The Leicaflex SL2 Could be the Best Leica SLR Ever Made

The Leicaflex SL2 Could be the Best Leica SLR Ever Made

2200 1238 James Tocchio

In 1974 Leitz introduced an evolutionary camera to build on the foundation laid by the first and second Leica SLRs, the Leicaflex and Leicaflex SL. This new camera, named with the wild abandon so typified by the Germans as the Leicaflex SL2, was designed and built under an uncommon-in-business ethos in which no expense was spared. Naturally, the camera was extremely, almost cripplingly expensive (double the price of the comparable Nikon pro-spec SLR against which it was directly competing), but it was also remarkably beautiful, built to exacting standards, and was the first truly complete system SLR from Leica.

If all this sounds like the first chapter in what would become a runaway success and subsequent dynasty of SLR dominance, that’s because we’re only telling half the story. In the era in which the SL2 debuted, Leica was in dire financial straits, and every Leicaflex the company sold reportedly sold at a loss – not a good business position. The result is that after just two years, an incredibly short lifespan in the world of professional SLR systems, SL2 production would cease.

But even this isn’t the full story. And that’s because the book on this entirely mechanical camera is still being written more than four decades after the final example rolled out of the factory. The SL2’s all-mechanical construction, advanced technical abilities, exceptional lenses, and sheer durability make it an heirloom machine that’s as capable today as it was back then, and today, the SL2 is the mechanical Leica SLR to own.

A bold statement, for sure. Let’s back it up.

The first handshake with any camera is made with the eyes, and this camera grasps with a hand that inspires confidence. That’s because it’s gorgeous. Aesthetically speaking, the SL2 is everything I want in a camera. Though fans of Leica’s more famous M and that machine’s bauhaus simplicity might find the SL2 downright inelegant, as a professional SLR, this thing is quintessentially classic, with a profile and silhouette that’s timeless and utilitarian. The pentaprism is squat and compact, the body muscular with stoic angles. Top plate controls are reminiscent of fine machine tools and built and deployed with a nod to symmetry. Like all the best machines in the world, there’s an economy of form that those in-the-know will recognize as the brass ring of design.

This purposeful and timeless aesthetic carries through to the camera’s feel in the hand – mostly. As with all cameras, there are some minor annoyances, chief of which is the sheer heft of the machine. Like the Minolta XK, which was found to be a technically incredible camera with a major failing in the weight department, the SL2 will be undeniably too heavy for some users. Shooters who travel, or the adventurous among us may be put off when packing an SL2 and a couple or three lenses in a bag. For those shooters there are certainly better SLRs to choose.

But the substantial (and somewhat excessive) weight is a natural product of the camera’s old-world construction. The materials selection department at Leitz in 1974 had not yet been seduced by the siren song of plastics. As such, a shooter holding an SL2 would be hard-pressed to put his finger on anything not made of brass or some other alloy, and if featherweight users will be turned off by the camera’s heaviness, an equal number (or more) will accept this heft in order to use such a strong, all-mechanical, all-metal camera. It’s a heavy machine, yes, but it’s a good heavy.

Functionality could also be described as timeless. This is a tool camera in the same way that a Rolex Submariner is a tool watch. It’s been meticulously designed to not only look good, but serve its function in the most direct way possible. All knobs, dials, levers, and switches are placed in a position that makes simple sense, with a clarity of purpose that eschews the “multiple-functions-for-every-switch” design sensibility of other contemporary and today’s cameras. The ISO dial is an ISO dial. It’s not an ISO dial with a built-in exposure compensation dial and multiple-exposure lever. To call this camera a simple camera is accurate, and not a disparagement.

On the top plate we have the shutter speed selector, ISO dial, film type indicator, rewind knob, and film frame counter, which is a gorgeous jewel-like affair reminiscent of the M3’s. Atop the pentaprism is a hot shoe, and an ingenious light meter illumination button, which when pressed, activates a light within the pentaprism to assist in meter readings in low-light situations. The front of the camera carries on this simplicity of layout, with only a self-timer (which you’ll never use), a depth-of-field preview lever (which you’ll occasionally use), and the lens removal button. On the opposite flank of the lens mount are the flash connectors and a battery compartment (which holds a battery to power only the viewfinder illumination). The bottom shows another battery compartment for powering the light meter, and a film rewind button. On the back, there’s nothing except a viewfinder, and in the case of my 50th year edition, a special serial number. Neat.

This simplicity of design shouldn’t surprise long-time Leica fans – their M series has forever been a minimalist machine for discerning shooters (or so the marketing goes). This camera is no different. The only shooting mode the SL2 offers is full manual with meter assistance. That’s it. So you’ll be in charge of controlling your shutter speed, lens aperture, and everything else necessary to make a photo. For new shooters, this might be intimidating, but don’t let it be. The CdS light meter is extremely accurate, and its match-needle display is simplicity itself. Wide open through-the-lens readings are taken from an average area mostly in the center of the frame. Point your camera at your subject and the meter will tell you how much light you’re seeing via a delightful analog needle that swings up and down in the viewfinder. Now align this metering needle with the needle that corresponds to your settings and you’ll make a properly exposed image. No big deal.

