The Three Kings of Mirrorless (In my Book) By Steve Huff

The Three Kings of Mirrorless (In my Book)

By Steve Huff

Soon I will be testing the new Hasselblad 21mm lens for the X1D. I am getting a review unit for 2 weeks this month, and will be testing it with what is one of my favorite cameras of all time, the X1D (in my top 3). With the anticipation of testing this lens, I started to think about what cameras I truly prefer to use and shoot with, today. After years of trying them all, using them all and owning many…I have whittled down my camera collection to just 3, and yes it sounds like a lot, as most have one, maybe two camera in their stable. But remember, I have reviewed cameras for 10 years now, and have been on the “inside” of the Digital Imaging industry. My passion has always been there and when I get something in my hands to review, and LOVE it, and it does something for me that other cameras do not, then I want it, and normally will find a way to get it.

THE X1D

Three from the X1D. First one at ISO 25k at night. Click it, reminds me of fast film. 

One example of that is the Hasselblad X1D. A camera some trashed, some were neutral on and some adored. Me, I was in the adore camp and truth be told, it is probably the most satisfying camera I have ever used. Tops my Sony’s, tops the Leica’s I have owned and still own when it comes to that WOW moment you get when you pick it up. It IS a ting of beauty and art.

It doesn’t thrill me due to its speed, as it has none. Not due to its frames per second, or its EVF or its video capabilities. As it lacks in these areas. It takes a few seconds to start up and is not anything like shooting a DSLR or modern day mirrorless camera, but even so, there is just something about it and at $6500 for the body only, well, there should be.

The X1D offers amazing color and dynamic range..click them for larger

What drew me to and continues to this day to draw me to this lovely machine, is the experience, the build, the feel and mostly the image quality in ANY light you can imagine. The X1D, to me, is the most beautiful and comfortable camera ever designed and created. Holding it just inspires me to push my own limits and USE it. It has the best low light capabilities of any camera I have ever shot with or used, and in good light some of the nicest image quality I have ever seen. With it’s 50 MP medium format style sensor, this camera is a BEAST but again it is different from almost any camera I have tested. It’s a camera one can walk around with all day as it is small, and light for a medium format body. After several firmware updates, the X1D is so much better than at launch without any issues ever given to me by the camera.

It is not a sports camera, not a macro camera, not a camera for continuous shooting or video. It is more like a Leica in the way I approach using it. Slow, methodical and taking care to frame, and evaluate the shot. Once you learn the camera, you know its strengths, weaknesses and what it can do and can not do. For me, it is my main low light camera as it beats the current Sony models, all Leica models, all Fuji models in low light use. My prints at ISO 25k are extraordinary, even when cropped. Using no noise reduction at all.

X1D, insanely low light, 1st shot no noise reduction, ISO 25K

The price has also dropped on the X1D and one can pick up the Silver body for around $6495 NEW. Expensive? Yep, but about $500 more than a Leica SL or $3k more than a Sony A7RIII. 

All of these mirrorless bodies are expensive.

I am sitting here at my desk with a Leica SL, a Sony A7RIII and the X1D. Lucky me, yes I am blessed to be able to have three killer cameras here, and while I am happy for this (and broke) I am also confused as I really can not keep them all, but I use them all, and enjoy each of them for a specific purpose. Sony for video, and I use it 5 times per week for this. The SL for when I want to use Leica M lenses, like my Voigtalander 35 1.2 or 50 3.5 or just have a solid, rugged, well made and easy to use camera for every day use. With M lenses, the SL feels GREAT and is the best feeling Leica I have ever used or tested. The IQ is gorgeous and has a unique Leica style with the color, and I love it.

THE LEICA SL

YES INDEED, I have the SL..again. Something always pulls me back in with this camera and even though it is three years old, for me, it is still ranked up near the top of the heap for my tastes. But I use it differently than some do, and without the native AF lenses. I use it strictly as a manual focus camera for M mount lenses of all makes. Zeiss, Leica, Voigtlander, or whoever makes a cool M mount lens. Lenses like the Dream Lens, old vintage RF glass, can be used on the SL and with its still BEST EVER EVF in a camera as of June 2018, it still has plenty of life left in it.

