LEICA TL CAMERA REVIEW

LEICA TL CAMERA REVIEW

Introduction

Leica just announced Leica TL camera, the next updated version of Leica T camera, in this article we are going to take a closer look at the new and previous version of this camera. Let’s begin by looking at the first version.

First Leica T

Leica T camera is a compact size camera offered by Leica Camera which was introduced at Photokina in 2014. The year 2014 also marked the100th year anniversary for the legendary lens and camera manufacturer Leica. This new line of camera system simply called T system is a deviation from Leica’s well recognized and renowned rangefinder type cameras, better known as Leica M camera line that has been in production for decades.

With the introduction of Leica T camera, a new chapter in camera design had been initiated by the German manufacturer, for better or worse, they have chosen to do away with the retro look and introduce ultra sleek space-age design in their new line up of cameras. For obvious reasons, Leica T is, regarding perhaps, the perfect response to those who have claimed that Leica has fallen behind in its design. Rightfully, Leica camera can argue that their Leica T camera is far more than design when compared to what is available in the current lineup of cameras.

Leica T camera supports an APS-C size sensor, and it is not the only one in Leica’s lineup of cameras to offer smaller sensor in a compact body. Leica X Vario camera has been a successful line for Leica Camera, but it lacks the interchangeable lens option.  Leica TL camera is now in competition with other camera manufacturers that offer APS-C size sensors which offer the ability to change the lenses that can be mounted on the camera body.

Fuji and Canon have been offering compact size cameras with the ability to mount lenses with different focal lengths and their line up of lenses are pretty strong. But, Leica TL camera offers something more than these cameras do and that is an entirely new design concept; setting this camera apart from its competitors.

Basically, what Leica Camera’s engineers have done is combine the latest innovations in technology like touch screen menu with minimalist design. For example, unlike Fuji’s retro design, Leica T camera features only twin-dial control on top of the camera with video and shutter button which also serves as an on/off switch for the camera. As a result of Leica TLs intelligent design, all functions that are essential to a photographer can be accessed with these simple to use dials and two buttons.

Of course, Leica Camera has never been for price conscious consumer. Their cameras come at a hefty price but offer superb design and durability.  In this respect, Leica Camera’s manufacturing philosophy falls in line with the belief that if you buy a superb camera, you will use it and cherish it for years to come and pass it on to the next generation. In other words, you get what you pay for, and there is plenty of reasons to justify the high price tag. For example, there is 45 minute of hand polishing of aluminum body commercial by Leica Camera that perhaps is intended to demonstrate the detail each camera receives before leaving the factory.

What sets Leica TL camera apart, can also be attributed to the fact that it is made in Germany and more importantly it has an eye-catching design that is hard to ignore. Although the body is claimed to be designed by Audi and the sensor by Sony what is clear is that the camera embodies a true “Leica spirit” with an apparent dedication to quality and craftsmanship.

If you are an owner of this camera or intend to buy one, you may view Leica T camera in a modern arts museum someday. But, would it make sense to buy it for mere aesthetic reasons begs the question and to answer that let’s take a closer look at Leica T camera’s design, performance, and characteristics.

Leica TL lineup is a new system; hence, when introduced there were only two available lenses to choose from Leica 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens (27-84mm full frame equivalent) and the Leica 23mm f/2 prime lens (35mm full frame equivalent). Later on, other zoom lenses were introduced then Leica’s coveted Leica T 35mm f/1.4 lens (52.5mm full frame) was released. It suffices to say that Leica has kept up its promise to continue offering lenses to support their T system.

As mentioned earlier, Leica TL camera has plenty of competitors with Fuji, Canon, and Nikon pushing their latest version of compact size cameras. One noticeable difference is megapixel count which Leica TL camera ranks at the bottom of the list with 16.3 megapixels. Leica, for obvious reasons, has chosen to keep the megapixels on Leica TL camera relatively modest. For anyone who understands how sensor behaves about megapixels, Leica Camera makes a clear statement which is more megapixels don’t necessarily equal better images. In fact, Leica’s top of the line professional medium format size camera, Leica S camera, only offers 37.5 megapixels which is less than Canon’s 50MP full frame size camera.

As a result, Leica TL camera stands apart from its competitors both in design and image quality. It would suffice to say that they prefer that a group of connoisseurs and professionals own their cameras then appeal to the mass market by competing for a small token of difference in specifications with other camera manufacturers.

In another word, Leica camera is and will always be for a niche market. T series is a testament to that philosophy. Leica TL camera is for those who would place design and quality beyond price.

New Version – Leica TL Camera

 

 

When Leica Camera announced its new Leica TL camera, there were many changes that were expected to come and some issues from the previous model resolved. Looking at the specifications of both Leica cameras, there is no change in the sensor size except there is an insignificant difference in image size, old one being 4928 x 3264 pixels while the newer version has 4944 x 3278. 

In effect, Leica T and  Leica TL cameras are both CMOS 16MP sensors with 23.6 x 15.7mm, the same dimensions as before. Both newer and older version has the same crop sensor, the same physical weight, and all in all appears to be the same camera only repackaged as new with the exception of upgraded memory from 16GB to 32GB internal memory. Previous version of Leica T camera had micro USB socket, the new version has the updated USB 2 version for connecting the camera to your computer or laptop.

Of course, new “titanium” colour Leica TL camera is unmistakably beautiful to look at but beyond that minor differences in specs of both cameras remain the same.

