Camera Review: Leicaflex SL

September 20, 2009


I do not own this camera. My father does. He bought it sometime in the early 70s and after only one servicing in 2007, it is still serving him perfectly!
So why am I writing about the Leicaflex? Isn’t there the fabulous Leica R9 which is an ergonomic dream (or seems to be)? Well I own a Leica R8 which is a nice camera, apart from being a bit clunky. But last month I had to borrow my father’s Leicaflex since my beloved M6 was damaged. And what happened? I was blown away!

The Leicaflex and its second model “SL” was Leica’s attempt to stay in the professional race after losing the market to SLR cameras in the 1960. Leica had been too comfortable with their very successful M2 and M3 and had not realized that the time of the rangefinder was coming to it’s (temporary) end. By the time they saw it, most professionals had already changed to Nikon, Canon, Pentax etc.
The Leicaflex was the attempt to win back some of that market. Unfortunately it was already too late, the camera didn’t meet the market’s demand and Leica almost went bankrupt. The advanced Leica M5 had also been a flop and it really didn’t look good for the German camera manufacturer.
The Leicaflex was too heavy and big for the photojournalist of the 70s. The optics were fantastic, but also heavy and expensive. Not what the market needed. So the Leicaflex drifted into obscurity and was (and is) mainly used by Leica amateurs who stuck to the system. After Leica started using bodies supplied by Minolta (R-Series) the Leicaflex design got almost forgotten. Today it’s basically a collector’s item.

Unjustified, as I think!

When I tested the Leicaflex SL, the first thing I noticed was the wonderful ergonomics. You don’t believe me? Yes! Even though the camera looks like a brick, it feels good in the hand, perfectly balanced. And the transport lever is the very best what I have ever used. It just fits perfectly with my thumb and moves smoothly when pushed around. The feel of this is even better than shutting the door of a Mercedes Benz! The shutter is an old fashioned “sticking out” shutter. It is positioned in the center of the shutter speed dial an just like the transport lever, it feels just right on the finger. Smooth and “klick”! I love it!
Maya 2009
But, and I think this cannot be repeated often enough: What makes a great camera for me is the size and the brightness of the viewfinder! Only a bright viewfinder gives you the right tool to compose a perfect picture. Nobody can bring all the elements of an image properly together while looking at a (DX-) thumbnail. And that what makes the Leicaflex one of the great cameras, next to the Leica M system and the Hasselblad V system. The viewfinder is huge and super sharp, even dwarfing the Leica R9’s finder which is already probably the best SLR finder in the market. What I like most is the prism which has just a big circle in the middle and is perfect for focusing. There is nothing to obstruct the view, nothing gets cut in half, no blinking lights, no stupid green or orange info bars, (almost) just you and the image.
Ming seminude09
On the bottom you will see the shutter speed (no irritating lights) and on the right the Leicaflex still has one of these “line and circle” things which died out in the 80s, even though it’s so easy to use. Bring the line into the circle by turning the aperture ring and you get the right exposure!

The leicaflex SL is a bargain on the second hand market. Get it with the (outstanding) f2/50mm Summicron and you have a wonderful camera that gives you better SLR quality than 90% of what’s new in the market. After getting used to the handling, you will also find that taking images with this icon is not only a lot of fun but also much easier and more stress free thah with a modern camera full of (useless) functions, menus and dials. Check it out!
Drei Dinge 09


10 Responses to “Camera Review: Leicaflex SL”

  1. raytoei Says:

    Excellent photos…


  2. Lorne Liesenfeld Says:

    Dear Stefan, thank you for this wonderful report. I have been taking pictures with my Leicaflex SL in Eastern Europe. When we get back to Warsaw my students ask: This sharpness and overall feeling of genuineness; how is it possible? I just say: Leicaflex! I see them fighting with their elaborated digital SLRs while I just point, compose, focus, match a needle and shoot without any automatic at all. Leicaflex! Believe me, with this camera I’m faster than any automatic! The Leicaflex SL is a truely great camera. A German tank; but a good and friendly one! Best wishes, Lorne Liesenfeld.

  3. It was rather interesting for me to read this blog. Thanks the author for it. I like such themes and everything connected to them. I definitely want to read more soon.

    Joan Swenson

  4. Richard Says:

    I was an Air Force Photographer in the 70’s and my personal camera was a Leica iiif rd/st. Standard equipment at the time included Carl Zeiss lenses in the Graphlex and Nikon F stuff. I always loved my Leica and now.. some 40 years later, I find myself preparing for retirement with a Leica SL!! Call me O.S. (old school) but I still dig it.

    601st Combat Photo

  5. Lisa Davidson Says:

    A great camera! I just got one so I could use their 400mm Telyt, but I’m going to use it with everything. I have an R8 but I do think it’s kind of annoying. Leicaflex is better. I like your b/w very much.

  6. Lisa Davidson Says:

    Sorry, I don’t have an R8; I have an R7! But I still find it a bit annoying.

  7. I can’t agree with you more! Leicaflex was given to me recently and I really love this camera! Plain simple, feels great in my hands, handles extremely smooth and outstanding Leica glass makes it hard to beat!

  8. Barry Calero Says:

    Guess I am feeling my age 58,….I only care about classic cameras, with my new aquired Leicaflex SL,… still MUST be used in this world,…..I can go shoot a subject and some photo student will ask me;;…..Is’nt that one of those OLD cameras……??? I then can explain the story of my Leica SL…..

  9. This design is incredible! You obviously know how to keep a reader entertained.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start
    my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Fantastic job.
    I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!

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