Leica T, hands on...
Leica T, hands on...
Apr 26, 2014
I was able to spend some time with the Leica T this past week and wanted to throw my hat in the ring since it seems there is so much interest, both positive and negative. There has already been a lot said about the camera by people who have had hands on, so I apologize for any redundancy and recommend Steve Huff's review as a good starting point for a real world in depth look.
I think there is value in the painstaking build process of this camera, but that value requires two things. First, you have to actually hold the camera, not just look at photos and videos, and not just read reviews. It is easy to compare the T to an NEX based on a picture, but it is an entirely different thing to do so in person. The two simply do not compare. The second requirement is that you actually appreciate such craftsmanship. Nobody is forced to appreciate such a factor, and there is nothing wrong with that I suppose, but if you are a fan of workmanship, precision, solid feel, and clean lines, then the hands on experience is one that will really satisfy you in those terms.
Now, I am a Apple guy, through and through, and this literally felt like my new Retina MacBook Pro. No joke, if Apple made a camera, it may be a lot like this. I really would love to do a product shoot of the new T and a MacBook Pro together. I am not just talking about the Unibody Aluminum construction though. The screen is another factor. It is SLEEK & LARGE. Very clear and easy to use. Swipes and pinches work very well on the T, and the navigation is the best I have ever seen on any camera.
Before I move on to the navigation or the menus, I just wanted to note that the devil is in the details as well. The batteries with the integrated aluminum cover = NICE TOUCH, and is a further commitment to the lines and simplicity of the body. The built in flash pops up SO SMOOTH. It feels NOTHING like those on the Fujis or any other mirrorless cameras I have seen with pop up flashes. The dials are quality as well, with great access and feel, solid and true.
The strap system is quite unique as well. Yes, it is proprietary, so at this time, the straps need to be ones made for the actual camera. Now, I am personally a fan of Lance Straps, and use them on all my cameras, so the idea of using anything else bothers me, right? Nope. The strap system is great, and it is designed on these swivels, which is very convenient and clean. Further, it is designed in a way that prevents it from scratching the camera. I look forward to seeing what other straps might be released of different materials, as everyone has choices that are more favorable to them personally.
The EVF... Well, it isn't built in, and that is a bummer, but the unit is very nice, high resolution. Clear and bright. Don't expect it to be like the new Fuji XT1, because you will be disappointed if you do, but it is functional and capable, and I am happy it is available at launch. What I really like, and many of the external EVF's incorporate this feature, is that it operates on a hinge, allowing you to tilt it upwards 90 degrees, which is great for low work, especially on a tripod. I actually prefer this to an articulating LCD because an LCD facing up often times must be shaded to see clearly depending on the light around you at the time. A tilting EVF however, is always great to look into no matter what the light in your surroundings.
Speaking of the EVF and LCD, I would like to see focus peaking implemented on this camera, and I have reason to believe we will see it in firmware. Other than that, a great deal of information, from exposure information to shooting parameters, grids, and histogram can all be displayed on both devices. That is nothing new to mirrorless cameras though.
The M adapter is a small and solid unit with electronics to pickup the 6 Bit coding on M lenses. I also appreciate the fact that this is being released at launch. One interesting thing that worked VERY well was stacking adapters. Scary, right? M adapter on the T, and R to M adapter on top of that. Guess what, works great! Sharp images, great color and micro contrast. Sure the unit grows in size with R lenses, but that is to be expected. Think of the T as a Live View/EVF home for your R glass, but with a full time built in 1.5 extender. That may be a nice option for those with R Glass looking for an option with a little more reach, and it certainly makes sense with such a low price (Leica relative) on the body.
The lenses... What can I say really? They are made in Japan, yes. They are not Panasonic units. They have no aperture rings (boo) but I suspect this is part of the clean and smooth lines this camera system is about. Optically, these are Leica lenses. The 23mm f/2 is bright and fast, but at a pretty penny. I would personally like to see this lens sell for less. Yes, it behaves with the quality of what you might expect from a Leica Summicron lens, which for a 35mm, can run you just over $3K, but the mechanics and build, while superb, are not M. I could see this at $1500 though, which isn't too far off. This lens is optically superior to the Fuji 23mm in every way, which sells for 900. Aside from the extra stop, as good as the Fuji is, there is no comparison here. To offset the one stop, take into account that the Leica 23mm is small, very small. It is essentially a pancake lens. The supplied hood makes it larger, but still well within reason for this small system.
