What is Leica TL2?
Leica TL2 camera, it is finally here. The new Leica compact camera. Some have said that Leica would discontinue making it. Some had speculated that Leica T/TL was not finding much of a market in the compact camera segment.
As all other camera manufacturers, Leica is no different. They had relabeled their T into TL and milked it for all its worth before announcing Leica TL2. This was no surprise for me. So, I wanted to take a closer look at the camera’s specs and examine photos before writing this review.
Is Leica TL2 camera a new camera? Yes, it is. Unlike repacked, relabeled TL, this new version actually offer some improvements like improved 24MP sensor, 4K video and faster autofocus, and higher frames per second (fps).
These are great improvements that should have come with TL camera, but it is now here. This new LEICA TL2 camera replaces the older LEICA TL, and it is all on the inside. For those who are familiar with Leica T, the first generation of this line of cameras, it was an excellent piece of an engineering masterpiece.
Sleek lines, minimalistic styling, large LCD panel that actually allowed you to see what you were capturing. I have used it since the day I bought it. The truth is the video was HD, and it sucked but I could take amazing photographs with Leica lenses, and that was the idea.
It also featured smartphone like menu that was straightforward and easy to use. In this department, I think Leica was revolutionary. What has happened is that Leica TL2 carried on this tradition, kept the beautiful design, improved on the specs and performance. For that Leica camera deserves much to applaud.
Leica cameras were never cheap, and I think they never will be; when Leica T has come out, it was priced way above the other cameras. Today, Leica TL2 is no different. Does it deserve the $2000 price tag that it has?
The answer to that question is not very easy. For one, it has a design like no other camera, it has a brand recognition like no other, and that probably justifies much of the pricing strategy behind this camera. So, if you are to buy this camera do know that somewhere along the line Leica TL2 will sell a lot less than what you paid for it. But that is not why you buy a camera. You purchase a camera to take photographs in the same way you buy a car to drive it, not to resell it.
You are paying that single block of an aluminum piece from which the design springs forth to details on keeping the operations simple. For those who are not too keen on learning what an aperture is, it is perhaps as close to owning a Leica camera as it would get.
There is a lot of competition in this league of cameras, for one there is Sony A6500, Fuji X-T2 even full frames Sony A7r ii. When you consider investing in a lens to operate a Leica TL camera, lens combination can easily cost you over $4000 which would let you purchase an excellent full frame camera and a good prime lens.
So should you consider buying a full frame camera? Actually, no. There is more to Leica TL2 than that meets the eye. Firstly, it is in a category of its own. It allows you capture images with Leica lenses and that means you are going to get some amazing images even if you are not skilled as a photographer. Why? Because the camera can autofocus, set the correct aperture and ISO for you and voila you got a photograph.
For those new generation smartphone users what can be more enticing than a large LCD screen. Is not that what all smartphone users want? Post on social media platforms, chat with friends and like Instagram photos. So, Leica TL2 deliver Wifi and all the goodies of fresh out of the camera goodness of photos that can make their friends envious of their profile pictures, not to mention the “Leica” camera they pose with.
In another word, the price is relative, and in a relative world, Leica TL2 camera has a nice niche to exploit.
For those who may remember Leica TL camera was announced less than a year ago, eight months to be more precise. So, for those who erred and bought the Leica TL as smartphone companies often do with updates of their latest phones, Leica TL2 is definitely the new upgrade.
Firstly, there is the all new 24mp sensor, a sensor that matches the megapixels of the almost $7000 price tag Leica M camera. Now, Leica TL and T camera owners will not have to be content with 16mp and can upgrade to 24mp for that more detailed photos. The irony is no one can really tell the difference between a 16mp and 24mp image without blowing it up on a large format paper or pixel peeking on their camera. For those who are happy to be posting on Facebook, well, they down res the photos, so does Flickr, and Instagram and Youtube, and everything else on the internet.
So, you are out at night with friends, and you just traded in your TL for a TL2 camera and ready to take a photo with friends. You click to pop the flash. But you had not noticed the obvious the flash is gone. So you must be content with high iso and noise on your image. Why is there no flash? Because it is minimalist, I suppose.
If you have just thought to yourself as someone, who is from an older generation of photographers like the ones who know how to operate a Leica M camera with a viewfinder. Know this. Leica T, TL or TL2 never had an electronic viewfinder or a viewfinder. But you can purchase one for $550 plus tax (Leica Visoflex).
Leica TL2 cameras new 24mp is not something that almost all other camera manufacturers have not done yet today almost every APS-C size sensor camera has 24mp. The ISO sensitivity is on par with Leica SL with 100-50,000 range to give you that Auto ISO mode setting that will push your noise levels as high as it needs to go to capture clear images.
