New Leica TL: The mystery of the missing viewfinder
For many months we have been looking forward to a new version of the Leica TL — a camera with a built-in viewfinder, as we hoped. Sadly, I now suspect, we will all have a longer wait. Earlier this week Leica Rumors told us it is unlikely that the upcoming replacement for the TL will have a built-in finder. Earlier, everyone had been convinced it would have a finder, largely based on the leaked dimensions which appeared to show a 6mm higher body. It seemed logical that this extra height was designed to make way for a viewfinder but we may all have jumped to the wrong conclusion.
According to the rumours, the next TL will offer much improved performance and be based on a 24MP sensor instead of the current 16MP. All very welcome, I'm sure. But a viewfinder it will not have.
I was surprised and disappointed and at first didn't believe it. Surely some mistake? Can any manufacturer of high-end mirrorless cameras seriously believe that in 2017 they don’t need to incorporate a viewfinder? The recent demise of the various X models proves that point. But I had a chat with a friend abroad who has heard the same story and believes that the Leica Rumors site is likely to be correct: A new TL but without a viewfinder.
Having stocked up on TL lenses over the past few months, I have become quite a fan of the (in my case) original T which I bought secondhand at a very good price. It is a light, well-built camera which produces good results. Of course I hate the ugly clip-on Visoflex, for its appearance rather than for its performance — which is good, although not up to the standards set by the Q or SL. Without doubt, a Q-quality built-in finder would transform the TL and that is what everyone has been waiting for.
I have no doubt Leica is determined to show that it is fully committed to the APS-C format and the impending new 24MP TL is intended to give credence to that. As for the built-in viewfinder, this is likely to feature in a later camera I understand. Leica will have to introduce a TL with finder at some point but I think it might have been prudent to delay the introduction of the larger sensor and various detail improvements until the viewfinder body is ready. Make no mistake, without a viewfinder the TL system is not going to make the market breakthrough it so richly deserves.
Competition is burning along at a pace while Wetzlar is fiddling with incremental improvements to shore up its APS-C range. Every day I hear from readers about the virtues of the Fuji X series cameras which offer almost everything that serious photographers want — in particular the traditional array of manual controls that Leica used to do so well. Some say the X-Pro 2 is more Leica than Leica, a point made often enough by my colleague Bill Palmer. The longer Leica fails to deliver well-targeted competition, the less chance there is of the company making a decisive breakthrough into the high-end APS-C market. And the more likely it is that thoughtful photographers will commit to another system, probably never to return.
The announcement of another half-measure camera at this stage, after so much anticipation of a viewfinder TL, could tip the balance I feel.
It is significant that the one new Leica camera that did make a an enormous impression in the past few years was the Q. For once it took Leica outside Leicadom and attracted new converts, simply because it is so good. It was keenly priced, too; at one stage it was cheaper than the comparable Sony RX1. Undoubtedly this success was fuelled by the electronic viewfinder, one of the best on the market. The Q has a great fast lens, impeccable image quality and deserves its success. But without the viewfinder it would probably have been toast by now.
While I do like the TL system and believe that the lens range alone shows Leica's commitment to the format, I will not buy a new TL until a model with a finder is launched. I was ready to place an order, sight-unseen, for the next TL, which I was hoping to see as early as next month. Now, if the rumours are correct, I will hold on to my cash. I will definitely keep the lenses in the hope of better times ahead and, in the meantime, soldier on with the original T. It’s an old slowcoach but it is fun to use and, like the X1/2 and X Vario, punches well above its weight (even without a viewfinder….)
Is it too much to hope that we will see a real TL upgrade, with viewfinder, before the end of the year? Leica Rumors refers to “another Leica camera” arriving in October, but I am not holding my breath since it seems unlikely a TL revised in the middle of 2017 will be superseded so quickly. That is, unless the intention is to run both versions at the same time. Nevertheless, I predict there will be many disappointed TL owners when the updated camera is announced.
Note: I have absolutely no direct knowledge of Leica's plans in relation to the TL and my above comments are based solely on the article in Leica Rumors and discussions with friends who are well informed on the photographic industry. I hope I am wrong and that the forthcoming TL does incorporate a viewfinder. Breath is held.
Update, June 28: It looks like the new TL will come soon and it will be called the TL2.