My Leica SL Experience By Dan Feldman

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My Leica SL Experience

By Dan Feldman

“I’m an Australian expat living in the UAE (Abu Dhabi) and have been shooting Leica cameras for some time now. I started with a secondhand M (typ 240) and Summilux 50mm ASPH f1.4, graduating through to the Q (which my wife mainly shoots with). I bought the SL and 24-90 zoom shortly after release and an excellent demonstration / workshop put together in Dubai by Leica UAE. I also own a Summilux 35mm ASPH f1.4 and a Noctilux 50mm f0.95. Prior to shooting Leicas I owned several Sony A-Mount DSLTs, including the wonderful A99 and Zeiss 24-70 f2.8 combination.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (SL 601) Dan Feldman (2 of 14)

I originally moved to Leica because I wanted to try the rangefinder experience and because I was intrigued by its history. After many months of that experience, my mind is clear: rangefinder photography is one of the most rewarding ways to make pictures that there is. There’s little like the feeling of composing a shot through framelines and capturing timing and focus manually: it’s addictive and gives you an unmatched sense of ownership over the result. Like Ashwin Rao and others, I also feel real pride in using a device with such a long and storied background from a company has been so important in the development of the art we all love today. The cost involved is a commitment, but it is best viewed as an investment in your own pleasure and engagement with the craft: you are buying into a real culture of innovation, quality, simplicity and beauty, and you feel it whenever you take the camera out with you.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (SL 601) Dan Feldman (3 of 14)

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (SL 601) Dan Feldman (4 of 14)

After buying the M, I bought the Q as soon as it was announced, sight-unseen. Primarily I was interested in having an autofocusing M-style camera (because I have a young son who won’t sit still, and keeping track of him solely with manual focus means a few too many missed shots!) and because the 28mm focal length nicely balanced my existing lens lineup. I won’t dwell on the qualities of the Q; everyone who has used one knows what they are, and it is a magical device that, in hindsight, was the perfect proof-of-concept for what followed …

Now, to the SL:

Like many others who have contributed to Steve’s site, I was won over by the SL as soon as I picked it up. It radiates quality and modernity from its design, materials, heft and layout, and pictures do justice to none of these characteristics. There are elements which irritate me (the “LEICA” lettering at the top is, in my view, distracting and a little obnoxious) but these are minor quibbles compared to the overall sensory experience of seeing and handling the device. The near-complete control over customisation of the button layout is also really useful, because we all hold our cameras in different ways and prioritise certain functions over others.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (SL 601) Dan Feldman (5 of 14)

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (SL 601) Dan Feldman (6 of 14)

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (SL 601) Dan Feldman (7 of 14)

The added value the SL gives to my M lenses was also important in my decision to buy it. I knew I was getting a Q-like sensor and, frankly, would have been happy enough to trade in my typ 240 for a newer M body containing that sensor; but the fact that the EVF makes manual focusing such a breeze and that the SL body design sacrifices no visible image quality when using M-mount lenses means I have a whole new way to use my line-up. It’s not as gratifying to use as a rangefinder, in my opinion, but you’re giving up a little fun for a more predictable result.

As for the image quality of the SL / 24-90 zoom combination, I’m going to let the pictures accompanying this report speak for themselves. These were all handheld snapshots taken in relatively low light over the course of about an hour, as I walked about the grounds and interiors of this spectacular structure as a tourist, then processed the DNGs quickly in Lightroom on the same evening. I don’t know of any other camera-lens pairing that can surpass these results for this kind of off-the-cuff photography.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (SL 601) Dan Feldman (8 of 14)

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (SL 601) Dan Feldman (9 of 14)

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (SL 601) Dan Feldman (10 of 14)

My experience of using the 24-90 lens has also been excellent. Of course it is large, and I don’t really use it when just walking about with the SL (I use the 35mm and 50mm M lenses for street photography, for instance), but when you are planning to visit locations where you want the full standard focal length range and know the size of the lens won’t intimidate people (e.g. for wildlife, landscapes, architecture, family pictures), it’s a great option to have.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (SL 601) Dan Feldman (11 of 14)

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (SL 601) Dan Feldman (12 of 14)

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (SL 601) Dan Feldman (13 of 14)

I’ve now had the SL for around a month and will be using it for all types of photograph over the course of 2016. I’ll report back with examples of how the camera and 24-90 zoom lens handle different challenges. But for now, I can’t speak highly enough of my experience using Leica’s latest, and am ready to commit long-term to this new system.”

