Leica SL vs Sony A9
The Leica SL (Typ 601) and the Sony Alpha A9 are two digital cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in October 2015 and April 2017. Both the SL and the A9 are mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras that are equipped with a full frame sensor. Both cameras offer a resolution of 24 megapixels.
Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.
Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Leica SL (Typ 601) and the Sony Alpha A9? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.
An illustration of the physical size and weight of the Leica SL and the Sony A9 is provided in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Sony A9 is notably smaller (20 percent) than the Leica SL. Moreover, the A9 is markedly lighter (21 percent) than the SL. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.
The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Hence, you might want to study and compare the specifications of available lenses in order to get the full picture of the size and weight of the two camera systems.
The power pack in the A9 can be charged via the USB port, which can be very convenient when travelling.
The adjacent table lists the principal physical characteristics of the two cameras alongside a wider set of alternatives. If you would like to visualize and compare a different camera combination, you can navigate to the CAM-parator app and make your selection from a broad list of cameras there.
|1.||Leica SL||147 mm||104 mm||39 mm||847 g||400||Y||Oct 2015||7,450|
|2.||Sony A9||127 mm||96 mm||63 mm||673 g||650||Y||Apr 2017||4,499|
|3.||Canon 1D X Mark II||158 mm||168 mm||83 mm||1530 g||1210||Y||Feb 2016||5,999|
|4.||Canon 80D||139 mm||105 mm||79 mm||730 g||960||Y||Feb 2016||1,199|
|5.||Canon 5DS||152 mm||116 mm||76 mm||930 g||700||Y||Feb 2015||3,699|
|6.||Leica SL2-S||146 mm||107 mm||83 mm||931 g||510||Y||Dec 2020||4,895|
|7.||Leica SL2||146 mm||107 mm||42 mm||953 g||370||Y||Nov 2019||5,999|
|8.||Leica M10||139 mm||80 mm||39 mm||660 g||210||Y||Jan 2017||6,595|
|9.||Leica M Typ 240||139 mm||80 mm||42 mm||680 g||..||Y||Sep 2012||6,950|
|10.||Nikon D5||160 mm||159 mm||92 mm||1415 g||3780||Y||Jan 2016||6,499|
|11.||Nikon D500||147 mm||115 mm||81 mm||860 g||1240||Y||Jan 2016||1,999|
|12.||Nikon D750||141 mm||113 mm||78 mm||750 g||1230||Y||Sep 2014||2,299|
|13.||Sony A9 II||129 mm||96 mm||76 mm||678 g||690||Y||Oct 2019||4,499|
|14.||Sony A7 III||127 mm||96 mm||74 mm||650 g||610||Y||Feb 2018||1,999|
|15.||Sony A7R II||127 mm||96 mm||60 mm||625 g||290||Y||Jun 2015||3,199|
|16.||Sony A7S II||127 mm||96 mm||60 mm||627 g||370||Y||Sep 2015||2,999|
|17.||Sony A7 II||127 mm||96 mm||60 mm||599 g||350||Y||Nov 2014||1,999|
|Notes: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.|
Any camera decision will naturally be influenced heavily by the price. The manufacturer’s suggested retail prices give an idea on the placement of the camera in the maker’s lineup and the broader market. The A9 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 40 percent) than the SL, which puts it into a different market segment. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.
The size of the imaging sensor is a crucial determinant of image quality. All other things equal, a large sensor will have larger individual pixel-units that offer better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Further, a large sensor camera will give the photographer additional creative options when using shallow depth-of-field to isolate a subject from its background. On the downside, larger sensors are more costly to manufacture and tend to lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.
Both cameras under consideration feature a full frame sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. The sensor area in the A9 is 2 percent smaller. They nevertheless have the same format factor of 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.
Even though the SL has a slightly larger sensor, both cameras offer the same resolution of 24 megapixels. This implies that the SL has a lower pixel density and larger individual pixels (with a pixel pitch of 6.00μm versus 5.94μm for the A9), which gives it a potential advantage in terms of light gathering capacity. It should, however, be noted that the A9 is a somewhat more recent model (by 1 year and 5 months) than the SL, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that at least partly compensate for the smaller pixel size. Coming back to sensor resolution, it should be mentioned that the SL has no anti-alias filter installed, so that it can capture all the detail its sensor resolves.
