Leica T / TL Mirrorless Digital Camera – Leica Philosophy in Camera Design – Review

Leica TL Camera – Leica Philosophy in Camera Design

I am a Leica lover. There is no denying that Leica has a different approach than other camera and lens manufacturers in the market. When the debate is about megapixels and auto-focus or buffer size, Leica stands apart with their quality before quantity approach, and for this reason, at times it was difficult to explain the reasons for my choice for Leica camera. Coupled with higher prices than most competitors cameras, I often have to answer most of their questions as a choice of a philosophy of perfection that Leica places in each of their products.

At a certain point, the numbers lose meaning because it is no longer getting the biggest bang for your buck but about buying a camera or a lens that will last a lifetime with proper care. In another word, it is challenging to make comparisons to other camera manufacturers’ cameras, more like comparing apples to oranges. In that regard, this is most evident in Leica’s T/TL line of camera and lenses.

Who would polish a camera body by hand for 45 minutes? And who would really care for that perfectionistic approach to manufacturing a lens or a camera by hand? That is the point at which explanation of philosophy is necessitated. I often prefer not to explain. In the same way, one would not want to explain, whether a Pata Negra Jamon or a hand stitched handbag warrants its value to be appreciated.

Introducing Leica TL

Leica TL camera is a compact camera with a 16MP APS-C size sensor and because it is not full frame or medium format camera some would not consider it suitable for professional. But, I differ from that point of view; Leica TL is a very suitable for professional use which I will explain my reasons in this review and in the other Leica TL reviews to come. Let’s first talk about the design of this camera.

Design

In 2014, when Leica announced their T line of cameras, I was very excited because it was innovative and almost revolutionary concept in camera design. At its launch, Leica T did not have many native lenses for its new mount, but Leica had made a commitment to creating a new line of cameras which meant new lenses would be coming out in the coming years to support the T line which is now referred as TL.

Leica was prudent to offer an M to T-mount adapter which made it possible to mount any of the Leica’s M mount lenses. That was enough of a reason for me to purchase this camera. I also wanted to own the new native lenses that they offered. My first choice was the Leica 23mm Summicron-TL lens and it

Now, we are into 2017 and Leica has announced the second version of their T cameras simply called TL which stands for the mount that this camera has, identical to the previous generation but only renamed to suggest that it shared the same mount characteristics with Leica’s SL line of cameras.

What is New

If you look at the new TL camera, it looks identical to the T camera with only minor differences in design, for example, microphone location on the body has been changed which is unnoticeable unless you were deliberately looking for it. The menu, that too is the same, in fact, cameras sensor size and megapixel has also remained the same. But with the change in the specification, it is clear that Leica has switched their sensor supplier. For the end user, it is still 16.3MP sensor as the previous generation.

So what is exactly new with Leica TL, you might ask, it is. Basically, the same camera “renamed.” Then why the new name? Because the mount is renamed and for all intents and purposes it is more reasonably priced than ever. When Leica T came out, it was extremely expensive to own, almost twice the price of Leica TL. Now, it is more modestly priced, allowing for new generation of buyers to have access to it.

The new generation of consumers would be the younger generation that has not know the day’s pre-smartphones. Hence, they are already used to using touch screen menus and tapping and customizing their menus. This is what Leica T and TL cameras are, modern touchscreen smartphone like cameras that offer far superior image quality.

The exterior of the camera bears a minimalistic, simple design. While some prefer to have a multitude of buttons on the back of a camera, Leica has left the back of the camera without any buttons. No button? Why would Leica T not do what all other manufacturers have done? The simple answer would be to simplify functionality. A minimalistic approach to functional design is what Leica T is all about.

But what about the lenses, would not they be too far out of the reach of these younger consumers? Apparently not so, unlike other Leica lenses, these are made in Japan. Lighter,  plastic exteriors but superior quality nonetheless on optics. So, what if they are made by a third party. Quality is still Leica quality.

If you think of the end user for this camera, it appeals to amateurs as well as the professionals. Why it would appeal to professionals I will get into in a bit, for the nonprofessionals who have limited knowledge of photographic equipment, tips, and techniques; this camera works very much like a smartphone, simple to operate and personalize for customized used.

Leica has also incorporated complex software within the camera to “correct” for distortion and other issues for lenses that are attached. Generally, physics of lens design only afford a certain amount of excellence in lens design, what can’t be removed via lens engineering can be done through Softwares like Adobe Lightroom or pre-computed software within the camera. Leica TL offers this “correction,” hence, your photographs are “corrected” for you before you even view them.

Leica TL like the T version has built-in Wi-fi connectivity to send these images to your smartphone for easy sharing. Wi-fi connectivity will be something all cameras will have to offer shortly.

