The Leica SL with Three Amazing, Affordable and Small Lenses. By Steve Huff

The Leica SL with Three Amazing, Affordable and Small Lenses.

By Steve Huff

See the video that is meant to accompany this post!

Ahhh. It was love at first sight that day in November of 2015. The day I received a Leica SL from my Leica Dealer Ken Hansen (email him at [email protected] if looking for Leica gear). I loved it, cherished it, and admired its build quality, feel, menu system, control system and oh man, that EVF. It made my camera of the year for 2015, see that full review HERE. I even followed it up in 2017 HERE.

So now… here I am three years later, expecting a new SL to be announced this year, and what did I do? I bought one again, for a third time (got a great deal) and I have fallen in love again, and hard. But before I talk about my third SL, let me talk about what happened to the 1st, and then the 2nd…

Being a guy who is passionate about this craft, this hobby, this magical thing we call photography…well, I love a great camera. Without a camera that you can truly bond with, the passion dwindles for me. When you do NOT shoot professionally anymore, and just for passion, fun and because it makes you feel good inside, well, it is tough to justify expensive purchases. When I bought that 1st SL from Ken Hansen in 2015, I loved it. I had the 24-90 with it, and while that lens was a MONSTER in size, it was one if the, if not THE best zoom I have ever used for quality, color and IQ. In some cases it gave me a medium format look back to the images. But it was huge, and I never used it so I sold that lens. I also reviewed the MONSTER 90-280 HERE and then the 50 Summilux SL here. These native lenses are simply beautiful in every way, best in class by far. BUT they are huge, expensive and well, heavy. That 50 lux though….it has some amazing IQ.

My solution to the weight? Using tiny, fast, HQ lenses with my SL

Being an owner of Sony’s A7RII at the time, and a couple of Olympus cameras as well, I struggled with the fact that I had all of this money tied up in cameras. I needed my Sony, and could not bring myself to sell my Olympus gear of which I have collected up quite a collection. So I sold the SL as I only had one lens for it, a 50 Summilux. INSTANT REGRET about 2 days later.

The Leica SL and Voigtlander 35 f/1.2 II – Amazing combo and can be shot wide open in full sun due to the way the SL auto switches to the Electronic Shutter when needed. MUST click the image to see it larger and in a better version!

Time goes by, and I said SCREW IT! I am gong to buy another SL. This time, I contacted Tony Rose at PopFlash.com, and soon my 2nd SL was on the way! Ahhhh, there it was again, lovely, beautiful, solid and not like any other camera I have used, ever. There is something special about the SL, there really is. The menu system is beautiful and the way you access the menu and quick settings is, IMO, genius. So many these days are used to multiple buttons littering the back of a camera but the SL has 4 easy to access points (can not call these buttons, maybe “strips” but not buttons) and each one will bring you to a certain setting menu. It becomes 2nd nature after a few days, and them once you realize how easy and quick it is, going back to a button filled mess is not as nice anymore. Or fun.

Leica SL with the Vooigtlander 40 f/1.2 – Smooth as butter! Click it for larger!

The feel of the camera is like no other. Compared to a Sony it feels 5 level up in feel and build. Same goes for any other brand. The shutter sound is subdued, smooth and silky. The EVF is giant with a giant “Porthole” to look through making the entire viewfinder experience the best I have ever had with digital. EVER. Period. Not even the Sony A9 or a7rIII gets me close to this experience. The way the battery goes in to the camera and clicks solidly in place, the dual card slots, the premium feel of the joystick on the back is simply amazing.

Using it with M lenses is my thing, as manual focusing fast primes is a cinch with this camera. I feel the SL is the best way to shoot M lenses, even over an M! Now, do not get angry at me, as this is just MY preference, and I know it may not be yours but as I get older, and wiser I have found using the Leica SL with all M lenses is such a joy, a treat, a pleasure. It all comes from that EVF and if Leica upgrades that in a new SL soon, it will be pretty special as it already is here, in a 3 year old camera.

The Voigtlander 50 f/3.5 Heliar on the SL is gorgeous. See my review of this lens HERE.

