Leicaflex SL / SL

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Leica Mount Cameras:


Leica-mount Lenses:


Leicaflex SL/SL2

by Karen Nakamura

Overview and Personal Comments

To be frank, Leica was late to come to the SLR market. Although it had the most sophisticated and popular rangefinder on the market, the Leica M3; the Leitz corporation was only slowly becoming aware of the potential single-lens reflex cameras. The first SLR was either the Zeiss Contax S or the Russian START (depending on who you ask), but Japanese camera manufacturers such as Nikon and Asahi Pentax were popularizing the SLR by the early 1960s. In many ways, Japanese companies went towards SLRs because they could not compete against Leica in the rangefinder market. By the time Leica woke-up and realized the SLR threat, most of its Japanese rivals had already come out with second-generation products.

Single-Lens Reflex Wars in the 1950s and 1960s
1951 Ihagee Exacta Interchangeable waist/pentaprism finder
1952 Asahi Asahiflex Waist-level finder single-lenx reflex
1957 Asahi Pentax Pentaprism eye-level finder
1959 Nikon F Interchangeable finder, focusing screen, back, motor-drive, mirror-lock up, etc. etc.
Canon Canonflex Automatic instant-return mirror, diaphragm
Kodak Retina Reflex S
1960 Asahi Pentax S1
1962 Asahi Pentax S1a
1963 Olympus Pen F Half-size SLR, unique mirror system
1964 Leicaflex External CdS meter
Asahi Pentax Spotmatic TTL metering
Canon FX External CdS meter
1965 Canon Pellix Pellical mirror, motordrive, TTL metering
1966 Mamiya Sekor 1000TL Open aperture TTL metering
1968 Leicaflex SL Open-aperture TTL metering, matte focusing screen
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Original Leicaflex (1964-68): Leitz came out with their first SLR in 1964, the original Leicaflex. This was a sturdy if rather unoriginal design. The lightmeter was an external CdS cell built into the pentraprism that metered approximately the same view as a 90mm lens. But because the meter was not through-the-lens (TTL), if you had a wide- or long-lens on your camera (not to mention filters), the metering was not quite accurate. There was also limited meter-to-lens communication, which was not that convenient. The worst aspect of the original Leicaflex was its non-matte focusing screen, which (while bright) could not be focused in non-central areas.


Leicaflex SL (1968-74): Leitz solved these problems with their second iteration: the Leicaflex SL in 1968. The SL stood for "selective light" (or something like that in German). It refered to the selective light metering through the lens (TTL) - sort of an large-area spot-meter. The Leicaflex SL could meter at full-aperture. And the microprism focusing screen with central focusing area is gorgeous and extremely easy to focus. The SL was pretty darn perfect in many people's eyes, and many photographers still swear by it.

The SL does have some bugs. The original red plastic lens-release button tended to break easily. Most SLs that have been CLAed have had their lens-release buttons replaced with a metal one (as the one above has). Be sure to check your SL to make sure the pentaprism isn't desilvering, a new one will cost about $250.


Leicaflex SL2 (1974-76): The third iteration was the Leicaflex SL2 which came out in 1972. The SL2 added a split-image rangefinder focusing area in the viewfinder, which many think made focusing easier (many also prefer the SL's microprism). But by this time, many of Leica's Japanese rivals had perfected auto-exposure TTL cameras with electronic shutters, such as the Canon F-1.


R Series Cameras: The problem with the SL series was that they were all-mechanical and the world was quickly moving towards electronic cameras in order to offer automatic exposure and other features. Leitz teamed up with Minolta and used some of the technology in the latter's XE series SLRs to design the Leica R3. It should be emphasized that the Leica R3-R5 were designed with some Minolta technology (the XD series), but were actually manufactured by Leica/Leitz in Portugal or Germany. For more information and the continuation of this story, check my Leica R SLR page.

Leica R Lens Compatibility

At various stages, Leica increased the number of lens-to-camera "cams" in order to communicate the open-aperture metering, and other features. See this page for more information about the variations of the R-mount lenses or my main Leica R lens page.

According to Doug Herr on the Leica list, there are some lenses that can't be used on the original Leicaflex and the Leicaflex SL because Leitz changed the mirror clearance distance with the SL2. The incompatible lenses are:

  • 15mm Elmar-R
  • 15mm Elmarit-R
  • 16mm Fisheye
  • 19mm Elamrit-R, current version (first version is OK)
  • 24mm Elmarit-R
  • 35mm Summilux-R
  • 50mm Summilux-R, current version (older versions OK)
  • 80-200mm f/4.5 Vario (don't confuse this with the current 80-200 f/4)

You should also not use ROM lenses with the Leicaflex series (original, SL, SL2) because the ROM contacts will get damaged by the Leicaflex cam follower. To prevent problems, R-only lenses and ROM lenses have a slightly different bayonet mount so they won't mount on Leicaflex cameras. Don't try to force them on.

