Body, handling and controls

Taken on its own, the Leica SL isn't really all that big. It's basically the same height as a Nikon D810 or 5D Mark IV, but lighter and significantly thinner. The grip is the biggest problem. It's acceptable with a small M-mount lens attached, but when you attach a native lens your wrist will promptly shatter.

Okay, that's obviously an exaggeration. But the SL's grip is the epitome of 'form before function.' If all you're going to do is look at the SL on a shelf, that's fine. But in use, the grip's material isn't 'grippy' enough, there is no ergonomic contouring whatsoever and the large native lenses make everything feel unbalanced. I got used to it, but I never liked it. There are cameras whose 'feel' begs you to pick them up and go out and shoot with them, and the SL is too uncomfortable in the hand due to its minimalist aesthetics to offer that quality.

For a more casual 'seen around your own city' type of shooting, the SL can feel a burden to carry with you, though small adapted lenses help this somewhat. Processed and cropped to taste from Raw. Adapted Leica Summilux-M 35mm F1.4 ASPH. ISO 50, 1/125 sec, F1.7. Photo by Carey Rose

Yes, this is contrast to many other reviews and Leica's own claim that the SL comes with 'logical ergonomic design.' But there is just no way I can honestly claim that the SL's grip is anywhere approaching the ergonomics and comfort of any other full-sized camera on the market.

The rest of the design

Thankfully the rest of the design works better than the grip. All the buttons (particularly the shutter) have great tactile feedback despite the weather-sealing, although the top two function buttons are impossible to reach without breaking your grip. The twin control dials offer great feedback as well, but if you spin them too quickly, they'll mostly ignore your input, which can make adapting to rapidly changing situations frustrating.

The SL approaches the best build quality of any camera I've ever used, barring a top-of-the-line sports body. It's just...a black metal brick (in a good way). There is no 'looseness' or unnecessary play anywhere, from the diopter to the battery release. The battery even requires a two-step process to eject, which comes across as somehow refined and precise, and doesn't get old. As with other Leica cameras, the paint will scuff if you look at it wrong.

Now, I'm not advocating laying the SL down in a puddle, but if you did, the weather sealing should hold up fine. Processed, cropped and rotated to taste. Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm at 27mm. ISO 200, 1/125 sec, F9. Photo by Carey Rose

The rear screen's display quality and touch functionality are great, and the top LCD is easily legible and makes good use of its limited real estate (I wish it would display shooting information faster after boot up, though). The AF joystick is, well, a joy, and doubles as a 'confirmation' button in the menus.

The best part of the SL is unquestionably the electronic viewfinder. You just have to see it to believe it. The resolution is insane, the refresh rate only dips under very dim lighting, and the magnification ratio means it offers a bigger window into the world than a Canon EOS-1D X II. It's the current benchmark for electronic viewfinders, and if you're a die-hard optical viewfinder DSLR shooter, you owe it yourself to take the SL for a spin.

Lastly, there is a distinct plastic-capped hump on the shoulder opposite the shutter button that houses the GPS and Wi-Fi antennae.

The learning curve (or: wait, where's the darn mode dial?)

You just got an SL? Okay, step one: swallow your pride, or even consider (gasp) reading the manual.

As for me, after ten minutes of trying everything I could think of, I asked my coworkers with a mixture of exasperation and embarrassment how to get the SL into aperture priority. Turns out, you click the rear dial in and turn. Not necessarily intuitive, but hey, once you learn it, it works well.

The rest of the SL is much the same story. All the buttons are unlabeled (though a small red dot denotes the default movie-record button), and all are customizable to a degree. You will grow accustomed to where each of the four soft-buttons around the screen will take you, and you can assign varying functions to a 'long press' of any of them. It's maybe not the fastest implementation of custom functions around (a 'long click' is, by definition, long), but it works well after you've built up some muscle memory.

Shooting with the Leica SL was a little like my first time learning to drive stick shift. Now, that's all I drive. Processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm at 48mm. ISO 50, 1/125 sec, F3.6. Photo by Carey Rose

So the SL is similar to many high-end cameras in that you need to spend some time with it to really get the most out of it. I can't in good conscience fault the control scheme on the SL. It's just different, and much of the time, it works well. It's like arguing whether Nikon or Canon has superior ergonomics; it's more personal preference than objective fact. 

In any case, after spending some time to figure out how you want the camera set up and how you want it to work for you, you'll likely never have to go through that process again.