The new Leica SL2-S launches today, December 10. Think of the “S” after the “SL2-” as “Special” or maybe “Sinematographer” with an “S.” That is because the SL2-S will be specially suited for cinematographers and anyone shooting stills and cine.
The SL2-S has a 24.6 Megapixel sensor inside. (Its sister SL2 has a 47 MP sensor). What is it about 24 MP sensors that puts them inside the Panasonic S1H and S5, as well as the SIGMA fp? Are these members of the L-Mount Alliance conspiring? What do they know that we should know?
As you know, the L-Mount Alliance was allied at Photokina in September 2018. Leica Camera proposed to Panasonic and SIGMA to standardize on the L-Mount’s flange focal depth (FFD) of 20 mm and inside diameter of 51.6 mm. That shallow distance from lens mount surface to sensor offered both optical and mechanical design advantages. Lenses could be smaller, faster and different. Furthermore, with mechanical adapters, you can attach almost any cine or still lens, whether PL, PV, LPL, M, Mitchell, SP70, and many more.
About the SL2-S and 24 MP sensors, Leica Supervisory Board Chairman Dr. Andreas Kaufmann explained, “As you know, a 47 Megapixel sensor shooting video creates a lot of data and generates a lot of heat. The SL2-S camera’s 24 MP sensor provides much elevated video capabilities with a lot less noise in the image.”
Ironically, Dr. Kaufmann and I were on a transatlantic video chat watching each other in noisy, low-rez computer video that lost its audio abilities so we were talking on our cell phones.
Dr. Kaufmann continued, “When you’re shooting a major motion picture with a big setup, you probably are on a dolly with big batteries and size doesn’t matter. But for the expanding market of users doing independent productions or shooting stills and video together, the decision is always to go small, go simple. I see a lot of those smaller cameras on fashion shoots, documentaries, corporate videos and commercials. That is because they create great pictures. I would say this new SL2-S is an especially good test case for people who shoot both stills and video. Our friends at Ernst Leitz Cine will simultaneously will launch ‘Henri,’ which suddenly elevates the SL2-S as a serious tool, even for cinema. (More about Henri soon.)
“And it’s not just independents. I still remember a meeting with David Fincher a few years ago on the set of Gone Girl. He said, ‘I would like to have on set one person with a camera and me with an iPad because I want to have small setups. It will take a bit, because we still have these huge engines with all the stuff around, but down the road, I think it would be possible a few years from now.’”
On the outside, Leica’s new SL2-S (Type 2998) looks like the SL2 that was introduced at Paris Photo on November 6, 2019. The form follows functional design concept carries on from the original SL ((Type 601) introduced in 2015.
SL2-S controls are elegantly ergonomic and minimal. Three buttons on the back are pretty much unified across the Leica M, Q, CL and SL product lines. The L-Mount’s 20 mm shallow flange depth and the in-camera stabilization accommodate Leica M, S and R lenses. PL, LPL and other cine lenses attach with adapters and additionally benefit from the sensor’s 5-axis in-body image stabilization. Meanwhile, Leica, Panasonic and SIGMA continue to expand their impressive lines of new SL lenses. There are currently about 40 native L-Mount lenses available from these three manufacturers. By the end of next year, there could be more than 50 in the Alliance.
The next person on the speed dial was Leica Head of Product Management Stephan Schulz to discuss the compelling video capabilities of the SL2-S. He said, “This camera is more dedicated to video. We have been working with well-respected colorists and post-production people in Hollywood to integrate viewing LUTs. So, when filming in Log, you can view a nice image on the rear LCD monitor. There are many additional improvements. A firmware update in early spring will add even more important features: timecode import, additional bit-rates, waveform monitor, more framelines and H.265 formats. We are committed to move forward for the video and filmmaker worlds. The SL2 already has very strong regarding video capabilities. This one, the SL2-S, will be much better for cine production.”
Just as I was wondering whether the final “S” in SL2-S stood for Schulz, he said, “On top of all that, the price will be much more affordable. The SL2 today is 6,000 Euros. The new SL2-S will cost around 4,500 Euros.”