The 18-56mm is an interesting lens. It is really tiny for a zoom, and well balanced on the T. I prefer it without the hood, but that is just me. This is "like a kit lens" in focal range and speed, but that is where it ends. All apertures and focal lengths, across the frame, this is a Leica lens. Again, as a competitor in the APSC mirrorless market, I compare it to the Fuji kit lens, which is fantastic, has IS, and is faster. On the other hand, the images from the Leica lens all have "that look". These are fantastic optics, and for those folks that like the mid zoom range, I would say this lens is the ultimate. I would not expect to see Leica make a zoom like this, simply because I would doubt that they could get the optics how they want them enough to throw a red dot on it. I would be wrong! Not my focal range and not my cup of tea, but unreal performance and very well balanced. The perfect casual travel zoom.
More lenses!!! Look for the 11-23mm wide zoom and the 55-135mm APO later this year, as well as others...
Perhaps the coolest thing, in my opinion, is the interface. It is simple and easy, and it allows you to design your own "quick menu" of sorts. There is a screen with icons representing all of the strings the camera has to offer. There is also a shooting or quick menu. Like an Apple iPhone or iPad where you can arrange apps on the screen as you please, the T offers a really great menu system that allows you to migrate settings icons from the settings page to the shooting menu, and then arrange them in the shooting menu as you wish, allowing you quick access to the settings you need to use most frequently, while, on the other side of the coin, letting you shelf the options that you don't need, for the ultimate declutter of your shooting experience.
I will say that the sleep design and lack of buttons and dials will require you to look at the LCD from time to time for certain functions, and as an M shooter, I am not a huge fan of that, but it is all in the design and thought process of this system. It isn't for everyone, but it is a unique and satisfying experience regardless. The fact that they designed the screen and the navigation controls as well as they did really does make up for the lack of analog controls in a way. It isn't better or worst, it is just different.
The camera is whisper quiet. Insanely quiet. Not just the shutter. Even the pop up flash is smooth and seems dampened in a way. Autofocus is not something I use, hardly ever actually, but in use, it seemed to work very well. On par or better than most mirrorless systems, aside from the blazing standouts like the EM-1 and what have you. Accuracy was on the mark as well, even in low light. Manual focus, while begging for peaking, works really well with the LCD and the EVF being pretty easy to eyeball. You also have the magnification functions as well, and you no longer are limited to the center of the frame either.
16 Gig Built in memory!!! This is really fantastic. Most people would not even need a memory card to be honest with you. Nice touch Leica!
For image quality, just look at the X Vario. It is really stunning. If it comes down to image quality for you, look no further for an APSC ILC. Hands down. I can't say what percentage of this is due to the lenses or sensor, and I know the sensor is what some consider to be older tech, but quality is quality, and the proof is in the pudding. You might hear that high ISO is not as good as this or that camera, but keep in mind that Leica is not doing the Fujiesque noise reduction dance. You can do that on your own if you wish in post. They give you that choice, and that is something I really appreciate. In most instances, I will take a little noise over detail smearing. Easy choice for me.
I did notice that it looks like you must shoot Jpeg of one sort or another and DNG, vs being able to shoot DNG only. That is fine. I am really glad this camera is being marketed on it's engineering, quality, uniqueness, and other various qualities vs some wonky gimmick that does more to get in your way than it does to help you. Sure, I am an early adopter type of guy, but I hate being a beta tester, especially when paying full pop. Leica knows how to stay out of their own way though, and they have done that here. Simple, easy to use, gorgeous and well made with attention to detail. I like that.
So, will I buy it? Well, the gearhead in me really wants one. I can not lie. It would be a great casual camera for me with autofocus, and small form factor. I have, however, learned a lesson in the past, which is that when I reach for a camera, it is always an M. Sure, I have a Canon setup with TSE that is a dedicated architecture rig, but like my old Fuji and Sony gear, I fear that the T may end up sitting lonely in a bag as I so heavily favor my M240's and my MM. With those cameras and great lenses available, it is really difficult, if not impossible for me to reach for anything else. Still, this one does tug at me a bit. Thankfully, I am on a mission this year to add a .95 Noctilux to my kit, and that is a major purchase that might very well keep me from making smaller purchases on a whim. I really think that if I didn't have the Noctilux in my sites, the gearhead in me would win, and I'd be with T.
Anyhow, these are my thoughts after spending some time with the camera and lenses. Nothing too technical here, I know, just some opinions and some food for thought.
A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. - Sir Winston Churchill
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