Nine Months with the Leica SL
By Nick del Rosario – See his Website: http://www.nickdelrosario.com
His Instagram: http://instagram.com/nickdelro
Over nine months ago I made a decision to part ways with my beloved Leica Q and try the Leica SL, it was an itch that had been growing on me for some time and I finally decided to jump. Here I was, excited but at the same time a worry of potential regret as I had loved my Leica Q, it was a camera that inspired me. Simple to use with fantastic image IQ. If the Leica SL is all that I had heard about I, then I would be in a good place with the extra richness and better capabilities ahead of me. The last nine months have been a perfect time for me to field test a new camera, with travel destinations booked, I knew I would be able to fully field test and determine if this was the camera for me.
Without even taking a trip outside of my home, the first weeks of just bringing the camera with me would give me confirmation of what to expect in the months ahead. I can say that the IQ of the camera gave me a wow feeling the moment I looked at the images on my laptop. When you nail that image with the Leica SL, you open it on Lightroom and just feel enjoyment of the what the eye beholds.
For the majority of my nine months I have exclusively used the Leica SL with the Zeiss Sonnar f1.5 ZM lens, but have also used it with the Voitlander Nokton 50mm f1.5 and the legendary Leica Noctilux 50mm f0.95. One of the first adjustments to make was getting used to the focal length as I had decided to use 50mm lenses. Going from the Leica Q to the Leica SL with a 50mm was a change. I see myself as a 28mm – 35mm focal length shooter but I decided to give the 50mm range a shot with the Leica SL to give me more flexibility to sticking with one lens. The Zeiss Sonnar is also another questionable lens as some love it and some hate it, the reason I choose this lens is the quality of having that classical lens design look. I did not care much for some of its softness qualities but decided that having a look to it was more important. Pairing this with the Leica SL would give me a mix of both old and new, and with this I have not looked back much with the images I have captured.
When the Leica SL first came out and I held the initial lenses with the camera, I remember thinking to myself what a behemoth of a paring this was. It was never really a consideration since I like to travel light and on the go. But when I started thinking of using the Leica SL with M lenses it started to make more sense. I am also excited of at some point getting a hold of the new Summicron lenses which are lighter and balance out well with the camera. But as of now, the Leica SL with M lenses works amazingly, Leica is known for its legendary M lenses so why not make use of this?
Over the last nine months the camera has been with me on trips to the West Coast (Seattle/Vancouver), Asia (Tokyo, Manila) and in deep winter conditions out in Chicago and Wisconsin. One of the first things that I wanted to know is how the additional weight and heft of the Leica SL would weigh into my experience with the Leica Q as a travel camera. After all I consider myself more of a travel photographer who likes to travel light, so first and foremost, travel ability was the biggest test for me. With my decision to stick to M lenses on the Leica SL, size really wasn’t a barrier. I found myself walking the streets of busy Tokyo and Manila and enjoying what the camera brought to me. I never had any issues with trying to stay discreet and I can say that using M lenses on the Leica SL has been a great travel photography experience.
Walking the streets of Japan and Manila I knew this would give me a good test of using M lenses with manual focus. The Leica Q EVF was great but when you put your eye to the Leica SL it takes it to another level. To this day the Leica SL still holds the crown in EVF quality. Every time I look into any other camera manufacturers EVF it feels like a letdown, it might be that I am spoiled with the Leica SL. But back to Tokyo, here I was worried that no auto-focus capabilities would make me leave Tokyo and Manila with anger and regret of missing photos that I wanted to get, only to be surprised at how the EVF of the Leica SL gave me the ability to just nail street shots with accuracy. Yes there are focus assists tools like focus peaking and zoom focus, but even without this the EVF on the Leica SL is so good that I can tell if I am getting my focus down just by looking at the EyeRes of the bat.
