Home L-Mount Alliance Leica Notes: Happy third birthday and welcome to the collection, Tee-el-two

Leica Notes: Happy third birthday and welcome to the collection, Tee-el-two

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Despite being a full-frame lens, the dinky little Sigma 45mm f/2.8 could have been made for this all-black TL2. It provid

Three years ago today I was entertained to breakfast at Leica Towers in Mayfair to view the Leica TL2 for the first time. I was impressed and, later, I borrowed one for review. I liked that camera and thought seriously about buying. But, five months later, the CL came on the scene and seduced me with its built-in viewfinder.

Since the CL, not a lot has happened on the APS-C front at Leica. I’m assured by people who should know that Leica is fully committed to its APS-C range. Without a doubt, though, most of us would like to see a bit more action. This APS-C furlough (popular word these days) is something of a disappointment.

The original and very unusual T arrived six years ago and, between that pioneer and the TL2, we had another new model, the TL. Now we’ve had three years of TL2 and nearly as long with the CL. Disappointingly, no new lenses have arrived in the past three years. I would have liked to see a 16-56 mm constant f/2.8 or f/4 zoom.

10 July 2017 and Leica's UK managing director, Jason Heward, launches the TL2
10 July 2017 and Leica’s UK managing director, Jason Heward, launches the TL2. Breakfast waiting in the background

Soft spot

Despite some reservations about the future for Leica’s APS-C system, I do still nurture a soft spot for the TL2. While it performs identically to the newer CL, it is a completely different animal with a thoroughly unusual approach to handling and operation. It’s odd but strangely alluring. As a result, I have been on the lookout for a good used example for the past couple of months.

This week I managed to find a such a beast at Red Dot Cameras in London. I was impressed with the near-mint condition and further encouraged by the included spare battery and Leica leather half case (or protector, as they call it). These are the little bonuses that often sweeten a good second-hand deal.

Spirit of ecstacy, has the TL2 got what it takes to become a classic? Image Mike Evans, Leica TL2
Spirit of Ecstacy: Does the TL2 have what it takes to become a classic? Image Mike Evans, Leica TL2

A month ago, I included the TL2 in my list of five classic Leica digitals to buy and keep. While the choice is a very personal one and certainly up for discussion, my quintet also included the X1, the first Monochrom, the X Vario and the Q. I have a sneaking suspicion that it is the TL2, not the CL, that will become the digital classic of the two. I determined to buy one as a keeper, just as I’ve hung on to my X1 through thick and thin.

Revolutionary

When the T arrived in 2014, many reviewers had misgivings about the “revolutionary” touch interface, with those large but commendably few menu tiles which are pushed between main menu and “My Menu” with supreme ease. They are intuitive and, once you get the hang of the gestures, an almost perfect means of controlling the camera.

The almost complete lack of physical controls undoubtedly set the nerves of traditionalists a-jangling. As it happened, and with hindsight, this was no successful revolution. The rest of the industry, including Leica with the CL, reverted to type. A smartphone interface, which is largely what we see with the T, has not proved popular – except on phones, that is.

The inspiration for the T came a few years before 2014 when Leica was cooperating with a Taiwanese company on a combined phone-and-camera project. It came to nothing, and Leica went on to its eventual association with Huawei. But the operating system of the unborn device lived on in the guise of the T’s unusual tile interface. It remains a sort of mid-teens iconography, characterised by its monochrome appearance. Really, it is a world away from the modern smartphone but, oddly, it seems just right for a camera.

I was doubtful, I readily admit, but I came to appreciate the TL2’s operating system in the here and now of 2020. It was before its time; it didn’t succeed; it failed to attract the rich smartphone-orientated boutique crowd that Leica designed it for. But the T concept has great charm and is very logical and easy to use.

Looking for a bargain; a used TL2 could be just the ticket. Mike Evans, leica TL2.
Looking for a bargain; a used TL2 could be just the ticket. Mike Evans, Leica TL2.

Control banishment

For me, too, the operating system has the big advantage that, once the camera is set into the desired mode, the screen and all its works can be banished from sight. There are no buttons on the back of the camera to brush by mistake. The focus point, for dedicated focus-and-recompose addicts, remains firmly in the centre of the frame where you last put it. By comparison, the CL, with its careless focus point, is a nightmare.

