Leica T (Typ 701)

Despite my initial reservations, I've been thinking about getting one of these for a while now. Much as I appreciate what they do, I've been becoming more and more disenchanted with the somewhat cumbersome systems I've been using. My Fuji and Sony outfits produce great results, there is no denying that, but these days I'm enjoying using my smart phones, other smaller cameras and the all-in-one solutions offered by the Sony RX10 and Panasonic FZ1000. I also love using the Fuji X100s. And all of these seem to be taking me in a different direction that I like.

Plus, ever since I sold my X-Vario, I've missed having a Leica around. There is something magical about holding a camera with all that reputation, kudos and history attached to it, though the Leica T is a very modern take on the Leica tradition. This again was something I've become more attracted to. The screen looked great, as did the minimalist look and these days, thanks to my phones and iPad, I'm much more inclined to use a touchscreen without denouncing it as the work of the devil!! 

Things change, I change and I move on. Gear is there to stimulate me and inspire me to take better pictures and try different directions and different ways of creating images. Leicas have always stimulated me in the past ever since I bought an M8 six years ago and it did occur to me that since I would be parting with £3000 for the outfit I wanted, to pay for it I would have to get rid of all the, admittedly attractive, camera gear sitting on my shelf. A couple of weeks ago I had 14 cameras, including my phones and iPads and that amount of picture taking devices, most sitting unused, had become plainly ridiculous. 

Also, contrary to what some would like to be the case, buying a Leica is the opposite of throwing large sums of money away. Since they hold their value much better than virtually every other brand, there is much less of a financial loss in the long term. In fact, when my tax allowances were taken into consideration, after owning my M9 for a couple of years I actually made a slight profit when I sold it. So after thinking this over for a week or two, I finally decided to do the 3 hour round trip to my nearest Leica dealer, since I wasn't going to buy a Leica T without seeing one, handling it and making very sure it was what I wanted. So with some anticipation I watched the assistant at Clifton Cameras open the box, attach the zoom lens and viewfinder and hand it to me. And the moment I caressed that black aluminium body in my hand, I knew I had to have it.

The reports, reviews and write-ups on the Leica T don't really do it justice. It is without doubt the best looking, best handling and most aesthetic camera I have ever picked up. To say it's a thing of beauty is only the tip of the iceberg, Some have called it 'sexy' but to me it isn't that. It's just so classy, so elegant and so well designed, I wondered what all the other camera designers have been doing up to now. It's bigger than I thought, it's heavier than I thought and it is also unlike any other camera I've ever handled. It just feels so different. No rough edges, everything flush with the body. It's modern, it's minimalist, it's beautiful and now it's mine!!

As you can see I went for the black. These are quite rare at the moment and my dealer only had one because somebody ordered one but didn't pick it up. They showed me both and I just thought the black body with the black lens and viewfinder looked better. The silver is nice, but not exactly inconspicuous. 

And it is a pleasure to hold what I'm sure will be seen as a design classic. There are several striking ways of keeping the minimalist look. The battery has a metal strip on the end of it which becomes part of the body when it's pushed into the camera. The flash gun is virtually invisible until I turn the on / off switch another notch and then it pops up. The strap is actually rubber and the strap lugs push into the body making a secure connection. There are only two dials on the body and the whole thing is in marked contrast to the knob fest that retro designed cameras seem to be these days.

This isn't an M, and it isn't retro in the slightest. There are a lot of options via the menu, but stylistically it's smooth and sleek and very metallic. It is something of a shock if you've used Leicas before. But a very pleasant one I have to say. It also confirms the impression that nothing has been allowed to look or feel cheap. Everything has been designed to create an integrated whole. Now I liked the X-Vario very much and only sold it because of issues I had with the viewfinder and screen, but this is a step on. An almost complete redesign of what a Leica camera should look and feel like. And it is strikingly original, yet retaining a sense of the Leica tradition. I have no idea of who came up with this idea, but it does work (gloriously so) and as I indicated, my initial reaction was, why haven't all cameras been made like this?

And yes, I've been going on and on about how it looks and feels, but to a large extent that's the point of it. It proves conclusively that you don't have to look backwards to create a good looking and great handling camera. Just like the very best of modern architecture can please the eyes just as much as the best historical examples, the Leica T shows that a seriously different modern approach to camera design can stir the senses as well. I've been as keen on nouveau retro as anybody else, but it is nice to use something that throws that out of the window and states very clearly that it is possible to strip a design back to the simplest minimalist aesthetic and make it work. 

It is I admit, very strange, to download a Leica App. which lets me control the camera from my iPad, but that is indeed what I did last night. It's also strange to use a touch screen on a Leica to change settings. And I have to admit, it is a pretty complicated procedure. However, it is easy to set the camera up to function very simply and that's what I'll be doing when I take it out today. Is it as good in practice as it feels trying it out? Well, I can't answer that as yet, but I'll report back after I've tried it.

And finally, yes, those with good memories will remember that I wasn't exactly complementary about this concept when it first came out. In fact I wrote this:-

'Sure it looks great and the hewn out of one piece of aluminium thing is great. But everything I read makes me think this would be a pig to use. And the future lenses they have announced are going to seriously unbalance the camera by the looks of it. Maybe Leica should stick to what they know. 'Getting down with the kids' may not be the way to go. Particularly since most of the 'kids' can't afford it anyway.'

And yes I was wrong. Showing again that knee jerk reactions often don't stand the test of time. Of course when I wrote that back in April, I would have also been anti smart phones as well. So it just shows how my attitudes can change dramatically over a short space of time. And as always, I make no apology for that and in fact I've always seen my capacity to change my mind and be convinced by things that I have written off as not for me, as being a virtue. Whatever I am, rigid, inflexible and 'stuck in my ways' isn't part of my personality and I'm happy to admit that I get things wrong, I jump to conclusions and often I let my prejudices get in the way of sensible judgements. But then it's somewhat late in the day to change that. Not that I would want to anyway. Because it is enormously pleasurable to be able to do an about turn and go off in an an opposite direction. Because then life is full of many more possibilities than I previously imagined. 

So, you will be hearing quite a bit about the Leica T over the next few days and my adventures with it. And I have to say I'm looking forward to using it more than any other camera I've bought. Because it is going to be different. I can imagine all sorts of frustrations until I get used to what is, on first look, a confusing menu interface, but then I've managed to cope, get to grips with and eventually embrace many other examples of current camera tech. so see no reason that I won't be able to get to work with this. And that again is a pleasure and a source of stimulation that shows it's never to late to engage my brain in activity that I thought beyond it. And the Leica T certainly feels inspirational when I hold it. Will it be just as inspirational in use? Stay tuned to find out. 

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