The Leica SL2-S Camera REVIEW. SPOILER: One of Leica’s best EVER.

The Leica SL2-S Camera Review. Spoiler: One of Leica’s best EVER.

By Steve Huff

Well here we are in 2021, so happy new year to all of you! This year has to be better than the last and for me it is off to a great start as I have had a Leica SL2-S in hand for almost a week now, and it’s been refreshing. One of my all time favorite digital cameras ever was the original SL (my old main review from 2015 is here). With my numerous posts about the SL, even stating I preferred it to the new SL2 in 2020, you guys who keep up with my crazy camera interests know my feelings for the OG Leica SL. In fact, my best memories and images of recent years were mostly shot on an SL. Those are the memories and images I keep going back to.

My video review of the SL2-S. A must see as I share video samples, photos from all three SL models and my thoughts! 

When the SL2 was launched I truly enjoyed many of the improvements but I also thought the sensor was a step back from the original in regards to color and overall vibe and feel (for my tastes). I also did not like the low light performance of the SL2, as those extra pixels really put a damper on anything above ISO 800. For a while I shot with and enjoyed the Panasonic S1, which delivered all I wanted in a SL follow up (and even said it was the best I saw in 2019), well, besides the body, the menu and control system and overall refined experience. As good as the S1 is, and it’s a great camera, it feels different when using it compared to a Leica SL type of body.

This one with the Sigma 65 f/2 L mount. 

The SL2-S on a cold dreary day. I stopped when I saw this cow looking at me. Thanks for the portrait! Sigma 35 f/2 L mount

I decided a while ago that if Leica ever released a true follow up to the original SL AND if it had a 24 MP sensor I would have to take a serious look. Well Leica did just that at the end of 2020 in the form of the SL2-S.

Before it was announced the rumors had it pegged as a smaller SL2, much like a Panasonic S5 copy in a Leica shell. Many assumed it would be a dumbed down SL2. I am happy to say that this is not the case. As nice as the S5 is, the SL2-S is in a different league when it comes to build, simplicity, menus and depending on your tastes maybe even color (or maybe you will prefer the Panasonic color). From what I am seeing so far, the true star of the SL2-S is the new BSI-CMOS sensor that allows for the first time ever, super impressive extended DR and low light capabilities.

First two with the Sigma 45 f/2.8 L  – The two after that shot with the Sigma 35f/2

It is 24MP, does extremely well in low light even approaching Sony A7SIII levels. It has better color performance than the SL2 and some feel Leica has tweaked the color science for this release. The camera itself retains the same body, EVF, LCD and menu system as the Sl2. THIS IS an SL2 body with a IMO better sensor. No, you will not get the massive resolution but you will get plenty of it with 24 megapixels. More than any mere mortal needs for prints, for social media, for any online posting or well, anything. I feel we have gotten so caught up into thinking that more MP = better that we lost sight that sometimes lower MP is actually better in many ways. For speed, for noise, for DR even.

 Click them for larger and better versions. The last one was in our dark house, at night with only the ceiling fan light on, and just about right out of the camera. All are using the Sigma 35 f/2 HERE

A lower megapixel sensor will have faster AF and the SL2-S does have faster AF over the SL2, and even with video. They have gotten to a usable level here, and I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the continuous AF is about on par with the Panasonic S1 (with the firmware update) when it comes to AF but it still can not match Sony or Canon for AF with video.

Shot through a window on a dreary day with the Canon 50 f/1.2 EF on the Sl2-S

The SL2-S does much better in any low light scenario over the SL2, and is usable (for me) even at ISO 50k. The SL2-s has stunning video specs, with full frame 4k (up to 30 FPS) and even full auto focus when shooting slow motion 120FPS in HD. It has the same glorious EVF as the SL2, and it is the best implementation of this kind of EVF quality I have seen. The big porthole makes it so easy to look through, and change the diopter. The SL2-S has Internal 10-bit 4:2:2 recording and its is supported for frame rates up to 30p. Full frame DCI 4k is beautiful with the SL2-S. I will repeat though that AF in video lags behind offerings from Sony and Canon. Think Panasonic in terms of video AF speed.

