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Leica SL Focusing Errors

Get the Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon in silver or black ($250 rebate at time of post).
See also my Leica M wish list and Leica SL wish list.

Buried in my outpouring of work tw0 days ago is documentation of a critical issue with the Leica SL: autofocus accuracy. After examining the many aperture series I shot, I would say that the Leica SL autofocus errors damaged the sharpness of the majority of my work on a recent trip, by front-focusing errors:

Leica SL: Focusing Errors in the Field

Full resolution images let the reader draw his or her own conclusions. See also:

Aperture Series @ 63mm: Bristlecones on Hillside

Aperture Series @ 28mm: DeChambeau Barn

Aperture Series @ 24mm: Bristlecone Canyon

This June evaluation was with another brand-new Leica SL with brand-new 24-90 (both sealed in boxes days before). The findings errors confirm my January findings in spite of firmware 2.0.

For me at least, the Leica SL autofocus system was a disaster, degrading the majority of my work. I am sure that many users do not see the issue, if for no other reason than shooting at f/5.6 or f/8 or f/11, which often masks it enough to generate a (just) acceptable image. Also, overall contrast of the 24-90mm zoom is superb, which on the whole makes for an image with “pop”. But it does not mean sharp detail, as my many examples show.

By comparison, I had a 100% focusing hit rate using the manual focus Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon, as might be expected via the high-res EVF on the Leica SL—it makes very precise focus a joy at f/1.4.

Postscript: people get really angry at blog posts like this, which are intended for SUBSCRIBERS, impugning my work without even seeing the evidence in my review. I’ve maintained my review integrity and objectivity since day one and I will continue to do so, even in the face of ignorance and ill will in emails I receive. The most malodorous type of email goes like this: “this is BS and unless you change your tune, I won’t subscribe”. This kind of of irrationality + threat combination will not make me compromise the integrity of my work, or my disdain for mediocrity. BTW, was it 9 months before Leica fixed the (permanent) black spots damage bug? What about the Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH flare issues? Does anyone else find and reports such things? I’m not going to hold back on flaws that are real and damage my work.

Bob H writes:

I read your latest blog article re the Leica SL auto focusing errors you experienced with interest as it mirrored exactly my findings when using the camera with its "kit" zoom lens. I was very kindly loaned camera and lens by my Leica dealer for a photographic trip around the north coast of Scotland a month or so ago. I had wanted to try out my S lenses on the SL to S adapter but one was not available and I was given the native zoom lens instead. My intent was to try out the camera to test it as a back up for my S system and to use instead of it when more portability was important.

The images from my first day's shooting with the SL were all unsharp enough (just, but noticeably, off) to render them useless, despite being taken using a tripod and an aperture of f8/f11. I didn't notice until reviewing my images that evening in my hotel room, despite having checked them by the camera's magnified image review function as the images were being taken.

That brings me to another issue which is that, despite the EVF being truly excellent, if guilty of blocking up the shadows a little, the review image shown through the EVF or on the rear screen was quite unsharp on the camera I was using and never improved even when I switched to purely manual focusing, using the image magnification function which I found worked a treat. Despite my concerns when immediately reviewing the images in camera, when downloaded and reviewed in Lightroom, images taken using manual focusing were sharp and the quality was what should have been expected from a 24mp sensor and a quality zoom lens.

I advised my Leica dealer of the issues when I returned the camera and lens to them (one of their staff commented that he had the same misgivings) and wrote to my contact in Leica UK to do the same.

I was surprised at the issues and, while thinking they were, perhaps, only peculiar to the camera I was loaned, especially given the, I presume, Panasonic genes of the autofocus system, was concerned enough to strike the SL firmly off my purchase list.

...

I use Leica cameras (and now Sony cameras as my own stalking horse) and have done so for years, spending a huge amount of hard earned money in the process. I have mostly had great experiences with, and enjoyment from, those cameras but I sense a real change in Leica over the past few years to a burying the head in the sand attitude and an “I see no ships” approach to recognizing and dealing with “issues”.

In my book, nothing is perfect which is made by Man and imperfections, especially with the complex and sophisticated camera equipment which most of us use nowadays, have to be a given but to not admit to and refuse to recognise those imperfections is unforgivable and folly in a business sense as the faults are never corrected or not corrected properly and the discerning customer never forgets.

I simply don’t understand who tests their equipment for them as the issue was obvious to me after downloading and examining a couple of files. I knew immediately what the issue was and took my own measures thereafter (manual focusing) to dispense with the issue. All I had to do to confirm the issue absolutely was to take a couple of tests shots, using manual focus, to get the focusing spot on, and then use the rear joystick to do a one press autofocus to confirm that the focusing changed and was ever so slightly “off” as a result. Hardly rocket science and something which a seasoned equipment tester should have found immediately.

DIGLLOYD: since the January 2016 Leica SL + 24-90mm firmware 1.x and the June 2016 Leica SL + 24-90mm with firmware 2.0 both had/have AF issues, I have little doubt that the issue is algorithmic and common to all. I’ll also point out that the Leica S also has severe autofocus problems, as I documented across years and firmware versions. I draw a thick bold red line at issues that are usability issues versus issues that damage my images. Autofocus errors cross that line, as did the black spots damage bug in the Leica M Monochrom.

It remains to be seen with the forthcoming Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-SL ASPH whether the AF system has better luck with a wide aperture lens.

As for “who tests their equipment for them”: from what I can tell, Leica does not choose anyone competent to test and validate gear, that skill being one mostly orthogonal to photographic image making (composition and such). I say this because most if not all of the issues I have found (with the M240, SL, Q, S, 50/2 APO) would all have been found by a competent tester prior to releasing the product.

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