Features Leica TL Camera (vs. Leica T camera)

 

 

Leica TL Camera Design

 

If there is one thing that makes Leica TL camera stand out among other compact cameras is its sleek design which Leica Camera simply calls it unibody design. It almost seems that Leica Camera has begun designing Leica TL camera from outside in starting with a 1.2 kg of a solid aluminum block that is milled and machined to mere 96 grams.

Leica TL camera feels solid and well built as soon as you pick up the camera. I had hesitations about the grip because it looked like it could easily slip out of one’s hand. But, no, I was very impressed with the way Leica TL camera just sat in my grip. It felt right and sturdy to hold.

The Leica TL camera is minimalistic in design with a solid aluminum body design. There are only two top dials along with a shutter and a video recording button intelligently placed within easy reach of your fingers. Shutter also have a lever at the base that serves as on/off switch for the camera and pulling the lever past ON position releases the pop-up flash which is stored in the body.

Leica TL`s twin dials on top serve to change the parameters associated with each shooting mode, aperture priority, manual, shutter speed, program and “scene” mode. Leica’s engineers have made these two dials easily operable with the right thumb which means one does not have to search for controls for changing the parameters on each shooting mode.

Body Elements

 

The back of Leica TL camera has no dials but a single large 3.7” touchscreen with a 16:9 aspect ratio that lets the user navigate through its menu via selection of options that can be customized to personal taste. Leica TL camera features a 3.7”, (1.3 Mil. Res.) LCD screen which is bright and clear much like today’s smartphone screens.

The body of Leica TL camera to curves where the black LCD screen ends and a carefully placed door covers the camera’s SD card slot at the right edge of the camera, inside there is also a micro USB port which now replaced by outdated USB 2.0 port. Sleek, stylish design makes Leica TL camera visually appealing as well as functional with all the protrusions found on other cameras cleverly hidden from view.

The handgrip on Leica TL camera is nicely grooved to attain a firm grip, and the front of the camera features only Leica Camera’s famous red dot, lens release button, an autofocus illuminator lamp.

Leica TL camera doesn’t have a traditional strap. A careful examination will reveal that there are small little sockets on each side of the camera that is concealed by plug-in covers which can be removed to attach black silicone strap that comes in the Leica TL camera original box.

Touch Screen 

 

If you look at the back of Leica TL camera you might think to yourself that it resembles a smartphone, sans buttons and dials and 3.7” large screen. You are right, the aim of the camera is to do what other camera manufacturers are beginning to do that is catch up with technology. If you think back to the 90’s, you might recall the buttons on mobile phones. They are all gone now, replaced with large flat screen with touch screen functionality. 

 Cameras on the other hand are still holding on to the past technology while some camera models mostly compact cameras are moving towards touch screen menus. What a relief that is, to be able to navigate through Leica TL camera`s an entire menu as you would do so on your smartphone, even customize it to your liking if you wish to do so which is another feature that Leica Camera has incorporated into this newer Leica TL model as well which we will talk further on in this article.

Bringing functionality to the bare minimum is no easy task from an engineering point of view but Leica TL camera has been on the forefront of innovative design in combining these two elements.

The twin dials on top of the Leica TL camera control exposure, shutter, and aperture as you select the mode of operation in the camera. For example, aperture priority mode automatically assigns aperture selection to one of the dials taking the guess work out of operating the Leica TL camera. Most of everything else is selected through the touch screen menu, including swipe down to view images captured as you would do on your smartphone.

Of course, Leica TL camera being a Leica Camera is one of its selling points, not only does it mean you have paid a hefty price for your Leica TL camera but that you might be someone who values design more than the features this camera hold in comparison to other cameras in the market. To that end, Leica Camera has not forgotten to put in rather large print ‘Leica Camera Wetzlar Germany’ right on Leica TL‘s touch screen; perhaps a constant reminder why you are the proud owner of a Leica TL camera.

While you might be happy to own a camera that is made in Germany, the Leica lenses that accompany this line up are made in Japan. For obvious reasons, Leica Camera, as in the past decades before has not done away cheaper manufacturing by having their Leica lenses produced in Japan. That is not to say that Japanese are not master lens crafters, they are, Zeiss produces their top of the line Zeiss Otus lenses in Japan. The same factory also produces lenses under different brands as well; rest assure that the lenses are not made by Panasonic because Panasonic is an electronics company. In fact, Panasonic has some of its lenses produced by other companies including Leica. In another word, Leica Camera does produce lenses for Panasonic and not the other way around.

Image Stabilisation

 

Leica TL camera offers image stabilization as it has done so in its previous version, Leica T camera, but remember that image stabilization is only possible if native Leica TL lenses are used. This is perhaps the most important function in Leica TL camera as it allows video and images to be captured without “too much” blur.

Leica TL camera’s menu has a button dedicated to turning on the image stabilization which is best left on at all times except when a tripod is used.

Sensor Technology

 

Leica TL camera has the same megapixels and sensor size of Leica T camera in its newer version. Basically, inside the beautiful hull of Leica TL`s aluminum body of both cameras rest a 16MP APS-C CMOS sensor, reputed to be designed by Sony which also produces sensors for other top end camera brands.

In the new Leica TL camera, German manufacturer did not attempt to cramp more megapixels into its small APS-C sensor which is a smart move on their part as the camera retains better light sensitivity due to larger pixels than other comparable cameras in its class with higher megapixels.