The menu layout simple as well. Intelligently laid out boxes that let you select different camera options that let you make your own menu by choosing your favorites. This way you would have access to your most favorite functions arranged in the way you would like to use them. As far as I know, there is no other camera manufacturer that offers this type of flexibility. Considering that iPhone and other smartphone manufacturers have been offering this type of menu for almost a decade now, I think it is about time that cameras get “smart” as well.

It is important to remember that the ease of use like the customisable menu has made Apple a leader in the smartphone market. Leica T and TL, in my point of view, have embarked on the next generation of cameras that are easy to use and customize as our smartphones.

Leica TL cameras for all their innovative design has also caused some camera users to shy away from owning one. Understandably, change is not easy, since the invent of cameras, dials and buttons were the way we have used them. Now, times are changing, and touch screens and easy menus will be the next leap forward in cameras.

I believe in the next five years all cameras will have touch screens. That is why Leica has incorporated them into their Q and SL models as well. Remember those smartphone manufacturers that refused to yield to logic, like Blackberry – erased from the market. This, again, comes down to understanding the vision and philosophy that Leica believes in will shape the future of camera design.

Of course, a professional would need to access certain functions of a camera, often, these are ISO, shutter speed, aperture. Again, clever engineering has placed two easily accessible thumb dials on the back of the camera near the shutter which allows the photographer to dial in his or her settings without having to take his or her eyes off the subject. What a refreshing idea!

Then there is an issue of compatibility. I own just about all the lenses that Leica produces on their M series. It goes to reason that I would want to utilize them in my compact Leica TL camera. Some may feel it is overkill to place a Leica Noctilux on a Leica TL. But I say why not if you have it? It gives you what no other lens in the world would give you, a 75mm f/0.95, an incredible portrait lens to say the least.

Also, when the time is right, a photographer may feel the need to take control of his camera and use it in manual mode. This is why Leica has built Leica TL with manual over ride for the focus.

On the auto-focus, Leica also has made significant strides by implementing a “contrast-based-focus” which is as Leica calls it a more “accurate focusing” system. When the camera was launched, Leica T had significant issues with it auto-focusing. Many reviews had pointed this out clearly. They were right too! Then… Leica answered back with the firmware update that has double Leica T’s auto-focusing capabilities. Kudos Leica !!

Now, Leica TL is on the market. Beautiful design with a new color option, offering the same functionality. Autofocus, touch screen autofocus is faster than ever. If you are a compact camera user, you already know that this is perhaps the most important function of the camera. In fact, with an efficient auto-focusing coupled with excellent lenses pretty much, everything comes down to the photographer.

In a certain way, I think of Leica TL is comparable to a sports car with the best combination of characteristics that would enable anyone who knew how to use it well to achieve amazing results. In another word, Leica provided a versatile tool for a photographer to produce incredibly good photographs.

Some argue that a full frame or medium format is the only way good photographs can be attained. I disagree. Great photographs can be had with an APS-C size sensor. Some say it is the number of megapixels that count and that 16MP is not high for a camera. The truth is in Canon’s top of the line full frame camera has 20MP and if that is sufficient for pros so should the Leica TL. It is important to remember that megapixel count is not the name of the game in photography nor should it be the determining factor for the quality of an image.

Recently, I have had a chance to compare Leica TL’s images with Sony’s A7 R II. What I saw surprised me. Sony images despite their incredibly large megapixel count failed to produce as sharp and accurate images as Leica T.  There is multitude of reasons for this which I will delve into in my next article. But, I simply like to point out that large megapixel count is just a trend, in the end, what counts is how good of an image your camera and lens combination along with your talent is created that makes the day.

Leica TL – Functions and Features

Leica TL has the same sleek body design as the Leica T that allows the user to have a firm grip on the camera. This is not so on Leica’s Q and SL models which are devoid of any design characteristics that help the user get a firm grasp. In this regard, I think Leica TL has the edge over many cameras in the market because most compact cameras don’t even offer any groove to grip the camera firmly.

Leica TL has a natural groove that allows your fingers to hug the camera and due to its light weight can easily be used single-handedly. Whether you prefer to use it with both hands or not, you can rest assured that it has better than grip than any other compact camera in the market.

Look at the camera; you will see how the battery compartment is neatly designed. The way the battery release is so ingenious, I often wonder why on other camera manufacturer have not thought of changing their design for a better battery placement. Leica TL battery can be easily removed via simple operation of a press on the release lever. This design is also the same, on Leica’s top of the line S model cameras. Again, a very good idea applied across product designs that make Leica’s approach to engineering unique among the camera manufacturers.

LCD Screen

Leica TL’s large screen size on the back of the camera while considered to be “too big” by some is a definite plus for use with “Live View” function. Again, like Apple’s design for their smartphones, Leica knew that people would want to see the image they are going to capture on a larger screen. This also goes to explain why iPhone comes in 2 sizes because some people prefer to have larger screen despite added size.

On Leica TL, viewing your images is simple, you just swipe up or down to start the playback function to view your pictures. This allows the user to see clearly what they have captured without having to need to enlarge the image on the screen.

