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