This ease of use puts the SL2 in a surprising category of machine that’s equally at home in the confident and weathered hands of an experienced photographer as well as in the cold and clammy hands of a brand-new shooter looking to learn. For a camera to serve those two markets equally well, and be so damn perfectly built at the same time, is quite rare.

Of course, there’s no auto-exposure modes here, so users who absolutely need aperture-priority or full auto should probably look elsewhere, perhaps to Minolta’s XE series. And as the auto-focus revolution had yet to occur in 1974, this is a manual-focus only machine. Something to keep in mind for the lazy slobs among us.

What makes the SL2 the Leica SLR to own today? For me, it’s the combination of improvements over what came before it and a lack of the superfluous stuff that came on bloated Leica SLRs after.

The SL2 improves on the Leicaflex and Leicaflex SL in ways that seem insignificant on paper, but are practically very important. The viewfinder is much-improved, showing both the selected shutter speed as well as the selected lens aperture. This makes the process of taking a photo intuitive and effortless in that we never have to remove our eye from the viewfinder. The inclusion of a split-image focusing screen with micro prism surrounding band brings the SL2 up to speed with its rivals and makes focusing a breeze when compared to the earlier Leicas. We’re also benefiting from a more sensitive light meter, which is always helpful.

But the greatest improvement is one that reaches to the very core of what a pro-spec system SLR camera should be. Leica and Minolta were both producing R mount lenses at the time of the SL’s production cycle, and due to a design element within the SL’s mirror box, certain wide-angle lenses were unusable on that older machine. The SL2 rectifies this with a new mirror design, allowing for the first time the use of the full range of wide-angle lenses.

And when we consider the SL2 against the SLRs that came after it, the R series machines built in cooperation with Minolta and later Leica cameras, there’s little competition. Sure, the R3, R4, and later machines topple the SL2 on the spec sheet, and these cameras even feel pretty good in the hand, but they just don’t have it where it counts. They’re less reliable, depend on electronics just a bit too heavily, and lack the finesse of the earlier machine. Plus, if you’re buying an R body you may as well save some cash and go for the excellent Minolta versions, which are often simpler and better-designed.

Of course, all of these improvements, the desirousness of its looks, and the robustness of its construction mean very little if the camera isn’t fun to shoot. Happily, it is.

This machine is the very essence of why I shoot old cameras. There’s something here that you simply cannot get with today’s digital machines, no matter how nice they might be. There’s a tactility that is impossible to convey accurately (how many times have I read about how great something feels, and dismissed it as hyperbolic brand worship?), but it’s here. The film advance mechanism actuates with a refined ratcheting feedback that reminds us that something fantastically mechanical just happened inside the dense body. The shutter release button offers a perfect resistance before finally clicking home to release the shutter. The lens mounts with a robust click that’s impossibly satisfying.

And more than these unquantifiable tactile pleasures, the camera just works. The viewfinder is gorgeous and bright, looking more like ground glass than any other SLR finder I’ve used (there is, in fact, an optional ground glass focusing screen that was available as an install from the factory and standard equipment on the SL2 Mot). The metering system has never guided me wrong. The shutter is indestructible, as is the body itself (I’ve heard a true tale about an SL2 that fell from an airplane to the floor of the Mojave desert, and was still repairable). And the images this machine can make are, without bluster, beautiful.

And since the image is the reason for any camera to exist, this is imporatnt, and something Leica has always understood. Their range of R mount lenses are second-to-none. The standard 50mm F/2 Summicron, which could be described as this camera’s kit lens, has quickly become my favorite standard lens. Images made with this lens are consistently surprising in their color rendition and sharpness. Leica’s coated glass does exceptionally well at coaxing as much punch out of film as any lenses I’ve used, and on my a7II it performs just as well.

The all-metal lens hoods feel pretty damn sweet, too.

What we have with the SL2 is something that’s rare, not only in the world of cameras, but in the whole history of stuff made by humans. It’s rare to own an object that we can use for fifty years, that can then be passed onto our kids or a friend for their use over the next fifty years. The SL2 is this kind of object – it’s an heirloom machine in a segment of consumer devices that is and has always been obsessed with improvement, advancement, and replacement.

There’s a term in the German language, verschlimmbessern, that roughly describes something we’re all familiar with – the act of accidentally making something worse when trying to improve it. With the SL2, Leica avoided doing this to their SLR. The SL2 is better than any Leica SLR that came before. Unfortunately, the verschilmmbessern was strong with the cameras that came after the SL2, and for this reason the SL2 will forever be the high water mark of Leica SLRs, and it’s right there in the conversation for the high water mark of SLRs on the whole. For users who love the feel of Leica machines and the rendition of Leica glass, but who don’t find themselves falling in love with rangefinders (like myself), the Leicaflex SL2 is the SLR to own.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Not the best SLR in my case. My new/old stock Leicaflex SL2 bought in the city of London in 1981 was a “Friday” camera and a nightmare of unreliability. It would take less time to list the bits that worked than those that broke. Luckily I had, in view of the high price (including a 50mm Summilux 1), negotiated a 12 month back to Leica UK warranty. After three unsuccessful and very lengthy repairs and nearly a year later, when it was still shredding films, the dealer and I negotiated a surrender. If I would agree to a similar value purchase, he would not only refund my money but compensate me for the considerable number of ruined films. I bought a Contax RTS2, which had just been released and a 50mm f1.4 Planar. 35 years later and in the hands of a Russian friend, it is still working perfectly. The sole repairs over that period were to resolder a wire on the battery compartment and clean the contacts on the power switch, both of which I did myself. The experience put me off Leicas for years and my next experience with an early M7 in 2002 was not a lot better, with frequent electronic glitches. My recent S/H M7 acquisition, is I am delighted to say, behaving itself perfectly.