The A9 has on-sensor phase detect pixels, which results in fast and reliable autofocus acquisition even during live view operation.
The Leica SL (Typ 601) has a native sensitivity range from ISO 50 to ISO 50000. The corresponding ISO settings for the Sony Alpha A9 are ISO 100 to ISO 51200, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 50-204800.
Since 2007, DXO Mark has published sensor performance measurements that have been derived using a consistent methodology. This service is based on lab testing and assigns an overall score to each camera sensor, as well as ratings for dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), color depth ("DXO Portrait"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"). Of the two cameras under consideration, the A9 has a markedly higher DXO score than the SL (overall score 4 points higher), which will translate into better image quality. The advantage is based on 0.1 bits lower color depth, 0.1 EV of lower dynamic range, and 0.9 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.
|1.||Leica SL||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||4K/30p||25.0||13.4||1821||88|
|2.||Sony A9||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||4K/30p||24.9||13.3||3517||92|
|3.||Canon 1D X Mark II||Full Frame||20.0||5472||3648||4K/60p||24.1||13.5||3207||88|
|5.||Canon 5DS||Full Frame||50.3||8688||5792||1080/30p||24.7||12.4||2381||87|
|6.||Leica SL2-S||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||4K/60p||25.2||14.1||3504||95|
|7.||Leica SL2||Full Frame||46.7||8368||5584||4K/60p||..||..||..||..|
|8.||Leica M10||Full Frame||23.8||5952||3992||none||24.4||13.2||2133||86|
|9.||Leica M Typ 240||Full Frame||23.7||5952||3976||1080/25p||24.0||13.3||1860||84|
|10.||Nikon D5||Full Frame||20.7||5588||3712||4K/30p||25.1||12.3||2343||88|
|12.||Nikon D750||Full Frame||24.2||6016||4016||1080/60p||24.8||14.5||2956||93|
|13.||Sony A9 II||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||4K/30p||25.0||14.0||3434||93|
|14.||Sony A7 III||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||4K/30p||25.0||14.7||3730||96|
|15.||Sony A7R II||Full Frame||42.2||7952||5304||4K/30p||26.0||13.9||3434||98|
|16.||Sony A7S II||Full Frame||12.0||4240||2832||4K/30p||23.6||13.3||2993||85|
|17.||Sony A7 II||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||1080/60p||24.9||13.6||2449||90|
Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but also of capturing video footage. The two cameras under consideration both have sensors whose read-out speed is fast enough to capture moving pictures, and both provide the same movie specifications (4K/30p).
Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The two cameras under consideration are similar with respect to both having an electronic viewfinder. However, the one in the SL offers a higher resolution than the one in the A9 (4400k vs 3686k dots). The adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Leica SL and Sony A9 along with similar information for a selection of comparators.
|1.||Leica SL||4400||Y||3.0 / 1040||fixed||Y||1/8000s||11.0||n||n|
|2.||Sony A9||3686||n||3.0 / 1440||tilting||Y||1/8000s||20.0||n||Y|
|3.||Canon 1D X Mark II||optical||Y||3.2 / 1620||fixed||Y||1/8000s||16.0||n||n|
|4.||Canon 80D||optical||Y||3.0 / 1040||swivel||Y||1/8000s||7.0||Y||n|
|5.||Canon 5DS||optical||Y||3.2 / 1040||fixed||n||1/8000s||5.0||n||n|
|6.||Leica SL2-S||5760||Y||3.2 / 2100||fixed||Y||1/8000s||20.0||n||Y|
|7.||Leica SL2||5760||Y||3.2 / 2100||fixed||Y||1/8000s||10.0||n||Y|
|8.||Leica M10||optical||n||3.0 / 1037||fixed||n||1/4000s||5.0||n||n|
|9.||Leica M Typ 240||optical||n||3.0 / 920||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.0||n||n|
|10.||Nikon D5||optical||Y||3.2 / 2359||fixed||Y||1/8000s||14.0||n||n|
|11.||Nikon D500||optical||Y||3.2 / 2359||tilting||Y||1/8000s||10.0||n||n|
|12.||Nikon D750||optical||Y||3.2 / 1229||tilting||n||1/4000s||6.0||Y||n|
|13.||Sony A9 II||3686||n||3.0 / 1440||tilting||Y||1/8000s||10.0||n||Y|
|14.||Sony A7 III||2359||n||3.0 / 922||tilting||Y||1/8000s||10.0||n||Y|
|15.||Sony A7R II||2400||n||3.0 / 1229||tilting||n||1/8000s||5.0||n||Y|
|16.||Sony A7S II||2400||n||3.0 / 1229||tilting||n||1/8000s||5.0||n||Y|
|17.||Sony A7 II||2400||n||3.0 / 1230||tilting||n||1/8000s||5.0||n||Y|
One feature that is present on the SL, but is missing on the A9 is a top-level LCD. While being, of course, smaller than the rear screen, the control panel conveys some of the essential shooting information and can be convenient for quick and easy settings verification.
