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
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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