So, you might be asking yourself why the high ISO. The answer is in today’s fast paced world capturing a good image is more important than having to go through understanding the effect of camera shake and eliminating it. The solution is two folds push the ISO or have in camera stabilization which of course Leica TL2 does not incorporate. Wait till the next generation, Leica TL3 will be almost a perfect camera perhaps.
Then there is the mechanical shutter provides a range of 30sec to 1/4000sec, with the new silent fully-electronic shutter reaching 1/40,000sec. Your Leica TL2 camera now becomes a fast shutter beast with 20 frames per second shooting at fully electronic setting or you can be content with 7 fps on the mechanical setting.
But before you go running to purchase your next Leica TL2 camera, know that you can only select your shutter speed at 1/4000sec, before electronic shutter kicks in.
One thing I really liked about the Leica T and TL cameras was that it had in camera memory which meant that if I had my memory card full or had forgotten to put one in that, I could still take photographs. Well, the tradition continues with an upgrade to memory to 32GB which plenty if you are shooting all day giving you around 400 images in JPEG + DNG format.
Much of the simple design that made Leica T and TL so desirable is still there, for example, the older battery (BP-DC13) is in the new Leica TL2 camera. I still love that release button that makes it straightforward and versatile, no doors, flaps to deal with and that is a lesson every camera manufacturer should learn from Leica.
So, how many images can you take with a TL2 camera? It will depend on how much you use the LCD screen and your rate of on and off operation. My test shows around 250 – 270 images. You may want to take an additional battery if you are on a vacation trip to Paris or Rome.
As I mentioned Leica TL2 is a fully integrated camera with the new generation of smartphone users, so Leica camera was smart enough to include a free software for the Apple and Android devices. So you can easily transfer your JPEG images to your smartphone, use an app to tweak it and post it on your Instagram page or share it with a friend.
Leica TL2 now comes with a 4K video recording at 3840 x 2160 resolution and 30fps, alongside Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 60fps. Why not a 24fps you may ask which is the filming standard? Well, that is the Youtube preset, and the new generation does not want motion blur that matches what our eyes see.
There are even a 120fps slow-motion mode and electronic image stabilization for video. What more can a video blogger ask for? Well, a lot more actually. For one there is no manual setting meaning camera sets all the parameters for your video which means even the slightest motion of your arm can send the exposure to shift causing that jarring effect of “what just happened” or you may want to capture better audio for your Youtube channel. Well, there is not one. O.K.?
But if you are home and want to connect your Leica TL2 camera to your TV there is an HDMI output. Ideal for those photo album viewings or watching your latest video creations.
Just so I warn you before you don’t have options for dynamic range expansion tools, in raw camera conversion or an intervalometer. Don’t expect a great choice of native TL mount lenses but if you are already an owner of a Leica M camera and own Leica M lenses, there is a Leica M to L adapter you can purchase for $395 to use it with your Leica TL2 camera.
Build and Handling
Leica TL2 camera is almost the same design as Leica TL and T camera with the exception of not having a built-in flash. In previous reviews, I had discussed how Leica T/TL design differs considerably from the traditional way of building a camera where parts are bolted on to a chassis. Leica TL design is a single block of aluminum on to which parts are added.
From a size point of view, it is still a compact camera measuring 134x69x33mm weighing around 400 grams. This makes this camera not so light but a well-built work of industrial art. Everything on this camera has been well thought of; there is a grove for your hand to grasp of this camera firmly.
You have a silicone strap that makes this camera a fashionable accessory on your skiing trip or visits to the countryside. Whether the design appeals to you or is practical from a camera user’s point of view is not the critical issue here. Leica camera has built a camera quite unlike anything else in the market, and that is a statement which stands out where every camera manufacturer blindly follows a strict code of camera design.
For me, having a minimalistic design is what Leica TL is all about, there is no shutter selection dial, no aperture settings on the lens, no ISO knob, not even a cursor to navigate the menu. All this and more is what makes sense in an age where the smartphone is the most commonly used cameras in the world.
To top all this, there is a menu design that resembles a smartphone menu with your favorites stacked to your liking, your favorite settings readily available, along with swipe functionality of breezing through your works of visual art that you have captured with this camera.
If you think about it is quite an engineering feat to reduce complicated menus to a nine simple to use sub menus and have it be as intuitive as using a smartphone.
The two thumb dials that work in conjunction with the setting you may have selected in your camera works out to be rather pleasant to use especially when the circumstances call for the rapid selection of various aperture or ISO settings. When you half press the shutter button the autofocus is activated, pressing the button captures the image.
The video is a different beast altogether; there is a separate button to engage it which is very smart from a user’s point of view. One to take photos, one to record video, if only life could be that simple.
