Sony a9 vs. Leica SL: my impressions

Leica SL (601) with Summilux-M 50/1.4 -1/1250sec, f1.4, ISO 50 -  © by rené r. wenzel 2017

by rené r. wenzel -

It has been already written enough about the specs of these two cameras. 

Therefore, here I will only briefly review my experience comparing these two cameras during two days of a professional photographer. 

I would like to thank FOTO KÜCHER in Salzburg (Mr. Imhof) who asked me to test these two cameras and provided me with the Sony A9.

Leica SL with Vario-Elmarit 24-90/2.8-4

Sony alpha 9 with Sony Zoom 24-70/2.8

Settings for aperture, time and ISO were set identical on both cameras unless otherwise specified. Postprocessing has been done from RAW in Camera RAW / Lightroom CC using an identical preset. 

Handling of the two cameras is really different. The Leica SL is robust, solid and beautiful to look at. The buttons and menu are well designed and easy to use once you have percepted the concept. However it is heavy and somehow bulky compared to the Sony a9 when using the zoom lenses. Image quality is superb in both cameras.

The Sony a9 with the 24-70 lens weighted 600 gr less than the Leica SL with the 24-90 lens.

I shooted some very similar images using the same settings. When comparing the output of the two cameras using identical post processing (i.e. process 2012, profile Adobe Standard, identical white balance, contrast, clarity ecc; ) I could not identify any significant differences in resolution, sharpness o.a. when shooting with ISO between 50-6400. In high ISO (above 6400 ISO) both cameras still perform well, possibly the Sony A9 is a little bit less noisy when it goes to 25000 or even 50000 ISO. 

Here I show some couples of images: 

(1st image: Leica SL, 2nd image Sony A9)

upper  image of couple: Leica SL with Vario-Elmarit  24-90/2.8-4, 

lower image of couple Sony A9 with Sony 24-70/2.8

All images done with similar settings for focal length, aperture, time and ISO.

Postprocessing in Adobe Lightroom using identical settings including white balance. 

Click on the images to enlarge in the Lightbox.

Within the Lightbox, click on the "I"-Button (Info-Button) for further details of the images. 

At "medium" ISO (in this case 6400 ISO) both cameras perform still extremely good: excellent noise, nice colors. 

(1st image. Leica SL, 2nd image: Sony A9)

When going up to 50000 ISO, quality decreases with both cameras. Still, there is a reasonable color and noise making the images useable for certain purposes. 

1st image: Leica SL with Vario-Elmarit 24-90/2.8-4 (50000 ISO)

2nd image: Sony A9 with Sony 24-70/2.8 (51200 ISO):

Finally, I tested the burst shooting mode. The Leica SL with Vario-Elmarit 24-90/2.8-4  performs well and focuses the runner perfectly until 7 f/sek. With 11 f/sec. the focus does not follow the runner. 

The Sony a9 with the Sony 24-70/2.8 lens outperforms the Leica SL keeping a perfect autofocus on the runners head even with 20 f/sec! 

Burst shooting mode: Leica SL vs. Sony A9

Leica SL vs. Sony a9 - serial images test shooting with same aperture and 1/1000 sec. all images same duration (0.05) - © by rené r. wenzel 2017

So, in summary: 

Two brilliant cameras with 24 MP full frame sensors, with superb image quality at low ISO where the image quality is not really different between the two. Even with higher ISO excellent image quality. Furthermore both have a fast autofocus, 4K video and other professional features. 

The Sony a9 keeps the autofocus  during burst mode up to 20 f/sec compared to the Leica SL, where the autofocus is precise up to 7 f/sec.

The viewfinder of the Leica SL is still unique and brilliant. This so called "EyeRes" viewfinder of the Leica SL is simply the best you can get so far even 2 years after the Leica SL has come on the market. However, the Leica SL is heavier and more expensive.

The Sony a9 is on top of the time. However I guess, that the price will fall in the next months as Sony likes to produce new camera models every 6 months, which will also reduce the residual value of the camera when you want to sell it in a year or so. 

The former legendary stability of value of the Leicas, however, has also suffered since they went digital. I lost nearly 50% of the value of my Leica M8 when I sold it 4 years later. Nevertheless, after the company dropped the price recently by 1000 Euro to now 5900.- Euro, the Leica SL should be more stable and a successor (Leica SL2 ?)  will probably not come before 2019. Finally, photography has a lot to do with emotion and my creativity gets inspired by the touch and feel of the camera I use. 

Thus, personally, I will keep with my Leica SL and be happy to use my beautiful Leica -M lenses with it.

I am happy to receive your feedback to this article.

Feel free to comment on this review below! 

© rené r. wenzel 2017 - August 2017

Leica SL with Vario-Elmarit 24-90 - © by rené r. wenzel 2017

Leica SL with Elmarit Vario-Zoom 24-90/2.8-4

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