The one aspect of the overall control layout that I have never really appreciated is the absence of a built-in EVF. It’s perhaps the central negative aspect in the minds of potential buyers. I’m not a fan of external EVFs, even the worthy but ugly Visoflex. Yet it does have some advantages, in that it swivels encouragingly and allows the camera to be used as a sort of latter-day twin-lens reflex. This is especially appreciated by those of advancing years who are no longer able to crouch down to get their lower shots. Latterly, however, I have come to like the Visoflex (which works also on the M10 and the earlier X camera) and even the equally athletic but less visually adept VF-2 which now finds a place on my Leica X2 (and also works with the M240 series).

I’ve often wondered why Leica didn’t introduce a built-in viewfinder with the TL2 and I am sure such a move was discussed and, perhaps, even tested out. But it would have ruined the lines of this rather beautiful little device and I feel they were right to discount such barbarism.

Despite the peculiar and unique operation, the three Model Ts have continued to thrive in the hands of established Leica fans, perhaps as an adjunct to an M, a Q or, even an SL. The TL2 has a host of features that add to its appeal. There’s that thin, hewn-from-solid aluminium body, quite unlike anything else on the market. Then there’s the useful 32GB of internal memory. In common with the new PIXII, the TL2 is a camera you can use without an SD card. Unlike the PIXII, however, there is a slot if you need it. It offers the best of both worlds.

The TL2 was also a pioneer in the adoption of a USB-C port for battery charging1 and data transfer. I approve of this. The CL, on the other hand, lacks the USB-C interface and you can’t charge your batteries while in situ. Odd, because not using USB-C in a later camera looks like a retrograde step.

Why APS-C?

Why do I want a TL2 when I am otherwise withdrawing from APS-C as a system? Well, first and foremost, it offers versatility with full-frame lenses, stretching the focal length by 50%. That adds something new to the stock of M-Mount lenses I have at my disposal.

A gaggle of pre-war two-wheel roadsters. Mike Evans, Leica TL2
A gaggle of pre-war two-wheel roadsters. Mike Evans, Leica TL2

Second, the L-Mount Alliance has wholly transformed the appeal of Leica’s APS-C cameras. The choice of lenses, both full-frame and crop-frame, is now astonishing. And this compatibility between APS-C and full-frame makes for many more opportunities, including the same juggling with focal lengths I’ve already mentioned in connection with M lenses.

Third, I need at least one APS-C body for lens evaluation.

Cute little prime

I own Sigma’s excellent little f/2.8 45 mm prime which suits both the SL2 and, now, the TL2. It is no larger than native APS-C lenses and, with its equivalent ~70 mm focal length, it’s a very handy little optic. What’s more, Sigma has just introduced three fast primes for APS-C that add spice to the mix. With focal lengths of 16, 30 and 56 mm, all with bright f/1.4 maximum apertures, they provide an exciting alternative to the slow fare we’ve been used to.

TL2 with the Visoflex veiewfinder and Leica leather protector. The lens is Sigma's 24-105 mm which equates to 36-158 on this camera. It's a versatile optic and includes image stabilisation, something which is entirely missing from Leica's APS-C system.
The new Macfilos TL2 with the Visoflex viewfinder and Leica leather protector. The lens is Panasonic’s 24-105 mm which equates to 36-158 on this camera. It’s a versatile optic and includes image stabilisation, something which is entirely missing from Leica’s APS-C system.
Despite being a full-frame lens, the dinky little Sigma 45mm f/2.8 could have been made for this all-black TL2. It provid
Despite being a full-frame lens, the dinky little Sigma 45mm f/2.8 could have been made for this all-black TL2. It provides a near-70mm focal length on an APS-C body

These Sigma primes are much cheaper than any Leica lens, and they provide useful 24, 45 and 85 mm focal lengths on an APS-C camera. You can buy all three of these f/1.4s for £700 LESS than Leica’s 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux (50 mm equivalent). I haven’t tried any of them yet, and I’m not saying they are as good as, say, Leica’s 35mm Summilux-TL. Quite possibly they won’t match up to Leica’s finest, but they’re probably good enough for most of us. And they do leave a virtuous bulge in your wallet. All I can say is that I have been impressed with all the Sigma lenses I have tried since the announcement of the L-Mount Alliance.