Oh yea, that 2nd SL was also sold, as again, I felt bad that I spent the cash but really it was a not so good copy of a Voigtlander 35 f/1.2 II that pushed me to get rid of my SL that 2nd time. I was using the 35 1.2 and I had no other lenses at the time, as I spent all my cash on the SL. I found it to be a tad soft, some not so hot CA and it just did not seem to be giving me those WOW moments I remembered from that lens in the past. I told myself, “You fool! You can not afford all of the Leica glass that deserves to be on the beauty, so why do you own one?” I sold it, and again, regret. Leica has a way of doing that to me. Their cameras are so beautiful in build, construction and they are the only ones that give me the warm and fuzzies when I shoot them. They do, and I have said this for years, motivate me to use them.

The rendering of the 35 f/1.2 on the SL is magical, organic and just has a special character that is beautiful. 

So much time goes by, I still keep my Sony but now have a Sony A7RIII that I use for video EVERY SINGLE DAY along with a Zeiss 18mm Batis (gorgeous lens). I still have my Olympus cameras and I still have loads of Olympus and Sony glass. But recently I was able to acquire some great Voigtlander glass, in a trade deal of sorts.

I acquired back the 35 f/1.2II, the 50 f/3.5 Heliar and the 40 f/1.2 Nokton. This time, the 35 f/1.2 seemed so much better than the other one I had, that I feel the other had some issues. Sample variation maybe but this new one is AMAZING! Share wide open, no offending CA that I have seen yet and it feels much better with focusing. I thought…man, if I had an SL again, this would be great. I could add the Voigtlander 21 1.8 and get a 75 or 90 and have a great M mount collection of reasonably priced glass. But would I be happy with this glass? Only time will tell but so far, I am floored by these lenses on the SL. Yes, I bought a 3rd SL at a great deal that I could not pass up, and shot these lenses to test it out just yesterday. Wonderful results.

Click for larger on all images here! This one with the 50 f/3.5 Heliar. At $529 it is a NO brainer. 

So here I am, with SL number 3 in 3 years. It seems I average one SL a year. If I sell this one, for any other reason that to upgrade to an SL2 (if and when that happens) then someone yell at me. Sure, this camera can not compete with Sony in low light, but I have other cameras that do. Sure, this will not AF as fast as a Sony, but I am only using this as a manual camera with M mount lenses. Sure, the Sony is cheaper, but the Sony is nothing like this SL in build, feel, usability, and the motivation it gives me to use it. Sure, this can not do video as good as my Sony, but that is why I will ALWAYS have a Sony ; ) Sony for my video work, Leica for my passion. Olympus for when I want to have fun and Hasselblad when I want two explore the cavernous low light clubs. I think I am set, lol.

With these lenses, all I need is a wider angle solution that is affordable and something like a 75 or 90. I could get the Voigtlander 21 1.8 and 75 1.8 and have a whole set of Voigtlander glass for my SL, and be 100% happy with the performance. As you can see here, these lenses are fantastic for performance and IQ. Build wise they are also fantastic. I have never had an issue with any Voigtlander lens.

1st one with the 35 f/1.2 II, 2nd with the 50 3.5 and last one with the 40 f/1.2

See my video at the top of this page and I talk about these lenses as I show the images. The bottom line though is that for me, my fave EVERY DAY camera of all time is now officially the Leica SL with M mount lenses. The experience is just so wonderful, the ease of focusing is simply amazing and even at 3 years old, it competes with the cameras of today and surpasses them in some areas. No, this is not for you if you want a sports camera, or if you want a pro video machine, or the best in cavernous low light, but for most photos, and most scenarios, the SL can do whatever you need and then some. The build quality is 2nd to none, and the color and IQ are unique and have that SL flavor.

I hope that if Leica does update the SL to a MKII or whatever, that they keep it as lovely as it is and only improve upon things such as speed for native AF lenses, improve the lowest of light performance and hey, if they want to make a new statement with a new even higher res and larger EVF, feel free ; ) The SL still rocks, and with Voigtlander glass, it’s a beautiful, unique and wonderful combo.

1st two images from the 50 f/3.5, and last from the 40 1.2

VS the $8000 Leica 50 APO?

This sounds nuts doesn’t it? Pitting something like a 50 f/3.5 from Voigtlander that costs $529 against a $8000 Leica 50 APO. The 50 APO, is in fact, the best 50mm lens I have ever tested. BUT, the little Heliar is no slouch and does get close. While it is not f/2 and a “slow” f/3.5, the images it can produce on the SL are stunning. See my review of this lens to see what I mean. 

Two shots, one with the SL and 50 3.5 and one with the Leica M 240 from a few years back with the 50 APO (same event, different year).

