Leica TL2 review

Leica hopes to appeal to a new generation of photographer with the Leica TL2. Shunning more traditional body-mounted controls in favor of a large touchscreen interface as on the original T and TL, the TL2, like its predecessors, is rather at odds with brand's rich heritage, with its renowned film and digital cameras having been used by some of the world's greatest photographers. 

But with a price tag that would make some full-frame cameras blush (and that's before we've talked about the cost of the lenses), the question is whether the TL2 is a prime example of style of substance, or a camera that does justice to the Leica legacy.

Features

  • APS-C CMOS sensor, 24.3MP
  • 3.7-inch touchscreen, 1,300,000 dots
  • 4K video capture

The Leica TL's 16.3MP APS-C sensor was starting to look a little dated compared to both mirrorless and DSLR rivals, so it's no surprise to see the updated TL2 fall into line with the competition and feature a new 24.3MP APS-C sensor.

However, there's no built-in image stabilization featured in either the camera or the available lenses, so it's just as well the TL2 offers a pretty broad sensitivity range that runs from ISO100 to a ceiling of ISO50,000.

While there's no built-in viewfinder (there's an optional Visoflex electronic viewfinder that slots into the hotshoe) it features one of the largest, if not the largest, touchscreens available on a camera. The 3.7-inch display sports a resolution of 1,300,000 dots.

While there's a dedicated SD card slot, the camera has its own 32GB internal memory (good enough for about 400 RAW+JPEG shots), with images transferred to your computer via USB-C, or if you prefer, via SD card.

The TL2 also offers quick transfer of images to your smartphone or tablet for sharing via the Leica TL app, which also gives you access to a host of the TL2's functions; among other things you can use your phone or tablet as a remote viewfinder, through which you can change parameters such as shutter speed and aperture.

As for lenses, there are currently six TL-mount optics available

Leica hasn't forgotten about those wanting to shoot movies. The TL2 is capable of shooting 4K video at 3840 x 2160 resolution and 30fps and 1080p footage at 60fps, while if you want to shoot some slow-mo video the TL2 has a 120fps slow-motion mode at 720p. You'll have to rely in the built-in microphone for sound though, as there's no microphone port, but there is electronic image stabilization to reduce shake in footage when handholding the camera.

As for lenses, there are currently six TL-mount optics available: 23mm f/2, 35mm f/1.4, 60mm f/2.8 macro, 11-23mm f/3.5-4, 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 and 55-130mm f/3.5-4.5, while you can also attach Leica's extensive range of M-mount lenses to the TL2 via an adapter (which will set you back £300 / $395 / AU$519) if that selection sounds a little limiting.

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Build and handling

  • Machined from a solid block of aluminum
  • High-quality finish
  • Weighs 399g

The original Leica T was designed in collaboration with Audi Design, and little has changed in terms of how the TL2 looks, with some slight smoothing of the camera's edges compared to the TL it replaces.

The TL2 is crafted from a single block of aluminum, and there's no question that it's pitched towards the premium end of the market, but it does make the camera pretty heavy – especially when you attach the bulky 35mm f/1.4. The absence of any form of textured grip might not be to everyone's taste, though the camera's high-sided proportions mean you can just about wrap four fingers round it. 

This minimal approach also means it's also incredibly sleek-looking. Even the lugs from which you would hang a strap have been integrated into the body itself to produce very clean lines – if you want to attach a strap you'll need to release these from the body using a pin.

Leica's pursuit of clean lines also means the TL2 is pretty much devoid of direct controls, with the large touchscreen your main point of interaction with the camera. It's not a total touchscreen takeover though, as the TL2 also sports two dials on the top of the camera. These control different parameters depending on what shooting mode you're in, and can be customized to your preferred way of working. Aside from that, you're completely reliant on the touchscreen.

Once you’ve got used to how it works, the touchscreen experience on the Leica TL2 is the best we’ve enjoyed on a camera

It's a good job then that, as we found with both the Leica T and TL, using the touchscreen is highly intuitive; once you've got used to how it works, it's the best touchscreen experience we've enjoyed on a camera, and even those with fat fingers shouldn't inadvertently tap the wrong setting thanks to the generous size of the screen.

The camera's main menu is broken down into nine options, with sub-menus for each. Tapping a camera icon in the center-right of the screen brings up a suite of key settings, such as exposure compensation or white balance – you can customize which options are displayed. 

What's kept a little bit of a secret, though, is how to review images (unless you've got Auto Review active). With no dedicated playback button, and nothing obvious in the main menu, you'll have to swipe up from the bottom of the screen or down from the top. It's a pretty novel way to work, but once you get used to it it becomes second nature.

As for the lack of direct controls when shooting, for the more traditional user it's not quite as bad as it sounds thanks to the two top dials. When you're in aperture priority mode, for instance, the right dial will control the aperture while the left offers access to a range of settings; if it's assigned to exposure compensation you can then use the dial to control this, while a quick tap of the EV icon on the rear display will let you re-assign the left dial to one of six settings, including ISO and AF mode.

