Studio product photography by Dan Bracaglia
The Leica SL2-S is what the company is calling its entry into a different segment of the camera market, targeting the hybrid stills/video shooter. At launch it’s very much a less expensive, lower resolution version of the $6000, 47MP SL2, but the SL2-S will be stronger than its big brother in the video department after a 2021 firmware update.
The rest of the SL2 remains intact, including a well-built body with ‘Made in Germany’ engraved on the back, in-body image stabilization, touch-based control scheme and large, ultra-high-res-EVF. It supports native L-mount lenses as well as classic Leica glass via an optional adapter.
The SL2-S body is priced at $4895.
- 24MP full-frame BSI-CMOS sensor
- In-body image stabilization (up to 5.5 stops)
- Contrast-detect autofocus with depth prediction
- Up to 25 fps burst shooting (e-Shutter)
- 5.76M-dot electronic viewfinder (0.78x magnification)
- 3.2″ touchscreen display w/2.1M dots
- Oversampled 4K/30p video (up to 10-bit 4:2:2)
- Unlimited video recording
- Multi-shot 96MP mode
- Dual UHS-II SD cards
- 802.11ac + Bluetooth connectivity
What’s new and how it compares
The Leica SL2-S is a 24 Megapixel camera which almost certainly uses the same sensor as the Sony a7 III, Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 and Nikon Z6 II. This sensor features fast readout speeds that allow for 25 fps continuous shooting and oversampled 4K/30p video. Unlike the proprietary Raw formats on the aforementioned cameras, the SL2-S (like all Leicas) shoots DNG.
The SL2-S features an in-body image stabilization system that can reduce shake by up to 5.5 stops. The camera can shift the sensor to create 96MP stills in its tripod only ‘multi-shot’ mode by combining 8 different exposures.
The autofocus system is contrast detection with depth mapping, which is likely the same or very similar to Panasonic’s Depth-from-Defocus system. We’ve found DFD to be quick and generally accurate, though not as good as its peers with phase-detect AF systems when it comes to moving subject. The SL2-S will be receiving an AF system upgrade as part of the big firmware update that adds eye/face/head/body detection and tracking, not unlike what Panasonic added to its S1 line-up earlier this year.
The SL2-S is already a capable video shooter, though its feature set isn’t as broad as, say, the Panasonic S5. As with many other things on the SL2-S, it will be more comparable after that firmware update.
Here we’ll take a deeper dive into what separates the SL2-S from the SL2 along with the Panasonic S5 and Canon EOS R6.
|Leica SL2-S||Leica SL2||Canon EOS R6||Panasonic S5|
|Sensor||24MP BSI CMOS||47MP CMOS||20MP Dual Pixel CMOS||24MP CMOS|
|LCD||3.2″ fixed; 2.1M-dot||3.2″ fixed; 2.1M-dot||3″ fully articulating; 1.84M-dot||3″ fully articulating; 1.62M-dot|
|Weather-sealing||Yes, IP52||Yes, IP52||Yes||Yes|
|25 fps (e-shutter)||20 fps (e-shutter)||20 fps (e-shutter)||7 fps|
|5 fps||6 fps||20 fps||7 fps|
|5K/30p (FF, pixel-binned)
4K/60p (FF, pixel-binned)
|Video rec limit||Unlimited||30 mins||Varies*||30 mins|
|Card slots||Dual UHS-II SD||Dual UHS-II SD||Dual UHS-II SD||
1x UHS-II SD
|Battery life (CIPA, LCD)||510 shots||370 shots||360 shots||440 shots|
|Dimensions||146 x 107 x 83mm||146 x 107 x 83mm||138 x 98 x 88 mm||133 x 97 x 82 mm|
* 30 mins for 10-bit 4K, unlimited for 8-bit
Body, controls and handling
Like the regular SL2, the SL2-S is a large, heavy, and incredibly well-built camera. Its SLR-style design is imposing from the front, but upon closer inspection you’ll find a few curved edges that make it feel less intimidating. The body is made out of a solid block of metal and has an IP52 rating for weather-sealing (none of the SL2-S’s competitors have IP ratings, but when it comes to claims of weather-sealing it’s hard to establish exactly what the differences are.)