If the SL could only be used with the native AF lenses, it would not be in my top three as I would not be able to use it every day, much too heavy for my tastes and what I do. But since it can and does shoot M lenses (via adapter) this is how I use it and for that, nothing beats it for me, not even the M10. I just prefer the SL experience, and to that there is no question.

The SL with various M mount lenses. I use the SL strictly as a manual focus camera. 

There is something special about certain cameras, and not many hold this special place in my heart as closely as the SL does. As stated, I love the way it produces colors, even more so than the X1D. Rich, vibrant without being overdone and with such a simple navigation setup, it becomes second nature after just a day of use. Yes, I have a soft place in my heart for the M, always will. Yes I still enjoy Micro 4/3 from time to time, but when a camera come along and makes an impression as solid as the SL has to me, it’s one you always want back if you sell it or get rid of it.

The reviews of the SL at B&H Photo are STELLAR! See them all HERE. 

This is the best manual focusing digital camera ever made in my opinion, and nothing even gets close. Due to this EVF and believe me, I am waiting for someone to top it (and it appears this may be SOON as Sony has recently developed an EVF that will knock the SL down to #2). I am sure an SL2, when released, will have an updated EVF, sensor, be faster, have a sleeker design and offer all of the updates one would expect. I am also guessing an SL2 will go all the way up to ISO 128k and have usable ISO 25k results in low light. But who knows when this will happen. I live in the now, the today, and today I have the SL which even ten years from now will be a kick ass imaging machine.

When used with fast small M primes, I can not overstate how much of a joy it is to use. Doesn’t have a slew of buttons on the back, top or anywhere. Simplicity is the name of the game with the SL and Leica in general.

The SL, for me, is super versatile. I have even used it for video work and earned money with that video work. While it can not touch the Sony’s for run and gun style video, it does produce lovely video quality. It’s just for that for video,  the AF lenses will be best and those are just HUGE and HEAVY and LARGE. Beautiful, but big. I am looking forward to testing the new Summicron SL lenses. They are the smallest native lenses yet for this system. But no matter if I used an AF lens like the 50 Summilux SL (gorgeous amazing lens, but again, HUGE) or a 50 Zeiss Sonnar, the results are always just wonderful.

Click ’em for larger

When I think about the two cameras here..the X1D and the SL, I struggle with the question “which one would I keep if I could have one”… I really do. On one hand the X1D offers a much nicer feel and design, feels great in the hand, and gives me the best resolution, detail and low light abilities. But I also lose something… with the SL I get that beautiful creamy shallow DOF look, like the image of the old cowboy above. I do not get this with the X1D as the lenses are slower, usually starting at f/3.5. With Leica I can go to f/0.95 and get that more artistic flair for some shots, which leave some of the X1D shots flatter by comparison. They each have their strengths and weaknesses when compared to each other, and not one is better than the other as a whole really. I love both. Again, comes down to what you use it for and how you use it.

BUT, if I had to choose right now, after reflecting on it and viewing images I have shot with each I would have to keep the SL if forced to choose. It’s older but I have captured many more precious memories with it, and the IQ, build, feel, experience and versatility can not be faulted. To me, the SL is one of the best ever digital cameras ever made.

As good as the SL and X1D is for what I enjoy to shoot, what about the new kid on the block? The one that keeps upping the game and is taking mirrorless by storm? Yes, SONY.

The Sony A7rIII

This Sony is around $2999 these days and well worth that cost. Coming in at thousands less than the two cameras above, it offers more speed, more lenses, more features, and video capabilities that best the two pricier cameras. But where the Sony offers technology it loses on charm, design ,menu system, control and feel. Compared to the SL and X1D, the Sony is ugly. It feels a bit cheaper when compared to the big money cameras above, and well, it should. It’s much less yet offers stunning performance which at the end of the day is all that matters for MOST. Me, I have to have a camera that I enjoy holding, looking at and it has to offer the performance. I have to have the whole package to truly bond with a camera, not just half of it. But as I say this, I love the A7rIII for what it offers, and what it can do for the money. No, $3000 is not cheap but this camera takes on ALL comers. ALL DSLR’s. It can do just about whatever you need from wildlife, to weddings, to sports to fantastic video.

