A Lot to Leica: Testing the Leica SL

Courtesy Leica

How much is the little red Leica badge worth to you? 

As the design director for this magazine, I carry around a camera almost every day. Lately, I’ve been inseparable from my Sony a7R II. Its low-light capabilities, huge 42-megapixel sensor, and 4K video make it the ideal travel companion. But when I heard that Leica was releasing its first full-frame mirrorless camera—the Leica SL (Typ 601)—I was tempted to cheat on my Sony.

Above all, there’s the legacy. Leica’s fetishized red badge is associated with some of the greatest photographers in history, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eggleston, and Annie Leibovitz. But I wondered whether that red badge was worth a price that makes the Leica SL inaccessible to all but the wealthiest of enthusiasts; the body alone goes for $7,450, with its 24–90 mm F2.8–4 “kit lens” costing another $4,950.

When I received the Leica for review my first impression was, Whoa, this thing is heavy. The chassis weighs just under 21⁄4 pounds (compared with my Sony’s much more portable 1.3 pounds). When you add on the zoom lens, you risk paying a fortune in chiropractor bills just by slinging it around your neck. But a week’s experimentation uncovered some undeniably impressive features, notably the camera’s 11-frames-per-second rate, its gorgeous HD viewfinder, its dual card slot, and, above all, the superb, filmlike depth of its images. Plus, it can work with every lens Leica has ever made. Not bad.

By mid-January, however, I’d decided to stick with the Sony. The Leica’s qualities couldn’t compensate, in my mind, for its cost and bulk. But then came the record-breaking snowfall that blanketed New York. At the height of the blizzard, it was the solid German-made Leica I chose to take outside (it’s water-resistant, after all). The camera rewarded my leap of faith with some of the most stunning images I’ve taken yet.

From $7,400; us.leica-camera.com.