Close Up | Leica SL

Fixation Ambassador Hugo Pettit and his shooting partner Finn Pomeroy put the Leica SL through its paces on a recent trip to Austria. Here they talk about their experiences and Hugo discusses his thoughts about the camera.

I was heading out to Austria for a couple of days of work and knew I had one full day to get my skis on. Although a short amount of time, the ideal photo opportunities in these environments are slim, you have to take them when you can. Before being asked to review the Leica, I was going to shoot with my ‘go-to’ Canon 5D Mk III. Rugged, light and reliable, I’ve been a Canon man for a long time, I know my way around the cameras well, totally necessary when in an environment where you (or the others waiting for you) are freezing while you change camera settings. This test of the Leica was not about testing every setting, it was about experience, ease of use and most importantly, image quality. I used settings that I know work well on other cameras, therefore much more of a straight comparison.

We discussed where best to test the Leica SL as we really wanted to try and show the stunning landscape but also the human exploration element within. We decided after the first day touring that our best bet was to take the camera up on a climb. We could take our time climbing across one of the regions most famous ridges and if we timed it right then the sun would be setting for our descent back into town. We were going on a mission to test the Leica SL but the most key element for everything in the mountains is safety and to ensure we remain as safe as possible. We would be equipped with avalanche transceivers, probes, shovels, first aid kits, food, water and we would be harnessed on with leashes. All the kit goes on our back along with skis and poles and then we have to work out how best to carry our camera equipment. I had my Canon 5D Mk III in my bag alongside my kit whilst Hugo carried the Leica SL on a peak design clip attached to his chest. Both have advantages and disadvantages, my aim was to lead the way and push forward to be able to stop set up shots of Hugo using the SL whereas Hugo was going to be shooting from the hip continuously when a shot presented itself.

© Hugo Pettit

We had about 30 minutes the night before shooting to have a play with the camera; while the aesthetics are beautiful, I did at first feel a little confused looking at the minimalist buttons and lack of instruction. However, I got to grips with the basics quickly and set the camera up on Manual exposure and flicked the ISO to auto, setting the maximum to 3,200 and minimum to 50. On photo shoots where timing is key, (unless you’re well versed with changing these while looking through the viewfinder and shooting!) it’s very handy not only to be able to set the min and max ISO but to do this and trust the camera’s dynamic range and image quality is fundamental.

We shot with 2 x 64GB cards inserted in the camera to reduce faff having to carry extra cards and carried a full battery in a jacket pocket, close to my body heat! Batteries in cold environments don’t generally perform very well, so from the outset, with an electronic viewfinder and every part of the camera being electronic, battery life was certainly a worry.

© Finn Pomeroy

We wanted to leave toward midday as then the ridge we were climbing would sit in the sun nearly continuously. It worked out well and, apart from the initial ascent, we had some beautiful light to use and work in all day. It’s quite an undulating climb varying between vertical sections, down climbs and meandering ridges with sheer drops either side. I pushed forward and allowed Hugo to shoot in as much space as he needed. He would radio through to me when a shot appeared and we would work together with his direction where I needed to be. Unsurprisingly he would normally find the most precarious positions to shoot in. I normally work directly with athletes as does Hugo, so to work together on shots was really refreshing and be able to describe from a photographic point of view the direction we both wanted sped the whole process up.

© Hugo Pettit

We got as high up the Rendl side of Sankt Anton as we could by lifts before started our climb along the Klettersteig from there. I used Peak Design’s Capture Pro to attach the Leica to my rucksack strap on my chest. The potential risks of climbing rock faces with over £10,000 worth of equipment round your neck are lessened somewhat with this handy piece of kit that I’ve used numerous times and trust implicitly. It was a beautifully sunny day with minimal wind and we had the mountain to ourselves. With skis and poles on my back, a climbing harness and two leashes and carabinas, I was clipped (where possible) onto a cable that ran up the spine of Klettersteig. Where I (not necessarily Finn) had a steady footing or where I felt it was a particularly beautiful setting, I had the opportunity to use the Leica, unclipping it from the Peak Design unit while still having the Leica strapped around my neck.

© Finn Pomeroy

It took us a few hours to reach the main peak from where we would start our down climb and to drop in for the skis. The Leica had been producing some stunning images and we took a few moments on the top to review what had and hadn’t been working. I’m used to being in the mountains with my Canon throwing it around, relying on it fully and knowing it inside out. It was really invigorating to be shooting on the Leica and seeing how it held up in the more than adverse conditions. The images seemed to be coming out as we’d hoped and my behind-the-scenes shots of Hugo had been working in a similar fashion.