The grip is very well designed and you could almost use the camera one-handed, if the body and most of the available L-mount lenses weren’t so heavy. The joystick could be a bit further to the right and the same is true for the large dial on the top plate. All but three buttons on the camera are unlabeled, which is unusual for most mirrorless cameras, though less-so for Leica.
Something else unusual these days (among non-flagship sports models at least) is the lack of a mode dial. To change between P/A/S/M mode you press the rear dial inward and make your selection. (The Canon EOS R/R5/R6 operate in a similar way.)
Viewfinder and LCDs
One of the real highlights of the SL2-S is its ‘EyeRes’ electronic viewfinder. Its magnification of 0.78x is about as good as it gets, and the 5.76 million-dot resolution and available 120 fps refresh rate makes it feel pretty close to looking through an optical viewfinder. The diopter correction dial is right behind the eyepiece and is easier to adjust than the small dials on many cameras. The dial is stiff enough to prevent accidental adjustment.
The rear LCD is very nice in terms of spec, though the fact that it’s fixed in place might be disappointing to some photographers, especially on what’s being pitched as a hybrid camera where you may be shooting waist-level. The 3.2″ display offers touch functionality that goes beyond selecting the AF point or scrolling through photos.
|The info display for stills…||… and for video. You can switch between the two with a swipe of a finger.|
You can swipe up and down to switch between record and playback mode, and left and right to move between stills and video modes. The screen can be double-tapped to select AF options, and the focus point can be moved via the display when you’re using the viewfinder.
Ports and battery
The size of the SL2-S – and lack of a mode dial – allow for an LCD info display on the top plate. It displays the kind of exposure information you’d expect for still and video shooting. The screen is easy to see in a variety of lighting conditions.
The SL2-S has the ports you’d expect from a stills/video hybrid camera, including 3.5mm headphone and microphone sockets, and a full-size HDMI port. There’s also a USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-C port that can be used for charging the battery and operating the camera.
On the other side of the camera are a pair of SD card slots that both support the UHS-II interface. Both backup and JPG/DNG split options are available when both slots are in use. You cannot save stills on one card and videos on another, however.
Finally, there’s the battery. The BP-SCL4 stores 15.6Wh of energy and allows the camera to take up to 510 shots on a single charge (though you’ll likely do better, since the standard tests are more demanding than most people’s use). As mentioned above, USB charging is supported. An external charger is included with the camera, as you’d expect. A $1000 battery grip is optional.
If you’ve never used an SL-series camera before, you may wonder why nearly all of the buttons are unlabeled. That’s because they’re all customizable, which you do by holding down the button until a menu pops up, at which point you can assign nearly every function on the camera to it.
And, what the button does is specific to the mode you’re in. In other words, a button can do one thing for stills and another thing for video, and once that’s set up, the functions switch over automatically when you toggle between modes. The shooting info on the rear display does the same thing, and you can simply swipe left or right to switch between still and video shooting.
The menu system on the SL2-S is somewhat different than what you’ll find on most other cameras, in that it’s one long list with no tabs that break settings down into categories. You can, however, put your favorite settings on the first page of the menu for easy access. Combine that with the highly customizable buttons and you won’t have to do too much menu-diving.
One option that video shooters will certainly appreciate is Cine mode. This changes shutter speed into shutter angle and ISO into EI ‘ASA’, both of which are common in the cinematography world.
The SL2-S has a whole lot of video options, and listing them all would take up most of this page. In short, the camera can capture DCI and UHD 4K 60p/50p video with an APS-C (Super35) crop, with 8-bit 4:2:0 internal recording and 10-bit 4:2:2 to an external recorder. For full-frame capture you’ll need to drop down to 29.97p, and this time you can capture oversampled 10-bit 4:2:2 internally and externally. Since it’s oversampled from a 6K area of the sensor, quality should be quite good.