The reported shutter speed information refers to the use of the mechanical shutter. Yet, some cameras only have an electronic shutter, while others have an electronic shutter in addition to a mechanical one. In fact, both cameras under consideration feature an electronic shutter, which makes completely silent shooting possible. However, this mode is less suitable for photographing moving objects (risk of rolling shutter) or shooting under artificial light sources (risk of flickering).
The Leica SL has an intervalometer built-in. This enables the photographer to capture time lapse sequences, such as flower blooming, a sunset or moon rise, without purchasing an external camera trigger and related software.
The SL writes its imaging data to SDXC cards, while the A9 uses SDXC or Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. Both cameras feature dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. Both the SL and the A9 support UHS-II cards (Ultra High Speed data transfer of up to 312 MB/s) on the first slot and UHS-I cards (104 MB/s) on the second one.
For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Leica SL (Typ 601) and Sony Alpha A9 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
Mic / Speaker
|1.||Leica SL||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||full||3.0||Y||-||-|
|2.||Sony A9||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||micro||2.0||Y||Y||Y|
|3.||Canon 1D X Mark II||Y||mono / mono||Y||Y||mini||3.0||-||-||-|
|4.||Canon 80D||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||mini||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|5.||Canon 5DS||Y||mono / mono||Y||-||mini||3.0||-||-||-|
|6.||Leica SL2-S||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||full||3.2||Y||-||Y|
|7.||Leica SL2||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||full||3.1||Y||-||Y|
|8.||Leica M10||Y||- / -||-||-||-||-||Y||-||-|
|9.||Leica M Typ 240||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
|10.||Nikon D5||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||mini||3.0||-||-||-|
|11.||Nikon D500||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||mini||3.0||Y||Y||Y|
|12.||Nikon D750||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||mini||2.0||Y||-||-|
|13.||Sony A9 II||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||micro||3.1||Y||Y||Y|
|14.||Sony A7 III||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||micro||3.1||Y||Y||Y|
|15.||Sony A7R II||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||micro||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|16.||Sony A7S II||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||micro||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|17.||Sony A7 II||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||micro||2.0||Y||Y||-|
Both cameras feature a PC Sync terminal to control professional strobe lights, which will be appreciated by studio photographers.
Travel and landscape photographers will find it useful that the SL has an internal geolocalization sensor and can record GPS coordinates in its EXIF data.
Both the SL and the A9 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The SL was replaced by the Leica SL2, while the A9 was followed by the Sony A9 II. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Leica and Sony websites.
So what conclusions can be drawn? Is the Leica SL better than the Sony A9 or vice versa? Below is a summary of the relative strengths of each of the two contestants.
Arguments in favor of the Leica SL (Typ 601):
- Maximized detail: Lacks an anti-alias filter to exploit the sensor's full resolution potential.
- More detailed viewfinder: Has higher resolution electronic viewfinder (4400k vs 3686k dots).
- Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.80x vs 0.78x).
- Easier setting verification: Features an LCD display on top to control shooting parameters.
- Easier time-lapse photography: Has an intervalometer built-in for low frequency shooting.
