Leica SL: Whether in grams or pounds it is competitive
Over the next four days I have a new Leica SL and 24-90mm zoom to try out, courtesy of Leica’s press office. First impressions? Big and heavy. With that jumbo lens the rig tips the scales at 2,030 grams and 8,200 pounds, depending on whether you are weighing or paying. Hefty numbers by any reckoning.
During the test I’ll be looking at the reasons for the weight of this lens: Superb optical performance and, of course, the need to cover a full-frame sensor are key ingredients. This is a substantial camera and an even more substantial lens which, I am sure, will produce excellent results. But with that zoom lens it is more comparable with a top-line DSLR than, say, the relatively lightweight Leica M both in terms of weight and cost.
Second impressions? As soon as I unbolted the zoom and replaced it with a 50mm Summilux I experienced a transformation, not just in weight (1,290g) but in handling. Just a few minutes with the M lens told me that the SL's manual focus, aided by the magnification feature, is one of the best I’ve experienced, second only to the rangefinder system on the M. I suspect that if I were to own an SL it would spend most of its time powering manual M-mount lenses. I shall be looking in depth at this SL-M combination because I believe this is something that interests existing Leica owners. I have spoken to many Leicaphiles who are wondering if the SL could replace or, certainly, complement an M. Already I can see it is a compelling combination, particularly if you want a live-view finder. Stick a VF-2 on top of the M and add a grip (to bring it more or less up to the spec of the SL) and this is a level playing field.
Looking again at the “standard” Leica 24-90mm lens, this beast offers an ideal medium zoom range from wide-angle to a very useful 90mm. Although big, with its 276mm girth and 140mm length (180mm at 90mm), not to mention its 1,130g weight, it is in fact comparable with similar lenses from other manufacturers. Optical performance doesn't come cheap, either in terms of grams or pounds. Take the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, for instance. This professional lens has a narrower range of focal distances although it does boast a constant f/2.8 unlike the Leica’s f/2.8-4 range (the Leica is down to f/3.8 at 70mm). For comparison purposes, though, it will suffice.
Not much in it
It is longer than the Leica lens, although marginally lighter at 1,070g. The shot above shows this Nikkor lens on a D810 compared with the SL and 24-90. It puts the Leica’s size into perspective. I couldn't lay hands on a D5, which is a more direct competitor to the SL, but if you do get one and add the 24-70mm zoom you will be lugging around 2,465g compared with the Leica’s relatively svelte 2,030g. Price, also, comes into perspective. Against the Leica’s cost of £8,200 (with 24-90), the Nikon rig comes in at around £7,000. Not that much in it, either in grams or in pounds (sterling).
Already, after a few hours, I see two cameras in the Leica SL. One is the DSLR competitor with its substantial zoom and weight to match; the other is a genuine alternative to the M for use with manual lenses. It will be interesting to see how this pans out over the weekend.