Overall once you get your bearings on manually focusing, its not that bad at all. You can actually focus faster with manual focusing at times if you use zone focusing techniques. Walking around Tokyo city with so many people in a hurry to get to their destination, I never really had any issues of missing the shot in front of me. Its actually a joy at times to stop and plan out your what you want to focus on, it probably has even helped me think about the composition a little better. The focus peaking of the SL is hit or miss sometimes so I tend to use the zoom in functionality more to nail the accuracy of what I am trying to focus on.
The image IQ of the Leica SL is just really fantastic in terms of the richness and pop produced. The detail, colors and tones produced by the camera are always a joy to see once I load my shots onto my laptop. There is nothing I can say about the image quality of the Leica SL, in all honesty the Leica Q had superb IQ but every once and a while there was something I just did not like about the image from the Leica Q. It does tend to render colder images as compared to the Leica SL which produces accurate and warm colors. There is just a mood of the way the camera renders a particular image.
I used the Leica SL with different 50mm lenses and they all brought a different character to the table. Whether I wanted that classic dreamy look with the Zeiss 50mm Sonnar or that amazing Bokeh from the Legendary 50mm Noctilux. Pairing these lenses with the Leica SL gave me amazing glass and amazing sensor and image quality. I can truly say that I have put the camera to its paces to see how image quality holds up and its always exceeded my expectations. From shooting landscapes in Wisconsin to walking the urban streets of Tokyo and Manila. The more I travelled and experienced city cultures, the more I fell in love. Every time it nailed what I wanted to do in the small streets of Japan, or every time I nailed a snow storm scene it just brought me more satisfaction. Walking the streets with this camera just worked. The colors were super accurate, auto white balance was fantastic dealing with constant light changes of Japan, and image tones were always superb. The Leica SL lived up to the paces of Japan and Manila and made me want to do more with the camera.
The build of the camera really has no questions to it, it feels like a brick or a tank when you first pick it up. You instantly know that this is a camera to be dealt with. The only question I had was how would M lenses keep up with the build quality and weather sealing of the Leica SL. Aside from that everything else was solid. Ergonomics and weight of the camera just worked and balanced out nicely, I initially thought that M lenses would feel akward with the Leica SL but upon mounting my first M lens it just felt right. I have taken this camera to sub zero weather in the peak of winter out in Wisconsin, with snow heavily coming down and never had any issues, to walking in rain and intense heat of Manila. With the extremity and difference in weather, hot, cold, wet and humid I knew that this would give the camera a run for the money with the build quality and weather sealing. And after nine months of use, the camera just keeps going.
Experiencing the culture with the Leica SL
Now that we have confirmed how fantastic of a camera the Leica SL is, my favorite part is talking about the culture of the places I have travelled. With camera gear and gush aside and confirmation that it was great to use as a tool for my travel needs, the best part of these trips was really two fold. One the food is always absolutely fantastic and two the streets of Japan and Manila are full of interesting characters, scenery and just pure street photography. Cars, taxis and trucks are impeccably clean in Japan. Residents of Japan love to dress up and be playful with their outfits, you really cannot walk down a few streets without finding someone interesting. Old tiny streets meet the large modern architectures. And so much more….
Walking around the city of Manila, one of my favorite places to take photos was Manila Bay. This area has seen a revitalization over the last decade from how it was rotting away to being one of the best locations in the city. The city of Manila has invested time and money to get this area back to where it once was and today it’s a favorite place for me to go and shoot. Sunsets are amazing in the Manila bay as its a perfect view to get the sun dimming over the horizon. You have fishing boats, tourist bouts and just all types of life in the foreground to a beautiful sunset. The streets of the Manila bay are also lined with a large mass of people waiting for the sunset, either to just end their day or spend that beautiful day romantically with a loved one.
I have asked almost everything from this camera and its always been easy to work with. With most cameras of today, you get more leeway in making pictures than of yesterday. The Leica SL has really proven to be a reliable camera over my short experience with it. The best way to know is by field testing it and pushing the limits of the camera. I have needed the dynamic range, electronic shutter capabilities, High ISO capabilities and more. And for the most part its always given me good, reliable files to work with each time. Giving you the technical necessities to push that file to its limits.