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The best Leica cameras in 2021: from classic rangefinders to modern mirrorless

Best Leica cameras
(Image credit: Leica)

The best Leica cameras might cost you a pretty penny, but the incredible attention to detail and engineering finesse more than justifies their price. Steeped in history, the Leica brand is coveted by photographers from all genres – and for good reason too.

The infamous Leica red dot is part of what makes the best Leica cameras so iconic. Associated with some of the best photographers in history, you can't help but feel the sense of luxury and prestige when you hold a Leica body.

Whether you're keen on investing in your first Leica, or you're simply looking for the latest addition to your collection, it's worth knowing that there are three different types of Leica cameras. One of the most popular varieties is its mirrorless range, which includes professional bodies such as the Leica SL2 and one of Leica's most affordable products, the Leica CL

Next we have the classic Leica 'rangefinder' Leica M series, including the fantastic Leica M10 Monochrom. Due to its rangefinder-inspired design, this camera doesn't have autofocus and can only shoot in black and white, making it the perfect epitome of what shooting with a Leica camera means – an uncompromising approach that requires skill and commitment from the photographer. If a totally monochrome camera isn't quite for you, you might be interested in the Leica M10-R instead – a color version with an upgraded 40MP sensor. 

No matter whether you've got a big budget to splash, or you're looking for classic Leica tech at an affordable price, we've listed the best Leica cameras below to help you find your new shooting companion.

The best Leica cameras in 2021

Best Leica mirrorless cameras

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1. Leica CL

An L-mount mirrorless camera that packs lots of tech into a small body

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor size: APS-C
Megapixels: 24.3MP (effective)
Lens mount: Leica L
Autofocus: Yes, 49 AF points
LCD: 3in fixed touchscreen, 1.24 million dots
Viewfinder: EVF
Continuous shooting: 10fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Compatible with a wide range of Leica optics (some via adapter)+Large APS-C sensor +Decent resolution
Reasons to avoid
-Fixed LCD screen-Price-Lenses cost extra

This German-constructed, attractive compact system camera marries up a 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor to a Leica L lens mount, as recently adopted by Panasonic for its fledgling full frame ‘S’ system. It’s a sister model to the TL2 camera launched around the same time, which also features a similar feature set. The CL comes with a touch sensitive 3-inch LCD, eye-level viewfinder, 4K video along, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity and up to 10fps burst shooting for up to 140 JPEGs, or 33 Raw and JPEG files in tandem. As it shares the L mount with the TL2, the CL can utilise both the TL line of Leica optics and L mount lenses, while Leica M and R series lenses can be used with adapters. Top plate dials give the camera the classic hands-on operation beloved of Leica users, while an external flash can be attached via its hotshoe. While there’s plenty to love here, the rear screen cannot be tilted or adjusted and there is the usual Leica price premium to pay for a hand crafted camera rather than a mass produced one.

Read the full Leica CL review

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2. Leica SL2

Leica's new full-frame mirrorless camera is simply superb

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor size: Full frame
Megapixels: 47MP (effective)
Lens mount: L-mount
Continuous shooting: 10/20fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Professional
Reasons to buy
+Superb resolution+High speed continuous shooting+Excellent 4K video features+Beautiful design and interface
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive, obviously-Fixed, non-tilting rear touchscreen

Leica doesn't just make retro rangefinders and luxury cameras for the rich. The SL line sets out to offer Leica's legendary design, build quality and lenses to discerning professionals. But while the original SL was good, the brand new Leica SL2 is simply exceptional. First, it uses the L-mount that has now been adopted by Sigma and Panasonic for its full-frame mirrorless cameras, so there is an increasing range of optics available (see the L- mount lens roadmap). Second, it's no secret that the internals, including the sensor, in-body stabilization and 4K capabilities come straight from the Panasonic Lumix S1R. But what's on the outside is pure Leica, including a beautiful minimalist design, simple but superbly thought out controls and a classy, elegant interface that works brilliantly. Yes, the Leica SL2 is expensive, but my word, is it good!

Read more: Leica SL2 review

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3. Leica SL2-S

The SL2-S features SL2 tech at a more affordable price

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor size: Full frame
Megapixels: 24MP (effective)
Lens mount: L-mount
Continuous shooting: 9/25fps
Max video resolution: 4K 60p
User level: Professional
Reasons to buy
+The least expensive SL camera+Excellent Leica build quality+Fewer megapixels can be a benefit
Reasons to avoid
-More expensive than alternatives-Contrast detect AF isn't great-It's a large and heavy camera

The Leica SL2-S (seen here with optional battery grip) is a great option for those that are already using the L mount and have L-mount lenses. The price looks steep by regular standards, but it's much lower than the higher-resolution Leica SL2. What's really good about this camera is that even with such a drastic difference in price, the compromises are minimal and the drop in resolution is the only major downside. This could be a great entry point for those considering the SL camera system but put off by the price of the SL2. If its 24-megapixel resolution is all you need, you still get the Leica build quality and interface, and 4K 60p video capability, at a lower price.

