Leica’s compact system camera has finally arrived, but how will Leica users feel about the 16.3-million-pixel Leica T (Type 701) and its radical design and handling? We put it to the test
Leica T (Type 701) at a glance:
- 16.3-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor
- 3.7in, 16:9 ratio, 1.3-million-dot touchscreen LCD
- 16GB internal memory
- Adobe Photoshop Lightroom included
- Street price £1,350 body only
- See sample images taken with the Leica T (Type 701)
Leica T (Type 701) review – Introduction
Hands up if you want to own a Leica M-system digital rangefinder camera? OK, hands down again. Hands up if you can afford one? What about the lenses? Buy a Leica M, or even the less expensive Leica M-E, factor in two or three lenses, and you could easily spend £10,000.
Leica cameras cost as much as they do due to the use of high-quality materials and German construction. There is little expense spared. Yet Leica cameras are designed to be functional. They are not just pretty, well-constructed cameras, but tools that could last a lifetime.
That’s not to say the Leica M system is perfect. Some of us prefer the convenience of autofocus, and some would rather not have to remortgage our homes to own one. So why doesn’t Leica make a more conventional compact system camera? Well, the company finally has, with the launch of the new Leica T (Type 701).
The new system looks set to answer the needs of many different users, but the main one will be the price. At £1,350, it is far more affordable than a Leica M-system camera, but the company has cut no corners in the construction, style and quality of the camera. So, for those wanting the experience of owning a Leica camera, it has just become a little easier on the wallet.
However, as we will find out, the design is somewhat radical, and will no doubt divide many as to whether it is contemporary and forward thinking, or whether design has won over function. Let’s find out what the Leica T is actually like to use.
Leica T (Type 701) review – Features
The Leica T (Type 701) has a 16.3 million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor, with a sensitivity range of ISO 100-12,500. There are no extended settings, although the standard range should be more than enough for the majority of photographers.
The 4928×3264-pixel images can be saved as JPEGs or raw files, and with the universal DNG raw format used they can be opened in most raw editing software without the need for an update. Better still is the fact that the latest version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is included with the camera.
Images can be stored in two ways. The first is on an SD card. Second, the Leica T (Type 701) has built-in memory. We are used to seeing cameras with 16MB, 32MB or 64MB of built-in memory, but the Leica T has a huge 16GB of internal memory. This means you can happily take the Leica T away on your travels and not have to take a memory card with you. Alternatively, if you run out of space on your card, you know you still have some memory to keep shooting.
The shutter-speed range of the Leica T is between 30-1/4000sec, which is on a par with other compact system cameras of its type, and it has the usual selection of automatic, aperture and shutter priority exposure modes, as well as manual and a small number of scene modes. The scene modes are just one indication that Leica is targeting a new market with the Leica T, but the biggest indication of this is the fact that the camera uses a touchscreen.
The camera’s sleek design, scene modes and touchscreen show that Leica is perhaps aiming at a younger, less conservative audience than it is with its Leica M-series cameras. This younger market is more used to handling a camera touchscreen on a smartphone, with built-in memory, and is quite happy to spend £500 on a smartphone and £1,000 on a sleek laptop.
Wi-Fi connectivity is built in to the Leica T, making it easy to share images between the camera and a smartphone. The Leica T app is currently only available for Apple iOS, but as well as sharing images it also allows for the camera to be remotely controlled via an iPhone or iPad. This really is a modern and forward-thinking camera. In fact, many people have described it as what Apple would make if it made a compact system camera.
Leica T (Type 701) review – Touchscreen operation
With virtually no physical controls on the Leica T (Type 701), most settings are changed using the touchscreen’s virtual menu system. At first glance these appear to be basic settings, but they are actually fully customisable. By pressing the on-screen settings button, the main menu opens to reveal a series of simple on-screen buttons. These control features such as the AF or shooting mode, or the colour setting in use. Initially, I thought the camera was missing a number of key settings, but a quick press of the ‘+’ button reveals a further set of buttons that can be added to the menu. In fact, it is possible to customise the menu buttons so you can decide which settings you want and the order in which you want them. Holding down one of the on-screen buttons allows it to be dragged to a new position on the screen, so you can place the settings used most frequently to a premium spot.