© Hugo Pettit

Having spent some time arranging kit so that unnecessary movement was minimised, I was still worried about the ‘inevitable’ battery change. Leica have removed this with two simple solutions: Having a very simple and intuitive battery removal 2-step-system, and more importantly, creating a battery that I didn’t have to change all-day… unheard of! I climbed with lens cap and lens hood on to protect the lens, and despite watching the hood roll off a cliff, it was with just 100 metres of climbing left, so I felt secure that the kit was safe. Having said that, I would certainly tape the hood on and certain parts of the camera up to reduce potential scuffing of the beautifully design aluminium body.

© Hugo Pettit

What I look for in a camera, aside from ease of use in the more extreme environments, is simply image quality. There is obviously a price difference between the Leica and my Canon 5D Mk III, but I am incredibly impressed with the image quality and I definitely feel it’s worth the difference. We shoot in a huge variety of locations, our most natural of which are in the sea and the mountains. These environments offer incredible beauty but sometimes tricky lighting conditions. The contrast between the highlights and shadows is always extreme and unappreciated. What the Leica does beautifully is pull light and definition from the shadows. At low ISO’s (below 2,000) it has an incredible dynamic range. Added to the general image quality, this camera excels in these environments, allowing you to pull the shadows and crop very effectively when editing images.

© Finn Pomeroy

I would love to spend more time with the camera, fully get to grips with the various settings and ability to change the functionality of the various buttons. Not only this, but the video and amazing image stabilisation looks tasty, I have some film projects upcoming which I’d love to shoot with the Leica.



  • Amazing dynamic range
  • Clarity and image quality
  • Camera aesthetics and solid build (with just two pieces of aluminium)
  • Easy to use with gloves on (as long as you don’t have to go into the menu)
  • Easy buttons and dials (once you know what they do!)
  • Easy focus point adjustment while shooting
  • Easy battery lock system and card slots
  • Great battery life
  • ISO 50 with 1/8000 sec shutter allows for large aperture
  • Dual card use (with addition of UHS-II for extra speed)
  • Floating ISO – changes in ISO when changing zoom (and thus maximum aperture)


  • Electronic viewfinder in bright light is hard to see (extra hand sometimes needed to cover incoming light)
  • Takes a while to familiarise yourself with the menu and controls; less buttons means more time spent in the menu sorting the personal controls. Good in the long run, not great if you’re picking it up for the first time
  • Weight (heavy)
  • Controlling focus point shooting from a long distance or picking a small point at 24mm

© Hugo Pettit


In a studio or in any environment where playing with settings is more appropriate than the sea or on a sheer rock face, this camera is in it’s natural home off the shelf. However, despite the seemingly unintuitive menu and minimalist buttons, with some time spent creating the perfect menu setup, this is also a camera I’d love to spend more time with in the mountains and the sea. With extra preparation, I can envisage this camera actually becoming easier to use than the more standard DSLR, with many more buttons on the back.

With image quality being paramount, this is where this camera excels. While finding some focus points a little tricky to control, the images I got out of this camera were noticeably better than my Canon 5D Mk III. With the huge contrast in light and dark in the mountains, it proved a great test of it’s dynamic range and image quality and has passed with flying colours.

Weight is always an issue with the choice of camera and despite it being comparatively heavy and seemingly cumbersome, the hardwearing aluminium shell offers great protection to a fantastic piece of kit. It’s important to continue to learn and finding my way around this camera in time is something I look forward to. It’s nice to be sure that it’ll be worth the time through the quality of images.

Crash Course: 4K Video

Crash Course: 4K Video

Know nothing about 4K video but want to give it a shot? Get up to speed with our crash course on 4K video recording.

No longer just a feature confined to pro-grade, video-centric models, 4K video recording has filtered down to many DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. If you have this functionality at your disposal but you’re unclear on the terminology or the various benefits of shooting in 4K, read on.

What is 4K?

Broadly speaking, 4K refers to one of two resolutions found on capture and display devices.

The most common resolution is known as Ultra High Definition 4K (4K UHD) which records at a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. It is often used on cameras, television and other consumer devices. In the same way that 1080p (the vertical display resolution) has come to refer to Full HD, 2160p is a term that’s used to refer to 4K UHD.  It can also be called Quad Full HD (QFHD).