Two images. Top one is a straight out of camera JPEG, the second is from RAW

The controls are the same as the SL2 and I love how easy it is to change EV comp with my thumb using the huge metal dial up top. The SL2-S is weather sealed and probably the best built camera I have seen in a long long time, well, same as the SL2. The color seems to have been tweaked here compared to the SL2 and for me gets closer to the original SL in color science though it is still not quite the same. The files are so sharp yet so smooth, so creamy yet so full of life. The AWB performance is stunning as well though these days almost all of us shoot RAW so that is not as important as it used to be.

The menus are the most refined around with the SL2 and SL2-s and the touch screen implementation is superb. I enjoyed my short time with the Panasonic S5 but this SL2-S is indeed a step up in all areas of build, control and simplicity. While it is the lowest cost SL ever released, at $4895 it is still much pricier than the Panasonic’s or Sony’s, so it is still in Leica land when it comes to cost. So far though, I feel it is one of Leica’s best Digital cameras ever. I prefer it to the M’s and to the CL’s these days. In fact, I prefer it to any camera they make, and of course even the SL2. To me, this is as close to perfect as a full frame 35mm digital camera gets (I still adore my 907x above all others). The Dynamic Range is stunning and pretty crazy how much you can recover in both shadows and highlight. Remember the first SL when it launched at $7500 for the body only? I do, so it is a great treat to see Leica improve upon that camera and release it at over $2500 less. Not usually the Leica way but I guess it would be too hard of a sell at $7500 today, with so many other great options out there.

The SL2-s feels fantastic in the hand as it carries over the enhanced grip of the SL2. To me, this is the true follow up to the OG SL. I mean, right out of camera colors and exposure is very good, I really do not even have to do any tweaks from the RAW. I can not remember when I had a camera with this good of output right from camera. If you have been like me, holding on to the original SL and waiting for the real replacement…well this is it.

I will say though that if you have an OG SL and do not need video or the IBIS or the enhanced low light capabilities, there is no need to get this camera as the OG is still amazing, and can be had for a great buy used or even new. Some will say $3600 is way too high for a new OG SL. I feel it’s not so far off what it should be. At $3600 it is nearly $4000 less than when it launched and it’s just as good today for photo work as it was then. You also get a warranty with a new one which is peace of mind you will not get with a used SL. 

The SL2-s is not getting much attention and Leica did not send it to all of the reviewers as they sometimes do. It’s kind of buried in the news while everyone still talks about the Canon R5, the Sony A7SIII and others. That is strange to me, but maybe Leica does not want it to overshadow sales of the SL2? Maybe they do not want it to hurt M sales, even though the M is an entirely different kind of camera. Maybe they did not realize just how good this camera was going to be. Maybe they feel it’s just average. I don’t know but it’s WELL worthy of a review.

Direct from RAW shots with the Sigma 35 f/2 L Mount

I will have a full video review on this coming soon (UPDATE: Now at the top of this page). I am still shooting some, and also want to focus on the video aspect as well. I am shooting it with only Sigma contemporary L lenses for now. The 35, 45 and 65 which are all stunners, especially that 35 and 65. No they are not Leica so they will not have the all out beauty of a Leica 35 Summicron or 50 Summliux but you sacrifice a tiny but of “sharpness and shine” for Small size, light weight but crazy good performance for thousands less. I am finding these Sigma lenses are doing quite well, much better than I would have expected so am happy with what I am seeing here but the Leica L glass is truly superb if you have the funds and do not mind the size. A killer L mount from Leica? THIS ONE. 

The SL2-s is so versatile as well. There will never be RF drift from the RF. I can plop on a Canon 50 1.2 or 100 Macro via adapter or even a Noct Nikkor via adapter. I can shoot any M lenses that I want via adapter or even some R glass. I own all of these adapters and used them with my old SL. While other mirrorless options can use these lenses as well via adapters there is just something so enjoyable with the SL style bodies. That EVF is like looking through a huge picture window with clarity and color that is the best I have looked through. It makes manual focus a breeze. While the OG SL had a lower res EVF it had higher magnification and can look bigger. The SL2-S had a higher res EVF but the magnification is lower. I think the SL2-S EVF is better but the OG is still no slouch. 

