viewfinder Type EVF
Viewfinder Magnification 0.78x
EVF Resolution 5.76 million dots
Connectivity Bluetooth, HDMI, USB-C, Wi-Fi, Microphone (3.5mm), Headphone (3.5mm)
Maximum Waterproof Depth 0 feet
Video Resolution 4K
HDMI Output 4:2:2 10-bit
Flat Profile Yes

Leica's SL camera is a more common design than the M rangefinder, yet they retain the same quality and attention to detail that has made them a top brand. The SL2-S (body only, $4,995) offers many modern conveniences you won't find with the M10 rangefinder.

It includes a smart autofocus system, 4K video recording and a beautiful, all-weather package. It costs more than mainstream alternatives, like our Editors' Choice winner, the Panasonic Lumix S5, but there's no question as to where your money goes—the SL2-S delivers a true luxury experience.

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Accent on Design

The SL2-S has a similar body design to the SL2, a 2019 product. The SL2 can be used for high resolution imaging. It has a full-frame 47MP sensor, compared to the SL2-S's 24-MP. Although there are some cosmetic changes (the SL2's logo print is now white while the SL2-S's has been left in black), the operation of both cameras works the same.

I'm a fan of the SL2-S's slightly understated look, even if it doesn't match up quite as well with the vintage analog cameras that inspired its design. It's sized in line with other full-frame models, at 4.2 by 5.7 by 3.3 inches (HWD), and weighs a very reasonable two pounds without a lens.

Leica's magnesium alloy chassis is paired with an aluminum top plate. This helps to keep it light and strong. The camera is protected from dust and splashes—its IP54 rating means you can use it in the rain without worry when paired with a protected lens.

Ergonomics are a subjective matter, but I like the feel of the SL2-S's grip. It's finished with a textured leatherette and has an interesting shape, with a ridge that creates an indented trough for your fingertips. It adds some confidence to the grip, especially important when handholding the camera.

The SL2-S can be used with L-mount lenses, but it will also work with Leica M rangefinder lens adapters. The camera worked well with both the Vario Elmarit-SL 24-70mmF2.8 ASPH. and a manual focus prime like the Mitakon Speedmaster50mm F0.95 L-mount. I also tried it with an old M rangefinder lens the Summicron C 40mm F2.

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The Basics are covered by Minimalist Controls

The SL2-S design language is simple and clean. It has few buttons and a couple of lines. The red dot logo of Leica is present, but it's all that matters. Every part of the body has a specific purpose. This is a reference to Leica's Bauhaus philosophy, which runs deeply in Leica’s DNA: form follows function.

Controls are quite flexible—unmarked function buttons have default functions, but you can swap them out for others. There are two next to the lens, another pair on the top plate, and on the rear next to the viewfinder. It's easy to swap functions—just hold the button in and a list shows up on the screen.

The shutter release can be found on the top of the handgrip, at an angle. A monochrome information screen and control dial are also located on the top plate.

The second control dial is on the rear, nestled in the top right corner. The eight-way joystick is a little to the left. It's the main interface for menus—pressing it in is the equivalent to pressing the OK button on other cameras. It's also used to move the active focus point around the frame, and pressing it while using an autofocus lens drives focus, the same as a dedicated AF-ON button.

You will find the on/off button at the top of the screen. The only buttons marked on the camera are located in the column below. My clumsy right thumb was unable to navigate the Fn, Menu and Play buttons with ease. They are clearly visible and well spaced.

Menu swaps the live view to an on-screen information display—exposure settings, shooting modes, and a couple of rows of quick settings are included, all adjustable using the joystick or by touch. You can navigate the menu using the joystick by pressing Menu.

The Fn button toggles on-screen information—so you can frame a shot using grid lines and enjoy a live histogram to preview your exposure, or get rid of all the overlays for an unobstructed view of your scene.

Physical controls are perfectly complemented by the touch interface. The big 3.2-inch LCD is sharp (2.1 million dots) and bright. It's very responsive to touch, so you can tap to set a focus point or adjust settings. I do wish Leica had included some articulation—a basic hinge to tilt up or down is really helpful for working from a tripod or making images from a lower angle.

A viewfinder that is eye-level can also be found. It is both large and sharp (0.78x), as well as easy to use. OLED panels have strong colors and smooth refresh rates. Because it's an electronic view you can also set it to match the look of your photos—a black-and-white view for black-and-white photography—and you'll benefit from focus aids to get the best results when working with manual focus lenses.

Connection and power

The SL2-S connected camera has both Bluetooth and Wi Fi built in. The SL2-S can even be used with the smartphone app Leica Fotos, for easy configuration. To automatically set my camera's time, the SL2-S connected to my iPhone. It also supports wireless transfers of raw and JPG images. Your phone can be used as a remote controller, with tap-to focus and live view.

Leica SL2-S : Sample Image

Physical connections include a standard hot shoe for an external flash or other accessories. A full-size HDMI port is on the left—this is a very capable video camera, and compatible with external recorders like the Atomos Ninja V. You also get 3.5mm jacks to connect an external microphone and headphones.

Although the SL2 uses the same BP SCL4 battery, the SL2-S has a slightly more powerful battery that can produce 510 images per charge. It's still worth having a spare battery in case of an emergency. However, it is easy to charge via USB-C and can be charged on-the-go.

There are two memory card slots, a plus for photographers who want to write images to two cards for some redundancy, or those who want to put photos on one card and videos on another. Both support the speediest UHS-II SD cards.

