Since the day I started taking photos I’ve been taught to treat my camera like a tool to help me make the photographs I want and not an antiquity to be placed behind glass boxes and behind many layers of laser triggered security for curious tourists to gawk at. To be a true workhorse, a camera should never be babied and while you should not abuse a camera for the sake of it, that scratch on the body is not going to make your pictures lose resolution. The moment I laid eyes on the Leica T, I knew that everything I had ever known would the thrown out the window.
From the first moment I laid eyes on the Leica T, even after seeing leaked pictures on the internet, I couldn’t keep my eyes off it. Every curve was a definitive one, the lines were drawing my eye perfectly well exactly to the places Leica intended and even the words etched into the camera in telltale Leica font completed the look and feel of abject luxury.
If Apple Designed A Camera, It Would Look Like This
When it comes to build, Leica rarely let anything ugly come out of the Solms factory and the Leica T is no exception. The entire body of the Leica T is carved from a single block of Aluminium and shares a rather different design aesthetic from the more “shooter friendly” M series. The Leica T opts for a minimalist design, only having buttons for video recording, a power switch that doubles as a shutter button and 2 dials that are programmable to adjust Aperture and Shutter speed. The Leica T forgoes all rear buttons in favour of a huge 3.7inch Touch LCD in a choice that on a camera could only be called questionable at best (more about that later).
Holding it in my hands and navigating through the menus is a rather bittersweet thing for me because while it is the most feature packed interchangeable lens Leica camera, it’s an even clunkier way of doing things than with the notoriously menu driven Sony NEX cameras. At least with the NEX Cameras you had a physical dial and buttons to help! The Leica T does make a huge leap into the future in terms of technology but it seems to be met with the “wind resistance” of very unintuitive hardware or lack thereof.
The Most “Advanced” Leica Camera To Date
I was lucky enough to get a review unit complete with the Visoflex EVF as well as a T Mount to M Mount adapter so I could use one of my Voigtlander lenses as well. I’ve never been a fan of using the rear LCD as a viewfinder, nor have I been a fan of EVFs in general and this time was no different. The EVF seemed to be the only thing in this whole package which didn’t feel like it reached the German standard of handcrafted perfection, even if it was priced that way. The abundance of plastic and the ease in which the EVF unlatches itself from its default position to a 90 degree one makes it a slightly iffy but essential choice for me.
Moving from the incredible build quality is not an easy thing but what the Leica T packs under the hood is not something to be sniffed at in any way, shape or form. The Leica T has a 16MP APS-C sensor that supports an ISO range of 100 – 12500 natively as well as 5fps continuous burst mode. There is also built in WiFi and the ability to use your smartphone as a remote viewfinder or just as a medium to receive images as they are shot. If you get the EVF you will have GPS functionality as well to help with geotagging your photos. The Leica T comes with a brand new T Mount and has 2 lenses at launch, the Vario Elmar T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 and the one that we got, the 23mm f/2 Summicron-T ASPH. On top of this, using a T to M adapter I spent a lot of time with the Leica T using my trusty Cosina Voigtlander 40mm f1.8 to see how the camera handled lenses designed for film.
A Fleeting Love At Second Sight
In all honesty, the Leica T doesn’t make for a very good modern camera. The controls are incredibly fiddly, relying on a touch screen to adjust things like ISO and focus points. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I had an internal unit of the Leica T but the software appeared to be sluggish and unintuitive at the best of times and it seems that while Leica have a great idea in the form of the Leica T, the software should have been more refined to match the look of the camera. A good example of how the camera doesn’t quite do a good job as a camera is when you take a photo, there is no review button, rather you need to swipe upward to access your taken images. This is inelegant and does not fit the beautiful body that contains it.
Using the camera with a smartphone doesn’t add much to it, rather it slows down usage quite considerably. The Leica camera has always been associated with the street and capturing the “decisive moment”, the Leica T seems to be a departure from that, instead opting for creating the perfect scene to pull the trigger. On top of this, the convenience of something like removing the straps or popping out the battery to charge requires a whole set of redundant steps which are completely for the sake of aesthetics rather than ergonomics and convenience. The snap on cover does look good but if we have to remove the straps to remove to cover to in turn remove the battery, we’ll take our chances with a naked camera thank you.
From what I’ve just said you would think that it is a no brainer that the Leica T is a terrible camera to shoot right?
There is something about the Leica T which changed when I put on the T to M adapter and stopped taking things so seriously. The moment I forgot that I was reviewing the beauty in my hands, I found myself with a big smile on my face. The moment I let my finger travel downward from the habitual half press and the shutter clicked, it reminded me of a noisier, less organic cloth shutter of the M cameras. It wasn’t a rangefinder way of focusing but the manual focus assist did it’s job wonderfully. With the manual lens, I just had to remember my Sunny 16 Rule and I was set, no fiddling with controls meant everything was much easier.
After this, I gave the 23mm Summicron-T another go and found that while it wasn’t as fun to shoot as my manual lens, the results when setting a manual white balance and over exposing 2/3s of a stop were definitely in the familiar Leica glass territory. The natural, slightly muted colours with a very creamy out of focus area just made me remember why Leica is so sought after in the first place: its glass.
My Only Love Sprung From My Only Hate
Despite every short coming I’ve mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Leica T. While it doesn’t illicit a reaction as handling an M 240 or a Hasselblad H4 it did remind me that sometimes, it’s not all about the numbers and the most important things are related to the journey. If you want a sharp picture, there are other options. If you want a super high MP image, there are other options. If you want a full set of bells and whistles for a wallet friendly price, there are other options. While my journalistic sense has overcome my love of making photos, I honestly can’t recommend this camera to anyone who is nothing short of a Leica enthusiast with a penchant for design. This isn’t a bad thing per se as Leica have made a business of this “Luxury camera” market in a way that Hasselblad have failed to in the past.
I would say that if you have the cash for a Leica T, make it a secondary camera; A camera that you can pair with your large M lens collection and shoot only when you feel that you don’t really need the shot and just want to have a bit of fun (and drop a few jaws). When not slung over your shoulder with the overly rubberized strap, it can sit in your dry cabinet, a beautiful centrepiece to your camera collection.
The Leica T Retails at all Leica Outlets in Malaysia for a price of RM6,000 for the body only and RM13,000 with the twin lens kit.
All images were taken straight from camera with no touch ups or adjustments applied. Click them for full sized samples