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Leicaflex SL: a review

In 1968, upgraded the system-founding Leicaflex Standard with the release of the Leicaflex SL, which was available in black and chrome finishes. The letters "SL" stood for "Selektive Lichtmessung" or "Selective Light Metering" and indicated explicitly that the Leicaflex SL was capable of through-the-lens spot metering, contrary to the earlier Leicaflex Standard, which relied on an external metering cell. The SL's meter reads a limited area of the image corresponding to the coarse microprism zone on the viewscreen.

Leicaflex SL
Leicaflex SL in silver chrome

The CdS metering cell of the Leicaflex SL is powered by a 625 mercury battery. The metering-light passes through a semi-silvered area in the reflex mirror and is reflected by a secondary mirror to the meter cell that sits on the bottom of the mirror box. Exposure is set by lining up the meter's needle and the follow pointer in the viewfinder.

Leicaflex SL MOT
Leicaflex SL MOT with Motor

A second major advance over the Standard was the addition of a full-focusing viewscreen, composed of coarse microprisms in the central area, and fine microprisms on the remainder of the screen. This normal viewscreen can be exchanged, if desired, for a plain matte viewscreen. The standard viewscreen greatly facilitates focusing compared with the Leicaflex Standard and enables depth-of-field preview. Indeed, the Leicaflex SL gained a DOF-preview function that the Standard did not have, but lost the ability to lock up the mirror for vibration-free long exposure photography. The viewfinder eyepiece on the SL does not have an adjustable diopter correction, but Leitz offered correction lenses as optional accessories.

The shutter on the Leicaflex SL is identical to the one on the Standard. It is mechanically-timed, and consists of horizontal-travel rubberized cloth. It offers speeds from 1 to 1/2000 sec, plus bulb mode ("B"). The flash sync speed is 1/100 sec.

Some minor cosmetic and functional differences between the SL and the Standard concern the location of the batteries, which are now in the camera base instead of the prism housing, the shutter speed control dial, which on the SL is black instead of chrome, and a modified camera back lock. The pentaprism housing now carries the "SL" designation, while the metering window and battery cover seen on the Standard disappear. The SL was produced until 1974, when it was replaced by the Leicaflex SL2.

Leicaflex SL Specifications

  • Three-lug Leica R bayonet mount;
  • Mechanically-timed, horizontal-travel rubberized cloth shutter; 1/2000s to 1s;
  • Manual exposure with metering needle control in viewfinder;
  • Selective TTL-metering;
  • Full-focusing viewfinder screen, with central micro-prism;
  • Cold-shoe; Flash operation through cable connection for electronic flash units (sync speed 1/100s) or flash bulbs;
  • Self-timer with 10 sec. delay;
  • Film transport by manual lever; motorized film transport (3 fps) on Leicaflex SL MOT with motor drive;
  • Power supply: 625 mercury cell or equivalent;
  • Dimensions: 148 x 97 x 57mm (width x height x depth);
  • Weight: 770g;

Several variations of the SL exist. On early versions, the Lens release button was red plastic (which could break relatively easily), while on later ones it was silver metal. Also, on some SLs, the Self Timer lever has a slot, while on other it does not have one. The depth of field preview lever can be either chrome or black. Finally, the serial number can be engraved on the bottom of the baseplate or on the side of the baseplate.

Film advance on the Leicaflex SL is by one-stroke, manual lever. However, a special Leicaflex SL MOT model was released in 1972 with fittings to accept a motor. This variant is easily recognized by the designation "MOT" that is engraved on the pentaprism housing. Also, the SL MOT bodies lack the self-timer of the regular model, as well as the meter switch in the advance lever. Almost all of the MOT cameras, of which about 1,000 were produced, had a black finish. The Leicaflex Motor (order number 14077) is quite sizable and about doubles the height of the camera. It can be used with both the Leicaflex SL MOT and the later released Leicaflex SL2 MOT and makes it possible to shoot up to 3 flaps per second.