Then we have an outlier, the relatively light 24-105mm full-frame Panasonic S zoom with its constant f/4 aperture. This underrated lens (underrated because it comes as a kit with the S1 cameras) suits the TL2. Despite its girth, it looks at home and provides a useful reach of 36-158mm. I prefer this compromise instead of juggling two lenses as in the case of Leica’s 18-56 and 55-135 mm zooms. It just covers more of the range that I tend to use often. What’s more, this lens has image stabilisation, providing the TL2 with the ability to grab steady shots that might not otherwise be viable.

I’ve mentioned just a few of the exciting new lenses that you can fit on your TL2. Some are just too big, of course, but even Sigma’s latest 100-400 mm zoom isn’t too ridiculous when you realise that, on an APS-C body, it extends to a maximum 600 mm. The opportunities are exciting.

Sweet spot

All in all, the TL2 is a satisfying and useful star in the L-Mount firmament. I see it as a keeper, a future digital classic. It’s still a current camera, although I’m not sure how long it is for this world. Leica could cancel it at any time because of low demand, and I don’t hold out much hope of a TL3. So a used TL2, after three years on the market, is probably the sweet spot for buyers interested in a thoroughly decent camera. It will perform just as well as the CL and might well hold its value longer.

What do you think? Is the TL2 a keeper or a sleeper?


More reading

Mike Evans’s review of the TL2

Jonathan Slack’s long-term review of the TL2

More on the Leica T, TL and TL2

Sigma’s new M-Mount primes for TL2

Panasonic’s 24-105 mm L-mount zoom with the S1

Sigma 45mm f/2.8 review

Jonathan Slack with a stack of M and L-mount lenses


  1. Unlike the PIXII, also, the TL2 comes with a traditional battery charger; you are not forced to use USB

42 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent article! Small correction, the Elmarit-TL 18mm was released in 2017 together with the CL, so it has been 3 years without any new lenses, not 5 years.

  2. The CL is a strange animal. Perhaps initially designed to better fit M lenses. A stone thrown onto the lake to see if it keeps on bouncing or sinks.
    The fact that I finally feel comfortable with a Leica after a long time, makes me think of the last. Prices dropped at the beginning of the year. And some article labels it as discontinued.

    • I don’t think it’s any secret that demand for the CL and TL2 is low. There is so much more out there to excite. And for any dedicated APS-C fan, Fujifilm offers a more rounded, mature and developing platform. Despite Leica’s insistence on remaining with APS-C, I am ready for anything. I think range rationalisation will come in the wake of the current economic problems.

  3. Thank you for a really useful review, Mike. I’ve always liked the appearance of the TL2 but thought the control system would just defeat me. Since Leica seem to have turned their face resolutely against tilting screens (a silly decision especially for compacts), I am all in favour of cameras that can take a visoflex or VF-2.

    • The control system is really very easy when you have played with it. Essentially, the nine large tiles are the top-level menu items. You can drag any of these to the My Camera screen simply by pressing and dragging. I’d recommend you read Jono Slack’s review for the details on this. If you get a chance to try one, I am sure you would like it.

  4. I was early on intrigued, bought a T, then another, never went for the TL, then finally a TL2. Once I had the TL2 I had the two T’s converted to two different spectrums of Infrared (LifePixel conversions).
    I’m happy walking out of the house with these three bodies and a couple of lenses. I tend towards using the TL lenses rather than the adapter and the M lenses. I realize it is a different experience from my M’s but frankly there has just always been something nice about the way the T body fits in the hand. I use a half case, no grip. And for me, the clarity is fine. I am a musician and mp3’s are fine for me also so perhaps I am too casual in my tastes. And I agree with everyone that has ever written about the T’s that once you have it set up the way you want it, most of the settings you never see again and so navigating while shooting has always seemed pretty smooth to me. One amateur’s opinion, but thanks for the article.

  5. A good move Mike! I also bought the T, then traded for the TL2 just before the CL came out. I then bought the CL for the convenient evf, trading in the TL2. Then, using the CL around Europe for a summer, I re-bought an OOB TL2 for a bargain and have never regretted it. I often carry both with different lenses; sometimes one or the other as a backup for the SL (now the SL2). The design of the TL/TL2 was mocked – but it’s truly a classic modern design; and surprisingly good in the hand. As all have noted, the menu once set up is simple and reliable. And it never seems to scratch or chip, and seems to resist the rain quite well.