What I can so is that so far, in my eyes, it’s one of the best full frame 35mm format cameras made today if you focus on photography and the quality of that photography over video (there are better video options such as the A7SIII). Also, as long as you do not need fast continuous AF for tracking or action. The SL2-S is not perfect as the AF is behind the top of the heap but in all other areas it’s fantastic. One thing that is cool to have in a camera like this is unlimited 4k recording time. This has it. No limits, No overheating (Unlike the Canon R5 and others).

More with the Sigma 35 f/2 L mount. Click them for larger! This camera puts out some smooth rich files! MUCH like the OG SL!

The files have depth, low noise and an amazing smoothness about them that is so nice. The dynamic range is impressive to say the least and I have not even been able to get out and use it heavily. These shots you see here are seriously just my first few shots in my yard with the camera. The handling is just as a camera should feel and the usability is simple, as most Leica cameras are. I can use almost any lens I want (almost) and manual focus is a treat to use. The speed is there and with the 4GB buffer, you can even take photos in a machine gun style if you like.

First Three are with the 65 f/2 from Sigma. Last one with the very affordable 35 1.4 TT Artisans M mount. 

Highlight and Shadow Recovery

Here is a test shot I purposely underexposed. I made it to where the subject (one of my dogs) was extremely underexposed by several stops. The bottom image is the shot I fixed by using the highlight and shadow sliders as well as a slight contrast reduction. You must click the image below to see it larger sized, and better quality. Also, this was at ISO 2000 but you will see more noise as I lifted those dark shadows quite dramatically. If I exposed this properly, ISO 2000 would be super clean. Even so, it shows you what is capable when it comes to shadow recovery.

I’m excited about this one as it’s what I have been waiting for from Leica for a while now. The SL2-S is a very worthy upgrade over the original SL WITHOUT QUESTION!!! Now of course one can get a Panasonic S5 for $1995, or even an S1 for not so much more. Thousands less than this Leica. For me though, the enjoyment that comes from the Leica menus system, the refinement of the electronics and the feel and use of the body/controls tip it over those. But I have to say that those cameras are just as capable in IQ, albeit with a slightly different color signature. It’s the name, the body, the refinement, the build quality, the heritage and the experience we pay that extra for and the SL2-S is for me, one of Leica’s best digital cameras ever. If you have been thinking of an SL, now is the time to take a real serious look. 

One thing to remember. I used the SL2-S here with Sigma lenses that are well under $1k each. Use Leica M or SL lenses and your quality will go higher in video and photo. Yes those Leica lenses are pricy but they will deliver the best results from the camera. If I could I would take the 35, 50 and 90 cron (they are sized smaller than the rest) and maybe add the 16-35 for wide angle duties. If I lived in fantasyland, I would buy a 35 Summilux M and 75 Noctilux M to go with the SL series of camera. 

You can order the Leica SL2-S at B&H Photo HERE.

41 Comments

  1. Steve, I know you love the SL and now the SL2. As someone who uses the Sony A9, but is “uninspired” by the menu system, button situation and overall feel, and who has previously loved the M system but doesn’t always nail focus, would you recommend: (a) replacing the A9 system (I own multiple autofocus lenses) with the SL2S (I could not afford multiple autofocus lenses and own one M lens already) or (b) adding a Leica M for when I need to “feel” the inspiration and use the A9 when I need to be sure to get things done quickly. Hope that question makes sense. I generally prefer lightweight systems, which is one hesitation I have of the SL2S.

    • That’s a tough one. For me, the SL system excels with M lenses. When I use AF lenses, it’s the new L mount Sigma lenses that are so small but with high quality. The Leica SL lenses are great but large and heavy, which keeps me from owning them. Also, the cost. The A9 is great but it is not very inspiring..no Sony is for me. With that said, the SL2-S could never compete with your Sony for speed/AF. It’s slower for sure when it comes to AF and shooting when compared to the A9. I am not one who find the SL system heavy when used with M lenses or smaller AF lenses. I think it feels solid, confident and beautiful but that’s just my opinion. I would rent one first or see if you can try one out at a shop if possible. The A9 and SL2-S are quite different.

