The Best of BOTH Worlds. Leica SL and Panasonic S1.

The Best of BOTH Worlds. Leica SL and Panasonic S1.

By Steve Huff

Over the last four years I have bought and then sold the Leica SL 3 times. Crazy yes, but keep in mind I was able to get my SL at a great cost from the legendary Ken Hansen (whom will be missed by anyone who ever dealt with him) so the losses for me were minimal. I never charged Ken money for ad space, and he had an ad space here since day one in 2008. Instead he would give me a deal on a Leica if I wanted one, and to me, that was wonderful and PREFERRED.

But it took me four years to learn that anytime I sold the SL, I missed it and always went back to it. Here I am four years later with a camera that beats it in most areas (The Panasonic S1) yet I am still strangely drawn to the SL. Not sure if it is emotion, if it is the sexy body style or the minimal approach but the SL is a beauty, even today, four years after its launch. With a rumored 47 Megapixel SL2 to hit this year, it seems there are now deals to be had on new SL’s. One can even find a NEW SL from an Authorized dealer today for $4500 and that is $3000 less than it cost at launch 4 years ago.

With the Panasonic S1 selling new for $2499 one could actually buy a new SL and S1 for LESS than what the SL cost four years ago, and then have the best of both worlds. Yes, $7000 is a ton of cash but if you ask me (and maybe you didn’t but hey, you are reading this now) the S1 is one of the best full frame cameras out right now (though the Nikon Z and Sony A7 Series are equally as fantastic) and the SL, for me, is already a legend. I love both my SL and S1 and in all honesty I have no interest in the SL2 as if rumors are true and it is 47MP, that rules it out for me for reasons I have written about extensively on these pages.

The SL offers a killer body, simple controls, beautiful user experience and color that beats the S1.

The S1 offers a new body but still feels like an S1, 5 Axis IS, better EVF (SL has words 2nd best imo) and larger battery.

Each one of these cameras could be an amazing backup for the other and owning both, as I do, allows me to own and enjoy two cameras I truly deeply adore. This, in turn, makes me use them more.

In case any of you have missed my reviews and posts on these cameras, here are just a few:

The Leica SL Review

Is the Leica SL Still Relevant in 2019?

The Nikon 58 1.4 on the Leica SL

The Leica 90-280 Lens review on the SL

The Leica 50 Summilux SL Review

The Leica SL and the Leica 50 APO M

The Leica SL vs Panasonic S1 High ISO

The Panasonic S1 and M Lenses

The Panasonic S1 Review

But just wanted to point out that today you can own both of these cameras for what the SL cost alone four years ago, if owning two cameras with the same mount is your thing. Leica Store Miami is selling the SL New for $4500 if you trade in ANY camera, so even if you have a junky camera from years ago, as long as it is a DSLR or mirrorless you can get $1500 off a new SL. See that deal HERE. 

As for the S1, you can snag it for $2499 at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE. 

I know some of you are waiting for the SL2, but it will be expensive, and my guess is, and this is just a guess, is that it will be very much like the Panasonic S1R in regards to specs. Some of us just love the Leica experience but by going for the S1 and older SL, you get the modern day improvements in the S1 and the Leica experience and color in the SL. This combo of cameras is not for everyone but I love owning both, as I can use the S1 in low light and the SL anytime it feels like a Leica day ; )

$4500 for a new SL is pretty good. You can also get it at a discount with a lens. If you missed that report, see here. 

Either way 2019 is a great year for those of us who love shooting with REAL cameras vs phones. We have so many amazing models to choose from from all brands and mirrorless is blazing the way with some of the best digital cameras models ever.

Steve

16 Comments

  1. Steve I just want to thank you , I picked up an SL recently after all your reviews and it’s an absolutely wonderful camera and compliments my M cameras and lenses perfectly .

    I’m uk based , do you have any links we can use to buy stuff you recommend here in uk/Europe ? Amazon.co.uk for example?