Interesting quirks

Flash Synchronization : The Leicaflex series have two sockets on the front to attach both electronic ('X') and bulb flash units. The accessory shoe itself is 'cold' on the original Leicaflex and the SL.

Variable Shutter Speeds: The original Leicaflex, the SL, and the SL2 all have continuously variable shutter speeds. You can dial in half or quarter (or eighth, sixteenth, etc.) stops in between the shutter dial markings for all speeds except in between 1/4 and 1/8 and between 1/30 and 1/60. Try that on your Canon EOS!

Clean, Lubricate, Adjust (CLA)
Because the Leicaflexes are over forty years old, their bones are creaking a bit. The usual failure points are the light meter or prism/focusing screen desilvering or grime. Most of them will benefit greatly from a Clean-Lube-Adjust (CLA) done at your local friendly Leica repair depot. I have a list of independent Leica repair people on my Camera Repair Page (scroll down a bit).

Technical Details

Camera Name
Leicaflex Leicaflex SL Leicaflex SL2 Leica R3
Ernst Leitz GMBH Wetzlar Germany
Place of Manufacture
Date of Manufacture
1964-68 1968-74 1974-1976 1976-1980
Focusing System

Single-lens reflex
.x magnification factor

Single-lens reflex
.x magnification factor
Non-matte focusing screen Microprism focusing screen with central area Matte focusing screen with central split-image rangefinder and microprism Matte focusing screen with central split-image rangefinder and microprism
Lens Mount

Leica R bayonet mount compatible


Horizontal metal focal-plane
1 sec - 1/2000 sec + B & X (1/100sec)


Vertical bladed metal focal plane
4 sec - 1/1000 sec + B + X (1/90 sec)


Mirror lock-up
Battery check
Depth-of-field preview
Battery check
Depth of field preview
Battery check
Metering System
External CdS cell
Manual metering

TTL selective (7mm)
Manual Metering

Selective or center-weighted

Aperture-priority auto-exposure or manual

+/- 2 EV AE adjustment

Accessory cold shoe
Sync cable connector on front
1/90 sec X sync and focal plane (FP) sync
Accessory hot shoe
Sync cable connector on front
1/100 sec X sync and FP sync

External hot shoe

1/90 sec X sync and FP sync

Film type

Type 135 film (35mm standard)
ASA 12-3200

Type 135 film (35mm standard)
ASA 8-6400
Type 135 film (35mm standard)
ASA 12-3200
Battery type
Battery life

PX625 mercury cell
1~2 years

2 x SR44 cells
400 rolls or 1~2 years

Dimensions and weight

xx x xxx xxmm

xx x xxx xxmm

xx x xxx xxmm

148 x 96.5 x 64.4mm

Retail price


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About Leitz/Leica

Leitz was originally a microscope and scientific optics company. The first series of screwmount Leicas were designed by Oskar Barnack and have been named Barnack cameras by some. The prototype Ur-Leica was designed in 1918, but mass production did not start until 1925 when the Leica I came out. I have a write-up of the Leica III (1933).

The Leica M3 rangefinder was released in 1954 and represented the end of the Barnack-series of screwmount Leicas. The M-series had an integrated viewfinder/rangefinder with automatically switching projected framelines, coincident and split-image rangefinder, lever wind, hinged rear door, integrated shutterspeed dial, and M-bayonet mount. I have write-ups of the M3 (1954), M2 (1957), MD (1963), and M7 (2002). The Leica CL (1973) is technically not an M-Leica but it uses the M-bayonet mount.

The design of the Leica M has not changed considerably since the M3 of 1954. In 1967, the M4 came out with a crank-rewind instead of a knob rewind. Since then, the M series remained essentially unchanged from the Leica M4 (1968) up to the current M7. The only difference is that the M7 has an electronically controlled shutter and automatic exposure metering. (This leaves out the fiasco of the M5 which was considerably different and considerably unpopular at the time).

Leica's single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras have not been as popular as their rangefinders. I have write-ups of the original Leicaflex SL camera as well as the newer R3 and R6 SLRs and the R-mount lenses.

Leitz... blah blah.... and in 2000, fashion conglomerate Hermes bought 31% of Leica's stock. The only tangible result of this has been the emergence of the Hermes Special Edition Leica MP, dressed in the best coach leather and costing a mere US$8000.


On the Net

R Lens Cam information:

Leicaflex (Original):

Leicaflex SL:

Leicaflex SL2:

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