1st image, 50 f/3.5 at $529 on the SL. 2nd image, Leica 50 APO at $8k on the M 240. Click them for larger. 

That pretty much says what it needs to say. The 50 APO is gorgeous. I would own one if I could, and keep it. I just can’t justify $8k these days, so the 50 f/3.5 at $529 will do ; ) It’s a gorgeous small, well made unique lens and so nice on the SL. I will say that after using the 50 APO and now the 50 f/3.5 Heliar in similar situations, I have no regrets on owning the 50 f/3.5 and saving $7500.  Mine came from CameraQuest. 

Amazon also has it, via prime! 

So it’s almost the middle of 2018 already. I am happy, content and at peace with my life when it comes to all areas, and even with my photo happiness ; ) I am lucky and blessed to own the SL again, and to be able to sit down in my home office and write this on a beautiful Sunday morning. After 10 years of writing down my thoughts in reviews, posts and even talking about them in videos, I could not be happier and I have you guys to thank for that. SO THANK YOU all!

WHERE TO BUY?

Buy the Leica SL from Ken Hansen ([email protected]), PopFlash, B&H Photo or even Amazon

Buy the Voigtander lenses from CameraQuest HERE

Or Amazon – 50 3.5, 35 1.2, 40 1.2


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29 Comments

  1. off topic but not sure where else to post this-

    Is there a reason why you haven’t posted about the new Fuji X-T100? One of the most talked about Fuji cameras in a while(due to Bayer sensor) & you haven’t even mentioned it or made an announcement.

    • I plan on reviewing it actually, after I have it and have used it. Fuji stopped sending me review units long ago when I criticized the X-Pro 1 (politics of camera reviews) and my criticism was justified as it was released as a beta camera. So when I get this in my hands soon, I will review it. Seems like a nice, small, affordable APS-C camera.

  2. The Leica’s strategy is to use the same expensive components developed – as the processor – in all the line.
    The MAESTRO II started in the S, now it is in… all the line.
    As the S is the Leica’s flagship, we must need to see the MAESTRO III in it first – and others more modern components – and them the path is opened for the new Q2 and the new SL2 arrived in the stores.
    Mr. Andreas Kaufmann (Chairman Leica-Camera) told on the Luminous Landscape, that we will see the SL2 with a little bit more elegant design than the little bit brutus side design decided for the first generation.
    There will be a new Leica Camera revealed next June 14th, inside the celebrations of the newest milestone in the history of Leica – the completion of the Leitz-Park complex in Wetzlar.
    Maybe, it will be the beginning of very good news to Leica World!
    So, who wants a new SL, must start to pray for a new S as soon as possible.

    • I do not think the Maestro III will be in a new S. In fact, I am not so sure there will ever be a new S. Sales of the S have been abysmal and all rumors I have heard for a while now is there will not be another S. Rumors but these came from within the industry. So I would not base a new SL on there being a new S first. Also, of they go more elegant it may ruin the appeal of the SL. I think part of its charm is the basic block design, big grip and 4 button unlabeled and integrated menu system. But we will see. They need to improve only their low light, and make it a bit faster for use with native lenses to keep up with the competition. If they want to keep video, and compete, they must upgrade this as well. But the SL, as is, is still an amazing camera. The sensor only lacks at ISO 10k and up, in extreme low light IMO. Anyway, we will see what 2018 brings, and it will bring a new camera from Leica as you just pointed out. This could be the new SL itself, or something between it and the M, and full frame.

      • Great comments, Steve!
        I think there will be no future for a DSLR Leica S too, even to a DLSR full-frame.
        The Hasselblad X1D was disruptive for the Medium Format market.
        In the past, I was thinking about to buy one Leica S, but after the X1D and its new benchmark price… NEVER MORE.
        I have one Leica SL too, and love it.
        With the new SL-Summcron Lenses it is now a new camera.
        A modern sensor with 36MP, M10’s colors, the future Maestro III and the SL2 will be the almost perfect Leica!
        What will happen next June 14th IN Wetzlar will reveal a little about the future Leica’s Plan.
        Let’s keep our fingers crossed and wait.

  3. Im loving these images Steve. That 50mm 3.5 images look stunning. Im all over one of those

    • I purchased the 50 f/3.5 Heliar after Steve’s initial review and I am simply blown away with the lens every time I use it on my M240. As far as I’m concerned, this Voigtlander lens is one of the incredible, under-the-radar bargains out there today. And that is from someone who has been shooting Leica glass for about eight years now. Like Steve, I too saved a bundle by getting it and have put that extra cash to good use traveling around Europe with my Leica camera.

