Leica T swings above par but is handicapped by price (hands-on)

/ Updated: May 11, 2014 11:21 PM PDT

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First dates can be awkward. Long gaps in conversation or a general mismatch of ideals result in you giving your date the number of the local pizza shop just to get away.

But sometimes, that first date leads to the real deal.

Born out of a collaboration with Audi Design, the Leica T definitely falls into the latter category. The T is one of the more expensive mirrorless cameras you can buy, but if you've been looking for a cheaper entry into the premium world of Leica, it could be the perfect gateway. Note that cheaper is a relative term here: it's still a pricey piece of kit at US$1850/£1350/AU$2300 -- and that's for the body only.

The first thing you notice when holding the body of the Leica T is how sturdy and fluid it feels. The front panel is unadorned, save for the trademark Leica red dot, while the back is almost entirely engulfed by a 3.7-inch touchscreen.

Peer at the top or the bottom of the camera and see that it looks just like a 35mm roll of film. It's a deliberate design cue harking back to Leica's heritage.

The construction process is almost a work of art in itself. Starting with a 1.2kg chunk of aluminium, the 55 minute milling process whittles down this block to just 8 percent of its initial starting weight -- 94 grams. It's this shell that forms the entirety of the T, with the unibody design receiving a further 45 minutes of hand-polishing to reach the finished texture.

If this description has left you feeling particularly enthralled, satisfy your visual curiosity by watching the entire polishing process in video form. Never fear if cynicism gets the better of you though, because Leica has that covered too: the video is called "The Most Boring Ad Ever."

There's a premium process attached to the construction of the T for a reason. Leica has always been renowned for its attention to detail and associates its ethos and aesthetic with other premium brands like Porsche, Patek Phillipe and Hermes.

Like many things, the Leica T is more than the sum of its parts. On paper, it's easy to not quite 'get' what the T is all about. When you play around with it for even ten minutes, the system starts to make sense. I'd challenge even the most jaded photographer to not find the camera strap locking system a relief from the norm. Use a paperclip or the included tool to remove the stopper plugs in the camera body, then click and lock in the strap. Simple. Take a look at how it works in the video above.

The aluminium body feels luxurious, only let down slightly in aesthetic value by the cheaper plastic flap that reveals the memory card slot. But as it turns out, you might never need to open it up. If you are you the sort of person who forgets to insert a memory card, the camera has you covered thanks to 16GB of internal storage.

Delve inside the T to find a 16-megapixel Sony-designed APS-C sensor, though the image processor is all Leica.

Camera control is mostly designated to the expansive touchscreen on the back. The only physical control elements include the shutter button with its integrated power switch, pop-up flash lever and two control dials for adjusting exposure variables.

While other manufacturers have been hit-and-miss with touch control, Leica mostly succeeds in this instance. In my time with the camera, there was little to gripe about in regards to the screen, though there was a little bit of lag. This was most likely down to the fact that the camera's firmware was yet to be finalised.

leicainterface.jpg
Leica

All the touch controls are intuitive and simple to use, allowing for a little or a lot of customisation. The only difficult thing to find is the playback control, which is normally activated using a physical button on other cameras. On the T, a swipe from the top of the screen will bring up the review mode.

Despite all the trimmings of the Leica name and the prestige surrounding its lenses, there's still a part of me that finds a kit 18-56mm lens worth over $2,000 a bit hard to swallow. Fortunately, it's sharp as a tack, with only a slight drop off towards the edges. Bokeh is smooth and incredibly pleasing while distortions are minimal.

Photo quality from my initial tests is impressive. There are a number of different in-camera effects that include black-and-white and vivid colour, applying filters to JPEG images. The Leica T also shoots in DNG as its Raw format which makes conversion and adjustments simple.

If you have a set of M lenses, there will also be a T to M adapter available so you can use them without having to fork out extra cash for new glass.

Overall performance from my initial tests is good. Continuous shooting is consistent with Leica's results at 5 frames per second. There are a few AF modes to choose from: Spot lets you choose the precise point in the frame to focus on; One Point; Multi Point; Touch AF; Face Detection. General performance with Multi Point active is precise in ample lighting conditions, though things slow a little in terms of accuracy and speed in low lighting.

It's not all sunshine and rainbows unfortunately, as there are a few areas that the Leica misses out on: in-camera image stabilisation and dust removal. While exposures and metering are accurate, the T doesn't do so well in full automatic mode, particularly when paired with its pop-up flash that creates a ghostly effect on foreground subjects.

The Visioflex electronic viewfinder attaches through the hotshoe, and while it's nice and big, the refresh rate is not as fluid as I've seen on some other mirrorless cameras. It does, however, tilt up 90 degrees and has an included GPS module for tagging images.

Android users are left out in the cold for a little while, with the app for transferring images and remote camera control only available on iOS.

Stay tuned for the full review.

Fujifilm X-T1 Leica T (Typ 701) Sony Alpha ILCE-7/7R
Sensor effective resolution 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS II 16.3MP CMOS 24.3MP Exmor CMOS/
36.4MP Exmor CMOS
14-bit
Sensor size 23.6 x 15.8mm 23.6 x 15.7mm 35.8 x 23.9mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 1.5x 1.0x
OLPF No No Yes/No
ISO range ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 6400/51200 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 12500 ISO 50
(exp)/ ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Burst shooting 8fps
unlimited
47 JPEG/n/a raw
5fps
12 shots
2.5fps (5fps with fixed exposure and focus)/
1.5fps (4fps with fixed exposure and focus)
n/a
VF EVF
0.5-inch
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.2x/0.77x
Optional VisoFlex EVF
n/a
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
n/a
OLED EVF
0.5-inch
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
0.71x
AF 49-area contrast AF; phase-detection AF Contrast AF Hybrid AF system
25-area contrast AF;117-pt phase-
detection/
25-area contrast AF
AF exposure range n/a n/a 0 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 60 min; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; 1/180 x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb
Metering 256 zones n/a 1,200 zones
Metering exposure range n/a n/a 0 - 20 EV
IS Optical Electronic Optical
Best video 1080/60p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p
n/a
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps, 1080/60i/ 24p @ 24Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo Stereo; mic input; headphone jack
LCD size 3-inch fixed LCD
1.04 million dots
3.7-inch fixed LCD
1.2 million dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 X SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless flash Yes n/a No
(No on-camera flash)
Battery life
350 shots
(1,260mAh)
400 shots
(1,040mAh)
340 shots
(1,080mAh)
Wireless connectivity Wi-Fi Wi-Fi Wi-Fi, NFC
Size (WHD) 5.0 x 3.5 x 1.8 in.
127 x 88.9 x 45.7 mm
5.3 x 2.7 x 1.3 in.
134 x 69 x 33 mm
5.0 x 3.8 x 1.9 in.
127 x 96.5 x 48.3 mm
Body operating weight 15.6 oz
442.3 g
13.5 oz
384 g (est)
17.2 oz
487.6 g
Mfr. price (USD, body only) $1,299.95
$1,850.00
$1,699.99/$2,299.99
Primary kit $1,699.95 (with 18-55mm f2.8-4 lens) n/a $1,999.99 (with 28-70mm lens)/n/a
Ship date February 2014 May 2014 December 2013

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 16.3 Megapixel
  • Optical Sensor Size 15.7 x 23.6mm