As a result, Leica TL camera‘s 16MP sensor with an ISO range from 100-12500 does more in exchange for the lower megapixel count by allowing 5 frames per second of continuous shooting up to 12 frames, (yes, the buffer is still small) which means you are less likely to miss a memorable moment.

Leica TL‘s sensor being a CMOS rather than CCD type also permits the use of full HD movie recording with sound, sorry, there is no 4K upgrade nor 24 fps option offered with the new Leica TL camera.

Other Features

 

Leica TL camera has electronic contacts for its native lenses (TL mount) which let optical sensor to read the 6-bit code to identify the lens mounted. This, in turn, helps Leica TL camera to do  “automatic” corrections to the image you take, sorry, you have no option to stop the camera from “correcting” your images.

The choice of lenses for Leica TL camera was limited, only three “verrry slow speed” zooms lenses and 3 prime lenses but Leica compensates for the lack of choice for TL system by offering M to TL adapter for Leica M line of lenses. M adapter as it is called allows Leica TL camera owner to access a broad range of lenses that are available including some very fast primes like Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 lens.

New Leica TL camera comes with a built-in memory of 32GB (older version had 16GB) which is one of the smartest innovations to come to a camera, simple yet effective solution for anyone who runs out of space on their SD card.

The magic does not end there, the new Leica TL camera features a built-in Wi-Fi connection to both Android and Apple based devices like Apple iPad which the previous version only could access via Leica T app available in Apple store. It is important to remember that inclusion of Wi-Fi connectivity to Android devices is more an app development than a feature than Leica TL’s software version.

One other nice feature is the ability to charge Leica TL’s battery via the camera’s micro USB port which is now replaced by slow USB 2.0 port. Charging via connection port is an obvious advantage because if you are carrying around your Macbook, you no longer need to lug around Leica TL’s charger but simply connect your Leica TL camera to your laptop 

Controls and Operation

 

The new Leica TL camera has maintained the same layout and design as its predecessor, Leica T camera, by keeping the dual top-plate dials which control the main exposure settings for each selected shooting mode.

Manual Mode

In Leica TL camera‘s manual mode, the right dial will change the shutter speed while the left dial will control the aperture setting on the camera. In the program, aperture priority and shutter speed mode the left dial can be customized. 

Scene Mode

Mysteriously named “Scene” mode has no function selections assigned to any of dials on the top of Leica TL camera.

Program Mode

Leica TL‘s Program mode is probably what most users will opt for as it takes the thinking process from operating the camera. The experience of photographing in Program with Leica TL camera is akin to capturing images via smartphone, basically, look at the LCD screen, point and shoot.

Shutter Priority Mode

Leica TL‘s Shutter speed mode will come in handy when the subject is fast moving, or higher shutter speed is needed. It can also be employed for long exposure night shots that can leave photography enthusiasts in awe your talent as you can easily capture images with light streaks of cars on London bridge in shutter speed mode.

Aperture Priority Mode

This is the setting most professionals would probably prefer to use Leica TL camera in as it allows the control of depth of field to capture more “creative” images. Settings on the right dial of the Leica TL camera will change the aperture, and the left dial can be assigned a custom function.

Live View Function

 

The new Leica TL camera has the same menu selection which Leica TL has four different information display options that can be accessed by selecting “Info” button on the right side of the screen. One feature that might be of use for a photographer would be histogram to determine exposure levels while novice photographers can utilize the other information display selections to help them better compose their images.

Since “Live View” is perhaps the most practical way to use Leica TL camera, using “full-screen view” with no information displayed can help to frame the images better. For those who are new to photography or need to apply the rule of thirds to their photographs can benefit from selecting the rule-of-thirds grid from the display” menu found under “Info” button.

One of the obvious benefits of using “Live View” function is that the screen will automatically lighten or darken at any exposure setting to show what the image might look like if taken at that instant.

In manual exposure mode, Leica TL ’s back screen will remain at a standard brightness for ease of composition but will show the preview of the exposure when the shutter button is half-pressed. The camera will also stop down the aperture on half-pressing the shutter button to give depth of field preview; however “Live View” will still try to keep refresh rates high in low light, which can result in a noisy preview image.

New and old alike, Leica TL ’s operational design relies heavily on the touch screen except setting exposure via dual dials on the top of the camera. The large display on the back permits all on-screen selection boxes to be clearly visible and well spaced for ease of use. The touchscreen is generally responsive to the touch as in smartphones.

The most important touchscreen controls are detailed below.

 

When you spin one of the dials, little gray boxes appear at the top right of the display showing their current functions. When you tap the left one and this screen appears, allowing you to reassign the left dial’s function quickly.

When you touch the exposure mode icon top right, you will reach the mode selection screen. The T offers the usual set of Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual modes, plus “Scene” mode with multiple options.

By tapping the camera icon, user-customizable menu with the choice of being able to select most frequently used settings. 

You can add a setting, simply by tapping the ‘+’ button from the main menu. Just as quickly you can remove one, by press down on it, then drag it to the right of the screen where a ‘trash’ icon will appear.

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Focus area selection

 

In the focus selection menu, “touch autofocus” can be selected to aid in focusing by tapping the desired focus point on the LCD screen. While this function may seem handy, unlike most cameras in which you tap a point to focus and continue to use that point of focus as long as you like by half-pressing the shutter button to refocus between shots, in Leica TL this function does not operate in the same way. 