  4. Since I bought the SL last year, I walk around with it and the 24-90 not feeling the weight so much I love this combo. I am eagerly awaiting the moment I will be able to afford another native SL zoom… I bought it for autofocus to be able to shoot my children without posing, and it is one of the best camera decisions I made!!! I am testing it right now in close focus for fun – with 40 cm @90 mm min focusing distance you can start shooting not macro subjects but close!!! have fun all Leica SL owners!!!

  5. I will be holding onto my SL even if an SL-II is released. Why drop thousands of dollars on an upgrade, when I am already thrilled with the images that I am getting? Like, Steve, I am wedded to MF lenses, only for me it is a mixture of Ms and Rs. What will get my interest will be smaller, lighter (relative to the current crop of SL lenses) Summicron (f2) lenses in the native mount.

  6. New generations from the Leica SL and Leica Q will appear only after the next Leica S with its newest and powerful Maestro 3 Processor.
    It will happen this year, maybe next June 14th, besides the inauguration of the Leitz Park 3.
    It would be a marketing disaster a new Leica SL, when the first native 35mm will be issued only in the end of this year or beginning of 2019!

    • Well I only go by what Leica tells me, and they say their digital cameras have a 3 year cycle. Three years would be this holiday season but I can wait as this version is still fantastic and will be for some time to come ; )

  7. Steve, your photos are terrific as always and I don’t doubt that the camera is a joy to use. The problem is weight. Leica SL body = 847 gms, M to L adapter = 70 gms, and the Voitlander 50mm = 187 gms, for a total of 1104 gms or 2.434 pounds. This is too much to lug around the neck as a walk-around camera. My limit is roughly a pound or less. Only then will I take it most places on a daily basis. Hopefully Leica will show us its unique expertise by making a future full frame M lens camera that light.

    • In use, with an M lens it feels just fine. With M lenses, weight is never an issue. I used it all day in 98 degree heat, never once was weight or balance an issue. It is so well balanced with M lenses, it feels the same, actually better, than using an M. Doesn’t feel any heavier than using a Sony A7III with the same lens and adapter. Also, I am not using the Leica adapter but a much cheaper one that works just as well. Not heavy, as it’s all about the balance, the grip and design of which the SL excels. With those big AF lenses, then it is an issue but with M lenses it is perfect.

    • The weight with M lenses is not an issue at all. However, throw the 24-90mm on the SL and you have a boat anchor. I bought the lens so I have AF for shooting my kids and the image quality is outstanding but man it is HEAVY. It basically feels like lugging my old 70-200mm 2.8L from the Canon days.

      • I agree 100%! The native lenses are all huge, and very heavy. Unsurpassed in IQ but too large for daily use, for me at least. This is why I enjoy the SL as an M lens camera, and yes, even more than the M.

  8. Steve,
    How is the focus accuracy with the SL vs an M10? I have an M10 with -2.0 viewfinder correction (through Ken), but might be interested in an SL if focusing is more consistent (along with your recommended lenses).

    • Well, that is RF vs EVF and the EVF here is the best there is, still today. A joy to use and focusing is wonderfully easy and always spot on as I just look through the EVF, tap the joystick with my thumb to zoom in and nail focus. It’s quick, and easy. Thank you.

  9. I have regretted everything Leica that I have ever sold so I don’t sell Leica equipment anymore. I have the SL with the 24-90, 50/1.4, and 90-280. My current favorite lens is the 90-280. I carried it every day on a month-long trip to Norway. I am a 72 year old woman. This combination is not too much for me!! I used Leica M’s for 40 years but I need the auto-focus now and love the SL!

  10. „[…], I felt bad that I spent the cash but really it was a not so good copy of a Voigtlander 35 f/1.2 II that pushed me to get rid of my SL that 2nd time.“

    „This time, the 35 f/1.2 seemed so much better than the other one I had, that I feel the other had some issues.“

    „I have never had an issue with any Voigtlander lens.“

    Oops, that‘s what I call a short attention span … 😉

    • Umm, that’s what I call taking what I say out of context. I was referring to BULD quality as in, lenses falling apart as some Leica lenses have on me. So no, never had an issue with build quality with any Voigtlander, but I have Leica. Though I have had some sample variation differences with Voigtlander. Different things.

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