It’s no secret: I like to travel light. If you read my previous article in Viewfinder, Two Weeks in India with the Leica CL: Getting Out of My Comfort Zone, you’ll know that I’m a one-camera, one-lens (maybe two) kind of girl. Making small cameras with big image quality has been one of Leica’s core guiding philosophies ever since they introduced the world’s first 35mm still camera over 100 years ago. It’s what has attracted so many to the brand through the decades, and one which continues to make Leica a favorite amongst travel photographers.
So when I first picked up the Leica SL (Typ 601) with its native Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.9-4.0 ASPH standard zoom mounted on the front, I could see that Leica had chosen to go a different direction from its iconic, and compact, M system. While the professional mirrorless SL offered ultimate flexibility with its autofocus L mount, a class-leading feature set care of cutting-edge electronics and image quality to spare, I honestly didn’t see how it was going to be an option for my bare-bones adventures and minimalist approach.
But clearly Leica made the right move with the system. Released in 2015, the groundbreaking full-frame professional mirrorless SL quickly rose to the top of the MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera) market, out-performing its competitors and creating a benchmark for future generations. Optically, the range of Vario-SL lenses offered up razor-sharp, prime-lens quality in versatile zooms.
While these Vario lenses became the bread-and-butter solution for many photographers over the last five years, they were always just a tad too big for my compact travel bag. The SL body, on the other hand, has accompanied me on several around-the-world adventures, but almost always with M lenses using the M-Adapter-L. Weighing only 6.6 oz more than the Leica M10, the Leica SL has proven to be a great alternative for Leica M glass. In fact, in some cases I’ve found the SL more capable over shooting with a native M body, especially with larger, exotic optics. With its better-balanced and steadier grip, along with the expansive, built-in high-resolution EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) with focus assistance, challenging and often hard-to-focus lenses such as the Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH are now that much more manageable and useful.
But despite the endless combinations of SL, M and even R glass available to SL users, the system still pined for a weather-sealed, compact prime of its own to complement its impressive zooms and have a lightweight option for the less- is-more traveler like myself.
Then along came the Leica APO-Summicron-SL lenses, and everything changed.