This monster gives us 42MP, blazing fast AF, dual card slots, an amazing battery system , great EVF experience, 10FPS and is also crazy versatile. I can use M lenses on this camera as well as Nikon or Canon via adapters. The Sony tech is awesome, and it delivers on all fronts. Me, I prefer the A7RIII to ANY DSLR, period. The only niggle I have is the menu system which is complex, deep and sometimes confusing. It is almost information and settings overload when it is not needed. It’s almost as if it is trying to be TOO MUCH. Countless buttons, placed everywhere also give it a confused style when compared to the SL and X1D. I much prefer the SL and X1D for usability and fun factor but truth be told, the Sony delivers big time for quality in all areas. Photo or video. I use the A7RIII for video, using AF as well and man is it fast and accurate with its face detect and eye AF.

I have used all of these cameras EXTENSIVELY for months and months, some for years (SL) and all are wonderful even in 2018 in the case of the 3 year old SL. Prices range from $3k to $6500 for body only on these guys, so they are not a camera decision to take lightly. For me, I have to say my heart is tied to one of these more than the rest, and I bet you can guess what it is. Yes, it is the Leica SL. It just offers me all I could ask for, and delivers for me with almost anything I need to shoot. But I also need video, so that prize goes to Sony, and that is why I keep an A7rIII around, mostly for video and the occasional photo.

All of these cameras are wonderful and at the top of the mirrorless heap. BTW, I did try the Fuji GFX and declared within moments it was not for me. Much bigger than the X1D when outfitted with the EVF, so bulky. NOT a walk around camera which is what the X1D offers. The Fuji is more of a studio camera, and while it can be taken out handheld, it is so far from the design, feel and ease of use of the X1D, it makes it a totally different camera. Even with the same sensor as the X1D, the Fuji suffers in low light in comparison. So the Fuji is much bigger, bulkier, doesn’t have the charm of the X1D, or the user interface. For a difference audience completely IMO. It takes gorgeous images and is a fantastic camera, but again, I would recommend the Fuji for studio work, and the X1D for studio or walk around or low light use. The X1D can be used as an every day camera.

I am sure some of you reading this own one of the cameras above and if you do, congratulations as you own something special and a camera that can last you for years and years as they ll deliver beautiful images and IQ.

Reference: X1D Review: Part 1, 2, 3, 4

Reference: Leica SL Review, Updated review and MORE

Reference: Sony A7RIII, and more.

BUY THESE CAMERAS:

X1D: B&H Photo

Leica SL: Amazon, B&H Photo, Ken Hansen, PopFlash,

Sony A7RIII: Amazon, B&H Photo

 

 

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35 Comments

  1. I had two Leica M9 and some nice glas from 15 to 135mm, mostly Leica-glas. The best was 1,4/35 Asph (latest version). I had a defect sensor over the years on both M9. I use Sony A7II and A7RIII now. They didn´t work well with the M-glas. So I sold everything with the name Leica on it. I own the complete Zeiss Batis-range now. I´m very happy with the performance! Still use Canon 1DX with 4/500L for animals, but thinking of selling all my Canon gear (from 14 to 500mm, and 3 Bodys) and just do Sony.

  2. Always love your real world experiences and thoughts. Love seeing the x1d and sl images side by side and it would be amazing to see more of a x1d and sl comparison

  3. Very interesting Steve.
    I would like to ask you, how is the performance of the Leica SL with the M lenses?
    In particular the lenses from 21 to 50. I use the M lenses on my Sony A7II but the yield in the edges is really poor (only the telephoto are good).

    • M lenses are fantastic on the SL, better than the Sony for sure. Using actually Leica M lenses means the SL can read the 6 Bit coding as well. But I have used lenses from 21 to 90 on the SL and all have been beautiful. The only way I want to shoot the SL. Right now I am testing the Voigtlander 58 f/1.2 Nokton, in Nikon mount, on the SL and it is GORGEOUS! As in WOW. Will be selling my 40 f/1.2 Sony mount ASAP as I will now use the SL for all manual glass over the Sony.