  • Another excellent article, as always. How is the prism silvering holding up? The ones I looked at had spots in the VF due to de-silvering (age). Does this camera take easily sourced batteries or does it need a voltage adjustment? (for the meter of course).
    You do know that you now need to follow this up with a review of the last Leica film SLR – the R9 (R8 will do in a pinch)

    • Mine has a perfect VF. I have heard of them de-silvering, as you said, especially around the edges of the frame. So that’s a great point, and buyers should make sure to check this before putting down their hard-earned money (I’ll add this into the post). As for batteries, it technically does come from the 1.35v era, so those who are really precise should have the voltage regulated or search for those elusive and illegal batteries we all know but don’t speak of. For what it’s worth, I use the normal 1.5 volt batteries and things have worked out just fine (though to be fair, I’ve not shot any unforgiving slide film through this one yet).

      I’d be happy to review the R9 – just have to get my mitts on one.

      • Get 2 of BAT83 diodes. Put them in parallel, with the stripes facing opposite directions (then polarity is not critical). Put that in series to the battery (to lose 0.3v). Use an common LR44 with a rubber o-ring to fill up the extra space.

  • As for the battery, I believe that you can use a Wein Cell PX625. Perfectly legal although not known for longevity. There are also adapters that allow 1.5v batteries to be used, although they seem fairly hard to come by. A better investment might be to have the camera’s meter recalibrated to work with 1.5v batteries. I did this with a Leica M5 and it was worth the money.

    • Good point Mike, I did that with my M5 too! While there are fancy pants places (and deservedly so) that do this like DAG, Walters Camera Repair also does this work for very little money. They are in downtown Los Angeles.

    • Dr Ricardo Davidson April 16, 2018 at 3:05 pm

      Wien cells are better replacements for mercury cells as they are also “sudden death” cells. Silver oxide 1.5 v cells also provide a fairly stable voltage output, if you go down this path make sure you never put in an alkaline battery, as these start too high and then go petering out over time giving you an inaccurate meter. Modern cameras have voltage stabilized circuits, usually from a 3 v source (it’s difficult from 1.5 v), I suggest you have an adapter made and use zinc-air hearing aid batteries, they are relatively cheap, pump out a fairly constant 1.4 v but also do not last long, alas.

      • Having acquired a pair of Leicaflex SL bodies (1 black, 1 chrome) I’ve now got the adapters to put the PX675 hearing aid batteries in. These give 1.4 volts and the battery check button goes to the lower dot fine. I paid £6.95 each for the adapters and £2.56 per set of 6 cells. I’d previously used the Alkalyne PX625 batteries as that’s what my two bodies came with including the black one bought from Germany.
        I checked the meter reading with the 1.5 volt batteries and found under exposure of 1 stop compared with a Digisix modern LCD readout meter that’s my reference point. I checked today with the ‘new regime’ and found the readings to be spot on. Long term, I feel that although many people praise the Wein cells, I think they are expensive and short lived – some people say 2 months! I had previously tried inserting the smaller and different shaped PX675 in my bodies but it was a gaff to keep the cell centred .
        The adapter is the same size and shape as the old 1.35v mercury cell and the smaller battery is a very good fit. I’m really glad I’ve gone down this route. The Leicaflex SL/SL2 cameras and lenses are just fabulous – anyone, of any age, who really appreciates absolutely top quality gear instantly recognises just what these are. The lens hoods that are detachable 28/35/50 are held on with 4 small claws. No risk of loss, unlike for the old Nikons with their ‘snap-on ‘ hoods that I kep losing. I’ve sold all my Nikon F/F2/F3s and lenses. I’m a Leicaflex man now. If I’m ever attacked, I just hope I have the 250mm f4 Telyt – R version 1 with me – 1400g – a very good cosh indeed. It would probably be manslaughter!

        • Dr Ricardo Davidson March 23, 2019 at 5:52 pm

          I could not agree more. I have re-calibrated both my Leicaflex SLs and my SL2 to 675 zinc-air batteries, they are very economical and easy to find. I tried a Wien cell once and it leaked, as well as being poorly put together. A word of caution on zinc-air cells, it takes time (about half an hour) for enough oxygen to diffuse into the cell to get it going. If you are going on some important shoot keep a spare cell with its seal peeled off so you can replace a dead battery without hiatus. They are sufficiently cheap for you to be able to do this. Another issue is very dry weather, I had some erratic results in 55% RH during a very dry spell. Chances are this will not be a problem in the UK but it may be elsewhere. I will try to find a cure for this. Meanwhile, I am trying to convert an SL which has always had a dodgy meter to silver oxide cells (without funny diodes) this is not as straightforward as some pundits may have you believe, and on the SL2 it will be even more difficult as the meter circuit is completely different with built-in fixes resistors rather than discrete components. The SL and SL2 are superb cameras, very steady when shooting with a large lens, I have a 180/2.8 I am very fond of.

