Leica T (Typ 701) Not just a pretty face.

When the Leica T was announced I and others made the mistake of thinking of it as some kind of 'show pony' camera. This wasn't helped by those Leica videos of the body being polished. The impression was that this was a camera that was notable mainly for it's looks and it's cache, expensive luxury brand status. Using it however, it's become clear that that is far from the case, it is a serious photographic tool and in fact has two class leading features.

Firstly, lets deal with the the image quality. I know I should be used to it by now, but the samples 'reviewers' were posting were soft, to say the least. However, now I've taken some shots of my own, that is patently not the case. This is the 16MP Sony sensor that Leica have used in all their APS-C cameras and it's a very good one. Most of the above shots were taken in a dark museum and I was using ISO 3200 for the majority of my interior pictures. Even at the small reproduction size above you can see just how good they are. There is an improvement over the X-Vario in terms of Leica's processing and the jpgs. are a lot better. Sharper, cleaner yet with that trademark Leica colour. Top class and easily the equal of anything Fuji X can offer. 

Secondly, the class leading features. The redesigned EVF, replacing the Epson unit also used in the Olympus VF-2, is the best I've ever used. Yes, I think it's better than the Fuji X-T1. It's sharper, clearer and brighter. But it's great virtue is it gives a huge image. It's the least 'tunnely' of any viewfinder I've ever composed an image through. Very impressive. Even more impressive is the screen. It's big, 3.7" and again very sharp, clear and bright. The best I've used on a 'conventional' camera. It's as good as the screen on my Nokia 1020 phone and that's high praise. Again excellent.

Now I don't know what has happened within Leica, but from being also rans in the viewfinder and screen department, they suddenly have come up with examples in the Leica T that other manufacturers now have to aspire to. In fact the whole camera with all it's touchscreen tech. has, somewhat suprisingly, moved Leica into the forefront of this technology. And who would have thought that? For example the Leica T app. that I downloaded from the Apple store, lets me connect to the camera via wi-fi, control it and also view the images in the camera and download them directly to my iPad. This is great for sorting, editing and uploading. As soon as I download them they are then stored in my iCloud account. Saves me hours of work.

Now I can do this with images stored in either the cameras 32GB internal memory or on the SD card. I can incidentally back up the images onto both. So from technological novices, Leica have moved dramatically forward with this camera and some of the design features are designed to make a photographers life easier and that is great. There is also a total lack of any social media pandering. There is no facebook / instagram / twitter upload built into the camera. But then it's hardly the camera for shooting selfies. Unless they are selfies for the very well-heeled!!

So, although I think that there is no doubt that it's aimed at something other than an enthusiast photographer market and at people who might not be that bothered about some of the features I've mentioned (and are in fact more impressed by the polishing!) it is still in the Leica tradition of being, first and foremost, a camera for serious photographers. And I freely admit I missed that, though again with the way that it was announced and what the priorities of Leica's marketing strategy were, I don't think I'm alone in that. 

It IS expensive, that's undeniable. The 18-56mm zoom is also VERY expensive. It's good, in fact it's very good, but £1250 is somewhat steep, to say the least. I haven't mentioned the lens much as yet and that's purely because the body of the camera is so attention grabbing. The lens is however beautifully made with an absolutely wonderful zooming action. Leica apparently haven't got the capacity to make it themselves, but they 100% designed it and it is made to their exacting standards. The smart money says it's being manufactured in a Sigma factory and with Sigma's current resurgence, that's probably no bad thing. I would just say that it produces flawless images and while it is obviously overpriced, it is a top class lens and I've love to see a kit lens that was better, because I haven't as yet.

So, taking it out for my first 'field trip' I'm as impressed as I hoped I would be. And I'm not just saying that because I spent all that money on it. It fulfills all my expectations. It's quick and easy to use, it takes great pictures and it fits in with my current workflow seamlessly. And yes it is an aesthetic triumph, beautifully made and designed, but it would be just that 'show pony' if it wasn't more than that and only be some kind of luxury plaything. But this is certainly no Hassleblad Lunar, a rebadged Sony designed purely and simply to impress the impressionable rich and get them to part with lots of their money. Now Leica aren't perfect, but I certainly got this one wrong and am happy to admit it.

