Leica SL3 Review | Rediscovering the Joy of Photography

Rediscovering the Joy of Photography With The Leica SL3
Rediscovering the joy of photography with the Leica SL3.

The Leica SL3 – An Approachable Camera Masterpiece for Both Beginners and Pros

To the uninitiated, the Leica SL3 must seem full of surprises. Or should I say, full of contradictions.

Its physical form is vaguely retro in appearance and it has noticeably fewer dials and buttons than most other mirrorless cameras of this generation. But five minutes with the SL3 and you’ll know it’s thoroughly modern. In no way short on contemporary functionalities, too.

With a rather astonishing Singaporean dollar price of SGD 10,400 (May 2024), one would be inclined to assume this Made-in-Germany, 60MP mirrorless is a professional camera, and it indeed is. It has all the works a pro would want. In the right hands, I have no doubts truly amazing photographs are daily norms. As the sales tagline goes, you can own the moment.

That being said, this Leica mirrorless is surprisingly “approachable” even for photography beginners. As long as you have an inkling of fundamentals, you’re ready to go. You wouldn’t, yet, be able to take award-winning shots. But what an amateur shoot with the Leica SL3 will rarely, if ever, make anyone groan. That is, unless one does nonsense like shooting a sprinting athlete with a 1-sec shutter speed.

Leica SL3 Weather Sealing
By the way, the SL3 is certified to IP54. On paper, it is stated as capable of operating in temperatures from −10 to +40°C. You will more or less “sense” this durability when you hold the weather-sealed, premium build in your hands.

Much of this approachability has to do with the new electronic interface. Now, most if not all recent reviews for the SL3 celebrated this revamped interface, praising it for its streamlined design and intuitiveness. I can only say, at first glance, this might not be the impression; the interface feels vaguely intimidating. Somewhat austere and arcane with its minimalist presentation too.

Leica SL3 Tilting LCD Panel User Interface
Like the rest of the camera, the user interface emphasises streamlined simplicity.

But spend an hour with it and you’ll realise Leica has devoted a lot of careful thought to the menu structure and layout

The controls that most photographers would regularly need to fiddle with are clearly presented in two arrays, with all buttons enjoying equal prominence to avoid confusion. Icons are aplenty, yes, but anyone with any experience with modern digital tech shouldn’t have difficulties deciphering them.

Need more expert control? Sure. Just, experiment, tap, and surf deeper.

Unsure of what should be what? No problem. Leave whatever you can at auto and just focus on your shutter and aperture. The SL3 is amazingly reliable with focus, ISO and noise controls, white balance, and dynamic range.

Outside of this lovely interface, everything about the physical build is designed to please; by this, I don’t just mean it’s lighter and smaller than the preceding SL2. All dials and most buttons are unmarked for a reason: they are customisable. Unused to what the top right dial does in shutter mode? No issue. Just assign another function. It’s as easy as it gets.


To share, when briefing me about the basic controls of the SL3, the friendly Leica specialist repeatedly highlighted how I could reconfigure the dials—he likely felt this was important since I earlier shared that I’m a long-time devoted Nikon user.

I thought this was important, too, but I ended up leaving everything as it was throughout my loan period. It did take me a day or so to get used to the “Leica system” but end of the day, it wasn’t anything arduous. It was just a matter of habit.

An Incredible, Empowering Autofocus Experience

To share more about what happened on the day of my loan, right after collecting the Leica SL3, I made a beeline for Singapore’s most iconic and photogenic attraction, i.e., Gardens by the Bay.

My purpose was, of course, to try the amazing camera that I’ve just loaned. But because I’ve yet to familiarise myself with the controls, I spent more time that afternoon exploring the controls and interface rather than actuallycomposing pictures. I was just clicking away whenever it felt right.

In other words, I didn’t expect pictures from that afternoon to be usable for anything. What I was shooting were test photos.

And so imagine my surprise later that evening when after examining the batch in Adobe Camera Raw, I concluded that the majority were not only “usable,” but were also good enough not to require any digital enhancement.

Leica SL3 Photo Sample - Daylight
[Unedited] This is the JPG version of one of the first pictures I took with the Leica SL3. The rendering is superb, isn’t it? Were I to photoshop it, I’d probably reduce the exposure for the upper half but even without that, the image is fine as it is. (Full Res version here. Zoom in to see the details of the people!)
Leica SL3 Photo Sample - Indoor Garden
[Unedited] I love how this picture turned out. The details of brights and darks are simply perfect. (Full Res version here)
Leica SL3 Photo Sample - Street Photography
[Unedited] I took many pics of this funny dude at the new CQ @ Clarke Quay, while struggling with a crowd. The capture is a notch underexposed; I shouldn’t have lowered exposure. But otherwise, the details are superb. The autofocus was spot on and his (vinyl?) jacket feels so real you can almost touch it. (Full Res version here)
Leica SL3 Photo Sample - Shaded Indoor
[Unedited] A vintage Rolls Royce. This was shot at ISO 6400 but doesn’t look like it till you zoom in. (Full Res version here)

As someone who picked up photography 15 years ago purely to make my graphic design jobs easier, I’ve long relied more on my photoshopping skills rather than good photography techniques. As awful as it sounds, I often don’t even bother with some basics; I tell myself I can always “do magic” later on the comp. What digital photo wouldn’t need touch-ups, anyway?

