leica sl vs cl, m, s5 review

Leica SL vs CL vs M240 vs S5

Leica SL vs CL vs M240 vs Lumix S5


Finally, here is my digital Leica SL review together with sample photos. (Digital full frame mirrorless Leica camera with a selection of lenses). I include Leica SL vs Leica CL, SL vs Leica M240 and Leica SL vs Panasonic Lumix S5 camera + links to YouTube reviews.

YouTube: Why I bought a Leica SL in 2021


Leica CL vs Leica SL

The first question you may have is why did I buy the Leica SL when I own the Leica CL already? Both are Leica mirrorless L mount cameras but the SL is full frame and the CL has the APS-C crop sensor. The Leica SL was released in 2015 and the CL in 2018. I’ve owned my Leica CL for over three years and despite loving the camera I decided I wanted a full frame mirrorless EVF camera. 

Benefits – Leica SL vs CL

Comparing the Leica SL vs Leica CL, here are a few basics:

  • Full frame (FF) vs 1.5 APS-C crop
  • Greater shallow DOF obtained with FF vs crop
  • FF is better for wide angle photography (No 1.5x applied to lenses)
  • Dual SD card slot vs single card slot (useful for client work)
  • Bigger higher resolution EVF (4400k vs 2360k dots)
  • Longer battery life (~400 shots vs ~220 shots)
  • More magnified zoom focus option for MF (10x vs 6x)

Drawbacks – SL vs Leica CL

There are some benefits to using the smaller Leica CL camera:

  • Bulkier camera (especially with SL lenses) vs small Leica CL
  • Heavier weight vs lighter Leica CL (847g vs 403g)
  • Reduced dynamic range on Leica SL
  • Crop factor gives all lenses 1.5x reach (50mm = 75mm)
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Want a small lightweight Leica camera setup?

The Leica CL paired with a small Leica M mount lens (via a Leica M-L adapter) gives a really compact setup. The CL will easily fit in a large jacket pocket whereas the Leica SL wont. If you like vintage lenses, if you use some of the aluminium build Soviet screw mount lenses on the Leica CL that makes for a crazy lightweight camera lens combo. The Leica CL is better for a walk around all day camera and for travel when wanting to pack light.

Your other option and possibly the smallest lightest option is to use the modern autofocus Leica Elmarit-TL 18mm f2.8 lens.

Using Leica CL / Leica TL lenses on the Leica SL

The good news is you can use Leica APS-C lenses (Leica TL lenses) on the Leica SL. The 18mm Leica Elmarit-TL on the Leica SL gives a nice small size. The bad news is because these lenses are designed for crop sensor Leica cameras, when used on the full frame Leica SL they automatically apply the crop factor so you get a reduced size final image. For this reason I tend not to use Leica TL lenses on the Leica SL. If you use a higher resolution Leica SL2 this would be less of a problem.

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Professional looking/ feeling camera

If your image is important to you then the Leica SL looks like a more serious pro-level camera body than the compact Leica CL. When arriving to photoshoots and some weddings the first comment I would make when using the CL was “it’s much better than it looks!”

When I’m using the Leica SL I never need to say a word. Not only that, the Leica SL just feels like a tank. I know the phrase is overused in the industry but of all my various cameras this is the most tank-like to date (for digital). The big viewfinder, the twin card slots, the larger battery capacity and the simple yet rugged design all scream pro camera.

If you follow me you know I’m not the flashy try to be cool type, far from it. The Leica SL just gives me confidence that it will let me get the photos I want to create. The Leica CL is nice but feels more like an enthusiast camera (despite the high performance).

Portrait of my Leica M240!

Leica M240 vs Leica SL

I mentioned that I wanted a full frame Leica camera but I already own the Leica M240 rangefinder camera. No just that, I have used the Leica M240 since before buying the Leica CL. I love the design and build of Leica M cameras but I don’t enjoy the fact that the rangefinder can be knocked out of alignment. I just want a camera that I can focus accurately with fast lenses and it works day after day.  

