When I first shot the Leica SL (Typ 601) with 24-90mm zoom lens in 2015, I was immediately struck by its ability to focus quickly and render impressive sharpness with excellent micro contrast. The SL body had a great feel and balance, but I was still seeking something further. At the time I was mostly shooting the Leica S (Typ 007) medium format DSLR, and I dabbled with Leica M cameras. The S gave me the image quality and focus falloff I always desire in a form factor I am comfortable with. The M system gave me unique images with a more emotional rendering from their lenses, though a dedicated rangefinder was not always the right style of camera for how I like to work. Upon that backdrop came the SL, and it was the combination of that mirrorless body with adapted M lenses where everything came together perfectly.
I tried the Noctilux-M 50 f/0.95 ASPH. lens on the SL, and that was when I had the “Aha!” moment and found what I was missing. The Noctilux shot wide open gave my images a look reminiscent of medium format, and manually focusing with the EVF was easier and more precise for me. This allowed me to pinpoint that plane of focus with shallow depth of field exactly where I wanted it, and I was no longer limited to focusing in the center of the viewfinder and recomposing. I had the freedom to focus where I wanted, how I wanted, and in the way that I felt most comfortable. Using the SL system in this way with these M lenses gave me the best of both worlds, where the lenses rendered the out of focus, emotional portions of the image to give them a greater visual interest. As the SL system has evolved with the SL2 and SL2-S, I’ve been able to get even more from adapted M lenses – at either high resolution with the SL2 or in extreme low light with the SL2-S.
This was the moment where I said, “I get it now!” The SL is a camera that allows me to express the world as I see it with these lenses that speak to me. I’m able to get that focus plane fall off that approaches medium format.
Fast forward to the SL2, and my “focus patch” can easily be anywhere in the frame. I’m not limited to focusing on just the center and recomposing like on a Leica M or S. This gave me a newfound freedom to magnify my view and focus more critically where I want. Using an SL2 and an M lens gives me the ability to create a visual narrative that is precisely focused where I want it to be.
The main reason I enjoy M lenses so much is how they render. It’s the optical design of the lens that creates the Leica Look. Meaning a sharp plane of focus and a natural transition to and from that point. This makes my images look three dimensional. As a photographer, exploring how lenses render in all sorts of scenarios fascinates me and tips the scales from experimentation to newfound creativity. Sometimes the unique aesthetic of a lens or the handling of a camera can get you to think a bit differently and pursuing a fresh avenue of the art form. And sometimes, it’s just geeky fun.
The compact size of the M lenses makes the SL2 a bit more discreet. I can capture images in a similar way to the M, but I get to see my exposure and where the lens is focusing live before I press the shutter.
In a low light situation, even the best autofocusing lens struggle. However, under these circumstances I can use the EVF or Zone focus an M lens and get the image exactly as I envision it.
Since I get to use many different Leica cameras and lenses, I’m often asked what would be my choice if I could only have one camera and one body. My ideal combo is the Leica SL2 and the Noctilux-M 75 f/1.25 ASPH. I see the world at 75mm, and that lens has a dual-role: wide open it has a medium format look and if I stop down to f2.8 or 5.6 I get a more traditional 35mm look from the images. For me, this lens paired with the 47MP sensor of the SL2 provides a one-of-a-kind rendering that’s perfectly matched with the way I see.
This is my SL and M lens story. I challenge you to give M lenses a try on the SL-System, whether with your own camera, on a test drive, or at a future Leica Akademie event. You should experience the freedom of focus as well as the emotional renderings of the M lenses firsthand, as it must be witnessed to be fully understood.