Leica SL2 vs Panasonic Lumix S1R: Two L-mount leaders with one big difference

The Leica SL2, released November 2019, is the german manufacturer’s response to the Panasonic Lumix S1R. Both are 47-megapixel, full-frame cameras built around the same lens mount. With the SL2, Lecia is making a statement that it wants to lead the way in the world of premium full-frame mirrorless systems, but as you can use all the same L-mount lenses on the less-expensive Panasonic, is the Leica worth the extra cost?

That’s not to say that Lumix isn’t pricey. It comes in at $3,700 for just the camera body — but that’s still well short of the Leica SL2’s $5,995 price. It’s fair to suggest that both will break the bank for most, but these are high-end cameras for the most demanding photographic assignments with plenty of features to justify their costs. Here’s how they compare.

Sensor

Both cameras ship with a staggering 47-megapixel, full-frame sensor. Even more impressively, they both come with the ability to create incredibly detailed, 187-megapixel composite images. Yes, you read that correctly: 187 megapixels. This is thanks to the 5-axis sensor-shift stabilization system that can move the sensor by half a pixel’s width in between exposures, then combine eight separate exposures into one image with increased resolution. A tripod is required for this mode.

That stabilization system also allows for up to 5.5 stops of shake reduction for handheld shooting, or 6 in the case of the Lumix S1R when paired with a compatible stabilized lens.

As expected, the SL2 and the S1R produce fantastic image quality. One small difference is how the cameras produce RAW files, with the S1R using Panasonic’s proprietary RW2 format while the SL2 uses the open Adobe DNG standard. This won’t lead to an objective difference in image quality, but RAW files from the Leica might be supported in more applications.

The cameras also offer slightly different ISO ranges. Leica has a native ISO of 100 to 50,000 (which can be extended down to 50), while Panasonic’s native ISO spans from 100 to 25,600 and can be extended to 51,200. While we haven’t shot the SL2 to compare it, we would be very surprised if there was a noticeable difference in actual noise levels between these two cameras. As both are full frame, you can expect excellent low light performance at high ISO.

Design

It might be time to renew that gym membership, because both of these cameras will give you a workout. While mirrorless cameras are generally known for their compact and lightweight builds, that couldn’t be further from the truth in this case. Without a lens attached, the Leica SL2 weighs in at almost 2 pounds. Even heavier, the Lumix S1R weighs 2.24 pounds — that’s more than some full-frame DSLRs! Add a lens, and you’ll really start to feel the burn.

Panasonic Lumix S1R Review
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The SL2 and S1R both use the same 3.2-inch, 2.1-million-dot rear LCD screen and 5.7-million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder. Both of these are excellent, but only the Panasonic’s screen can articulate, while the Leica’s is fixed.

It’s no secret that both of these cameras share much in the way of technology, but each manufacturer has gone for its own unique look and feel. The Leica delivers an expected minimalist experience, opting for a slimmed-down body and streamlined controls. Panasonic, on the other hand, has emulated a more traditional DSLR aesthetic and the S1R is liberally sprinkled with buttons, dials, and switches.

The S1R also uses a higher-capacity battery that pumps out 500 shots per charge, while the SL2 only manages 379, based on CIPA standardized testing.

While strikingly different to look at, both cameras offer a premium fit and finish. The Leica is the more elegant of the two, but the Lumix offers the type of utilitarian control that working professional photographers need. On top of that, both cameras are weather-sealed, so you can be sure your gear is safe in harsher conditions.

Speed

As is true with most mirrorless systems, both Leica and Panasonic provide both an electronic shutter and a mechanical shutter. They hit a max speed of 1/8,000 in mechanical mode, or 1/40,000 second in electronic. On the other end of the spectrum, they can keep their shutters open for as long as 30 minutes before going into bulb mode.

When it comes to continues shooting speed, the SL2 is the faster camera — perhaps a bit surprising for Leica, a brand not usually associated with high-speed action. Using the electronic shutter, the SL2 can hit 20 frames per second, or 10 with the mechanical shutter. The Lumix S1R tops out at 9 frames per second, but that’s still not bad considering its high resolution. However, all of these speeds are with autofocus locked. To shoot continuously with autofocus, both cameras have to drop down to 6 fps.

Video

With the Lumix S1R, Panasonic was able to boast the fact it was the first full-frame camera to shoot 4K video at 60fps (along with its lower-resolution sibling, the Lumix S1). Full HD 1080p can be recorded up to 180 fps. However, the Leica SL2 has now matched these specs, and goes even further by including professional options like 10-bit 4:2:2 color, log gamma, and high bitrate recording. Panasonic does offer these features — and more — on the video-oriented Lumix S1H, but the S1R remains focused on still photography.

Also, while not technically a video mode, the S1R features Panasonic’s 6K Photo mode, which records a burst of 6K frames at 30 frames per second and allows you to select the one you want after. This can be used for everything from focus bracketing to capturing ultra-fast action.

Which is the right camera for you?

If it isn’t already glaringly obvious, there’s not much that separates these cameras when it comes to specs. There are some significant differences when it comes to video and continuous shooting, for which the Leica SL2 takes the crown. But when it comes to image quality, design, and durability, they’re both neck and neck.

The one major difference here is the price. If you want to boast you’re a Leica shooter, it’s going to cost you an extra $2,000 to do so. It is the lighter and arguably more attractive camera, but our rational recommendation is to buy the Lumix and put the money you save toward a good lens — maybe even one from Leica.

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