Le­ica Breaks The Mould For Its New Mir­ror­less Cam­era Sys­tem

Le­ica T (Typ 701)

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Re­cal­i­brate all your con­cep­tions of what a Le­ica cam­era should be be­cause the new model T is like noth­ing we’ve ever seen from the Ger­man mar­que be­fore… ac­tu­ally, it’s un­like any other CSC we’ve seen. Re­port by Paul Bur­rows.

Aside from the cam­eras it sources from Pana­sonic, ev­ery­thing Le­ica has done up un­til now in the dig­i­tal era has been in­formed by its past. The dig­i­tal Ms are rooted in the M7 (and fur­ther back), the X Se­ries mod­els ob­vi­ously have rangefinder cam­eras in their DNA, and the S Sys­tem D-SLRs fol­low the tra­di­tional for­mula for a re­flex de­sign.

So, when Le­ica came to de­sign its in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the dig­i­tal cam­era that is purely of the 21st century – the mir­ror­less in­ter­change­able lens cam­era – it’s log­i­cal to ex­pect it might have erred on the side of con­ser­vatism. In fact, ex­actly the op­po­site has hap­pened with Le­ica em­brac­ing the whole idea of a purely con­tem­po­rary dig­i­tal cam­era per­haps more whole­heart­edly than any­body else. The Le­ica T is un­com­pro­mis­ingly mod­ernistic and it em­bod­ies noth­ing, in de­sign terms, of the past be­yond the brand’s core val­ues of pre­mium qual­ity and pre­ci­sion en­gi­neer­ing. So, in many ways, the Le­ica T is not a cam­era for the tra­di­tional Le­ica cus­tomer and it’s al­most cer­tainly not tar­geted at them or, ar­guably, even cam­era en­thu­si­asts in gen­eral.

That said, nei­ther group is pre­cluded from lik­ing the Le­ica T – and, in fact, it does se­ri­ously grow on you over time – but they need to un­der­stand that it hasn’t been de­signed with them up­per­most in mind.

Like any pres­tige brand, Le­ica walks a fine line be­tween main­tain­ing ex­clu­siv­ity and achiev­ing suf­fi­cient vol­umes to be not just prof­itable, but purely vi­able. So the re­al­ity is that any new cam­era sys­tem had to dare to be dif­fer­ent while, at the same time, pre­serv­ing the essence of what makes a Le­ica cam­era a Le­ica cam­era. It would have been all too easy for Le­ica to come up with es­sen­tially a mini M sys­tem – in­deed the X Vario hints at it – and this would have ap­pealed to the purists, but wouldn’t bring the mar­que many more new cus­tomers… es­pe­cially since Fu­ji­film has cheek­ily made this space its own.

Be­fore it is any­thing else, then, the Le­ica T is a pre­mium prod­uct just like a lux­ury watch or a pres­tige car and, let’s be hon­est, for some that will be its pri­mary ap­peal. But style only re­ally works if it’s backed by sub­stance and, thank­fully, there is a lot more to Le­ica’s com­pact sys­tem cam­era. Of course, break­ing with a tra­di­tion as strong as Le­ica’s is a risky busi­ness, but the T is the cam­era it had to build. The prod­uct plan­ning meet­ings must have been in­ter­est­ing – es­pe­cially as the temp­ta­tion to just throw in some lit­tle his­tor­i­cal el­e­ment must have been hard to re­sist – but in the end, Le­ica stuck rigidly to its ‘clean slate’ pol­icy and, frankly, the T is a far, far bet­ter and more co­he­sive prod­uct for it.

The Body

While it’s vaguely shaped like a rangefinder cam­era – the di­men­sions are de­lib­er­ately sim­i­lar to those of the orig­i­nal Ur-Le­ica of 1914 – the T’s styling is thor­oughly and ut­terly con­tem­po­rary. What’s Le­ica-like about the T’s body, though, is that it’s milled from a solid block of alu­minium – a process that takes 55 min­utes and re­duces the 1.2 kilo­gram lump to just 94 grams of metal­lic lus­cious­ness. It’s fol­lowed by 45 min­utes of hand-pol­ish­ing to give the fin­ish a par­tic­u­larly se­duc­tive lus­tre. There is a black ver­sion, but for once, the ‘naked’ fin­ish is the more ap­peal­ing. The one-piece body-and-chas­sis ex­udes the tra­di­tional Le­ica bal­ance of pre­ci­sion and so­lid­ity, but also has the ur­bane so­phis­ti­ca­tion of a 21st century de­vice like, for ex­am­ple, Ap­ple’s iPad tablets. Like­wise, there’s a pass­ing nod to di­als in the T’s pair of semi-re­cessed con­trol wheels, but in prac­tice the cam­era is al­most en­tirely op­er­ated via a touch­screen in­ter­face which even by-passes tra­di­tional menus.

