Home Reviews Leica TL2: Long-term impressions of a prototype camera

Leica TL2: Long-term impressions of a prototype camera

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  Spring Rape, ISO 100, Vario-Elmar 18-56. All photographs in this article ©Jonathan Slack
Spring Rape, ISO 100, Vario-Elmar 18-56. All photographs in this article ©Jonathan Slack

Introduction

A little over three years since the announcement of the Leica T (April 2014), and just eight months after the announcement of the Leica TL in November 2016 we have the TL2. Superficially the camera looks like its predecessors, but in fact there are lots of improvements and changes, both in the body and under the hood.

Leica is very clearly committed to its APS-C project, which is great news, and also to the concept of the phone like interface on a capable enthusiast camera. 

  Pink Lady Contemplation, ISO 125, Vario-Elmar TL 55-135.
Pink Lady Contemplation, ISO 125, Vario-Elmar TL 55-135.

I’ve always liked the T and I tested the original camera back in 2013 and 2014; here is a link to that article. Of course, radical departure from traditional camera design is bound to have some issues and the T was not perfect, but it took great pictures and was really good fun to use. Leica have been listening to their users and the TL2 is their attempt at perfecting the concept. 

My role with Leica is to test the cameras, not to write reviews of them, and it’s important to understand that this article is not intended to be a critical review. If I find something wrong with a camera, then I tell Leica. Having said that, this article is my work, nobody has suggested what I should write, and I certainly wouldn’t say anything that I don’t believe to be the case or omit anything that seemed to be an issue.

  Armageddon, ISO 100, Vario-Elmar 18-56
Armageddon, ISO 100, Vario-Elmar 18-56

What’s New

The Body

At first sight the new camera looks just like its predecessor, but in fact everything has changed (slightly)!

The body itself is still made from a single block of aluminium, and I’m sure that it’s polished by hand for just as long as the original T (I’ve seen the polishing department in the Leica factory in Porto and it’s not just the T that gets this treatment). 

The corners have been slightly chamfered which makes the camera more comfortable to hold, it also reduces the tendency for the corners to get scratched. Indeed, the black test camera I’ve been using for the last few months has been put through hell, and still looks as good as the day I received it. 

  Flashing (part 1), ISO 100, Vario-Elmar 55-135. Below: Flashing (Part II), ISO 100 Vario-Elmar TL 55-135.
Flashing (part 1), ISO 100, Vario-Elmar 55-135. Below: Flashing (Part II), ISO 100 Vario-Elmar TL 55-135.

The popup flash has gone. For me this is a relief, I never used it and found its popping up when turning the camera on something of an irritation. I suppose that this will be a disadvantage for some people, especially as there is now no way to use the EVF with flash. 

The controls are all in the same place, but the haptics have been improved, with firmer clicks on the two dials and a revised on/off switch. The Video button loses its red dot and can now be used as a function key (more about this later). 

  Canary Bird Rose, ISO 100, Vario-Elmar 11-23 ASPH.
Canary Bird Rose, ISO 100, Vario-Elmar 11-23 ASPH.

Finally, the ports have been upgraded, there is a Micro (type D) HDMI port supporting 1.4b, and more excitingly a USB C port which supports USB 3 super connection speeds and also charging. I found this really useful, and it makes shooting to the 32Gb of internal memory completely feasible.

The Sensor

The T had a great sensor, with good ISO and dynamic range, but of course it’s getting rather long in the tooth, both in terms of its maximum ISO (12,500) and number of pixels (16mp). 

  Smelling of Roses, ISO 400m 35 Summilux TL
Smelling of Roses, ISO 400m 35 Summilux TL
  The Pied Piper? ISO 100, 35 Summilux TL
The Pied Piper? ISO 100, 35 Summilux TL

The new sensor is a 24mp CMOS unit with a maximum ISO of 50,000. There are still no phase detect sensors, so the AF system is purely contrast based. As usual Leica are not giving away the maker of the sensor.