Intelligent Autofocus

The SL2-S is a mirrorless camera that goes beyond what was available in SLRs and early models. The SL2-S can focus almost to the edges of the sensor so that your creativity isn’t restricted by the focus system. You can also avoid cumbersome methods such as focus-andrecompose.

Leica SL2-S : Sample Image

It's also pretty smart. The SL2-S can recognize human faces, eyes, and bodies. You can let the focus system decide what to lock on or restrict its area and use the joystick control to reposition the focus point. Subject tracking, where the camera follows a target once it's acquired, is also available.

Although the focus system works well for fast moving action, it is not able to distinguish between contrast and electronic shutters. With its fully electronic shutter and mechanical shutter, the SL2-S is capable of firing at a speedy 9 fps, or 25 fps. However, focus must be locked until the first shot.

Leica SL2-S : Sample Image

The medium drive setting keeps the camera going at 5fps and sets focus for every photo. It did a very good job keeping shots in focus in our test, where we snaps shot of a target moving toward and away from camera. You can fine-tune settings or choose from a handful of pre-baked recipes: Wildlife, Children and Pets, Team Sports, and Runner.

It can hold around 80 DNG images at 9fps, and about 120 photos at 5fps. The buffer is large enough to hold the action the camera was designed for. You can fill the camera up and continue to take photos, but you will need to wait 15 to 20 seconds before all photos are written to your memory. The camera was tested with Sony Tough Cards, which are capable of transferring up to 299MBps.

Leica SL2-S : Sample Image

All in all, the contrast system is reliable, but simply not as fast as cameras that leverage on-sensor phase detection. You can get a basic Canon, Nikon, or Sony mirrorless and enjoy continuous focus and tracking at better than 10fps, and sports-focused models can hit 20 or 30fps. If you need that kind of performance, the SL2-S isn't the right camera for you.

Stabilized Imaging

The SL2-S employs a 5-axis IBIS system for steadying its 24MP BSI CMOS camera. This combination allows for handheld imaging with all kinds of light. Although it doesn't contain as many pixels than the 47MPSL2, it uses thinner cover glass to provide better results when using vintage Leica M lenses. It also supports an extremely wide ISO 50-100000 sensitivity range.

Leica SL2-S : Sample Image

The SL2-S can snap shots in ready-to-share JPG format, or you can switch to Raw DNG to get images that hold up to editing and toning. You can get creative either way, with several in-camera color and monochrome profiles available if you prefer the convenience of JPGs.

It produces natural colors and a low-contrast profile. You can also get useful results from its entire range. The photos show great detail at 12500 ISO and still look good up to ISO 50000. The colors are good at ISO 100000 but the images and color look a bit soft. We also see grain.

Leica SL2-S : Sample Image

The Raw output is as good as you'll get from a 24MP full-frame camera. Photos are very editable, with loads of room to adjust color, shadows, highlights, and contrast. You can also tune noise reduction to taste. Adobe's default processing shows excellent clarity and a fine grain pattern, without splotchy color noise, through ISO 50000. The grain pattern is chunkier at ISO 100000, but you can still get usable images.

Stabilization allows you to use longer shutter speeds, which means that you don't need to adjust your sensitivity. Stabilization also comes in handy for tripod work—the camera supports a multi-shot mode for improved resolution. To better capture color samples, the camera takes several photos and shifts the sensor to each one. The output is at 96MP resolution. For best results, you will need to hold the camera steady while taking still-life shots.

Leica's Best Video Camera

The video toolkit Leica was able to fit into the 47MP SLR2 is quite impressive, especially considering that the high resolution sensors can affect video quality. You can also get a 24MP SL2-S 4K camera.

Leica SL2-S : Sample Image

It supports 4K60 with a Super35 crop, and manages 10-bit 4:2:0 to memory or 4:2:2 to a recorder. At 30fps or 24fps you'll enjoy uncropped full-width capture, and 4:2:2 footage to a memory card. Video is captured at a high bit rate too, up to 400Mbps. You can set it to record in the same profiles for stills—standard, natural, vivid, black-and-white, or high-contrast black-and-white.

A gradable LLog profile and an HDR Profile HLG are also included. The ability to create custom LUTs allows professional cinematographers to see their preferred grades. Waveform monitoring is included, too—I stick to histograms, but real video folks prefer waveforms to read exposure.

It's certainly Leica's best video camera to date. The built-in profiles are there for creators who want to get good-looking footage right out of camera for basic edits. The pros can switch to L-Log, add an external recorder or microphone, and fiddle with settings as desired. We like the stabilized sensor for handheld video; it's effective, especially at wider angles, though we do wish it had some screen articulation.

Luxury at the L-Mount Lap

Leica SL2-S camera is a beautiful, easy-to-use and excellent performer. It's not one for technical superlatives—you don't get the most pixels, the fastest tracking focus, or support for Raw video recording.

Leica SL2-S : Sample Image

Instead you get a very capable camera, one that snaps beautiful images and is elegantly designed. It's built for real use, with robust weather protection and high-end alloys. It's a joy to use with modern autofocus lenses and old-school Leica M glass alike. If we have a gripe about how the SL2-S handles, it's the lack of a tilting screen.

It's possible to argue it isn't as technical as other cameras within this price range. That's true—you can get a Sony a9 II and net every shot in focus at 20fps for fewer dollars, or opt for a Panasonic S1H and record 6K video if that's your speed. This is because of the boutique workmanship and brand name.

For customers who aren't put off by the price, the SL2-S is a worthwhile splurge. If you're in love with its imaging capabilities and the L-mount lens series, but don't have the dollars for a Leica, the Panasonic Lumix S5 is a great starter full-frame model.