  4. Some days it’s tempting as hell to sell the house and the car, pack up the family and move to Arizona, and live in a storage container so I can buy some more Leica gear to go with my trusty Q. Please give me one good reason why I shouldn’t?

    • DEATH is one good reason, lol.I would highly advise against living in a storage container as you would be dead within hours from the heat ; ) If dead, you would not be able to enjoy your new gear. You can still get a nice modest 3 bedroom house here for around $250k though (mine was $79k in 2009, now around $240k).

  5. It is always interesting to see what cameras others like and why. I really enjoy shooting the Sony A9 because of it’s fantastic autofocus, silent shutter, and overall speed and handling. For birding I prefer the E-M1.2 for the ability to use an 200-800 equiv. telephoto in a relatively light weight package for hiking. I’m dreaming of an X2D in the future. I justify all the expense because I use my cameras a lot and it is great fun. My wife has date-organized about 70 large photo albums documenting family life over many decades. She is less interested in my “artistic photos” of various subjects and couldn’t care less about gear but she is perfectly happy to let me have the gear I want. Nice.

  6. It always comes down to native lenses IMO. That is where the X1D comes up way short. Don’t get me wrong, the Hassy lenses are critically sharp but to me, lack any kind of character whatsoever…especially when compared Leica or Zeiss. So. if it were me, I’d sell the Hassy post haste before the price goes down any further…cut your losses 😉 Enjoy the SL and those magnificent lenses.

  7. Noce one Steve
    I really glad that I have one of the three
    No question about it that the SL delivers the best quality in the 35mm

  8. The SL is too big and heavy to be a convienient, everyday camera, despite all the positives enumerated by Steve. I’ll take the M instead.

      • Ok, but it’s still heavier and larger than the M. M is 660 g, SL is 847 g. That’s almost 30% heavier and close to Nikon d850 territory.

  9. Having gone from full fame Nikon film to M4/3 to Nikon full frame digital to now the Panasonic Lumix G9 I think I subscribe to the saying that the best camera is the one you have with you. That being said, with the size/weight advantages of M4/3 I find that I have that with me more of the time. I think part of the fun of photography is dealing with the limitations/advantages that each camera/system brings. When shooting film I enjoyed having to ‘manage’ my film for a trip so that I had enough, or managing the various types (color. B&W, ISO variations, etc…), with digital its about managing electricity (battery life) SD cards, low light capabilities, etc….Hey don’t bemoan, enjoy it.

  10. Just judging by the output, the SL blows them all. I like your manual lens aproach with that camera. For me, X1D completely oversaturates red, oranges and yellows. Nice design but the feel of the lenses is not even that great (I don’t own one, but I’ve been shooting with it). In my book, SL rules, by far. Sony is poor man’s SL.

  11. Funny how there’s no discussion about colors and flavors. I happen to find the Sony by far the most beautiful of the three. And the fact that it offers more for half the price can only make me love it more.

    • I much prefer the color from my SL over any Sony, we all have different tastes of course ; ) They all do have different color signatures though.

  12. Hey
    Interesting points of view.

    I understand the love for the SL.

    I respect the Sony and appreciate how that huge corporation is working so hard to move the game forward. I have the R2. I will admit however that although I like the files ( even though they need too much PP for my eyes to get right ) the truth is I don’t really enjoy using it much. I can’t put my finger on why.

    I respectfully disagree over the X1D however. I had one for a week on trial from the London dealer after an “ experience “ workshop run by Hassy. For the Hassy is “style over substance”.

    In my book the Fuji GFX beats the X1D in every single way. Better handling. More direct controls. Better AF. Faster response. More flexibility. More affordable. Plenty of lenses. I put my money where my mouth is and went GFX. I adore the camera.

    But hey YMMV and it takes different outlooks to make the world work.

    Keep up the good work.

