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) 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.