Stunning industrial design. Modern 24MP image sensor. 4K video capture. Mechanical and electronic shutter. 7.1 and 20fps burst shooting. Big touch screen and dual control dials. USB-C charging option. 32GB internal memory and SD slot. Wi-Fi.
Omits built-in EVF and flash. Can't manually select shutter mode. Video frame rates locked in. Must buy accessory lugs to use third-party straps. Limited lens selection.
- Bottom Line
The Leica TL2 backs up its premium design and price with modern tech. It's a solid camera for the fashion-forward photographer.
Leica's first T cameras, later sold as the TL, was all style, but lacked the substance to back it up—it just felt dated compared with competing models, and didn't handle as well as it could have upon release. But the TL2 ($1,950, body only) is a different beast. It packs a modern 24MP image sensor, focuses and shoots quickly, and records 4K video. It doesn't do everything well—don't look at it to track fast-moving action—but if you want a camera that looks as good as the images it captures, the TL2 might be for you. For a better overall experience, but a more utilitarian design, look at our Editors' Choice Fujifilm X-T2 in this price and feature range instead.
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The TL2 features a stunning aluminum unibody design with comfortable rounded edges, and is available with a silver or black finish. Because it's milled from a single block of metal, it feels very solid and stands apart from other, more mundanely designed cameras. It's slim, measuring 2.7 by 5.3 by 1.3 inches (HWD), but heavy for its size at 14.1 ounces.
Its design is very clean, with no controls on the back at all, just a big touch display. The clean look is accentuated by the lack of strap lugs. Leica includes a strap that plugs right into ports on the sides of the body, and also offers a number of alternative styles and colors if you prefer a different strap. If you want to use your own favorite strap, a set of lugs can be purchased for $65, or you can use a strap that screws into the tripod socket on the bottom plate. I like the HoldFast Gear Camera Leash wrist strap for a body this size.
The top plate is mostly flat, with a recessed hot shoe—covered with a protector when not in use—and two control dials at its rear right edge, both flush with the top. The power switch, which surrounds the shutter release, is raised. A single programmable control button sits to its right—by default it starts and stops video recording.
The first-generation T/TL had a built-in flash, but Leica cut that feature from the TL2. A spokesperson stated it's because customers didn't use it, and that the TL2's ISO 50000 shooting capability lessened its usefulness. You'll know if you want an in-body pop-up flash or not—if it's a feature you're after, think about a different camera.
The rear is dominated by a 3.7-inch touch LCD. It's a big, bright display, with excellent viewing angles and the same type of multi-touch responsiveness you get from a premium smartphone. It's also quite crisp, sporting a 1.3-million-dot resolution. There's no built-in EVF, but you can add one. The hot shoe boasts a multi-pin digital connector that facilitates communication with the EVF and provides it with power.
The TL uses the same $595 Visoflex viewfinder supported by the first-generation T and the Leica M10. It's a tilting viewfinder that locks in place at eye level and features a big wheel to adjust its diopter to match your eyesight. It also has an integrated GPS, so you'll add location metadata to images when it's connected to the camera.
Because of the paucity of physical controls, the TL2 is a very touch-oriented camera. Actual exposure settings—aperture, shutter, and ISO—are controlled using the two top dials. You can configure them to your liking. I typically shoot in aperture priority, and when the camera is set to A mode you always use the right wheel to control the f-stop. By default, the left is set to adjust the ISO. But I'm also an auto ISO shooter, so that's pretty useless to me. A tap on the box that says "ISO" at the top right of the rear display brings up a menu of other options to use for the second wheel—I set it to adjust EV compensation. But you can also set it to change White Balance, set the self-timer, change the focus mode, or change settings for an external flash.
The interface is icon driven, with big on-screen buttons that are easy to press. You always have quick access to adjust the shooting mode and change the amount of information shown on the rear LCD—those options sit in a column to the right of the Live View feed. There is also a camera icon; it dives into the more extensive menu. You'll notice there's no Play button or icon—to review images, swipe down from the top of the LCD to the bottom and swipe up from the bottom to go back to shooting.
The main menu screen shows a grid of nine settings, any of which you can remove by pressing and dragging onto a trash can icon. You can also rearrange them by pressing and dragging, and additional settings can be added by tapping the plus icon at the end of the list. If you set more than nine controls here you'll need to scroll down to see options beyond the first nine. Think of the main screen as a customizable favorites menu—to get the most out of the TL2, place your most used settings here and use the screwdriver and wrench icon at the top of the column to dive into the more extensive menu.