  • I cannot recommend the Small Battery Company’s PX625 replacers highly enough. They use long lasting SR43 silver oxide cells and provide the correct 1.35 V as they have a proper voltage regulation circuit. There are cheap PX625 replacers on Fleabay that are just a battery holder and even if they claim otherwise, do not regulate the voltage. Just make sure you use a genuine silver oxide SR43 not an LR43 alkaline cell or you may find they will not work properly on cold days. The Wein cells are also quite temperature sensitive, as I found when using one in my MR-4 Leicameter on my M4. I went out to take pictures of frozen ponds around my UK house, just after sunrise on a sunny but very cold (-10ºC) January morning. My initial exposures were all wrong, as I fortunately quickly came to realise and went back home for my big lithium battery Polaris spot meter. When I went back for the Polaris, I measured the voltage on the Wein cell and it was only 0.8V but maybe less, when I was outside. Wein cells also run down when not in use and I find that when you pick a camera up with a Wein cell after a few weeks, it is almost inevitable you will find the battery flat. I also use a PX625 replacer in my Leica CL.

    • Dr Ricardo Davidson April 16, 2018 at 3:14 pm

      The device that’s in there is not a voltage regulator, strictly speaking, it’s a diode that applies a voltage drop that is independent of the current drain. It seems to do a fairly good job, but I use hearing-aid batteries in an adapter.

  • Hi James, very interesting and insightful article, as usual. I own the Leicaflex SL my dad used since 1972 for family photos; it had a CLA in 1992 and now it still works perfectly and I uses it for my family photos with great enjoyment. I’ve always shot this camera, since I was a boy, and although I also shoot other cameras, this one is my favourite for daylight colour and tele lens photos: in fact, I find it handles really well and it’s very well balanced with tele lens mounted (90 mm and more), while I’m not so comfortable in poor light situations, where the lightmeter limitations and the mirror shacking put a serious limit in hand-held shooting and rangefinder cameras are superior, in my opinion. Nice to know that the lightmeter was improved on SL2. The lenses are also exceptional, no news I think for anyone, my favourites are the 28 mm Elmarit and 180 Telyt, and it’s a pity they mount on the last digital Ms and SL because their price is raising very fast in these days.

  • Another good review James. Your camera looks like it was never used! Very beautiful. Mine was well-used to the point of the strap lugs being worn to a nub. When it came back from Sherry/Golden Touch it was like new. She also converted it to take modern batteries, and replaced the strap lugs. My prism is perfect also. When my first roll of pictures came back, I was shocked. You are so right, that lens is magical with color film.

  • Dude, crushing the product pics! Nice review.

  • Great article. When I worked part-time at a camera store in Boston, the store owner let me borrow an SL2 for the weekend. What I remember is the SL2 was more expensive than a new VW I’d been eyeing. Think it was $1700 (twice the price of a Nikon F2). After using it for two days it made my M4 feel even lighter and smaller. Nonetheless an incredibly well made tool. Thanks for bringing back these memories.

  • It’s a beautiful camera James. Nice write-up.

  • Light meter illumination button?! Absolute revelation, that is! I’ve always found match-needle metering nigh-on useless in low light and I’d thought that the world went straight to LEDs thereafter. Did any other manufacturers illuminate their match-needle meters or did Leica hold the patent?!

    • That’s a good question, and I’ve spent a couple of days thinking about it off and on. I can’t think of another camera with a match-needle system that offers illumination. There are other cameras, like the Nikon F3, that have a light in the VF, but this is to illuminate the LCD display. And of course, many of the autofocus Nikons, Minoltas, Canons, etc. of the 90s have bright backlit LCD displays… But it’s possible that this Leica is the only camera with this specific way of addressing the problem. Others can feel free to chime in if they know of another.

      • Appreciate the reply – I was beginning to think I’d said something dumb and that there was a whole world of illuminated match-needle SLRs out there!

  • Amazing camera, but what’s even better is the review itself.
    Honestly it’s one of the best I ever read. It’s extremely fascinating, and gives the envy to shoot more with my SL!
    Congrats guys!!!

  • Great review as always. Lovely looking machine.

  • I have this camera, with three lenses: 24/35/90. A wonderful 35mm camera system. I found the ground glass focusing screen online, and had DAG install it. It is heavy – and use a Nikon FM2 when that is an issue. That is another perfect camera in my opinion, but not the jewel the SL2 is! No other film SLR feels this perfect. Very glad to see others share this view.

  • I’m quite a fan of the earlier (up to the SL2) Leica reflexes and own more than one example of each (excluding the Version I Leicaflex Standard) and use them all.

    I can find little difference in overall capability/utility between the Leicaflex SL and the SL2. I rarely shoot with a lens longer than 180mm and, IMHO, the two SL generations are equally capable and useful. I like them both, use them both. The SL’s are available much less expensively on eBay, one must note.

