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Leica SL3: The new workhorse?

5 years into my “pro” Leica journey, I pushed the SL2S to it’s limits, how far can I push the SL3?

First a little bit of history about my Leica journey, it all started with a backpack. I picked up a Peak Design bag from Leica in Manchester in 2015 and couldn’t get over the level of friendliness and customer service. I had always wanted a Leica, from my early days at Uni lusting after an M6, to acquiring a couple of Leica R lenses converted onto my Sony A9’s. I was blown away by the results of the glass, so it wasn’t long before I invested in my first body. Officially my Leica journey started with the M10P in 2018,  followed by a full conversion to Leica for wedding photography in 2020 with the SL2. I slowly invested in a Leica system, testing and trialling their new developments as they launched, the support I received was second to none, making the transition incredibly smooth. Being able to take cameras and lenses out the shop to test is unheard of elsewhere, it really helped me make the right decision when it came to building out my set-up.

Although the SL2 opened the door for bringing Leica into my wedding photography Quiver, it wasn’t the right fit for weddings, mostly down to the 47MMP sensor & challenges I had with it in low light, it was more suited as a studio camera in my opinion, but the SL2S was a different animal. A much better fit for sure.

I moved onto two SL2S with 28/35/50/90 APO Summicron’s and then picking up the Q2 in 2022. I actually held off getting the Q as I didn’t think it had a place in my gear “eco system” however it very quickly became my wedding, street, holiday and everyday carry camera of choice. Then came the Q3, probably the best camera i’ve owned to date, you can read more about the Leica Q3 here.

The upgrades I was hoping to see in the Leica SL3?

The Leica SL2s is already a powerhouse camera, but there’s room for further refinement. After five years things have moved on, is the SL3 the last chance for Leica to compete with the big guns?

  • Tilt Screen: There is no tilt screen on the SL2S, this isn’t the end of the world but it is very handy and most competitors offer this.
  • Extended Battery Life: While the current battery life is good, some users might appreciate a longer-lasting battery. This would be a welcome improvement for photographers who need their camera to keep pace with demanding projects. Personally I was burning through around 10 batteries at a wedding.
  • Image Stabilisation for Versatility: One area where the SL2s could stand out even more is incorporating in-body image stabilisation (IBIS). This feature would be a big win for low-light shooting.
  • Autofocus Optimisation: The SL2s uses a contrast metering and depth mapping which works well most of the time but seriously struggled in “busy environments” or in low light. I managed to find work arounds with tracking AF + Zone AF.
  • Sensor Potential: While the current 24MP sensor delivers excellent results, I was hopeful that the same sensor as the M11 + Q3 would be adopted .

My first thoughts on the Leica SL3

I wrote my hopes and expectations for the SL3 a few weeks ago, so far I’m impressed with what Leica have put into this new model, it is everything i hoped it would be. So far my first takeaways have been:

  • Auto rotation of the info bar: What a simple and brilliant feature. It doesn’t matter if I’m shooting in portrait or landscape, the camera info will rotate so you can always see what your settings are. Love this.
  • On/Off Button: No longer a regulation switch – it’s now a power button and it is fast. I used to have to leave my SL2S on all the time because the delay was significant.
  • Focus System: Leica have described it as “An innovative hybrid autofocus system in the Leica SL3 combines three different technologies: phase detection, object recognition, and contrast detection” what does this mean in reality? I have tested it in low light, backlit and with flash, it is fast, reliable (finally) and very accurate. Just what I have been waiting for.
  • Sensor: Using the same sensor as the M-11/Q3. I can now shoot in 60/36/18 MMP.
  • ISO Dial: With the SL2S already having an exposure compensation and aperture dial, the third ISO dial is a great addition, however its a little bit redundant for me as i shoot in AUTO ISO for weddings.
  • Fully Articulated Screen: It’s incredibly well designed and thought through. It’s built solidly, comes out enough not to obscure the eye cup and it’s super slim.
  • Size & Weight: It’s shorter, less wide and a lot lighter (762g) down from (838g) the SL2.  It’s not significant but when you are holding it all day and adding it to your bag full of cameras/lenses it helps.
  • USB-C Charging: For charging, tethering & fast data transfer.
  • Card Slots: CFexpress Type B and SD UHS-II cards meaning faster cards to keep up with a faster camera.
  • Battery Life: I was conscious keeping the camera on between shooting. You can use the old (BP-SCL4) but you won’t be able to shoot in 4K/8K, burst mode & it warns you when you do use an older battery. I would suggest you invest in the newer ones for sure + the dual charger (I love this as it’s USB-C so great for on the go)