Le­ica has al­ways erred on the side of min­i­mal­ism when it came equip­ping its cam­eras, avoid­ing any­thing deemed not es­sen­tial or that has the po­ten­tial to com­pro­mise per­for­mance, in­clud­ing aut­o­fo­cus­ing. While the Le­ica T Sys­tem does fi­nally em­brace aut­o­fo­cus­ing, its fea­ture list is some­what pu­ri­tan­i­cal com­pared to the rest of CSC world where the ap­proach is mostly to in­clude ‘ev­ery­thing but the kitchen sink’. Even Fu­ji­film’s fairly sober X-E2 and X-T1 look pos­i­tively friv­o­lous along­side the pared-down T.

The T is as­sem­bled in Ger­many at Le­ica’s brand new, high-tech fa­cil­ity in its home­town of Wet­zlar

and much of what’s in­side was de­signed by the com­pany’s own en­gi­neers and tech­ni­cians, in­clud­ing the pro­ces­sor. For the record, the body is made at Le­ica’s fac­tory in Por­tu­gal. What Le­ica doesn’t have in-house though, is any stylists so, in ac­tual fact, all its ‘Made in Ger­many’ cam­eras have been penned by ex­ter­nal de­sign bureaux, mostly no­tably Audi De­sign which also did the C and the M9 Ti­ta­nium.

The Mount

The T Sys­tem gets its own ded­i­cated lens mount – a four-claw bay­o­net with an ar­ray of ten elec­tri­cal con­tacts (there are no me­chan­i­cal cou­plings) – but nat­u­rally there’s an adapter for the M mount rangefinder lens. If these carry the 6-bit cod­ing in­tro­duced with the M8 in 2006, the lens de­tails will be recorded in the im­age EXIF data.

The first T Sys­tem lenses are Ger­man-de­signed, but built in Ja­pan and, as with any brand new mount, it’s here that Le­ica will have to pull out all the stops to cre­ate a rea­son­able choice as quickly as pos­si­ble. The cam­era ar­rives with just two lenses – an 18-56mm zoom and a 23mm f2.0 prime – with an­other two promised for Pho­tok­ina in a cou­ple of months time, namely an 11-23mm wide-an­gle zoom and a 55-135mm tele­zoom. That’s a span of 17mm to 200mm in terms of ef­fec­tive fo­cal length and pre­sum­ably Le­ica is de­bat­ing whether the lenses that are par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar with M users – such as ul­tra-wide or ul­tra-fast – will also be in de­mand for the T. Maybe not.

The T Sys­tem is based on an ‘APS-C’ for­mat sen­sor with a 1.5x mag­ni­fi­ca­tion fac­tor for the fo­cal length so the first four lenses are fairly stan­dard fare. In­ci­den­tally, the T Sys­tem lenses are more tra­di­tion­ally Le­ica in their styling than the cam­era body and all have metal bar­rel tubes, glass el­e­ments and stain­less steel mounts. Le­ica says their op­ti­cal de­signs op­ti­mise the cor­rec­tion of dis­tor­tion – via the use of aspher­i­cal el­e­ments – but there’s some in-cam­era lens cor­rec­tions go­ing on as well (as with the dig­i­tal M bod­ies).

The Sen­sor

The Le­ica T’s sen­sor is a CMOS-type de­vice – sourced from Sony – with a to­tal pixel count of 16.5 mil­lion (16.3 MP ef­fec­tive) and a sen­si­tiv­ity range equiv­a­lent to ISO 100 to 12,500. Due to the way it’s mounted in the one-piece body-and-chas­sis, there’s no way of pro­vid­ing ac­tive sen­sor clean­ing or, for that mat­ter, body-based im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion. None of the lenses an­nounced so far have op­ti­cal im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion ei­ther, but there doesn’t seem to be any good rea­son why it couldn’t be pro­vided in the fu­ture.