    That being said, I find that I am rather partial to the Leicaflex Standard (second version, round frame counter) when using lenses in the range of 28mm to 90mm (or to stretch it a bit to 135mm, if you wish, I don’t). If one shoots B&W, as I do, the exposure latitude in any decent film will compensate for any, if any, meter shortcomings. After all, competent photographers use/have used Leicameters and/or hand-held meters; both little different from the Leicaflex on-board meter.

    Superb construction/build quality; ability/capacity to use late model Leitz optics (often bargain asking prices for late model Summicrons, for example), and (subjectivity alert here), the feel of a beautiful instrument in one’s hand.

    Your mileage may vary.

  • Regarding the viewfinder illumination light, yes, there is one other camera with this incredibly useful function.. it’s the Canon New F-1 (F-1N) manufactured from 1981 to 1995. I own several F-1N bodies and I would personally rate this model right up there with the Leicaflex. It’s a bit like comparing a Mercedes with a Lexus.. both superbly designed and engineered, one from Germany and the other from Japan!

  • Well. I guess I’m gonna be the bad guy here.
    Of course these are lovely to hold, and lovely to shoot, but in hindsight they were an economic failure and a photographic dead-end. They just never sold very well, for obvious reasons. Leica rangefinder shooters looked at them and said, “Meh, too big, not really a Leica, too expensive, I’ll buy a Canon.” (The controls all worked in the same directions.) Non Leica shooters said, “Meh, too big, too expensive, I’ll buy a Nikon.”
    I always thought the Leica designers went in entirely the wrong direction with the whole Leicaflex concept. I imagine a Leicaflex that’s very much the same size and shape as the early Pentax SLRs. Imagine a Pentax with all the stamped metal parts (like the camera back) replaced with forgings or castings, with efficient mirror damping, a better screen, attention paid throughout to feel and sound, in a package exactly big enough for the film cartridge, takeup spool and mirror box. Alternatively, think of it as a Leica M4 with a mirror.
    Additionally, they could have paid some attention to cost by learning from the efficient, modern manufacturing techniques being pioneered by the Japanese.
    They could have had a small, rugged, competitive camera that sold for, say, 20 or 30 percent more than a Nikon. It would have sold well enough to help them out of their financial problems, and they’d still be building them, as they are their rangefinders.

    • I they could have, they would have. What people failed to understand about the cost is the durability of these cameras. They are still running perfectly 40 years on! Most Nikons (and almost all other Japanese cameras) from that era are now worthless junk.

      • Dr Ricardo Davidson April 16, 2018 at 3:23 pm

        The consumer society mentality that dominated the late 20th century demanded “cheap, glitzy, infinite gizmos and a reasonable performance”. We are more brand-oriented now, and if it sports any famous brand it will sell in spite of being junk. Classical Leicas were always about Quality, I own and use several, up to an R5. I have also used Contax and Yashica, both have let me down, oddly enough both in the lens diaphragm department, a Zeiss Planar that closed to f16 in all conditions and settings, and a similar f1.4 Yashica that…wouldn’t close far enough. Both wrecked interesting opportunities.

      • With all due respect, and I am sure you are correct in your thoughts regarding the SL2’s quality, but you are absolutely misguided in your comments regarding its Nikon contemporaries. I have 2 Fs, 4F2s, and a couple of Nikomat/Nikkormats and they work as well today as they ever did. They are all widely revered for their longevity. I am confident that the SL2 is an outstanding camera worthy of the praise, but please know you are absolutely incorrect in your statement regarding the Nikons of the era. No need to (incorrectly) denigrate other cameras to make your point.

        • Kirk

          One thing where the Nikon F’s and F2’s fail and also the Leica R3 and all it successors, until Leica went digital, is light seals. These are from foam that deteriorates. The Leicaflex models, Rolleiflex SL35-series and basically all German cameras do not use foam. Parts have rims and edges to keep out the light and only if that is not sufficient, use felt which does not deteriorate.

          • Sooo, just like the foam light-seal free 60 year old Pentaxes, then, most of which also still seem to work fine… 😉

    • Well, negative for sake of negativity and little else. If Leica had the current crop of bean counters running the show, the world would have never had the Leicaflex to appreciate and enjoy. And as a result, the SL2 became the Rolls Roys of SLRs it is to this day.

      No other SLR ever built compares and this review is spot on. None of it has anything to do with SL2’s durability or photographic capabilities, it is a unique machine in a class of its own.

  • Although I use a Leica M3, I was tempted by a Leicaflex SL from Peter Loy in London with a dud meter for £65. The metal connection in the bottom of the battery chamber has broken off, perhaps a cell leaked and corroded it. Camera is pristine however. I use a Weston Master V with it.
    I bought the Schneider Kreuznach P A Curtagon 35mm f4 shift lens and 135mm f2.8 Elmarit R lenses. The “cam” issue does not affect me as I don’t have onboard metering. For me, the camera is an interesting choice: the quality is superb, the ease of use fantastic, everything falls to hand. The film speed wheel acts as a film speed reminder. I cannot wait for the summer to use E6 film again in bright sunshine.