The other is known as DCI 4K, a system developed by the motion picture industry and refers more broadly to a set of specifications for standardising recording and display. This records in a slightly higher resolution of 4,096 x 2,160. Given that both have approximately 4000 pixels across their longest side, they fall under the 4K umbrella.

It’s usual for a camera to offer only one of these options. Canon’s EOS-1D X II and EOS-1D C each offer DCI 4K, for example, while Nikon’s D5 offers 4K UHD instead. However, some models such as Panasonic’s Lumix GH4 and Samsung’s now-retired NX1, offer both.

Nikon D5
The Nikon D5 offers 4K video recording at the 4K UHD resolution of 3,840 x 2,160

So how is 4K different to HD and Full HD recording?

The main difference between HD and 4K formats is resolution. 4K UHD footage uses four times as many pixels as Full HD recording, thus producing an image with far more detail. There are a number of additional benefits of 4K recording. If you record 4K footage with a view to output it at a lower resolution (say, Full HD), the extra detail you’ve captured provides you with plenty of latitude in post production. You can crop away peripheral areas and zoom into details in the frame, for example; or zoom with a view to panning across the scene, knowing that you’ve retained sufficient resolution for output. Obviously, if you make these kinds of adjustments but subsequently output your footage at the same 4K resolution in which it was originally recorded, fine detail is like to be compromised.


Panasonic GH4
The Panasonic GH4 can have individual frames from 4K footage saved as images

One further advantage is that a number of recent cameras that record video in 4K quality can have a frame extracted and saved as an image. At a Full HD resolution, this would work out at just over 2MP (1,920 x 1,080), meaning obvious limits with regards to how it can be used. A frame from 4K UHD footage, however, increases this to around 8.3MP (3,840 x 2,160), while a frame from DCI 4K footage ups this to around 8.8MP (4,096 x 2,160) and these are far more suitable for printing and other uses. Of course, for a frame to be usable the shutter speed used at the time of recording needs to be high enough to capture it sharply. This may well work for largely static subjects, but less so for moving ones.

Many cameras that record 4K video are also capable of recording footage at particularly high frames rates, such as 120fps, and outputting this at a lower frame rate in Full HD quality, thus creating slow-motion footage. While slow-motion recording is not new, previous camera generations could not output this at a usable resolution, making it little more than a novelty. We’re also starting to see products such as Sony’s AXS-R7 that allow for footage to be both recorded and output in 4K at such fast frame rates.

Do I need a 4K display to view 4K footage? 

You can view 4K footage on a non 4K display – you just won’t be seeing it at its actual 4K resolution. Instead, this footage will be downsampled to match the resolution of the display. This has the advantage of making subjects slightly out of the plane of focus typically clearer and sharper than if they were viewed on a 4K display, in the same way that low-resolution footage upscaled to a higher-resolution display will appear softer and less detailed than if it were viewed on a display matching its resolution.

Are there any downsides to 4K over Full HD?

The main advantage of 4K footage, namely that it records far more information than Full HD, is perhaps its most obvious downside when you consider the implications this has on performance, storage and editing.

When recording to a memory card, you will need to ensure that it is fast enough to record footage without interruption. Memory cards marked with a UHS speed class are generally the minimum recommended for 4K footage, with U1 guaranteeing a minimum sustained write speed of 10Mbps and U3 cards upping this to 30Mbps. Professional bodies, however, may require the faster transfer speeds of CFast or XQD memory cards, particularly when recording high-bit footage at faster frame rates.

Lexar CFast card
CFast memory cards, such as those from Lexar, are well suited to the demands of 4K video recording.

The SD Association recently announced a new Video Speed Class system, which makes things somewhat easier to understand. Here, the convention sees cards marked with a ‘V’ followed by the minimum sustained write speeds in Mbps. So, a card marked with ‘V60’ will indicate a minimum sustained write speed equivalent to 60Mpbs.

4K footage also takes up more space on cards and hard drives than Full HD footage, although the extent to which this is the case will depend on factors such as frame rate and the compression method used.

With editing, you may find that software that can edit Full HD video files without issue may struggle with the higher resolution of 4K footage. Newer computers equipped with superior processors and graphics cards, and fitted more RAM, will stand a better chance of handling this smoothly. It may also help to create proxies of your original files and edit these instead, before using the full resolution files prior to exporting. This is known as offline editing and is explained in more detail here.