The Processor and memory

The camera uses a new Maestro II processor which has allowed improvements to the cameras operational speed. The startup time is notably faster than the T and TL and the shot to shot time is also greatly improved. AF is much snappier, according to Leica it is 165 milliseconds (CIPA standard), this makes it about three times faster than the previous camera. Continuous shooting speed has gone up to seven frames a second (with the mechanical shutter) and 20 frames per second (with the new electronic shutter). Video has been improved to 4k at 30 fps. 

Below left to right: Lipstick, ISO 160, Vario-Elmar T 55-135; Kraftwerk? ISO 250, Vario-Elmar T 55-135; Snapchat Girles, ISO 500, Vario-Elmar T 55-135

A missed opportunity with the original T was the internal memory (16GB which was upped to 32GB in the TL), a great idea, but it was too slow compared to modern SD cards. The TL2 also has 32GB of memory, but this is quick. If you’re anything like me there’s that occasional horrible moment when you’ve gone out shooting . . . and found that you’ve left your SD card at home in the card reader. Now you can carry on shooting without penalty and transfer your images to your computer via the USB C port at high speed. Especially useful if you have one of the new MacBook Pros with only USB C ports.

  The Rainy Season, ISO 400, Vario-Elmar T 55-135
The Rainy Season, ISO 400, Vario-Elmar T 55-135

The Electronic Shutter

This cuts in automatically after 1/4,000th second and goes all the way up to 1/40,000th second. I don’t know how fast the sensor readout is, so it’s not possible to tell whether there will be ‘rolling shutter’ effects or not. Personally I’d like to see this extended to allow its use at all shutter speeds (just like the Leica SL). This was a firmware update for the SL, so perhaps it will be possible to do the same for the TL2.

It’s still a great option, allowing shooting wide open in very bright lighting conditions.

  Colour Crush, ISO 3200, Vario-Elmar T 55-135
Colour Crush, ISO 3200, Vario-Elmar T 55-135

The Interface and Menus

The principle of the menu system remains, indeed it’s quite consistent with the other Leica cameras where the first touch of the menu button brings you to a configurable favourites menu (just like the original T). I always liked this, and the populating of the favourites menu is intuitive and simple. 

What has changed is the settings menu (from which the favourites can be chosen). This has now been divided into logical sections:

  • Still Image
  • Exposure
  • Focus
  • Motion Image (video)
  • Connectivity
  • Monitor / EVF
  • Play
  • General
  • Flash

It’s always difficult to get a completely sensible division of functions, but this seems to me to be a good attempt and most options turn up where you expect them!

The Video button now has programmable functions:

  • Video (as before)
  • EVF / LCD
  • Play

I don’t take a lot of video, so I really appreciate the EVF / LCD function – If you have the EVF attached, then pressing the button toggles the output between LCD and EVF. If you prefer the normal eye sensor method then you can choose one of the other functions for the button. A slight fly in the ointment is that the LCD/EVF choice is not remembered when you turn off the camera (or when it goes to sleep). The function key setting however, is remembered. 

  Longjing Tea Fields, ISO 160, Vario-Elmar T 55-135
Longjing Tea Fields, ISO 160, Vario-Elmar T 55-135

Image Quality

The image quality on the TL was already one of its best features, and the high ISO was useable up to 3200 and higher in an emergency (or for black and white). 

The new sensor has really improved everything. Most of the time I’ve been putting a limit of 6400 on the Auto ISO, but going up to 12,500 produces perfectly usable images; I didn’t go much higher than this because I didn’t need to. I’ll leave the full ISO comparisons to others, but my instinct is that it’s nearly a two-stop advantage over the TL. 

  ISO 1600, Vario-Elmar T 55-135
ISO 1600, Vario-Elmar T 55-135

I haven’t done any formal dynamic range tests either, but it seems to be excellent, easy to recover both shadow and highlights, but the files are great straight from the camera. As is normal with Leica cameras it’s better to shoot RAW than to rely on the camera generated jpg files. 

I’ve been using Lightroom to process the DNG files, it is using the Embedded profile which suggests that the LR profile is not yet finished. Nevertheless, the colours are great, snappy enough without being vulgar, skin tone is excellent. The files are great to work with allowing lots of adjustment without falling apart. 