Im­ages can be cap­tured in JPEGs at one of two com­pres­sion lev­els and five sizes while, as per the M and X dig­i­tal cam­eras, RAW files are cap­tured as Adobe DNG files. There is no stand­alone RAW cap­ture, just RAW+JPEG, ei­ther JPEG Fine or Su­perfine. The max­i­mum con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing speed is 5.0 fps for a burst of 12 frames. The T sup­ports SD for­mat mem­ory cards, but in­ter­est­ingly has a use­ful 16 GB of in­ter­nal mem­ory so, pri­mar­ily, it can be used ‘straight out of the box’, but it ob­vi­ously also serves as a good-sized re­serve in the event you run out of card space mid-shoot.

“It would have been all too easy for Le­ica to come up with es­sen­tially a mini M sys­tem – in­deed the X Vario hints at it – and this would have ap­pealed to the purists, but wouldn’t bring the mar­que many more new cus­tomers.”

In keep­ing with the ‘don’t-need-it-then-ditch-it’ ap­proach to the fea­ture set, the Le­ica T’s im­age pro­cess­ing func­tions are limited to a set of five ‘Film Mode’ pre­sets – three for colour and two for B&W. The colour pre­sets – Stan­dard, Vivid and Nat­u­ral – can be fine-tuned for sat­u­ra­tion, con­trast and sharp­ness; the B&W pre­sets – called B&W Nat­u­ral and B&W High Con­trast – for the lat­ter two pa­ram­e­ters only. Ev­ery­thing else – i.e. noise re­duc­tion, lens cor­rec­tions, etc – is done in the back­ground and things like fil­ter ef­fects are most def­i­nitely off the menu.

The In­ter­face

Talk­ing of menus, the Le­ica T’s user in­ter­face is where it com­pletely parts com­pany with the past and whole­heart­edly em­braces the con­trol de­vice of the mo­ment, the touch screen. The en­tire back panel of the T com­prises the screen and the func­tions are dis­played as tiles which, when touched, ac­cess the set­tings menu. If fur­ther ad­just­ments are avail­able, an ar­row­head points to them. In some in­stances, touch­ing the tile re­peat­edly cy­cles through the avail­able set­tings (for ex­am­ple, the me­ter­ing modes).

There’s a main menu and a ‘My Cam­era’ menu which you cus­tomise by drag­ging tiles from the for­mer to the lat­ter via a lit­tle cam­era icon. Be­yond the two con­trol wheels men­tioned ear­lier, ev­ery­thing is done via your cus­tomised tile menu and, in prac­tice, it works rather well. In the past we’ve praised cam­era de­sign­ers for mix­ing touch screen op­er­a­tions with con­ven­tional menus and ex­ter­nal con­trols – so you can take your pick – but Le­ica forces the is­sue with the T’s user in­ter­face and so, as a re­sult, you have to learn how to use it. And guess what? You quickly learn to like it too. It helps that it’s all pretty log­i­cal, but Le­ica took a mas­sive gam­ble aban­don­ing con­ven­tional con­trols to the ex­tent that it has and for­tu­nately it seems to have paid off.

There are ac­tu­ally only five ‘real’ con­trols – four, if you count the com­bined shut­ter re­lease and power lever as one (the lat­ter also serves as the re­lease for the pop-up flash) – so there isn’t even a re­play but­ton. A down­ward swipe on the touch screen brings up the last im­age cap­tured and then touch con­trol is used for brows­ing, ac­cess­ing the thumb­nail page (there’s only one with nine im­ages) and zoom­ing. How­ever, you can also use the two con­trol wheels for brows­ing and zoom­ing. Tap­ping the ‘Info’ soft key cy­cles through the re­view screen op­tions which in­clude a bright­ness his­togram and a high­light warn­ing. When you’re in cam­era mode, this same soft key is used to cy­cle through the live view screens which in­clude a real-time his­togram and a fram­ing grid (but un­for­tu­nately not both to­gether) plus ba­sic cap­ture data or an un­adorned im­age. Given the screen is a mas­sive 9.4 cm with a res­o­lu­tion of 1.3 mil­lion dots, the im­age dis­play is pretty im­pres­sive. It’s flush-fit­ted like on a tablet or smart­phone, but this also means it’s fixed and can’t be tilted to ad­just the view­ing an­gle. An op­tional EVF is avail­able and it’s a new Le­ica-de­signed Visoflex unit with a res­o­lu­tion of 2.4 mil­lion dots and an ad­just­ment for tilt. It cou­ples to the hot­shoe and is exclusive to the T Sys­tem. There has been much de­bate about whether the T should have a built-in viewfinder, but Le­ica makes the valid point that EVF tech­nol­ogy is still evolv­ing and will cer­tainly im­prove dur­ing the life­time of the cam­era so it wants to be able to of­fer bet­ter de­vices in the fu­ture. Nev­er­the­less, it means an additional out­lay and also takes up the hot­shoe, pre­clud­ing fit­ting a big­ger flash.

