Leica Camera has just unveiled it’s latest camera in their prosumer TL-System line - the new Leica TL2. For those of you who have read my Leica T review, you’ll remember that it was launched at a time where mirrorless cameras were showing signs of becoming the mainstream ‘go-to’ camera for many amateurs due to the performance to size ratio. Following the T came the world’s first professional mirrorless camera in the SL, which set new standards for the mirrorless system by offering all the benefits of a mirrorless camera with the performance of a full-frame professional SLR. Leica then made some major firmware improvements to the T, and also released the upgrade in the Leica TL. Fast forward to the present, and we now have the Leica TL2.
Due to work commitments I really didn’t have much time to shoot with the TL, other than on a shoot with some watches, so my comments will be based more so on the design, usability and target market.
The Leica TL2 looks almost identical to the T and TL models before it, but I can assure you, that is not the case, because beauty runs further than skin deep.
Resolution APS-C 16MP @ 5fps to APS-C 24MP @ 20fps
Video 1080p @ 30fps to 4K at 30fps/1080 @60fps, and slow motion at 120fps
AF Speed 460ms to 165ms
AF Fields 9 to 49
ISO Range 100-12,500 to 100-50,000
Shutter Speed max 1/4000 to 1/4000sec and 1/40,000 (electronic)
Interfaces USB 2.0/WiFi to USB 3.0/WiFi/HDMI - USB charging
Touch Response Up to 8 times faster (depending on function)
Additions Focus peaking, DNG only recording and Function button option
Camera body Edges are now chamfered and much more comfortable to hold in hand.
The LCD resolution still stands at 1.3M pixels at 3.7” and internal storage is still 32GB.
The standout upgrades are definitely the increase in resolution and motor drive to 20fps, which can really come in handy if the buffer can keep up. Sadly, I didn’t have time to test this function. The added 4K really takes this camera into the 20th century and while it doesn’t offer a fast range of frame rates, it’s still a welcome addition.
What I really love is how the TL can now be charged via a portable charger (powerbank) on the go. This will certainly come in handy when travelling.
DESIGN & FUNCTIONALITY
As I’m already familiar with the Leica T and TL, my first impression of the camera on sight was a little déjà vu-like. As excited consumers, we often expect designs to change significantly, but if you consider some of history’s most influential designs like the Ferrari, Leica M and iPhone, there really was no need to make many changes in the TL2. Before you flame me, I’m not saying we can compare the unique design of the TL2 to those historic designs above, but what I’m saying is that when you get something right, it’s often best to let design evolve slowly as the market and product design demands require it.
To me, the Leica T design was already ahead of it’s time. I remember relating it directly to a Apple aluminium unibody Macbook Pro, because that’s probably where some of the design inspiration came from. In fact the design of the camera was co-created by Audi, so the clean, simple, and elegant look has absolute relevance, and carries only the bare essentials, which happens to fit perfectly with Leica’s slogan "Das Wesentliche". The unique design has also been recognised and honoured by the industry, winning the iF Design Award and Red Dot Design Award.
The TL's appearance is a pretty far departure from what you’re used to with traditional camera design, yet it feels somewhat familiar due to it’s basic footprint coming from the Leica M , and the functionality from a modern touch screen smartphone that most of us are very familiar with in 2017. I particularly appreciate the way the TL2's edges are now chamfered, resulting in a much more comfortable feel in the hands. While the sharp edges of the T and TL were beautiful to look at, it did feel a little too sharp in the hand, so this ipgrade is a sweet touch.
While most cameras employ the use of buttons to control many of the camera’s features, the TL2 only requires the most ‘needed’ hardware and utilises it’s smart software to control the rest. On the top of the camera you’ll find the rotating ON/OFF switch, as well as the video/function button and two dials. Those two dials control a variety of options and work very well with the interface to provide a very simplistic and fluid experience.
Those of you who use a smartphone like I do, will feel right at home with the interface. The TL2 uses all the typical touch screen gestures like swiping and tapping on icons, remaining very much the same as the original Leica T and TL except it is now much faster to operate with very little to no lag. In my short time with the camera, I did see as slight delay when recording and trying to view images at the same time (which is quite typical), but I didn’t notice any bugs or other slow downs. Overall, compared to the average smartphone I’d rate it as being ‘fast’, and while it could be faster, it worked well and provided a very fun experience.
While I didn’t get to directly compare the TL2 to the older T or TL, I did get to take some shots with it alongside my SL. I didn’t shoot side by side shots as I was on a job, but I think it’s safe to say I’m considering buying a TL2 as a backup to my SL kit. All things considered, the files overall weren’t quite up to the same level of the SL in regards to resolution and low light ability at high ISO’s, yet the colours and pixel structure were consistent to the SL and M10, which is the first thing I looked for. Why is this important you may ask? Well, when out in the field, I want my images to look the same, regardless of the camera I have. This saves a lot of time when post-processing in Lightroom, and ensures that there is uniformity between all the images in my body of work.
