Those of you who read my first impressions article on the TL2 would know that I was quite impressed with Leica’s 3rd version of the T-Series. While the TL2’s changes were minimal aesthetically, the upgrades were welcomed and seemed to really enhance the camera and bring it into the competitive market. The first generation of the Leica M and T series of cameras launched with technology that was noticeably behind the competition, so its great to see that they have caught up with the Q, SL and TL2 cameras, implementing the latest technology with arguably superior performance.
After my first go at the TL2, I was interested in testing it further to see if it could work as a professional backup to my SL, and that is what I looked to test in this brief field test. The SL is an amazing performer and as Leica’s first attempt at the professional 35mm market, they really delivered beyond my expectations, and it has continued to be my 'go-to camera' for all my professional work for the last 2 years. The main areas in need of improvement is in the buffer and continuous focusing technology. At the time of release, the mirrorless format was to blame as it was thought that the mirrorless format was the bottleneck preventing the SL from performing as well as a professional SLR camera – yet we’ve seen 2017 produce cameras fully capable of reaching those heights with accurate and speedy continuous focusing options, so I am looking forward to see what the SL2 brings, hopefully sometime in 2018 (pure speculation). Until then, lets see if the TL2 can fill that gap for me....
As I already covered most of the user features in the First Impressions and previous T review, I will talk about the two areas I was most interested in testing – Auto Focus and Image Quality.
Auto Focus – bottleneck?
So having said that, lets start with auto focus on the TL2. The original T and TL did have two areas that needed major improvements – AF and high ISO performance. I’m happy to say that the TL2 is noticeably better than either of it’s predecessors in both AF and high ISO performance, yet still behind the full-frame censored SL, obviously. While this may sound like a letdown, lets be clear that the SL focuses (in single focus mode), as well as anything on the market, and costs 3x the price of the TL2, and more than 3x when you add the basic zoom lens kits, so it’s a somewhat unfair comparison, though why not aim high?!?
The TL2 isn’t a professional camera, and isn’t aimed at people like myself, so for what it’s designed to do, it does it very well. A majority of the time, it did focus fast and accurately, though there were times where it did fall somewhat short of my expectations. For comparative purposes, it focuses much better than an iPhone or other smartphones so its definitely a good performer, but I would have liked to see a slightly higher hit rate, which would mean I could rely on it for my professional uses as a backup or second camera while shooting events.
Alongside the SL, the user interface is somewhat slower as well, because while I’m used to touch screen interfaces like my smartphone, in a shooting environment I’m used to the controls of my SL which are more intuitive to me. Because there are no buttons to control focusing, I relied on the touching the LCD to tell the TL2 where I wanted to focus out of the 49 segments spaced all over the frame. This worked well for the most part, but felt myself really missing the ability to move the focus point with the joystick I use on the SL. Those who shoot mostly with smartphones will feel right at home with the TL2, and it also has a mode that focuses and shoots while touching the screen, which is fast and efficient in use.
Overall, the TL2 does a good but not great job when it comes to auto focus. It did struggle at times, mostly in low light, but for the most part, its comparable to most cameras in this segment and certainly better than most smartphones, which in 2017 are very quick and capable.
One thing I am very pleased with is the way Leica has created a uniform colour gamut that is consistent over their entire series of cameras. Many brands are known for producing a noticeable signature with their colours. i.e. Canon – cooler, Nikon – warmer, Fuji – stronger blues and greens, Sony – vibrant reds, warmer, etc. Leica has always been known to produce the best colours, detail and overall look in the 35mm segment, so its expected that the TL2 continue this legacy.
Leica’s balance did shift somewhat from being on the cooler side, closer to the Canon look with the popular (daylight only) M9, then changed with the release of the M Typ 240, which saw warmer colour tones. With the current lineup of TL2, Q, M10 and SL, Leica have a consistent colour gamut that I would describe as being neutral to warm. My personal preference would be to go completely neutral but I’m happy with the direction Leica has gone. This means that I can shoot any combination of Leica cameras side by side and not have to worry about consistency of output. A good number of Leica users shoot with 2 or more Leica cameras, so this is very important. Not all camera manufacturers put so much care into colour consistency, but what else would we expect from Leica?