Dan

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33 thoughts on “My Leica SL Experience By Dan Feldman

  1. Dan, a good 18 months later, where are you? Still loyal and happy with SL or moved on to M10 (or elsewhere)?
    Thanks,
    Peter

  2. Great shots of the SZ Grand Mosque, Dan. You have managed to capture some terrific details of an amazing building & hopefully, it wasn’t too crowded with tourists so that you had some space & time in which to wander. If you get the chance, have a look at the Sultan Qaboos Mosque over in Muscat, Oman…..it is also worth some time & it is a bit more of a relaxed experience. I’m a fellow Aussie located in Dubai & like Patrick above, would love to get in touch to say hi & check out the Leica marvel that you have most capably demonstrated. Cheers, Brendan

  3. As a person who always chimes in “why pay for this brand!” I’d like to say thank you for explaining it so perfectly.

    “There’s little like the feeling of composing a shot through framelines and capturing timing and focus manually: it’s addictive and gives you an unmatched sense of ownership over the result. Like Ashwin Rao and others, I also feel real pride in using a device with such a long and storied background from a company has been so important in the development of the art we all love today. The cost involved is a commitment, but it is best viewed as an investment in your own pleasure and engagement with the craft: you are buying into a real culture of innovation, quality, simplicity and beauty, and you feel it whenever you take the camera out with you.”

    That’s it right there…nuff said and WELL said. While i still can’t afford one, and probably never will be able to justify the cost…I now get why people do like spending that much. I have a Minolta CLE for my rangefinder exp…..so I’m with ya on the composition aspects.

  4. Dan, you went from a DSLR, to the compactness of an M, then a Q and back to the weighty SL with its multi-kg zooms?? You must have built up your biceps in the intervening years.

  5. Many thanks everyone! Hope you all have a great new year.

    Also, regarding Steve’s comment above, he is exactly right. The process of photography is the joy of the craft as much as, if not more that, the results (or, to drop a cliche, the journey is as important as the destination). If you love working with your tools, you’ll create better work more often, more easily, and with more pleasure. No-one doubts that brilliant images can be created with hundreds of cameras available at astoundingly low prices these days; and if you want to feel rewarded at the end of a day of shooting even if you didn’t make a single “keeper”, I’ve found Leicas make that happen for me consistently more than with any other brand. Your mileage may vary.

  6. Just another thankyou for these stunning pictures – composition, colour, clarity, the lot. (And actually Leica make a mini SL – it’s called the X-vario !!)

  7. Great travel photos for starters. Interesting how your experience of the 24-90 seems to bear out what others have said .If I had the camera I would use it with auto focus lenses and M lenses.
    I have a question for all Leica SL and M 240 users as well.
    What about flash?- you could say that flash and M photography are not what people associate with the Leica experience.This is not always true especially for the SL and it’s intended audience.
    Pros and enthusiasts will shoot flash with all that entails.There is the Leica SF 58 and other flashes – how do they work on the SL TTL HSs and other modes that I myself confess not to understand.
    Thanks Patrick for your excellent post -hope to hear more from you in the future

    If there are any shooters who are experienced with Leica flash on S SL or M I and I am sure others will be very interested to hear from you on this site.
    Happy new year photographing.

  8. Great shots Dan and nice post, indeed that mosque is great architecture and plenty of high end finishing. Great pictures always have a way of making something still look so alive. I live in Dubai too, do you have an email address that you can share so I connect with you?

    Thank you
    Patrick

  9. Dan,s experiences,observations are exactly the same as mine, also missed dozens of shots due to inability to focus M240 at close up especially in low light. I suspect the SL will be the platform that secures the future of Leica.

  10. Superb photos. I wouldn’t call them mere snapshots!

    That architecture is amazing. Skyscrapers are merely possible. These buildings, though, are fantastic.

    I am not currently a Leica user but I want Leica to be the #1 manufacturer. Not necessarily in units sold but at least in net profit. But they can only do that if they aggressively update their cameras. You can’t win the professional’s heart unless you’re updating once every 6-12 months. The M should have already been updated twice since the M240.

    1. Why do you want Leica to be the number one manufacturer? And you say you are not a current user. I don’t get it. Do you own stock? Are a shrill to help sell $8,000 mirrorless camera bodies? Do you believe no other camera can capture fine details and handsome architecture? Does Leica mail you a check to write silly comments. The best camera in the world is the one you are holding when you make the best the best photograph in the world. Anyone asking you what camera you used to make a print isn’t looking at your photo. They’re admiring your jewelry. And I am speaking as a 30+ years Leica shooter. But they aren’t the only hammers in my toolbox. Can we talk about images sometimes and what they do to increase cultural understanding? During the film years we didn’t sit around discussing what bodies to buy. We simply bought more film. Happy New Year from Dakar, Senegal