- Easier geotagging: Features an internal GPS sensor to log localization data.
- Faster data transfer: Supports a more advanced USB protocol (3.0 vs 2.0).
- More solid recording: Has a full-sized HDMI port for a sturdy connection to an external recorder.
- More prestigious: Has the Leica luxury appeal, which ensures a high resale price.
- More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in October 2015).
Advantages of the Sony Alpha A9:
- Better moiré control: Has an anti-alias filter to avoid artificial patterns to appear in images.
- Better image quality: Scores markedly higher (4 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
- Better low-light sensitivity: Can shoot in dim conditions (0.9 stops ISO advantage).
- Better live-view autofocus: Features on-sensor phase-detection for more confident autofocus.
- More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (1440k vs 1040k dots).
- More flexible LCD: Has a tilting screen for odd-angle shots in landscape orientation.
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (20 vs 11 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
- More compact: Is smaller (127x96mm vs 147x104mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
- Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 174g or 21 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
- Longer lasting: Gets more shots (650 versus 400) out of a single battery charge.
- Easier travel charging: Can be conveniently charged via its USB port.
- Sharper images: Has stabilization technology built-in to reduce the impact of hand-shake.
- Easier device pairing: Supports NFC for fast wireless image transfer over short distances.
- Easier wireless transfer: Supports Bluetooth for image sharing without cables.
- More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (40 percent cheaper at launch).
- More modern: Was introduced somewhat (1 year and 5 months) more recently.
If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the A9 is the clear winner of the contest (16 : 10 points). However, the relative importance of the various individual camera aspects will vary according to personal preferences and needs, so that you might like to apply corresponding weights to the particular features before making a decision on a new camera. A professional sports photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a street photog, and a person interested in family portraits has distinct needs from a landscape shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.
How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Leica SL and the Sony A9 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera listing whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.
In any case, while the comparison of technical specifications can provide a useful overview of the capabilities of different cameras, it says little about, for example, the shooting experience and imaging performance of the SL and the A9 in practical situations. User reviews that are available, for instance, at amazon can sometimes shed light on these issues, but such feedback is all too often partial, inconsistent, and inaccurate.
This is why expert reviews are important. The adjacent summary-table relays the overall verdicts of several of the most popular camera review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], digitalcameraworld [DCW], dpreview [DPR], ephotozine [EPZ], photographyblog [PB]). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.
|1.||Leica SL||4/5||..||4/5||84/100||4.5/5||4/5||Oct 2015||7,450|
|2.||Sony A9||5/5||+ +||4.8/5||89/100||5/5||5/5||Apr 2017||4,499|
|3.||Canon 1D X Mark II||..||..||4.5/5||89/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2016||5,999|
|4.||Canon 80D||4/5||+ +||4.5/5||84/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2016||1,199|
|5.||Canon 5DS||..||+||..||83/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2015||3,699|
|6.||Leica SL2-S||4/5||..||4/5||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Dec 2020||4,895|
|7.||Leica SL2||4/5||..||4.5/5||..||4.5/5||4/5||Nov 2019||5,999|
|8.||Leica M10||4.5/5||..||..||..||4/5||4.5/5||Jan 2017||6,595|
|9.||Leica M Typ 240||4/5||..||..||..||4/5||..||Sep 2012||6,950|
|10.||Nikon D5||..||..||4/5||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||Jan 2016||6,499|
|11.||Nikon D500||5/5||+ +||4.7/5||91/100||4.5/5||5/5||Jan 2016||1,999|
|12.||Nikon D750||5/5||+ +||4/5||90/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2014||2,299|
|13.||Sony A9 II||..||..||5/5||90/100||5/5||5/5||Oct 2019||4,499|
|14.||Sony A7 III||..||+ +||4.5/5||89/100||5/5||5/5||Feb 2018||1,999|
|15.||Sony A7R II||5/5||+ +||5/5||90/100||5/5||5/5||Jun 2015||3,199|
|16.||Sony A7S II||5/5||+||..||..||4.5/5||5/5||Sep 2015||2,999|
|17.||Sony A7 II||5/5||+||4/5||82/100||4.5/5||5/5||Nov 2014||1,999|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
The review scores listed above should be treated with care, though. The ratings were established in reference to similarly priced cameras that were available in the market at the time of the review. Thus, a score needs to be put into the context of the launch date and the launch price of the camera, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.
