Technology

Introducing a brand new professional system camera from Leica, set to go head to head with Canon, Nikon and Sony

Leica SL (Typ 601)

If you only equate Leica with rangefinders, quality craftsmanship and hefty price tags, prepare to be surprised… Its latest addition, an all-new, full-frame professional camera system, is packed with new technology and is built for speed. It even uses an electronic viewfinder.

Crowning a glittering reception at Leica’s HQ in Wetzlar, attended by BJP in late October, the German maker unveiled a brand-new professional camera system, the SL.

The first arrivals, the SL (Typ 601), which BJP had exclusive access to a week before the launch, and the first of three new new dedicated lenses, were due to go on sale in mid-November, aiming to compete directly with Canon, Nikon and Sony’s top-end, SLR action cameras.

Employing a 24-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor “optimised for all Leica lenses”, the spec is focused on delivering speed, giving 11fps at full resolution in raw and JPEG, autofocus claimed to be the fastest among full-frame system cameras, said to work in “almost real time”, a top shutter speed of 1/8000s, and a highest ISO rating of 50,000. More significantly for many photographers though will be the lowest ISO setting – ISO 50.

Hand made in Germany using two solid blocks of aluminium, the camera and lenses are dust- and spray-proof. The camera itself is packed with new technology, including an integrated WiFi/WLAN module, and it can be remote controlled wit Leica’s dedicated app for smartphones and tablets (iOS and Android).

There’s broadcast-quality video too (including 4K UHD at 30fps, and mp4 at 120fps in full frame), with the option of using an HDMI Connector that delivers 4:2:2 10bit for external recorders, and PL Adapters are available for use with Leica Summicron-C and Leica Summilux-C Cine lenses.

The most surprising feature, however, is its electronic viewfinder, which Leica has named the EyeRes, claimed to be the world’s leading EVF for a stills camera, with its 4.4-megapixel resolution, 60fps refresh rate and a magnification of 0.8x.

See the full specs and further images.

“The camera is substantial indeed, lacking all hints of the miniaturisation that we have come to associate with compact system cameras,” comments Damien Demolder, whose first impressions of the camera can be read elsewhere on our website ahead of his full review in next month’s issue. “None-the-less, it operates without a mirror, it uses an electronic viewfinder and features that most modern technological addition – touch-screen focusing. Like the Sony A7 series, the Leica SL (Type 601) offers a full frame sensor, in this case the same 24-megapixel unit found in the Leica Q compact camera, which presents the opportunity for picture quality far in advance of that offered by CSCs with smaller sensors.

“The size of the lens also suggests that Leica has made a decision to opt for quality over an attempt to make a small system… If you aren’t sure about electronic viewfinders, it will be worth looking through the eyepiece of the SL just to appreciate the 4.4m-dot resolution of the screen. The view is enormous, bright and clear, and a high refresh rate gives it very fast reactions and very smooth motion.

“More importantly, the images produced are of excellent quality. There is noise in high ISO settings, but not too much and of the inoffensive granular variety. What will be most appreciated will be the dynamic range though. Both shadows and highlights are full of detail that is ready to be drawn-in to create moderate, realistic images where others will be forced to display a more heavy form of contrast.

The camera uses an L mount, the same at its T system. An advantage of the sensor size, the size of the mount and back focus distance is that, via an adapter, lenses from Leica’s M, S and R series can be used, as well as those from other camera brands. Lenses from the T system fit without an adapter, though in an APS-C 1.5x cropped-sensor mode.

Three new professional full-frame autofocus SL lenses will be available, delivering highest image performance at every aperture and distance. The Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH, with close focus distance of 30-45cm, is ready for the SL launch on 16 November, priced £3150. The APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280mm f/2.8-4 will come in the second quarter of 2016, and the Summilux-SL 50mm f/1.4 ASPH prime will follow later in the same year (prices haven’t been announced for either).

A battery grip, hotshoe flash, filters and lens adaptors will also be available. The camera goes on sale on 16 November, priced £5050. A full review by Damien Demolder will appear in our January issue, out 02 December.

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