The Leica SL3 vs the SL2S

If you compare the SL3 to the SL2S you can see where the team at Leica have been concentrating their development team:

  • Sensor: While the 47.3MP sensor is good, the newer Leica SL3 boasts a 60MP BSI CMOS sensor with better low-light performance and wider dynamic range, Enhancing image quality, especially in low-light situations.
  • Processor: The Maestro III processor delivers good performance, but the Maestro IV in the SL3 offers faster autofocus, quicker burst shooting, and improved overall responsiveness. The processor upgrade making it more competitive with the latest Leica models.
  • Autofocus: The SL2’s contrast metering and depth mapping is good, but the SL3’s hybrid system with object detection offers faster and more accurate focusing, especially for moving subjects, improving its ability to track subjects in busy scenes.
  • Video: The SL2 offers 4K video recording at 30 frames per second, while the SL3 goes up to 60 fps with 10-bit internal recording. Videographers or photographers who want high-quality cinematic footage will likely prefer the SL3’s capabilities. However, if you primarily shoot stills, the SL2’s video features might be sufficient.
  • Image Stabilisation: The SL3 boasts a 5-axis in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) system, which is a significant advantage for photographers who shoot handheld or in low-light conditions, making it a more versatile camera.

The SL3 answers all of the niggles that the SL2 had, for me they were becoming deal breakers and i’m relived and excited to see these fixes  and new developments on the Leica SL3.

The evolution of the Leica SL

The Leica SL journey has been one of continuous refinement, culminating in the powerful Leica SL3. From the original Leica SL’s introduction with a 24MP sensor, the series has steadily improved image quality with the SL2’s 47.3MP sensor. The SL3 marks a significant leap forward with a high-resolution 60-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor, offering greater detail and low-light performance. Processing power has also seen a jump, with the Maestro IV processor in the SL3 bringing faster autofocus, quicker burst shooting, and improved responsiveness compared to previous models. While the core design philosophy remains focused on exceptional build quality and timeless aesthetics, the Leica SL3 incorporates a tilting touchscreen display for more convenient image review and a 5-axis in-body image stabilisation system for enhanced versatility, solidifying its position as a top-tier camera for professional photographers.

Feature Leica SL Leica SL2 Leica SL2s Leica SL3
Sensor 24MP CMOS 47.3MP CMOS 24MP CMOS 60MP BSI CMOS
Processor Maestro II Maestro III Maestro III Maestro IV
Autofocus contrast metering contrast metering contrast metering Hybrid with object detection
Display Fixed LCD Fixed LCD Fixed LCD Tilting touchscreen LCD
Video 4K 24p 4K 30p 8-bit 4K 5K 10-bit 4:2:2 4K 60p 10-bit 4:2:2
Image Stabilization None None None 5-axis In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)
Base ISO 50 100 100 50
Max ISO 50,000 50,000 100,000 100,000
Body Weight 847g 835g 815g 743g

 

What’s in my bag now?

  • Leica SL3
  • Leica Q3
  • Leica MP 0.72 Black Paint
  • Leica APO-Summicron-SL 50/90 f/2 ASPH
  • Panasonic LUMIX S 18mm f1.8
  • Summilux-M 35/f1.4 ASPH
  • Voigtlander 28mm f2 VM Ultron ASPH Type II

Flash set-up: 

  • Leica SF 24D
  • GODOX X PRO II-L Series Leica Transmitter
  • GODOX V860III + Godox V1

I strive to keep my kit as streamlined as possible, regularly simplifying and taking stock of what i’m using, and often what i’m not, prioritising a lighter bag (my back thanks me). I shoot 90% of the day on the Q3 and now, the SL3 with the 50 APO.

In Conclusion

The Leica SL3 is a significant upgrade over the SL2 in almost every way. It offers a higher resolution sensor with better low-light performance, a faster processor, a more advanced autofocus system, a more compact and ergonomic design, a tilting touchscreen display, and improved video capabilities. However, the SL2 remains a very capable camera, and if you can find it at a good price, it might still be a good option for photographers who don’t necessarily need the absolute latest features. Ultimately, the best choice for you will depend on your specific needs and budget.

The Leica SL3 is exactly what I was hoping for, smaller/lighter, faster + an accurate AF & much more. 

Thanks to the Leica Store Manchester for looking after me as always.

Check out some of my first shots with the Leica SL3 below:

  • APO-Summicron-SL 50 f/2 ASPH
  • Panasonic LUMIX S 18mm f1.8
  • Leica 50mm f0.95 Noctilux-M ASPH
  • Summilux-M 35/f1.4 ASPH