    • The Leica “protector” which I inherited with the purchase is surprisingly nice, although it does add about 8mm to the height of the camera. The diamond tooling on the grip part is very comfortable. I also appreciate the bottom flap to allow battery change. Unfortunately, the case has to come off to access the accessories flap, either for charging/data transfer or SD card. All in all, I think I now prefer the TL2 to the CL, even allowing for the CL’s built-in viewfinder. I was never happy with the CL’s trigger-happy four-way pad hoped they would introduce a lock. Instead, they brought in a ridiculous lock which even prevents access to aperture and speed. Nonsense, really, and a good example of not listening to customers.

  6. So today, I have read this, watched Kai’s video of the TL2, and then watched Thorsten Overgaards review on youtube.

    I have also read the comments from the various well respected and potentially more experienced commentators.

    Perhaps the solution between all of this, is that the next APC-C camera from Leica, should be the TL3 – however, it should be the TL2 design (to a degree), with a decent sensor, and with the CL’s EVF. Thus amalgamating the two differences between the cameras – the TL’s design, menu, and engineering. And the CL’s EVF. Perhaps there lies the ultimate APS-C Leica camera, and one that ultimately engages both the L Mount lenses, and the M lense potential.

    Enjoy the weekend folks.

  7. Thanks for a great article. I was tempted by the T when it first came out, but held off. By the time I felt ready to commit the CL came out and that was it. I still think he TL2 is a cool camera but prefer the EVF on the CL

    The wandering focal point on the CL however is still an irritant; but at least I can now rephrase Tom Waits’ song as “The Focal Point Has Been Drinking, It’s Not Me”…

  8. I liked Jono article on Tl2 and a man on fstoppers Mr Molin on T revisited, think best articles on T line and both make you want to buy. If any one reads fstoppers can you identify his camera bag? Really neat! Between cl and t line I’d buy a T.

    • John I believe the bag may be a Wotancraft Ryker they make a small version for the Leica M system. Sean Molin who wrote the Leica T review also reviewed the bag. Looks nice.

  9. I almost pulled the trigger on the TL a number of times but some key lenses were missing for me. The Panasonic 24-105 is a very underestimated lens and would solve a lot of things for me but I have settled on other options – but it is a work of art!
    As for your comment, “was fully assured that Leica is fully committed” reminds me of Olympus assuring everyone for the past couple of years that the camera division is not being sold….
    However, even if Leica did not come out with more glass there will be very nice Sigma and Panasonic options. I think the Sigma 70 2.8 macro would be a spectacular lens on the TL/CL family.

  10. The availability of Sigma L mount lens options was what made up my mind to go with the TL2, particularity that little 45mm Contemporary.

    At the moment I’m having a lot of fun with the 35mm R mount Elmarit coupled to an inexpensive adapter (the lens is non ROM so no real value in getting the Leica one).

    Oh and the 13.5cm M mount Hektor finally showed up so I’m looking forward to using that; manual focus with the TL2 is a rewarding experience.

  11. I have the TL and regret not waiting the few months for the TL2 as it performs much better than TL. The design of the T family is so simple and effective. It is a shame that Leica threw the baby out with the bath water for the CL. There were lots of things they got right with the TL2 interface that would have made the CL a better camera.

    The Panasonic 24-105 is a tempting lens to try on the TL.

    Interested in any experience you have using the TL zoom lenses on the SL2.

    • Tom, I think you will find all the TL lenses perform well on the SL or SL2 – particularly on the later model when you get a full 20MP image, with all the benefits of the SL2’s greater dynamic range. And, of course, the SL2 adds IBIS which is particularly welcome on the 55-135 TL. I’ve tried the SL2 with the 23mm, 35mm and 55-135. I don’t have these lenses to hand at the moment and that’s why I’m using the Panasonic 24-105 as my preferred general-purpose lens for the SL2. I know the Leica 24-90 would have the edge, but I don’t have it and I’m prepared to compromise for the lightness of the Panasonic and that more useful range.

      • Thanks for that Mike. I still have a Canon 5D Mark III and the f4 trinity lenses and have been waiting to see what the Canon R5 looks like versus a more expensive SL2. In favour of the SL2 is being able to use M and TL lenses particularly the 55-135mm which is a cracker of a lens but limited by no stabilisation. The Leica 24-90 looks just about ok in terms of size but the 90-280 is just too big for my liking. The Panasonic 24-105 looks like a great alternative to the 24-90 and is substantially cheaper (but expensive compared to the Canon R 24-105).