  • Randle P. McMurphy January 11, 2018 at 3:25 am

    “Verschlimmbessern” is a funny word even in German. But make something worse while try to improve it won´t fit in the case of the Leica SL2.
    The Leica SLR´s are a story of misfortune and “to less to late” from a managment who did not understand the market and the customers.
    When the Nikon F hit the market it was a very big impact and Leica just oversleept it that SLR Systems will be the future.
    Just take a closer look at Contax they would had the experience and knowledge for the answer but they also went the wrong direction.
    To expensive and to small production and the worst of all the wrong shutter System !
    Leica with their philosophy wanted just to make the “best mechanical camera” and their perfection cost them a lot of money and banned
    all the people who couldn´t or wouldn´t affort it.
    Back to the System itself the Nikon´s at this time had just much more possibilities, more equipment to pick and also the Nikon F had a little
    “brother” the Nikkormat for the less budget !
    Leica tryed to learn from it and with the cooperatinon with Minolta the brought out the Leica R3 which was a very nice camera in my opinion
    but unfortunatelly again the Leica gearheads didn´t like it.
    The Leica R4 was designed evry well but suffered by some electronical issus which were solfed with the Leica R5 and Leica R7 (both wonderful cameras).
    A really gamechanger (but also much to late) was the outstandig Leica R8 and Leica R9. These cameras 10 years earlier would have been the right answer.

    • Dr Ricardo Davidson April 16, 2018 at 3:54 pm

      The R4 had two integrated circuits, one was a commercial product that did not give any trouble, and the other was a bespoke one made by Ferranti that was troublesome. Both were checked individually before assembly in the Portuguese factory, and the Ferranti product had many more rejections than the other one. Considering all this (and that Ferranti is long defunct), Leica started “upgrading” R4’s by replacing electronics installations with ones with more reliable bits, but the camera never lost its poor reputation, hence their low price on the second-hand market. The R4s presumably does not have these issues. I use an R5 but mainly on aperture priority, and it occasionally “faints out”, you cannot get electrical signs of life unless you fire the shutter. The problem is dirt or moisture in the aperture measuring tracks under the lens mounting, a careful wipe with iso-propyl alcohol sorts it out. The two design faults it has are that the averaging meter mode is not sufficiently (if at all) biased towards the centre or the bottom half of the frame (the R3 meter is better), and that the centre/averaging function is not dissociated from the camera operating mode (it is in the R3). If it was, I would use it almost always in Program mode, selecting the bias I wanted, and spot-metering. As it is, I get underexposed pictures on Program unless I tweak the exposure compensation, which is easily forgotten and left on. Also the letters and numbers are too b***dy small! One is not 25 any more… Actually it makes you think, Ferranti were big defense contractors, were their ordnance also fitted with dodgy IC’s?

  • That the Leicaflex, in all it’s variants was intended as a camera for professional use, is well documented. From this, it is at once apparent that the later R3/4/5 were aimed at the well-heeled amateur market.
    On its inception, the Lecaflex went head-to-head with the Nikon F/F2, Canon F1 etc. all are manual cameras without any electronics whatsoever . When the electronic Nikon F3 was introduced in 1980, there was a great deal of resistance, initially, from seasoned professionals. In time, they were won over to the F3. The electronics in this camera have proved to be very reliable. My F3, shabby and a little battered was made in 1980 and is still going strong. I have always used it on Auto. I sometimes use the waist level finder for street photography as the auto exposure takes care of settings. When using slide film, I always employ the F3 in Auto and get fantastic results. While I have a Leicaflex SL, I would not buy a later R electronic body. If the electronics packed up, I would have a shutter that only fired on 1/90 or thereabouts, whereas with the SL I have 1 sec to 1/2000 .

  • I love all three of mine. Best camera, ever!

    • Yes I agree. The sheer biting quality of my ancient (1971) SL gives me such pleasure on a dark long winters night that I fondle it while looking at an Ordinance Survey map, planning where to take it when the nice weather comes.

  • Dr Ricardo Davidson April 16, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    Does anybody out there have a repair manual for the SL2 that they would be willing to share? I have some notes and parts lists for the SL, and there’s plenty more information out there, but the SL2 is significantly different. Getting the top plate off is different, as well as the metering circuit and respective adjustment. The SL’s meter is similar to the MR meter. If you’re familiar with this you can handle the SL meter, there’s a potentiometer to adjust the battery voltage check whilst in the MR you use fixed resistors but you can move the mark to match. Any help would be much appreciated.

  • But ScottP, would you be able to use a small camera to defend yourself if a drug-induced, crazy youth attacks you if he thinks grabbing your camera will pay for his next fix? Or if, in his paranoia, thinks you have been taking pictures of him wriggling about on the street and getting himself into ridiculous postures.
    You would be mighty glad of the Leicaflex/SL/SL2 with the 35mm f4 Schneider Kreuznach P A Curagon (with bayonet attached hood to keep the blood (his) off the front element). I recall using a Nikkormat FT (1965) and 50mm f1.4 S and hood in a run-down area of Sheffield in 1981, when a tall, skinny black youth made a grab for my camera as he walked past me. I clouted him in the face with it and he ran off howling.
    Perhaps, though, even today’s youth may be sufficiently au fait with cameras to choose a digital one to grab, even though the Canon D1300 I bought my grandson last September weighs so little. An impromptu weapon of self defence it most certainly is not!

