I'm a huge fan of Leica. I love their extensive history, their opinionated product design, and even the luxury brand that they've carefully cultivated over the years. I've personally owned and shot with an M9-P, X1, M6, and various Elmarit, Summicron, and Summilux lenses. Although I have shot some of my favorite photos with these systems, I've sold all items listed above except for my film M6 and 50mm Summicron lens which I'll hopefully keep for my lifetime.
While I still really enjoy the M system, the size and weight has become an issue for the way I shoot. M bodies, especially digital versions, have been getting bulkier and heavier with each iteration and they have become a reminder that I haven't been to the gym enough to comfortably carry around that amount of girth and weight all day. So over the past year I've been in search for a compact system that would provide a similar shooting experience I get when using my trusty film M: extremely responsive, no lag, long battery life, discreet in operation, great image quality, interchangeable lenses, ~1.5x or less crop factor, small in size and relatively lightweight. I've gone through numerous cameras during the search and I'm currently using and have been quite happy with the Fuji X series. Although, having shot with the Fuji for the past few months, I've been finding myself longing for the Leica signature colors and the feel (not the weight) of M bodies. There is a certain feeling of confidence that oozes from an M body that makes me want to use them. It's most likely all in my head, but whatever gets me to shoot more is good enough for me. So it's no surprise that I was excited about the announcement of the Leica T earlier today. Finally, a compact digital Leica system with interchangeable lenses. Details of the full announcement.
Lucky for me, there is a Leica store close to my office in SoHo (NYC) so I had the opportunity to stop by and play with it in person. Below are my initial thoughts on the handling of the camera. If you are looking for a full review with specs and photos, there are links at the bottom of the post to full and much more informative reviews.
Body - The design and craftsmanship of the hardware is exactly what you'd expect from Leica. This isn't a rebadged Panasonic/Sony, this is a Leica from the ground up. The body is made out of a single block of aluminum. According to Leica, they spend 45 minutes polishing the aluminum by hand. I'm still thinking about how nice it felt while I type this. It seriously looks and feels sexy. It's like Apple gave birth to a camera. It's well balanced, controls are in the right places, and feels right in the hand. It inspires me to want to take photographs with it - which is something very few cameras do.
Shutter sound - quiet yet confident sound.
23mm F/2 Summicron Lens - The lens is small and light. Very well balanced with the body. Auto-focus with the Leica T seemed about what I was expecting. Not DSLR fast but similar to what I've seen on Fuji X100. Maybe slightly slower than the Fuji XE-2. Hard to gauge since I only tested it in the store's lighting conditions.
Strap - Leica completely redesigned the way the strap hooks up to the body. It has a very seamless look and the rubbery strap feels nice in use. Very well done considering the strap for the Leica M9-P seemed like an afterthought.
Images? - I didn't get to test it but from what I've seen online, the image quality and colors look great. Or at least good enough for what I'm looking for.
Control dials - due to their lack of physical buttons and lack of aperture control on T system lenses, I understand the need for Leica to make these dials contextual. Having said that however, part of me wishes there was a single dial on the back for aperture and the dials on top were similar to the Leica X series with a dedicated shutter speed dial (with auto mode) and exposure compensation dial so I could set these without having to look at a screen.
Electronic Viewfinder - The EVF itself has a decent display, I'd say on par with the Fuji X100. There is an eye-sensor which is nice but, unfortunately, there was some noticeable lag switching between LCD and EVF.
Adapter - I was able to use the T with the M-Mount adapter and 35mm Summicron (EFL 50mm). One major issue is that there is no focus assist on the T. Without peaking or split screen (Fuji style), it can be very challenging to focus fast lenses wide open. There is, however, a zoom feature to help with focus but I imagine that's not the most efficient way to focus during real-world use. Judging from the LCD screen, the image quality with adapter seemed to work very well. No noticeable vignetting or image quality issues. But it's hard to say how it will look once viewed on a big monitor or when using wide angle lenses. Oh, and I really wish the adapter wasn't another $400.
- Touchscreen - Leica isn't known of their software so on one hand I'm quite impressed with how far Leica pushed their comfort zone. For the most part the touchscreen works well and is intuitive once you understand the controls. It's just not particularly responsive and fluid if you are comparing them to iOS interfaces - which is easy to since it feels like an Apple device. But it works well enough; swipes and other gestures just have to be a bit more deliberate.
- Available lenses - The Leica T launches with the 23mm Summicron and a slow zoom lens that I didn't even bother playing with.
- Cost - cost is always an issue when it comes to Leica products. They aren't as mass produced so there will always be a premium because of that. $1850 body, $1950 Summicron lens, $600 viewfinder, $300 adapter - over $5k after taxes.
Hate (hint: software)
- Remember when I said it's like Apple gave birth to the hardware? It feels like Samsung adopted it and wrote the software for it. Ok, it's definitely not that bad, but there are small things that make me sad. Let's hope they fix these in the next firmware update.
- Can't turn off the LCD when using EVF - When I'm shooting, I hate using the LCD. I don't want it lighting up the room (even if it's just showing my settings) when I have the camera on in my hand. I only want to use the LCD for playing back photos and modifying settings, I wish there was an additional button to turn on and off the display. Or even have some fancy gesture to do it (I'd rather have the button).
- Can't turn off photo review - Why?? I don't want to see the photo that I just shot. I know what I just shot, I pushed the shutter button after I composed my photo. I'd rather be composing my next shot.
- Lag time - It takes a little over a second for the camera to start up and it takes another half second for the display to show up in the EVF. While this doesn't seem like much, it might just be enough to miss candid shots due to the delay.
- Viewfinder - I really wish the Leica T was designed with an integrated viewfinder.
- This is a nitpick and a personal preference, but I hate how prominent their red dot badge is. I completely understand their branding desires and that people pay a premium for the red dot. However, for me, I really wish they had an option for a classy understated treatment like older film Ms or even the newer Leica M9-P.
As I write this, it's become painfully obvious that the T wasn't designed for people like me in mind. I'm one of the probably dozens (DOZENS!) of people looking for a Mini-M and the T is unfortunately (for me) not it. That's not to say it's not a beautiful camera and well designed camera. It's definitely unique camera that looks and works great but it's just not exactly what I'm looking for right now. Would I ever buy one? I'd have to play with it more but I'd definitely consider it after it's further developed. It would be really nice to share Leica lenses between my film and digital cameras. However, the software issues I mentioned above will need to be fixed along with some sort of focus assist for manual lenses. Until then, I'm happy with my Fuji XE-2 (or at least I'll keep telling myself that).