Everybody and his uncle is making compact system cameras these days, but Leica – despite its traditionalist reputation – has embraced the idea more heartily than most.
The TL is already Leica’s third foray into the CSC world, following on from the T (which the TL replaces) and the full-frame SL. And it’s a radical departure from the dial-heavy rangefinder cameras with which Leica made its name, sporting a sleek body largely bereft of controls.
The TL also sports a price tag that puts it firmly in the same league as the Fujifilm X-T2, currently our top-rated CSC and the camera to beat in this category. So, does Leica’s bold design gambit pay off? Read on and find out.
Polished in every sense
Milled from a single block of aluminium and polished for 45 minutes by a real live human being, the TL is a beautiful object that feels pleasingly weighty in your hand.
While there’s a small bump on the right to aid grip, it’s a sleek and slim body: thinner than many CSC rivals, but still a little too large to pocket with a lens attached.
There’s no electronic viewfinder, which is a disappointment – EVFs help composition in situations where looking at the screen isn’t easy or preferable. Leica does offer the Visoflex (Typ 020) EVF as an optional extra that slots into the hot shoe, but it’ll set you back an extra £400 (S$710). Oof.
Touch, don't twiddle
While the 3.7in screen doesn’t tilt or flip, it’s noteworthy for another reason: touch sensitivity. Leica has built the whole TL user experience around touch controls, with a tap of the screen’s camera icon bringing up a customisable grid of settings.
Rather than press buttons or twist dials, you prod icons to tweak the exposure compensation, white balance or ISO – even to select whether you’re shooting in aperture, program, shutter, scene or manual mode. It’s a ballsy design move that sets the TL apart from many of its button-bristling CSC rivals, but I’m not convinced it really works: there’s a lack of tactility compared to physical controls and it means you can’t use the TL with gloves on. Unless they’re those special gloves that work with touchscreens.
That said, I didn’t have any major problems using the TL and making the odd on-screen adjustment while shooting in my favoured aperture priority mode. I suspect shooters who prefer to shoot fully manually might find the touch controls more frustrating, and would be much happier with the controls offered by similarly priced rivals like the Olympus OM-D EM1 Mk II, Sony A7 II or Fujifilm X-T2.
Another unusual (but welcome) design choice? There’s 32GB of internal storage space, in addition to the usual SD card slot.