Leica's latest Compact system cameras has got a lot of photographers excited. But the Leica SL has a lot to offer videographers too, including 4K video
It has the Leica badge and a full frame sensor, but it isn’t an rangefinder camera. Nope, the new Leica SL is Leica’s attempt to compete with the Sony A7 series cameras, and it shows that Leica is listening to its customers.
For photographers there is a lot to be excited about, namely a 24-million-pixel sensor and a sensitivity of ISO 50-50,000, as well as shooting rate of 11fps. Add to this an electronic viewfinder with an incredible resolution of 4.4-million-dots, dual SD card slots, a 1.04-million-dot touchscreen and built-in wifi and GPS connectivity and the Leica SL becomes a very attractive proposition indeed.
But Leica is also taking its video capabilities very seriously.
4K resolution and 120fps at 1080p
First things first, the Leica SL uses a Super 35mm crop of the sensor in its 4K shooting settings, which means that a focal length magnification of 1.39x factor. So a 50mm lens used for video would roughly the same as a 70mm lens when taking still images on the Leica SL. Switch to any of the HD resolutions and the camera can make use of the full sensor area, so 50mm looks like 50mm.
The SL can shoot UHD video at 24, 25 or 30fps, and even full Cine 4K at 24fps – and it can also shoot Full HD 1920 x 1080 video at up to 120fps, for slow motion footage. So this is more than a stills camera with video as an afterthought. This is Leica taking video seriously.
Switch to video mode and all of the settings you would expect are available. There is a frame guide, audio meter and zebra patterning.
To get the most out of the full-frame sensor there is also an V-Log contrast mode, to flatten footage for colour grading. Footage can be saved to dual SD cards sockets, and the card readers are compatible with the latest UHS-II read/write speeds. Details of the data rate are still sketchy, but we have been told that the 4K to SD is around 100Mbits/sec. The Leica SL is also supported fully by the latest firmware update for the Atoms Shogun.
And to get the very best from the camera clean 10-bit 4:2:2 footage can be output thorugh the cameras interal HDMI 1.4 socket.
Interesting the Leica SL uses teh same lens mount as the Leica T (which was released last year). As such this mount, now renamed the Leica L mount, can be used with existing lenses for the Leica T, albeit with an APS-C crop applied, so the resolution drops to 10-million-pixels. There is no word on quite what this will mean for video use. Given that the Super 35mm crop is quite close to APS-C sensor size there is a good chance that the Leica T lenses for the Leica T may work with roughly the same 1.5x magnification equivalent.
As for dedicated full frame lenses there is one at the launch of the camera, a Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90/f2.8-4 Asph standard zoom. The lens also has built-in optical stabilisation and will cost £3,150. This will be in Q2 of 2016 followed by the enormous APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280 f/2.8-4, and we can only imagine how much that will cost. Finally a Leica Summilux-SL 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH will also be released sometime next year
However, Leica have said that the Leica SL will work with all of the Leica lenses via adapter. That means that Leica screw, Leica M and Leica S mount lenses can all be used with the SL via a suitable adapter. However, to prove Leica is deadly serious about video, the Leica SL will also have a PL mount adapter. Yep, those Leica Summicron-C and Leica Summilux-C Cine and any other PL cine lens, can also be used on the the SL. See the Leica product pics on this page to see just what that will look like.
No only this, but with a relativley short mount to sensor depth, almost all medium format and SLR lenses should be capable of being used with the Leica SL, and expect to see third-party adapters start to filter through in the next few months.
In terms of this lens support it really is nothing new, afterall CSCs have been used with third-party lenses for years. The difference here is that Leica seems to be a little more open about the prospect that you wold perhaps expect them to be, and the PL adapter shows a clear intention that this is a camera for videographers.
Audio and Output
Anotehr nice touch is the full HDMI socket that is on the side of the camera. Leica have been quoted as saying they have found the mini and micro HDMI cable plug break too easily, so have opted for a full HDMI socket. This should save a lot of time fiddling with leads and adapters.
Just when you think that Leica is on a roll, they put a small spanner in the works. There are no microphone or headphone audio sockets. Instead there is a proprietary socket that allows a small audio interface to be attached. Ths does seem a little odd given the effort that Leica has made to make sure that videographers are well catered for any every other respect. The audio adapter isn’t finished yet, so there are no further details on that, and no word on price. For serious videographers sound will be captured off camera, so it shouldn’t be much of an issue, but still seems a little odd.
‘It’s heavy, really heavy’. That was my first thought when I held the Leica SL. It may seem like a good candidate as a run and gun camera, but with the 24-90mm f/2.8-4 lens, it is heavy. Obviously the huge lens makes up for a fair chunk of this weight, and we are looking forward to trying it with some smaller lenses. Creatively it is going to be fun trying some older vintage glass on the Leica SL. Conversley, with the PL mount adapter, trying some of the latest cine lenses will be interesting – just how good will the quality of the Leica SL be. Is it really something that professionals with PL mount lenses be using?
The full HDMI socket is a nice touch, but personally I would have opted for a smaller socket and tried to squeeze in a headphone and mic socket.
So who exactly is the Leica SL for? Well, given Leica’s heritage, particularly amongst reportage photographers, I can see the SL finding a similar audience, but with more and more photographers, and media outlets, wanting video as well as stills, it gives them that outlet.
However, with the Leica SL being manufactured in Germany, all of its preciscion engineering comes at a price. Whilst the red dot logo acts as a badge of quality assurance for many, for others it is a luxury item, and there are more affordable cameras that will do the same job.
With this in mind it is going to be very interesting to see just how the Leica SL compares to the likes of the Sony A7 series cameras.
The Leica SL will go on sale on 16th Novemeber and cost £5,050, with the 24-90mm f/2.8-4 lens £3,150