Read more: Leica SL2-S review

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4. Leica TL2

A sleek statement camera with a huge screen to woo smartphone users

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor size: APS-C
Megapixels: 24.3MP (effective)
Lens mount: Leica L
Autofocus: Yes, 49 AF points
LCD: 3.7in fixed touchscreen, 1.3 million dots
Viewfinder: None
Continuous shooting: 20fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Stylish exterior+Sharp and detailed images
Reasons to avoid
-Omits an eye level viewfinder, -Quirky at times -Sluggish operation

With its slim, minimal and sleek exterior this Leica certainly makes a fashion statement, while the huge for its class 3.7-inch screen that occupies all of its backplate should appeal to existing smartphone users looking to trade up to a dedicated image capture device. If we have a gripe, it’s that attaching a lens makes the camera feel a tad front heavy, while the minimalistic design has led to some operational quirks – not least the fact that its controls take a bit of initial figuring out. There’s also no on-board image stabilisation and the auto focus response isn’t particularly fast. Still, it is intended to be a serious photographic tool too, thanks to its adoption of the increasingly well supported L mount, a 49-point contrast detection AF system – as also found in Leica’s more ‘conventional’ CL – plus, unusually for a digital camera these days, 32GB of built-in memory. Added to this you get the option of 4K video and it can shoot stills up to a respectable 20fps with the aid of its electronic shutter. Another plus is that the image quality is stunning.

Best Leica M cameras

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5. Leica M10 Monochrom

Leica's newest black and white rangefinder camera has 40 million pixels

Specifications
Type: Rangefinder
Sensor size: Full frame
Megapixels: 24MP (effective)
Lens mount: Leica M
Autofocus: None, manual focusing via rangefinder or Live View
LCD: 3in fixed touchscreen, 921,600 dots
Viewfinder: Direct Vision
Continuous shooting: 3.5fps
Max video resolution: Full HD
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Rugged build quality, +New screen and live view in a rangefinder
Reasons to avoid
-Only records in black & white-Limited dynamic range

This is where you need to pay attention. This is NOT the previous Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) with 24 million pixels, but a brand new model with 40 million pixels in what Leica describes as the best black and white sensor it's ever made. Yes, that's right, it's a digital camera that shoots only in black and white. It's not as mad as it sounds, because it's only by removing the color filter array used universally in front of digital sensors that you can get the camera to record black and white at its best possible quality (the color filter array restricted photosites to single colors which means much of the image data has to be interpolated during processing). This is why a black and white Leica comes so high on this list, and because Leicas have been traditionally associated with classic black and white photography. Of course, you pay A LOT to get this level of quality. And yes, of course, we want one.

Read our full Leica M10 Monochrom review

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6. Leica M10-R

Leica’s classic rangefinder camera now has 40 million pixels

Specifications
Type: Rangefinder
Sensor size: Full frame
Megapixels: 40MP (effective)
Lens mount: Leica M
Autofocus: None, manual focusing via rangefinder or Live View
LCD: 3in fixed touchscreen, 1.04 million dots
Viewfinder: Direct Vision
Continuous shooting: 4.5fps
Max video resolution: None
User level: Enthusiast/Professional
Reasons to buy
+Super 40MP resolution+Quiet shutter action+Premium rangefinder design
Reasons to avoid
-No video capture-Takes skill and practice to master

Leica M cameras are an acquired taste. They are fiendishly expensive – of course – and resolutely old fashioned in their design and operation. They don’t suffer fools gladly. And yet the M10-R also happens to feature some of the latest digital technology to produce image quality to challenge any other full frame camera, and a shooting experience that remains unique. Like previous M-series cameras, the M10-R does not suffer fools gladly and you need to put in some practice – and make a few mistakes – to learn how to use it effective. It will reward you, however, with a shooting experience like no other. If you have a great deal of money, or your passion is engineering, heritage, the look and feel of classic camera designs or just the look and feel of the images, the M10-R could be your dream camera.

Read more: Leica M10-R review

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7. Leica M10-D

The screenless camera came long before the Fujifilm X-Pro3

Specifications
Type: Rangefinder
Sensor size: Full frame
Megapixels: 24MP (effective)
Lens mount: Leica M
Autofocus: None, manual focusing via rangefinder
LCD: None
Viewfinder: Rangefinder
Continuous shooting: 5fps
Max video resolution: None
User level: Enthusiast/Professional
Reasons to buy
+Excellent image quality+Prevents chimping
Reasons to avoid
-Some controls require app-Not the latest 40MP sensor

Photographers and journalists alike have recently been falling over themselves to praise the Fujifilm X-Pro3 and its radical mission to prevent 'chimping' (habitually checking a camera's LCD screen between shots), but they've forgotten that Leica got there first! And, what's more, Leica went all the way with it. While the X-Pro3 has a 'hidden' LCD screen, the Leica M10-D simply does not have one at all! It's for the hardcore contingent who are perfectly happy focusing and composing via the rangefinder and waiting until later to see their photographs. In other respects, it's similar to older Leica M10-P. The rear screen is replaced by a large exposure compensation dial, and other dials around the body control various functions like ISO, though may of them are limited in which settings you can choose; if, for example, you want to push ISO above 6400, you need to connect the camera to Wi-Fi and use the app. Perhaps the biggest downside, though, is the older 24MP sensor.