The Works

Le­ica sees own­er­ship of a T as a long-term thing which, of course, is pretty true of all its Ger­man-built cam­eras, not to men­tion if you’ve in­vested the best part of $5000 in some­thing.

The body goes some way to jus­ti­fy­ing the price tag. It is in­deed a thing of beauty and there’s a silky tac­til­ity that’s noth­ing short of ad­dic­tive. It sits in the hand beau­ti­fully and there’s un­ques­tion­ably a dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent feel to that of thin pan­els with air be­hind them. Wor­ry­ingly, any blem­ish is go­ing to be un­for­giv­able, but do you re­ally want to cover up such a mag­nif­i­cent piece of metal work­ing with a cam­era case, no mat­ter how be­spoke? The fin­ish looks to be pretty durable, but you’re un­likely to want to put it to the test. And de­spite be­ing one-piece, the body isn’t weath­erised.

In the pur­suit of ruth­lessly clean lines for the T, Le­ica has even re­designed the way the cam­era strap at­taches to the body. Gone are the un­sightly lugs and rings, re­placed by nifty click-lock plugs made from stain­less steel. If you choose to wear your Le­ica T strap­less – risky – tiny lit­tle cov­ers con­ceal the con­nec­tion points, restor­ing un­in­ter­rupted smooth­ness to the body lines. Re­leas­ing both the cov­ers and the strap plugs re­quires a tiny tool – shaped like the T’s body, bless – which looks just too easy to mis­place (no doubt why Le­ica sup­plies two). The strap it­self is neo­prene rub­ber rather than wo­ven ny­lon so, like the rest of the cam­era, it’s com­pletely smooth. And a nice spin-off of this cou­pling ar­range­ment is that you can never have a twisted strap.

An­other in­ter­est­ing as­pect of the body’s de­sign is that the bat­tery pack in­cor­po­rates the bat­tery com­part­ment cover so there’s no con­cern about this pos­si­bly break­ing off over time and there are no hinges to up­set the lines. Ad­di­tion­ally, a dou­ble-latch ar­range­ment pre­vents the bat­tery fall­ing straight out of its com­part­ment un­til you give it an­other lit­tle push which frees it com­pletely. Neat.

The Oper­a­tion

So, does such an ob­ses­sion with form end up com­pro­mis­ing func­tion here? The sim­ple an­swer is no, be­cause it’s clear a whole lot of thought has gone into the lat­ter too. When shoot­ing, the con­trol wheels pro­vide di­rect ac­cess to the ex­po­sure mode and the ISO set­tings… ar­guably the two most im­por­tant ad­just­ments re­quired in the field, and we’ve seen how clunky things can get when these are only ac­ces­si­ble via menus (re­mem­ber the lam­en­ta­ble Nikon V1?). Depend­ing on the ex­po­sure mode, the con­trol wheels do dif­fer­ent things. In pro­gram mode, both ap­ply shifts, but one ad­di­tion­ally shifts the ISO as well as the aper­ture and shut­ter speed com­bi­na­tion. In the semi-auto modes, one con­trol makes the man­ual ad­just­ment while the other changes the ISO. In man­ual mode, one switches be­tween aper­ture or shut­ter speeds (there’s a touch tab for this) while the other still changes the ISO. Easy-peasy.

