Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leica SL: What we need now is an APS-C Leica TL

Leica SL: What we need now is an APS-C Leica TL

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 The Leica SL with the 24-90mm is undoubtedly large, undoubtedly on the heavy side. But slip in an APS-C sensor, slim down the size and weight, use the excellent TL-mount cropped lenses and it could be the perfect middle weight contender to boost Leica sales
The Leica SL with the 24-90mm is undoubtedly large, undoubtedly on the heavy side. But slip in an APS-C sensor, slim down the size and weight, use the excellent TL-mount cropped lenses and it could be the perfect middle weight contender to boost Leica sales

When the Leica T was announced in 2014 it signalled the start of a new era in autofocus lenses. The T mount, as it was initially called, set a new standard and served notice that that the venerable M mount would forever remain the creature of the rangefinder.

 The Leica T turned out to be an acquired taste. Trouble is, not so many have bothered to acquire it. The range of lenses is excellent and deserves a wider audience
The Leica T turned out to be an acquired taste. Trouble is, not so many have bothered to acquire it. The range of lenses is excellent and deserves a wider audience

For a time it was unclear where the new, larger autofocus-capable lens mount was going. We now know the answer to that, following the arrival of the SL last year. The TL mount (as it is now called) is clearly a vital part of the future of Leica’s mirrorless offerings, both full frame and crop frame.

The SL is a great camera. Last week we published a one-year long-term test and it is clearly a winner. I have few reservations based on my own ownership experience. Yet the SL isn’t for everyone. Much as I like the camera, especially for its perfect control layout based on unmarked, programmable buttons, the SL is undeniably big and heavy. As a professional full-frame rig it is actually lighter than Canon and Nikon equivalents. But, even so, the 2.15kg heft of the SL, together with the highly competent 24-90 zoom, comes as a bit of a shock for those of us who have majored in the M or various mirrorless offerings during the past few years.

 The Leica T is no mean performer. Unless you want to post your masterpieces on the side of a London bus it can be argued that an APS-C sensor is all that you need. (18-55mm zoom)
The Leica T is no mean performer. Unless you want to post your masterpieces on the side of a London bus it can be argued that an APS-C sensor is all that you need. (18-55mm zoom)

By comparison, a directly equivalent outfit from Fuji (with similar pro zoom but APS-C sensor) weighs in at 1.15kg, just half that of the SL. Another equivalent (except in sensor size) is the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12-40mm which tips the scale at a mere 0.9kg. There is no doubt that if you want the superior resolution from a full-frame sensor you have to put up with the dimensions. Conversely, if you are not intending to mount your masterpieces on the side of a London bus, you might well find the weight and space saving of APS-C or m4/3 formats to be a fair tradeoff.

One thing is clear, though, the SL remains the best choice for WYSIWYG mirrorless use of M lenses (far better than the much-vaunted Sony A7, for instance). It is certainly the best alternative to the M for those who want more automation and an EVF. I have said on several occasions that the SL perfectly complements the stripped-down M-D rangefinder: Both cameras offer the best of their respective worlds.

 An APS-C  camera such as the Leica T makes an ideal travel companion, as here on a visit to Arlington, VA. Yet a mini SL with the same sensor would be even more congenial to carry around (18-55mm zoom)
An APS-C  camera such as the Leica T makes an ideal travel companion, as here on a visit to Arlington, VA. Yet a mini SL with the same sensor would be even more congenial to carry around (18-55mm zoom)

However, if we want a smaller package with the Leica red dot we are stuck with the T or one of the fixed-lens X range cameras. In my opinion the T has not grabbed the world’s attention to the extent Leica would have wished. Part of the reason is the unconventional aluminium block chassis construction. You either love it or hate it.

Another factor militating against the T is the all-touch interface. Superficially attractive and offering finger-tip-fuls of novelty value, this is nonetheless a minority sport which, I suspect, discourages more people than it attracts. But by far the biggest failing of the T is the lack of an integral viewfinder. Not only is the accessory finder ugly, it is unwieldy and completely ruins the lines of the camera. It’s also a hefty price which further widens the gap when comparing with competitors. Without a doubt it was a huge mistake not to include a built-in viewfinder in the T. We can only hope, following the successful design of the Q, that external viewfinders from Wetzlar are a thing of the past.

So whither the T and whither Leica’s APS-C pretentious in the ILC category? Many look at the new Fuji X-Pro2 and wonder what it would be like if it had a Leica badge. Indeed, some rather wish Leica had maintained its Fuji associations in preference to the continuing link with Panasonic. For there can be little doubt that Fuji is currently stealing Leica’s thunder in the APS-C market. I know many M users who carry Fuji X cameras as a second system. Every one of them could well afford the extra for a T system but prefer Fuji because of its more traditional approach, range of manual controls and built-in EVF.

The answer is staring us in the face. The answer is a mini SL. If Leica were to design an SL lookalike around the T’s APS-C sensor it would have a winner on its hands. The control concept of the SL is a revelation in purpose and design and would bring in the punters. Of this I have no doubt. This arrangement is much more relevant to the modern mirrorless concept than Fuji’s determinedly retro concept.

