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Date: 20/10/2015 | By: Mathieu

Leica announces the new SL (Typ 601) full-frame mirrorless camera for professional photographers

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Leica announces the new SL (Typ 601) full-frame mirrorless camera for professional photographers

We all knew about it already, but now it’s official: Leica has launched its first modern full-frame mirrorless system, the Leica SL. It is a system that targets professional photographers, having been built to deliver the best performance on the market (at least on paper).

The design might look similar to the A7 series from Sony, but the truth is that it was inspired by the Leicaflex, which was the first 35mm SLR manufactured by Leitz. The camera is quite large and weighs 900g with the battery included. It is fully weather sealed and forged from a block of solid aluminium. The design is simple and minimalistic much like other recent Leica cameras such as the Q.

leica sl typ 601

The camera also has one feature that has long been requested by professional photographers who use mirrorless cameras and that is a dual SD card slot.

This is perhaps the one detail that more than anything else shows that this cameras is targeting professionals. The camera is also compatible with UHS II standard.

On top we notice an LCD panel similar to the ones found on high-end DSLRs. It is very useful to check your main settings at a glance. The SL becomes the second mirrorless camera with such a solution after the Samsung NX1. There are also two buttons (one is for movie recording and the other is probably a function button) and one dial.

leica sl typ 601

On the rear the button layout is similar to the flagship Leica S medium format camera. There are 4 rectangular buttons around the LCD screen that are used to activate the different menus. If you press and hold them, you can activate customisable functions instead. We also get a second dial that will change the exposure settings.

One of the most interesting features is the viewfinder, the biggest electronic viewfinder on a mirrorless camera.

The impressive specs include a size of 0.66”, 0.8x magnification and a SXAG resolution of 4.4 million dots which is higher than the one on the Leica Q. The LCD screen is a 3” type with touch sensitive capabilities and anti-scratch coating.

leica sl typ 601

Inside we get the same 24MP CMOS sensor already seen on the Leica Q with an ISO range of 50-50000 and no Low Pass filter. The autofocus has 49 contrast detection points and it is likely to be the same as the one on the Q once again. Actually Leica says it has the fastest AF of all full-frame mirrorless cameras (meaning it is faster than the Sony A7 series). The camera can shoot at 11fps and has a 2GB buffer memory that can capture 30 DNG (Raw) files in a single burst.

Finally, there are also a lot of interesting video specs. The SL can record 4K up to 30fps, and Full HD up to 120fps. It has a Vlog profile, and a Multipart to plug in a Mic input and Headphone output adapter (3.5mm Jack type). It can also output a 10 bit 4:2:2 signal via HDMI. Note that the HDMI is a full size connector.

leica sl typ 601

The camera has a new L mount and three lenses have been announced along with the camera:

Only the 24-90mm will be available with the camera in mid-November while the other lenses will be released later on. I have to say that this is a very smart set of focal lengths to start with. With these three lenses, users will have almost everything they need. Not bad for a completely new system. Leica also designed updaters for its S, R and M lenses making this SL the most versatile camera within its own system.

If you’ve read everything up until now, it really looks like this camera has everything you could possibly ask for. However there is a big caveat and that is (once again) the price. At $7450 for the body and $4950 for the 24-90mm f/2.8, you are looking at a $12400 price tag! Considering that the Leica SL is the first real competitor for the A7 series, that Sony has released 7 full frame cameras in less than 2 years, and that the most expensive model costs $3000, it looks like the SL is designed more for a high-end niche of users. But I won’t say more until we can actually test it!

We will have the chance to see and test the new Leica SL two days from now, so be sure to follow us. If you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment below and we’ll try to answer it on Thursday!


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About the author: Mathieu Gasquet

Mathieu Gasquet is a professional photographer with French and Italian origins. Besides running his own video and photography studio 3Dit Lab, he is also the official photographer for the National Cinema Museum in Turin. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • soundimageplus

    Knowing Leica, you could be right the first time. They are appalling at releasing stuff. My guess on the battery grip is around 2018!! This is still a poor roll out time and there is a huge difference between releasing a ‘pro’ camera that has an already established lens line to take advantage of i.e Canon, Nikon and m4/3 and rolling out a camera that has one lens and the prospect of more in several months time. In your hands on preview you summed this up perfectly. This is a camera for the already existing Leica faithful and pretending it’s aimed at weaning pro’s away from DSLR’s is either PR BS or self delusion on a grand scale.

  • Mathieu

    I have to correct my statement, the other zoom lens will be available in the first quarter of 2016, the Summilux at the end of 2016.