Leica TL will focus then lose focus if you shift the camera from the framed composition. What that means is if you have placed your subject at the rule of thirds and have selected them as your focus point, once you recompose the image with a slight shift to the right or the left the focus will not remain on the subject. This means you might get an infinity focused image on your subject out of focus.

When you select “Touch focus,” you simply tap the screen to focus, but the camera won’t refocus between shots by half-pressing the shutter button, so you have to touch to focus every single shot, which makes the use of this function cumbersome.

To remedy this, selecting continuous focus is a smart alternative or if you are brave enough to tackle the manual focus on the lens, it is also a good option. Manually focusing with Leica TL lenses is unlike the focusing experience with Leica M lenses because focus dial on Leica TL lenses is not designed to be used on a regular basis or at least I did not find it easy to operate due to their small focusing dial size.

It is important to point out that the process for repositioning the AF point in ‘Spot’ or ‘1 Point’ mode is a very frustrating process as you need to tap “Set” button each time you make a selection. This operation must also be performed if you choose to use just about any function on Leica TL.

Auto ISO

 

While most users will opt to use Leica TL in Auto ISO mode, selecting the maximum ISO below 3200 preferably 1600 or less will be a wise decision since image quality rapidly deteriorates above 3200 ISO. Auto ISO function generally works well except in high contrast situations where manual dialing of the ISO is often needed.

New Leica TL offers the same ISO range as its predecessor with a maximum of ISO 12,500 in whole-stop increments. You can also select a minimum shutter speed, from 1/4000 sec to 1 sec in whole-stop increments which will give you plenty of flexibility for either freezing a moving subject or controlling the exposure in difficult lighting situations. Image stabilization will work wonders when the low shutter speed is selected.

When you use Leica TL in manual mode, camera’s metering will dominate the exposure which must be adjusted via selection of aperture and shutter speed combinations at a given ISO setting.

Viewing Images

 

To access the images in Leica TL, one must swipe up or down on the touch screen. This will bring the last image or video captured onto the screen. You can delete the image by tapping the trash bin icon or swipe right to view the next image. Swiping left or right will navigate between the images in the camera. Sadly, you can’t pinch to enlarge the image as in smartphones which may mean that while the image may look in focus on the smaller screen, it may not be in focus when displayed on a larger screen like on TV or laptop screen.

As mentioned before, Leica TL offers four ways to view the images which can be selected by tapping “Info” button on the right side of the screen. These options are image only, exposure information, histogram, and an exposure clipping warning which can be handy if your composition is prone to have blown highlights in high contrast situations. 

You can also view your images by selecting slideshow option. Image deletion protection and marking your favorites are some of the options that are available with Leica TL. While most users will choose to use SD cards for storing their images, transferring files between the camera’s internal memory and the SD card is also possible.

Movie mode

Leica had designed Leica TL’s “Movie mode” with severe limitations in the previous version, and the newer version has not introduced any improvements for video. Leica TL has kept the frame rate at 30fps, and while the competition has long moved on to capturing 4K videos, Leica TL only offers the same HD quality video option as it did when it was first launched. 

The new Leica still has no manual control, no ISO selection, no frame rate options. Perhaps, Leica has thought of its end user will not need or understand these essential functions, curiously has placed a selection between 720p and 1080p in its video options available only in 30fps setting. 

It is important to point out here that most films and the way our eyes view the world are set at 24fps, then, the question begs to be answered why not place an option for 24fps when the camera can film at 30fps.

Recording in video mode with Leica TL is as simple as pressing the record button found next to the shutter. Once pressed, the camera will engage auto exposure which results in shifts in exposure if the subject happens to move even the slightest.  If you wish to capture video with a single point of focus in low light, Leica TL will expose for the ambient light, not the subject which results in less than ideal videos. Leica TL will not allow you to change exposure, set it or modify it; camera dictates what exposure is best suited to capture the video.

Even if you set the exposure before you begin recording Leica TL will simply ignore any aperture or shutter speed settings you may have made. If that is not enough of a handicap, if AF is enabled, the camera will set itself to multi-area continuous focus mode, and perform a visually-distracting AF cycle at the start of every recording. 

Nightmarish experience of filming with Leica TL will not end there either; it will then continually try to readjust focus on whatever it decides should be the subject. You can’t use focus lock before the start of recording because the TL simply doesn’t have that function, so the best option is to switch to manual focus. 

You also have no control over the sound recording volume, but camera offers wind noise-cut filter. If you think that you can attach an external microphone to Leica TL to the body, think again, there are no options for that either, all you have are the tiny stereo microphone holes on top of the camera that record the ambient sound.  

Lenses and accessories

 

Leica offers zoom and a prime lens for Leica TL. In the zoom range, Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm with f/3.5-5.6 offers a full frame equivalent range of 27 – 84mm range will perhaps be the all purpose lens in Leica TL system. The other two zoom lenses 11 – 23mm Vario-Elmar-T with f/3.5 – 4.5 and 55 -35mm Vario-Elmar-T f/3.5 – 4.5, both slow but cover an effective range for those who prefer one lens does all type of photography.

On the prime lens side, Leica Summicron-T 23mm f/2 ASPH is perhaps the most logical choice as the first lens to buy because of its compact size which offers a classic 35mm equivalent moderate wide-angle view. 