    • We all have different tastes, some will prefer one camera over another. All depends on the use and what we want out of it. There’s plenty substance to the Hasselblad, and I can use it in clubs, as a walk around camera and even ever day shooting. The Fuji, not so much. I much prefer a simplistic approach to the use of a camera, not tons of buttons, dials, etc. But again, some love that kind of thing. Thank you!

    • I tried it and it as massive limitations. All photos need cropping, which is not a big deal due to the resolution but you can only use the electronic shutter and ANY movement will cause distortion in the image. It’s actually very cool to shoot this way, but the EVF in the SL is leagues better for manual focusing. The X1D, IMO, excels with native glass though it is fun to use M lenses and the camera feels so so nice doing so. I just think it is too limiting as we are trying to use 35mm lenses on a larger senor camera. 50mm and up work the best.

  13. I too love my SL and shoot it only with M lenses, though time will tell if I ever end up with the 24-90 or one of the native primes. Coming of a Canon 6D and L glass, then to the M10, sellling Canon and experimenting with Fuji XT2 and their 2.8 zooms and primes… eventually decided to sell all the Fuji gear to compliment the M10 with the SL and get more out of my M-Lenses with that awesome EVF (unlocked the 90 APO!). Nonetheless, I am more than aware of my embarrassment of riches and consider myself very, very fortunate to have the killer M10/SL combo. All that said, if life’s trade offs dictated only one camera / lens – I would easily pick the M10/35 lux fle combo. And if I had to trim further… probably an M9/50 cron. Been meaning to comment for a long time, so big thanks at least two years over due. My journey / photography re-birth started with an encounter with an M9 and it’s been pretty damn awesome ever since. Thanks Steve.

  14. Would appreciate a run down of the lighting setup Re the pic of the woman with the tattooed neck. Excellent photograph, Steve, tell us how you set the lights up! Tell us all the details and backstory! Looks like the photo was taken at the same location as the shot of the wedding couple…
    I’ve embraced the Sony A6xxx system, ditching Nikon (still traumatized by this but getting over it very quickly). Portability and a video-first mindset is of prime importance for me. I shoot with two basic Sony kit lenses be it on professional or personal assignment, my clients and my lower back thank me every time.
    I’m looking forward to hiring the X1D and the SL sometime though at the moment I have no need for either of them as my A6000 kit is giving me absolutely wonderful responsive performance, sharp images, excellent low light performance and fab footage whatever the lighting setup.
    I’ve also embraced a much underrated camera from Panasonic, the FZ200. It’s Leica branded lens renders very pleasing images despite the small sensor. In low light, during a presentation, lecture or conference, it renders faces with a light touch of grain and a catchlight that has to be seen to be appreciated. This is a fine photographic instrument, adding much to the shoot. Yeah, it’s all plastic. Yeah, it isn’t weather proof. I don’t care. The FZ200 feels wonderful in the hand, has focus tracking, and shoots excellent video. Talking of which, I can pull an image from the HD footage (the FZ200 doesn’t have 4K), and make stunning 50MB TIFFs from it. I’m not sure how much Leica quality is inside the built-in 24-600mm F2.8 glass (that’s a constant aperture by the way) – probably none – but seeing as I only paid $100 for it I’m not kidding myself. However, the images this camera captures are absolutely lovely.
    Bokeh I like to add in post using either Alien Skin Exposure or Analog Efex Pro software. I prefer to shoot sharp and de focus (add Bokeh) later. Impossible to do it the other way round. Plus, shooting for more detailed backgrounds means I don’t need to invest in expensive fast (heavy) lenses and my hit rate (shots in perfect focus) remains high.
    Now, about that pic of the woman with the tattooed neck, you gonna share with us how you lit it?

  15. Hey Steve, haven’t you just recently purchased an M10? Are you off that already? And i thought you were a permanent adherent to olympus M43 system? lol well i guess ‘permanent’ is relative in HuffCameraWorld. Regardless I always enjoy your enthusiastic insight into gear.

