Why do people have a problem with the Leica T (Typ 701)? - The 'recreational photographer.'

In an article on the newly announced Leica Q, this turned up.

'Forget the overpriced Panasonic clones and the cynical and infuriating Leica T.........And then there’s the Leica T. Sure, it’s made of a solid block of hand-polished something-or-other but the huge touchscreen on the rear of the camera is (like all touch screens) a magnet for unsightly fingerprints, and the lenses, while very sharp, are slow and a little bit too plasticky. I really disliked using the Leica T in general. It felt like a step too far away from conventional ergonomics, and in the wrong direction. Somehow, in the slimmed-down T, Leica’s interface designers achieved something that should not be possible: cluttered minimalism.'

Now I have no intention of linking to this as I'm not interested in promoting snide partisan garbage like this. Let's just say it's from Dpreview, which explains all. Now it's possible to not get on with a camera, but surely we deserve more from the webs biggest web site than this 'I don't like it, I can't afford it, so I'll rubbish it' excuse for journalism. And this is far from an isolated example. 'I wasn't impressed with the Leica T's image quality' 'The Leica Q is back on track after Leicas mistake with the overpriced T' 'I didn't like the Leica T and this is a welcome return to the traditional Leica values.' etc. etc. are all similar type comments I've seen in the wake of the Leica Q announcement.

And this for me, is totally symptomatic of the takeover of the photographic internet by the 'recreational photographer.' So what exactly is this?

Well a 'recreational photographer' is:-

  • Someone who values their gear much higher than the photographs they take with it
  • They are more concerned about what the camera they buy says about them rather than it's use in creating images.
  • Their opinions are shaped, not by personal choice or instinct, but by carefully sifting through the internet and checking out the opinions of photographers they know.
  • They are really impressed by graphs, charts and the tech. goobledygook that manufactuers attempt to con us with.
  • They accept, without hesitation and without question the dogma of the photographic internet. e.g. 35mm lens for street photography, 85mm lens for portraits, Zeiss make great lenses, DSLR's are dying etc. etc.
  • They pounce on anyone who differs from this orthodoxy. Pretty much the ISIS of the photographic internet.
  • They rarely post any pictures and when they do they are... well you don't need me to tell you that do you?
  • They always (always!) blame their camera for the wrongly exposed, poorly composed and executed images they produce. It never their fault, it can't be. After all they have spent weeks learning all about photography.
  • Unfortunately lot's of them seem to end up reviewing cameras.

And the Leica T (and Leica in general) gets all the vitriol and envy and unpleasantness that these people can muster. Except the Leica Q, which has had a universally good reaction. But then it's a Leica M copy and they are great cameras right? Well they must be, everybody says so. And it fits right in with all the accepted catechisms that the recreational photographer makes sure is embedded in their brains. 'I must not think for myself, I must not think for myself, I must not think for myself..........'

So let's get a few things straight about the Leica T (Typ 701) before continuing. And lets not forget that I actually bought one and have been using it for nearly a year. As regular readers will know, if I have the slightest doubts about a camera it ends up on ebay pretty quickly. I would therefore point out that after using mine for several months I bought the wide-angle and telephoto lenses the first opportunity I had and it was one of my cameras of the year. Now this is a somewhat different experience to that of most 'reviewers', who have the camera for a very limited period of time, or indeed just pick one up at some 'gravy train' manufacturers junket they get invited to. Interesting that many who expressed some positivity about the Leica T when it was announced (and scoffed the free vol au vents) have now turned on it stating that they never liked it anyway. So the following is based on some extensive real work / real world experience.