Premiere Pro
You may find editing 4K footage taxes your computer’s capabilities

What other limitations are there that I might need to know about?

Your camera’s manual may point out any specific limitations with your model, although there are a handful of common ones.

Some 4K-enabled cameras only allow you to record 4K footage for a few minutes at a time, while others can continue for thirty minutes or so. It’s possible to get around time limitations by recording footage directly to an external recorder rather than to a memory card inside the camera.

Some cameras also use their full sensor to record 4K footage while others use the Super 35mm format, which uses a central portion of the frame that’s slightly larger than APS-C. The latter approach will clearly impact on the effective focal length, which may or may not be seen as a bad thing depending on the desired framing. Some cameras, such as Sony’s A7R II, give you the option to choose between the two formats.

Sony A7R II
The Sony A7R II records 4K footage in both Super 35mm and full-frame options.

Should I record my 4K footage to a memory card or to an external recorder?

Many cameras allow you to record 4K footage either directly to the memory card inside the camera or to an external recorder plugged in via the HDMI output, and some allow you to do both simultaneously.

Recording to a memory card has the advantage of convenience, and for many applications this approach is perfectly suitable. However, you may be restricted by the level of the control that has been determined by the manufacturer with regards to recording time limits, compression methods and so on.

An external recorder will allow you to bypass these time limits and may also provide you with a wider variety of codecs for recording. If your camera has a clean HDMI output, you may be able to output your footage without any of the compression that internally captured footage may be subject to. Some recorders, such as Atomos Shogun, also have a built-in display to view your footage while recording at a much larger size than your camera’s LCD panel, thus allowing you to use features like focus peaking with greater accuracy.


Fixation Team: Mike McNamara, Senior Sales

In the latest of our team blogs, we catch up with Senior Salesman, Mike McNamara


Meet The Team - Mike


Mike has worked on Fixation’s sales desk for thirteen years and is therefore a well-known face among regular customers. But his career in photography started decades earlier and he claims to have spent most of his life with a camera in hand.

For our latest team blog we caught Mike for a quick break and chat to find out more about what he does…

Knowing the business

‘It’s important to have good knowledge of everything we sell – the expertise lies in the experience as much as training. To use an example, I worked for Leeds Photovisual at the inception of digital and I think we could claim to be one of the first to start putting laptops in the hands of Picture Desks. That’s going back a bit, possibly as far as 1984, I think.

‘These days you have to cover all the bases to sell successfully. My former studio life means I’ve also handled large format cameras – 5 x 4 cameras and the like.  It certainly helps to have knowledge across the entire industry – that way you can understand needs and are better able to compare and advise.

‘Most of our professionals are also enthusiasts. You’d have to be, otherwise the job would be near impossible, keeping your sanity certainly would be. It’s great to witness that enthusiasm and even better to help nurture it. If some of the long-timers happen to come in at the same time, you’ll often see them in the car park arguing about the latest cameras, taking pictures of the signage to make their points.’

Favourite Fixation moments

‘The sales depot we set-up at the 2012 Olympics was something we did very well – it helped that so many photographers already knew us.  It was also great fun – wandering down a corridor behind Usain Bolt as he goes for his interview is quite something.

‘One of the best things about working in the industry is that many photographers are characters themselves. We’ll often get to go to an award ceremony and it’s the sort of thing you can go out to and not come back… at least for a while. Photographers like to take talking and imbibing to a professional level.  After a recent awards show I ended up in Harrow. Suffice it to say, I don’t live in Harrow…

His own photography

‘For years I was a studio photographer and worked for several big advertising agencies in the early to mid seventies.

‘I had a claim to fame at the time: I was popular as an assistant and thought this was because I was good with all the various formats photographers were using.  Disappointingly, I later discovered it was actually mainly because I was one of the very few assistants in town who had his own credit card. Basically, whenever the American photographers came in they’d want to buy a pack of Kodachrome and couldn’t understand why no retailers here would accept a cheque for over £50. So they needed an assistant with a credit card who could turn up with a couple of packs of Kodachrome and some 5×4.  That man was me.

‘These days I mostly take photos of my teenage kids.  I haven’t used a large format camera for a while, but the new wave of mirrorless cameras has engendered a new enthusiasm for me. It seems that as I am getting older my camera of choice is getting smaller.  One wonders how much smaller they can get!’