As I predominantly shoot people, I am happy with the way the TL2 renders skin tones, though they do tend to come out a little warm at times, especially using auto white balance, so I prefer to shoot with manual or presets, as well as removing a little orange saturation in Lightroom. Overall, I can't complain about the TL2's colours. It delivers consistent results that I've come to expect from Leica.
Range of colours and detail has always been a strong suite in Leica cameras. The combination of sensor quality and high resolution lenses create that ‘mystique’ many refer to as the ‘Leica Look’. The TL2 doesn’t reach the heights of the full frame professional sensor in the SL, but it does come quite close - about 1.5 stops away. The only area I’d say where it falls short is when bringing back highlight details and opening shadows, where the colours change and reds and magenta tones become more apparent. It’s not a big issue but it is a little noticeable, making it a little harder to achieve perfectly accurate colours as I do with the SL. Other than that, its very easy to retrieve highlights and bring out detail in shadows without worrying too much about image quality degradation. A little noise reduction can help, but not a lot is required, so maximum detail is maintained.
Low Light Performance
Like I said in my first impressions article, low light performance has been improved significantly. By this I mean 1-1.5 stops which can mean the difference between making or failing a shot in difficult lighting. Again, it’s not SL level, but not many cameras on the planet are. But like the SL, using Leica lenses means that maximum detail is maintained in low light, where other cameras struggle due to heavy noise reduction and lesser performing lenses, resulting in soft, mushy-looking images. I found no reason to put the TL2 down, in any situation. Combined especially with the 35/1.4 (50mm equivalent), there was no place the TL2 couldn’t shoot. Attach a lens like the Noctilux and you're good to go any any light!
The highlight of owning any Leica is having the ability to use their high resolution lenses, and the TL2 is no exception. The 24mm MP sensor combined with any TL, SL, S, R or M lens with adapter, the TL2 becomes a top performer. I shot with the 35/1.4 ASPH and 55-135/3.5-4.5 ASPH lenses mostly, and both lenses performed at a very high level with the 35/1.4 ASPH coming very close to the M and SL lenses. Both seemed quite uniform in the way they render images – modern look with neutral colour, sharpness wide open and a smooth transition to out of focus (bokeh).
The 55-135/3.5-4.5 ASPH zoom is a little behind being as zoom lens with variable aperture. But considering it's small weight and size, its still very sharp, certainly better than most other brands. Its also well priced too, so a great addition to any kit.
Other stand-out features
High Speed 20 fps drive
The TL2 is capable of achieving a 20fps frame rate which is almost double whats available on most professional sports cameras, inlcding the SL. This may no be a feature that a typical TL2 user may need, but its certainly nice to have when speed is priority.
One thing I absolutely love about the TL2 is it’s ability to be charged via a portable charging device (aka Powerabank). I really wish this feature was also available on the SL, M and Q cameras, except with the ability to charge the battery independently of the camera.
Not anything new here, but it does t connect to smartphones for fast-sharing capabilities so those who really feel the need to share immediately will be able to via the Leica app, when shooting jpeg.
The TL2's purpose was to continue the evolution of smartphone interface operation in a modern Leica camera, and for that purpose it has succeeded. I would have loved to have seen more major improvements but the incremental upgrades do work well and for this price point, the TL2 does represent good value with the Leica lineup.
Unfortunately the TL2 doesn't meet my needs as a professional photographer, but what else could I expect from a camera only 1/3 price of the SL? So this raises the question of 'who is the TL2 for? I think the biggest giveaway is the touchscreen. The TL2 is aimed at those who have grown up taking pictures on smartphones, who seek something far greater without having to learn new controls of cameras with a tone of buttons. Add the ability to transfer to a smartphone for immediate social sharing, and the flexibility of the interchangeable lens system and the TL2 is a winner.