Is the Leica SL2-S relevant today?

Leica has always been synonymous with class, sophistication, and above all, excellent image quality. Their cameras have travelled the globe with some of the most notable photographers including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Wolff, Inge Morath and (although not a photographer per se) Aquaman himself, Jason Mamoa.

Image of building against blue sky at golden hour

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When did Leica start the SL Range?

Leica manufactured its first SL camera in 2015; the Typ 601. 

This was a full-frame Mirrorless with interchangeable lenses, making it the second mirrorless camera on the market after the Sony A7 in 2013, followed by the SL2 in 2019 and the SL2-S in 2020.

The SL was revolutionary and introduced the first EyeRes Viewfinder, which was said to be a better viewing experience than the human eye.

Leica SL2-S BodyLeica SL2-S

So, what makes the Leica SL2-S one of the best?

Taking a look at the specifications certainly gives us some indication that this is not a camera to take for granted:

  • 24 MP CMOS-BSI Full-Frame Sensor
  • 5-axis Image Stabilisation (5.5 steps)
  • Maximum ISO of 100,000
  • 4K / C4K 10-bit 4:2:2 at 60P
  • Multishot mode with up to 96MP
  • Up to 25fps for DNG and a 4GB buffer
  • Capture One 21 Integration
  • Dust and Splash Proof
  • Continuous Firmware Updates

Putting the specs to the side for now, however, what also makes this camera so sort after is the design and packaging. Leica never holds back on their attention to detail, and this absolutely applies to how the camera comes presented to you, in a beautiful slick black box with excellent protection.

So what makes it unique?

What makes the SL2-S unique is its body. The top cap and bottom plate are machined from a single block of solid aluminium for incredible strength, and the main body is made of die-cast and machined magnesium to promote a lightweight camera.

Alongside this, it has a specifically designed grip called the ‘Elastomer Grip’ which enhances holding comfort, including a hand-applied leatherette over the entire body.

Whilst using this grip, the thumb sits comfortably on the Click Wheel, which is within easy reach along with the top buttons.

Not only this but using these functions in conjunction with the EVF is a pleasant to do. Being able to see your image change in real-time, with a similar experience to that of the light metres within older film cameras that Leica have produced.

Leica SL2-S Body BackHow is this design with User Experience?

As beautiful as the SL2-S body is, as a first-time Leica user I’d argue that the minimalism of this design doesn’t necessarily promote productivity when using it for the first time, and its button mapping required a few flick-throughs of the manual whilst using to get to grips with it.

Unlike with Canon or Nikon flag-ship cameras, the buttons are not labelled with your usual FN, or AF-ON, etc, and thus if you are not a regular Leica user, with a background of its sleek button system, it proves a little bit harder to get used to. 

As well as the above, the SL2-S is also IP54 Rated, meaning it is durable in all weather, which will certainly appeal to the Street Photographers who love to get out come rain or shine.

My thoughts...

This camera, although slick, has taken me a small while to wrap my head around, whether that be because of the dual menu with separate settings for video and photo, or the unlabelled buttons for use.

This has not hindered my abilities though, and after learning the buttons and the layout, I’ve been able to use this camera with quite some ease. 

As we know, the quality of Leica lenses is fantastic, and the images they produce in conjunction are extremely sharp, but if I am going to crop in on an image, I do lose some quality and sharpness to this, but that is partially expected from a 24MP sensor when it’s older brother boasts a massive 42 megapixels.

After shooting with it for a weekend, I found some quality loss artificially through the viewfinder and the screen, in reality though, this camera never misses focus. I’ve been used to shooting DSLR Canon, with Sigma lenses all my life, and often I have come to retouch images finding many to be soft, or slightly back-focused. However, the SL2-S never missed focus, other than in lower shutter speeds, which is quite phenomenal in itself.

I think a plus side to the file format with this camera is that the SL2-S shoots entirely in DNG, making it a universal format type for post-production and software usage, especially in compatibility with Adobe. Not only this, but files are smaller, making storage easier and giving you more freedom on a 64GB card.

In the field – literally!

I primarily used this camera to photograph a festival, a mix of portraiture, pets, landscapes and more. It provided great images within low light conditions, under tents and of live acts on stage, with minimal noise and excellent sharpness. This could be attributed to the abilities of the new ‘live-view’ update, where you can see the image as if it were perfectly exposed rather than as if it were in the dark conditions seen – keep reading for more info on this.

