Leica SL2 vs Nikon D3500
The Leica SL2 and the Nikon D3500 are two digital cameras that were announced, respectively, in November 2019 and August 2018. The SL2 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, while the D3500 is a DSLR. The cameras are based on a full frame (SL2) and an APS-C (D3500) sensor. The Leica has a resolution of 46.7 megapixels, whereas the Nikon provides 24 MP.
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 SL2 and the Nikon D3500? 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.
The physical size and weight of the Leica SL2 and the Nikon D3500 are illustrated in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive perspectives from the front, the top, and the back are available. 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 Nikon D3500 is notably smaller (23 percent) than the Leica SL2. Moreover, the D3500 is substantially lighter (62 percent) than the SL2. It is worth mentioning in this context that the SL2 is splash and dust resistant, while the D3500 does not feature any corresponding weather-sealing.
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 SL2 can be charged via the USB port, so that it is not always necessary to take the battery charger along when travelling.
The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. 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 SL2||146 mm||107 mm||42 mm||953 g||370||Y||Nov 2019||5,999|
|2.||Nikon D3500||124 mm||97 mm||70 mm||365 g||1550||n||Aug 2018||429|
|3.||Canon R5||138 mm||98 mm||88 mm||738 g||320||Y||Jul 2020||3,899|
|4.||Canon M100||108 mm||67 mm||35 mm||302 g||295||n||Aug 2017||499|
|5.||Fujifilm X-A7||119 mm||68 mm||41 mm||320 g||440||n||Sep 2019||499|
|6.||Fujifilm X-E3||121 mm||74 mm||43 mm||337 g||350||n||Sep 2017||899|
|7.||Leica SL2-S||146 mm||107 mm||83 mm||931 g||510||Y||Dec 2020||4,895|
|8.||Leica Q2||130 mm||80 mm||92 mm||718 g||370||Y||Mar 2019||4,995|
|9.||Leica SL||147 mm||104 mm||39 mm||847 g||400||Y||Oct 2015||7,450|
|10.||Nikon Z7||134 mm||101 mm||67 mm||675 g||330||Y||Aug 2018||3,399|
|11.||Nikon D3400||124 mm||98 mm||76 mm||445 g||1200||n||Aug 2016||499|
|12.||Nikon D3300||124 mm||98 mm||76 mm||430 g||700||n||Jan 2014||499|
|13.||Panasonic S1||149 mm||110 mm||97 mm||1017 g||400||Y||Feb 2019||2,499|
|14.||Panasonic S1R||149 mm||110 mm||97 mm||1016 g||380||Y||Feb 2019||3,699|
|15.||Panasonic S1H||151 mm||114 mm||110 mm||1052 g||400||Y||May 2019||3,999|
|16.||Pentax K-1 II||137 mm||110 mm||86 mm||1010 g||670||Y||Feb 2018||1,999|
|17.||Sony A99 II||143 mm||104 mm||76 mm||849 g||490||Y||Sep 2016||3,199|
|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 listed launch prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The D3500 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 93 percent) than the SL2, which puts it into a different market segment. Normally, street prices remain initially close to the MSRP, but after a couple of months, the first discounts appear. 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. A large sensor will generally have larger individual pixels that offer better low-light sensitivity, provide wider dynamic range, and have 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 tend to be more expensive and lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.
Of the two cameras under consideration, the Leica SL2 features a full frame sensor and the Nikon D3500 an APS-C sensor. The sensor area in the D3500 is 58 percent smaller. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 1.0 and 1.5. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.
In terms of underlying technology, both cameras are build around CMOS sensors.
With 46.7MP, the SL2 offers a higher resolution than the D3500 (24MP), but the SL2 nevertheless has larger individual pixels (pixel pitch of 4.30μm versus 3.91μm for the D3500) due to its larger sensor. Moreover, the SL2 is a somewhat more recent model (by 1 year and 2 months) than the D3500, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that further enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixels. Coming back to sensor resolution, it should be mentioned that neither of the two cameras has an anti-alias filter installed, so they are able to capture all the detail the sensor resolves.
The resolution advantage of the Leica SL2 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the SL2 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 41.8 x 27.9 inches or 106.3 x 70.9 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 33.5 x 22.3 inches or 85 x 56.7 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 27.9 x 18.6 inches or 70.8 x 47.3 cm. The corresponding values for the Nikon D3500 are 30 x 20 inches or 76.2 x 50.8 cm for good quality, 24 x 16 inches or 61 x 40.6 cm for very good quality, and 20 x 13.3 inches or 50.8 x 33.9 cm for excellent quality prints.