  • Much is made of the brushed aluminium body. And Leica did themselves no favours by focusing on this at the announcement and even releasing a video about it. But one thing is clear, it works. I've had the camera for nearly a year and used it extensively, in all kinds of weather and through a UK winter. I've never polished it or even wiped it once, but the body is pristine and looks exactly like it did in the shop when I first picked it up. There isn't a mark on it, not even a slight scuff and it still looks brand new. 
  • All the controls have exactly the same tolerances as they did when I bought the camera. As I indicated above, it not only still looks brand new, it feels brand new as well.
  • Exactly the same applies to the lenses for the system. And there is no way that they could ever be described as 'little bit too plasticky' and if you have the opportunity to go and try them out do and see for yourself.
  • They aren't slow lenses. There is a 23mm f/2 and the two zooms are 11-23mm f/3.5-4.5 and 55-135mm f/3.5-4.5. Now that's not slow. Particularly when you actually use them. Because the narrowest aperture f/4.5 only engages on both lenses when you reach the very limit of the zooming. Take it back just a millimeter and it gets aperture gets wider. Try this with your cheap and cheerful kit lens and see how quickly it stops down and at what focal length it reaches and keeps to it's minimum aperture. Now if these 'reviewers' had actually used these lenses for any length of time they would have noticed this. But then recreational photographers don't bother to check things like this out, they just quote the specs.
  • The lenses are very sharp across the range with virtually no distortion or other defects. They are beautifully built and all the tolerances, zoom ring, focusing ring etc. are again just right. Not too stiff, not too loose and again they still feel like new. Not like the Sony / Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 I had that required me having to superglue the lens hood back together because it fell apart. 
  • I would also mention that a third-part manufacturer has never has to make an adapter that makes lenses wobble-free because of a poorly engineered lens mount for Leica, such as is the case with some Sony cameras.
  • There are three class-leading features that the Leica T has - the EVF, which in daylight is stunning, the rear live view screen which is the biggest, sharpest and best in bright sunlight of any screen on any camera I've ever used. It's only ever been surpassed by the screen on my Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone which is the best I've ever seen on any device. And the in-body software stabilisation system for video. This works just as well as lens stabilisation or IBIS and of course keeps the size and weight to a minimum.
  • 'but the huge touchscreen on the rear of the camera is (like all touch screens) a magnet for unsightly fingerprints' Has this person never heard of screen protectors? I have one on my Leica T screen and the screen still works as indicated above.
  • The touch screen menu works. And this - 'Somehow, in the slimmed-down T, Leica’s interface designers achieved something that should not be possible: cluttered minimalism.' is plainly nonsense and just a meaningless and gratuitous sideswipe at the camera. For what reason, I have no idea but it's simply not the case. At some point in all our experiences with cameras and in particular using small compacts and even more so most smartphones, most of us will probably have pressed or touched something that has resulting in something happening we didn't want. With the Leica T (Typ 701) this simply doesn't happen. Because once the camera is set up as I want, the only controls I can alter are two thumbwheels which are very difficult to move accidentally and the shutter button. That's it. I have the touch-screen turned off anyway to prevent anything unwanted happening. So 'cluttered minimalism' has no basis in reality and was obviously put in as some additional way to rubbish the camera, meaningless as it is.
  • The AF. Not the fastest, but then not the slowest either. Slightly improved with the last firmware upgrade. And talking about speed I would again mention the very slow startup speed of some cameras. In my articles about the Nikon D750 I wrote that from 'cold' the camera starts up, focuses and captures the images in less than a second. Whereas all the Sony A7 FE cameras I've used take between 4-5 seconds to do this. The Leica T (Typ 701) doesn't have Nikon speed but can achieve startup to capture in about 2 seconds. 
  • The battery life isn't DSLR standard, but is still significantly better than the Sony A7 II, Sony A7r II and every Fuji X or Olympus m4/3 camera. I could quote you some ficticious figure, but since I've never once had to change a battery when I've been out with the camera so I can't give you any idea as to what it really is. FYI Leica quote 400 shots per charge, which seems to me to be somewhat conservative.

So why is my view so contradictory to all these others. Well, firstly I would suggest that it's because they don't spend enough time with the camera (and even a two week test stint with a demo camera that's been round the world a couple of times really isn't long enough.) Secondly, there is still an awful lot of 'I can't (or have decided not too) afford it, so I'll rubbish it' about Leicas and to a certain extent an attempt to counter the myth and illusion that 'Leicas are the best.' I will admit that before I'd even picked one up I used to get really annoyed about people 'banging on about Leicas' This was in my film days. These days reputations, quite rightly, count for nothing and respect has to be earned in all things. And these are just cameras after all, it's not as if they are anything important. But, as I bang on endlessly about, these days with the gradual disappearance of retail outlets where we actually pick up, look at and handle photographic gear, honest reviewing by people who know what they are doing with a camera in their hands is essential. 