Changing the settings is straightforward. Some of the buttons, such as the AF mode, can be altered with a simple tap, such as switching from AF to manual focus, and then it is tapped again to switch back. The same applies to image resolution. There are five image resolutions, from 16.3 million pixels to 1.8 million pixels. Pressing the on-screen button cycles through each setting.
Other buttons, such as the colour mode, reveal an on-screen menu when pressed. You simply press the required setting, such as vivid or black & white high contrast.
Up to three user profiles can also be created. These allow the on-screen custom menu layouts to be saved, so if more than one person is using the camera each can call up his or her own set-up menu. Alternatively, different profiles can be used for different styles of photography.
When it comes to playing back images you have taken, I won’t reveal here how you do this, as it will spoil the fun, but it is actually straightforward – if you know how to do it…
Leica T (Type 701) review – Build and handling
I had two initial reactions when I picked up the Leica T (Type 701) for the first time. My first was, ‘Wow! This camera is beautifully designed and crafted from a single block of aluminium.’ Interestingly, this is a very similar technique to the way that Apple – a premium brand, like Leica, that has managed to cross over into the mainstream market – makes some of its MacBook laptop computers.
Leica joined forces with Audi when it came to designing the Leica T, and the result really is beautiful. The camera’s sleek finish is the result of polishing the camera, by hand, for 45 minutes after it has been milled.
My second reaction when I picked up the camera was, ‘Who has stolen all the buttons?’ The rear of the camera has no buttons or dials. In fact, other than the shutter button, the on/off switch and two featureless control dials on the top-plate, the Leica T is devoid of any direct controls. Instead, nearly all settings and features are changed and selected using the touchscreen. I can already hear the murmurs of disgruntled photographers bemoaning this lack of direct control, and I have to admit that initially I was sceptical about the idea. However, the 3.7in touchscreen is very responsive, and the buttons are a good size – not small and fiddly as they are on some touchscreens.
As good as the Leica T’s touchscreen is, though, it does take some time to get used to how it operates. The lack of pages and pages of settings being immediately accessible does give the impression that there is not much you can do with this camera. In fact, despite its somewhat basic initial interface, almost everything you would want to change can be easily accessed, but I cover the touchscreen and navigation system in more detail in the Features in use section.
The two dials on the top of the camera are set to control the shutter or aperture when shooting one of the priority modes, with the other controlling the ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation, white balance, autofocus, flash mode or shooting mode. While in manual mode, the buttons control the shutter and aperture. The twin control system works well and is simple to use, and for the most part I didn’t miss having a vast number of controls.
The one control that is often difficult to change on cameras is the AF point. Thankfully, this can be changed via the touchscreen quickly. I wish all manufacturers would incorporate touchscreens for the sole purpose of making the selection of the focus point easier.
The one slight quirk with the Leica T’s touchscreen AF selection is that once the point has been selected and focused, a half-depress of the shutter button doesn’t refocus. This means that if you select a point and then want to recompose slightly, you have to select the point again rather than half-depressing the shutter button. Another thing that may be slightly annoying is the lack of a screw thread on the Leica T shutter button, although with the camera having Wi-Fi remote control this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Given the quality of the Leica T’s body, it is a shame that the door for the memory card and USB sockets is made of plastic. The reason for the use of plastic is to enable the use of Wi-Fi, which won’t transmit through metal. Similarly, the battery door is plastic, but this also has a bizarre unlocking mechanism that is either annoying or a genius idea. A lever unlocks the battery cover, but when you try to pull the battery out you can’t. You have to half-push the battery and cover back into the body to release a catch to enable the battery to come out. I presume that this system has been set up to prevent the battery from just dropping to the floor, but I think it is a little over-designed.
Leica T (Type 701) review – Autofocus
Unlike more recent compact system cameras that have either a hybrid or phase-detection AF system, the Leica T (Type 701) uses a contrast AF system, which is more conventional for a CSC. That is not to say the Leica’s AF is inferior. Contrast-detection AF can be more accurate than other methods, and overall I found that the Leica T confidentially found focus in good light. Although it wasn’t the fastest AF system I have seen on a compact system camera, it was fast enough to meet the demands of the photographers at whom the camera is aimed.