What about ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion which is an­other con­trol you’re likely to need quite a lot? Sim­ple. You ar­range your cus­tom menu so the tile is on the top line and then it’s easy to get to. In­ci­den­tal-

ly, once you have the ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion scale on-screen, you make ad­just­ments via touch con­trol or by us­ing ei­ther of the con­trol wheels. The range is +/-3.0 EV, tra­versed in one-third stop in­cre­ments, but there’s a slightly an­noy­ing idio­syn­crasy in that you have to touch the ‘Set’ tab in or­der to make a set­ting stick.

This is also true of the ex­po­sure brack­et­ing func­tion which al­lows for an ad­just­ment of up to +/-3.0 EV per frame across a se­quence of three frames. Where hav­ing to go via ‘Set’ is mostly an is­sue is when can­celling these set­tings… you might think you’ve ze­roed ev­ery­thing, but un­less you press ‘Set’ af­ter­wards, you haven’t.

There’s the choice of multi-zone, cen­tre-weighted aver­age and spot me­ter­ing, and a se­lec­tion of eight sub­ject modes which are fully au­to­matic (in­clud­ing the ISO) ex­cept for the avail­abil­ity of ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion. The Auto ISO con­trol can be con­fig­ured to a max­i­mum ISO set­ting and a min­i­mum shut­ter speed down to one sec­ond… or this can be set to Auto and is then dic­tated by the lens fo­cal length.

The shut­ter has a speed range of 30-1/4000 sec­ond with flash sync up to 1/180 sec­ond (but no ‘B’ set­ting). The built-in flash is quite small and has a met­ric guide num­ber of 4.5 (at ISO 100), but the se­lec­tion of con­trol modes in­cludes red-eye re­duc­tion, fill-in, slow-speed sync and the choice of first/sec­ond cur­tain sync (which gets its own set­ting tile). The flash com­pen­sa­tion range is also +/-3.0 EV.

“The one-piece bodyand- chas­sis ex­udes the tra­di­tional Le­ica bal­ance of pre­ci­sion and so­lid­ity, but also has the ur­bane so­phis­ti­ca­tion of a 21st century mo­bile de­vice.”

The white bal­ance con­trols in­clude a set of five pre­sets, pro­vi­sions for mak­ing two cus­tom mea­sure­ments and man­ual colour tem­per­a­ture set­ting (over 2000 to 11,500 de­grees Kelvin), but no brack­et­ing and no fine-tun­ing.

If it fol­lows that if the Le­ica T is the lux­ury cam­era for the smart­phone gen­er­a­tion then it’s likely they’ll be grab­bing plenty of movie clips to upload to so­cial me­dia via its built-in WiFi mod­ule. In­ci­den­tally, the mem­ory card’s com­part­ment cover is only plas­tic so the WiFi can work, other­wise it’d be alu­minium too.

The T keeps its video record­ing op­er­a­tions sim­ple… 1080p or 720p res­o­lu­tion at 30 fps with MPEG 4 AVC/H .264 com­pres­sion in the MP4 for­mat. It has built-in stereo mi­cro­phones with a switch­able wind-cut fil­ter, but no way of cou­pling an ex­ter­nal mic (un­less Le­ica de­vises a cou­pling that uses the hot­shoe which seems un­likely). There’s a ded­i­cated record­ing start/stop but­ton. Func­tion­al­ity in­cludes aut­o­fo­cus­ing, but it’s slow so you’re bet­ter off do­ing it man­u­ally. You can use ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion, but ex­po­sure con­trol is fully au­to­matic re­gard­less of the set mode. The ‘Film Modes’ pre­sets are avail­able.

The Min­i­mal­ist Ap­proach

The Le­ica T uses con­ven­tional con­trast-de­tec­tion aut­o­fo­cus­ing with nine mea­sure­ment zones and the choice of multi-point or cen­tre-point area modes, plus a move­able point which is when the user in­ter­face again be­comes a bit idio­syn­cratic.