  Night Bikers, ISO 6400, 35 Summilux f/1.4
Night Bikers, ISO 6400, 35 Summilux f/1.4

Using Non TL Lenses

The TL lenses are real class acts, I especially like the triumvirate of zooms with their quick AF and excellent image quality. The new and improved high ISO makes them even more attractive. I still find the AF on the 35 f/1.4 Summilux and the 23 f/2 Summicron to be slower than I’d like (still, faster than they were on the T), but I have a prototype camera and pre-release firmware, so there may easily be an improvement with the released cameras.

I’ve shot the camera with M lenses, where it recognises coded lenses and adjusts accordingly and populates the exif information (if you use the Leica L to M adapter). I’ve also shot with R lenses, but I’m not certain whether R lenses are recognised as I don’t have the R to TL adapter to work with (I’ve been stacking the M to R and the M to TL adapters). The results are excellent.

  Smokin
Smokin’, ISO 4000 Vario-Elmar 18-56

I’ve also shot with the two SL zoom lenses where AF is extremely fast (it seems, comparable with the SL). The 90-280 is especially good to shoot with, even if the ergonomics are a bit odd; image quality is wonderful and the Image Stabilisation really seems to help.

The Shooting Experience

Most of us are used to cameras with lots of buttons and dials, infinite possibilities for configuration and multiple options in huge menus. Leica have stuck rigorously to ‘The Essence’, and the TL2, like its predecessors has two dials and two buttons, everything else is controlled by the touch screen.

  Above: Hangzhou Happy Hour, ISO 6400, 35 Summilux TL. Below: Concentration, ISO 6400 35 Summilux f/1.4
Above: Hangzhou Happy Hour, ISO 6400, 35 Summilux TL. Below: Concentration, ISO 6400 35 Summilux f/1.4

I had spent a lot of time with the Olympus OMD E-M1 Mk.II before testing the TL2 and it came as quite a contrast — culture shock even. Surprisingly, a clear advantage of the TL2 is that the EVF feels much bigger and is less contrasty than the unit in the Olympus and much more lifelike. Less surprisingly the image quality of the TL2 is a clear step ahead of the Olympus in every respect (High ISO, Dynamic Range, Colour). 

I think it’s worth talking about the shooting experience in two parts. With the LCD and with the EVF. 

  The Rainy Season, ISO 100 35 Summilux TL
The Rainy Season, ISO 100 35 Summilux TL

Shooting with the LCD

This works really well, the combination of the huge 3.7” LCD and the touch screen is entirely logical and consistent. The favourites menu and configurable dial makes it very easy to use, like a smart phone on steroids, the gestures are instinctive and moving the focus point and changing settings is fast. If this is the way you like to shoot I can’t think of a camera which does it better. Startup time is much faster than the TL, and the blackout time much reduced (but not quite eliminated). It’s easy to shoot one-handed, and the touch focus and touch shooting work well.

  Wet Bag, ISO 4000, Vario-Elmar 55-135
Wet Bag, ISO 4000, Vario-Elmar 55-135

Shooting with the EVF

This is how I like to shoot; there are a lot of improvements in terms of speed over the TL, and use of the function button to switch between EVF and LCD is also very helpful. However, when the camera wakes from sleep or you switch it on, the output goes first to the LCD, and then to the EVF (either by eye start, or else by pressing the function button if it’s set to toggle between EVF and LCD). This is cumbersome, but you can work around it by increasing the sleep time to a maximum for the camera and the screen; in which case the output will stay in the EVF until you press the function button to return it to the LCD. I’d really like to see this working the same way as the M10 where you can choose where to send the output from Live View / Review / Auto Review, and it’s remembered when the camera is switched off or goes to sleep. 

We recently spent a week in China in the rainy season, and I shot in the streets of Hangzhou with the TL2, usually with the 55-135 zoom. It was often really dark (even in daylight) and many of the images were shot at 6400 ISO, most of them above 1000 ISO. The focusing was accurate and quick (even in that light), quite a lot were shot one handed (I was often holding an umbrella with the other hand!).

Now it’s become second nature, just a different way of working from a more traditional camera. The simple interface and lovely quiet shutter together with the solid body and the excellent lenses make it all rather a pleasure.