Note: Stock appears to be low in the UK at the moment, so UK-based customers may have to wait for shortages to be resolved.

Best Leica compact cameras

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8. Leica D-Lux 7

A Leica redesign of the rather good Panasonic LX 100 II compact

Specifications
Type: Zoom compact
Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds
Megapixels: 17MP (effective)
Lens: 24-75mm f/1.7-f/16
Autofocus: Yes
LCD: 3in fixed touchscreen, 1.24 million dots
Viewfinder: EVF
Continuous shooting: 11fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Large-ish MFT sensor+4K video shooting options
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey compared to its Panasonic doppelganger-Fixed  LCD screen 

A premium compact for both snapshots and street photography, the D-Lux 7 is a fixed lens, travel zoom camera that nevertheless exudes that air of luxury (the clue is in that D-Lux = Deluxe naming) we’d expect of a camera costing this much. Key features include a play-it-safe 17-megapixel resolution from a 21.77 megapixel Four Thirds CMOS sensor. This is married to a lens with an equivalent reach of a wideangle 24-75mm in 35mm film terms. Maximum lens aperture is an impressively fast/bright f/1.7, with the ability to adjust this manually via a lens ring that offers incremental settings up to f/16. Or, of course, you can just hit the automatic setting, which has its own button. It's the result of a long standing collaboration between Panasonic and Leica, and based on the cheaper Panasonic LX100 II, but with a Leica makeover. It’s a shame that the 3-inch LCD is fixed, but it does at least offer touch control. The rangefinder-like top plate dials for controlling shutter speed and exposure compensation do lend the D-Lux 7.

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9. Leica Q2 and Monochrom

Leica’s full frame compact is super, if you can get it

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor size: Full frame
Megapixels: 47.3MP (effective)
Lens: Fixed 28mm, f/1.7
Autofocus: Contrast based AF system
LCD: 3in fixed touchscreen, 1.04 million dots
Viewfinder: EVF
Continuous shooting: 20fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Beautifully engineered, +Superb picture quality
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Fixed, non-adjustable screen

Most Leica cameras take interchangeable lenses, but the Leica Q2 is the exception, with a fixed 28mm f/1.7 lens. It's like the unicorn of digital cameras, though a few people have actually seen one, including us. The successor to the original 24-megapixel Leica Q, the Leica Q2 is aimed at photographers wanting a powerful camera that is also relatively small and discrete, yet with a whopping 47.3-megapixel full frame sensor. The body is  water and dust resistant plus there’s a 4K video shooting option that additionally includes the choice of ‘C4K’ (Cinematic 4K). In burst mode the Q2 can shoot at up to 10fps with the mechanical shutter or 20fps with the electronic shutter. The Q2 is of course hand constructed in Germany, with a magnesium body construction. Yes, this is very much a luxury option for the street photographer, but the 47-megapixel sensor delivers shed-loads of gorgeous detail. It looks like the waiting lists are finally clearing, so you may no longer have to 'Q' for your Leica Q2. We also love the Leica Q2 Monochrom version, by the way.

Read more: Leica Q2 review | Leica Q2 Monochrom review

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10. Leica X-U

Perfect for a pool party in Cannes (if not a beach trip to Skegness)

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor size: APS-C
Megapixels: 16MP (effective)
Lens: Fixed 23mm f/1.7
Autofocus: Contrast based AF system
LCD: 3in fixed touchscreen, 920,000 dots
Viewfinder: N/A
Continuous shooting: 5fps
Max video resolution: Full HD
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Waterproof down to 15m+Fast/bright f/1.7 aperture +Wide angle lens
Reasons to avoid
-4K video-Price

There are not many Leica cameras you’d feel confident about stepping into the deep blue and briny with – so full marks to this waterproof version of the X-E compact camera that doesn’t slouch when it comes to core specs. The X-U has an APS-C format sensor and a wide angle 23mm equivalent bright/fast f/1.7 Summilux prime lens for delivering those shallow (water) depth of field images. The price is a lot to pay for a toughened camera, yet this compact is also shock resistant, dust sealed and shatterproof. For those thinking of taking it for a dip, the body is fully waterproofed down to a depth of 15 metres and also features an underwater protection filter. However, the sensor is an old design that only captures 16 megapixel images and full HD rather than 4K video. This is a waterproof adventure camera at an eye-watering price – but one that very much stands out from the crowd.

Read more:
The best mirrorless cameras in 2021
The best DSLR cameras in 2021
10 best compact cameras in 2021