Leica 35mm Summillux-T f/1.4 is a fast 52.5mm equivalent which can serve beautifully as a portrait lens but be forewarned it is bulky and looks awkward on the smaller Leica TL body. There is a clear trade off between the speed of the lens and the size.

Finally, there is a macro lens, Leica APO – Macro Elmarit-TL 60mm f/2.8. It is a fantastic lens that provides both macro photography functionality and serves as a portrait lens at 90mm full frame equivalent. Leica has priced these primes at about the same price as their lower end Summarit line of full frame lenses for M mount.

Electronic Viewfinder

 

Leica TL offers the option to use an electronic viewfinder (Visoflex Type 020) which uses a 2.36M dot LCD and offers a decently high magnification (~0.7x equity), with an image size close to the optical viewfinders found in full frame SLRs. The EVF can be tilted up to 90 degrees, and it allows geotagging your images via built-in GPS unit.  

Electronic viewfinder on Leica TL also looks bulky and detracts from the sleek space age design. It also comes with a hefty price tag a la Leica fashion.

M-mount Adapter

 

Using Leica TL with Leica M-Series Lenses – M Adapter

When you place an M mount lens on Leica TL body, the camera will switch the function of the left dial to magnify the image to help with focusing. As you may have guessed it, Leica TL does not offer focus peaking. 

Leica TL offers is an M-Adapter for use with Leica’s M mount lenses which comes with optical sensors to read the 6-bit coding on Leica lenses to identify the lens used. This information is then passed on to the camera and “auto corrections” are applied to the images captured by the lens that is attached.

When full frame M lenses are attached camera will only capture images in APS-C sensor size which means that a crop factor of 1.5x will result in a 50mm in full frame resulting in a 75mm angle of view.

Since everything is designed around an APS-C size sensor on Leica TL, there will be no full frame versions of this camera. However, more affordable lenses from Voigtlander and other M mount modified lenses can be used with this adapter but “auto corrections” will not be applied. However, attaching a Voigtlander 12mm f/5.6 lens on Leica TL resulted in camera misreading it as a 28mm.

Leica TL is designed to not release the shutter without a lens mounted and there is no release for the shutter on the menu. Therefore cleaning the sensor should some dust land on it would be also impossible except taking it back to your Leica store.

The strap

Leica TL comes with a rubber silicone strap only available in black, white, orange and yellow. It is very unconventional design with little pins that plug into the side of the camera to attach to the body. By doing away with standard rings camera gains an ultra sleek look; whether you are happy with carrying an expensive camera with a rubber strap or not, Leica does not give options in material for strap choices.

Some comments about Leica TL ’s rubber strap has been rather unfavorable with such issues as hair being caught up by the rubber silicone and discomfort from use in hotter climates. If the statement about design is to look a certain way Leica dictates it through its mandatary choice of straps and cases for Leica TL.

Replacement neck straps will be available in white, orange and yellow, as well as black; to complete the ensemble, identically colored cases are offered by Leica. For those who want to deviate from these colors, gray leather ‘T-Protector’ half-case, and ‘T-Holster’ case which the camera slides into for easy access are available in either gray leather or aluminum. There are also snap-on ‘skins’ made of hard plastic and silicone rubber, in the same colors as the straps – these can be attractive with matching bags and attire.

Performance

 

Checking on the price of the latest Leica TL, it is about half the price that it was selling for when it was first introduced. Older Leica TL is now trading at about a third of the cost of its retail price 2 years ago. Why such a drop in price you might ask. 

The answer might be on the premise that while the camera is super sleek and beautiful in design, it lacks many of the features that are standard with most cameras in the market today and Leica has “repriced” these excellent cameras more modestly. For example, Sony’s A6500 which has 4K video recording still sells at a price lower than Leica TL’s new camera. Similarly, most Fuji cameras outperform T and cost far less, and the owner of Leica still needs to purchase lenses for his/her camera.

Obviously, when one buys a Leica TL, one does just own just a camera, one owns a Leica which makes a statement about the owner’s view of the world. At that stage, rational explanation of price to value comparisons go out of the window and rightfully one can argue that Leica TL is a masterpiece of industrial design that perhaps will one day belong to a museum’s modern art section. 

It is important to note that Leica TL does not have built in electronic viewfinder, you have to buy one and attach it the shoe mount. It also does not offer some of the accessory options that are common to most cameras like a detachable microphone. But, it is made in Germany by Leica, and the name is proudly displayed at the bottom of the large touch screen on the back of the camera as a constant reminder.

Leica cameras have a long history of making some of the best lenses in the world. Their cameras are legendary, and the proud owners of these cameras have their own reasons for owning these cameras and lenses that are beyond financial reasons. Leica TL is designed and marketed to be such a camera, and it is evident in their 45-minute hand polishing commercial for the camera body. Would that alone justify owning Leica TL? Perhaps, yes. Leica cleverly has positioned this camera as an object of desire for the would-be buyers. That is until the price of the camera drops to a third of its price retail price two years ago which is somewhat unusual for Leica cameras after only a few short years.

As a camera, it is designed well, minimalistic, excellent ergonomics, and cleverly laid out menu which makes Leica TL a worthwhile investment for a camera particularly in these “reduced” prices. But, be forewarned that Leica will not be offering any significant improvements, and older Leica TL camera is still as good as the newer model.