However it does show something about Leica that they did push the non-photographic virtues of the camera in their initial presentation of the camera and give off the impression that this was for well-heeled poseurs. Because let's not forget that the price of this is not that steep for people who have invested in top end Canon and Nikon gear. There are bodies and lenses more expensive that the Leica T and the zoom in the DSLR world. And it makes just as much sense for someone 'downsizing' from a big DSLR outfit to pick one of these rather than Fuji or m4/3. Certainly there wouldn't be much financial saving, but if all those posts about peoples 'conversions' from the DSLR camp to smaller and lighter are true, then that doesn't seem to be the priority. 

And just where was all the publicity about how good the screen and EVF are? It was the first thing I noticed when I picked the camera up and took some pictures with it in the shop. I saw endless articles about the body and that interminable polishing video, lots of comments about the price but very little about just how it improves the picture making experience. It took me a while to track down some user experiences that made me think I should look at the camera. A couple of people have suggested that Leica's aren't for enthusiast or even professional photographers, but for people who are capable of buying luxury items with no financial hardship, are interested in photography and like buying the 'best.' But why is that the case? Look at the price of the Sony RX1 when it first came out. The Leica T outfit I've bought is a bargain compared to that and significantly more versatile. 

And while I'm on the question of Sony, the Leica T app. for my iPad lets me do more things than the corresponding Sony offering, PlayMemories. And it's easier and quicker to download and doesn't require me updating the camera. So Leica have an (unlikely I know) advantage there also. This IS a camera for both professionals and serious amateurs and a pretty unique one at that. It's quality across the board, in terms of design and handling, operational features and image quality, including great high ISO performance. It also gives access to a whole range of m-mount lenses and I bet before long some chinese factory will have turned out some Leica T to Nikon, Canon and everything else adapters. 

There are also going to be, what I suspect will be pretty spectacular (IQ and price!!) lenses for the system. There are already wide-angle and telephoto zooms coming out and I can see Leica planning some fast primes as well. Expensive yes, but still probably cheaper than their m-mounts. 

And returning yet again to the price, I'll repeat again that because of the way that Leicas hold their value, they are far better long term investments than any other camera brand. And Leica aren't in the habit of introducing marginally upgraded versions of previous models. Just look at Olympus and the money grabbing E-PL7 which is a supremely pointless upgrade motivated only by greed and the assumption by Olympus that they can yet again milk and manipulate their fanboy base. And in the well-off sections of the world £3000 for a camera and lens isn't that much. I know people who spend £100 every Saturday night going to the pubs and night spots in my local city centre. They aren't rich and they have pretty average jobs and incomes. But that's £5000 a year and what do they have to show for it?

So the Leica T is a 'photographers camera' though you would be hard pressed to find anybody else who is making that point. I am in the process of putting together a video analysis of why that is the case and hopefully I'd post that before too long. However in the meantime be assured that the Leica T isn't just an exercise in style over content and that there are innovative and class leading features as well, some of which like the EVF and screen are pretty basic to how we use digital cameras and deserve to be more widely publicised. 

One final point. If the camera was just a good looking prestige brand I wouldn't have bought it. I might have wanted too because it is VERY attractive, but I wouldn't have. Because I don't have £3000 to spend on something like that. However, I do have £3000 to spend on a seriously useful camera with several features that will help me enormously in how I make a living and will replace a lot of gear that I'm currently reluctant to use and almost have to force myself to take out to get some value from it. And that is exactly what the Leica T is for me. I will use it a lot. 

Indeed I've used all my Leicas a lot. For example I was desperate for the X-Vario to work because it was such a great camera for me, but ultimately I was struggling so much with the viewfinder and screen that I almost had to sell it. I have incidentally almost bought another one many times even allowing for those problems. However, these are the areas where the Leica T really shines and yesterday I was using the screen as much as the EVF and it really is superb. So the T will be around for a long time, I know that already, because it's such a good camera, such a pleasure to use and helps rather than hinder me do what I do. And all the BS about the polished aluminium and red dot is just that, BS. Unfortunately Leica are just as guilty about promoting the luxury brand aspect of their products as those who criticise them, but as with the Leicas I've owned in the past, the T is much more than a shiny metallic object of desire. It's also a damn fine picture making device as well.

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