4.04.2022

The most misguided camera ever devised by an otherwise rational camera company.

 

Leica is mostly a rational company. How else to explain their long tenure in a highly competitive market and their ability to price their wares at astronomically high prices? And, for the most part, their stuff works well. At least well enough to satisfy a small percentage of the worldwide market for cameras and lenses. But occasionally Leica goes a bit crazy and makes a product whose target is so opaque that even brilliant photo writers and Leica apologists like myself are dumbfounded and mystified. 

One such product is the Leica TL family of cameras. And my critical final evaluation of the TL2 is especially damning given that it is the third iteration of mostly the same camera body but replete with three chances to get stuff right or fix stuff that was just nonsensical. 

Let's start with obvious fashion touches that degrade the product when it comes to reliability. First up are the strap lugs. Leica, Nikon, Sony, Canon....oh just name a camera company... have all converged on ways of making camera strap lugs that all do their basic jobs well. They are strongly attached to the camera bodies and they do a good job allowing for the tight connection of a camera strap to camera with which to carry the camera. But Leica got cute and "re-invented" the camera strap by making the strap lug removable. The reason? So the arduously fashionable could plug the holes with spiffy black metal plugs that match the body finish letting the fashionista carry the camera completely unencumbered by a strap or any vestige of a strap. The removable lugs are very small and imminently losable but have no fear, Leica can replace your lugs for "less than $100 USD." A very elegant looking solution. A miserable exercise in mechanical engineering in search of a reasonable goal. 

While we're on the subject of fashion driven failure what can really be said about the exterior finish of the camera body? I know, we could take this slippery, shiny impact-magnet finish and coat it with an extra layer of Teflon. That, or an application of mineral oil to the exterior are the only two ways that come to mind of how to make a camera that will, and almost must, slip right out of your hands and propel itself toward any bit of cement, rocks or concrete in your vicinity. The camera is built out of a block of aluminum alloy and that's pretty cool but grippy surfaces on the cool finish would have make the camera a bit more usable. 

Oh, what am I saying? Any improvement in grippy surfaces would have increased the expected "accident free" life of the camera by about 90%. Maybe more. If the camera designer's intentions were to create a nice product to put on a shelf and admire then the TL2 might qualify but from a usability point of view it's always a two-handed operation with one hand clinging to the camera with a frantic death grip.  Never, ever usable as a one-handed shooting camera. Don't even think about it unless your hand is covered on all sides with duct tape and other powerful adhesives. 

There should be my usual grousing about the lack of an EVF but I knew when I bought the camera that I could add an EVF if I wanted to so I'll give Leica a break on that one. Still... the added EVF is so obviously a kludgy afterthought.

Next up let's talk about batteries. The TL2 has the same cute battery compartment complication that you find on the SL, SL2, Q2, etc. The battery is flush mounted with the bottom of the camera and there is a lever adjacent to the battery's bottom. Push the lever and the battery partially disengages from the camera but doesn't drop out. A quick press on the bottom of the battery fully releases it into your hands. It's actually a nice way to ensure your battery doesn't drop to its death if unwittingly released. And what an expensive death it would be. 

Replacement batteries for the TL2 are dear. About $110 USD dear. Per battery. But the painful part of tossing away that kind of money is that the average hearing aid battery has more power in reserve than one of these "well designed" batteries from Leica. But I learned a while ago that when it comes to all Leica products requiring batteries this is an important lesson: Buy a back up battery the minute you buy the camera no matter what it costs. Waiting will ensure two things. First, the price of the battery will soar relentlessly higher and higher as you discover ever more painfully that extra batteries are a must if one is to fill up even a 16 MB memory card on one charge. And second, that when you decide that you are finally ready to plunk down cash for a second (or third, or fourth) battery you will find that they are now back-ordered. Sometimes for years. And sometimes they are impossible to find at all. 

It might all be worth it if the "streamlined and modern" menu listed as a valuable feature lived up to its own advertising but sadly...no. I learned to use the menu in an SL pretty fluidly in about a week. It took three or four more days to get really comfortable with the Leica CL menu but the TL2 with its very bizarre menu distribution/scattering and opaque direction has now taken me at least three months to even partially master and I am sometimes still baffled when I haven't used the camera for a week or two and go back to pick it up. Daunting? Yes. Challenging? Yes. Fun...no f*ing way. 

But all can be forgiven when you finally coax a file out of the eccentric picture taking machine, right? Not so fast my friends. The focusing is not slow it's just undecided and headstrong. You and the camera might disagree over what's important in the frame. I should amend this and say you'll mostly lose that argument with the little putative machine. If this happens often I find the best solution is to drive back home, lie down in a darkened room and put a cool, wet washrag on your forehead. You are not going to win. 

Would I say that the TL2 is my camera purchase failure of the year? Nope. I'd amend that statement to read "The worst camera purchase of the past decade." And, as you probably know I've stumbled around enough with eccentric cameras to add additional emphasis to that statement. 

Has this soured me forever on Leicas? Not a chance. Has it put me off using the TL2? A bit. But you know how much I love a challenge. Would I consider selling this to another photographer and washing my hands of my misguided ownership? Absolutely not. My religion teaches me never to hate someone that much.