And yet, here’s a batch that didn’t require work, with most shots taken when I was half distracted. I cannot begin to describe the ineffable joy at seeing this. It’s almost like rediscovering the joys of photography afresh.

Leica SL3 Image Sample with Edit - Street Photography
[Edited] The only edits I did with this image were to apply Adobe Camera Raw’s “Natural” preset and some noise reduction. Because the Leica SL3 was so accurate with the subject focus, it was also effortless to select just the background for noise reduction. (I.E., it saves you a hell lot of work)
Leica SL3 Image Sample with Edit - Nightscape
[Edited] I tend to slightly underexpose my pictures for I find it easier to digitally adjust exposures than manage high ISOs. This river shot didn’t require many adjustments, though, and indicated to me that I can be bolder with the Maestro IV Processor as far as noise is concerned. Note the SL3’s management of warm and cool light too.

Much of this joy is thanks to the exemplary 3-in-1 autofocus system packed into the Leica Sl3. To quote the official literature, “The SL3’s autofocus system combines three technologies using efficient algorithms. Depending on the shooting situation, the interplay of phase detection (PDAF), depth map (Object Detection AF), and contrast detection (Contrast Detection AF) are optimally adjusted.”

My non-technical explanation of the above is this. The 3-in-1 autofocus system cannot perform miracles and some modes like face recognition require mindful input on your part. But 90 percent of the time, “iAF” is spot-on. SPOT-ON.

Together with overall excellence in other areas such as noise control and dynamic range, there you have it. Awesome pictures right out of the camera. Even when in the hands of a beginner.

Leica SL3 Photo Sample - Night Cityscape 1
[Unedited] Shot with a tripod at f8.0 and 0.8 sec, ISO 800. (Full Res version here)
Leica SL3 Photo Sample - Night Cityscape 2
[Unedited] Also shot with a tripod. A little rotation and a notch of brightening and this would be ready for large-format print. (Full Res version here)
Leica SL3 Image Sample with Edit - City Nightscape 3
[Edited] Overall, I’ll say, yeah, Leica’s sales literature doesn’t exaggerate. The triple autofocus system does wonders even in dim settings. It works fast too.
Leica SL3 Edited Image Sample - City Nightscape 4
[Edited] I love night scenes. With the SL3, I feel empowered to experiment with bolder settings and scenes.
Leica SL3 Photo Sample - Dim Indoor
[Unedited] I think the Leica SL3 truly excels with scenes that feature strong differences in brightness. (Full Res version here)
Leica SL3 Photo Sample - Portrait
[Unedited] A “glam” shot at f5.0 and 1/125 sec. Once again, the bokeh is accurate. The details are also impressive. Zoom in and you can see the smudges on the mannequin’s forehead. (Full Res version here)
Leica SL3 Photo Sample - Product Shot
[Unedited] Product shot. The autofocus was exactly what I wanted. (Full Res version here)

Achieving The Signature Leica Look

I hesitate to use the epithet Leica look. As many resources point out, any such term is subjective and debatable.

However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t immediately notice a significant visual difference between pictures taken with the Leica SL3 and those produced by my older DSLRs.

The best way I can describe this difference is to put it as a well-managed hyper-realism. Beyond finesse in detail and a lush colour scheme, there is a certain subtle depth to the SL3’s pictures—a more defined 3D sensation.

Leica SL3 Photo Sample - Indoor
[Unedited] I shot this at a neighbourhood library and I just love the naturalistic colour. Is this the famed Leica look? (Full Res version here)
Leica SL3 Image Sample with Edit - Indoor Showroom
[Edited] I shot this at a product launch and what I loved most was how the SL3 reproduced those brighter colours. It’s rich without oversaturation and almost creamy in sensation. There’s almost an immersive feel. (I only increased exposure for this pic)

Lots of technical factors contribute to this, from superior gradation to colour depth, to the fact that my loan unit came with a Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–90 mm, easily one of the best and most expensive zoom lenses that I’ve ever used. If I were to ask the Leica specialists, I’m sure they’d also highlight it has much to do with the SL3’s high-performance Maestro IV Processor, which outside of speed, is the brains behind the ultra-pleasing, vibrant colour reproduction.

I’ll put it this way. The pictures pop at you. They do so with naturalism and not with the sort of over-processed artificial richness that’s eye-catching at first glance but tires quickly.

This natural richness is endlessly thrilling.

