Wildlife Photography with the Leica SL by Tim Floyd

The new Leica SL is poised to be a perfect instrument for wildlife photography.  This full-frame, 24 mp camera will accept all Leica R, M and S mount lenses, in addition to native SL lenses.  At present, only one SL lens is available, the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 mm f/2.8-4 Asph.  A 90 mm focal length does not on first blush seem appropriate for wildlife, but one has only to think of the work of Nick Brandt to realize that wildlife photography can be achieved with normal or even wide lenses.

However, while we wait for more SL lenses to come available, the R lenses work very well on the SL for wildlife.  The bright viewfinder and intuitive controls remind me of working with the Leicaflex 2.

The SL features I have found most useful for wildlife are the high ISO capability and the viewfinder.  I can comfortably shoot at high ISO with minimal noise and virtually no image degradation.  I also love the floating ISO for wildlife, when ambient light levels can change dramatically rather quickly.  I generally shoot with a wide aperture and use the floating ISO feature, with an upper limit set to 6400, in order to maximize my shutter speed.  I always wished for this feature with film, and it’s now possible with the SL.

The viewfinder is bright and displays essential information that is neither intrusive nor overwhelming.  A push on the joystick magnifies the image while the same button allows me to precisely place the focus and metering sensor where I want it, usually the catchlight in the closest eye.  Although I don’t use a motor drive very often, this camera is capable of shooting 11 frames per second when necessary.

Another important feature is the weather sealing on the SL.  I have used the camera in rain and snow with confidence that it will not malfunction.
 

Displaying wild Tom turkey.  Example of high ISO, shot at 6400.  SL with Apo-Telyt-R 1:2.8/280mm with 2X-Apo-Extender-R.  f/11 1/500 sec.  Image quality remained high at and ISO that would have shown a lot of noise on other cameras.

Crop of similar shot at ISO 6400 demonstrating acceptable noise.

Black tail deer in Mt. Diablo State Park foothills, California.  SL with Vario-Elmarit-SL 1:2.8-4/24-90mm Asph.  ISO 50.  f/5 1/500 sec.  The high ISO capability of this sensor allowed me to pull up shadow detail that would have been lost with other cameras.  This was a hand held shot that remained sharp with the aid of the Optical Image Stabilization feature.

Male and female grizzly bears at a predator rehab center outside of Yellowstone National Park.  SL with Apo-Telyt-R 1:2.8/280mm and 2X-Apo-Extender-R.  ISO 500.  f/4.8 1/500 sec.  

Gray wolf at a predator rehab center outside of Yellowstone National Park.  SL with Apo-Telyt-R 1:2.8/280mm and 2X-Apo-Extender-R.  ISO 100.  f/2.8 1/500 sec.

Gray wolf at a predator rehab center outside of Yellowstone National Park.  SL with Apo-Telyt-R 1:2.8/280mm and 2X-Apo-Extender-R.  ISO 320.  f/2.8 1/500 sec.


Trumpeter Swans, Harriman State Park, Idaho.  SL with Apo-Telyt-R 1:2.8/280mm and stacked 1.4X and 2X-Apo-Extender-R.  ISO 800.  f/8 1/500 sec.  Stacking these two Apo-Extenders results in minimal image degradation, but I found I could just use the 2X extender and crop for a sharper image.

Wood Duck, Idaho.  SL with Apo-Telyt-R 1:2.8/280mm and 2X-Apo-Extender-R.  ISO 200.  f/8 1/500 sec.

Female grizzly bear (sow) at a predator rehab center outside of Yellowstone National Park.  SL with Apo-Telyt-R 1:2.8/280mm and 2X-Apo-Extender R.  ISO 200.  f/2.8 1/500 sec.

This photograph won Best of Show in the 2001 Northwest Environmental Photography Exhibition (now renamed World in Focus), taken with a Leica R6 and the Macro-Elmar-R 1:2.8/60mm lens.  I’ve owned my SL for only 3 months, during which time most of the animal shots are of my dogs.  I’m looking forward to many years with wildlife and the SL.

View More of Tim Floyd's work on his website  www.timothyfloyd.com