  2. @Eric: I also have the S1 and use the Sigma mc21 adapter – but I like the results also with Canon (50, 1.4; 85, 1.8) AND Sigma ART lenses (35 and 40, 1.4). My experience is still limited with these lenses, but I will take them with me while visiting China. I will, however, not forget the 24-105 (and probably the Leica Q2).

  3. Just wanted to share my experience regarding adapting Canon EF mount lenses on the S1 and SL.
    Leica SL (latest firmware 3.5)
    with Sigma MC-21: I received the message “Please update lens firmware” this with several Canon lenses. Camera freezes!
    with Novoflex SL/EOS: works but no AF at all you can adjust f stops
    Panasonic S1 (fw 1.0)
    with Sigma MC-21: Works but with AF-S only. AF is extremely slow, compare it with a point and shoot of 15 years ago
    with Novoflex SL/EOS: works but no AF at all, you can adjust f stops
    Lenses used for this test:
    Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 v2
    Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 v1
    Canon EF 85mm f/1.8
    I have no Sigma branded lenses, so I could not test them.

  4. thanks for your S1 reviews. So refreshing to see a real photography review rather than the usual YouTubers obsessed with video C-AF.
    S1 seems perfect for me. I shoot GH5 with Olympus/Lumix 1.2 primes and am very happy, but the S1 with the 50mm 1.4 has me very tempted indeed.
    Is the IQ you get from your M mount lenses on the S1 as good as you would get on a Leica M camera? I’m talking about the sensor stack compatibility and sharpness, not the Leica colors.
    Thanks

    • Thanks John! These days we have so much info at our fingertips. There are now hundreds if not thousands of reviewers out there. It’s information overload. I decided to not go that route but stick to what I have done for years. It may not be the most popular way to do things but it keeps me true to who I am, with is much more important. Anyway, using M mount lenses on the S1 is as good as using them on the SL, which is better than Sony, Nikon and Canon. The best will be using them on an M10 but they are just about as good on the SL or S1, at least for me. Thanks!

  5. Please try out the S1 high resolution (pixel shift) mode when you have a chance! It’s of course overkill for most situations but I could see myself loving it for an occasional landscape shot while traveling. It looks pretty amazing in test shots but I’d love to see an example of your real world experience. Thanks!

  6. i still have a mix feeling that SL still have more pop up image than the S1/R if M lenses is mounted. please help me decide. Cheers

    • No not really. The S1 will be crisper, and they will both offer their own color science. The pros of the SL over the S1 is really only in its usability and simplistic body/controls as well as the design. Everywhere else the S1 technically beats it, but at the same time, not really. See, “technically” is just that. “Technically” does not convey emotion or make or break an image. Sharpness doesn’t make or break an image. The SL is just as capable as the S1 when it comes to creating an image, if not more so. How could this be? Well, when you love your camera and connect with the tool, your images will improve as you will be more motivated to use it. So for some the SL will be a better choice and for others the S1 will. Either one is a wonderful choice but for me there is a cost issue as the S1 is $2500, the SL $5995 retail (though specials are going on now, with the ability to get one for $4500 new).

      Ask yourself…

      Do I want 5 Axis IS?
      Do I want the best low light High ISO performance in a camera today?
      Do I want the best EVF experience I can get?
      Do I want a longer battery life?

      If so, the S1 is it.

      Or for the SL..

      Do I want a beautiful design and build?
      Do I want a more simplistic control system?
      Do I want the Leica color (which is more rich and seems to have more depth) signature?
      Do I want a camera that can double as a weapon in case I am attacked on the street?

      Then it’s the SL! Both work as good as it can get with M lenses in a non M body. They both beat Sony, Canon and Nikon when using M mount lenses of any kind. Hope this helps!

