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Leica SL3, the synthesis of professional photography

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Leica SL3, the synthesis of professional photography

«Photography is synthesis, and this camera is the synthesis of professional photography». Gabriele Micalizzi is standing on a small stage: while he speaks, the internationally renowned war reporter brandishes his camera, a brand new Leica SL3, which he looks at with genuine affection and betraying that special, intense and inexplicable relationship that is created between the photographer and the tool at the service of his creativity. He then jokes, «The design is sexy too: all black, it looks a bit like Batman’s car».

Almost a decade after the start of the SL project in 2015, five years after the debut of the SL2 and three years after the arrival of the SL2s – a variant with a strong and unprecedented vocation for video production – Leica today completely renews its full-length mirrorless professional frame, and it does so by presenting a product that arrives last after the Q3 and the M11, and which nevertheless gave rise to all the technological advances that we have already seen in those two cameras.

Features such as the three-resolution 60.3-megapixel BSI sensor (which debuted with the M11 in 2022), or such as phase detection focusing, 8K video recording, 5-axis stabilization or image processor Maestro IV (arrived with the Q3) were in fact born within the SL3 project, whose development began in 2019 and acted as a driver for the evolution of all Leica products. So why is the SL3 only arriving now? Because at Leica they wanted to get the most out of it, and they took the time to do it.

An image taken with Leica SL3 (photo Alessio Jacona)

Hands-on, short but intense

They did well: the three hours we spent with the new camera, alternating street photography in the Gae Aulenti area of ​​Milan with portraiture in the studio, were much less than we would have liked to play with this wonderful camera, but enough to understand that Leica has once again taken the bar into its own hands to raise it to where few can reach. And without even exaggerating on the price, given that to have the SL3 (body only) you need 6,800.00, VAT included. Not much more than what is asked for the other flagships of the competition.

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Not to mention the lenses: we take to the streets with the 28mm (or to be precise with the APO-SUMMICRON-SL 1:2/28 ASPH). Then it’s the turn of the 35mm (APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH): looking at the world through the EyeRes viewfinder, which shows reality up to 120 frames per second with a resolution of 5.76 million pixels, things seem even more beautiful than they are. The fact that it is the exact same as the SL2 is notable: it means that, when it was adopted in 2019, it was so advanced that it still deserves to be maintained today.

Top performance in every situation

We always shot at the full resolution of 60 megapixels, especially in jpeg, the quality of which has become fundamental in a world where less and less is printed and the post-production pipeline is getting shorter and shorter. The new sensor with an ISO range from 50 to 100,000 and resolution of 60, 36 and 18 Megapixels (always obtained using the entire surface) works excellently, while the absolute quality of the L-mount lenses, with resolution equal to 60 lines per millimetre, does the rest. There are 15 native Leica lenses for the SL system, but the compatibility with the other systems of the German company thanks to special adapters, together with the adhesion of 8 vendors to the L-mount standard, means that the number of lenses available you reach 84 (including those of the M series).

It is then difficult to shoot out of focus: the Autofocus section of the SL3 has been completely renewed compared to the previous series, and now gains phase detection (PDAF), depth mapping (Object Detection AF) and contrast detection (Contrast Detection AF) . These new features, combined with intelligent subject recognition, make the photographer’s job easier in every situation, especially when the lighting is poorer.

In our test, short but intense, we also experimented with the portrait, mounting a splendid 90mm (the APO-Summicron-SL 90 f/2 ASPH) to immortalise the two models at our disposal on set. The result is soft images with vivid and warm colours, also thanks to the choice to manually set the white balance following the advice of Max Allegritti, a photographer certified by Leica. Wherever we were, the excellent 3-inch high-resolution touch screen, now finally tilting, facilitated operations even in the most uncomfortable positions. The small 1.28″ LCD display located in the upper part of the camera, on the right side, remains unchanged and always very useful, providing all the most important information at a glance. Moving the buttons to the right, as requested by the photography community, then allows use with one hand on top, useful in many situations. For example, «to push people forward with the left while you have to run away and sprint at the same time», as Gabriele Micalizzi again suggests.

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An image taken with Leica SL3 (photo Alessio Jacona)

Total connectivity

Rich and complete connectivity, as befits a professional camera: the SL3 has slots for CFexpress type B and SD type UHS-II memory cards, a USB-C port for high-speed data transmission, the power and tethering, plus a full-size HDMI 2.1 output for external monitors or recording devices. The wireless connectivity is excellent, especially when compared to the competition: thanks to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi with MIMO technology, the connection with the excellent Leica FOTOS app is stable, very fast and allows you to import even raw files at maximum resolution (around 80 mb) in just a second and a half, as well as easily operating the camera remotely. Furthermore, the SL3 is certified as “Made for iPhone and iPad”, which allows a direct connection with Apple devices via USB-C. Not only that: Leica also let us know that, with an update arriving in the next few months, it will soon be possible to send images to mobile devices even while they are in stand-by.

We have already said about recording in Cinema 8K format: here we add that, even if video is not the SL3’s first vocation, the camera stands out for its dedicated software interface (as already in the SL2s) and characterized by the yellow color (while red is the color of photography), by the adoption of efficient codecs such as H.265 and Apple’s ProRes and by the presence of a dedicated timecode interface, to guarantee professional synchronization of images and sounds on set.

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Tradition and innovation

So far, what can be said after a first, brief hands-on on a camera full of features. Before closing, however, it is worth focusing on what is only apparently a paradox: Leica, perceived by many (rightly) as an icon and bulwark of tradition, a true symbol of everything that photography was before digital, it has been able to enter digital on an equal footing and – thanks also to collaborations with tech giants such as Huawei and Xiaomi – in just over a decade it has managed to become a leader in innovation in the sector without losing anything of its identity. So it happens that the new SL3, with its powerful metal chassis, essential and solid shapes, 80 grams less than the SL2 and IP54 resistance to atmospheric agents (despite the new tilting screen), is as easy and intuitive to use as a smartphone.

Thanks to the dialogue with big tech, while sharing skills and technologies that have significantly improved mobile photography, Leica has in fact absorbed and developed pioneering solutions for the photographic industry. Some concern the hardware such as Pixel Binning, which reduces the resolution while still using the entire surface of the sensor to improve performance in the absence of light. Others, perhaps even more important, concern the user experience and culminate in the simplified menus, made more readable, revised in appearance without sacrificing anything in completeness, updating all the icons in a modern way. Or in the on-screen interface that rotates with the camera when you place it vertically. And then, again, in the efficiency of wireless connectivity and the app, designed to facilitate post-production that is increasingly moving to mobile devices.

A long series of small and large innovations and improvements that make the SL3 special and that tell of a corporate transformation that is as profound as it is extraordinary

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