Using the Leica SL for Sailing and Yachting Photography

 The Leica SL is right at home on the foredeck of the new Nautor Swan 78. Photo: Daniel Novello

The Leica SL is right at home on the foredeck of the new Nautor Swan 78. Photo: Daniel Novello

During a recent sea trial of the new Nautor Swan 78 I was fortunate enough to put the Leica SL with the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. Lens through its paces. Both sailing the new Nautor Swan 78 and photographing with the Leica SL took some getting used to. But they had something in common: Unrivalled build quality, purposeful design and construction. The Leica SL felt right at home onboard.

I learned a lot about using the camera while healing over on a yacht far out into the Gulf of Bothnia off the coast of Finland. As with the Swan 78, the camera itself if full of the latest and greatest. Please read on:

By. Daniel Novello, editor of Scandinavian Mariner Magazine


these days Mirrorless replaces single lens reflex cameras

I had been using different Leica cameras for 20 years and had the Leica M closest to heart. To me the M is the ultimate camera. A rangefinder with manual focus lenses and operation makes for deliberate, considerate and thoughtful picture taking. The Leica cameras also offers the best of German engineering and craftsmanship paired with easy handling in a small size. In particular, Leica is known to produce some of the finest lenses in the world.

Leica as a company is doing really well these days and sales of the new models are reportedly record high. The full frame compact, The Leica Q, was an instant success and has a large fanbase with its fantastic 28mm Summilux fixed focal length. Same with the fantastic new M10 which is the latest classic digital rangefinder.

The SL and the S camera are made for professionals and amateur photographers with a desire for the ultimate image quality, handling and after market support.

Compared to the M, the full frame SL is a little bigger. And the native lenses for the SL are much bigger and heavier than the M lenses. However, the SL has autofocus and are just as good if not better than many of the M lenses. 

 Super sharp at 24mm/f2.8. Lush bokeh with the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. Photo by: Daniel Novello

Super sharp at 24mm/f2.8. Lush bokeh with the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. Photo by: Daniel Novello

Other cameras may have overtaken performance on some parameters since the SL was introduced, but make no mistake: The Leica SL is still a professional full frame mirrorless camera.

The electronic Viewfinder has the largest, fastest & highest resolution in any camera (4.4 MP@60FPS / X 0.8 magnification). It is awesome and like looking through a decent sized portlight! Some of my colleagues from the yachting press was very impressed with the viewfinder when they saw through it. "Wow" was the most often heard reaction.

It has a fast burst rate to freeze the moment: 11 fps@ 24 MP, 1080p@120 fps, 4 k (UHD) @ 30 fps & Cine4K @ 24 fps

The lens has a very fast and precise Auto Focus. The joystick on the back lets you move around the focus point easily.

 Mast base and running rigging on the Swan 78. Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. Photo by: Daniel Novello

Mast base and running rigging on the Swan 78. Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. Photo by: Daniel Novello

The Leica SL has a 24-MP CMOS sensor rated at ISO 50-50,000 which is often more than you need. What happened to darkness in photography? The interplay between the light and dark areas is often the most exiting element in a photograph. With modern sensors with ISO values into the hundreds of thousands, the images may look flat and unnatural.

Since the M8 and M9 with its lush CCD sensor and the transition to CMOS, Leica has always tweaked their sensors to fantastic image quality. Low light photography has never been better. The light gathering capability of the huge front element on the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH is great. The SL has several other lenses too and a roadmap is in place for more lenses in the future based on the shared L-bayonet.

The camera supports every Leica lens ever produced (with adapters) (SL, S, R, M, T & Cine). Many SL owners use M lenses and other third party lenses with adaptors.

The Leica SL has the fastest SD standard (UHS2) with a secondary (UHS1) back up SD card slot

Fantastic video quality: 4k at 30 fps (Super 35), 1080HD@120fps (FF) (10 bit via HDMI out)

The body and lens are weather sealed to protect from spray water and dust. This is a must for yachting and sailing photography. The best images are always taken close to the action. It is reassuring to know you can hose down the camera at the dock after a rough passage.

Shutter speed ranges from 30 min (bulb) to 1/8,000s (mechanical) 

Ultrasonic sensor cleaning. Being mirrorless, the sensor is exposed when changing lenses so this is a nice feature.

 The legendary Naval Architect German Frers checking the rig on the Swan 78. Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. Photo by: Daniel Novello

The legendary Naval Architect German Frers checking the rig on the Swan 78. Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. Photo by: Daniel Novello

The camera has the latest generation of Leica user interface with hybrid touch operation. This is a masterstroke from Leica. The four big buttons on the back are highly customisable and after a little getting used to, can be operated with muscle memory. Manual buttons and wheels are a concept Leica never abandoned and that is a huge plus. 

Made in Germany of course, the body of the Leica SL is machined from two solid blocks of aluminum and hand-finished to create a unique piece of work. The body and its lenses are sealed against dust and water. Leica SL lenses have the water repellant Aqua Dura coating. In other words, built like a tank and will be reliable under the toughest conditions.

WiFi and the Leica SL App

The Leica SL has an integrated WiFi module. The Leica SL App is available for free from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. The App allows the user to remotely control the camera via a phone or tablet. The user will be able to set the shutter speed and aperture and capture the scene via the tablet or phone. This makes it easy to
shoot remotely from unusual angles. And very Instagram friendly!

 Swan 78. Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. Photo by: Daniel Novello

Swan 78. Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. Photo by: Daniel Novello

Conclusion

The Leica SL is perfectly suited for yachting photography. Apart from the weather sealing, the fantastic image quality is reassuring for those of us who want the best.

The DNG files are very flexible. More so than the DNGs from the M9/M240 and many other cameras. It is possible to extract much detail from the shadow areas and the highlights are not too prone to clipping. Expose your images well and post production will be at a minimum.

While I only tested the SL with the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH, I am certain the other SL lenses are just as good or even better. The handling is intuitive and controls are responsive. The weight and heft of the camera are a little on the heavy side for a full day of shooting but that is easily offset by image quality.

A highly recommended camera for yachting and sailing indeed!


Disclosure: The magazine was lent the Leica SL and the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH by Norwegian Leica Distributor Bresson AS for reviewing purposes. 

Thank you for the chance to review the SL and the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH for the readers of Scandinavian Mariner Magazine! If you are in Norway, do stop by the Leica Store Oslo to check out the Leica SL and talk to the very knowledgeable staff.