Unlike the D3500, the SL2 has the capacity to capture high quality composite images (187MP) by combining multiple shots after shifting its sensor by miniscule distances. This multi-shot, pixel-shift mode is most suitable for photography of stationary objects (landscapes, studio scenes).
The Leica SL2 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 100 to ISO 50000, which can be extended to ISO 50-50000. The corresponding ISO settings for the Nikon D3500 are ISO 100 to ISO 25600 (no boost).
Consistent information on actual sensor performance is available from DXO Mark for many cameras. This service determines an overall sensor rating, as well as sub-scores for low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and color depth ("DXO Portrait"). The adjacent table reports on the physical sensor characteristics and the outcomes of the DXO sensor quality tests for a sample of comparator-cameras.
| DXO |
|1.||Leica SL2||Full Frame||46.7||8368||5584||4K/60p||..||..||..||..|
|3.||Canon R5||Full Frame||44.8||8192||5464||8k/30p||25.3||14.6||3042||95|
|7.||Leica SL2-S||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||4K/60p||..||..||..||..|
|8.||Leica Q2||Full Frame||46.7||8368||5584||4K/30p||26.4||13.5||2491||96|
|9.||Leica SL||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||4K/30p||25.0||13.4||1821||88|
|10.||Nikon Z7||Full Frame||45.4||8256||5504||4K/30p||26.3||14.6||2668||99|
|13.||Panasonic S1||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||4K/60p||25.2||14.5||3333||95|
|14.||Panasonic S1R||Full Frame||46.7||8368||5584||4K/60p||26.4||14.1||3525||100|
|15.||Panasonic S1H||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||6K/30p||..||..||..||..|
|16.||Pentax K-1 II||Full Frame||36.2||7360||4912||1080/60i||..||..||..||..|
|17.||Sony A99 II||Full Frame||42.2||7952||5304||4K/30p||25.4||13.4||2317||92|
Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but also of capturing video footage. Both cameras under consideration are equipped with sensors that have a sufficiently high read-out speed for moving images, but the SL2 provides a higher video resolution than the D3500. It can shoot video footage at 4K/60p, while the Nikon is limited to 1080/60p.
Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a variety of features. For example, the SL2 has an electronic viewfinder (5760k dots), while the D3500 has an optical one. Both systems have their advantages, with the electronic viewfinder making it possible to project supplementary shooting information into the framing view, whereas the optical viewfinder offers lag-free viewing and a very clear framing image. The viewfinder in the SL2 offers a wider field of view (100%) than the one in the D3500 (95%), so that a larger proportion of the captured image is visible in the finder. In addition, the viewfinder of the SL2 has a higher magnification (0.78x vs 0.57x), so that the size of the image transmitted appears closer to the size seen with the naked human eye. The adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Leica SL2 and Nikon D3500 along with similar information for a selection of comparators.
|16.||Pentax K-1 II||optical||Y||3.2||1037||full-flex||n||1/8000s||4.4||n||Y|
|17.||Sony A99 II||2400||Y||3.0||1229||full-flex||n||1/8000s||12.0||n||Y|
One feature that is present on the SL2, but is missing on the D3500 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, the SL2 is one of those camera that have an additional 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 SL2 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.
Concerning the storage of imaging data, both the SL2 and the D3500 write their files to SDXC cards. The SL2 features dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. In contrast, the D3500 only has one slot. The SL2 supports UHS-II cards (on both slots), while the D3500 can use UHS-I cards.
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 SL2 and Nikon D3500 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
| WiFi |
| NFC |
|16.||Pentax K-1 II||Y||stereo||mono||Y||Y||micro||2.0||Y||-||-|
|17.||Sony A99 II||Y||stereo||mono||Y||Y||micro||2.0||Y||Y||Y|
It is notable that the SL2 has a microphone port, which is missing on the D3500. Such an external microphone input can help to substantially improve the quality of audio recordings when a good external microphone is used.
Studio photographers will appreciate that the Leica SL2 (unlike the D3500) features a PC Sync socket, so that professional strobe lights can be controlled by the camera.
Both the SL2 and the D3500 are recent models that are part of the current product line-up. The D3500 replaced the earlier Nikon D3400, while the SL2 followed on from the Leica SL (Typ 601). Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Leica and Nikon websites.