Connectivity and Power
Wi-Fi is built in. You can set the TL2 to broadcast its own network, useful for transferring images to a smartphone when out and about, or to connect to your 2.4GHz home network. Any device with a Web browser can access the TL2 using an IP address, or you can use the Leica TL app for Android and iOS devices to control the camera and transfer images.
The TL2 features 32GB internal memory as well as a UHS-I SD card slot. It also sports a micro HDMI port and a USB-C port. The USB-C connector is used for both data transfer and charging. Leica also includes a wall charger if you prefer to charge your battery outside of the camera. To remove the battery you'll need to push a latch on the bottom plate and then gently push the battery up toward the top in order to disengage an internal lock. The locking design prevents the battery from falling to the ground if you accidentally activate the latch.
Leica estimates 250 shots per battery charge based on CIPA testing standards. How you use the camera can result in different results. If you are mostly shooting single images with a modicum of review and Wi-Fi use, expect that to be a pretty good estimate. But if you heavily rely on burst shooting you'll get more images per charge.
The T has been on the market since 2014, and was later joined by the full-frame SL, which uses the same physical lens mount. The TL2 can use both APS-C TL and full-frame SL lenses. But despite three years of history, lens choices are still a bit limited. Leica has not been nearly as aggressive as Fujifilm or Sony, both of which quickly built up a vast library of lenses for their respective mirrorless systems.
On the TL front, you can get basic 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 (to borrow a phrase from Nigel Tufnel, one louder than a typical 18-55mm), 11-23mm f/3.5-4.5, and 55-135mm f/3.5-4.5 zooms, all with fairly narrow, variable aperture designs. There's also a trio of prime lenses available: 23mm f/2, 35mm f/1.4, and 60mm f/2.8 Macro.
Full-frame SL options include the 24-90mm f/2.8-4 and 90-280mm f/2.8-4 zooms, and the 50mm f/1.4 prime. But all of those, especially the zooms, are large and unwieldy when paired with the slim TL2 body.
You can also use Leica M rangefinder lenses via an adapter. Leica currently only offers an adapter in black, but a silver model is arriving in August. The adapter is pricey at $395, but does work well. It reads the 6-bit code of modern M lenses and, as you'd expect for the price, is sturdily built. I didn't get to use the adapter with the TL2, but have used it with both the original T and the SL and enjoyed the results of using my library of vintage M lenses on a mirrorless body.
Of course, you can get adapters for these lenses for almost any M system, some with a variable extension capability to allow for a closer than normal minimum focus distance. In this price range, I'd recommend the full-frame Sony a7 II along with a third-party M adapter if you want a solid digital platform for M glass at a reasonable price—it even includes in-body stabilization, a feature missing from the TL2. If money is no object and you love shooting with a rangefinder, the M10 and M Monochrom (Typ 246) will tickle your fancy.
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Performance and Image Quality
The TL2 does take a bit of time to start, focus, and fire—about 2.3 seconds. Focus speed will vary based on lens choice; the Summilux-TL 35mm locks on in about 0.2-second, which is a little slow for fast-moving subjects, but fine for capturing most candid moments.
Burst shooting is very quick. When using the mechanical shutter the TL2 shoots at 7.1fps and can keep that pace for 32 Raw+JPG, 33 Raw, or 74 JPG shots before slowing down. If you opt for the electronic shutter the burst rate changes. I clocked it at 19.8fps, but be aware that the duration drops to about 28 shots before slowing, regardless of format.
This is great, but it comes with some caveats. First, you can't select which shutter type or burst speed is used. If you want to shoot silently with the electronic shutter you need to set the speed to shorter than 1/4,000-second. At 1/4,000-second and longer the TL2 always uses the mechanical shutter; there's no way to switch to purely silent, electronic capture, or to enable the 20fps burst rate. Conversely, you can't slow the 20fps rate to something more reasonable when using extremely short shutter speeds—you can fire as quickly as 1/40,000-second using the e-shutter.
The TL2 can fire quickly, but it doesn't track moving subjects at all. Once focus is locked, it's locked until you release the shutter and reacquire a lock. This is also the case in AF-C mode; typical AF-C acquires focus for as long as you put pressure on the shutter. But with the TL2, AF-C hunts for focus when you're not pressing the shutter, and locks it in when you press it in halfway and for the duration of a burst. You can get a better camera if you want to shoot subjects like sports and wildlife—the Fujifilm X-T2 is our favorite mirrorless model and the Nikon D500 is our favorite SLR when shopping in this price range.
There are some different options for autofocus area available. I like to use the touch setting, which lets you tap on any area of the screen to set the active focus point. It performs initial focus acquisition automatically, but you can always refocus by half-pressing the shutter. I tend to use the focus point toward the center of the frame, but like the flexibility to shift focus to a different area with a tap. You can also set the touch operation to snap a photo each time you tap the screen, but I find that less useful.