Other camera comparisons
Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? If you would like to see a different side-by-side camera review, just make a corresponding selection in the search boxes below. Alternatively, you can follow any of the listed hyperlinks for comparisons that others found interesting.
Specifications: Leica SL vs Sony A9
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.
|Camera Model||Leica SL||Sony A9|
|Camera Type||Mirrorless system camera||Mirrorless system camera|
|Camera Lens||Leica L mount lenses||Sony E mount lenses|
|Launch Date||October 2015||April 2017|
|Launch Price||USD 7,450||USD 4,499|
|Sensor Specs||Leica SL||Sony A9|
|Sensor Format||Full Frame Sensor||Full Frame Sensor|
|Sensor Size||36.0 x 24.0 mm||35.6 x 23.8 mm|
|Sensor Area||864 mm2||847.28 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||43.3 mm||42.8 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||24 Megapixels||24 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||6000 x 4000 pixels||6000 x 4000 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||6.00 μm||5.94 μm|
|Pixel Density||2.78 MP/cm2||2.83 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||no AA filter||Anti-Alias filter|
|Movie Capability||4K/30p Video||4K/30p Video|
|ISO Setting||50 - 50,000 ISO||100 - 51,200 ISO|
|ISO Boost||no Enhancement||50 - 204,800 ISO|
|Image Processor||Maestro II||BIONZ X|
|DXO Sensor Quality (score)||88||92|
|DXO Color Depth (bits)||25.0||24.9|
|DXO Dynamic Range (EV)||13.4||13.3|
|DXO Low Light (ISO)||1821||3517|
|Screen Specs||Leica SL||Sony A9|
|Viewfinder Type||Electronic viewfinder||Electronic viewfinder|
|Viewfinder Field of View||100%||100%|
|Viewfinder Resolution||4400k dots||3686k dots|
|Top-Level Screen||Control Panel||no Top Display|
|LCD Framing||Live View||Live View|
|Rear LCD Size||3.0inch||3.0inch|
|LCD Resolution||1040k dots||1440k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Tilting screen|
|Shooting Specs||Leica SL||Sony A9|
|Focus System||Contrast-detect AF||On-Sensor Phase-detect|
|Manual Focusing Aid||Focus Peaking||Focus Peaking|
|Max Shutter Speed (mechanical)||1/8000s||1/8000s|
|Continuous Shooting||11 shutter flaps/s||20 shutter flaps/s|
|Electronic Shutter||up to 1/16000s||up to 1/32000s|
|Time-Lapse Photography||Intervalometer built-in||no Intervalometer|
|Image Stabilization||Lens stabilization only||In-body stabilization|
|Fill Flash||no On-Board Flash||no On-Board Flash|
|Storage Medium||SDXC cards||MS or SDXC cards|
|Second Storage Option||Dual card slots||Dual card slots|
|UHS card support||Single UHS-II||Single UHS-II|
|Connectivity Specs||Leica SL||Sony A9|
|Studio Flash||PC Sync socket||PC Sync socket|
|USB Connector||USB 3.0||USB 2.0|
|HDMI Port||full HDMI||micro HDMI|
|Microphone Port||External MIC port||External MIC port|
|Headphone Socket||Headphone port||Headphone port|
|Wifi Support||Wifi built-in||Wifi built-in|
|Near-Field Communication||no NFC||NFC built-in|
|Bluetooth Support||no Bluetooth||Bluetooth built-in|
|Geotagging||GPS built-in||no internal GPS|
|Body Specs||Leica SL||Sony A9|
|Environmental Sealing||Weathersealed body||Weathersealed body|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||400 shots per charge||650 shots per charge|
|In-Camera Charging||no USB charging||USB charging|
147 x 104 x 39 mm
(5.8 x 4.1 x 1.5 in)
127 x 96 x 63 mm
(5.0 x 3.8 x 2.5 in)
|Camera Weight||847 g (29.9 oz)||673 g (23.7 oz)|
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