I prefer using this camera in the manual setting because one thumb dial sets the aperture, the other changes the shutter speed giving me almost full control over the camera. Most likely, those who purchase this camera will use it in either program mode or aperture priority which takes out most of the thinking process from capturing images.
Large LCD screen on the back is a great to see how your exposure and focus will appear in the final image. For me having a large screen is a blessing which I think every camera manufacturer should adopt.
Leica TL2 camera’s autofocus system is a contrast detection based design which operates quite efficiently. The camera is designed to focus intelligently on selecting the focus points which results in TL2 to focus on the closest subject. Face detection is also another fantastic feature making capturing images almost child’s work.
If you want to have the best of compatibility with the new Leica TL2, you would be best advised to pick up a new TL mount lens, especially a prime lens. For those who are on a budget, eBay is flooded with Leica’s first generation of T mount lenses. They can be had for less than half the price of the retail value.
Lenses from the older generation are not exactly designed to be operated manually which makes the focus dial feel flimsy, but the new TL lenses are in a different league. Manual focusing is actually fun with the magnification to help you achieve accurate focus.
You can always slap on a Leica M lens to practice your manual focusing skills but be forewarned Leica TL2 camera is not designed to work with anything else that does not have a Leica tag on it. So no third party lenses for TL2.
The older generation of TL camera would be slow to wake up and slow to take photos, but Leica TL2 is different. It wakes up faster, delivers better performance not to mention faster frame rates if you are an avid photographer of your children’s sporting activities.
If you do take a series of images in succession, remember the camera is going to think and think some more before you get a chance to have the camera operational again. The buffer in Leica cameras has always been an issue, and after battling it in Leica M cameras, I finally gave up and accepted them for what they are, slow.
There is also another problem which you must be careful, as in the previous version camera is not a great performer under high contrast circumstances, especially under the strong sun or mid day. You will get blown out highlights if you let the camera do the thinking for you. In this regards, I highly advise you to use it in manual setting and recheck your images before moving on because I have had numerous issues with highlights being blown out. Remember you can always save shadow but not highlights that are blown out.
One of the sad things about this camera is that JPEG images leave much to be desired. For me, I always felt that the pictures needed to be tweaked in Lightroom to achieve what this camera can actually capture. The best way to have better results is to only work with DNG files and dump all JPEGs.
Then, of course, all those social sharing of JPEG images will be impossible, and files will be big when working with DNG. This is the trade off but albeit it is the smart way to use this capable camera.
Now, for those who don’t know how to take photos, there are settings within the camera like vivid, monochrome, etc. which allows you to post process the image in camera before uploading it to your favorite social platform. Personally, I would only use this camera with standard mode because it delivers the most natural look, but again in a day when everything is HDR or manipulated even “Photoshop” ed, it may be a viable solution for the new generation of camera users.
When I look at Leica TL2 as a camera, I feel it is capabilities are plundered with anything other than standard setting with manual control. There is a good bit of dynamic range, and amazing colors that would leave most full frame camera to turn away in shame but a camera is as good as is in the hands of a capable user.
I tend to not push the camera’s ISO settings high, but the images at 3200 ISO are more than usable. For all intents and purposes with a fast lens you can pretty much tackle any low light situation at 1600 ISO but having that extra breathing room is a welcome blessing.
The Leica TL2 camera is a competent camera with all the bells and whistles that I would expect from a Leica camera. Most importantly it has great color and Leica “look” which can’t really be duplicated. I like the design; it matches Audio Quattro, Apple MacBook users an endless collection of modern design wonders.
The premium price tag is a debate one can’t really draw a line and say it is worth it. How can you put a price on design? How much would you pay for a Leica “look”? Or even would you be able to justify spending thousands of dollars for a Leica TL lens that can only be used on this camera? These are questions that can only be answered on a personal basis. As for me, I love all my Leica cameras for different reasons.
Some people have argued that Leica Q with its full frame compact size is a better alternative to Leica TL2 since it already comes with a fixed lens. Rightfully, when you add a prime lens to Leica TL2 camera’s price tag, it is often higher than the price of a Leica Q. But remember Leica TL2 is a different beast altogether, you are paying for design, a piece of photographic equipment that does not resemble a camera in the traditional sense. For that, I think there is no price tag that anyone can place on a camera.
Is there room for improvement for Leica TL2? Definitely. But as a camera for today, it is definitely a buy for me because I love using it.
If you would like to own Leica TL2, I have done some research for you, you can click on this link to get the best price in North America, and it is an authorized Leica dealer, or if you would like to save a bit of money, here are two other links where you can purchase this camera for a better value.
I hope this has been an informative review and I look forward to seeing you in our next review.
Leica Review Founder