    • Micro 4/3. I still own three cameras and a few lenses. All pro primes. Great system but I rarely ever use it due to its limitations in lower light when compared to the newer cameras. I have always enjoy M 4/3 but today with cameras like the A7III at $1999, it’s a tough sell. Smaller lenses is the bug pro with M 4/3, and those f/1.2 primes are gorgeous, but dynamic range and high ISO lacks in comparison to the cameras I speak of here. I ahem also spoken of the M10 experience again, and why I prefer the SL in pasts posts and a video or two. After shooting both side by side, I do prefer the SL IQ, and ergonomics and EVF experience over the RF. Both are lovely as you know but when you prefer one over the other, well, I return to what I really enjoyed the most. Being a guy who gets to try all cameras, it’s tough and sometimes I have 5 systems here at once. One thing I am 100% on is that I will never own a DSLR again, no need or desire. But as new cameras come along, I get to test them and if I really really enjoy them, they will replace something else. Part of my job. If I didn’t do this, I would own one camera and 2-3 lenses max.

  16. I used the M240 and after that the M10. Because of video I decided to add the SL early this year. I was bit torn because it is an older camera and I wasn’t sure if I would like it as much as the M10. Now I am 3 months into the SL, and while it has some disadvantages over the M10, overall I use it to 100%. I have not touched the M10 since the first week of purchasing the SL. I did not expect it. I use it with Leica M lenses and a Zeiss lens with M mount only. Now I am considering selling the M10.
    The SL is a great camera and I had misjudged it for more than 3 years.

  17. Nice to hear your current thoughts on those three excellent cameras. But… there’s nothing on the market like the M10, a beautiful simple camera that is a joy to use… but it’s only for those who enjoy shooting a rangefinder camera. It doesn’t shoot video, but that’s what an iPhone is for! (non professional use of course…) Enjoy your three amazing cameras.

  18. Very cool reflections and reasoning. Maybe the Sony is the only surprise but professionally I guess it just works for you. I sometimes measure not only the best but those cameras I’ve sold and later regretted. As of now I rank the M10 as the finest camera I’ve used over the past 45 years (particularly when paired with the 50 APO Summicron). I rank the SL as one of the two cameras I regret most selling (X1 being the other… that was a magical little image box). Another SL (or SL2?) is in my future (paired with my 50 APO ‘Cron or Black Chrome Summilux or similar).

  19. Very interesting comparison. I use all three. I have some macros shot with the X1D and adapted vintage and LensBaby lenses. Perhaps I could send some to you for possible publication?

  20. Hi Steve, thanks for this very nice write up.
    I had the same problem but I sold my SL and kept my X1D (the gorgeous black one with the 4116 kit).
    No A7iii (yet).

  21. Just give us a SL with native M mount already Leica. Make it a little smaller and have that amazing evf off to the side….wink, wink!

  22. Couldn’t agree more about the SL. It somehow adds up to be greater than the sum of its parts. I am a little nervous that the upcoming SL2 will make my heart flutter, but I am hoping I can talk myself out of parting with the SL.

  23. When I first tried the X1D, the clicks, blackout then viewfinder image bugged me. Modern digital cameras should not blackout for such an extended time like this. Then I remembered shooting with my Hasselblad 500C, the click, ka thump of the mirror, and the whir of the leaf shutter. The finder was black until you wound the camera again, no chimping and only 12 exposures per 120 roll so each had to count. Maybe the X1D is trying to get us to slow down and make each image count. The jury is still out on if a mirrorless MF is in my future and what brand each of the contenders have their pluses and minuses.

  24. Excellent thoughts and review as usual Steve. I agree with you, the SL is probably one of the best cameras i have used in my life. With SL AF lenses it shines. I have the 24-90: extraordinary. And recently used the 75 apo sl – smaller and shocking IQ and speed, really. Then the ability to use with M lenses… i recently used the 75 noctilux. Oh my god. My jaw dropped to the floor when seeing the results. Really, i have never seen anything like that, reminded me when i moved from canon to an M9 several years ago and i was amazed with the magical results the M9 provided. It is THAT good, astonishing, what a lens! And i have the 50 noct 0.95 and the 50 apo cron…

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