Leica is an integral part of the history of photography and although it has innovated with digital cameras like the Q, its full-frame compact camera, and the Monochrom that is specifically designed for shooting black and white images, it has a reputation for being rather stuffy and old-school. The SL puts the company right at the cutting edge of photography and makes it only the second company to have a full-frame compact system camera, with Sony being the first.
While the SL is more expensive than any of the Sony Alpha series it has a better specified viewfinder and is the first full-frame interchangeable lens camera to feature a touchscreen. The Sony Alpha 7R II, however, has almost twice as many pixels on its sensor so it can resolve a huge amount of detail. Sony's current 24Mp model, the Alpha 7 II, is much less expensive than the SL.
The Leica SL has some great examples of modern camera technology with a pretty snappy contrast detection autofocus system, a superb viewfinder, a high quality touch-screen and 4K video capability.
While the lack of labels can mean it takes a while to get used to the control arrangement, it's quick and easy to find the main features and make adjustments. Pro photographers will also appreciate that the key menu features aren't lost amongst a host of automatic options that are better suited to less experienced users.
Our main issue with the SL is that it's big, heavy and not very ergonomically shaped. And while the price is high, it's not out of step with the cameras that Leica is pitching it against, the Canon 1-Dx and Nikon D4s – nevertheless, it doesn't really compete with them as the focusing system isn't in the same league and there's banding in the darker areas of ISO 40,000 and 50,000 images.
The SL feels like a very solid piece of kit and its interface is well thought out (provided that you don't swap between cameras on a regular basis), but it's bigger and heavier than the Sony Alpha 7 series and less ergonomically shaped than than a professional-level SLR from Canon or Nikon. It's also disappointing that the first lens in the full-frame L mount is so bulky. We've become used to Leica producing very compact, very high quality lenses and while the M-mount optics are manual focus only, after the compact size of the lens on the Q, I was hoping that Leica might keep the SL's optics small. That said, the quality of the results from the SL looks very good – apart from the concern about banding at ISO 50,000.
The SL is aimed squarely at professionals and Leica enthusiasts. Some of the latter may be shocked by the modern features with the company's latest camera, while others will love them and appreciate the step forward that has been made, not just for Leica but for photography.