Contact:; 020 7582 3294 (option 3)

Chris Breen | Drone Shooting in Zambia

Chris Breen | Drone Shooting in Zambia

In addition to renting the usual range of professional photo gear, Fixation also offers the DJI Phantom 4 drone to give photographers the chance of a different perspective on their shoots. We recently loaned one to Chris Breen to try on his recent trip to Zambia.

Chris runs a travel company called The National Travel Collection, in which there are several different brands that offer different experiences. One of these, called Wildlife Worldwide, specialises in taking people to see some of the world’s most spectacular wildlife. And, as it turns out, a good deal of that wildlife resides in Zambia.

“I know Zambia very well,” Chris says. “I used to guide there. I was out in Zambia towards the end of last year with a group. That’s what I do – I lead trips, I design holidays, I build itineraries and I go to wild and wacky places.”

Elephant © Chris Breen

As you might imagine, travelling the world’s finest and most beautiful places can leave one with an urge to snap a few pictures, and as a consequence Chris has become an accomplished photographer. He’s always on the lookout for new ways he can get a new perspective on the animals he encountered, and for his trip to Zambia we had a suggestion.

[gdlr_quote align=”center” ]Fixation very kindly lent me a drone to take on the trip. It’s an amazing device – very easy to use and even though I’d never flown one before, I found it simple and responsive.[/gdlr_quote]

The drone in question was a DJI Phantom 4, and we were keen to find out how Chris had fared.

Young Lion © Chris Breen

Thanks for talking to us, Chris. Was your trip to Zambia your first experience using a drone for photography?

Until the middle of last year I’d never used a drone before. I was lent a DJI Phantom 4, and I experimented with it at home before flying it up in the Arctic. I didn’t get a huge amount of flying done up there due to some technical issues, but I did get some quite nice footage over one of the ice fields.

After that I took it to Zambia and got some beautiful aerial shots over one of the world’s greatest national parks.

What was the experience of using the drone like?

It’s an amazing device to fly. It’s very simple, it’s very easy, and for that reason it’s quite liberating in many ways. Even though I’d never flown one before, I found it very simple to use and very responsive. It’s really a game-changer from a photographic point of view. I’ve always enjoyed wildlife and scenic photography, I’ve been doing it for the past quarter of a century, and to suddenly find you can take the kind of images that you would otherwise only get when you’re sitting in a helicopter, which of course costs a lot of money, is wonderful. And to be able to see it on a screen as you’re doing it is exciting, so I thought it was brilliant.

Lion’s Paw © Chris Breen

So it’s easy to fly, easy to use – it’s also manoeuvrable and incredibly stable. I also found that once I got it to a certain height I couldn’t hear it. When you’re out in the wilderness the last thing you want to do is make a lot of noise. In Zambia there are a lot of ambient sounds from the wildlife, so you only need to get it to a relatively low height before you can barely hear it. That enabled me to fly very safely and quietly upriver without disturbing anything. I did some low passes over some hippos on the river and lots of stuff like that – it was really neat. A great trip.

It’s presumably an important consideration of yours to avoid disturbing the animals?

Yes, it’s really important. I don’t want to disturb the wildlife, and I also don’t want to disturb the people who are going there for the peace and tranquillity of the place. That’s crucially important. So I found the DJI Phantom an absolutely brilliant device to work with, and I’m hoping I can work with it again.

Carmine Bee Eater © Chris Breen

What are your plans for future excursions?

I’ve got a number of projects coming up. I’ll be in Mexico at the end of March to do some whale watching off the Pacific coast, and I’m hoping to take one of the drones out with me, which I’ve never done for whale watching before. I’m interested to try the newer DJI drone – the DJI Mavic Pro. From my point of view, as I travel with a lot of camera gear, it’s the fact that it’s much smaller that’s particularly important.

I’m going into the rainforest in Borneo, where I’ve been a number of times before but never taken the drone, and I’m also hoping to take the drone back to Zambia when I go out in mid-September. One of the cool things about that trip will be that I’m going at a different time of year – a couple of months earlier than I did last year – so the landscape will look totally different.

Chris Breen is the founder of award-winning tour operator Wildlife Worldwide. Find out more at

NB. Please note that some countries enforce a ban on the use of drones which are sometimes used by poachers to locate target animals. Please check with the relevant authorities before attempting to fly a drone near wildlife. 

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