So what conclusions can be drawn? Is the Leica SL2 better than the Nikon D3500 or vice versa? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.
Advantages of the Leica SL2:
- More detail: Offers more megapixels (46.7 vs 24MP) with a 40% higher linear resolution.
- High quality composites: Can combine several shots after pixel-shifting its sensor.
- Better image quality: Features a larger and more technologically advanced imaging sensor.
- Richer colors: The sensor size advantage translates into images with better, more accurate colors.
- More dynamic range: Larger sensor captures a wider spectrum of light and dark details.
- Better low-light sensitivity: Larger sensor produces good images even in poorly lit environments.
- Better video: Provides higher definition movie capture (4K/60p vs 1080/60p).
- Better sound: Can connect to an external microphone for higher quality sound recording.
- Better sound control: Has a headphone port that enables audio monitoring while recording.
- More framing info: Has an electronic viewfinder that displays shooting data.
- More complete view: Has a viewfinder with a larger field of view (100% vs 95%).
- Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.78x vs 0.57x).
- Easier setting verification: Features an LCD display on top to control shooting parameters.
- Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.2" vs 3.0") for image review and settings control.
- More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (2100k vs 921k dots).
- Fewer buttons to press: Is equipped with a touch-sensitive rear screen to facilitate handling.
- Faster shutter: Has higher mechanical shutter speed (1/8000s vs 1/4000s) to freeze action.
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (10 vs 5 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
- Less disturbing: Has an electronic shutter option for completely silent shooting.
- Easier time-lapse photography: Has an intervalometer built-in for low frequency shooting.
- Easier travel charging: Can be conveniently charged via its USB port.
- Better sealing: Is weather sealed to enable shooting in dusty or wet environments.
- Sharper images: Has hand-shake reducing image stabilization built-in.
- More legacy lens friendly: Can take a broad range of non-native lenses via adapters.
- Faster data transfer: Supports a more advanced USB protocol (3.1 vs 2.0).
- Easier file upload: Has wifi built in for automatic backup or image transfer to the web.
- Better studio light control: Has a PC Sync socket to connect to professional strobe lights.
- Greater peace of mind: Features a second card slot as a backup in case of memory card failure.
- Faster buffer clearing: Supports a more advanced SD data transfer standard (UHS-II vs UHS-I).
- More prestigious: Has the Leica luxury appeal, which ensures a high resale price.
- More modern: Is somewhat more recent (announced 1 year and 2 months after the D3500).
Arguments in favor of the Nikon D3500:
- Brighter framing: Features an optical viewfinder for clear, lag-free composition.
- More compact: Is smaller (124x97mm vs 146x107mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
- Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 588g or 62 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
- Longer lasting: Gets more shots (1550 versus 370) out of a single battery charge.
- Easier fill-in: Has a small integrated flash to brighten shadows of backlit subjects.
- More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (93 percent cheaper at launch).
- More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in August 2018).
If the number of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the SL2 is the clear winner of the match-up (32 : 7 points). However, the pertinence of the various camera strengths will differ across photographers, so that you might want to weigh individual camera traits according to their importance for your own imaging needs before making a camera decision. A professional wedding photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a travel photog, and a person interested in cityscapes has distinct needs from a macro 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 SL2 and the Nikon D3500 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera and Best DSLR Camera listings 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 remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the SL2 or the D3500 perform in practice. At times, user reviews, such as those published at amazon, address these issues in a useful manner, but such feedback is on many occasions incomplete, inconsistent, and unreliable.