Af­ter se­lect­ing the ‘1 Point’ mode, it’s nec­es­sary to tap the ac­com­pa­ny­ing ar­row head which sub­se­quently ac­ti­vates the fo­cus­ing zone so it can be moved around the frame. You can do this via touch con­trol or by us­ing the two in­put wheels,

but then – wait for it – you also have to press ‘Set’, other­wise the AF zone will stay ex­actly where it was be­fore you started mak­ing any ad­just­ments. Given this is a pretty cum­ber­some ar­range­ment, the Le­ica’s ‘Touch AF’ mode is the much bet­ter op­tion here and pro­vides the same cov­er­age. There’s also a face de­tec­tion mode. Man­ual fo­cus­ing is as­sisted by two-step im­age mag­ni­fi­ca­tion – 3.0x or 6.0x – and a dis­tance scale. We’ve al­ready noted a few of the more no­table omis­sions, but to this list can be added colour space switch­ing, a level dis­play, an AF/AE lock, a fo­cus peak­ing dis­play, HDR cap­ture and RGB his­tograms. Le­ica’s rea­son­ing with most of them is that many people never use them which is prob­a­bly par­tic­u­larly true of the T’s tar­get au­di­ence and, to be hon­est, also be­yond.

For ex­am­ple, when did you last use the AE lock in pref­er­ence to ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion or spot me­ter­ing? Ex­actly. White bal­ance brack­et­ing ver­sus tak­ing a cus­tom mea­sure­ment? Thought not. Fil­ter ef­fects? C’mon!

So Le­ica’s min­i­mal­is­tic ap­proach to the T might have merit af­ter all. You can, in fact, live with­out ev­ery­thing it hasn’t got even if a few of these things would have def­i­nitely en­hanced its over­all con­ve­nience.

The Per­for­mance

Not sur­pris­ingly imag­ing per­for­mance is a big deal for Le­ica which is why it’s putting so much ef­fort into the de­sign of the T Sys­tem lenses. And while the cam­era’s sen­sor may not be its own, all the pro­gram­ming for the pro­ces­sor that makes it work most def­i­nitely is so Le­ica is in com­mand here. And, of course, fol­low­ing Fu­ji­film, Le­ica en­dorses 16 MP as the ‘sweet spot’ for ‘APS-C’ size sen­sors in terms of bal­anc­ing res­o­lu­tion, dy­namic range and sig­nal-to-noise ra­tio.

In the spirit of how Le­ica en­vis­ages the T be­ing used, we shot Su­perfine qual­ity large JPEGs for test pur­poses and no doubt helped by the su­perb op­tics of the 18-56mm zoom – which is like the Fu­ji­non XF 18-55mm in be­ing too good to be de­meaned as a ‘kit’ lens – they are ex­cep­tional.

Le­ica is clearly milk­ing ev­ery ef­fec­tive pixel for all its worth be­cause the level of de­tail­ing is stun­ning as is the crisp­ness with which each con­trast edge is de­fined.

The dy­namic range is ex­cel­lent – just as well given there’s no ex­pan­sion pro­cess­ing avail­able – and the tonal gra­da­tions are so smooth you’d swear you were look­ing at the out­put from a big­ger sen­sor with big­ger pix­els. The colour re­pro­duc­tion is con­sis­tently ac­cu­rate across the spec­trum and from the highly sat­u­rated to sub­tle shades. Us­ing the Vivid ‘Film Mode’ bumps up both the sat­u­ra­tion and con­trast con­sid­er­ably and it’s a bit like shoot­ing with Ko­dachrome 64 and an old M mount lens… punchy, but a bit un­for­giv­ing in some sit­u­a­tions. Noise is low all the way up to ISO 3200 and be­cause Le­ica ap­pears to be quite re­strained with its noise re­duc­tion pro­cess­ing, some mot­tling or grain­i­ness is ev­i­dent in the ar­eas of uni­form tone in im­ages cap­tured at ISO 6400 and 12,500, but nei­ther the def­i­ni­tion nor colour sat­u­ra­tion are overly af­fected.

To be frank, the T isn’t quite in the same league as the M240 when it comes to im­age qual­ity – par­tic­u­larly the high ISO per­for­mance – but it’s knock­ing on the door of the club­house and could prob­a­bly qual­ify for an hon­orary mem­ber­ship.

Clearly the Le­ica T isn’t about pure speed, al­though 5.0 fps is still fairly re­spectable. With our ref­er­ence mem­ory card loaded – Lexar’s Pro­fes­sional 600x 64 GB SDXC UHS-I speed de­vice – the T fired off the man­dated 12 frames in 2.421 sec­onds which rep­re­sents a con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing speed of 4.96 fps. The JPEG/large/su­perfine test files size was typ­i­cally around 5.7 MB while the RAWs were in the or­der of 24 MB. The burst length and max­i­mum shoot­ing speed re­main the same, by the way, even when shoot­ing RAW+JPEG.

