Leica SL – Technology and Flexibility

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We all to one degree or another suffer from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). It goes with the photographic territory that we want to use the ‘right’ equipment, whether that is digital film, large format or even cameraless. I could blame Vilem Flusser and his ideas on apparatus, but that would be churlish and just an excuse.

As my photography has developed, and as my bank balance improved, I have moved from Pentax (the KX with 55mm Takumar is still one of my all time favourite film combinations), to Nikon and then Leica. Too many times however we see debates on megapixels, crop factors, tracking focus and more. Totally natural, but not necessarily going to improves one’s image making.

This past week, Leica introduced the SL2. I have the SL1 in my kit, and it is my ‘go to’ when I am shooting events, portraits or (occasionally) weddings. I am pretty sure that the SL2 features in my photographic future, but not just yet. There is perhaps an ultimate irony in the fact that my MA FMP work is shot with a Micro 4/3 Olympus, and a relatively tiny sensor adjusted for infrared. In any event, I was chatting with Jono Slack who beta-tests all new Leica equipment. Here is his SL2 review. We were talking about the SL and how it works with other brands of lenses, Nikon be be precise.

So I decided to dust off the Novoflex adaptor, and run a few frames with Nikon’s 80-200mm lens. When I bought the SL, one of the attractions was the ability to use the camera with many different kinds of lenses, Leica and otherwise.

The 80-200 F/2.8 is a flagship product for Nikon, in its many variations, and a professional sports lens. I have a couple, although the latest models do not work with the Novoflex adaptor that I have.  I used the AF-S D series lens, from 2001, which allows manual aperture adjustment. It has always got excellent reviews. The Novoflex adaptor I have works transparently, although one has to focus manually. The SL’s focus peaking works flawlessly with this lens / adaptor combination, so that is hardly a chore.

I set the SL at ISO 800, and the Nikon lens at F/5.6. And I shot at the maximum 200mm focal length. This allowed some pretty high speed exposures, to reduce any camera shake as I was shooting handheld.

First, the full frame image, reduced in file size for the web. The native SL image size is 6000 x 4000, 24 megapixels. Click on the image for a larger view.

Leica SL, Nikon 80-200mm, Full Frame

The image has had only minor corrections for dynamic range, noise and sharpness – colour is exactly as shot. There is a lovely 3D ‘pop’ with pleasing bokeh and very natural colour reproduction.

Next, the same photograph with a crop factor of 1.6, equivalent to an AP-S C. This image is 3750 x 2500, 9.4 megapixels. As reference, here is a good explanation of crop factors.

Leica SL, Nikon 80-200mm, 1.6 Crop Factor

Looks pretty damn good to me.

Next, cropped  down to Micro 4/3 sensor size, roughly a 2.0 crop factor, yielding an image of 3000 x 2000, 6 megapixels.

Leica SL, Nikon 80-200mm, 2.0 Crop Factor

This also looks pretty good to me. I should note that I have converted the first three of these images to a 3600 jpg file size for consistency on the web, which means the first two are downsampled, and this last one is slightly upsampled.

Finally, and rather extreme, to an image size of 2000 x 1333, a 2.7 megapixel file and a crop factor of 3.

Leica SL, Nikon 80-200mm, 3.0 Crop Factor

Clearly this is loosing some sharpness, and I created a smaller 2000 jpg for the web, versus the 3600 for those above.

I am pretty sure that if I was using the Leica 90-280 SL lens I might ‘see’ better results. But one does wonder about that? Whilst the photographs might not totally exhibit that ‘Leica bokeh’, the image quality (IQ) overall is still rather good, even at the smaller file sizes. And then of course there is always more post processing which could boost clarity, etc, which I have avoided here.

The pursuit of megapixels has always been an odd marketing game, although one can see the value of resolution to a point. In a previous post, I noted that a high resolution scan of a 35mm film negative yields about 33 megapixels, and a medium format film file is in the range of 100 megapixels.

I conclude that, whilst I will almost certainly make the SL2 upgrade, the flexibility the SL series gives in combination with my other ‘ancient’ kit is going to be almost as worth exploring as the camera itself. Now I am dusting off my Nikkor 17-35mm F/2.8, PC-Nikkor 28mm F/3.5 and the Nikkor 14mm F/2.8 ….

And, as ever, the real magic is in that grey matter a few inches behind the sensor or film – not in the equipment itself.

I am going to post this on social media to see what my photo friends think.

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