What you need to know about the Leica TL2
The TL2 is the third camera in Leica’s APS-C ‘T’ lineup, and while externally very similar, it introduces some significant refinements compared to its predecessors. We’ve been using a pre-production sample for a little while, and in this article I’ll be boiling down what you need to know about Leica’s newest, shiniest, most chamfered camera.
Fewer rough edges
Quite literally, in fact. Or perhaps we should say fewer sharp edges. Milled from solid blocks of aluminum, the original T and TL were beautiful cameras, but depending on the size of your hands, their sharp corners could make them uncomfortable to hold over long periods of time. This was especially true for anyone with soft, delicate, un-calloused hands that have never seen an honest day’s work. Like mine.
Well – good news, fellow arts graduates. The TL2 features chamfered edges, making it considerably more comfortable to use, especially if you’re shooting one-handed while cradling a grande soymilk frappemocha latte with the other.
But the same amazing strap lugs
It’s not often that we feel the need to write about a camera’s strap lugs, but we’ll make an exception for the lugs on the T-series. Should you opt to spoil the fine, chamfered lines of the TL2 by adding such a pedestrian, hässlich object as a strap, you’ll need to pop out (and try not to immediately lose) two tiny plugs on the camera’s shoulders, using an included tool. If you lose the tool, I’ve eyeballed it, and a paperclip would probably do the job (I promise not to tell Leica).
The headphone jack-style attachments for the included silicone rubber strap then click neatly into the two tiny, precision-drilled, non-chamfered holes.
If this all sounds a bit involved and over-designed, that’s because arguably it is. The journey is its own reward.
New sensor and processor
One of the most substantial updates to the TL2 is its sensor. The jump from 16MP to 24MP is significant in terms of resolution and overall image quality, which is at least a generation better than its predecessors.
A new processor (the same generation, we’re told, as the Maestro II processor in the M10) allows for an impressively fast maximum frame-rate of 20fps in electronic shutter mode. This drops to 7fps with the mechanical shutter.
Disappointing, despite the new processor, the TL2 cannot take full advantage of the extra data bandwidth available from today’s high-performance UHS-II SD cards.
Revamped AF system
The TL2’s 49-point AF system is faster and more precise than the system on the T (Leica claims it’s 3x faster, which seems about right, although it’s still rather lens-dependent) but it still uses the same contrast-detection technology.
As such, while it’s no slouch – and perfectly accurate for most day to day shooting – it isn’t going to compete with phase-detection systems when it comes to tracking.
Another area where the new processor’s ability to handle lots of data becomes useful is video. The TL2 can now offer 4K video, in addition to 1080 and 720p capture and a ‘Slomo’ mode (720p at 120fps). Video recording is initiated via the small unlabeled button on the camera’s top-plate.
Lower battery life
The TL2’s CIPA quoted battery life has dropped considerably compared to the T, from around 400 shots to about 250. This dramatic on-paper decrease is caused by a combination of factors, including the more powerful processor, the addition of an electronic shutter mode, and 4K video. In an effort to keep the camera’s form factor consistent with its predecessors, Leica tells us there was no room for a bigger battery.
All this being said, CIPA figures rarely represent normal use for stills-focused photographers. We suspect that unless you’re shooting a lot of video or using WiFi heavily, actual battery life will be higher (but probably still not up to DSLR levels).
More logical menu system
The TL2’s touch-focused interface still takes a bit of getting used to (for example, by default, to look through your images you have to swipe down on the rear screen to enter image review mode) but the menu system, at least, is much more logical on the TL2 than on the original T.
The icon-based menu has been reorganized so that everything is categorized into one of nine sub-sections, keeping similar functions grouped together.
More responsive to touch…
While the 3.7 inch, 16:9 aspect ratio touch-sensitive screen on the rear of the TL2 offers the same 1.23 million dot resolution as its predecessors, Leica claims that it is now eight times more responsive.
We don’t have a way of measuring that precisely, but compared to the original T, the TL2 is obviously improved. Navigating through images in review mode is no longer the laggy and frustrating experience that it was, and actions like double-tapping to zoom are much snappier.
…and quicker to wake up
The Leica T was released in 2014, but boasted startup times more typical of cameras from at least a decade earlier. The TL2, with its beefed-up processor is much better. We’re measuring off-to-on startup times of slightly less than 1 second. Thank you, Maestro.
USB 3.0 interface
As if the styling wasn’t enough of a clue, Leica is going full Jonny Ive in the TL2, by introducing a USB 3.0 C-type I/O port for data transfer and charging. Like the iPhone 7, there’s no headphone jack, either.
Nor is there in-camera sensor cleaning
If you’re careless enough to let your new Leica get dusty, you don’t deserve features like automatic sensor cleaning! Move to the next slide!
No flash please
Users of the original T and TL didn’t use their pop-up flashes much, apparently, so Leica deleted this feature in the TL2. Presumably this freed up some space inside the body for all those extra pixels, and we happen to think it makes the top of the TL2 look cleaner, too. An external flash can always be added to the hotshoe if required – that is, unless you’re shooting with…
…the optional external EVF. The TL2 is compatible with the same tiltable Visoflex (Typ 020) viewfinder as the T and TL (and also the M10), which offers 2.36M dot resolution and a built-in GPS. We find the viewfinder to be especially useful in bright conditions, where the TL2’s ‘all screen, all the time’ user interface can otherwise be a limitation. It’s not cheap though – you’ll need to budget an extra $575.
The TL2 offers a grand total of two buttons, one of which is the shutter release. The other button (just next to it) is now customizable, albeit barely. By default it initiates movie recording, but it can also be used to manually switch between the EVF (if attached) and rear screen, or to activate image review.
Proper non-native lens support
The Leica TL2 is a modern mirrorless camera with a short flange-back distance, and unlike the original T, it allows for exposures to be taken without a native lens attached. M-mount lenses can be attached via Leica’s own M-Adapter T (shown here on a T), and third-party lenses can be mounted with an appropriate third-party adapter.
Good news, prospective TL2 buyers – finally a camera to go with your collection of old Pentax screw-mount primes!
What do you think of the Leica TL2? Let us know in the comments.