Now we can all like (or dislike) what we wish too. For example, I don't get on with Canon cameras. But I would never lie about how they perform and regular readers will know that I have used them extensively in the past and have never cast any doubts on their build quality or implied that they aren't top class pro work cameras. And lying, or misinforming (to be kind) is unfortunately a part of what we have to sift through these days to come to any kind of meaningful decisions about what to buy. This works both ways. Photographic gear can be talked up or talked down. Now in many cases this is just fanboy fever. People seem find it hard to have their purchasing decisions criticised and take it VERY personally in some cases. And much of the 'dodge city' mentality on forums is down to this. But from people who set themselves up as opinion makers and shapers, we have a right to expect more. And we have a right to expect more from sites that have in the past proved themselves to be trustworthy and a genuine source of useful analysis. But now we can often be disappointed by what comes out.

And the internet unfortunately is the place where anyone can indulge themselves, (And no I'm not pretending I'm any different) and 'let it all hang out.' But, total disclosure is important if we are to take much of what we read as reliable. And whatever my faults (of which there are many) that is what you will get here. Regular readers will appreciate that I hold nothing back, I'm very open to being convinced that the opposite of what I think may in fact be the case after all and above all, I pride myself that I'm honest in what I write and what I present as the evidence for what I write. I have no arrangement with Leica, I have no arrangement with any Leica dealers and like most of the rest of you, I'm just a customer. And anyone who has read my posts, articles and user experiences will know that.

And in the light of this, I am bewildered by the hostility that Leica digital cameras and in particular the Leica T attracts. For me it's my favourite ever camera and one that in terms of working with it and creating images ticks more boxes than any other. It's light, it's small, it's beautifully and robustly made, it has great lenses, it's uncluttered, minimalist and doesn't clog up it's menus with gimmicky crap, it creates great images that are sharp, have wonderful colour, great dynamic range and which can be upsized easily, it works fast enough for my requirements, has reasonable battery life, usable video with excellent software stabilisation for hand held work, the best EVF and screen I've ever used on a 'proper' camera and it inspires me to create the best possible images I can with it and it assists me in a non-fussy way to attempt to achieve that. 

So I just don't recognise the validity of the comments I've referred to above. Where is the justification for 'cynical and frustrating'? Cynical is something I really don't understand, unless it means that somehow Leica with the T are attempting to cash in on the smartphone revolution, which if that is the intended meaning, is as ludicrous as it is laughable. And frustrating??? The Leica T (Typ 701) is the least frustrating (apart from my Nokia Lumia 1020) camera I've ever used. Olympus, Fuji, Sony, now those are frustrating cameras for me. Overblown menus full of fluff, ridiculous combinations of menu and mechanical controls that have no logic, mass market build quality and a marketing strategy that tries to convince you to buy the next model as soon as your credit card statement arrives for the one you've just bought. 

For me the Leica is a breath of fresh air and cluttered and frustrating are the last two words I've ever use to describe it. It's the simplicity that attracts me. And perhaps that ultimately is the core of this hostility, because over and above anything else the 'recreational photographer' loves fiddling with cameras. Way more than actually making pictures with them. And is it this lack of complexity that actually alienates some of these commentators? Because how are they going to fill all those pages? I really don't and never have appreciated complex cameras. The simpler they are the more I like them. When a new camera arrives I just can't wait to get out the door and shoot some pictures with it and I often sell cameras on without ever having opened the manual. In fact I think if I have to consult a manual then the camera manufacturer has failed. And that's why I like Nikon and Leica, because for me the necessity to open those seriously boring white pages of doom just doesn't occur.

And for the above reasons and even allowing for the fact that significantly fewer people will read my words than the crass, offensive and inaccurate nonsense above, I've needed to write this article, because somebody has to try and stem the tide of the gradual takeover of the photographic internet by these 'recreational photographers' those gear loving, gadget heads who are only interested in the ownership of photographic gear rather than actually doing anything creative with it. And while I'm still writing this blog I will continue to try and make that counter position interesting and entertaining.

THE FINAL WORD IS BY SOMEBODY WHOSE WRITING I RESPECT

If you want to see a piece of fine journalism about Leicas try this - http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/leicam8/ written by the founder of Dpreview, Phil Askey*, who unfortunately sold it to Amazon, took the money and went on to pastures new. Unfortunately, because he left us with the Amazon owned mediocrity responsible for the drivel at the top of the page. This article inspired me to firstly buy a Leica and secondly to start writing this blog. I've posted this link before and I'm sure I'll post it again and I make no apology for doing that. Good writing is good writing and since it's it in such short supply on the photographic internet it's well worth re-reading. And it's something I always re-read whenever I feel my standards are slipping. Something the authors of many of the comments I've referred to seem not to worry about!