    • Some of go back to Speed Graphic days. It was a complete self-defense system: The camera weighed more than 5 pound and a strap held it securely to your left hand – easy to backhand somebody with it. The 3-cell flash gun (big heavy D-cells) was attached with quick-release clamps so it only took a split second to remove it and use it as a club. And at night when you fired a flashbulb in somebody’s face they couldn’t see you for a minute or more. Doesn’t work nearly as well with short-duration electronic flash. Of course, remember to close your own eyes when you fire the flash. You will get your sight back quicker since the reflector is aimed towards the other person, but it still makes for a few tense moments until you can begin to see again.

      • I recently watched an episode of “Man With a Camera” on youtube where Charles Bronson slugged a guy with his Rolleiflex.

  • A wonderful camera, but you missed a serious issue with the shutter that may plague this model. Sometimes at the higher shutter speeds the camera can result in blanks. Some technicians claim that it’s a design defect that can only be remedied temporarily (Sherry Krauter) while others claim a complete flushing and re-lubrication solves the problem (DAG). I’ve owned two of these cameras in the past. One exhibited this problem, while the other worked fine, though the latter had received a recent CLA and I only owned it for part of a summer.

    Having owned all three of the Leicaflex series, the more practical, the one users like the best, and the one technicians claim to be the best build (i.e., most reliable), is the Leicaflex SL. Krauter calls it the M3 of the Leica reflex world. The SL2 does have some improvements over the SL, not the least of which is a 10x more sensitive meter, but most users consider the viewfinder of the SL better. Two grades of micro prism that just pop into focus in dramatic way. Taking the picture is almost as much fun as getting the shot. So in that regard, I think your review is misplaced. If you ever have the opportunity to review the SL camera, I encourage you to do so.

    One characteristic all Leicaflex models share that you do not mention, is their crazy, effective mirror braking system. Pretty much can shoot a stop or two slower, hand held, then the competition.

  • Steve makes a very significant point regarding the mirror braking system. I’ve read something about this elsewhere. Apparently, it’s very effective . I too share Steves enthusiam regarding the SL. I now own 2 SL bodies and have acquired nine lenses. There is just something about this 1960s 1970s kit that exudes something I cannot readily put into words. The stuff is heavy , yes, the bodies, the 90, 135, and the 250 f4 first version with non-rotating tripod mount could get you arrested for carrying an offensive weapon, it’s a club!

  • Lovely review. Would you be able to comment, two years in, if you have experienced the shutter unreliability at 1/2000th or 1/1000th that people talk about for the SL2?

    • No problems so far! In fact, I just bought a second SL2 (the regular edition) so I can keep the special edition clean. Lovely cameras, and excellent glass.

    • One supposes that it is nice to have such high shutter speeds available on a camera, but how often are they actually needed? Sports photography, sure, some of the time but at what other times? I have been shooting with 35mm cameras since the 1960’s and doubt that I’ve shot at 1/1000th more than 1% of the time.

      If the super high speeds are seldom used how much of an issue, do the highest speeds on an SL2 really present? I make the counter argument that the weight of the SL2 is a considerable advantage in reducing/eliminating camera hake when shooting available light with the shutter below 1/30th; the high end speeds are of little value here.

  • I own (and use it from time to time) a beautiful silver Leicaflex SL – my dad bought it in 1974, it never got serviced and is still running perfectly.
    Although it’s somehow awkward to use, especially compared to today’s cameras, it’s a very special attraction to use this thing again.
    It shows you very well the connection between aperture and shutter speed – something that you usually lost when using today’s usual automatic cameras.
    And the workmanship, haptics and also the mechanical precision are great. My 80’s Contax cameras don’t get there. It’s just another generation of technology.

  • SilvaUltramindCourses July 26, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    There is one good use for a self-timer: When you need to use a very slow shutter speed. It is very difficult to press a shutter release without moving the camera. But… you can set the self-timer and during the brief delay before the shutter opens, you can concentrate fully on holding the camera perfectly still. I have made many nighttime shots that way.

  • Stefan Staudenmaier January 15, 2020 at 2:59 pm

    I never thought I would „almost“ get obsessed with this camera.
    It just „feels“ better than anything else other companies or even
    Leica build (with their later versions).
    The mechanics are just incredible and give you the feeling it is
    build to Last forever.
    The film transport is the smoothest I ever experienced
    and the viewfinder is a pleasure to work with.
    The weight of the body is almost perfect in balance with my
    beloved 2,8/135 – it cant get any better (maybe with the R8 ?).

  • The big thing for me is how to correct vision/ diopter. Deal breaker

  • mike in colorado March 9, 2020 at 9:21 pm

    I have a leicaflex sl that occasionally exposes only half of the frame. Nice sharp line, not shutter capping. I’m not sure who can fix that.

    A couple of weeks ago, I pulled a roll of film out of my Leicaflex original. You know, the one without the TTL meter. Nearly all the photos were with a 50mm Summicron. When I hung up the developed negatives, I was impressed how consistent the exposures were. The exposure meter nearly everybody hates did an awfully good job across a lot of different light situations.

