The Leica TL is like the CL’s posh euro-fashion-designer-clothes-wearing older sister. The two siblings share the same red dot DNA, but they have their own style, almost as far apart as they can be from each other. Where the little sister CL dresses down and could blend in with the crowd, TL likes to stand out and show off her goods. TL touts a stunning design and pushes the boundaries of how a camera should be. Super thin and sharp edged body. Touchscreen only, no buttons whatsoever in the back. Minimized and flushed control dials. It is a design that could catch the eyes of camera lovers and casuals alike.
The Leica TL
At first, the Leica TL was a camera I had very little interest in. I’m generally prefer a more classical and physical dial layout. In my mind, I wanted all the settings externally shown and easy to reach. I rather not dive into menus, and have an overall traditional experience. I basically ignored this camera and its other generations, the older Leica T and the newer TL2 for a while. It had always looked cool, but it wasn’t really for me.
“The Leica TL is like the CL’s posh euro-fashion-designer-clothes-wearing older sister.”
Sometimes things are worth a second look, especially if you’re curious and the price is right. I have the bad habit of browsing Fred Miranda, B&H, eBay, and Leica stores for used red dot stuff. I’m either hoping to find a great deal to get a quick fix for G.A.S., or I watch the used market trends just for fun. I noticed that the Leica T and TL had now fallen to reasonable prices. Very reasonable prices… Prices that I felt would be worth trying out.
Uh oh, G.A.S…
Feeding the Flames
Then one day, my friend shares a video with me. It’s an official Leica video and it’s literally a 44 minute and 43 second long video about polishing a damn Leica T body.
I proceed to totally watch the whole damn thing without blinking. Yes, I’m a complete nerd and I absolutely loved every second of it. The laboratory where the video shot was brightly lit and well organized. The machines were clean and the technician was wearing a white lab coat. The polish scuffing sounds were sooo satisfying. This was pure Leica. I wanted to unzip my pants. I wanted to date the older sister of my CL.
I ferociously browsed the internet until I found one I wanted, stocked at a Leica store I frequented. I added it to the cart, and told them to send invoice*. After two long gruesome days of stalking for the UPS guy at my front porch, I was sitting in the dark corner of my room, polishing my own TL with my own hands.
*Send Invoice: when the buyer instantly wants to buy from the seller.
“I wanted to unzip my pants. I wanted to date the older sister of my CL.”
A Modern Take
The Leica TL is not for the traditionalist. Getting into this camera requires you to be more open-minded about how you enjoy photography, because it is designed to be high-tech and unique above all. The way the camera holds is unique, the user interface is unique, the way it handles camera straps is unique… heck, even the battery is unique. Because it’s literally a one-piece metallic body, it feels super solid. Like a small refined and sculpted brick in your hand. Very stylish and modern chic, with the edges felt in the hand but in a good way. It is like holding engineering itself.
Build & Design
On the top are two unmarked dials that change function depending on what mode you are in. Tactile feel and audible sound of the dials are there, but it’s no CL. Then there is a hot shoe that you can use to mount an external EVF (purchased separately of course) and the nicest dampened pop-up flash ever. It’s a soft and yet solid “doof” when you activate it. Quite fun and satisfying, although I never use it in reality.
“Getting into this camera requires you to be more open-minded about how you enjoy photography…”
The user interface is probably one of the biggest defining characteristics of this product. The menu runs like a smartphone. You know what? With a body design like this, it matches. I didn’t think it would work out well on a camera, but it actually does since there are no rear buttons. Just swipe around the menus and make changes. That’s it. It’s not fastest or more accessible way to do things, but again, it matches the design of the body. You can also move the icons around to a location you want so you can bring up the settings you use the most up to the top. I feel this UI is actually cohesive in its design in conjunction to the overall styling.
The Little Things
This camera has a proprietary camera lug system. There are a few OEM straps that click on the body via a detent, which is only released by using a SIM tray tool. Very interesting. I’ve tried two of them, but they are all made out of silicone, which I found to be too sticky to my clothes. I opted to go with the universal lugs (purchased separately of course) which are just regular strap lugs that fit into the detent holes on the body. Now I had the freedom to mount any strap I wanted. I found this proprietary lug system to be pretty cool and clever in design, but ultimately I chose to ignore it in practice.
Needs More Juice
Now we come to the battery.
Yikes, this is probably the quirkiest and my least favorite “unique” feature.
They decided to make one face of the battery part of the body of the camera. As in you will need to buy the correct color battery for your camera. So now, not only is a Leica-branded battery expensive, no other third party manufacturer will produce substitutes (as far as I know) for those who are savings conscientious.
The worst thing is, the battery life is not amazing either. Furthermore, anyone new user who has never taken the battery out before could easily be scratching their heads on why it’s stuck in the body. After you use the release latch to pop up the battery, you need to give it an additional push back into the body to fully unseat it.
Do NOT pull directly on it!
To me, the design of the battery certainly stands out as a designer’s feat. It looks great, but it’s not that good or simple for the end user.
“People are just plain interested in it.”
Since I already owned a CL with some native TL lenses, I was able to start using this as it was meant to be used straight away. It’s a prosumer compact point and shoot with a spectacular interchangeable lens system. As is with the CL, image quality is high and rendering is sharp. It’s fairly straightforward to use as long as you have gone through the menu and have a feel for how it works. Also, I’ve noticed that it’s less intimidating for those who aren’t necessarily super-photogs and just want to have fun snapping pics. For example, my wife will ask to use this more than any other camera I own. It’s almost like handing someone your smartphone to use for a photo.
Long in the Tooth
However, coming from the CL, I could immediately feel that this is older and slower tech. Autofocus just wasn’t as snappy and the time in between shots was longer. Seeing previews of your photos taken would take a little bit of time to call up. A bit of a camera of yesteryear. But this is expected, given its release several years ago and is one generation behind my CL. Head-to-head against the CL, the image processing outcome and speed is undoubtedly a tad worse.
With some time behind the rear LCD of this beauty, I did notice that this was a camera that I share often with my filthy casual friends and family members. People are just plain interested in it. With this piece of kit, I realized that sharing the fun of photography is sometimes just as important as the photo itself. The TL can bring that element into play.
What started out as a product I had little interest in, ultimately became one that I keep with pride on my shelf. It’s a reminder that sharing is caring. An embodiment of picture taking. When I do choose her for the day, she’s fun to take out and can put a smile on everyone’s face. She’s fantastic eye candy and makes me feel good when hanging off my arm. I think I’ll date the two sisters at the same time.
Art of Gear Addiction is a series of whimsical opinion articles written on the subject matter of Leica gear ownership by Chris C., a friend and contributor to Cosmotographer.
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