Before buying the Leica SL I had switched back to using the Leica M240 but now mostly with the accessory shoe EVF (electronic viewfinder). This gave me a taste of full frame mirrorless via live view and I liked it. The biggest drawback was the Leica M240 EVF is just too slow for fashion and beauty photography so I miss shots. It also takes up the hotshoe so I could no longer fire off camera strobes. 

28mm Photography: Shot with Leica Q
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Benefits of Leica SL vs M240

  • Mirrorless camera gives WYSIWYG view (similar to LiveView on M240)
  • Mirrorless camera = no rangefinder = no calibration issues (out of focus)
  • Built in diopter on the Leica SL (great if you wear glasses like me)
  • Can focus closer than 0.7m vs Leica M240 rangefinder MFD of 0.7m
  • EVF for Leica M240 has a lag and is too slow for pro photographers
  • Can compose wider than 28mm in VF on SL (can use EVF on M240)
  • Easier to see/compose/focus longer lenses on the SL (can use EVF on M)
  • Easier to accurately focus fast lenses on Leica SL (can use EVF on M240)
  • Dual card slot vs single slot on M240 (can record backup copy images)
  • Autofocus ability – can use autofocus Leica L mount lenses on Leica SL


Drawbacks of the SL vs Leica M240

  • Leica SL is bigger & heavier vs Leica M240 – 847g vs 680g
  • Less discrete for street photography as less stealth looking
  • Less approachable for street than M as covers face with centred VF
  • SL is less Leica-like as moves away from the traditional Leica M form
  • Leica M240 optical rangefinder offers pure / analogue M VF experience
  • Small Leica M lenses become bigger on the SL as need Leica M-L adapter

Do I miss not having a rangefinder on the SL?

Strangely no. I tend to use the digital Leica SL for fast paced work yet I still use many rangefinder film cameras and love them. For me rangefinders are amazing for documentary work with a 28mm or 35mm lens (especially). Mirrorless cameras are far better for precision focus shallow DOF portraits with fast manual focus prime lenses.

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Leica SL with L mount lenses

The Leica SL camera is part of the wider “L mount alliance”. Leica, Panasonic and Sigma all make L mount cameras and L mount lenses. I own the Panasonic Lumix S5 camera (see YouTube video below) which shares the same L mount and I have the Panasonic 20-60mm kit zoom lens.

I don’t currently own any Leica SL lenses as I prefer a smaller camera setup with manual focus lenses. Leica SL lenses do offer fantastic optics and autofocus for those looking for that but the lenses are expensive.

Sigma L mount lenses on the Leica SL

A cheaper lens option if you are looking for autofocus L mount lenses are those made by Sigma and Panasonic. Multiple students that have attended my Leica photography workshops were using Sigma L mount prime lenses on either their Leica SL or Panasonic Lumix S cameras.

Leica M3 Rangefinder Calibration - Success

Sigma UK were kind enough to send me 2 of their L mount lenses to test for YouTube. The 24mm f2.8 DG DN lens and the 50mm f1.4 Art lens.

Sigma 24mm f2.8 DG DN lens on SL
Leica SL + Sigma 24mm f2 DG DN
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Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens on Leica SL
Leica SL + Sigma Art 50mm f1.4
TTArtisan 50mm f0.95 Portrait


Leica SL with Leica M lenses 

As a Leica M user, both film and digital, I already own Leica M lenses so it makes good sense for me to use them on the Leica SL. The Leica SL with Leica M lenses helps provide a nice compact camera-lens setup. (If you select a smaller M lens especially). I enjoy manual focus lenses for my photography so this setup works great for me.

If you love fast prime lenses like the TTArtisan 50mm f0.95 the SL is brilliant for precise focusing. Chinese lenses that are supplied non-calibrated pair nicely with the SL as you don’t need to worry about calibrating. I use the 7Artisans 35mm f1.4 on the SL for this reason.