  Telephone Romance, ISO 3200 Vario-Elmar TL 55-135
Telephone Romance, ISO 3200 Vario-Elmar TL 55-135

Conclusion

The original Leica T was a brave and revolutionary take on camera design; an attempt to make an enthusiasts camera for the iPhone generation, at the time only two lenses were available and the development of an entirely new lens mount seemed like a rash endeavour. Three years later there are many fine lenses for the L mount, zooms and primes, for both APS-C and the full frame Leica SL. They have developed a wonderful platform from which they can branch out in the future. I would love to see an APS-C mini SL, and another with analogue controls like the Q.

  Hello World, ISO 2000, Vario-Elmar TL 55-135
Hello World, ISO 2000, Vario-Elmar TL 55-135

However, with the Leica TL2 Leica have kept faith with the design concept of the T, they have listened to their users and have produced a proper update at a reasonable price point. The camera is fun and interesting to use, it takes great photographs and it feels lovely. 

  Above: Doggy Paddle, ISO 250 Vario-Elmar TL 44-135. Below: Sloosh, ISO 320 Vario-Elmar T 55-135
Above: Doggy Paddle, ISO 250 Vario-Elmar TL 44-135. Below: Sloosh, ISO 320 Vario-Elmar T 55-135

14 COMMENTS

  1. Jono and Mike,
    If you would indulge my fantasy for a moment longer, by pressing the Facebook (or other social Media of choice) icon,
    the camera would process the DNG or Jpeg file to a much smaller sized compressed jpeg that it then automatically uploads to aYour Facebook or instagram for you (much like a smartphone). Your originals stay on your card. what you gain is the ability to instantly share a moment – priceless in this day and age. Especially for young parents. This feature would justify the interface and the decision to not include a built in EVF

    • Interesting, Kwesi. From my point of view, I have little use for direct posting to social media. In fact, I don’t even use the apps available for cameras. Maybe if I forced myself to try I might warm to the idea. I can see, though, that there is a demand and maybe this is where the TL2 will shine.

  2. I’m not so sure I am convinced by the "smartphone-camera merger" theory. I don’t really think the TL has made inroads into a new market of smartphone users who are attracted to it "familiar" touch interface. Rather, my impression is that the T has been bought by existing photographers, largely Leica people anyway, who want an APS-C camera (and the range of excellent lenses) and will accept the interface. They may not like it, but most have got used to it, and all of them yearn for a viewfinder. If you want to see a real succes wait until Leica produces an APS-C interchangeable-lens camera based on the X or SL. A mini SL using those gorgeous lenses would cause as much of a stir as did the Leica Q and sales would go through the roof. Attracting generation iPhone by screeny gimmicks would be forgotten.

    • Leica would need to produce something as good as the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 before I would be interested. The lenses would also need to be small. Toting around anything with lenses like those from the SL would be a non starter for me. I’m still puzzling as to how Leica can attract what you call ‘generation iPhone’. I have seen a lot of people making the point that smartphone usage will encourage the younger generation to cross over to ‘real cameras’, but I have yet to see any camera manufacturer really address this issue.

      William

      • I think the assumption that you need to have a smartphone interface on a camera in order to attract smartphone photographers is wrong. What are seeing is the conversion of smartphone photographers who discover that they can produce good photographs on their phones and begin to wonder if a "real camera" is going to improve matters. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people are being introduced to photography by this interesting back door. When they do decide to invest in a camera I believe they look for something "camera like" rather than a hybrid smartphone/camera such as the Leica TL2. Mirrorless camera manufacturers are spearheading this comeback and I see smartphones as nothing but good for the industry.

        • I believe that the younger generation will go for any camera that allows them to do what they do with their smartphones eg sharing with friends, family and the public at large. The battle for the mass market has already been fought, won and lost. The actual design of any such camera is not as important as what it can do. The main advantage of stand alone cameras is image quality, but I suspect that image quality is not as important as sharing functionality for a large chunk of the potential market. This particular horse has been well and truly flogged by now, but it will be interesting to see where the market actually goes in the coming years as regards imaging devices, if that is a suitable catch all term.

