Anyone entering the rangefinder world should expect to shell out for a decent lens or two. If those are Leica lenses, they might cost as much as or more than the camera itself, even if they are second-hand. Doesn’t it make sense then to make the most of those stellar prime lenses, wringing every ounce of value from them? That was my plan, and why I turned to a two-body, two-lens kit.
Let’s rock ‘n’ roll
When devising a budget for an interchangeable-lens-camera (ILC) system, what percentage would you allocate to lenses versus body?
Assuming you would likely purchase lenses covering a range of focal lengths, they are going to dominate your budget. After all, aren’t lenses what it’s all about? They do the hard work of translating a scene into a focused pattern of rays projected onto a flat plane.
Isn’t the body just a means of capturing those rays, on film or digital sensor? I suppose it does make some additional contributions, such as aiding with focus, and storing the resultant images. But, wouldn’t you rather spend your money on great lenses and a decent body, rather than the other way around?
In previous articles, I described my tentative steps into rangefinder photography and my approach to building a minimalist kit. I remain delighted with my choices. To complement my (admittedly, loud) red-leather-clad camera, I recently added a custom accessory from Rock n Roll Straps. The team kindly made me a red-rope strap with red-leather finishing, rather than the regular black. This has further increased the frequency of compliments and enquiries I receive from passers-by when out with my camera. It’s nice to be the centre of attention…
My two lenses, a 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, and a 75mm f/2.4 Summarit, continue to perform superbly. Both, bought used, are so small and light, especially compared to my 50mm f/2.0 APO Summicron SL. Although requiring manual focus, the attraction of these petite M-lenses had now become clear to me. So, I began to consider how I could put them to use, beyond just my M240 set up.
I hate to mention it but…
As a regular Macfilos reader, I am painfully aware of the controversy, or should I say outrage, surrounding Leica’s withdrawal from the APS-C market. Since I did not own a Leica APS-C camera, I had been merely a bystander to this unfortunate development.
However, it dawned on me that with an M-to-L adapter, I could use my M-lenses on a Leica APS-C camera. This would switch their effective focal lengths, giving me access, as if by magic, to new ‘50mm’ and ‘110mm’ lenses, give or take the odd millimetre. Even more tempting, since these cameras are no longer in production, was the prospect of used models at discount prices.
My initial thought was to look for a Leica CL. Based upon countless articles and comments, it is clearly a very highly regarded camera. But, a small nudge from a veteran Leica owner prompted me to consider a TL2.
A two-lens, two-body kit?
As I looked into it, I decided the TL2 was a remarkable camera that I would love to own. Its slim body, machined from a single block of aluminium, is a minimalist objet d’art—especially the silver version. Here are two reviews of the TL2, by Jonathan Slack and Thorsten Overgaard, produced around the time of launch, in 2017.
It appears Leica introduced the T-series to reflect how people were increasingly preferring to take photos. That is, using a smartphone, whose screen is used to compose the photograph. The T-series cameras thus employed a body-length, touch-sensitive rear screen, through which camera controls are accessed and photos composed. The only physical controls on the TL2 are: on-off switch, shutter-release, programmable function button, and two parameter-selection wheels.
There is much more information available in the linked reviews and online. Suffice it to say that the TL2 represented a radical change in Leica camera design. The company deserves credit for the risk it took in launching such a device.
Unfortunately, it was not a commercial success. Commentators attributed this primarily to its lack of built-in electronic view finder (EVF) and exclusive reliance on that rear screen.
Leica announced its decision to discontinue production of its APS-C line of cameras, including the TL2, in May 2022.
Gone but not forgotten
Used Leica TL2s are still readily available online. So, I bought one. Yes, I handed over my hard-earned cash for a discontinued camera. As alluded to above, I had several reasons for buying a device which is, in effect, obsolete.
Firstly, a TL2 equipped with an M-to-L adapter does indeed give M-lenses a second identity. Each of them gains a 1.5x increase in effective focal length. Furthermore, TL2s can be purchased used, in excellent condition, for considerably less than $1,000. Compare this to the cost of any other Leica camera or lens you can think of. For me, it’s been a very cost-effective way of expanding the utility of my small collection of prime Leica M-lenses.
Secondly, the silver TL2 is a sensational example of modern design. I was not surprised to learn that it is considered a leading example of 21st century functional art. The T-series received an iF Design Gold award, and a ‘Best of the Best’ award from Red Dot Design. It is a gorgeous piece of photographic kit, and a perfect body on which to mount silver-finish lenses. It is a pleasure both to stare at and to grasp.
Ahead of its time
Finally, the TL2 offers a very different shooting experience from most enthusiast-level, mirror-less cameras. It is iPhone-like photography, but with superb interchangeable lenses, and a far superior sensor. Most of us are taking photos with our phones, framing the scene by looking through the phone’s screen. We are also opening apps and making selections using the touch screen. Why not use a ‘real’ camera that way?
As a brief aside, I was at a recent event where students were wandering around taking photographs with Canon and Nikon cameras. Guess what? They were all snapping away, looking at the camera’s rear screen. No-one was looking through a viewfinder. This iPhone-age generation clearly saw that as a more intuitive way to take photos.
Perhaps the TL2 was just ahead of its time.