  • soundimageplus

    ‘Also apparently the other two lenses won’t be available until end of 2016.’ That’s ridiculous.

  • Mathieu

    I was expecting a different sensor as well. There’s nothing wrong with that 24MP one but if you introduce a new product like this, you want it to excel in every department. Also apparently the other two lenses won’t be available until end of 2016. I really wonder who’s going to by this camera.

  • soundimageplus

    I’m sure it will be a quality camera and i imagine the lenses will be spectacular. The camera isn’t that bad in terms of size (people holding it in videos give a better impression of how big it is) but it’s heavy. 847g without a lens. The more I think about the more puzzled I am at where Leica think there is a market for this.

    DSLR users? No. Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera users? Well maybe, if they win the lottery, but otherwise it’s out of most peoples price range. I may well be a target user. I’ve had M8, M9 and I currently own a Leica T and a Q. But I can’t see either how I can afford it without selling everything else or justify it in terms of what it offers.

    There’s no doubt that they pulled out all the stops in terms of things like AF speed, the EVF and the overall ‘pro’ spec., but it may well just end up being a camera for the well-heeled to pop into up-market shops in Dubai to get a camera to photograph their polo ponies with!!

    The M series, the Leica T (Typ 701) and the Leica q (Typ 116) are all relativeley small, light and ‘discreet’ cameras and this has been their forte. The SL isn’t like that. I guess you would imagine that Leica did some market research, but then they haven’t had a lot of success with non-rangefinder 35mm cameras. The R series fim cameras never really took off and the Leica T (despite my loving it) has been a commercial failure.

    I thought that Leica were on the right track with the Q. Not as outrageously expensive as the M series, but quality through and through and the creator of some incredibly detailed images.

    And finally it strikes me that the SL could have attracted a lot more attention from pros if it had a higher pixel count (36MP) was around a 1/3 cheaper and all the lenses were available from day 1. As it is I think all it will do is attract more ‘chest bling’ type criticism and disengage Leica even more from the bulk of the camera market, who they do need to cultivate if they are ever going to stop relying on handouts from billionaires.

  • Chas

    They say “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery”. Well Leica just flattered the heck out of Sony with this one. Except for it’s GARGANTUAN size, the SL looks very much like the A7 series. I was really hoping Leica would blow my mind with something totally new in ergonomics/haptics department, especially for $12,000+ US. Of course this is a totally subjective opinion, others may love it, I don’t.

  • Mathieu

    I completely agree with you. I would also add that Sony could release an A9 slightly larger than the A7 series with dual SD card, an even bigger EVF and then you have the most pro mirrorless camera on the market for half the price :)

  • Mathieu

    Yes the set of lenses to start with is very interesting, you get everything you need.

  • soundimageplus

    I’m putting together my own reactions to this, but I thought I’d add a comment or two here first. It looks a great camera and I’d love one, but I would need to see some proper image samples before committing. But I’m a Leica fanboy anyway.

    In terms of the market that Leica are targeting however there are some issues. They say this is a camera for professionals, but most professionals won’t go near a system with only five AF lenses that will fit it, four of which are APS-C lenses. Plus 24MP’s is a bit conservative. And professionals, who will have certainly committed to another system already, will take a lot of persuading to swap to a new mirrorless system that is unbelievably expensive, but totally unproven.

    With the M cameras and lenses Leica have the field to themselves and a long term fan base, but there is a LOT of competition for the SL. Both DSLR and mirrorless. Will Nikon, Canon and Sony FE users suddenly decide to leave their current systems and embrace Leica? I seriously doubt it. Will M users decide to add one of these to their already expensive camera kit? I have my doubts about that too.

    So my question is who is this for? Who is going to buy it? It seems that it’s kind of like a ‘mini S system’ and they are hardly mainstream cameras. I hope it succeeds because it looks a ‘class act’ but whether it ever gets further than a ‘luxury enthusiasts camera’ is open to question. I could buy into this if and only if I sold most of what I own already. And I’m in no mood to get rid of my 50MP Canon 5Ds, which is blowing me away with the pictures it creates. I’m also in no mood to get rid of my Panasonic GX8 with it’s wonderful 4K output. And that is likely to be Leicas problem. They have priced it and pitched it at those photographers who already own lots of top end gear and while I’m sure that the image quality will be superb, there are a lot of other factors that influence those of us who don’t have the odd £10,000 sitting around burning a hole in our pockets.

    Unfortunately I suspect that this camera system will earn a lot more plaudits than it will sales. For me it just doesn’t make economic sense fir me to buy into into this system, much as I would like to and I suspect I’m not alone in that.

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