Hands-on: What you need to know about the Leica SL2-S

Hands-on with the Leica SL2-S

Leica’s third full-frame L-mount camera, the SL2-S, has just landed. Based on the SL2 which launched just over a year ago, the SL2-S has a 24MP sensor and it’s a bit more video-focused than its higher-resolution forebear.

If you’re familiar with the SL2, there frankly isn’t much that’ll surprise you about the SL2-S. But if you’ve overlooked the SL2 previously or are just new to the Leica SL-series in general, then follow along for a closer look at the newest model in the lineup.

Sensor, grip and logo

The most immediate change on the SL2-S relative to its sister model is right here, front-and-center: the sensor. It’s a 24MP unit that sits on an in-body stabilizer, and it grants users the ability to capture oversampled (meaning, very detailed) 4K/30p video using the sensor’s full width. You can also opt for 4K/60p capture, though you’ll need to crop in to a smaller APS-C portion of the sensor to access that. There a few other nitty gritty video details to cover as well, which we’ll get to shortly.

As for the rest of the camera, the most obvious outward change on the SL2-S relative to its sister model is the blacking-out of the ‘LEICA’ lettering on the viewfinder hump. It does make for a slightly more subtle look, but of course, the bright red dot next to it will probably still draw some attention for those in the know. Lastly, the grip remains pretty comfortable despite its blocky shape, helped by an indent for your fingertips just visible in the shadow here.

Rear controls and screen

On the rear of the camera, along the screen’s left side, you’ll find Leica’s standard set of buttons. ‘Play’ enters playback, ‘Fn’ can be pressed once to access a custom function, or can be ‘long-pressed’ to select a different custom function for the next time you short press. It’s a handy way to change the button’s behavior without diving into the full menus.

Hitting the ‘Menu’ button enters a quick menu where you can control some key functions via the touchscreen, including the shooting mode, drive mode, focus settings, and more. A further press of the Menu button brings up the main menus, which let you delve a little deeper into the camera’s settings. You can continue to press the ‘Menu’ button to navigate along the six pages of options, or you can use the top command dial to do so. The rear dial will navigate up and down various settings.

Speaking of that rear dial, it’s also how you quickly change shooting modes without entering the quick menu at all; you press it in, and then rotate it to swap between PASM modes.

The AF Joystick allows you to move your AF area around the frame, and it allows you to manipulate settings in the main and quick menus as well. The button next to it defaults to manually swapping between the LCD screen and electronic viewfinder (EVF), but a long-press allows you to change its behavior, just like the ‘Fn’ button. Speaking of the EVF…

Viewfinder

The viewfinder alone could be a reason for someone to consider an SL2-S. It’s big, bright and detailed, offering 5.76M dots of resolution. The only other 24MP camera you’ll find that type of detailed picture on is the Panasonic Lumix S1; other comparable 24MP offerings from the likes of Nikon, Canon and Sony have viewfinders that are a similar size but lower resolution.

The ring surrounding the viewfinder is a large diopter adjustment dial for those glasses-wearers among us; its size makes it easy to set it just right, but there’s enough resistance that you won’t knock it out of place accidentally.

Top plate controls

On the top of the camera we see a generously sized display that shows pertinent exposure and camera settings. To its right are two more custom buttons that, again, you change the behavior of using a long press. A close look reveals, in fact, two more custom buttons well-placed to be manipulated with your middle or ring fingers on the front of the camera, though we wish they were separated a bit more.

You also get a flash hot-shoe, and on the right side of that you’ll see an engraving reading ‘LEICA SL2-S’, the only place on the camera you’ll find its model name. (A rather cryptic ‘Type no.: 9584’ is printed on the bottom of the camera.)

Video

The headline video spec of the SL2-S is 4K at up to 60p, which, on paper, looks a lot like that of the SL2. There are differences, though. The SL2 shoots sub-sampled video from nearly the full width of its sensor for all of its video modes, whereas the SL2-S shoots full-width oversampled video for its 24, 25 and 30p modes. This means the SL2-S is using all its pixels to shoot 6K footage which is then downscaled to 4K. This should give more detailed video and possibly better low-light performance. The ‘S’ uses an APS-C region for its 60p footage, which gives up some of this benefit but should still look good.

In addition, the SL2-S includes features such as built-in display correction LUTs to give a usable preview when shooting in Log gamma (both of which are also available as ‘Cube’ files which can be applied as you edit the footage). A future firmware update will add options such as waveforms for assessing exposure, and the ability to set exposure time as shutter ‘angle’ rather than shutter speed, along with a ‘tally’ lamp mode that indicates when the camera is recording.

Ports

Behind a thick, flexible rubber door on the left side of the camera body are headphone and microphone ports, which also double as remote release ports, as well as a full-sized HDMI port (which feels a lot sturdier than the ‘mini’ or ‘micro’ ports on many competing cameras). Immediately beneath these, behind its own rubberized door, is a USB-C port that supports charging, tethered shooting and image transfer.

Storage

On the other side of the camera is a set of SD card slots; both support the faster UHS-II type memory cards, and you’ll likely want to use reasonably quick cards if you’re planning on using the 25 fps silent shutter burst feature, or shooting at the camera’s highest video quality settings.

Battery

On the bottom of the Leica SL2-S you’ll find a BP-SCL4 battery pack, the same as you’ll find in the SL2 and the Q2 and Q2 Monochrom fixed-lens cameras. It’s good for a CIPA-rated 510 shots per charge, though you’ll likely get many more than that in normal use. We find that a rating of 500 or so is good for at least a couple of days of focused photography if you’re, say, exploring a new city.

Interestingly, there’s no battery ‘door’ per se; the entire unit pops out and leaves a hole in the bottom of the camera. But each BP-SCL4 has its own gasket around the bottom, ensuring that the camera lives up to its IP54 weather-sealing rating.

Hands-on with the Leica SL2-S

And there you have it: Leica’s latest full-frame mirrorless camera, the SL2-S. Although compared to the SL2, the exterior differs only by the blacked-out logo, its lower resolution sensor will likely be welcomed by those who don’t need 47MP of resolution, or those who need better quality video (which will be augmented further in a promised firmware update next year). The SL2-S also comes with its own high-res shot mode, which can churn out 96MP files on the occasion that you do need more resolution (though you also need a tripod and a pretty static subject).

What do you make of the SL2-S? Is it something you would consider adding to your camera bag? Let us know in the comments.