My two-body kit
So, how am I using this two-lens, two-body kit? And what is the impact of swapping lenses between these two different sensor sizes?
I have included a few field-of-view comparisons in this article. As you would expect, there is a clear narrowing in field-of-view from 35mm through ‘50mm’ and 75mm, to ‘110mm’. Until seeing these comparisons myself, I had not appreciated how different these perspectives were. Although in principle, one could achieve these changes via digital zooming, these photographs were all taken with a prime lens using a full 24 megapixel sensor.
How does swapping between sensors impact depth-of-field (DoF)?
DoF is one of the more complex photographic topics, and a detailed discussion is well beyond the scope of this article. My specific interest was the DoF resulting from, say, a 50mm lens / full-frame (FF) set up, compared to the DoF resulting from a ’50mm-equivalent’ / APS-C set up. That is, for a given aperture and subject distance, was the DoF produced by the ’50mm’ I had created by mounting my 35mm lens on an APS-C camera, the same as, or different from the DoF produced by a 50mm lens on a FF camera?
I have consulted several experts on this question, as well as read a number of articles. I found a three-part series of articles by Todd Vorenkamp of B&H particularly helpful. Here is a link to the first in the series. He provides both a clear description of the key concepts, as well as a detailed mathematical explanation of how DoF is calculated. He also provided a perfect example of the comparison I was interested in.
And the answer is…
Since the source of the information is based in the United States, distances were provided in feet and inches. I know…
For a 75mm lens on a FF camera, at an aperture of f/2.8 and subject distance of 5.9 ft, the DoF is 3.4 inches.
What about a 50mm lens on an APS-C camera, where the 1.5x crop factor yields the equivalent, i.e., “75mm” field-of-view?
For a 50mm lens on an APS-C camera, at an aperture of f/2.8 and subject distance of 5.9ft, the DoF is 5.6 inches.
Bingo! The ’75mm-equivalent’ set up has a slightly wider depth of field, by ~1.5x
So, using the ’50mm-equivalent’ field-of-view generated by my 35mm Summilux on my TL2, I will have a slighly wider DoF than if I used a 50mm Summilux on my M240.
My view is that this minor difference is insignificant in the real world, where I will be selecting subject distance and aperture to achieve a specific compositional objective. The shot above was taken using my ’50mm-equivalent’ set up. I hope you’ll agree that it is interesting because of the framing and timing of shutter release, not because of subtleties of DoF!
Here’s an image exploiting DoF, this time using my ‘110mm’ set up, shot wide open at f/2.4. Estimating the subject distance to be ~9 metres, the calculated DoF is ~1.3 metres.
In this part of her performance, the acrobat rotated slowly about a vertical axis. I pressed the shutter-release when she was almost parallel to the sensor plane. Consequently, her image is sharp, toe-to-toe, and nicely separated from the background.
Focusing the TL2
The TL2 has a very useful and easy-to-use focus-aid system. This it activated by rotation of the left-hand parameter control wheel with one’s thumb. It brings up a 3x, or with further rotation, 6x magnification of the subject on the rear screen. Fine adjustment of the focus ring in this mode delivers a sharp image when the shutter is released.
Late Summer Hibiscus and Dahlia. Leica TL2, M-to-L adapter, 35mm Summilux
With a little practice, sharp focusing on moving objects is also straightforward, provided they are not moving too quickly.
All the fun of the Fair. Leica TL2, M-to-L adapter, 35mm Summilux
In the two previous articles in this series, I made passing reference to the 50mm focal length, and how it was one of the two most popular focal lengths selected by rangefinder shooters, the other being 35mm. I now have experience of both focal lengths, courtesy of my two-body arrangement and 35mm Summilux.
To my surprise, I found the field of view generated by the ‘50mm’ lens very useful. I could frame subjects, such as buildings, groups of people, and even individuals, successfully while a reasonable distance from them. I can see myself using this set up regularly as a ‘walk around’ photography option.
Flying objects: left, great blue heron, right, SouthWest flight on approach. Leica TL2, M-to-L adapter, 75mm Summarit
However, I am much less likely to use the ‘110mm’ focal length. Although not a wildlife photographer, I do occasionally come across birds, such as the great blue heron above. In these situations, the longer focal length option is very handy. But in general, I think I will reach for it less often than the other focal lengths.
Travelling with a two-lens, two-body kit
The very slim profile of the TL2 means I can easily slip it into a small camera bag, such as a Billingham Hadley Small, along with the M240 and two lenses.
I bought a fitted leather protector for the camera, for use when I carry it on a strap around my neck. Unfortunately, these are now hard to come by.
As someone who enjoys bright colours, I snagged a yellow one, and found a matching strap online. Note to self: need to find a yellow-rope strap with yellow-leather finishing.
Cheating a little bit
I realise that this article has not really been focused on rangefinder photography. Rather, it has been focused on lenses used on rangefinder cameras, and one approach to maximizing their utility. Since I have an M-to-L adapter, I have also experimented with using them on a Leica SL2. The superb electronic viewfinder and focus peaking on that camera makes manually focusing these lenses a breeze. That’s a story for a separate article, though.
Would you consider buying a discontinued camera model? Have you had any experience with a TL2? Have you tried using it with M-lenses? Please let us know in the comments below.
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