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Leica SL2 joins the full frame mirrorless camera party in its own unique style

Leica SL2
(Image credit: Leica)

With all the fuss over Sony, Canon, Nikon and Panasonic mirrorless cameras, it’s easy to forget that Leica makes full frame mirrorless cameras too, and the Leica SL2 is an evolution of the Leica SL 24-megapixel mirrorless camera launched in October 2015.

Leica’s perhaps most famous for its legendary M-series rangefinders, but it also makes much more practical, modern cameras for working photographers. And while it’s true that Leica cameras are just too expensive and esoteric to make it on to our list of the best full-frame mirrorless cameras right now, or even the best cameras for professionals, they do bring an interesting and very different perspective to camera design and operation. 

The original Leica SL was a very neat, minimalist mirrorless camera with a unique look and feel, and the Leica SL2 carries on that tradition with some of the very latest mirrorless technologies, including a 47-megapixel full frame sensor and 5-axis in-body stabilization.

Leica SL2

The Leica SL2 has a lot in common with the Panasonic S1R o the inside, but on the outside Leica has very much gone its own way. (Image credit: Leica)

Leica SL2 key features

47 megapixels. That rings a bell. This is the same resolution as the Panasonic Lumix S1R, and Leica and Panasonic are indeed close technology partners – all the more so since the announcement of the L-mount Alliance between Leica, Panasonic and Sigma in 2018.

The Leica SL2’s 5-axis in-body image stabilization system (IBIS) shares the same 5.5EV shake compensation figure as the Panasonic camera, the 5.76-million-dot EVF has the same resolution as Panasonic’s, and the Leica SL2 has a similar sounding 225-area contrast AF system with ‘depth mapping’. You even get a familiar-sounding 8-image multishot mode, where the Leica uses half-pixel shift movements to generate high-resolution 187-megapixel images.

Let’s say it looks like there’s lot of shared DNA here, but it’s good news not bad. If the Leica SL2 can produce the same level of image quality and performance as the Lumix S1R, we’ll be very happy. 

The SL2 uses Leica’s own Maestro III image processor, so we’d expect its images to have a distinct ‘Leica’ look. It’s pretty handy in burst mode too, capable of 10fps shooting with its mechanical shutter and 20fps with the electronic shutter. It also has a decent buffer depth of 100+ JPEGs or 78 DNG (raw) files.

The video capabilities are equally impressive. Like the Panasonic Lumix S models, the Leica SL2 can shoot 4K video at up to 60/50p (C4K and UHD) . It can also capture full HD at up to 180p.

Yet despite any internal similarities, externally the Leica SL2 is a very different camera indeed.

Leica SL2

Leica's mirrorless camera design is minimal to say the least, but that's the Leica way. (Image credit: Leica)

Leica SL2 design and operation

Leica says the all-metal SL2 is the only camera designed and crafted in Germany, and its minimalist exterior is certainly light years away from anything made by its rivals. It has a fixed 3.2-inch rear touchscreen, for a start, and a stripped-down three button layout.

Leica says this layout improves on the ergonomics of the original Leica SL, along with a new and more comfortable grip and ‘strategic’ placement of the camera’s click wheel, joystick and three unmarked customizable buttons. Leica wants users to be able to concentrate on the creative process, not the camera. 

The SL2 is clearly designed for serious use, however, with a top-mounted status display and IP54 weather sealing. The new model is the same size as its predecessor despite the addition of in-body stabilization

Leica has clearly thought long and hard about camera operation. The stills and video menus are separate and independent, each with its own settings, and there’s a ‘Cine 4K’ mode which switches to full manual control, swapping ISO for ‘ASA’ settings, aperture for ’T-stop’ and shutter speeds for ‘shutter degrees (angle)’. It also comes with headphone and mic sockets, so the SL2 is designed as a serious video/cinema camera and not just paying lip service.

Leica SL2

Leica lenses are expensive, but the 2018 L-mount Alliance with Panasonic and Sigma means cheaper lenses are available. (Image credit: Leica)

Leica SL2 lens mount and lenses

Leica cameras are fearsomely expensive, and so are Leica SL lenses, especially since Leica says these are amongst the finest it’s ever made.

However, Leica is part of the L-mount alliance, so you can just a growing number of much less expensive Panasonic and Sigma lenses too. And – a key selling point for the Leica SL system – you can use a lens adaptor to mount older Leica M, S and R system lenses too. A Leica, you might say, is for life.

Leica SL2

The Leica SL2 is expensive, esoteric and iconoclastic, and naturally we want one very badly. (Image credit: Leica)

Leica SL2 pricing and availability

The Leica SL2 goes on sale on November 21 at a price of $5,995 / £5,300 body only. It’s expensive compared to other full frame mirrorless cameras but not outrageously so (opinion), and it is a Leica.

Preorder the Leica SL2 at Adorama
Preorder the Leica SL2 at Park Cameras 

Read more:

• These are the best mirrorless cameras to get right now
• We pick out the best cameras for professionals
• What is the best Leica camera of all?
• The L-mount lens roadmap
• The best full frame cameras today

Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio. Previously he has been Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. 

Rod's near-encyclopedic knowledge of cameras both old and new makes him an invaluable resource, whether we need to ask a question about transparencies or the latest X-Trans sensor. He owns all manner of cameras, from Nikon DSLRs through Olympus, Sony and Fujifilm bodies, and on any given day you'll see him using kit from just about every manufacturer.