In low light, the AF of the Leica T struggled a little, although the AF illuminator on the front helped the camera to lock focus on subjects that were up to a few metres away. Selecting the AF point via the touchscreen was a real benefit and I found that it was the AF mode I regularly used. Face detection and multi-point AF modes are also available, as is manual focus.
Leica T (Type 701) review – Metering
Image: The multi-field metering did well to balance the exposure in this high-contrast scene
The Leica T (Type 701) has spot and centreweighted metering, as well as evaluative (or, as Leica calls it, multi-field). I used the Leica T in bright sunlight and very dark, overcast conditions, taking a variety of shots, and the multi-field metering produced excellent results almost without exception. The metering will take highlights right to the point of clipping, which means that while midtones are generally well exposed, shadows are sometimes quite dark, which creates a good level of contrast between highlights and shadows. I was very impressed with the metering and I would imagine that those who shoot JPEG images can rest assured that they can probably leave the camera in multi-field mode and just occasionally add ±0.3EV where needed.
Image: The in-camera black & white high-contrast mode produces lovely results. Note that the metering takes the highlights right to the point of clipping
Leica T (Type 701) review – Dynamic range
Measuring 12.12EV at ISO 100, the Leica T has a respectable dynamic range for the size and resolution of its sensor. This allows it to retain a fair about of detail in highlights and shadows, although it falls a little short of some of the leading DSLR cameras. It is certainly comparable to other compact system cameras with a similar resolution.
Above ISO 800, the dynamic range starts to drop quite rapidly, and at ISO 1600 it is around 1EV less than many of its competitors, including a few with smaller sensors. To get the most highlight and shadow detail from the Leica T, I would advise shooting between ISO 100 and ISO 400.
Image: The Leica T reveals a good amount of detail considering it uses just a 16.3-million-pixel sensor
Leica T (Type 701) review – White balance and colour
Image: The vivid colour setting is quite nice for some subjects, but can be a little overpowering
There are five colour settings on the Leica T, with each accessed via a quick press of the film-mode touchscreen button. As well as the standard mode, there are natural and vivid colour options. Of these, I found that the natural option was a little too muted for my taste, especially as I found that the standard setting provided JPEGs with realistic natural colours. The vivid mode was very vivid. An image I took of some buses on a grey London day looked as though I had selected a ‘colour-pop’ mode, with the vibrant red of the buses appearing singled out against the dull and muted grey clouds and architecture.
There are also two black & white modes – b&w natural and b&w high contrast. Of these, high contrast is my favourite, producing great black & white images straight out of the camera.
Each of the colour modes can be adjusted, with contrast and sharpness available for customisation in all modes and saturation when using the colour modes.
While some cameras have a vast number of colour modes and settings, it is refreshing that the Leica T has a limited selection. I find that I generally only use one or two colour settings anyway, especially as I shoot in raw mode, so for me they are purely a starting point or reference. My only criticism is that you cannot apply a colour filter effect to the black & white film modes.
I found that the automatic white balance worked well in both bright sunshine and overcast conditions. In fact, when I made some comparison images, I actually preferred the slightly more neutral results that the AWB setting produced in bright sunlight compared to the same image taken in the sunny white balance setting.
Image: The natural colours produced when in the default colour mode make the Leica T great for portraits
Leica T (Type 701) review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity
It may sound quite obvious, but to get the best from the Leica T you really need to shoot raw images. While the JPEGs are sharp from both lenses used with the camera, the JPEG compression, noise reduction and image processing can just take the edge off the camera to reveal what is a staggering amout of detail for a 16.3-million-pixel camera.
The raw files reveal much more detail. A quick tweak to the sharpness and local contrast of the DNG raw images improves the detail resolution, and applying just a tweak of luminance noise reduction in Adobe Camera Raw goes a long way to taking the edge off any noise that begins to appear at ISO 400.
