Since getting my Leica Summicron-T 23mm F2 ASPH Lens I now have the opportunity to see how this measures up against my Fuji X100s which also has a 23mm f/2 lens. I thought I would look at three things. How f/2 compares on each lens, what the jpgs. that are produced look like at ISO 200 and 3200 and how easy it is to manually focus the lenses.
First off here are some comparisons at f/2. ISO 200 and 3200, both from OOC jpgs.
Several things become immediately obvious. Under all circumstances the Leica lens is sharper with the respective way the companies render jpgs. There is significantly more detail in the Leica images. There is also a much better white balance rendition from the Leica, both cameras were set to auto. But the most dramatic difference is in the dynamic range. The Fuji has burnt out the highlights on the lens barrel, the Leica hasn't.
For the bottom shot of the three I've added noise reduction in Photoshop. And I have to say I've used an awful lot of it to get the Leica shot as 'clean' as the Fuji. Plus you'll notice that the Leica still has it's dynamic range advantage. This is something that I've been discussing recently with my comparisons between the Fuji X-A1 with it's Bayer CMOS sensor and other Fuji X cameras with the X-Trans sensor. My conclusions from that and this test are the same. That once you factor in added noise reduction from either a raw conversion programme or image editor, there is no real advantage to the Fuji X-Trans sensor in low light anymore. Other sensors are now capable of producing the same results as the X-Trans once you add some noise reduction, The sensor in the Leica T is apparently the same as in the X-A1, so the similarity of results isn't surprising.
All of this makes the Leica T (Typ 701) / 23mm combination pretty much the equal of the X100s in terms of low light / high ISO performance, with the added benefits of a sharper, less distorted lens, better dynamic range, better white balance and sharper better defined images at all ISO's. Most importantly to me, the Leica gives me the choice to decide how I want my images to look, which unfortunately the Fuji, with it's draconian noise reduction doesn't.
And some will see this as me yet again Fuji bashing. But that is not the point. The point here is to address the often quoted belief that people pay Leica prices for the name alone and the red dot, without there being any significant advantage. So a kind of male jewellery / photo bling / impressed by the brand name scenario. But for all it's polished metal good looks and exemplary no compromise design and manufacturing standards, the Leica T (Typ 701) and the two lenses currently available are more than that. Leica didn't get it's reputation on looks and price fixing alone. And if anyone thinks that Leicas are are any way similar to the Hassleblad rebadged Sony's with the exotic wood grips, then think again.
The Leica reputation has been earned over time by a constant refusal to resist the financial temptations of cutting costs and lowering standards. (Having nearly gone bankrupt only a few years ago is testament to that) And as well as keeping manufacturing tolerances high and attempting to do many processes by hand, that involves deciding to make their cameras and lenses to the highest standards that they can. (Even if in the case of the Leica T lenses that involves getting somebody else to assemble them) Now Fuji have sought to match them in design and looks, but unfortunately don't seem inclined to follow suit when it comes to producing the best image quality they can. And that's fair enough. They are producing very decent cameras and lenses at very decent prices. The Leica T outfit pictured above is after all some 2.5x the cost of the X100s.
However, it's important to make clear that while it's impossible to say how much the Leica superiority is worth and in one of my previous posts I asked value for money? - it depends what you value, there is this difference. The Leica T (Typ 701) outperforms the Fuji X100s in what is supposed to be the latter's strength. Low light / High ISO performance. And those who try to make out that this isn't so, obviously haven't had the opportunity to compare both cameras.
As I've made perfectly clear, this difference is important to me. And I'm prepared to pay for it. I'm not rich by any means and I suspect that many who complain about Leica prices earn a lot more than me. I do however have my priorities and photography is my highest non family one. It is also my job and I will always use the best tools I can afford for that. And my Leica T is certainly one of those.
For the last part of this article, I'll be dealing with something which I certainly didn't expect. And that is just just how easy it is to manually focus lenses with the Leica T. Now it doesn't have focus peaking like the Fuji and instead opts for a 3x / 6x magnification system which kicks in as soon as I turn the focusing ring on my lenses. However, I would like to use my Nikon lenses on the T and I've ordered a Novoflex Nikon F/G > Leica T adapter. I am unsure though whether I will be able to get the magnification for these lenses. I suspect it's due to the lens 'communicating' with the camera.
So, I may well be only able to manually focus my Nikons using the EVF or screen at normal size. A problem right? Well firstly that's what we all had to do in film days before AF, so I'm used to it and secondly it isn't actually a problem at all. I've written about how good the redesigned Leica EVF is and it's actually good enough to clearly see the exact point of focus. There is also something else that I didn't expect when I tried this out for the first time a couple of days ago. The EVF 'shimmers' very slightly in high contrast areas when the lens is focused on them. It's like a very subtle focus peaking. It's nowhere near as obvious as peaking, but it is there and it is incredibly accurate. I have no idea whether it's deliberate, I suspect not and it's probably something to do with the viewfinder. But it is incredibly useful and makes me worry less about using my Nikon lenses manually focused on the camera. And I'm particularly looking forward to trying my 20mm f/1.8 and especially my monster Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens on the T.
Just to show you how good it is, the following were all focused using the 23mm lens at f/2 with this method.
Now I haven't cheated and had several goes at this, these are all one off's in not great light and as you see the focus is spot on every time. And I can get pretty close to 100% with this method and quite quickly too. Now whether I can give Leica credit for this or not, who knows, but the end result is that manually focusing lenses without the 'mess' that focus peaking makes of my EVF or screen and / or having a magnified version on my screen IS possible with the Leica T. The advantage of this is obvious, I can keep my composition in view while I focus with nothing compromising what I'm seeing. Leica did say that they had decided to forego focus peaking with the Leica T and make the EVF and screen better and I can now see some justification for that. So not cost cutting BS after all! Interesting that the M (Typ 240) has focus peaking, but then it has to use the previous Leica viewfinder (The same as the Olympus VF-2 made by Epson) which is significantly inferior to the amazing unit that the Leica T (and all the new X compacts) can use.
So there it is, another article in praise of the Leica and what it's capable of. So not just a pretty face then. It is a remarkable camera and both the 18-56mm and 23mm lenses I have for it are remarkable lenses. There is now no way on earth I'm not buying the 11-23mm and 55-135mm lenses as well, when they arrive. So that's another £2700 to find. Gulp!! And it does mean that stuff has to go to pay for them, but for me it's going to be worth it. I Iove using the T and now I've got the relatively fast 23mm and can successfully manually focus lenses with the camera, I'm going to be using it a lot more. The best just got better.