The T series is Leica’s take on the mirrorless, interchangeable APS-C camera (think Fuji XT-2, Sony A6500), and when it was introduced in 2014 it was met with…let’s say less-than-stellar reviews. Despite a genuinely beautiful CNC’d aluminum body, the main gripe from most reviewers was a general sluggishness; from autofocus to menu navigation, it seemed that Leica had bitten off more than the camera’s processor could chew. Then the camera world kind of forgot about it. Leica introduced the fantastic, full-frame Q, and the rest of the mirrorless interchangeable market (read: Sony and Fujifilm) churned out better and better cameras for half the cost of a T (later updated as the TL). Recently, though, Leica’s fired back with a substantial update: the TL2.
The TL2 ($1,950) is packed with the latest and greatest hardware, including a new 24.2MP APS-C sensor and Leica’s Maestro II image processor. The end result of all that power is 4K30 and 1080p60 video, 20 fps still shooting, hugely improved low-light shooting and speedier autofocus. Where all this power is most noticeable, though, is in Leica’s revised user interface. Everything’s snappy and accessible and should feel like a perfectly designed system for users coming from smartphones. Honestly, this feels like the direction camera interfaces should be heading: less joystick fiddling in sub-menus, more accommodating to a culture built on taps and swipes.
The most striking thing about the TL2, though, lies right at skin level. It’s a really gorgeous camera, and an excellent design counterpoint to the rubbery, leathery, button packed cameras on the market. It’s more or less the same as the original T, but the control dials have been revised, the shutter button’s way more pleasant and there’s now a comfort-friendly chamfer on the cameras edges. Holistically, it’s one of the more beautiful devices in recent memory. You get the sense that aesthetes the world over have all bought one just because of the way the thing looks and feels.
All in all, the TL2 is good. It’s fast; both the 18–56 f/3.5-5.6 zoom and the 35mm f/1.4 prime that I tested it with are really excellent optics; it’s fun to shoot with; and looks really pretty slung across the shoulder on its rubber strap.
That being said, I couldn’t stop cross-shopping this camera in my head every time I used it. At its core, the TL2 is a system camera; to get the most out of it, you’re really going to want at least two lenses. For the sake of argument, let’s say you buy the TL2, the 18–56 and the 35 prime. You’ve just spent $5,995 on a complete camera system that covers the wide-mid focal range and includes a beautiful 50mm equivalent for low-aperture greatness. But for everyday, walk-around shooting, you could get the truly excellent full-frame Leica Q for $4,250, and despite being limited to a 28mm f/1.7, it’ll will blow the TL2 out of the water in image quality. Alternatively, you could get really deep into a Fujifilm system with the class-leading XT-2 body, 18–55mm, 16mm, 55mm, and 100–400mm lenses for about the same price.
The good news is that with the TL2, Leica has finally produced an interchangeable APS-C camera that’s as powerful as it is beautiful. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s enough to convince users to give up other systems and ignore Leica’s full-frame options.