    Just sayin…

  • Very nice article! I am also a fan of the R system, I own a SL1 and Sl2 as well as SL1 and SL2 Mot with the motor drive. My only advice that I can make when purchasing one of these cameras is to have them CLA!!. The Pentaprism can be re-silvered and you must change the battery compartment with recalibration with new voltage to be able to use the modern batteries. Using the air batteries for hearing aid is clumsy to use as the battery once unsealed will last 1-2 weeks only. The Motor is big but works great and is solid and not to mention the amazing lenses!.

    • @ David M. Burke
      Although i cam only agree with that, inbthis country the only cameras that can be serviced, CLA’d or repaired are twin-eye Rolleiflex and rangefinder Leica’s.
      Sending a camera abroad means paying import duties (no idea how much it is on repairwork, on camera-hardware it is 6%) on the repaircost and on the shipping and 21% VAT on the repaircost, shipping and import duties. Also one needs to have the receipt of the original EU-purchase otherwise duties and VAT are due on the total value of the camera. If no receipt is available there will be a delay of customs handling which can be months and tge customs will estimate a value which as a punishment is usually around 3 times the real value.

  • Ricardo Davidson May 2, 2020 at 7:29 am

    Leica no longer service these or the R series, they are serviced by Paepke Fototechnik and I’m sure they are not cheap. There are many competent technicians able to deal with an SL or SL2, parts may be a problem at this stage but the work can be done. I would suggest contacting Dag Camera in the USA, or in Europe you can contact the former Leica representatives. Leica now have their own marketing and service structure and the former agents retained the tooling and work on these cameras although they are not the official reps. In Lisbon it is Comercialfoto, I don’t know about in other places.

  • I had my SL cleaned at this place in Hamburg:
    The selftimer was stuck and needed a cleaning. The costs were according the offer and the camera was back in a very reasonable time. Communication (clarification of best way of shipping from abroad) with the team was always helpful and freindly. I may send the IIIg also, that needs a CLA.

  • Great review , all true, I have an SL2 an SL and agree with every word, but you forgot to mention that in many US States its compulsory to wear a Darth Vader helmet while shooting a black SL2. Yet I reach for my first of the breed Leicaflex, and use it more often than the later SLs . I wonder why that is?

    • Adam; the original Leicaflex is a very fine camera, despite its slightly odd appearance. I bought one as a collectible as I also have a 1929 Leica 1 and a 1955 M3. My Leicaflex is a 1964 model with pie shaped counter and the tripod mount with three screws. Although the meter works ok, I prefer to use handheld meters so don’t have a battery in it. Of course the mercury oxide cell is not available and the 1.55v not comparable with the constant voltage of 1.35v of the original. The newer cell fades with use and readings are not linear. The only ‘workaround’ for me is a separate handheld. Having bought the body I was tempted to use it alongside my pair of R8. Now I realise that if the R8 pair pack up, I’ve got the Leicaflex to fall back on to continue using my dozen R lenses. I’m not interested in obtaining Chinese made adapters to mount them on a digital body. To me, this is film stuff.

  • I had my SL2 for a year now, and it really grew on me. I use it more than my F3 if ever I have the urge to shoot 35mm film. 🙂

  • Die SL2 ist eine der schönsten SLRs. Keine andere hat einen so schönen Klang wie diese Kamer. Bei keiner laufen Spiegel und Verschluss so harmonisch ab.
    Es gibt faktisch keinen Spiegelschlag das Getriebe des Spiegels fängt die Enegie komplett auf. Eine Luftbremese oder gar Anschlagpuffer hat und braucht die SL2 nicht. Sie ist meiner Meinung die beste jemals gebaute mechanische SLR.
    Allerdings ist sehr komplex aufgebaut. Ein versierter, mit der Kamera bestens vertrauter, Mechaniker benötigt 1 1/2 Arbeitstage für den Tausch des Verschluss Tuchs. Ja es ist ein Tuchverschluss mit einer sehr schnell Ablaufzeit. Läst man die Kamera längere Zeit unbenutzt neigt er zum Verspröden. Teure Reparturen sind die Folgen. Diese Kamera muss man regelmäßig spannen und auslösen.
    Dies ist die Kamera mit der ich am liebsten fotografiere auch wenn weit weniger robust wie eine Nikon fm ist.

  • A friend of mine is selling one exactly like the one in this article.

  • I have several Leicaflexes which I absolutely love to shoot. My first is a chrome SL built in October 1970. Then there is the black SL Mot, built in October 1973. Lastly, I have my pride and joy, the black SL2 Mot. It was built in March of 1976. I also have two motor drives for the two Mots. Rather than adjusting the cameras for the newer batteries I run those Thailand electronically stepped down batteries that start with the LR44s. They last the longest.

  • paul o’sullivan January 4, 2024 at 6:24 am

    Recommend you read my articles written for the UK Leica Society the R3-R7 cameras to get an accurate picture of the evolution of the R cameras, backed up for original research and data. People forget how popular the R4 and R3 were very popular amongst professionals. Whilst they liked the SL2 it was too expensive, no exposure automation and exposure systems too limiting for the professional market, and the MOT drive was too big. The R’s provided capabilities to make the most of the still superb R lenses.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

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