The screen is a high quality 1.4M LCD. If you think that this is not so important for the end user, I kindly remind you to view an image on the back of a Leica M9, you would be hard pressed to tell if what you have actually captured is in focus or not.

In short, I welcome a larger screen on Leica TL for both amateurs and professionals. On my professional work, I use a large screen to view the images as I capture them, allowing me to make on the spot decisions for my next shot. When large screens are not available, having a large back screen is always a nice welcome whether you are a pro or an amateur.

As for the image quality, I have shot with numerous cameras that are called competitors “versions”. While their price tags are much lower than Leica TL, what I found was that the images were not as sharp, in this regard, I am referring to both Sony A6500 and Canon Powershot G16 and Nikon Coolpix. Yes, the price tag of a Leica TL is higher but you are getting a better camera both in its design and functionality.

M to TL Adapter

What I like most about Leica TL is the M adaptor. I have had much fun putting on a variety of lenses from my collection and enjoying the way the images have turned out. I have even placed Leica’s 50mm APO Summicron f/2.0 which has yielded some amazingly accurate images which I think rival any full frame camera.

Image Stabilisation

Image stabilization is also another feature that makes this camera fun. As much as we attempt to avoid camera and shutter press shake, it is sometimes unavoidable. Leica T helps you to capture better images by helping you to have image stabilization built into the camera. Same can be said for Leica TL’s video stabilization function. More on that in the later article.

Flash

The pop-up flash is nice. It hides discreetly in Leica TL’s body, and I never use it. But for those needing to have a flash, it is as accessible as a turn of a dial.

I have used Leica TL with Leica T 23mm Summicron F/2.0 lens. Images are superb, but as a prime lens, it stands as the most logical choice because it is more compact than Leica’s 35mm and 60mm TL mount lenses. In fact, I have used this lens exclusively for the photographs that I have shot for my photography book, “Doors” which are available on Amazon and iBooks. Look at the photographs; you will see the beautiful rendition of colors and contrast. I could not have been happier with the images that I got from Leica TL

Onwards to the Future

What would I most like to see in Leica’s TL lineup? More prime lenses especially wide angles.  Remember the crop factor makes the 23mm to function as a full frame 35mm. It ‘d be good to have 24mm full frame equivalent and perhaps a 21mm.

 Leica TL lineup has zoom lenses with varying focal lengths 11 – 23mm, 18– 56mm, 55 – 135mm all featuring f/3.5 – 5.6 apertures. While these lenses cover just about all focal lengths that most people would ever imagine using it, they are slow lenses and not the best choice for low light situations. It would be great to have some of the focal lengths be offered at f/2 or f/2.8 apertures.

Although in low light, having a f/3.5 aperture can be very limiting. On a sunny day, you are going to get accurate and sharp photographs. The bokeh will be considerably lost because the aperture will be at f/3.5. Price wise, these lenses can be considered a bargain. I have examined the complexity of their design that leads me to say that they are amazingly sophisticated and affordable for their design.

I understand that Leica has attempted to make these lenses as compact as possible while keeping them fairly affordable. If I had a choice of getting one of them, I would probably go for 11mm – 23mm which will give you the option to photograph relatively wide angle.

Flash

The pop-up flash is nice. It hides discreetly in Leica TL’s body, and I never use it. But for those needing to have a flash, it is as accessible as a turn of a dial.

I have used Leica TL with Leica T 23mm Summicron F/2.0 lens. Images are superb, but as a prime lens, it stands as the most logical choice because it is more compact than Leica’s 35mm and 60mm TL mount lenses. In fact, I have used this lens exclusively for the photographs that I have shot for my photography book, “Doors” which are available on Amazon and iBooks. Look at the photographs; you will see the beautiful rendition of colors and contrast. I could not have been happier with the images that I got from Leica TL

Mostly, I prefer using Leica TL with Leica 23mm Summicron and 60mm Macro Summilux-TL because they give me the most versatility when it comes to photography applications whether it is day time or night time. On the Leica 23mm Summicron, I can create a very shallow depth of field (bokeh) by dialing the aperture to f/2.0 which also works wonderfully in low light situations. I can use Leica 60mm Macro to do some macro photography or shoot portraits.

Verdict

Would I recommend this camera for anyone? Yes, I would. Both as a backup camera or as a first-time camera, Leica TL is great to hold and to own.  There is a sense of quality about Leica TL that makes you like it more and more as you use it.

The best part of using these compact lenses is that Summicron, for example, on Leica TL, will easily fit in my coat pocket and be discreet in crowded places allowing me to photography without drawing attention.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. In my next article, you can see and read about the image quality that Leica TL renders. As always, I appreciate all your comments and input. I look forward to receiving them.

Here is a link for the best prices I have found online.

Sincerely

OZ YILMAZ – Leica Review Team

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