What comes to mind when you hear the word Leica? Probably an expensive rangefinder camera, right? And you wouldn’t be wrong. Other than a few exceptions, most Leica cameras have been rangefinders. The Leicaflex SL is among these exceptions. First introduced in 1968, the Leicaflex SL was the second camera in the Leica R-mount series. The first camera was the Leicaflex standard, with the last camera being the Leicaflex SL-2.
Although the Leicaflex standard didn’t compete favorably against other SLRs, the Leicaflex SL proved to be a worthy competitor against Japanese camera makers.
Here’s what made the Leicaflex SL such a great competitor.
Features of the Camera
One of the most significant shortcomings of the Leicaflex standard was the lack of a TTL metering system.
The Leicaflex SL addressed this issue. Even from the name (SL stands for Selective Lichtomessung or selective light metering), it is evident that the SL uses a Through the Lens metering system.
The inclusion of the TTL metering system meant that a photographer could take more accurate photos.
In addition to the TTL metering system, the Leicaflex SL also came with a big bright viewfinder that featured a central micro prism focusing screen. Unlike the Leicaflex Standard, the SL viewfinder was more user-friendly and allowed a Depth of Field preview function.
And that’s not all!
The SL viewfinder didn’t come with numerous LED light distractions. Other than the metering needle and shutter speed, your view was largely uninterrupted—something that’s lacking in most modern cameras.
What about the lens system?
The Leicaflex SL came with a Summicron lens, which was great for precision type photographs.
If you’re looking to shoot landscape, architecture, or posed objects photos, you’ll love the Summicron lens. However, if you’re into street photography, this is not the camera for you.
Despite being impeccable at precision, the Summicron lens wasn’t the best at focusing.
Like it’s predecessor, the Leicaflex SL came with a mechanically timed, horizontal travel rubberized cloth shutter that could achieve a maximum speed of 1/2000 sec., and a flash sync speed of 1/100 sec.
Other features include:
- Manual exposure with metering
- Cold shoe
- Leica R bayonet
Design and Physical Build
The Leicaflex design was nothing short of spectacular.
The camera featured changes from its predecessor design. One such change was removing the battery compartment from the front of the camera to the bottom of the camera.
This change was mainly due to the removal of the external CdS metering system.
All the buttons were perfectly placed to avoid accidentally pressing a button you didn’t intend.
The shutter speed dial and shutter release button were located on the right side of the camera, while the rewind dial and ISO settings were situated on the left side of the camera.
Shortcomings of the Camera
One feature that made the SL less competitive was that the camera couldn’t change focusing screens.
Most of the cameras had interchangeable screens at the time, which made them attractive to a larger population. The Leicaflex, however, only came with a single focusing screen.
And the reason for this? Leica didn’t want to create a means for dust to enter the viewfinder—which is an issue common with many interchangeable focusing screens.
Another shortcoming with the camera was the loud shutter, which makes this camera a terrible choice for street shooting.
And that’s not all!
Opening the film back is also a confusing process. Unlike other cameras where the rewind knob acts as the lock release to the film back, the Leicaflex SL came with a unique system where you have to press a button on the side to open the film back and load/remove the film.
In the SL, the rewind knob is just for rewinding.
The SL is also a pretty heavy camera. Together with a lens, the camera weighs 1540g. Carrying this camera on your neck for a whole day of shooting is bound to cause you neck crumps. However, this heavyweight is also a design feature that acts as a dampener against mirror shake.
The Leicaflex SL was and is still a great camera to won.
It’s a combination of the flawless M3 body, Leica’s optical precision, and the compositional ease of 35mm SLR.
An SLR worth your vintage classic camera collection.