As can be seen in our resolution charts, the Leica T only really resolves detail up to around 26lpmm at ISO 100. This is about the same as most other cameras with good 16-million-pixel sensors. However, looking at the raw images it is clear to see that the camera still recognises lines right up to the maximum value of 40lpmm. Not all the lines are present, so unlike the Nikon D800E and the Sony Alpha 7R, it doesn’t outresolve the chart, but it does register some lines and detail. Most other cameras of this resolution would simply produce a blur by this point.
We conducted our resolution chart tests with both the 23mm f/2 and the 18-56mm f/3.6-5.6 lenses, set to a focal length of around 35mm. Both lenses showed a very similar degree of detail in the centre, with little to pick between the two.
Colour noise is very well controlled in JPEG images throughout the ISO sensitivity range, although there are some hints of purple and magenta noise at ISO 6400 and above. Luminance noise reduction does reduce the level of fine detail, but overall it leaves enough texture on most surfaces so the image is not obliterated. Knowing these limitations, I would happily shoot between ISO 100 and ISO 1600, but I would make sure that I was shooting raw+JPEG to really get the most from the camera.
DNG raw files are easily edited in Camera Raw and it is possible to remove virtually all colour noise from even high-sensitivity images. Luminance noise can be reduced, and again, far more detail can be resolved in comparison to the JPEG files.
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 18-56mm f/3.6-5.6 s set to 35mm and f/5.6 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.
Leica T (Type 701) review – Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video
Those photographers who were hoping for the Leica T to be more akin to a micro version of a Leica M-series rangefinder will no doubt be disappointed by the lack of optical viewfinder. An electronic viewfinder is available in the form of the Leica T Visoflex, which will cost around £400. I didn’t have the chance to use the Visoflex during our test of the camera, but look out for a review of it in a future issue.
The 3.7in touchscreen looks excellent. With a 1.3-million-dot resolution, images look detailed and vibrant, and the screen displays a good level of contrast. The screen is similar in size, design and finish to that of an Apple iPhone 4. It is also bright enough to be used easily on a summer’s day.
As a camera designed for photographers, video is something of an afterthought on the Leica T. Full 1920×1080-pixel resolution can be captured at 30fps, but there is no external mic port. However, the accessory shoe on top of the camera has numerous connections, so while a microphone accessory isn’t currently available, it may be in the future.
Leica T (Type 701) review – The competition
The Leica T enters one of the most hard-fought areas of the compact system camera market, with the 24.3-million-pixel Sony NEX-7 currently one of the best-selling cameras. The NEX-7 is a few years old now, and can be found for just £650 with a kit zoom lens, making it good value. It shares similar dual control dials with the Leica T.
Those who were hoping for a full-frame compact system camera should look no further than the Sony Alpha 7, which is around £1,500 including a kit lens, and third-party mounts are available for Leica M lenses. However, if you were hoping for something more like a rangefinder, then the best option is the Fujifilm X-Pro1 with a 16 million-pixel X-Trans sensor and a hybrid optical and digital viewfinder. It costs around £900 with a 18mm f/2 pancake lens.
Leica T (Type 701) review – Our verdict
The Leica T (Type 701) probably wasn’t what most people were expecting when they imagined a Leica CSC. The lack of an M mount, viewfinder and control buttons will no doubt mean that many photographers write this camera off without even picking it up, which would be a shame.
While the control system may be unconventional, it is functional, fairly straightforward and, more importantly, much easier to use than that found on other cameras that have gone down the touchscreen-only route. It is a great piece of design, and while it lacks a few more advanced controls, it certainly isn’t lacking in key features, such as touchscreen AF point selection and Wi-Fi connectivity.
In terms of image quality, the Leica T performs well. It matches some of the best 16-million-pixel DSLRs in terms of resolution, with a good level of noise control.
The Leica T isn’t too expensive, although the major catch is that the two lenses currently available cost as much as the camera itself so the price rises from £1,350 to £2,500.
I like the Leica T and as a travel camera it would be a good companion. However, it doesn’t really do enough to convince me that I should buy it over, say, a Fujifilm X-Pro1, Fujifilm X-T1 or full-frame Sony Alpha 7.
