Leica SL3 | A User Review

Leica SL3 | A User Review

Leica recently introduced it's new SL3 professional mirrorless camera, which builds upon the success of the 47 Megapixel Leica SL2 and 24 Megapixel Leica SL2-S. The SL3 features improvements on its sensor technology, layout and impressive autofocus system. We got our demo model here at Leica Store Manchester as the camera was launched, and since then I have taken it out at every possible opportunity- testing it mainly with the 35mm f/2 APO Summicron-SL lens. I have also tested the 'standard' 35mm and 50mm Summicron-SL lenses, and various M lenses using the Leica M-L adapter. 

Here are my thoughts...

Technical Specs

  • 60 Megapixel Full-Frame Sensor with Triple Resolution (60/36/18 MP)
  • Hybrid Autofocus- Phase Detection, Object Detection and Contrast Detection
  • ISO 50 - 100,000 (Extended)
  • Up to 15 fps continuous shooting (5 fps with C-AF) 
  • 8K 30 fps video shooting 
  • In-Body Stabilisation, 5 Stops
  • 5.76m-dot, 0.76x viewfinder
  • 3.2 inch, 2.3m-dot tilt touchscreen
  • Improved programmable dial layout
  • 5 Stops Image Stabilisation (IBIS)


Leica have updated the SL2 camera with an all new triple resolution sensor, on-sensor phase detection autofocus with subject recognition, 8K video recording and a new tilting screen. These significant improvements not only align the camera spec wise with other professional mirrorless models, but they allow the user a much simpler and intuitive operating experience from the improved user interface and button layout. 

The SL3 shares its sensor with the Leica Q3 and M11 cameras and features a full frame 60 Megapixel CMOS-BSI Sensor with triple resolution technology, which allows the user to choose between a resolution of either 60, 36 or 18 megapixels. Leica states that technically the lower-resolution 18 mp DNG files are produced by a process of demosaicing, resizing, and re-mosaicing, which in turn retains all the same processing flexibility as the full-resolution raws files, meaning no loss in detail or quality no matter what resolution is chosen.

ISO sensitivity ranges from 50 - 100,000 and continuous shooting is available at up to 15fps with the silent electronic shutter, and 5 fps with continuous autofocus. The fastest shutter speeds available are an incredible 1/16000 second with the electronic shutter and 1/8000 with the mechanical shutter, with slow timed speeds going as low as 60 minutes. In body stabilisation (IBIS) of 5 stops of shake suppression allow for sharp images even with handheld low shutter speeds of over half a second. 

Autofocus Performance

One of the most significant improvements with the SL3 is Leica's adoption of phase autofocus detection technology. This transforms the camera's ability to detect, follow and track objects that move. Animal detection is also available, although at present this is only available in 'Beta' form. When the camera recognises a subject it is outlined by a green rectangle, with alternative options outlined in yellow - you can select between these using the joystick. The PDAF (Phase Detection Autofocus) works in conjunction with both Object Detection and Contrast Detection Autofocus to achieve the fastest focus in any given situation. 


The User Interface of the touchscreen has also significantly improved, making it clearer and easier to use. Touch points are more spaced out, with the icons and font being clearer and much easier to read. Now if you press and hold any of the screen icons you can change the settings that it represents, allowing for a quick and convenient layout to be personalised to your own shooting style.

The new UI separates ‘Photo’ and ‘Video’ modes into two separate optimised interfaces, employing different colours to distinguish between modes - red meaning Photo and yellow for Cine, with the differentiation allowing users to identify the active mode quickly and easily.

Build & Design 

The camera body is as robust and sturdy as its predecessor, only this time the body has been slimmed down in both size and weight when compared to the SL2, making it lighter and more comfortable to hold. Weather proofing is the same, with a IP54 rating, which offers protection against dust and water spray from any direction, allowing the camera to be operated in much harsher environments without fear of damage.

Although similar in appearance to the previous models, the SL3 features some significant design updates. The addition of a tilt-able 3.2inch touchscreen allow the user more creativity and comfort when taking photos at difficult angles, and by adding a large dial on the top left of the body one can change the ISO with your left hand whilst still holding the camera to one’s eye. The other two dials on the right of the camera remain the same as on the SL2, where with one’s thumb and forefinger you adjust settings for shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation.

The three buttons (Play, Fn and Menu) have also moved from the left to the right of the tilt screen, making the them far more convenient for control from your right thumb, and the power switch is now a push control button with a glowing ring around its edge. This powers up to white by pushing to turn on, turns green during charging and turns red to indicate an error (such as no memory card inserted). The AF joystick remains in the same position and its use is the same as on  the SL2.