 The Leica SL is a great camera with a unique and addictive control system (Photo John Cartwright, Leica SL)
The Leica SL is a great camera with a unique and addictive control system (Photo John Cartwright, Leica SL)

The TL mount already has a mature range of excellent cropped primes and zooms. The new 35mm Summilux-TL, for instance, is a triumph and the range of zooms is second to none. All we need is a world-class camera to go with the lenses.

I have absolutely no inside knowledge but it seems to me that Leica engineers would be mad if they were not already working on a smaller SL. Let’s call it the TL to differentiate it from the bold but ultimately too-clever-for-its-own-good T.

It would be possible to take the SL concept lock, stock and barrel and create an APS-C camera system that would take on Fuji on its own ground. I can’t wait.

FOOTNOTE: Coincidentally, rumours surfacing later today indicate that there is indeed a new T on the stocks. It is possible, however, that it could be based on the successful Q, a more conventional camera (and a major success) and with the crucial advantage of a built-in viewfinder. Make it a bit smaller, change over the sensor to APS-C and add the TL mount to the front: This could also be a very acceptable APS-C camera to challenge Fuji X-Pro2. 

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Good stuff Mike, I agree that Leica desperately need to integrate a viewfinder into their next APS-C camera… The lack thereof was the main reason that I disposed of my Leica XE… I tried the OVF, graduated to the EVF (albeit the Olympus version), and then sold it… I have kept the EVF for use on the Leica M-P (240), I have a plan up my sleeve for more use of this along with some form of macro photography.

    So a Leica TL would be a "good thing" as Sellars and Yeatman might have said.

    • Thanks, Stephen. I am actually quite excited at the prospect of a camera like this. It’s one of the reasons I sold my Fuji lenses and I will now acquire one or two TL lenses in anticipation of the next-generation Leica APS-C camera. I will be tremendously disappointed if they come out with another T lookalike sans viewfinder. But I suspect they have learned a lesson with the Q. Without the built-in finder it would have been nowhere as successful.

      I didn’t know you’d sold your XE. I might have bought it from you because I still like the X1 if I am feeling in minimalistic Leica mode.

  2. While that is a nice thought the X1, x2 and Q have to be the new holy trinity to us fixed lens advocates. Can’t afford Q but can always dream. Fuji blew it by not going fx in xp2, and article by Mr Palmer looks like they only care about xt series. Me I happy w X1 and X2

  3. Absolutely agree with you on this, Mike. I am so happy with the controls on my X-Vario and recently acquired X1, have no wish (nor cash) to go down the M road, but would certainly be prepared to sell off my Sonys if the TL you described – emphatically not with a touch screen! – appeared out of the Wetzlar woodwork.

  4. Sadly, despite the apparent logic and attractiveness of this idea I cannot see it happening because the maths won’t add up.The manufacturing cost and hence retail price of an APS-C SL would probably be pretty close to the cost of a FF SL .The components,apart from the sensor,would cost nearly the same as the SL and the asembly time and hence labour cost would also be very similar if not identical. Result a camera which is only marginally cheaper than the SL which would not make any sense. Of course Leica could decide to take a much smaller margin to lower the price but with a private equity fund as a very large shareholder looking for high returns that is not likely.
    Let’s hope that I am wrong .
    John

  5. Sold my Leica T for an X-Pro2, and am VERY, VERY happy.
    I had the Visoflex, and agree with what you’ve said – However I will add – there is a terrible lag when trying to capture a shot using the attached viewfinder. That was my biggest problem with the camera.

  6. The big problem here is that I really do not need/want another lens system. I have had no interest in the T, SL and S. I have a lot of M lenses and LTM lenses which can go on M mounts with an adaptor. Fujifilm won me over last year because of the superb handling. A ‘TL’ would have to be very good in that department before I would consider it. What I really want to see is a new M with improved handling.

    William

    • I hope that Leica studied the pros and cons of using the M-mount for automatic lenses. I infer that the M-mount is too small to handle the larger lenses necessary for a full-frame mirrorless camera such as the SL; and there would also have been complications in relation to the rangefinder linkage. So I don’t think it is surprising that the TL-mount came about. If the TL-mount is the future for Leica (while retaining the M-mount for rangefinder use) then it is better it came sooner rather than later. As for Fuji, well, that is another lens mount. From a Leica-owner perspective, to get the benefits of rangefinder on the one hand and electronic lenses on the other, it seems that two mounts are par for the course. My contention is that with a better APS-C camera, Leica could attract back their traditional M users who have moved over to Fuji (or Sony for that matter) to provide their electronic mirrorless kick.

      • If Leica take design cues from Fujifilm, I would support that. I resisted Fujifilm for quite a while, but that all changed when I handled the X-T1 at a trade show. The additional lens mount did concern me. I use M mount lenses on the Fujifilm cameras at least 50% of the time. I would also like to see a camera that represents substance over style. I will judge if and when I see any new camera from Leica.

        William

  7. I recently traded in my Fuji X gear for a Leica T, to accompany my Leica M. I also bought the Visioflex. And althought it isn’t a beauty it dus what it has to do.
    I’m very happy with it. And will bring only the T with me this holiday (other years I had my M and a Nikon D750 with me). Let’s see if I like this setup.
    If there will be a T2 with a built in evf, I hope the lines will be like the original T.

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