It may push the definition of ‘compact’ to its limit, but Leica’s top-end CSC has some outstanding features that set it apart from the rest, as Andy Westlake discovers
Leica SL (Typ 601) review – Introduction
At a glance:
- 24-million-pixel full-frame CMOS sensor
- ISO 50-50,000
- 4.4-million-dot ‘EyeRes’ EVF
- Leica L mount
- 11fps continuous shooting
- 4K video at 30fps
There’s something about Leica that makes many photographers go slightly weak at the knees. It’s a name that’s indelibly associated with some of the greatest photographers of all time, including the likes of Annie Leibovitz, Robert Frank, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The company’s most iconic product line, its M-series rangefinders, is more than 60 years old, and took the seismic transition from film to digital in its stride while barely changing in design. Indeed, the current Leica M-P looks more or less the same as the 1954 M-3, while the Leica M-A is just about the last ‘serious’ 35mm film camera still available.
With all this nostalgia as a distraction, it can be easy to overlook another side of Leica that’s emerged in recent years – that of a company aiming to provide unique tools for professional photographers (or perhaps ambitious enthusiasts with very accommodating bank managers). First were the S-series medium-format DSLRs, based around a 45x30mm Pro Format sensor, and now the company’s SL (Typ 601) full-frame compact system camera.
Leica is only the second company to bring out a mirrorless model with a full-frame sensor, after Sony’s groundbreaking Alpha 7 series, although logic dictates that it certainly won’t be the last. The SL stretches the word ‘compact’ in the CSC acronym to breaking point, being as large and as heavy as the average full-frame DSLR. But it’s also a heavyweight in terms of features, being blessed with 11 frames per second continuous shooting, internal 4K video recording and an extraordinary 4.4-million-dot electronic viewfinder, which is easily the best we’ve yet seen on a stills camera.
All this cutting-edge technology might seem alien for Leica, and we rather suspect that the company has spent a lot of time recently picking the brains of its long-time collaborator Panasonic. But no matter where all this know-how comes from, one thing is clear – the SL is a serious proposition. Let’s take a closer look at what it offers.