I have been using Leica TL for two years. The camera sits nicely in my hand, and after a week of use, I have gotten comfortable with the layout of buttons and dials which let me capture photographs without having to find buttons on the camera. I find that this in itself is a good reason to own this camera as most cameras require pressing multiple buttons or on screen accessing to make changes to exposure settings.

The Large touch screen on the back of the camera is heaven sent and is the way almost all cameras are due to go after some time because, well, it makes sense. In the way smartphone manufacturers had to do away with buttons and replace them with touch screen menus, cameras will eventually have to offer touch screen menus as well.

Leica TL’s option of allowing customizing of its menu is again a big plus for Leica TL. I wish other camera manufacturers would take heed from Leica and introduce their own version of customizable menus in their line up of cameras. 

This camera is not intended for mass production, nor as a camera that will be replaced in a year or two, Leica’s target market is affluent, brand discerning buyer. In that spirit, Leica carries the same innovative spirit as Apple or Audi or BMW with explicit attention to detail which Leica TL offers as part of its performance.

While you may not use Leica TL’s app to capture images via your smartphone, it is there as an option. Have I used the app, yes, for about 15 minutes, then never again, after about six months I deleted the app. Why because I have found no use in looking at the screen on my phone while the camera just sat there. My reasoning is if you have the camera then use the camera unless you are secretly trying to snap “pictures” of someone. 

Leica TL incorporates a lot of technology, but when it comes to focusing or video recording it has no magic, but that does not take away from the fact that Leica TL is a great camera because of the optics on Leica TL’s choice of lenses. German company put a lot of effort to make sure that they render beautiful images with this camera and they really do. Yes, they are “plasticky” and made in Japan, not in Germany. But so what.. You might be inclined to think that Leica only produces lenses in Germany, Leica has produced lenses in Japan for decades and continued to do so to this day. What matters is the quality, and the quality is superb on Leica optics.

I am purist, so I don’t tend to go for slow zooms which Leica initially announced with Leica TL’s launch. Three different zooms that Leica offers for Leica TL are excellent for those who want cover all focal lengths, but I think Leica’s 23mm and 35mm primes are the true winners in their line-up of Leica TL lenses. For one, they are fast and secondly their optical quality is superb especially for 35mm Summilux-TL which apparently demands a considerable investment in the lens.

The best way to measure the performance of a camera or anything is to use it for some time. For example, if you are planning to take Leica TL for your next vacation it might be an ideal choice as it is compact, light and very easy to use. Unlike Leica M cameras they don’t require manual focusing nor knowledge of photography, one can simply turn on the program mode and fire away to capture stunning images. But if you are the type of photographer who understands composition, DOF, and effective use of aperture and shutter speed then Leica TL might be a challenge to use. For example, if you wish to create a shallow depth of field and attempt to focus on a close object, autofocus would probably either a, be very slow or b, not find focus even though you are pointing directly on the subject. In this case, you might have to resort back to using the camera in the manual mode which in my opinion this camera was never intended to be used in.

What may appeal to you if you are not a photography savvy person is the “automatic correction” Leica TL applies to every single shot you capture. Yes, camera “corrects” every photograph for distortion via software Leica has set installed in each of these cameras. In effect where the lens falls short software makes up to create the perfect image as best as it can. This is a blessing for those who have no knowledge of using photo editing software like Adobe Lightroom for editing their images. Plus, the reasoning goes why bother if the camera does it for you. 

Apple’s iPhone does a host of corrections on all the images that their users capture, noise reduction, distortion correction, etc., then, the user can share it with their friends or post it on social media. Leica does the same for its Leica TL user so they too can share it with their friends and family or the world.

Is there a way to turn off the “auto correction” you might ask. No. In the same way, Leica decides what exposure is correct for you to while you are recording video, the camera also determines which “corrections” must be made to your images. Remember, Leica knows the company well considers Leica TL‘s target market segment, all the choices that are made for the consumer. 

 Some Leica TL users would probably prefer to just download their images into their computer or laptop and never deal with any editing. Well, for sharing purposes JPGs are right up their alley because Leica TL gives you JPGs along with DNG files which are sometimes named as raw files because they allow editing to be done on them in photography software programs. With Leica TL, you can’t just capture images in DNG format; you will have to “get” your JPGs files with them. Perhaps, the logic was to ensure those users who have no idea on how to use a photo editing software to be able to have (JPGS are smaller size files) images that they can share. Strangely enough, a copy of Adobe Lightroom comes with Leica TL camera.

Ergonomics

 

Leica TL is a conversation starter, in fact, as much as my Leica M240 is and perhaps Leica TL owes this to its aesthetic appeal. All the thought that went into creating a pleasing eye design has also created a sturdy, reliable camera which draws the attention who see it. This in itself says much about the way Leica is an innovative company. 

I remember the first day when I purchased my Leica TL camera. As soon as I picked it up, it felt “right” in my hand as custom made shoes feel when first worn. The grip is perfectly curved for my fingers to hug and weight is nicely distributed to allow a good balance for handling. 

The best feature of the camera is that it is not plasticky. Whatever its price may be for this camera or any of Leica’s cameras they can immediately make you feel the quality and craftsmanship in its built. They are well constructed and of superb quality. Leica TL is no exception, however, whether the price justifies the purchase of this camera is another matter of discussion altogether because for some quality is not the most important determining factor in selecting a camera.