        • That Panasonic lens is a strange one. It has a retail price in the uk of nearly £1,300 yet, as a kit lens, is is heavily discounted, even at the official prices. Only last week I noticed that the S1R kit is discount and, in effect, the 24-105 costs only £200!

  12. Tom Brennan, thank you, that photo of bag was like song you can’t get out of your head. I think it is really neat.

  13. Good read Mike, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I bought the original T and still have it, although it hasn’t been used in a while. I really liked the User Interface and it produced some great results for me. In fact one of my most successful prints, “Heathrow Approach” was taken by the T and that looks really good at A3 size. I was seriously considering the TL2 when the CL was announced and because of the builtin EVF the CL won out.

    • Tom, I think many people (including me) felt that the CL was an improvement on the TL. We were definitely influenced by the built-in viewfinder. But now, I’m not so sure. Having had the chance to use both TL2 and CL together, I prefer the handling and the UI to the CL. I can make a virtue out of the external EVF because of its greater flexibility. But it is an ugly beast and no mistake.

      • I would say that in addition to the built-in EVF the CL has significantly better AF and through the 4-way controller an easier way to change focus point (as the TL2 has no joystick nor a 4-way controller using the LCD as touch pad would be the way to go there). Given that there has been no more firmware update for the TL2 since September 2018… I believe it is safe to assume that either there will not be a TL3… or if there is one it will be a completely re-designed one… if I were a betting man though…

        • You are probably right on the TL3. As for the joystick/four-way pad, the absence on the T is a bonus for me. It’s one of my biggest problems with the CL that the four-way pad cannot be disabled, except by locking the camera down and then you lose the ability to change aperture or speed. So I like the TL3 for its relative simplicity.

          On the AF, I’m not noticing a big difference but you could be right. I haven’t looked at the respects specs for AF speed.

        • Not only the speed of the AF, I have a few spots in my apartment where the CL can easily nail focus whereas the TL2 is completely unable to do so. Regarding the focus point, except for with older film cameras I don’t focus and recompose anymore, that being said I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Leica is unwilling or incapable of addressing this through firmware, similar with resetting the file numbering to 1 after each firmware upgrade, things like these that irritate a fair number of users should be immediately addressed through firmware updates IMO.

          • I agree it can feel like a bar of soap. But the grip, such as it is, does help. Strangely, the leather protector which came with my purchase (I probably wouldn’t have bought one as an accessory) does improve the grip. It is a nuisance, however, to have to remove it to get at the USB socket and the SD card. I suppose nothing is perfect.

      • The Volkswagen Beetle was also an ugly beast but look at how successful that was. (I used to race one in the sixties with a Porsche super 90 engine stuck in the back.)

  14. Really enjoyed this post. I always liked the TLS design and UI even before I decided to buy a Leica camera. I never new about the USB-C or internal 32GB memory. Even more impressive! The mobile phone like UI is exactly what many people outside of the Leica customer base would like to use today in an advanced camera but would never pay the Leica premium for such a camera or lenses particularly not for APS-C. IMO somebody in Leica didn’t do their research which is sad because the TL2 is certainly a beautiful and unique product/ahead of its time and at least to me deserves a following.

    • Thanks. It’s good to hear your views. The messages of the T were mixed and, as far as I can tell, it sold mainly to traditional Leica fans who were rather bemused by the UI but we’re willing to give it a go. I suspect that people wanting something more than a smartphone tend to go for the more traditional type of camera, as epitomised by the Fuji X series. As a result the T and TL2 fell between two markets. It’s a pity because, this is one unusual camera that ought to have been more successful than it has been.

  15. Having owned the original T for a number of years and the CL for the last 2, I consistently find myself preferring the T. There’s something to be said about how the T feels in the hand, not even my M body gives me the same feeling of confidence in the build. In fact, as a recovered GAS addict in my earlier years of photography, I would venture to say that the Leica T (and by extension the TL and TL2) are the most solid cameras I’ve ever held.

    I enjoy the built-in EVF on the CL, but there’s something to be said about the Visoflex 020, you won’t understand how great shooting with a tilting EVF is until you try it.

    All that being said, my dream camera would be a Full-Frame TL body with a M-mount and either a built-in EVF that doesn’t disturb the TL’s design or a more responsive Visoflex.

    • I think many would agree with you, Nick. The T series is unique in the photographic world and that’s why I think it will be in demand for years to come, just like the old X1.

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