Got some cash burning a hole in your pocket and looking for an act of willful self-flagellation? Step right up and look for a use Leica TL2. Now gone, I think (hope) from the new camera marketplace. And not a moment too soon. 

Makes a conversational paperweight though. You gotta give it some credit where it's due.

By the way..... I'm still blogging. 

Clarification of yesterday's post.


Yesterday I wrote that I was pondering what to do next with this blog. One of the reasons was/is the declining engagement I can see in the numbers. I didn't mean that my loyal readers had lost interest or that I needed to hear from them more often in the comments (though that is always pleasant). What I was referring to was strictly numerical. Over the last several years there has been a decline in the number of overall visits to the blog and a decline in page views (which are two different metrics).

What I think we all know from my assessment of the marketplace in my 2013 blog post entitled, "The Greying of Traditional Photography" is that fewer and fewer people are embracing photography the way my generation has practiced it and are, instead, using their phones and making as their final targets sharing sites such as Instagram which more or less repudiate the need for large files, high degrees of production value and technical skills. Forget dynamic range and resolution! It's not good or bad but the trend replaces large files which are meant to be printed and seen in stasis with quick, off the cuff images destined for short half lives and writ out at 2200 pixels. And always keeping in mind that most screens are about 6 bits... Something different from older bloggers' firm ideas that the black and white print is still the gold standard and something every artist/photographer should be aspiring to.

What this means for a blog like this one is that the effective audience is ever aging and there is an unspoken pressure on the writer (me) to conform to my generation's expectations and tastes when we collectively discuss "photography." Ansel Adams would be so proud of us...

So, declining audience, schism between where modern culture is taking the "idea" of photography as an art form and what we think of as "correct," and an aversion to endlessly repeating myself. The problem is that there are so few blogs about photography left standing and, in truth, there are a lot of people who do a good job talking about photography in a more modern and sensible way on YouTube and other video sharing channels. Someone mentioned that I could transition to YouTube successfully and I'm in general agreement but I'd be starting over from scratch to build a new audience since my general audience and age cohort grew up reading the printed word and seems to prefer to get their entertainment/information about photography in that medium.

Building a video channel and marketing it is hard work. If I needed to make money I could find dozens of ways to do it more effectively and with more assurance. But that's the weird disconnect in all of this; I don't monetize the blog. I don't sell other people's prints and take a cut. I don't review cameras with an eye to the affiliate revenue should my review be enticing enough. I'd feel weird accepting Patreon funding when it's not needed to fulfill a worthwhile end result. And, being of the same generation as the majority of my readers, I really enjoy the process of writing and reading.

The choice for me is not to morph the content into something new or to change the channel or re-start as a YouTube producer. It all really boils down to a choice between spending personal time (which is happily now more plentiful) making my own work or dividing that time to write blogs just because I have written blogs consistently in the past. 

That's what I'm really grappling with. In our generational cohort, as it intersects with photography, there are two blogs that I can identify as "popular" though both are suffering from declining general audience interest. Those two are mine and Michael Johnston's. And while we most likely share the same views on politics we are worlds apart on so much else. Michael's site is a bastion of traditional photography. And traditional writing styles. He owns that space. We might be bored to tears by snooker or vegan diet fads but at the core his passion is the black and white printed image --- on paper. And it's a shared passion with the majority of his audience. You can see it in every engagement on his blog about actual photography.

On the other hand I'm more or less ambivalent about whether an images is printed or not, or what its provenance is, or its position in the hierarchy of traditional order. And whether or not its creator is historic, well known or otherwise culturally vetted. I find most landscapes profoundly boring and discussions of how we used to work in darkrooms about as interesting as discussing rotary phone dial mechanics in the age of cellphones. 

The issue for me is that MJ has succeeded in finding and catering to a specific audience centered around a singular common passion while my ambivalence to tradition and lack of embrace for the icons of the past in our field robs my audience of any way-finding landmarks with which to anchor them to my writing here. I'm too transparent and too opinionated to create the stickiness required to become a "personality" in the blog sphere. And that's always the sine wave of my feelings about the blog. It's mostly written for me and that makes me feel guilty in that I don't customize the content for the greatest marketing impact.

I'm just coasting with the blog right now. I like having it as a place to share thoughts and images but at the same time I don't like overt conflict and I'm reticent to share things that will just rile up vocal parts of the remaining audience. We all know Trump was an evil psychopath, that trickle down economics never worked, that we should be discarding fossil fuels and that we should have social systems that help us take care of the neediest parts of our population. We know that white supremacy is evil and that trans fats are bad for our health. But we don't talk about these things because I don't have the temperament to argue nicely with mis-guided idiots who believe the earth is flat and that Jesus saved us by killing off the dinosaurs. Vaccines work. Repressive voting laws don't. The only people who committed voter fraud, interestingly enough, are republicans. But who wants to argue with people who are incapable of objectively reading history or using logic and compassion simultaneously? Not me. 

Most current photography is bland. Most writing about it is even blander. Most emulation of past century techniques just for the sake of replicating stuff from the past is boring. But why is it so hard to move on?

Just a few thoughts while waiting for a portrait customer who called to say she is running late....