If cameras are to be passed down to the next generation, Leica TL would be a good camera to own because everything on the camera is intelligently designed. The positioning of the twin dials on the top of the camera as well as the on/off switch at the bottom of the shutter is perfectly positioned to be within reach of your index finger. 

When you are operating the camera, you can quickly change the exposure setting via left and right spin on the dual dials using your thumb. All this can be done without having to take your eyes off the viewfinder which is crucial when you are about to capture that critical moment. This is the reason intelligent design cost more and perhaps deserves the added price tag. 

On Leica TL, the simplicity of design is an important design feature with the pop-up flash, and the battery compartment is aesthetically hidden from view. The curvature of the body design where the ergonomics are well considered makes photographing experience a pleasure.

Compact size and relatively light weight mean it can be used to capture beautiful images of family, friends gatherings and favorite moments on your vacations.

Turning on the Camera

 

When you use Leica TL’s menu, one of the first things you will notice is that Leica’s famous red dot is ever present in the menu every time you use the camera. Turn the camera off, and you will see it flash on the screen before the camera shuts off. 

Turning the camera on, well, it is a painfully slow process. It is like having your old Macbook booth up, and you wait for it to start, and sometimes it feels like ages because it is slow by today’s standards. You have to wait for up to 5 seconds before you can be ready to shoot. In camera terms that are slow, most compact cameras are ready to shoot in less than 2 seconds. 

This is the way Leica does things, they place extremely slow buffers and in the past low-resolution screens on their M models even though the technology is obsolete for those parts. I was hoping that new Leica TL would change all that but, no, the camera takes time to wake up and if you have been a Leica user for a decade or so you come to expect that on any Leica.

I would not have qualms about slow starts on Leica cameras but I know I have missed some amazing shots because the camera was not ready or the buffer had to take its time to transfer “data” before I could take the next shot. You would not hear that for a Canon nor Nikon nor Sony camera but wait you may say, “How about Leica SL,” well, if Leica SL can shoot so many frames a second why can’t other Leica cameras do so? Some Leica enthusiasts would probably reply, “Because it slows you down to compose..” I say, “I just missed a shot because the camera was too slow.”

What is perhaps never understood is the world does not care what happened or how you captured a photograph, for a professional the question ultimately boils down to whether you got the shot or not. Do you want prove? 

OK. Imagine, Frank Capa photographing the Spanish civil war and the man gets shot, you point to shoot, and the camera does not fire… He just missed the shot. No, falling soldier. You got my point? If the camera did not fire, that shot would never have been taken.

For me, a camera is an instrument to photograph, and if it performs well and consistently, then it is a good camera. The first version of Leica TL had its drawback and the second version has not remedied those issues. If you decide to own one, then you must also accept the conditions under which this camera will perform. 

For one, there is no weather sealing so you would not be shooting in the rain, nor is there a way to fire up the camera faster. What I am trying to get at is, knowing the limitations of a camera is crucial especially for a Leica because they are notoriously difficult to use because they are mostly manually operated (M series) and require getting used to and this is one the things I teach in my photography workshops. How to use a camera is more than pressing a button or how good a camera or lens is, ultimately, one must know the camera and the lens and that takes a skill set that must be learned through practice.

I have used Leica TL camera for professional purposes, and in my latest photography titled “Doors,” almost all the photographs are taken with Leica TL camera (available on Apple iBooksAmazon, etc.). Yes, Leica TL, if used well, can take amazing photographs.

Navigating through the Menu

 

Leica TL is radically different in design from other cameras especially as far as its navigation menu is concerned. It is conceived in the same way a smartphone menu is laid out with different options that can be arranged to customize to one’s liking. But, most camera users still love button and four-way controllers which require each camera manufacturer to develop their own style of the navigation menu. Most are notoriously difficult to navigate and require considerable investment in time to be easily operable. Even then, on most modern cameras the menus are incredibly complex. 

Leica TL has no scrolling of options like in Sony’s infamous navigation menu nor is there dozens of buttons on the camera as in Canon 1Dx Mark II to select a function. Leica TL is simple; you customize your menu with your favorite options that you use, the way you would do for your favorite apps on your smartphone. For example, I find that there would be no reason to list video selection mode of 1080p on the menu, so it does not appear in my Leica TL’s favorites. 

I don’t need to change image quality from 16MP to 4MP anytime soon, so that does not need to be among my favorite either, etc.. What I am getting at is a simplicity that comes from keeping what is essential and doing away with the nonessential. I think today more than ever simplicity is what we need and designing your own customizable menu in Leica TL is probably one of the best innovations that have come along in the camera industry.

To use the menu on Leica TL camera, you just tap the camera icon on the right of the screen which shows you the user customized quick menu. If you would like to have the full menu, you can tap the toolbox icon to see the complete list of options for the camera. Exiting the menu is simply done by tapping the back button at the right bottom of the screen. 

Customizing Leica TL’s menu is relatively straightforward, tap on the + icon, and you can add any of the selections from the main menu to your customized menu, tap the back button when you are done. If you happen not to want on your menu, just tap the menu option you wish to remove and drag to the trash can icon. Voila, you have customized your menu to your liking in a matter of seconds.

Playback or reviewing your images in Leica TL is a slow process. First, you have to swipe up or down on the touch screen which lets the camera know that you want to view the images. There is a lag between the time camera is in menu mode and when it switches to playback mode. 