      1. You are writing on Dan’s post here but I had to chime in. 1st of all, its no longer 1974. Its 2016 as of tomorrow. The 97% of us who shoot digital will always be interested in new bodies, as that is how it is today. No longer will a digital body last 20 years like a good film body. It’s a sign of the times. Because Dan is very enthused about his SL (with hundreds of others saying the same) does not mean he is a shill for Leica. He loves his camera, it motivates him – and that is all that matters. So many just do not get it. Today it is just as much about the gear as the image, for many, even more so. People want to feel good with their camera..bond with it. If its a shitty body, they will despise it and not want to use it. If its a masterpiece of usability, as the SL IS INDEED, it will motivate. It’s a shame it costs $7500 but its a hell of a lot less than the old S went for a few years ago – $23,000 +. Body only. I like it better than that old S2 by a huge margin so for me, sacrificing a few other items I never use to go towards something that will motivate me to shoot, motivate me to be better and give me amazing usability and results is a no brainer. Cameras like the SL come out every once in..well, never. It is what it is. Like it or not. But these days shooters do not have your film mentality, they have the digital mentality which is far far far from film.

        1. “So many just do not get it. Today it is just as much about the gear as the image, for many, even more so.”

          That makes a camera collector, not a photographer.

          1. Incorrect again. I know HUNDREDS of photographers, MANY who earn a living with their photography and they enjoy the camera as much as the photos. Its not JUST about the photos these days, period. Most talented artistic photographers shoot digital and most of those do indeed care about what camera they use as they need a connection with it to really excel with it. That is todays reality. Collectors buy cameras to store them in a closet or on a shelf, that has nothing to do with anything we are talking about.

          2. Bodies are the new film. I think all the time how I’d love to have a FF CMOS, a FOVEON, X-Trans and CCD..they all render differently, just like different films. Of course…the investment in these 4 “films” is much more than actual film 😉

      2. “Why do you want Leica to be the number one manufacturer?”

        Why not? Is that bad?

        “Do you own stock?”

        No.

        “Are a shrill to help sell $8,000 mirrorless camera bodies?”

        No.

        “Do you believe no other camera can capture fine details and handsome architecture?”

        No. But I think a $7,000 Leica is a better choice than a $6,000 Nikon. Just my opinion, of course.

        “Does Leica mail you a check to write silly comments.”

        Yes – I put it with the ones I get from Big Oil, Big Gas and Big Coal.

        “Anyone asking you what camera you used to make a print isn’t looking at your photo.”

        Why bring the viewer into this? Cameras are for the photographer, not for the viewer. This site is about both equipment and photos taken with that equipment. It’s not popular for nothing.

        “During the film years we didn’t sit around discussing what bodies to buy.”

        Yes, we did!

        “We simply bought more film.”

        We discussed that, too. And we compared, contrasted and happily used all kinds of emulsions.

  11. Ok, M or Q or T or SL could be the ultimate body tool in the right hands or a GAS time for up 5-10k…:) i believe strong that SL is not THE camera for everyone – not only the cost but the skills and the strong vision you must have and then you can make it sing like a paradise bird in the open heavens – but only for Pros and for serious² photography storytellers.
    I can survive a little longer with my M9(4th.hand) and my 50 Summicron f/2 APO(2nd.hand) maybe for 10+ next years without a problem.
    Nice architect snapshots Dan.

    my wish for all to have a creative vision and a peaceful new year.
    cheers from greece

  12. Wonderfull shots, extraordinary colors, great work quickly done – like the last pic.
    Thinking about getting the Q, having to small kids at home and so autofocus is really an advantage.

  13. I did make the switch from the M 240 to the SL and could not describe it better the way you did.
    Both the Q and the SL are wonderful. The T seem to be forgotten but that camera with the 11-23 and 18-58 zoom lenses surprise me everyday. Never had better zoom lenses.

  14. Beautiful work mate, and an excellent write up. Thanks for sharing! For my cameras, I use matte vinyl (like what’s used on cars) to cover all labels. I feel little less like a target when I’m shooting overseas where I already stand out like a sore thumb from my pale skin and ginger hair.

    Cheers,

    Tom

  15. I am always wonder how is a such a small company like Leica capable to release every year a completely new cameras!

    Olympus, Panasonic, Fuji, Canonikons do not progressing, release the same cameras with the same sensor year by year

    1. Leica are maybe small in cameras but as an organisation they are huge. Their main output is in medical, scientific and engineering products. The combined r&d resources would be enough to keep up the momentum. Also consider the cost of their products compared with the others. That premium gives them a head start.

  16. This Leica SL is a terribly attractive camera. Your thoughts and photographs leave no doubt there. Thank you for this post.

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