My Leica TL-2 (Mini) Review

It was about three years ago when I emailed designer Andrew Kim, the guy behind (the now retired) Minimally Minimal blog to ask about the Leica T camera, and his experience with the camera. He had written a couple of blog posts about the camera. It was one of the most iconic and ruthlessly minimal pieces of design — all aluminum and glass, polished to give it the feel of an iPhone, a device which had a massive influence on this new kind of camera. It skipped the usual buttons and knobs. A giant touch screen helped you manage the camera. 

Leica_Range_TL2_RGB

In an email, Kim shared why he loved the camera and how firmware updates had helped address some of the issues with the camera. Leica T’s detractors pointed out that the software wasn’t polished, and the camera was buggy. The photos Kim took were so amazing and had such a different look to them that I couldn’t stop obsessing about it. I went and tried it at the Leica store. The software wasn’t great. The focus wasn’t fast. The touch screen wasn’t anywhere close to the smoothness of the iPhone.
However the design and the quality of the photos was such, that I couldn’t put this out of my mind. I kept up with the changes, but in the end ended up with a M-Monochrome (because I love pure B&W images) and a Leica SL for my landscapes. I recently added Fuji x100F to the mix, as I find it a great blend of quality, affordability and size. It is an easy to carry camera.

The folks from Leica, who were kind enough to feature some of my landscapes from Japan and the Arctic on their Instagram, offered to let me try the new Leica TL2 camera, along side the Leica TL camera. I used both cameras for almost a week each and could only marvel at the progress made in the latest version of TL — the Leica TL2. It costs $1900 and is essentially a competitor to the likes of Fuji xPro 2 and Fuji XT-2 cameras. The changeable lens camera has an APS-C sensor (Crop Sensor) and now makes industry standard 24 megapixels. It comes with built in 32gb memory, a single SD card slot and you can charge it with your USB-C charger. I charged it off my MacBook Pro charger and it took less than 45 minutes to get a near full charge. I wish all cameras had USB-C ports so we can carry one less charger.

Most of the optimization in the new camera is under the hood — it is way way way faster. The autofocus is blazing fast, perhaps faster than the Leica Q. The photo quality is pretty much the same as Q or SL, though there are very subtle differences. Sure the camera body is more streamlined and feels better in the hand. I can’t really explain why, but a few millimeters shaved off and a few less straight edges add to an enhanced experience. (You can see what has changed here.)

The camera which is carved out of a single piece of aluminum is very minimal – it has an off-and-on button, two control dials that can be customized and a small button that by default records video. (You can even do 4K video.) I like the minimal look and lack of buttons — as it makes it different from a Fuji design or a Sony. Leica TL2’s design minimalism is in sync with its functionality.

The TL-2 like its predecessors is made for folks who have grown up using the smartphone and enjoy iPhoneography — lift the camera to eye-level, compose, use a single finger to focus and take a photo. The only difference is that instead of using a fixed wide-angle lens, you can use a multitude of lenses.

You can use an electronic viewfinder (EVF), but frankly it is a distraction compared to the screen-based photography. The point of this camera is the touchscreen, and ability to make high-quality photos as an amateur. The viewfinder seems like a good add-on, but I ended up leaving it off. Not only does it look hideous, but it also causes confusion: making me wonder do I want to use the viewfinder or compose and make photos as I do on the iPhone.

It is a little difficult to use the LCD-screen in bright sunshine and I had to turn up the brightness to high. It was dead-simple to set up, and start shooting with the camera. I was using the Summilux-TL f1.4/35mm lens (which is equivalent of 50mm on APS-C) and started making photos. I pretended to be a tourist and took photos like one — of friends, food and some landscapes and locations. I put the camera in aperture priority mode and left everything else on auto. I used single-spot setting for closeups and multipoint setting for landscapes. I tried the Leica 24-90 SL lens and the Summilux SL 50mm lenses on the camera — they look comical on this small body, but they work exceptionally well and made great photos. I used my M-lenses with an adapter and was able to make wonderful images, especially with an old 50mm Canon lens from 1950s.

Result — spectacular jpegs. You can see the photos below — they are not edited, just resized. And I think they look brilliant. The camera did everything — all I did was compose, and click.

Will I buy it? Actually no — I am very satisfied with my Lecia SL and Fuji x100F as a backup camera on landscape trips. But if I didn’t own the x100F, I would consider this as my back up kit. An expensive one, but nevertheless a good one.

Conclusion: I would recommend this to anyone who wants a Leica Camera, and the Leica look. If you are a first time buyer into the Leica ecosystem, you can’t go wrong. I would personally own the 35mm Summilux TL Lens and forget about everything else. Oh, forget the EVF. This is an amateur’s camera with pro capabilities. That is what makes it fun. Use and shoot with it like an iPhone.

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