If you are shooting and want to see if you have got the shot you, the waiting process will slow you down. For example, when I was using the camera, I gave up entirely on viewing the images because it just took too long and if you are with friends they would think you got lost in your camera.

Smartphone idea of viewing images is there, of course, in smartphones you swipe left or right, and in Leica TL you do so the same but to engage the viewing function you first have to swipe up or down. Does it sound confusing? 

After a few tries it is easy to remember, but if you have not read the instruction manual, you would be hard pressed to find the way to view the images you captured.

The touch screen has its benefits, but the chip that drives the menu must be able to handle it. Hence, the reason why we replace smartphone every year or two, with Leica TL the process is slow enough that you would want to upgrade if there was a way to do it. Needless to say, touchscreens are here to stay, and Leica will incorporate touchscreens into their future cameras to come.

Simplified menu is not a new invention for Leica TL, in fact, Leica X series camera also has a very simple navigational menu even my Leica S has the most simple and efficient navigation menu I have ever used. Perhaps, the importance of Leica TL’s design is navigating its menu done almost entirely via a touchscreen.

Focusing

 

Focusing is critically important especially for compact cameras because the design philosophy behind them is that they would be used in autofocus mode most of the time. I think Leica TL was designed with the same philosophy which is perhaps the weakest feature of this camera. I have tried to use Autofocus in all its possible options, it is extremely slow, and misses the intended focus often even when the subject is right in front of the lens, what has happened time after time is that I had to switch to manual focus then use the camera entirely in manual mode.

 Leica’s viewfinder becomes almost an essential accessory because in bright daylight relying on the LCD screen on the back can be misleading for focusing. There is no focus peaking either, so that leaves only focusing via eyesight or letting Leica TL go back and forth attempting to nail focus in its autofocus mode. I have been frustrated with focusing, to say the least, but a simple strategy is what I can offer as a remedy.

 

Forget the viewfinder because when you have the viewfinder on you can’t use “touch autofocus” which leaves you with only the screen on the back to work with. So, in “touch autofocus” tap the screen where you want it to focus ONLY after you have decided how you want to frame the composition then press the shutter button down all the way to capture the image.

Remember, pressing the shutter halfway does nothing and you have to practice taking photographs in this way to get used to using Leica TL effectively.

Finally, there is one other way to find focus when using Leica TL and that is to half press the shutter and then rotate the focus on the lens to get the desired focus. Remember, there is no magnification to assist you in focusing and there is no focus peaking so do check your image after you have captured it.

Image Quality

 

With all the misgivings of Leica TL, there is one thing that the camera does beautifully that is capture very sharp images. Yes, JPGs are flat, and I am not talking about them, but with DNG files you can see the details that come alive with Leica’s high-quality optics. 

What most people forget is that cameras in themselves are not sufficient to capture stunning images, in fact, optics (lenses) play a far more important role in creating the image. In that respect, Leica TL has an advantage over other compact cameras in the market because the quality of Leica’s lenses is superb. 

If you carefully examine the specifications on the zoom lenses, you might notice that they are incredibly complex with many elements in many groups which in itself is not an issue but to make these lenses perform the way they do their speed are highly reduced. This can be a problem if you are going to do any photography in low light or at night because you are limited at best to f/3.5 the widest aperture on the zooms. Speaking in lens terms that are very slow which leaves only the prime lenses to consider for low light photography.

Leica 35mm Summilux-TL and 23mm Summicron-T are the first choices to consider if you are considering to invest in Leica TL camera system. Optics, you may ask, they are superb, exquisite and offer finest details only the best lenses in the world can deliver. To that end, I suggest getting a prime rather than a zoom lens, simply, because you will love the photographs they help to create.

 

Finally, there is the macro lens at 60mm f/2.8 called Leica 60mm Elmarit-Tl f/2.8. This is a beautiful lens that functions as a portrait lens at 90mm full frame equivalent and as a macro. I have only tested it briefly to see what it can deliver, and I can say they are detailed which makes you want to own one.

One word of caution, Leica TL performs superbly at low ISO settings; I could say almost perfectly till about 800 ISO than the image quality quickly deteriorates; at about 3200 ISO is the limit for capturing decent looking images without too much digital noise. So, remember that ISO of 12,500 is just a number and not an ISO that can deliver good images. 

Images from Leica TL can be superbly detailed, and colors are very accurate. 

It would be important to mention that Leica TL has incredibly accurate colors, skin tones, as well as tonal ranges, are well reflected in the images taken with this camera. This alone can be the determining factor in choosing Leica cameras over its competitors.

Verdict

 

Leica must be praised for their bold move to introduce a camera that is clearly ahead of the competition. Leica TL, in its first generation, had some issues and I was hoping that the new version would address them, but that won’t happen with this version. As a relatively new camera, Leica has plenty of areas that it can be improved upon and the German manufacturer has done so by introducing firmware upgrades in the past for this camera. However, owning this camera requires one to appreciate the image quality and details rather than be caught up with its misgivings like slow autofocus and start-up time. 

I do know that I have been leaving my Leica M at home more often since I have purchased Leica TL camera and it is not because Leica TL camera can rival the M line, but the images are detailed and sharp which is satisfactory to even a professional who looks at photographs all day. 

You might be asking me if it is worth the price tag that it demands. At a third of its introductory price, it is a bargain, and you can find plenty of them on Ebay, and if you are patient, eventually someone will sell their prime TL lenses to migrate to Fuji or Sony.

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