  7. I can’t agree more with your thoughts regarding the SL vs the S1. I am of the opinion the SL still has the edge in good light. The mentality regarding image output of both camera’s is completely different and it is a question of taste. I find the SL has more overall (micro)contrast, the S1 has less contrasty images (processed in ACR/LR) but it is easier to add contrast in post as to remove contrast.
    In low light conditions (high ISO) the S1 has the edge mostly because the colours do not become ratty. Panasonic did a excellent job in the Sensor/AD-conversion/Processing department. The raw files are very malleable in post even at higher ISO values.
    Regarding ergonomics I think Panasonic has the edge as the body has more controls. I like very much the implementation of the focus modes with a switch/push button.The SL is very minimalistic and unless you are mostly shooting in single point af it is fairly cumbersome to change af modes (I assigned the record button for this purpose).
    The 24-105mm f/4 “kit lens” is one of the better out there compared to the CaNikon counterparts but the SL 24-90 Vario Elmarit still has the edge (more expensive and heavier).
    The power save mode makes the camera fairly slow (the same goes with the SL) and I would advise to invest in extra batteries if you are shooting events or unpredictable things.
    Electronic shutter is limited to 1/8000s same maximum speed as the mechanical shutter. I was surprised at first regarding this choice as you still have to rely on ND filters using fast glass wide open in daylight. I sincerely hope Panasonic will address this issue in a future firmware upgrade. The SL has a maximum electronic shutter speed of 1/16000s or is it 1/32000s with is a nice to have feature.
    I have ordered the Sigma L-EF mount adapter and looking forward how it performs with my Canon glass. The older Novoflex SL/EOS adaptor is very limited as it has no AF at all. The Sigma claims to have AF-S.
    Adapting M glass works surprisingly good. Even my older Nikkor Ais glass performs very well.
    Although the S1R looks very compelling for it’s high megapixel count. I rather have a lower megapixel count and high iso capability as I am mostly photographing in challenging light conditions. The S1R could be a good contender for landscape/product photography but my previous experience with a high mp camera (Canon 5Ds) was that diffraction kicks in earlier due to the smaller pixel pitch.
    I was first tempted to sell the SL and have a second identical S1 backup body but I keep the SL for the same reasons Steve does.

  8. Hi Steve, awesome reviews! I just bought the SL and the 24-90 bundle.
    I love the versatility of the 24-90 as a working lens. I just took it out today and it’s HEAVY.
    What smaller Leica/Voigtlander 35/50mm lenses would you recommend to mount on the SL? Preferably the affordable ones. for now ;D

    • Yea the SL with the 24-90 is a large and heavy combo. Try the 90-280, it’s about 2X larger! Im a huge fan of using the SL with M mount lenses, of any make. Great choices:

      Voigtlander 35 1.2II
      Voigtlander 35 f/2 Ultron
      Voigtlander 50 1.2 Nokton
      Zeiss ZM 50 1.5
      Zeiss ZM 50 f/2

      • You will also need an adapter. If you will be using non Leica branded M lenses you will not need the Leica adapter. Even so, I use the Novoflex which comes in at $200 but you can get one for around $30 on amazon, an off brand though sometimes the fit of those is tight or loose.

  9. Can’t agree with you more on the SL. I just got the SL last week with the 24-90mm and I was “wow’ed” This camera is so easy to use and there is just something to it that enchants me. The 24-90mm zoom is also the best zoom lens I have ever had, the quality is nothing short of a prime lens. I understand the 4+ year old SL is selling at a premium vs the new S1 (and S1R) but I don’t need all the bells and whistles and the shooting experience with the SL just wants me to shoot more and that to me is the most important.

  10. I understand your reasons to not be interested in 47 MP, at the same time I would like to point out that in the few weeks I have used the s1r I allready had several subjects (shooting birds and seals during our vacation trip) where the option to crop in the telerange was really helpful. Also being able to put the CL-23mm lens on this camera and still having over 20MP is cool. IBIS and IS help to keep ISO low in many situations. SO I really encourage everybody to not ignore the higher MP. I certainly dont say MP is everything, but I also dont think high high ISO is something which should have the highest priority (depending what you shoot).

    • There are benefits to the higher MP version, cropping. I say if you are a cropper and like to crop, then 47MP is the way to go. But the 47MP version lags behind in low light by quite a bit, compared to the 24MP version. So pick the one that works for you ; ) As always. Either body can produce huge beauty prints.

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