Voigtlander APO-Skopar 90mm f2.8

With the large bright high res viewfinder it is very easy to critically focus Leica M lenses on a Leica SL camera. I have no issues with any lens and it is similar to using Leica M lenses on the Leica CL.

Example photos using M lenses

Leica SL Portrait (M Lens)
Leica SL + Summilux
TTArtisan 50mm f0.95 Portrait
50mm Voigtlander Heliar f1.5
Leica SL Street Photography
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Leica SL with Leica R lenses

I recently purchased Leica R lenses for my Leica R6 camera (and others) and also use these on the Lumix S5 camera. Some Leica R lenses offer excellent value (for a Leica lens) as they are less popular than M lenses.

The larger size of the Leica R lenses balance well on the Leica SL camera vs the small Leica CL. Leica R lenses on the CL body are too front heavy for my taste. 

Example photos using Leica R lenses

Leica SL Colours
Leica SL + Leica 35-70
Leica Vario-Elmar 35-70mm Sunstar
Leica SL Wedding
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Leica R lenses vs Leica M lenses

A big benefit of Leica R lenses vs M lenses is SLR lenses focus much closer. This is especially useful for wider lenses sure as 24mm, 28mm and 35mm. From my testing I feel my Leica M lenses are slightly sharper than the similar Leica R lens but once stopped down a little I see minimal difference. Leica M lenses are more desirable due to their small design but this demand results in higher prices for M lenses. For this reason I think R lenses can offer a more affordable path into Leica photography.

Vintage LTM / Screw Mount lenses on the SL

If you enjoy using vintage film cameras like me there is a good chance you have a some small rangefinder screw mount lenses (LTM/ L39). You can get some beautiful results pairing the Leica SL with LTM lenses.

Sample photos using LTM lenses vs LTM lenses

Leica Elmar 5cm f3.5
Leica Summitar 5cm f2 Portrait
TTArtisan 50mm 0.95 Review
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Can you use the Leica SL with Nikon lenses?

As a past digital Nikon D90 / Nikon D700 / Nikon D800 user, and now Nikon SLR camera user (many!.. FG-20, FM, FE, FM2, FE2, F4, F5 and maybe some I forget) I have a lot of Nikon F mount lenses I collected over the years. If you use an Nikon F – L mount adapter you can use these on your Leica SL camera.

Some of my favourite Nikon F lenses are the Voigtlander SL lenses made in Nikon F mount. They offer the benefits of smaller size lenses and are SLR lenses so focus closer than rangefinder lenses. The Voigtlander 20mm, 28mm and 40mm lenses are particularly compact.

Try the Leica SL with Zoom lenses

If you’ve only ever shot with prime lenses on a Leica M camera the Leica SL brings another advantage. You now have access to various zoom lenses! I tend to be a prime lens kinda guy but occasionally I’m really impressed with a zoom lens.

Sigma, Lumix and Leica offer modern autofocus L mount zoom lenses but if you want something more satisfying don’t overlook Leica R zoom lenses. My favourite is the Leica Vario-Elmar-R 35-70mm f4 lens. Just brilliant and is optically superior to most Leica R prime lenses.

Leica R Lens Portrait
Leica SL Portrait
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Enjoy telephoto lenses on the Leica SL

As with my zoom lenses example, if you have only ever used Leica M cameras you are in for a treat. Leica M cameras are optimised to use with lenses up to 135mm. When you switch to the Leica SL you can use any lens with an adapter. Leica R lenses offer great telephoto prime lens and telephoto zoom lens options. I enjoy Nikon telephoto lenses too.

Tenerife Model Photography Workshops
YouTube: Leica Telephoto Lens Portraits


More Leica SL Portraits

As a UK Leica portrait photographer most of my Leica SL work is model photography or female portraiture. Here are a few Leica SL portraits. (All Leica SL photos shared in this article were captured in RAW + MrLeica Leica SL preset applied. Click any photo to see the lens used).