  2. I’m seeing that The Leica SL series colors are tuned more towards neutrality and maximized customizability vs The Sigma FP and Panasonic L mount series that have more of an aggressive curve and saturation. What do you think Steve? Great work keep it up.

    • Different cameras. The FP is smaller, has no built in EVF, no IBIS, etc. A different experience altogether. As for IQ though that Sigma is gorgeous.

  3. Hi Steve, I was wondering (requesting!) if you could please do a guide on how you process your files? I have the original SL (with M lenses) and get better results with RNI presets than Adobe colour, though your images look even better! Thanks.

  4. Hi Steve!
    I’m a long time follower from Sweden who thoroughly enjoy how you pour your passion for images and cameras into your reviews! I was wondering if you by any chance could post side by side comparisons of the original SL and the new SL to see how they render colors? Thanks for a great site!

  5. Steve, I use only older Leica M lenses – 35 Lux v2 and 75 Lux, one newer 50 Summicron, Voigt 21mm aspherical 1.8. Is there any benefit to use the new Leica SL2-S over the Panasonic S1? Again using non-coded lenses.

    • As for IQ?No, no difference besides slight rendering differences of the SL vs S1. If you have non coded lenses (like I do) you do not need the Leica M adapter as it does the same job as the cheap ones without the coding. I use the Novoflex and also have a cheap one but the Novaflex fits perfect where the cheap one has a little play.If I had a set of coded M lenses I would get the Leica adapter. Thanks!

  6. Steve,

    Amen! I’ve made the leap into the world of Leica and I am loving it. I took your advice and link to B&H and also bought the Voigtlander 75mm 1.5. I am in awe of what I’m seeing in the viewfinder. I’m giddy, feeling like a little boy on Christmas morning. Thanks for all your thoughts and insights, time and efforts. Happy New Year!!

    • NO, not at all. There are better lenses than Leica one can use on an SL series camera. Without question. What you are missing with your Fuji is a full frame sensor and all that comes with it, when you compare it to a full frame sensor of course. On it’s own your Fuji is fantastic, all cameras are today. We buy based on what we like, most of us.

        • Not even sure what you are referring to? Here is what I said about the Sigma lenses:

          “I am shooting it with only Sigma contemporary L lenses for now. The 35, 45 and 65 which are all stunners, especially that 35 and 65. Small size, light weight but crazy good performance for the money”

          No where did I say they were better than Leica lenses. They are special, for the money.

          • Hi Steve,
            Happy Newyear,all the Best for you and your relatives
            Just above you wrote:
            “There are better lenses than Leica one can use on an SL series caméra”
            I think his question was which lenses ?

          • There are many options in M world I would prefer over actual Leica M lenses.

            For example. I would take the Zeiss ZM 35 1.4 over the Leica 35 Summilux. Less than half the price, yet I prefer its performance and even build/feel. I prefer the Voigtlander 50 1.2 or the very low cost 50 f/3.5 (renders like the $8k 50 APO) to a 50 Summicron, and it’s half the cost or in the case of the 50 3.5, 1/4 the cost. I can go on and on but Leica M lenses are not always “better” but rather “different”. I am not in the camp that says ultimate corner to corner sharpness makes a lens better, just different and more clinical. I also think the Voigtlander 35 1.7 Ultron betters the much more expensive Leica 35 Summicron in color, contrast and rendering. I also feel the Voigtlander 75 1.5 has a nicer rendering than the Leica 75 f/2.4, for much less money. I prefer a lens like the Noct Nikkor to the original Noctilux f/1. All lenses I can use on an SL body with what I feel is nicer rendering and performance for much much less cost.