You can see the sharpness in low light conditions here:

Person clapping at a festival

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One feature I would like to have seen was an articulating LCD screen. When shooting stages, it got difficult to see the screen as I was shooting above my head owing to the height of the stage, and blind shooting doesn’t always go well, unless it is from the hip for subtle street photography. I can see why Leica has not opted for this feature as to do so may hinder the sleek look of the camera, but this would have been an easy fix for my small complaint.

That being said, I still got some excellent shots, you can see in the below image the clarity of this camera, even at f/2 with ISO 400.

Two people celebrating with a kiss on stage in front of a group of people celebrating

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The SL2-S’ depth of field is something to praise, with a lens set to f/2, it produces a beautiful, shallow depth, with great rounded bokeh and smooth background.

I was pleasantly surprised by how shallow the foreground appeared in some images. Over the weekend I photographed a lot of dogs, so the softened grass in the foreground added extra focus to the subjects and provided a great overall composition.

    • Dog lying on grass with rainbow necktie
    • Dog poking their head through a crowd to look at the camera
    • Greyhound dog stood in a field next to their owner

Click to view in full resolution

Even at a distance, lower f/stops provided great clarity and handling of exposure differences between shadows and highlights. Even on rainy days where the sky is more grey/white than anything, nothing seemed blown out, or noisy when bringing up the shadows.

Person in animal costume sat in a camping chair at a festival

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Firmware 2.0

The Firmware 2.0 update from Leica for the SL2-S has multiple new features, for different formats of use that certainly make this camera even more tempting. 

In particular, the SL2-S now offers an Enhanced Live View and Overlay within Still Photography.

Enhance Live View

The Enhanced Live View is within the Main Menu in Photo Mode on Page 3, under Live View Settings. This setting allows the live view to work within lower light conditions. 

Meaning that in situations where you are shooting long exposures at night, you’ll see the image clearly or within dark studio conditions, with flash and no continuous light, you’ll be able to see the clear image with a smooth panning ability. It’s a particularly beneficial feature for those using manual focus, as this enhanced view will ensure accurate focusing even where the lighting makes this difficult.


The Overlay option is quite useful as you can take an image, and use that image to overlay over another, in a form of focus stacking or time-lapse. The example given by Leica for this is that of a tree within different seasons. If you were to split an image of a tree into 4 to show each season, you can take the base image and overlay this with new images, in each season to ensure the images have the same composition.

To use Image Overlay it is located on Page 4 of the Photo Menu, recommended with HIGH Transparency, choose the overlay image, and turn off ‘Reset on Turned Off’.

This is a great thing for magazine shooting also as if you photograph the layout for your double-page spread, you can superimpose the spread over the live view of what you are photographing, to ensure that the spacing for your gutter is correct.

Within Videography, the new features are as follows; Follow Focus and LUT Preview.

Follow Focus

Follow Focus allows you to set focus points, causing the camera to automatically move its focus point from one to another, making the video smoother and more accurate for sharpness.

The menu options to set this up are found within Focusing, MF Setup. Standard MF is likely the original setting, but this will allow you to adjust what degree you will need to turn the Focus Ring in order to change from near to far focus.

Within this, there are some other settings that may affect the way that this feature works.

Focus Mode, Follow Focus, Start FF with Recording (OFF), Speed (Very Low to Very High, Test it Out, Medium Good Balance, Big Jump from High to Very High), Return to Focus Mode (MF, AFs, AFc, Intelligent Focus).

If you go into Focus Mode in settings and select Follow Focus, you can choose whether you want your Follow Focus to begin with recording, the speed at which it functions and what Focus mode you would like the camera to return to once recording is complete.

Cat sat by a window look outdoors

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Should I buy the Leica SL2-S?

At its price, for the quality of images it produces, I’d say the Leica SL2-S is definitely worth it. I’ve never experienced this quality from a DSLR, and there wasn’t particularly anything major that I could fault, as small things such as time to get used to the buttons, simply come with experience.

If you are an avid photographer, with a little bit more money to spend on a dream kit, I’d say this should absolutely be a contender.

It definitely makes me excited to try out more cameras from Leica, and their newer lenses, as if this is the build and sensor quality from a camera of 2020, I cannot imagine how a 2022 camera would perform with the benefits of new technology.

I’m Convince, Where Can I Buy One?

The Leica SL2-S is available to buy from Clifton Cameras.

Alternatively, if you are after a used Leica SL2-S, check out our Used Leica Cameras section. You never know if you might find a bargain!

Read next

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  • By Megan Bendall
  • 4 Aug 2022

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