The Ver­dict

Just read­ing about the Le­ica T isn’t re­ally enough to get a feel (no pun in­tended) for this cam­era, you re­ally have to see it and han­dle it in the flesh to get the full sense of what it’s all about. And it’s not nec­es­sar­ily all about that fab­u­lous body ei­ther, al­though few other cam­eras feel quite so de­light- ful in the hand. The Le­ica T is an ex­pe­ri­ence and it’s only af­ter you’ve had a taste of this that you start to ap­pre­ci­ate what Le­ica is try­ing to achieve. You also need to aban­don all your ideas or pre­con­cep­tions of what a con­tem­po­rary Le­ica cam­era should be, be­cause these will in­vari­ably be in­formed by the past and the T is most em­phat­i­cally a new start.

It could be that Le­ica has tried just a bit too hard to rid the T of any­thing it deems un­nec­es­sary and that a few more en­thu­si­ast-level func­tions could eas­ily have been in­cluded with­out com­pro­mis­ing the de­sign brief, but the re­al­ity is that you can live with­out most of them and still get what you want out of the cam­era. Ob­vi­ously, the user in­ter­face lends it­self eas­ily to firmware up­grades so there’s no rea­son Le­ica couldn’t of­fer a ‘pro pack’ up­date in the fu­ture. Then there’s the lit­tle mat­ter of the price tag which re­ally doesn’t make any sense along­side the likes of the Fu­ji­film X-T1 or the Olym­pus OM-D E-M1, but the Le­ica T isn’t re­ally a shortlist sort of a cam­era; it’s a see-it/want-it cam­era. And the truth is that we’ve never been here with Le­ica be­fore… “fash­ion­able” be­ing the last ad­jec­tive you’d ap­ply to one of its Ger­man-made prod­ucts. But the times they are a-changin’ and the bot­tom line is that if you buy a Le­ica T you’ll be get­ting a fab­u­lous piece of de­sign that makes both a big state­ment and pretty de­cent im­ages.

Talk about part­ing with tra­di­tion… Le­ica has dis­tilled the T’s ex­ter­nal con­trols down to just four (five if you count the power switch around the shut­ter re­lease separately). Take a deep breath.

Prob­a­bly an es­sen­tial additional pur­chase for Aus­tralian con­di­tions. The new Type 020 Visoflex EVF is exclusive to the Le­ica T and has a res­o­lu­tion of 2.4 mil­lion dots.

The T’s touch con­trol in­ter­face is sur­pris­ingly in­tu­itive, es­pe­cially as you can cre­ate your own cus­tomised ‘My Cam­era’ menu.

De­spite the min­i­mal­i­sa­tion of the ex­ter­nal con­trols, there’s still a sep­a­rate but­ton for video start/stop.

Rear panel mim­ics smart­phone de­sign with a fully flush-fit­ted touch screen.

While there is vir­tu­ally noth­ing of the past in the T, it’s close in di­men­sions to the

orig­i­nal Ur-Le­ica from 1914… sym­bolic given Le­ica’s 100th an­niver­sary.

Le­ica has even re­designed the way the cam­era strap is cou­pled to the T’s body, elim­i­nat­ing ugly lugs and rings.

The body and chas­sis are one unit, milled from a 1.2 kilo­gram block of alu­minium down to just 94 grams of metal­lic lus­cious­ness.

Test im­ages taken mostly with the 18-56mm zoom which, not sur­pris­ingly, per­forms well be­yond what’s nor­mally ex­pected of a sys­tem’s stan­dard zoom. Im­ages are su­perfine JPEGs and ex­hibit stun­ning de­tail­ing with crisply de­fined edges. The colour re­pro­duc­tion is con­sis­tently ac­cu­rate across the spec­trum and noise is ac­cept­ably low up to ISO 3200. These im­ages were all taken at ISO set­tings be­tween 400 and 1600.

Due shortly are two more lenses – an 11-23mm f3.5-4.5 wide-an­gle zoom (equiv­a­lent to 17-35mm) and a 55-135mm f3.5-5.6 tele­zoom (equiv­a­lent to 80-200mm).

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