This is why hands-on reviews by experts are important. The table below provides a synthesis of the camera assessments of some of the best known photo-gear review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], 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 SL2||4/5||..||..||4.5/5||4/5||Nov 2019||5,999|
|2.||Nikon D3500||..||..||75/100||4/5||4.5/5||Aug 2018||429|
|3.||Canon R5||4.5/5||..||91/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jul 2020||3,899|
|4.||Canon M100||3/5||+||..||4/5||3.5/5||Aug 2017||499|
|5.||Fujifilm X-A7||3/5||..||81/100||4/5||3.5/5||Sep 2019||499|
|6.||Fujifilm X-E3||4.5/5||+||84/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2017||899|
|7.||Leica SL2-S||4/5||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Dec 2020||4,895|
|8.||Leica Q2||..||..||84/100||4.5/5||4/5||Mar 2019||4,995|
|9.||Leica SL||4/5||..||84/100||4.5/5||4/5||Oct 2015||7,450|
|10.||Nikon Z7||5/5||+||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||Aug 2018||3,399|
|11.||Nikon D3400||4/5||+||76/100||4/5||4.5/5||Aug 2016||499|
|12.||Nikon D3300||3/5||+||77/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jan 2014||499|
|13.||Panasonic S1||4.5/5||+ +||88/100||4.5/5||4/5||Feb 2019||2,499|
|14.||Panasonic S1R||4.5/5||..||89/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2019||3,699|
|15.||Panasonic S1H||..||..||90/100||..||..||May 2019||3,999|
|16.||Pentax K-1 II||..||..||79/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2018||1,999|
|17.||Sony A99 II||..||..||85/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2016||3,199|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
The review scores listed above should be treated with care, though. The assessments were made in relation to similar cameras of the same technological generation. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and comparing ratings of very distinct cameras or ones that are far apart in terms of their release date have little meaning. Also, kindly note that some of the listed sites have over time developped their review approaches and their reporting style.
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 use the search menu below. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored.
Specifications: Leica SL2 vs Nikon D3500
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 SL2||Nikon D3500|
|Camera Type||Mirrorless system camera||Digital single lens reflex|
|Camera Lens||Leica L mount lenses||Nikon F mount lenses|
|Launch Date||November 2019||August 2018|
|Launch Price||USD 5,999||USD 429|
|Sensor Specs||Leica SL2||Nikon D3500|
|Sensor Format||Full Frame Sensor||APS-C Sensor|
|Sensor Size||36.0 x 24.0 mm||23.5 x 15.6 mm|
|Sensor Area||864 mm2||366.6 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||43.3 mm||28.2 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||46.7 Megapixels||24 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||8368 x 5584 pixels||6000 x 4000 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||4.30 μm||3.91 μm|
|Pixel Density||5.41 MP/cm2||6.55 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||no AA filter||no AA filter|
|Movie Capability||4K/60p Video||1080/60p Video|
|ISO Setting||100 - 50,000 ISO||100 - 25,600 ISO|
|ISO Boost||50 - 50,000 ISO||no Enhancement|
|Image Processor||Maestro III||EXPEED 4|
|Screen Specs||Leica SL2||Nikon D3500|
|Viewfinder Type||Electronic viewfinder||Optical viewfinder|
|Viewfinder Field of View||100%||95%|
|Viewfinder Resolution||5760k dots|
|Top-Level Screen||Control Panel||no Top Display|
|LCD Framing||Live View||Live View|
|Rear LCD Size||3.2inch||3.0inch|
|LCD Resolution||2100k dots||921k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Fixed screen|
|Touch Input||Touchscreen||no Touchscreen|
|Shooting Specs||Leica SL2||Nikon D3500|
|Focus System||Contrast-detect AF||Phase-detect AF|
|Manual Focusing Aid||Focus Peaking||no Peaking Feature|
|Continuous Shooting||10 shutter flaps/s||5 shutter flaps/s|
|Shutter Life Expectancy||400 000 actuations||100 000 actuations|
|Electronic Shutter||up to 1/40000s||no E-Shutter|
|Time-Lapse Photography||Intervalometer built-in||no Intervalometer|
|Image Stabilization||In-body stabilization||Lens stabilization only|
|Fill Flash||no On-Board Flash||Build-in Flash|
|Storage Medium||SDXC cards||SDXC cards|
|Second Storage Option||Dual card slots||Single card slot|
|UHS card support||Dual UHS-II||UHS-I|
|Connectivity Specs||Leica SL2||Nikon D3500|
|Studio Flash||PC Sync socket||no PC Sync|
|USB Connector||USB 3.1||USB 2.0|
|HDMI Port||full HDMI||mini HDMI|
|Microphone Port||External MIC port||no MIC socket|
|Headphone Socket||Headphone port||no Headphone port|
|Wifi Support||Wifi built-in||no Wifi|
|Bluetooth Support||Bluetooth built-in||Bluetooth built-in|
|Body Specs||Leica SL2||Nikon D3500|
|Environmental Sealing||Weathersealed body||not weather sealed|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||370 shots per charge||1550 shots per charge|
|In-Camera Charging||USB charging||no USB charging|
146 x 107 x 42 mm
(5.7 x 4.2 x 1.7 in)
124 x 97 x 70 mm
(4.9 x 3.8 x 2.8 in)
|Camera Weight||953 g (33.6 oz)||365 g (12.9 oz)|
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