My Zoomed expression must have been one of disbelief because Stephan hastened to add, “We have an economy effect because it’s almost the same platform and camera body, and mainly just a different sensor. The yield of those 24 Megapixel sensors in production is much better than the 47 MP ones. So the basic price for the sensor is lower. Regarding low light performance, the bigger pixels provide better performance. It’s a BSI (back-side illuminated) sensor. Also, we do not have a low pass filter. We were a little bit nervous about having moiré, but the images are very clean. We like to have as little extra glass between the sensor and the rear of the lens.
“We shot some tests along with some cinematographers. We found that the image quality is almost three-dimensional. It’s not as flat as many cameras with low pass filters.”
I asked why 24 Megapixels was the magic number and not something less. Stephan replied, “Some people might say that a so-called one-to-one pixel ratio in video should be better. But I would reply that we do not want to limit resolution. An important thing about the SL2-S from my point of view is that it allows us to have all video modes available in Super35 format as well as Full Frame. This is important because all current and vintage lenses for Super35 are supported and there is a vast inventory of those lenses. The SL2-S records C4K 4096×2160 video not only in Full Frame, but also in Super35. And we have a very good video engine that enables this with excellent image quality.
Leica SL2-S Type 9584
- Sensor CMOS sensor, Full Frame Leica Format (24.6 MP): 6072 x 4056 pixels / APS-C (10.6 MP): 3984 x 2656 pixels.
- Pixel pitch: 5.94 μm
- Stabilization: 5 axis Body Image Stabilization. equivalent of up to 5.5 stops.
- Cover glass: UV/IR filter, no low-pass filter.
- Mount: L-Mount. 20 mm Flange Focal Depth. 51.6 mm Inside Diameter. Pogo pins for L bayonet lens data communication and metadata.
- Still formats: Stills: DNG (raw data), DNG + JPG, JPG (DCF, Exif 2.31)
- ISO: ISO 50 to ISO 100000
- Cine formats: MP4: H.264/MPEG-4 AVC with 2ch 48 kHz/16 bit, AAC audio.
- MOV: H.264/MPEG-4 AVC (with 2ch 48 kHz/16 bit, LPCM audio.
- Bit rates: 8 or 10-bit internal recording onto SD card, 10 bit external recording via HDMI.
- Cine color space: Rec. 709 /Rec. 2020 (HLG / L-Log). Cine gamma: Rec. 709, L-Log Rec. 2020, HLG Rec. 2020
- Cine modes: Full Frame – C4K (17:9) 4096 x 2160 (Downsampled from 6000 x 3168)
- Full Frame – 4K (16:9) 3840 x 2160 (Downsampled from 6000 x 3368)
- Full Frame – Full HD (16:9) 1920 x 1080 (Downsampled from 6000 x 3368 pixels)
- Super35 – C4K (17:9) 4096 x 2160 (Downsampled from 4128 x 2176)
- Super35 – UHD 4K (16:9) 3840 x 2160 pixels (Downsampled from 3984 x 2240)
- Super35 – Full HD 1920 x 1080 (Downsampled from 3984 x 2240)
- Max 10-bit: MOV C4K, 29.97 fps, 4:2:2 10-bit (internal SD & external HDMI) in both Full Frame & APS-C, H.264, ALL-I, 400 Mbps
- Media: 2 internal UHS-II SD slots.
- EVF: 5,760,000 dots, 120 fps, 0.78x magnification; 4:3 aspect ratio: 100% coverage:, 21 mm exit pupil position; +2 to-4 diopters; 0.005 s latency
- LCD Panel: 3.2″ backlit LED with anti-fingerprint and anti-scratch coating, 2,100,000 dots; 3:2 aspect ratio, touch screen.
- Top Display: 1.28″ trans-reflective monochrome LCD, 128 x 128 pixels, viewing angle 120°; anti-fingerprint coating.
- Connections: ISO hot shoe with contacts; Full-size HDMI 2.0b Type A; USB 3.1 Gen1 Type C; Audio-Out 3.5 mm / Audio-In 3.5 mm.
- Size / Weight: 146 x 107 x 83 mm / approx. 850 g (without battery), approx. 931 g (with battery)