#1304. Leica SL2 and Nikon 50mm AIS Review

By Paul Barclay | Review

Aug 18

Welcome back to my review of the post repair Leica SL2 and a select lens. In this section we will be looking at the Nikon 50mm f1.4 AIS lens mounted on an inexpensive Fotasy “NK-L L” adapter, because in my email conversations with Pascal I mentioned that it renders very nicely in the SL2 and Pascal thought it would be interesting to see.

The first part of this review can be found here.

All of these images were made in late May and early June when I was still getting reacquainted with the camera. Since the camera’s firmware did not provide a generic lens setting to provide stabilization, I set the camera to use the lens profile for the Leica 50mm f1.4 Summilux M (non aspheric)* and later used the Capture One profile for the Nikon 50mm f1.4 G. Also, like in Part 1, all photos that include people will have faces spotted out to accommodate French laws.

Our first opportunity to get out after recovering from our return trip from Arizona was a walk on the beach. Our destination was the Point No Point Light House and surrounding beach; located near the community of Hansville, Washington. We decided to take, Tucker, our friend’s dog for a walk and our timing was good, because the tides for this morning were going to be really low, giving us a lot of beach to explore.


This series gave me my first opportunity to work with the camera in conditions that would let me evaluate the exposure meter and how the sensor deals with highlights.

For the benefit of those that did not read the comments to the first article. The SL2 has a feature known as “Blinking Highlights”, that is similar to zebras in other cameras; the SL2 does include zebras when set to record video. When this feature is turned on, when the brightness level exceeds a certain amount, the highlight will blink black and white to alert you to the situation. You then reduce exposure until the blinking is reduce to an acceptable amount or eliminated. The brightness level to activate the blinking is set in the camera menu, and at this time I was using a setting of 230 out of 255; the camera’s default setting is 253.

For the above images, setting exposure compensation to -2/3 stop for the general exposure looked good and an additional -2/3 stop of compensation for the highlights looked good on the camera. Reviewing the images in Capture One, only a small amount of exposure and highlight adjustment was necessary. Which made me optimistic that my issues with the light meter and highlight clipping were addressed. I will return to light meter adjustments in Part 3.

My next excursions to use the camera were to the Ballard and Fremont neighborhoods of Seattle. My first stop was Ballard and the Farmer’s Market, where the following image was made.


Later that evening I returned to Fremont, also known as “The Center of the Universe”, to visit the Seattle Troll, that lives under the Aurora Bridge, and re-try making images with an Edward Hopper feel to them.


The images of the Troll above and the image below, with very bright and darker adjacent areas, bring up a challenge in using legacy manual focus lenses. The challenge is focusing the image. As focus peaking, in any camera, is easily fooled by the apparent contrast difference between bright and dark surfaces/areas, or you have a round/smooth subject and there is no contrast to assist you. In these cases, it is helpful to zoom into your scene and focus on the part of your subject that is most important using the EVF rather than the peaking. Or you may find that you are focusing behind your subject.


Returning to Fremont I walked around looking for subjects that caught my eye.


One of the things I am trying to do more often, is to not think of sharpness as a most desirable quality in an image. In the following images I am trying to see how the lens renders; de-focused and wide open, focused and wide open, and focused and stopped down (f5.6 in this case1. The first three images received no post processing beyond the default settings in Capture One. The fourth image is the same as the third with a small amount of adjustment to taste.


My conclusions from making this series of images are:

Processing the images from the Nikon 50mm F1.4 AIS forced me to expand my expectations of it. This was the first lens I purchased with a Nikon camera back when I started taking photography seriously, and I had off/on feelings towards it. Stopped down I really liked the images I would get. But used between f1.4 and f2.8, I could also be disappointed with the images I would get. This lens was probably the genesis of my obsession with image sharpness. Because, friends using other systems would bet better results at similar settings than I was.

Using this lens on the SL2 opens shows us what this lens, and any lens, is capable of when the variables in the SLR optical chain are eliminated. During the time I was making images for this part of the review, I made images of a memorial gathering for a friend, the portraits and group photos made were quite good and the family was happy with the results. I did not miss having a native lens. The results here show me that while the lens is not as clinically perfect as many new lenses, the image rendering is very pleasing in its own way. From an artistic/technical point of view, wide open this lens satisfies my desires for an artistic rendering, with f4-f11 being the sweet spot for sharp and clear images. This is a lens that is well worth being in your camera bag.

The SL2 is regaining my trust that it will perform the way I expect a Leica camera to operate. I still need to use it in a wider variety of settings before I can decide that the issues that caused me to send it to Leica USA service have been corrected.

Plus, the more I use the camera with legacy lenses, it is reenforcing the idea that this is probably the best universal back for legacy lenses available to us. The sensor simply collects the light projected on it and provides us with an unaltered view, unlike other mirrorless cameras.

(*) The SL2 also provides lens profiles for Leica R-mount lenses. For the beach walk I forgot to change the setting when I switched lenses and decided to keep the setting constant while making images for this article. Using the setting for the R-mount lens would provide similar, if not improved results.


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Paul, my own impression in recent times has been a preference for going back to external meters, rather than relying on the ones in the camera. Is it because the camera gives an average reading of the whole scene, while the external meter can measure quite differently – either sampling some key point in the scene or taking a reading of the light that’s falling on the scene.

    Of course once you go into “available light/after dark” shots, the whole ball game changes – I generally sort that by taking sample images – not a luxury we had in the days of film, but dead easy with digital.

    • PaulB says:


      Thanks for the comments. Use of an external meter is something I have considered. I even made the effort to find my spot meter and checked to see that it works.

      Though using the external meter would not help much for this series, since I am walking around shooting things on the street vs. doing landscape or still life where there is more time for the details. Plus, an external meter may have delayed finding one of the quirks of the camera/sensor that will be included in part 3 of this review.

      Available light is a horse of another color. You either rely on your internal meter and ISO setting, or you use an external meter for best result. Available light landscapes was one area where (color print) film is/was superior to digital. It was really hard to over expose, so you could use long exposure times for good effect.


  • Mer says:

    Great colours, especially in the last images and particularly in the one that has default plus processed to taste. Kind of film-like.

    The airplane is one of those very small things that can have an outsized effect on an image. I like the way it changes the balance.


    • PaulB says:

      Hi Mer

      Yes, I like the colors in the image you mention too. The combination of light, lens, and location came together really well for this series.

      Though, I am a little disappointed in the de-focused wide open image of this series. I think it is suffering from the extra internet processing that happens.

      I agree, the location of the airplane was a gift. When I noticed it, I tried to work with it for best effect.


  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Nice pix of Washington State, Paul! They remind me that there are lots of great photo opportunities close to home. Love the troll shot!

    • PaulB says:

      Hi Nancee

      Thank you for the compliment. Yes, the Troll and the Center of the Universe marker are a couple of things that make Fremont a favorite location. Not to mention the variety of small things that make Fremont interesting if you look.


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