          William

  3. Jono,
    I agree with William that this is a fabulous camera for the Facebook/Instagram photographer. It’s a pity Leica did not leverage its relationship with Huawei to make it so. As it sits now, without SIM or EVF, it seems to leave Leica sitting on a fence.

    • Hi Kwesi (and William)
      I can see the point of the data card .. and certainly the one in your car William, but it seems to me that it creates a different problem about where one’s images are.
      It’s bad enough handling images across IOS and a computer without adding a different source. I guess you can have cloud connectivity, but it quickly gets expensive when you’re pushing big files about.
      ….added to which it’s really easy to connect to your phone .. but hey, what do I know!

  4. Lovely photos as usual, Jono. I am sure that there will be discussion about the lack of an in-built VF on this model, but hundreds of millions of people take photos every day on their phones and other devices without a VF. I assume that Leica has a good idea of what its target market wants in this regard. I am probably not in the target market for this camera, but I imagine that a lot of the people who are in that market would want to use the camera just as they use their cameras on their smartphones. The camera needs to be connected to another device in order to upload photos to, say, Facebook. I see the gap between cameras and phones closing as time goes by. Already the TL2 has a touch-screen similar to a smartphone. The next logical step would be full internet connectivity in a camera. In Leica’s case It has the know how and technology on tap from Huawei. So, if a Huawei phone can have Leica lens, why can a Leica camera not have Huawei innards that will give it full browsing possibilities with its Wi-Fi or, Heaven forbid, a SIM card?

    I know that you are a tester and not a designer, but perhaps you might be able to say how well the connectivity via an app to other devices works and whether you have any thoughts on including full on-line connectivity in a camera. I have used the app on an M10, but after I had satisfied my curiosity as to how it worked, I did not have any further use for it. As I said, I am not in the target market for such connectivity, but I suspect that a lot of people who are, particularly the younger generation, might be very attracted to having this feature in a camera.

    William

    • Hi There William
      I’m glad you liked the snaps – I’m not sure that Leica has any realistic idea of it’s target market (although I could be wrong!)
      I actually think that the M10 app is better than the T app (but that’s because it uses DNG and I shoot only DNG!)
      I think the problem with full connectivity is the need for a SIM card and a contract – easier to connect it to your phone if that’s what turns you on. As the connectivity becomes second nature it’s pretty easy to get stuff straight to Facebook (even an old Luddite like me can do it!)
      all the best
      Jono

      • Thanks Jono. I was just looking for ways to broaden the potential market for this camera by stepping into the area where younger people do most of their online transactions. As a former telecoms regulator, I know all about telecoms contracts and I am familiar with how manufacturers like Huawei and operators like Vodafone run their business models. My Audi car now has its own data only SIM card for various services, so I thought why not do the same for Leica cameras. Most people are fairly adept nowadays at managing such contracts. I also assume that the camera has clearance from the likes of the FCC as a communications device. This is how most leaks about upcoming Leica models get out nowadays.

        William

  5. Thanks for the review Jono! I’m actually very disappointed that there is no internal EVF (as are other Leica users). That was the biggest reason I sold my original T. The external EVF is cheaply made, and incredibly expensive. However, the worst part was there was a terrible lag while using it with the original T. If there was any motion at all, the shot was most likely going to be missed. I don’t have this problem with any of my other EVF cameras (including the Q). Has Leica at least increased the interface speed between the TL2 and the Visoflex EVF – or is there still a delay?
    Thanks Again

    • I can’t speak for Jonathan, but I had a long chat this morning at the Leica press conference with Robin Sinha. I mentioned the lag and, also, the long blackout after every picture. He assured me that the faster processor and all the other tweaks have improved this considerably. It will be one of the things I will be looking for then I get my hands on the camera next week.

    • Hi There Rick
      The response of the EVF is definitely a function of the processing speed of the camera, I like the Leica EVF, it’s big and bright and not too contrasty, and has the same resolution as most mirrorless EVFs. I agree it was much too slow on the original T, but it’s faster on the TL2
      I thoroughly recommend that you go and try one out and see how you feel.

      All the best
      Jono

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