What is the 'best' mirrorless system? (For me)

My latest stock shooting excursions.

Above - The Sony A7s + Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 lens had no problem with a dimly lit English Pub. Capturing all the cosy 'olde worlde' atmosphere in it's stride. 

Despite it's undoubted bulk, my Olympus OM-D E-M10 + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens takes a great picture.

I've been thinking about 'rationalising' my lens collection and basing it around my collection of Nikon fit lenses, so I've been shooting manual focus with adapted lenses a lot lately. I took out my Sony A7r and Fuji X-T1 with the Voigtlander 20mm and Nikon 100m Series E lenses.

On a day of glorious light I shot the images below with my Leica T plus 18-56mm zoom.

So the last four days has seen five different combinations of mirrorless cameras and lenses and I've enjoyed using them all and have been pleased with the resulting images. And it's certainly true that I've got something different from each and the different options have given me different creative possibilities. Micro four thirds, Fuji X and Sony FE are all great systems, strengths and weakness with each sure, but all are very capable of high quality results. The Leica T (Typ 701) is moving towards being a system, though two lenses at the moment is just a start. So It's not as if it's even a 'proper' mirrorless 'system' as yet. 

It's undeniably expensive (very!) There is one camera, which is far from the most flexible option I have at my disposal and I imagine that I'm probably the only person in the whole world who has this choice available to them that would go for the Leica. So do I have a bad case of 'Red Dot Fever' ? Am I really just an unrepentent camera snob, with more money than sense ? or am I just a brand obsessed wearer of 'male jewellery' with no comprehension of what much more comprehensive, affordable and well-balanced systems can offer me?

Well all of the above probably, but as I'm fond of writing, it's my money and I'll spend it on what I want and shrug off any criticism just to put that rubber strap round my neck and go out shooting again with the 'T'. It's my favourite camera ever and every day I have to fight my desire to sell everything else I have and buy another one.

So why do I love it? Well firstly it's that body. It's sleek, it's slinky, it feels like no other camera and it's just so different when I pick it up. It's gloriously minimalist and intentionally so and feels more like picking up a piece of sculpture rather than a camera. Personally I find it inspirational. How can I not want to go out and create the best images I can with something that looks and feels this good? It is a beautiful object in it's own right. But this is Leica so it's primary concern is to make photographs and it has a lot to offer in that regard.

I normally prefer built in viewfinders, but in this case I'll make an exception. Again the look and design of the EVF is different and boy is it good. The view it gives is sharp, crisp and clear. It does break up somewhat in very low light, but up to then it's the best I've used. It makes composing a breeze because I can see the image I'm composing in great detail. And this clarity transfers to the live view screen. Again the best I've used on a digital camera. Its big and if I compose with it, I can see my composition clearly even in bight sunlight. 

And then there is the lens. Rather than gush some more I'll include this quote from Luminous Landsape.

'The 18-56mm Vario-Elmar is also a class act. As you can see from the image......... it is capable of stellar results and the edge sharpness at f8 and 56mm is astonishing. At the widest setting of 18mm and using f3.5 there is a little bit of sharpness fall off towards the corners, plus a bit of chromatic aberration starts to creep in around strongly backlit edges at the len's periphery. But if you turn on CA removal in Lightroom it's totally gone, so no problem there. At 18mm and f5.6 the lens performs strongly and by f8 it's razor sharp right across the frame. As a general purpose lens the Vario-Elmar is  ideal, covering a 28-90mm equivalent in old 35mm format terms.'

I would certainly add my positive comments to that. This is a great lens. While it's nothing special in terms of specification, standard 'kit lens' specs. in fact, in practice it's pretty special. It's performance being as good as other systems star primes. And no it's not made by Leica in Germany as they don't apparently have the capacity to do that, but that is somewhat irrelevant since it's made to Leica's exacting standards. The build quality is just fabulous and the zooming and focus are exactly right in terms of feel and tension. It fits the body beautifully and the files it produces are seriously good.

As has been well documented by now, the camera is controlled totally via the touchscreen, except for the shutter button and two dials on the back of the body. In comparison with other current cameras it's totally unique. And as someone who has been less than enthusiastic about touch screen technology I'm completely sold on how the T uses it. Because it's typical Leica. No menu bloat here. As Joe Friday used to say in Dragnet, 'Just the facts ma'am' You can customise the menu, but I have no need for that. It's manageable for me as is and because there aren't pages and pages of it, I never get lost or wonder how I change something. Another exercise in welcome minimalism.

But above all it's using the camera out when I'm taking pictures that makes me love it. It's just so nice to use. That minimalism shows it's worth because all I concentrate on is composing and pressing the shutter, since I've set the camera up as I want before even getting out the car.

Now we all have to make our decisions as to what we want to use and what works best for us. If my hopes for this blog don't materialise and I can't make it economically worth the time I'm devoting to it, then I will indeed sell everything else and just use the T. However the signs are good and visitors and income are moving in the right direction, so that probably won't happen.

The Leica T is a minority camera, the price sees to that, but for me it is a very special and unique camera. It can also lay claim to being the most modern camera of all the mirrorless systems I use. I'll finish by publishing another quote from Luminous Landscape.

'In business terms, Leica is a low volume, high performance, premium priced brand. Strategically the T makes sense by plugging a price gap in the product portfolio, in an innovative way.  For me that’s not the full story. Leica products also ‘feel’ right. And that feeling is important. You can’t quantify it. It doesn’t show up on check lists but it is a core part of every great brand and it is present in the T. 

Leica deserve to be congratulated for bold thinking and implementation. Whether the future includes fast primes, full frame or monochrom versions, or whether the UI migrates to other models, who knows? Pause and look at the bigger picture. The introduction of the T system is a decisive moment in the development of the camera industry.'

Michael Reichmann on the Leica T.

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Many Thanks

David Taylor-Hughes