As mentioned earlier, a planned firmware update will 10-bit APS-C 4K/60p capture using the more efficient H.265 codec. There is no recording time limit on the SL2-S.
When shooting 4K in MOV format, ALL-I compression provides bit rates of up to 400Mbps, with Long GOP topping out at 150Mbps. In MP4 format, it’s Long GOP only, with the same bit rate. The SL2-S offers high-speed 1080 capture of up to 180 fps, without autofocus, of course.
The camera supports both V-Log and HLG. Two display correction LUTs are included for when shooting in Log: Natural, which is a standard flat profile, and Classic, which emulates Kodachrome. The camera can display what the LUT will look like when applied, and the company includes Rec.709 and Rec.2020 cube version of the LUT s for grading on your PC.
Currently, the SL2-S offers wind noise reduction, mic level adjustment (with a meter displayed on the LCD/EVF), and time code. The forthcoming firmware update will add a waveform monitor, color bars with a test tone, segmented video that preserves footage in case your battery dies and automatic follow-focus operation.
The SL2-S allows you to set both the maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed (from 1/2000 to 1/30 sec). The default ‘auto’ option selects the shutter speed proportional to the focal length you’re using.
The camera lets you adjust exposure compensation while in M mode (for stills and video), so you don’t have to mess with your aperture or shutter speed to maintain brightness. A ‘floating ISO’ feature tries to maintain the brightness of your footage by finely adjusting the ISO as you adjust the focal length with a variable aperture zoom lens.
|ISO 100 | 1/320 sec | F3.4 | Leica SL 24-90mm F2.8-4 @ 40mm
Photo by Jeff Keller
When Leica first told us about the SL2-S, they made it clear that the camera isn’t just a cheaper, lower resolution SL2. It’s for a different market: for those who shoot stills and video. But, as it stands right now, the SL2-S is essentially a cheaper, lower resolution SL2. That will change with the planned firmware, if you don’t mind waiting for a while – possibly up to six months.
Not surprisingly, using the SL2-S is just like its higher resolution sibling. It’s heavy enough to fend off any thieves, yet it didn’t feel like too much of a burden when I was carrying it on my shoulder around the Seattle Zoo (and that’s with the 24-90mm lens attached). The viewfinder is fantastic, though the fixed LCD was frustrating while trying to take waist-level shots.
|ISO 100 | 1/640 sec | F4.5 | Leica SL 24-90mm F2.8-4 @ 90mm
Photo by Jeff Keller
There was definitely a steeper learning curve for getting used to the controls, at least for me. I’m used to labels on buttons and a place in the menus to customize them. The menus themselves are also unusual in that they aren’t categorized and the method for backing out of submenus is not consistent.
I have zero complaints about the camera’s performance. It focuses quickly (though some ‘wobble’ is visible on the LCD/EVF while the camera tries to focus), and the whole user interface is very responsive. Photo quality is spectacular with the pricey 24-90 and 90-280mm lenses I had. I did have some issues with front and back focusing, though I’m it’s possible that this was user error or a quirk of the pre-production sample that we were given to try.
I didn’t dig into the camera’s video features very much, though the tools available at launch don’t stand out as much as the planned updates will when they’re added to the camera next year. Rather than making users wait for months to bring the SL2-S’s features up to par with, say, the Panasonic S5, releasing the camera later makes more sense to me, but there’s a reason why I’m not in the product planning business.
|ISO 640 | 1/125 sec | F3.3 | Leica SL 24-90mm F2.8-4 @ 66mm
Processed to taste in ACR
Photo by Jeff Keller
Overall, the SL2-S is a pleasure to use. While there’s something about owning a Leica in terms of its heritage, design and lens quality, I kept feeling like I was using a Panasonic S5 in a much nicer body that costs nearly $3000 more. For some people, though, the SL2-S will be worth that premium.