Leica T (Type 701) – Key features
As well as being compatible with the new Leica SF 26 flashgun, the multi-interface shoe also allows the Visoflex (Typ 020) electronic viewfinder to be used. Interestingly, the EVF also has built-in GPS connectivity.
Video recording can be started or stopped using a dedicated button on the Leica T’s top-plate.
There are a number of dedicated accessories for the Leica T, including carrying straps, leather protection cases, carry cases and colourful T-snap cases. Perhaps most unusual is a leather over-the-shoulder holster that allows quick access to the camera, even if it does look like you are carry a handgun.
Dual control dials
The dual control dials can be customised to control various exposure or shooting settings, but most photographers will want to have the aperture/shutter speed on one dial and exposure compensation or sensitivity on the other, depending on the exposure mode.
In the same year that Leica celebrates its 100th birthday, the manufacturer has announced an entirely new camera system.
Called Leica T, it’s like no other compact system camera we’ve seen before, and is designed to complement the Leica brand and sit beside the iconic M system.
At the time of launch, the new T system consists of a beautifully designed Leica T body and a pair of lenses using a new Leica T mount. Leica has already unveiled plans to expand the system later in the year, but will it allow the manufacturer to achieve its long-term goal of attracting a new type of customer to the premium brand?
Leica T – Key Features
Designed in collaboration with automotive manufacturer Audi, the Leica T stands out from other current compact system cameras in the market for the way it is crafted from a single block of aluminium, which gives it an unmistakable look and finish.
We’ll turn our attention to the camera’s sublime looks and build quality shortly, but first let’s focus on its key features.
Behind the camera’s new T mount lies an APS-C-format CMOS sensor that comes with a 16.5-million-pixel resolution, effective to 16.3 million pixels. Based on the 3:2 aspect ratio, the APS-C chip measures 23.6×15.7mm and produces a maximum image resolution of 4944×3278 pixels, with the option, just as you’d expect, of shooting in raw and JPEG file formats.
Although the use of an APS-C-sized sensor is likely to cause some controversy with photographers who would have preferred a full-frame chip, Leica’s decision to implement an APS-C sensor has allegedly been made to keep it as small as possible, while ensuring brilliant images with outstanding contrast, fine detail resolution and natural colour rendition.
The partnership of a newly developed high-performance processor alongside the sensor delivers an ISO range of 100-12,500, with the option to shoot continuously at 5fps for up to 12 shots.
Other important features to note include a shutter-speed range that runs from 30-1/4000sec, 1080p full HD video recorded at a frame rate of 30fps, and an autofocus system based on contrast-detection AF – an interesting decision, given that many CSCs are now using hybrid systems that use both contrast detection and phase detection.
Impresive touch screen
Design aside, one of the headline features is the camera’s 3.7in TFT LCD touchscreen display. It boasts a 1.3-million-pixel resolution and its generous size contributes to fewer buttons dotted around the body.
With just three buttons on the body in total, this means numerous functions in capture and playback modes are controlled by touch. A beautifully designed menu system that features large, bold icons, clear text and excellent customisation to ensure fast access to commonly used settings helps its ease of use.
Twin control dials at the corner of the body offer independent control of aperture and shutter speed in manual mode, and, as per the body, they are immaculately machined from aluminium.
The pop-up flash rises with an extra click of the on/off switch, the battery is ingeniously designed so it doesn’t accidently fall out, and the meticulous effort that’s been made to ensure the camera is as sleek and as stylish as possible comes right down to the smaller details such as the strap, which clips straight into the shell of the body. By omitting ugly lugs, Leica has successfully preserved a clean and minimal design.
A 2.4-million-dot clip-on electronic viewfinder is one of a multitude of accessories that will be produced for the Leica T system. The EVF features integrated GPS and tilts up by 90° to ease composition from low angles, while a new Leica M adapter will allow users of Leica M-series lenses to attach them to the Leica T.
The camera system marks the first-ever Leica to feature a Wi-Fi module to enable hassle-free wireless transfer of still images and video directly to a smartphone or tablet. Furthermore, the wireless connectivity is supported by a free Leica T app for iOS devices that will allow users to adjust exposure settings remotely and fire the shutter on the fly.
