Deep Fo­cus

The Le­ica SL sys­tem was re­cently launched, amidst much spec­u­la­tion from its fans. Sean Li won­ders if it lives up to the hype

Hong Kong Tatler - - Cameras -

When it comes to photography, tech­nol­ogy un­doubt­edly leads the way. Never has the pho­to­graphic el­e­ment been so read­ily ac­ces­si­ble to so many, es­pe­cially via smart­phones. To­day’s bud­ding pho­tog­ra­phers are un­likely to know the chal­lenges of lim­ited shots per roll, safe­guard­ing un­de­vel­oped X-ray films, or think­ing about what type of film they have to se­lect for the next 24 or 36 images.

Dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy has low­ered the bar­ri­ers of en­try, but one com­pany that has suc­cess­fully man­aged to not only hold onto tra­di­tion but also move into the dig­i­tal age is Le­ica Cam­era, the Ger­man com­pany beloved of pho­tog­ra­phers for decades. From Henri Cartier-bres­son to An­nie Leibovitz, some of the most iconic images were shot on a Le­ica.

Hard-core fans speak of a Le­ica “look”—a tex­ture and colour ren­der­ing in the images its cam­eras and lenses pro­duce that’s sub­tly dif­fer­ent but dis­tin­guish­able from the rest of the pack. This, plus Le­ica’s rep­u­ta­tion as the world’s best lens­maker, has al­lowed it to suc­cess­fully wed rangefinder photography with dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy.

As a re­sult, it of­ten comes with a price tag so pro­hib­i­tive that most pho­tog­ra­phers are priced out of the mar­ket. That was cer­tainly true of the M9. Then came the M-E, a se­ri­ous at­tempt by Le­ica to give a chance to work­ing pho­tog­ra­phers to buy their prod­ucts—rather than just the oli­garchs.

Given to­day’s pho­to­graphic land­scape, where one is truly spoilt for choice (and usu­ally at much more ac­ces­si­ble price points), Le­ica leaves many scratch­ing their heads as to how it can get away with such a pre­mium over the com­pe­ti­tion.

But in truth, it’s about more than the im­age it­self. There’s a sense of his­tory when you pick up a Le­ica, be­ing that it’s one of the found­ing fa­thers of mod­ern photography, with a his­tory that stretches over a cen­tury. Many in­stantly recog­nis­able images from his­tor­i­cal ar­chives were likely taken with Le­icas, par­tic­u­larly in wartime.

Tech­no­log­i­cally, though, it would be a stretch to call them cut­ting-edge; the rangefinder lenses are still stub­bornly man­ual-fo­cus, the cam­era sen­sors aren’t the high­est res­o­lu­tion out there, and some diehard Le­ica fans pre­fer the older sen­sors based on CCD tech­nol­ogy that vir­tu­ally all other man­u­fac­tur­ers have left be­hind.

Yet, when Le­ica de­cides to launch an en­tirely new sys­tem—the mir­ror­less cam­era—it’s a pretty big deal. Le­ica’s new sys­tem had very high ex­pec­ta­tions prior to its in­tro­duc­tion, so it was with great fan­fare that Le­ica un­veiled the new SL sys­tem last Oc­to­ber. Ini­tial re­ac­tions have been po­lar­is­ing: the cam­era is bulky, the lenses are in­dis­putably hefty; add the SL body’s 847g and you’re look­ing at 2kg of equip­ment. But we’ve got the low­down on why the Le­ica SL is the most ver­sa­tile cam­era that the red dot pro has ever pro­duced…

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