If you’re questioning why the image quality isn’t the same as the SL, it’s because they use different 24MP sensors. The SL uses a full-frame sensor that is designed to meet the highest professional standards, and at approximately 3x the price of the TL2, the performance of the SL should be superrior. The SL is also designed for a very different user/market, and while it’s the better performing camera, it may not always be the best option for everyone, and that can be said about any camera really. For most amateurs, the TL2 will be the more suitable camera for its performance to size and price ratio.
So back to the TL2, the resolution boost is a nice and worthy improvement, from 16MP to 24MP. Often, this may come at a cost of noise performance, yet I felt noise suppression may be even a little better in the new TL, possibly by 1 to 1.5 stops. This seems to be the norm now for most camera mauafctuerer releasing new models, with the goal of making small improvements to resolution, yet providing a good 1-1.5 stops of low light power. This means that the TL2 not only provides more detail than the T and TL before it, but it also performs better in low light, maintaining more information and better colour reproduction.
WHO IS IT FOR?
Upon first glance, the TL2 may look like a niche product, but upon further inspection I found that it’s capable of doing a lot more than you’d expect. This opens the mid-tier camera market even wider than expected as it is more than capable of satisfying the newbies of the prosumer world, like those who currently use their phone as their main camera, all the way up to the professional level as the files do reach what I would describe as 'usable professional image quality', especially when you take into account that you can use over 100 of Leica’s lenses, and almost any other brand’s lenses with the appropriate adapters.
Basically you could break down the TL user/customer into 6 types:
1. Smartphone camera user who wants better quality than what they get from their phone. Using a dedicated camera also means their battery life on their phone will last longer too.
2. Leica T or TL users looking to upgrade their existing T-System camera.
3. SLR user wanting something smaller and lighter with improved image quality and access to Leica’s amazing lenses.
4. Mirrorless users from other brands wanting to move to Leica for improved image quality and lens selection.
5. Professionals looking to upgrade to an smaller and lighter system.
6. Leica M and SL users wanting a backup to their main camera (me).
CONCLUSION - ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT?
While there are many ways to improve a camera, we have to consider that every camera is designed to be perfect or close to perfect for their respective target markets, at that specific time of launch. Below is a list of ideas that could possibly make the TL2 better, possibly either via firmware upgrades or via the TL3 upgrade perhaps.
· Higher resolution LCD – better for checking colour and focus/sharpness
· Built in EVF – this would make the camera larger and heavier, which we already have in the SL…..though an improved add-on EVF would be great
· Full frame sensor – while in a perfect world this makes sense, the T-System is design to reach the mid-tier market and there is definitely a place for APS-C sensor cameras in 2017. A full frame sensor would significantly drive the price up and then compete with the SL and M-Systems.
· Better video options and features – while the TL2 has improved the video options, it is primarily a stills camera first, and video second.
· Improved focus tracking accuracy – still a limitation of mirrorless technology, focus tracking is still dominated by SLR cameras, but most likely, not for long, and firmware upgrades can certainly help as technology improves.
· More secure grip – while many competing brands offer rubberised grips, it is not within Leica’s design philosophy to prioritise this at the expense of simplicity and style.
I could go on for days but these are the potential improvements that stand out to me as being the most desired in a camera like the TL2 right now. We may even see such improvements being implemented down the track but for now, I must conclude that on my brief experiences with the TL2, I was very pleased with the design, functionality and overall performance.
The operative word here being ‘experience’, which is where the TL will really get to people. Those of you who are accustomed to working with smartphones or cameras with touch screens will really enjoy the experience of using the TL, and this is a very important aspect often overlooked by prospective customers looking for a new camera. The average photographer does not ‘need’ designated buttons to operate what is essentially a lightbox. Having to work a garage of buttons for every function can be confusing for many photographers who just prefer to point and shoot. Smartphone photography has proven this as many professionals really do enjoy the simplicity of using their smartphone after work. The TL2 is merely an expansion on that, delivered in a stylish yet understated camera body, along with the performance to satisfy almost any type of photographer.
Traditionalist looking for buttons may feel the TL2 is too simple, and maybe it is, but I urge you to go give it a go. I too am a traditionalist, yet I have adopted the use of smartphone photography into my daily life and found the TL to provide a very fun experience, combining the best of modern user interface, yet with all the perks of having a camera to control every step of my photography when needed. Although I will need to do some further testing, I have a feeling the TL2 may soon become part of my professional kit as a backup and for those times I want something smaller and more compact.
If you have any further questions, please leave them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer them promptly.