Supporting SD media and USB charging at the side, the camera also features 16GB of internal memory and will initially be supported by two lenses in the Leica T system – the 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens (equivalent to 27-84mm) and the fixed 23mm f/2 prime (equivalent to 35mm).
A 17-35mm wideangle lens and 80-200mm telephoto zoom are also expected to be announced at the Photokina trade show in September this year.
Leica T – First Impressions
The sublime design and minimalist styling of the Leica T make it a thing of beauty to look at, but it’s not until you pick it up and get hands on that you appreciate the effort Leica has put into its latest innovation.
Out of the box, it is the Leica T’s robust build quality that strikes you first, followed by an immediate sense of attention to detail.Although it is relatively light (384g with battery included), it manages to strike a perfect balance between weight and solidity.
The robust, high-grade body, which takes 55mins to be machined from a solid block of aluminium, followed by a further 45mins of precise polishing by hand, feels exquisite and quintessentially Leica.
The finish is in an entirely different league to what we’ve come to expect from most compact system camera manufacturers and it does make you rather paranoid of damaging its flawless appearance with a scratch or inadvertent knock.
The Leica T-snap accessory for the front of the camera and T-flap for the rear provide a decent level of protection from damage, while giving the camera a personalised look that’s sure to make it stand out from the crowd.
The leather holster and leather protector are more in keeping with the camera’s stylish aesthetic and are lined in felt on the inside to provide a cushion against the body, with subtle detailing and a level of stitching that complements the brand.
The only minor criticism regarding the build quality is the thin plastic door at the side, which provides access to the SD card slot and USB charging port.
Leica T – In Use
With the Leica 23mm f/2 Summicron-T Asph lens attached, the camera is best supported by two hands – the right hand wrapped around the grip and the left hand supporting the lens beneath.
With many of the camera’s modes and controls appearing on the far left of the touchscreen, it doesn’t lend itself to being used single-handedly.
The way the lens mount sits off-centre to the body could also result in the camera feeling unbalanced with larger and heavier zooms, but this didn’t cause any concerns with the prime or kit lens we used.
The twin control-dial design is similar to that featured on Sony’s NEX-7, but the good news is that the Leica T’s dials are easier to access, provide a beautiful tactile feel and notch into place more positively when used.
Set to aperture-priority or shutter-priority mode, the left dial can be personalised to adjust ISO, exposure compensation, white balance, focus mode, self-timer or flash mode, and from the main menu all the settings and modes can be rearranged to your personal preference by holding and dragging – much like apps can be repositioned on a smartphone.
Operating the camera for the first time, you immediately get the sense that a lot of thought has been put into the interface. For instance, instead of trawling through endless sub menus, large icons can simply be touched to cycle through different settings.
It makes for the fastest and most intuitive operational experience of any touchscreen camera we’ve used. That said, the touchscreen on our pre-production model wasn’t entirely fault-free. It was hesitant and unresponsive at times and we often found ourselves having to double-swipe to view images in playback mode.
Pinch and zoom gestures also lacked the precise control we’ve come to expect from smartphone touchscreens, but we’re hopeful that a final firmware update should address the issue.
Another observation concerns the autofocus speed, which, although not sluggish, didn’t have the same response and lightning lock-on speed as Panasonic’s Light Speed AF system and Fujifilm’s Intelligent Hybrid AF system.
Focusing between near and far subjects encountered a split-second delay before focus was acquired and this was most noticeable while attempting to focus using the camera’s Touch AF functionality.
Despite the AF point failing to reach the far corners of the frame, the contrast and clarity of the touchscreen are superb – faithfully rendering lifelike colour while complementing the minimalist design perfectly. While our hands-on experience revealed a few early niggles, the Leica T is a thoroughly pleasing camera to use.
Leica T – Price and Availability
The Leica T will cost £1,350 (body only) or £2,600 with the 18-56mm kit lens or £2,700 with the 23mm f/2 prime lens. It will be available from 26 May.
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