Leica Elmarit-R 90mm f2.8 Portrait
TTArtisan 50mm f0.95
Voigtlander Ultron 28mm II Portrait
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Voigtlander 50mm f1.0 Portrait
Leica Photography Workshop - Leica SL
Leica SL Portrait
Leica SL Test Shoot!

*If you love the idea of photographing models but don’t know where to start you might like my workshops


Leica SL Street Photography

The Leica M rangefinder cameras are king of the street photography for a reason. That doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy some Leica SL street photography too. If you love zoom lenses or autofocus lenses you may actually prefer the SL over a M camera.

I find the SL useful for M lenses wider than 28mm for ease of composition without the need of an additional wide angle finder.

Leica M cameras would still be my preference for street photography. Smaller, lighter, optical rangefinder and hides less of your face so less intimidating to others.

Leica SL Street Photography
Leica SL Street Photography
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Landscape Photography with a Leica SL

As a weather sealed camera, Leica SL landscape photography is perhaps less risky in bad weather than with a Leica M camera. I tend to be a fair weather photographer when I am exploring and taking landscape photos so this is less important for me.

The weight and bulk of the SL camera means I would usually select the small light Leica CL + 18mm kit lens instead if I am running or cycling with a camera.

Leica SL Landscape Photography
Gdansk Christmas Postcard (2)
Voigtlander 50mm f2 APO Landscape
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Leica SL Wedding Photography

The rugged Leica SL with good battery life, dual card slots and solid build makes it a perfect second body for Leica wedding photography. I still love the size and stealth of a Leica rangefinder camera like my Leica M240 but for telephoto lenses the SL is particularly useful.

Leica SL Wedding
UK Leica Wedding Photographer
Leica Summilux Wedding


Leica SL vs Leica SL2

Are you considering the Leica SL vs Leica SL2? I was able to test the SL2 camera and you can see the review and sample images on YouTube.

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Leica SL2-S vs Leica SL

With the release of the new Leica SL2-S now we have another camera to consider. Leica SL vs Leica SL2-S? Both cameras offer the same 24MP but the SL2-S bring faster autofocus, IBIS and other benefits that may suit some users. My choice was the SL camera not the SL2-S. It was a very easy decision as the Leica SL camera used price now makes them fantastic value for money.

Leica SL2-S Portrait
YouTube! 50mm APO King? (Best of the Best!)


Lumix S5 vs Leica SL

Looking for a new full frame mirrorless camera and don’t want to pay new Leica camera prices? I was in exactly the same position and that lead me to purchasing a Panasonic Lumix S5 camera. (I did later purchase the Leica SL Typ 601 camera too so perhaps there is a lesson here for me regarding buy right, buy once!)

The Lumix S5 is a feature packed camera that offers many mod cons the Leica does not. You can buy a new Lumix S5 for the price of a used Leica SL at the time of writing this article. The two main benefits of the Lumix S5 vs Leica SL are the flip out LCD screen and IBIS.

The best features of the Leica SL vs Lumix S5 are the amazing EVF (2x resolution vs. Panasonic S5), rugged build quality and easy menu system.

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Fuji vs Leica SL

Are you a Fuji X shooter? Tempted to try full frame and looking at various options? If you already enjoy Leica M mount lenses on your Fuji APS-C cameras then you will probably really enjoy trying a Leica SL camera. I made a YouTube video after one of my London Leica Photography Workshops, a Fuji user trying out my SL camera and his thoughts (part of the service I offer).


Used Leica SL Price

What is the used Leica SL price you might ask? Well it depends when you are reading this post. The Leica SL Typ 601 camera was released in October 2015 with a price tag of around £5000 or $6000, body only. In 2022 you can pick up a used Leica SL, boxed with warranty for around £1600 (or less). Prices now seem to be stable dropping only £100-£200 per year.