Leica SL3 Image Sample with Edit - Indoor
[Edited] This picture was shot at ISO 6400, so it greatly benefitted from some AI noise reduction in Camera Raw. By the way, the SL3 offers you different file size options if you are shooting in both JPG and DNG (raw). For example, you could go for 60MP JPGs but 18MP DNGs.
Leica SL3 Photo Sample - Figurine
[Unedited] Okay, this Denji figurine of mine has always been tough to properly photograph because, you know, that protrusion on his head is so long? But the SL3 autofocus more or less got it right. (Full Res version here)
Leica SL3 Image Sample with Edit - Indoor
[Edited] Having some fun with Denji here. Like I mentioned earlier, having a great “base” to work with strongly encourages you to experiment in Photoshop.
Leica SL3 Image Sample with Edit - Indoor
[Edited] Taken at the interactive murder mystery play, Backstage Betrayal. I was lucky to have this opportunity to experiment with some low-keyish shots. The need for some post-edit noise reduction considered, I think the SL3 demonstrated admirable balance and colour reproduction, and of course, focus accuracy.

Videography With the Leica SL3

Videos shot with the Leica SL3 exhibit the same exemplary qualities as photos, with focusing especially impressive. (The ability to take videos of up to 8K in resolution is also a star feature) Take a look at the following samples. The only thing I wish to highlight is that you must not expect miracles from the 5-stop in-body stabilisation. It works great for static scenes but for walking footage, you will still need a gimbal.

FHD @ 60 FPS | 4K @ 60 FPS | 8K @ 30 FPS

What Do You Not Like About the Leica SL3?

At this point, I suppose it’s imperative that I share what I do not like about the Leica SL3, least this write-up comes across too much as a hard-core, fan-boy sales pitch.

Wait, let me moderate that statement. I should say, what I think users might be less satisfied with.

Battery life is one area. To be clear, I did NOT run into power issues throughout my loan period. Still, it’s a little worrying to always see battery levels dipping to half before the day is halfway through. This happens even though I religiously put the camera to sleep whenever I’m not shooting anything.

At 850g, the SL3 is lighter than competitors like the Nikon Z8 and stunningly hefty Z9, so to me, that’s not an issue. (My own D780 is about the same) However, if you’re travelling and you’re using a lens like the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–90 mm, and you have with you a decent tripod and a power bank AND a spare lens, well, I think you know what I mean. Experienced photographers will be unfazed but beginners might find themselves with sore muscles all over.

Lastly, there is the … price. Let’s face it, the Leica SL3 is an amazing piece of German engineering but it also has an equally amazing price. I’ll talk more about this in the next concluding section.

Leica SL3 Photo Sample - Food
[Unedited] Lovely texture and natural colour. (Full Res version here)
Leica SL3 Image Sample with Edit - Indoor
[Edited] More food shots.

Rediscovering the Joys of Photography

I picked up photography for work needs. Others do it for the love of the art or because it’s an accessible pastime.

Whatever your reason for taking photos, I’m sure you will experience the same euphoria when you see yourself successfully freezing in time that one moment that is so important to you.

How to perform that freezing is where skills are involved, and nope, no camera or lens however worthy would ever be able to compensate for lack of skill. That said, a camera like the Leica SL3 makes it easier for you to perform said magic by working hard to manage the nitty-gritty technical details that usually drag down the worth of a photo. You know, things like colour and noise management, wrong exposure, and so on. (Haven’t mentioned this, but the SL3’s screen has a nifty exposure warning function)

The words reliability and partnership come to mind. You do your part as a photographer. The SL3 gives you a hand and then works doubly hard to produce the best output for you. Together, you rediscover the joys and magic of photography. What makes it endlessly pleasurable just to walk around with such a camera, capturing moments and time.

Leica SL3 Photo-Taking Experience
[Unedited] I relished every moment I had with the Leica SL3. I have not enjoyed walking around just shooting random pictures so much for a long time. (Full Res version here)
Leica SL3 Image Sample with Edit - Indoor
[Edited] Oh, I haven’t talked much about white balance. In general, I feel the SL3 is accurate with what it evaluates 90 percent of the time. To share, I left the setting on auto and completely forgot about it.

This experience comes with a premium, of course. IMO, the SL3 is a great piece of gear for a photography beginner to own—it will cement any nascent love for the art—but most people would baulk at spending that much when starting out, yes?

For those who depend on photography for a living, this German-made mirrorless would likely be something you work for rather than start with. But if you make the investment, I dare say you will not regret it.

Professionals at every level will likely love every moment with this wonderful camera too. I certainly did.

Other reviews

Leica SL3 Review | Rediscovering the Joy of Photography
Article Name
Leica SL3 Review | Rediscovering the Joy of Photography
Rediscovering the joy of photography with the superb Leica SL3, a masterpiece that’s designed to be user-friendly for beginners and pros alike.

Thanks for commenting!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.