The Leica SL – A Quick Test

Leica SL Typ 601 | Leica Vario Elmarit SL 2.8-4/24-90mm ASPH. | ISO 50 | 1/60s | f/4

Leica SL Typ 601 | Leica Vario Elmarit SL 2.8-4/24-90mm ASPH. | ISO 50 | 1/60s | f/4 (click to see the full-res version, edited in Lightroom and Color Efex Pro)

The Leica Store Berlin is currently offering a free-of-charge test of their Leica SL camera. Smart people, they are, at Leica. They know exactly what will happen to people who put their hands on an SL: “It’s a trap!” you want to scream out loud. And of course, I went straight into it, got me an SL for three days to thoroughly and objectively test it, and here I am, completely sold on it.

When I picked up the camera yesterday, the weather forecast was anything but ideal. It was raining, windy, no sunshine whatsoever and everything was grey, no light, no shadows. But I thought, if the camera is able to cope with these conditions, it will probably excel in any other.

I was really skeptical at first. The SL isn’t the first new camera I tested, so I wasn’t expecting any leaps in terms of image quality over the DSLRs I currently own (Nikon D800, D700) or my Leica M Monochrom. The latter in particular, because the M lenses have this very unique rendering that is probably very hard to top. All in all I was expecting a somewhat better performance, noticeable, but worth the hefty price tag?

Included in the test kit was also the new Vario Elmarit SL 2,8-4/24-90mm ASPH. and in particular for this lens I was extremely skeptical. Its sheer weight and size and the fact that it is a zoom lens, to me, this is really a hard sell. I could just keep my Nikon gear if I wanted to keep schlepping a ton of lenses around.

But let’s cut to the chase, here is the verdict in terms of image quality: With my M lenses (Summilux 50mm and Summicron 35mm) the image quality of the SL is simply stunning. The color rendition, the bokeh, micro contrast, sharpness overall and just the way it renders the image left me speechless. When compared to the images of my D800 with excellent prime lenses (like the 1.4/85mm) the Leica SL is miles ahead. And the D800 is probably still one of the best DSLRs in that segment.

I can’t really compare the SL to any other digital M other than my M Monochrom. And these are two completely different approaches to photography. What I did though was a very quick comparison of how monochrome images out of the SL would compare to those from the M Monochrom. And here the M Monochrom takes a slight, but noticeable win home. That said, I didn’t really apply any extensive conversion to the SL images, so I’m sure if done right, you can get close to the image quality of the M Monochrom.

But what about the Vario Elmarit? Well, here I’m a bit uncertain, still. The image quality is not on par with the Leica M prime lenses. The differences are subtle but distinctive. In particular micro contrast and bokeh. Also, the overall look of the M lenses is more pleasing. On the pro side the Vario Elmarit is extremely versatile, because it’s a zoom lens. On my small hike to the Schloss Moritzburg (see picture above) through pretty heavy rain, I only took the Vario lens, because I didn’t want to change lenses while the rain was pouring down. With just one prime lens I probably would have missed a couple shots. Also, the autofocus is excellent and of course makes shooting a lot easier. Which in turn is a bit of a deviation from the way I use to photograph with the M Monochrom. With the Monochrom it just takes much more time for composition. With the SL and the Vario zoom it’s more a DSLR “shoot and forget” experience. Not so sure I like that :).

And of course apart from the image quality the usability of the SL is just outstanding. Autofocus is just one example, but the Eye-Res viewfinder is a pleasure to work with. The ability to “WYSIWYG” is a real benefit. Also, the 4k video mode is in a completely different league compared to what I’m used to from my Nikon D800.

So, with all that said, the odds of me parting with my DSLR equipment and changing over to the SL (with or without the Vario Elmarit) are not exactly slim :). In the end my blog may become a bit more colorful again :).

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour

Recently I had the privilege to be able to extend a business trip for a few days to go to Las Vegas. I had been in Vegas before, so this time the main venture was really the Grand Canyon to explore something new. Since from Vegas a car ride would have meant pretty much an all day trip with a four-hour drive each way we decided to take a more airy vehicle. I hope you enjoy my little video of that unforgettable helicopter ride as much as I enjoyed the actual trip.

Mount San Jacinto

Coachella Valley is a really interesting place. To the Northeast, towards Joshua Tree National Park, it’s a desert-like landscape. Very dry and rocky. To the Southwest there are huge mountains rising, on top of which there is actual vegetation. You wonder where these trees get their water from when down in the valley there is hardly any flora growing on its own without sprinklers. But you quickly forget that head-scratching action once you are stunned by the gorgeous view over the valley down below from atop Mt. San Jacinto.

Overlooking Coachella Valley | Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) | Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH. | 1/180s | f/8 | ISO 320

Overlooking Coachella Valley | Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) | Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH. | 1/180s | f/8 | ISO 320

Coachella Valley, CA

I had never really used the video feature of my Leica M Monochrom other than for a quick test. But on this particular day in Coachella Valley I must have thought that it might be a good idea to capture some moving images as well. And it turned out that the still images I had taken were not really cutting it. So I decided to cut a video instead. Enjoy.

Joshua Tree Park (Lomo Edition)

I was playing around with the Lomo film in Joshua Tree National Park as well. But I have to say that I was a bit underwhelmed by the results. You would have thought that color works better for landscape than black and white, but apparently not for me. This photo is the only one of about 20 shots in the park that I took in color with the Lomo film that I found at least remotely presentable. Perhaps I can’t do color photography any more. Check out the monochrome photos in my blog entry of a couple days ago.

Joshua Tree National Park | Leica MP | Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH. | Lomography XPro 200 ISO

Joshua Tree National Park | Leica MP | Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH. | Lomography XPro 200 ISO

Strawberry Picking

Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) | Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. | ISO 320

Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) | Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. | ISO 320

Being the photographer can have multiple advantages. For starters you are rarely to be seen on photographs yourself and not less importantly you can’t be recruited for other work since your hands are busy holding a camera and taking photos.

Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) | Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. | ISO 320

Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) | Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. | ISO 320

These circumstances came in handy last weekend when me and my friends decided to go pick strawberries. The only strawberries I picked ended up in my tummy. The rest wasn’t my responsibility :). However, I felt responsible enough to help eating the home-made strawberry pancakes after our successful picking exercise (of which there are no photos since they disappeared so quickly)…

Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) | Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. | ISO 320

Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) | Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. | ISO 320