Check the latest SL prices on eBay here: eBay US / eBay UK


Cheap Leica SL Alternative

What if you can’t afford a Leica SL? I didn’t really want to spend the money on another Leica camera so I looked for a cheap Leica SL alternative. I wanted full frame mirrorless and Leica M mount. That lead me to the Panasonic Lumix S5. Despite me later buying a Leica SL I still feel that the images are very similar. See the video linked below showing that when I use the S5 + MrLeica Lumix S presets I can get very similar results to images from the Leica SL.

TTArtisan 50mm f0.95 Review
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Leica SL Lightroom Presets

If you already own a Leica SL camera and you are struggling to get the images you aspire to, you might want to try my MrLeica Leica SL preset pack. I apply presets to all my Leica SL images and it cuts my editing time down to perhaps one hour for 300 model images.

If you are experienced with your camera but struggle with posing and lighting you will probably benefit from the 100+ posts i’ve shared on Patreon. This is my teaching platform which has a strong emphasis on portraiture and models. (E-books and courses to follow as I find the time!)

London Leica Workshop

Try a Leica SL before you buy

If you attend one of my Leica workshops you get the opportunity to try Leica equipment that I own. Join the workshop/ photowalk Mailing List to receive dates of future events in your area.

Leica SL film camera?

I know it’s confusing but did you know that there is a Leica SL film camera too? The full name is the Leicaflex SL released in 1968. (There is also a Leica CL film camera which is the smallest Leica M mount film camera).

But what about Leica SL vs Leica Q?

If you follow me on social media and or YouTube you’ll know I recently got a digital Leica Q. The Q is a 24MP full frame mirrorless camera the same as the Leica SL but comes with a fixed lens.

I will do a detailed write-up of the Leica Q once i’ve used it more so sign up to the blog if you want to see that.

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Leica SL videos on YouTube

First Impressions video
YouTube: Leica SL Review – Part 1
YouTube: Leica SL Review – Part 2
My Leica SL settings for photography
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Summary

I’m now fortunate to have experience with the Leica SL, CL, M and Q. The Leica SL is my first choice for portrait photography and is the best workhorse camera of the 4. The size and weight is less ideal if you want to carry a camera all day so for these situations I would go with a smaller setup.

Leica SL Fashion

More Info

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LEICALENSESCAMERASWORKSHOPWEDDINGPRESETSFILM
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8 thoughts on “Leica SL vs CL vs M240 vs S5”

  1. Loved your newsletter about the CL, SL and the M240. Thanks for doing these types of articles. I’m leaning towards a used M240 these days. You must work 20-hour days though! Workshops, model picture taking and newsletters. That would keep two people busy full-time.. do be careful..

    1. Thanks Avery! Yes they take time. I wrote the article during 2 flights earlier this year. I got up early to get started and sat down 5am -2pm to get it finished, images and videos added etc. I still prefer doing these to YouTube vids! 🙂 Now I need to edit a wedding ha. Yes for some work the M240 is still a very nice camera.

  2. Sometime I want you to post a photo of that technician in Solms sitting at his workbench with a jeweler’s saw, cropping all the sensors that go into those “crop sensor” cameras.

    Otherwise I’m going to go on believing that there’s no such thing, and that all the “crop sensor/crop factor” mumbo-jumbo is just a mental shortcut for people who learned photography on 35mm film cameras, but confusing for everybody else…

  3. F**K! This was a great article Matthew! I’ve been using Leica M, but as I get older it is becoming really difficult to nail the focus with that rangefinder. Leica SL has a magnificent viewfinder! Easy to get the focus right! This is how camera should work – it’s just a tool to help you reach your goals as a photographer. Leica SL does a great job there to help you reach your goals.

  4. What an inspiring and balanced article! I’m still a beginner with a GX9 with the PL 15 and 42.5 lenses but always with an eye on what’s possible for the next level up. Thanks very much!

    1. Thanks David! Sorry for my late answer. I struggle to keep up with replying on all the various platforms. I have the GX80/85 and GX880 too, I need to post an article at some point. With my Lumix G LR presets applied i’m really happy with the results I get.

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