LEICA T (TYP 701) AND 'DIFFICULT' LIGHT + SENSORS, SHARPNESS AND NOISE REDUCTION.

All images Leica T (Typ 701) Vario-Elmar 18-56mm zoom.

One of the things I always look for in a camera / sensor / software combination is the ability to handle 'difficult' light. This usually means backlight with bright highlights and dense shadows, so common in the UK in Winter. This is something Digital Photography has strived to improve over the years and the Sony 16MP sensor in the Leica T was the first to sort out this issue out once and for all. It's a sensor in it's basic form, before the manufacturers add their 'tweaks', that is in many cameras. It's ability to allow exposure for the highlights and then lift the shadows in software has made it one of the most popular sensors ever. And it's difficult to think of a better APS-C sensor. Certainly the Fuji X-Trans and Sigma Foveon sensors are no great shakes at dynamic range and companies like Nikon, Pentax and Leica have taken advantage of what this 16MP CMOS Bayer sensor can achieve. 

It allows good all-round performance in small(er) cameras and with it's combination of top class results at low ISO's and decent performance at the higher end, it's made a lot of cameras look good. Sony haven't yet got their APS-C 24MP sensors to perform quite as well in low light and it generally needs 'full-frame' to see any significant difference. 

The sensor / MP equation is often a quite difficult balancing act between sharpness, low noise, image size and dynamic range and the Sony 16MP sensor in the Leica T is one of the most successful yet manufactured. The Fuji X-Trans is better at high ISO's but has poorer dynamic range and needs 3rd. Party software to get the best out of it. The Sigma Foveon is terrific at low ISO's but not very good at all at the higher settings and also suffers by comparison with the Leica's Dynamic range. Canon make decent APS-C sensors, but I just can't get on with that companies idea of colour and I used to have to work long and hard to get my files from their DSLR's looking 'right'. I occasionally have a look at what they are putting out now and still haven't seen anything I like. They also seem to prefer an anti-aliasing (AA) filter to be much stronger than my preference as well.

Leica are obviously happy to use the Sony sensor and they obviously think enough of it to leave off the AA filter completely and keep the embedded noise reduction and 'corrections' within the raw files at fairly discreet levels. And this is one of the reasons I've always like Leica's approach to how they set up their cameras / files. Sharpness is paramount. The Leica T files have more luminance noise (digital 'grain') than the Fuji X system does (At least when you use their own or Adobe's software) but the results from the Leica are certainly sharper. And it's easier to add the softening effects of noise reduction if required, rather than attempt to sharpen an already softened and noise reduced raw files. This usually ends up with a pretty nasty looking rendition and to my eyes that's pretty much the Canon philosophy. 

And to a certain extent that seems to be the philosophy of lots of other manufacturers. Having just started using the Iridient Developer latest update, I can see why most manufacturers adopt this conservative approach. Because the photographic internet, when discussing what files come out of what cameras, seems to be to be over obsessed with high ISO performance and noise. Often I see camera files that are low noise, but also low detail as well. It is, I suspect it's the obsession with 'pixel peeping'. Now there is nothing wrong with doing that to assess what's coming out of our cameras, but it's not an end in itself. I've often written about how files that looked noisy on my screen were in fact very acceptable when printed in the digitally printed photo books I used to provide for my wedding clients. In fact I was often surprised at just how well they tuned out. So in the 'real world' I've always seen it as less of a problem than many others do.

So I've learnt to accept that a bit of luminance noise / 'digital grain' on my files when viewed at 100% on my monitor isn't that much of a problem. Because it often doesn't transfer to the printed page. And to that end, I'm happy with what I get from my Leica T files and for me, Leica have come up with an excellent compromise default rendering that produces very good prints. Something that company obviously sees as the ultimate result of creating a photograph. And while I print virtually nothing I know that large numbers of the files I sell will end up on a printed page somewhere. So Leica's 'solution' is one that chimes with me.

See it's not just a pretty face!!