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Headline specifications of all Leica R-system cameras
# Camera Shutter
(1/sec)
TTL-
metering
Exposure
modes
Hot-
shoe
Flash
control
Size
(mm)
Weight
(g)
Prod
run
Prod
period
Price
range ($)
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offers
1
 
Leicaflex2000MNonon-TTL148.0 / 97.0 / 57.0770~32,5001964 - 68200-400check
2
 
Leicaflex SL2000selMNonon-TTL148.0 / 97.0 / 57.0770~75,0001968 - 74125-250check
3
 
Leicaflex SL22000selMYesnon-TTL148.0 / 97.0 / 57.0770~25,0001974 - 76400-600check
4
 
Leica R31000sel & intA/S/MYesnon-TTL148.0 / 96.5 / 64.6780~70,0001976 - 80125-250check
5
 
Leica R41000sel & intP/A/S/MYesnon-TTL138.5 / 88.1 / 60.0630>100,0001980 - 87150-250check
6
 
Leica R4s1000sel & intA/MYesnon-TTL138.5 / 88.1 / 60.0620~25,0001983 - 87150-250check
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Leica R52000sel & int P/A/S/MYesTTL138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2625~34,0001986 - 91250-500check
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Leica R61000sel & int MYesTTL138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2625~24,0001988 - 92400-550check
9
 
Leica R-E2000sel & int A/MYesTTL138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2625~6,1001990 - 94450-600check
10
 
Leica R6.22000sel & int MYesTTL138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2625~21,0001992 - 02500-750check
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Leica R72000sel & int P/A/S/MYesfull-auto138.5 / 98.8 / 62.2670~30,0001992 - 97350-450check
12
 
Leica R88000sel, int, multiP/A/S/MYesfull-auto158.0 / 101 / 62.0890~36,5001996 - 02500-600check
13
 
Leica R98000sel, int, multiP/A/S/MYesHSS158.0 / 101 / 62.0790~9,0002002 - 091,000-1,500check

Leicaflex SL FAQ

One challenge nowadays when considering a Leicaflex SL is that the light meter in the SLR might need to be adjusted to work with modern batteries (if it has not yet undergone modification by a previous owner). The mercury cells that supplied a constant 1.34V to the metering cell do not exist any more. Andrew Nemeth lists some alternatives and work-arounds on his website. – Below is some additional information on some other aspects of the camera.

What were Leica's order number for the Leicaflex SL?

The Leicaflex SL order numbers were 10001 (chrome) and 10012 (black); [leica-wiki].

How many Leicaflex SL cameras were produced?

Between 1968 and 1974, Leica produced and sold about 75,000 SLs.

Were there any special editions of the Leicaflex SL?

Yes, Leica released a limited edition of the camera in 1972 for the Olympic Games in Munich. It has engravings of the Olympic rings, the year 72, and a special edition serial number (1 through 1000) on the top plate.

Can all R-lenses be used with the Leicaflex SL?

No, some later introduced lenses require more clearance between the reflex mirror and the rear element of the lens. In particular, the 16mm Fisheye-Elmarit-R, the 24mm Elmarit-R, the 35mm Summilux-R, the 80-200 f/4.5 Vario-Elmar zoom, and 50mm Summilux-R should not be attached to the Leicaflex SL. Also, the SL requires two-cam lenses to make use of its TTL-metering capabilities. One-cam lenses can be mounted, but will only work in stop-down metering mode. Last but not least, the Schneider Super-Angulon 21mm f/3.4 can not be used with the Leicaflex SL because it requires mirror lock-up. On the other hand, the Super-Angulon 21mm f/4, which has a retro-focal design, works fine.

Is the Leicaflex SL compatible with ROM-lenses?

No, Leica-R lenses with ROM electronic contacts cannot be used with any of the Leicaflex cameras (unless the ROM contacts are removed and the lenses are retrofitted with the Leicaflex metering cams).

Can a linear polarizer be used with the Leicaflex SL?

No, linear polarizing filters will cause erroneous meter readings, because of the semi-silvered mirror. Circular polarizers will work properly.

Does the Leicaflex SL age gracefully?

The viewscreen on the SL may develop a yellow cast over time. Also, the pentaprism may start to de-silver. The viewfinder will continue to work fine, but will not be as bright and clear as it once was.

Where can I get my Leicaflex SL serviced and repaired?

Leica does no longer support R-system cameras. The company recommends to send cameras to Paepke-Fototechnik in Düsseldorf for any repairs.

Further Reading

Additional information on the Leicaflex SL can be found in the pdf-version of Leica's user manual. Moreover, a description of the evolution of all Leica reflex cameras is contained in the R-camera compendium. A similar overview of R-lenses with their main physical specifications is equally available on this site.

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