Autofocus

  • Six focusing modes
  • Can struggle in low light
  • Tap focus and tap shutter modes

The Leica TL2 features a contrast-detect AF system with six modes to choose from: Spot, 1 Point, Multi Point, Touch AF, Touch AF + Release and Face Detection. There's also manual focus, which when used with the 35mm f/1.4 lens we tested the TL2 with offered a nice smooth focusing experience, with the option to zoom in on the area you're focusing on. 

While the autofocus system isn't the most sophisticated, for general shooting it does a solid job, focusing briskly in most situations. We found it quickest to work with the TL2's Touch AF mode, but both the Spot or 1 Point modes are certainly very useful if you don't mind recomposing your shoot for off-centre subjects. That said, don't expect too much when shooting in the TL2's continuous AF mode though – it's just not designed for fast moving subjects.

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Performance

  • 7fps burst shooting (mechanical shutter)
  • 20fps burst shooting (electronic shutter)
  • 250-shot battery life

The Leica TL2 can shoot at a not too shabby 7fps with its mechanical shutter at shutter speeds of up to 1/4000 sec, while above that its electronic shutter will cut in automatically to enable the TL2 to shoot at 20fps, with a maximum shutter speed of 1/40,000 sec. 

The TL2 can sustain either burst rate for up to 29 frames, but unlike on some cameras it's not possible to manually select the electronic shutter at lower speeds should you want take advantage of its reduced noise.

The TL2's multi-zone metering system does a pretty decent job, but we found it does have a slight bias for overexposing the scene, so you'll want to pay particular attention to this, and perhaps shoot with -0.3EV exposure compensation dialled in.

In terms of battery life the TL2 sports a what is a best described as modest rating of 250 shots

The TL2's automatic white balance setting does an excellent job of reproducing accurate colors, even when the camera is faced with an artificial lighting source, although if you're planning to primarily shoot JPEGs the colors rendered when shooting in the standard film mode seem a little muted. However, there are also Vivid and Natural presets to choose from, along with B&W Natural and B&W High Contrast. For each of these presets you can adjust contrast, sharpness and saturation to add more 'bite' if you feel it's required.

In terms of battery life the TL2 sports what's best described as a modest rating of 250 shots, which doesn't compare at all well to pretty much any other mirrorless camera available.

Image quality

  • ISO100-50,000
  • Good ISO performance
  • +/-3 EV exposure compensation in 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments

With its decent boost in resolution over the 16MP TL, the Leica TL2 delivers image quality that's easily a match for the best 24MP APS-C cameras currently available. At the TL2's base sensitivity of ISO100 the sensor resolves excellent levels of detail (perhaps in part thanks to the excellent 35mm f/1.4 prime lens we were using). That said, for the best results you'll want to shoot raw files, especially at higher ISOs, where the TL2 tends to over-sharpen JPEGs and applies a bit too much noise reduction at the expense of fine detail.

Regarding image noise, as you'd expect at lower sensitivities results appear very clean up until ISO3200, where image noise starts to encroach on the image and shadow detail begins to suffer. As long as you shoot raw, though, you'll still be satisfied with results at ISO6400 and ISO12,800, despite more noise being present, though we'd shy away from using sensitivities beyond that. 

Dynamic range is also good. Shooting at lower sensitivities you'll enjoy a fair amount of flexibility when it comes to recovering shadow detail before excess noise begins to appear in shots, while highlight detail can also be pulled back. 

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Verdict

The Leica TL2 is certainly not without its charms. For a start, it's a beautifully made camera, and the fact that it's crafted from a single piece of aluminium underlines the premium feel Leica is aiming for.

The large and bright touchscreen is great, while the interface Leica has developed for it is one of the best we've used on a camera. Not everyone will be happy the absence of the TL2's body-mounted controls, but the combination of the dual dials on the top plate and the screen works well in most scenarios. That said, the TL2 would benefit from just a couple more body-mounted function buttons to speed up operation when shooting.

Images from the 24.3MP APS-C sensor are very good (provided you shoot in raw), with plenty of detail, good noise performance and good dynamic range. It's a shame the TL2 no longer comes bundled with a copy of Lightroom like the T and TL, but the universal .DNG raw format it shoots in means you'll be able to open the files in any software that can read DNGs.

However, for the price, the Leica TL2 just doesn't quite cut it. The autofocus is more than adequate, but that's all it is – it just doesn't offer the sophistication that rivals at this price offer. And that's possibly the biggest hurdle the TL2 faces – it just doesn't offer the wealth of features we'd hope to see on a camera demanding this kind of money. With no built-in electronic viewfinder, no image stabilization for still photography, and no vari-angle display, it just doesn't measure up compared to rivals.

Competition