Other options include Spot, which uses a smaller focus area for more precise control, but you to have pop into the menu to move its position. It's joined by 1 Point, which behaves exactly the same way but covers a larger area. If you want the TL2 to wrest control over focus point selection you can opt for Multi Point and Face Detection modes, both of which let the camera decide on which point or points to focus.
Image quality is excellent. The TL2 has a modern 24MP APS-C sensor and can capture images in JPG or Raw (DNG) format. Leica takes a very hands-off approach to noise control when shooting in JPG format, so detail holds up even at higher ISO settings. The TL2 keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 6400 when shooting JPGs, while maintaining detail that is maybe just a step behind the output from the Raw version of the same test image. Images shot at ISO 12500 are a little rough around the edges, but I'd still feel comfortable using the setting, and while you definitely lose some detail and gain some grain at ISO 25000 and 50000, results are strong at both settings compared with other 24MP APS-C cameras.
You'll notice that our test images shot in JPG format don't have quite the same color saturation as their Raw counterparts, and that they're a little brighter, about one-third of a stop. In the field, the exposure difference is negligible—not nearly as noticeable as it is in our test studio. If you prefer a punchier image you can choose a color profile other than Standard—Vivid, Natural, B&W Natural, and B&W High Contrast are all options. Each profile has an adjustment slider to fine-tune the contrast and sharpening to your liking, and for the color output you can also fine-tune the saturation.
If you opt to shoot in Raw format you'll need software to process the DNG output. I used Adobe Lightroom CC to convert the images from our test studio and those included in this review. Raw photos show strong detail through ISO 12500. ISO 25000 kills some of the finest lines in our test scene, but I wouldn't call the output blurry. At the top ISO 50000 setting you'll see more roughness throughout the images, but if you don't mind a grainy look you can certainly push the camera to its limits.
The TL2 shoots 4K at 30fps, 1080p and 720p at 60fps, and also nabs silent 720p slow-motion footage. Bit rate varies; 1080p is shot at about 30Mbps, 720p at 20Mbps, and slow motion at 10Mbps. The slow motion footage is about one-third speed, and while the effect is pronounced, the resulting footage is noticeably soft. Regardless of which resolution you set, your video is cropped when compared with capturing a still image, which limits your ability to capture ultra-wide scenes, even with the 11-23mm zoom.
The TL2 doesn't give you any control over frame rates. There's no 24p recording option at any resolution, and you can't even set the camera to 30fps for shooting at resolutions lower than 4K. That lack of control, along with the limitations of using an internal microphone without the ability to add an external one, makes the TL2 a non-starter for serious videographers. Yes, 4K footage is available, and when locked down on a tripod with digital image stabilization disabled, the 100Mbps MP4 footage is very crisp, with details that pop and an autofocus system that adjusts to changes in a scene. But enabling the digital stabilization for handheld use doesn't work with the same effect as optical stabilization—you can still see some jitters in our handheld test footage—and you won't get any stabilization when utilizing the slow-motion capability.
I wasn't a huge fan of the original Leica TL. Like the TL2, its design turned heads, but it lacked the performance to back it up. Its focus speed lagged behind entry-level models and its initial firmware included some head-scratching interface quirks. It got a little better with a later firmware update, but by that point, the industry had all but abandoned the 16MP APS-C image sensor.
The TL2 rights the ship. It's more responsive and the modern 24MP sensor delivers better image quality, making it easier to swallow its luxury price tag. Make no mistake about it: you're still paying for the aesthetics of the thing itself. You can get a camera that does more for less money. But not everyone wants more.
That said, there are some changes I'd love to see made via firmware. Having the option to shoot silently with an electronic shutter is a lovely thing—Leica should make it available at shutter speeds longer than 1/4,000-second. Similarly, you should be able to set the continuous shooting speed to less than 20fps when shooting with the e-shutter; that level of speed is overkill for most situations. And I'd love to see some improvements in video options—selectable frame rates would be a welcome addition.
Our Editors' Choice in the premium mirrorless space is the Fujifilm X-T2. It's a very different concept. Fujifilm loads its flagship with dials and buttons, and has tuned it to track fast-moving subjects, so it pairs well with the long lenses used by sports and wildlife shooters. It's a pretty device in its own right, but not quite as ambitious of a design as the Leica. The TL2 isn't the most affordable option out there, but you never get that with Leica. If you love its look and have the money to spend, be happy to know that its image quality is right up there with the competition.
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