For generations, Leica lenses documented many of the world’s most iconic moments. They were the perfect tool for this. They are compact and have a great tactile feel. Also, they give the photographer all the information necessary to know what will be in focus. The lenses told you how far away to focus. The depth of field scale told you how much to stop the lens down. And today, they’re used for both professional work and by passionate photographers who adore the craft. The Leica M lens can take the next evolutionary path, though: being adapted.
The Absolute Joy of Small, Manual Focus Lenses
Let’s first talk about and understand the thrill of small, manual focus Leica M lenses. We live in a world where tons of things are done for us. Similarly, your Leica SL2-S and Leica SL2 cameras can autofocus for you. They can track a face and eye as a person moves. Lots of folks may think that manual focus lenses are a frustration. But those of us who reach for higher fruit will see it as a challenge to overcome. They genuinely make photography exciting and fun. Just think, you zone focused a lens, framed a shot, and got what you wanted. A camera didn’t have to do the work for you. You, the photographer, indeed did all the work to get the shot. Not only did you have access to the subject matter and scene, but you had the extra skill.
That, in and of itself, is incredible. It’s something I never take for granted when I pick up my Leica M6. When I adapt my lenses to my Leica SL2-S, I know I’m getting a totally different experience. There’s a Je ne sais quois to a Leica M camera, but the Leica SL series has their own wonderful things too. The EVFs are fantastic in many ways. And the build quality is reliable. Every time you hold the camera, you know you’re shooting with a solid chunk of aluminum and more.
The Leica SL2 and Leica SL2-S give your old lenses new life, in a way. They’re migrating from a Leica M body to a Leica SL body, and there’s a lot that goes into this.
There are various adapters on the market. But the one that is most reliable is the Leica one. I’ve never had any issues with it. Why even adapt the lens? Why not just get a Leica M? There are a few reasons.
- Lens versatility: use your Leica 28mm f2 SL lens one second to capture a decisive moment. Switch to a Noctliux the next moment to get something otherwise super difficult to create. But your Leica M lens can do it while not taking up so much space.
- A built in electronic viewfinder: if you’ve got bad eyes like I do, you’ll appreciate these so much, especially the one in the Leica SL2-s.
- Exposure preview: it’s more complicated to do this with a Leica M body, if you want it..
- Even more resolution: the sensor in the Leica SL2 is Leica’s highest resolving sensor. It’s wonderful.
- You are no longer limited to the center rangefinder patch to focus.
And of course, there’s the big one when it comes to working with manual focus lenses: peaking and magnification.
Focus Peaking or Magnification?
Some photographers choose to use only focus peaking. It works, but across the board, it’s not the best solution. Magnification using Leica M lenses is great for when you need to be super critical of your focus. But by and large, the best method is to use both. Here are a few tips:
- Turn on focus peaking as a default. Use focus peaking to get your Leica M lenses to focus on the right area of what you want to be sharp in the scene.
- Activate focus magnification. Use this to touch up the focusing. Then shoot.
Of course, you can use this method or use the standard zone focusing method photographers have used for years.