The excellent electronic viewfinder remains with a 5.76 million dot resolution, with exposure information overlaid above and below the preview image. This information now rotates 90 degrees when you turn the camera from landscape to portrait shooting - a feature that I really like.

The EVF allows previews of colour and white balance, along with +/- exposure compensation of 3 EV. Although whilst in default set up there is no depth of field preview, one can assign this to a custom button, and with a second press of the same button one can usefully preview any blurring effect of the shutter speed - great for long exposures. To aid composition and exposure there are a number of features which can be added to the preview screen including a live histogram, gridlines, electronic levels, focus peaking and blinking highlights/shadows to warn of possible clipping.


Video can be recorded at 8K and 30fps, at 4K and 60fps, or Full HD at 120fps, with videographers having the option of a Cinema Mode which offers the T-stops and shutter angles that experienced videographers often prefer, rather than the f-stops and shutter speeds that a photographer is use to. You can set up to 5 different video profiles, with 4 already preset, and a Timecode Interface below the hotshoe allow connection of Timecode devices for syncing sound to motion.

Microphone, headphone sockets and a full-size HDMI video output are provided, with USB-C provided for charging.

In the field

From the moment one picks up the camera, it becomes immediately apparent that Leica has thoroughly thought through the process one goes through as a professional photographer. With one firm press of the new On/Off button the camera immediately starts up, and is ready to use by the time you hold the camera to your eye. The SL3 responds instantly to both the physical controls and touchscreen. If you are already familiar to other Leica cameras (Q3 and M11) you will feel immediately at home. Even if you've never held a Leica SL before, once you get used to how the controls and interface work, they will never get in the way of the shooting experience. The image preview is bright and clear whether composing by looking through the EVF or by using the rear screen. A half press of the shutter gives an exact image preview, allowing for required adjustments, and a full press of the shutter gives an instant and satisfying click of the shutter. It responds quickly with a solid yet pleasing shutter sound. 

I found myself making frequent use of the new tilt-screen, far more than I previously thought I would. The screen particularly comes into its own for composition of landscape and creative street photography. I also found it helpful when mounting the camera onto a tripod for landscape shots- I usually like to mount the camera higher than eye level or really low and close to the ground. In both of these situations being able to move the tilt screen up or down to view the preview screen really aided my composition, especially in bright lit situations. As for outdoor usage, having the IP54 weatherproofing protecting against dust and rain for the camera. As the 35mm APO Summicron-SL lens is also protected against dust and water spray (the exterior glass is protected with an Aquadura water-resistant coating), you can have confidence shooting even in the harshest of conditions. 

For anyone coming from using the Leica SL2 range of cameras, the new autofocus is literally a revelation. Focus is achieved much quicker, with a direct, far snappier response - with none of the focus hunting that was apparent in the earlier generations. Not only is focus improved within the camera, the actual focus speed of the APO and Summilux-SL lenses seem to have improved with the SL3. There is a lot of glass to shift internally in these high quality lenses, yet their ability to lock on and find focus definitely seems improved from previous generation cameras. Focus speeds are even improved with the excellent but huge 50mm Summilux-SL lens when mounted upon the SL3. 

For the duration of testing I predominantly used the APO Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 lens, which pairs brilliantly with the new high resolution sensor. Although one has the ability to shoot in the lower resolution of 36 MegaPixel and 18 MegaPixel, I always kept the sensor at it's maximum setting of 60 MegaPixel. This was partly because I wanted the full resolution experience whilst using the APO lens and secondly, I just felt no need during my limited time with the camera to shoot at lower megapixels. 

I briefly tested the SL3 with my M lenses- namely the 50mm Summilux-M and 24mm Summilux-M lenses. When paired with the SL3 they worked exceptionally well, with the focus peaking and focus magnification allowing for quick and accurate focus. In fact, everything seems to work together so well when using M lenses with the M-L Adapter on the SL3. One can easily reach the point where you may consider using the M lenses exclusively with an SL3- an option I am now seriously considering myself! Indeed, for someone who wears glasses all the time for photography, the SL3 made focusing and the use of M lenses an absolute pleasure. 

In a similar move to the Q series camera, Leica has made the SL3 available with 'Leica Looks' film simulation modes, which allow users to select different looks to the JPEG files. Although I imagine that many SL3 users will choose to shoot with DNG files, I did find myself experimenting with some of the looks, in particular the high contrast black and white mode which gave a really punchy image for street photography. 

Shot at f/2



I feel that Leica has raised the bar yet again with its professional mirrorless SL3, producing a flagship camera that builds on its predecessor, combining superior image quality and a leading specification within a useable, intuitive package, worthy of the brands reputation and heritage.  

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