When I first started this site about 9 years ago, the motivation was in large part to answer questions for myself— about cameras and lenses—things I knew that others would want to know also.
Along comes a situation along precisely those lines: if the main goal is to shoot Leica M-mount lenses with that nifty high-res Leica SL EVF, does SL image quality hold as compared to the Leica M240? The SL sensor is not optimized for ray angle like the M240 sensor is, so relative performance of M lenses is an important consideration for anyone looking at the SL as an alternative to the M240.
While on my recent trip, I went through the tedious exercise of shooting three carefully-chosen and very different subjects on both the Leica SL and M240, with the goal of flushing out differences in image quality, sharpness in outer zones in particular. For each subject, I shot the following:
- 18/3.8 Super-Elmar-M
- 21/3.4 Super-Elmar-M
- 24/3.8 Elmar-M
- 28/2 Summicron-M,
- 50/2 APO-Summicron-M
- Zeiss ZM 35/1.4 Distagon, which I have called the best M lens for the M240 more than once.
I also shot the 90mm f/4 Macro-Elmar-M extensively and did some comparisons with the 90mm f/2 APO-Summicron-R, but the 90mm work was done only on the SL, because at 90mm there ought not to be any sensor-related issues from ray angle.
I’m analyzing those series now so at to publish a definitive answer based on hard evidence, because a decision to go with the SL for the purpose of shooting M lenses would be ill-advised if based on assumptions—it is not a given that the SL sensor can accommodate M lenses to their potential, particularly at wider apertures and wider angles of view.
There is also the ugly problem of mandatory correction for distortion and chromatic aberration when shooting coded M lenses on the SL—a nasty little “feature” that alters the core look of M lenses. When using Photoshop/ACR or Lightroom; it is enforced with no option to turn it off. Except that it is and it is not—it varies—and sometimes a profile can be applied again (twice), which is even more confusing. This of course immediately favors the M240 over the SL, because correction is always optional with M240 DNGs. I rarely correct for distortion and infrequently for chromatic aberration. I want the native lens character, not some more clinical behavior. At the least, I want a choice. In my view, this is an ill-advised choice by Leica. It could be fixed in a firmware update perhaps, but existing files are stuck. Of course other raw converters offer ways to bypass this behavior (Iridient Developer and perhaps CaptureOne Pro, but switching workflow is a non-solution for me).
Setting aside considerations of peripheral sharpness on the SL sensor, the Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon is an ideal match in size and ergonomics with the SL, and its visual impact is just as terrific as on the M240. As a bonus it is an uncoded lens, so one has a choice of correcting for distortion or not with the SL, unlike coded M lenses noted above.
The Leica SL sensor is outstanding on a technical basis, and with excellent dynamic range. This image as-shot with no contrast control. It interacts very nicely with the Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon, which is an uncoded and thus totally uncorrected lens.
Subscriber Dale P writes:
I sent in some very specific questions about how to use the Leica SL camera Lloyd recommends, together with the Zeiss 35mm F1.4 M mount lens he recommends.
I couldn’t find the answers anywhere on the web, forums, etc. Seems like when you start with one brand camera and try to use it with a different brand lens, it can be tough to get clear answers from someone who actually has used them personally and knows from experience the answers.
Lloyd answered them within an hour. Helped solve a thorny problem.
DIGLLOYD: my time is always under pressure, but I make a point of answering subscriber questions, particularly those that are in scope of what is subscribed to (e.g., Leica questions for subscribers to Guide to Leica).
I have looked through my Zeiss ZM 35/1.4 images on the SL, and I think they are stunning without any correction or lens profile. The results outclass anything else I shot, as I hope to show with examples, the two above being picked at a glance without even looking at many more. Moreover the Zeiss ZM 35/1.4 Distagon has to my hands the best balance and feel on the SL of all M lenses. It’s just the right size and with superior aperture ring and focusing grip and feel. An incredible value at about $2040 after rebate.
At present, I am officially neutral on the SL as a platform for M lenses—my recent shoot has many images, and there are some troublesome behaviors slowing me down greatly (raw conversion, focus matching, forced lens corrections, etc). It is going to take some time to do this all properly—even organizing images is taking a lot of time. It looks like I may have to “circle around” to the M240 to SL question after first looking at certain performance areas. Thanks to reader John G for helping me understand a troublesome white balance issue which appears to be a bug in ACR. And... my travel schedule is putting intense pressure on me. It may be mid July until I can get all the Leica SL work done properly. I don’t want to rush it.
Thanks to readers for using any of my B&H links or wish lists when buying gear.