  7. Wonderful Debbie and you found that your heaven is a place on earth (Belinda Carlisle)

    captured wonderfully by sl2s with sigma

  8. Hi Steve. Great review as usual.
    I have an SL2 with 35mm apo,75mm apo SL crons and 90-280mm. I bought this set to have the usual leica look(depth,3d pop etc.)
    But what i see is original SL and SL2-S has this drawing but SL2 does not have.It has flatter files. Am i missing something?

    • I see that as well with the SL2. It has a different color quality and vibe. It’s a result of the sensor and I also feel Leica made some tweaks to the SL2-S.

      • I hope they will fix it with a firmware.I sold fuji medium format system with a 100mp sensor because of flatness and dollness of files.So if SL2 will continue at this road then medium format is a better option for my lanscape work.

  9. sorry, I see there’s a glitch. sometimes the page shows the comments (7) sometimes it shows zero.
    not sure if it’s filters, cache, site-code.

  10. I suggest you close the comments section for good, if you’re deleting all anyway.
    thx.

  11. Very interested in one of these for use with my M lens collection. Could you comment on battery performance Steve? as there have been some comments that say this is a weak point compared to the SL.I’d also be interested in seeing what the JPEG quality is like straight out of camera.

    • So far the battery, for me, seems a tad shorter than the OG SL. But not by a a lot. I am still on my first charge and been shooting some video and photos. I have less than half left. The original SL did last longer though, and I feel the shorter battery life is due to the higher MP EVF and other improvements that were made that use more power. So yes, it will be a bit shorter but probably better than the SL2.

    • The Electronic Shutter on this camera and the OG SL works great. I turn on Hybrid shutter which avoids needing ND filters with your photos as the camera can go to 1/10,000s. It will switch automatically when needed so if you are in sun and using fast glass, the shutter speed will ramp up using the electronic shutter. For video it’s not as simple as if you stick to the shutter speed rules, you will need ND’s for that. But the Electronic Shutter is fantastic. Also, while I feel it’s the most complete Leica Digital, the IQ doesn’t reach the 907X. Then again different cameras entirely.

  12. Thanks for the overview on this interesting new camera. I can only imagine the clarity of a 5.76M viewfinder. My Lumix G9 has a decent 3.68M EVF, but more resolution is always better for seeing detail in your subject.

  13. Great Review Steve,
    Looking forward to your video review.
    I find out for this camera little bit after it was launched and I was instantly in Love.
    Build quality
    Video quality (4k 60p 10bit)
    Great and simple menu for easy switch between photo and video
    Best weather-sealing
    Very good low light capabilities
    Great image quality
    Sl mount ( you can adapt any lens on this mount )
    And many more..

    I think this is one of the cameras after you try them it will be very difficult to get any other camera in consideration.

    I am Sony A7III shooter and I shoot photo and video with Vintage Glass only, therefore autofocus for me is not a big factor.
    To be honest I was looking into A7S III in some near future but after I saw this Leica my eyes and thought’s are all to this camera now.
    I am also wondering how people does not see such potential in it.

    Keep up great work and take care !

  14. I wonder how much the original SL falls behind as a photographer’s tool to use M-Lenses 21-90mm (selm, slx, apo-sc).
    Is the sensor physically capable to capture the light-angles of an M or did they this time just corrected in Firmware?
    Which one has the better average situations colour-contrast and b&w qualities? Sure the new one is better, faster nicer, but enough to spend 3K more than getting a great used SL?
    Hmm, how does it compare to the Panasonic – aside from the obviously different way of handling (menu, buttons).

    • The original SL has better color science imho. I think in part due to the towerjazz sensor vs the modified Sony sensor on the new sl2s. Also I noticed that sensors with lower DR tend to have “cleaner” colors that gives a nod to the characteristics of film negatives. The race for higher DR and more flexibility in post opens up a different world of possibilities but sacrifices some of that old ethos of getting it right in the camera from the first go. But yes personally, I have no qualms about the SL OG and represents the most value in a Leica camera today while still being able to deliver the best that the 35mm format can deliver.

    • I use the original SL with M glass all the time. The short answer is it works REALLY well, well enough that I sold my M240.

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