The Leica T (Typ 701) - Leica's misunderstood marvel - A personal essay about my favourite camera.

All above - Leica T (Typ 701) system photographed with Leica Q (Typ 116)

PLEASE NOTE - regarding the following, I make no claims about the above images being 'art.' Just some typical stock images I shot with my Leica T (Typ 701)

Photography is an art form. And to make art creativity is required, in terms of how pictures are imagined and produced. But to read the photographic internet you might deduce that photography was about following a set of rules, a set of assumptions and a slavish adherence to prescribed ways of doing things. This brain dead thinking transfers into what photographers use to create pictures with as well. This camera is used for this, this lens is used for that. It's the specifications that count more than the ability to experiment, it's the mechanics rather than imagination. And under no circumstances should anything that doesn't follow those rules be tolerated.

The leisure photographers and the 'fauxtographers' lap this stuff up. Because they are trying so hard to be PC, (Photographically correct) that they forget the point of what they are doing, which is making pictures of the world and freezing moments into works of art. (However low level that may be)

Commerce plays it's part too. The photographic internet exists to sell stuff and make owners of cameras and lenses dissatisfied with what they have and always wanting to improve what they own, rather than improve their ability to capture a vision of the world that they are seeking to record. And so we have 'cosy' relationships between review sites and camera manufacturers, forums populated by trolls and shills rubbishing people and products to earn a shameful living and we have shop assistants becoming photographic 'gurus' whose every word is regarded as something insightful, when it fact all they offer us is another talentless nobody's opinion making money from a gullible and brand fixated audience. 

Leica have always stood somewhat apart from this. So proud and obstinate in their desire not to compromise that they almost went bankrupt. They have always been innovators (they did invent the 35mm camera after all) and have tried (and almost always succeeded) to create the best picture making devices they can, whatever the price. And with an emphasis on the quality of the image for those who care about such things as the core of their business. And around 18 months ago they announced the Leica T (Typ 701) a camera that has since been devalued, misunderstood, rubbished and pretty much ignored.

And with the lack of creativity and imagination (and pretty much everything else you need to be a photographer) at the heart of the photographic internet it has been a commercial flop. The lenses may have some life if the rumoured Leica SL becomes a reality and has the same T mount, but there is no guarantee of that and the camera (and / or the whole system) may disappear from the shelves when Leica sell off what they have made. And I will continue with my lonely task of writing again and again what a mistake that is.

It isn't really anything particularly significant in the scheme of things, it is just a camera / lens system after all. And if the photographic internet does consign it to the dustbin of photographic equipment history, then I won't really care. If my expensive camera and lenses becomes unsellable, I won't care either, I'll just smile and know that I can continue using them.

These days I use smartphones a lot to capture my images. And lately I've been musing about the idea of using them exclusively. But I probably won't and the reason for that is a collection of cameras I own that have a red dot on them. And pre-eminent amongst those is the Leica T (Typ 701) The fact that the images this system produces are crazy sharp with amazing colour doesn't seem to influence people's attitudes towards it. No, it transpires that they would rather have some second rate copy made by a company who think noise reduced glop is what a digital camera image should look like.

The problem with the Leica T (Typ 701) is, I believe, that it doesn't conform to expectations of what a Leica should be. For starters it has a huge, sharp, bright live view screen that is the best I've ever used. It makes using the camera in 'smartphone pose' a real pleasure for me. I often take it out with just the (wonderful) 23mm f/2 lens fitted with no viewfinder and it works really well as a 'street camera.' In fact much better that the rangefinder cameras and rangefinder lookalikes that the photographic internet insists are the right tools for 'street photography.' They aren't, but never mind, reality and myth often swap places on the photographic Internet. The screen also works well in bright sunlight. It also has an excellent add on EVF, which somewhat unusually includes a GPS tracker in it. Again this is the best I've used in daylight. In very low light it's not so good however.

And then of course there is the touch screen menu, which to my mind is the main reason for the cameras restricted take up. 'Fauxtographers' like knobs and dials. It makes them feel like real photographers. They also seem to like complicated and 'fluff filled' menus. The Leica T (Typ 701) has neither. So leisure photographers have nothing to play with in those times when inspiration deserts them (or never arrives.) Plus it's just too like a smartphone for an insecure, desperate to be part of a brand worshipping clique, hobbyist photographer. They are already desperately trying to prove their photographic credentials on the photographic Internet by soaking up all the dogma they can, so how can they hold their head up using something that works like an iPhone?

The Leica T (Typ 701) also triggers some of the more unsavoury behaviour on the forums and review sites. It somehow manages to encourage people to rubbish the camera without even having ever picked it up and somewhat more worryingly seems to embolden people to actually lie about it. And this is from people who really should know better, particularly since some of them work for the biggest review sites out there. I've seen some extraordinarily innacurate tosh (I.e. Lies) written about this camera. 

These include:-

  • The touchscreen doesn't work very well. I have no idea where this comes from. I find mine works very well indeed. Pretty much like the best smartphones out there. I have no idea whether some reviewers are using copies that have been used (and abused) by many before them, but my T's touchscreen works just fine.
  • The image quality isn't up to much. I find this extraordinary. I've even seen it written that the Fuji X100 s/t beats it hands down for the quality of the files. Now this is just preposterous and written by someone who has serious eye problems, a rubbish monitor or who works for Fuji. I haven't seen sharper files in any other mirrorless camera I've ever used (or in fact any other camera)
  • The lenses are 'plasticky.' This came from a Dpreview 'journalist.' Who couched the slur by prefacing it with 'In my opinion.' The simple truth is that the T system lenses are some of the best made optics out there. They don't feel 'plasticky' at all. PLus they are tough. I once dropped my 55-135mm zoom onto a pavement and recoiled in horror. However, on picking it up I discovered it didn't have a mark or a scratch on it, no matter how closely I looked.
  • In addition to this people have written that the body will get scratched. Well again that simply isn't true. I've had mine for around 15 months and have used it extensively (far more than I write about) and again I don't have a mark or even a blemish on it. In fact it still looks brand new.
  • The screen doesn't work well in bright sunlight. A total myth, it is in fact one of the best (if not the best) out there for that.

Now the camera isn't perfect (What is?) The AF isn't particularly quick. Manual focusing would be a lot easier if Leica had included focus peaking and the smartphone / tablet app. which only connects camera and phone via an external wi-fi network and crashes all the time is simply awful. The shutter button is also a bit 'flaccid' and while quiet, would have benefited from the silent shutter of the X-Vario. A bit more of a grip would also have been nice, since that brushed aluminium body looks (and is) very sleek, but on a cold winters day, with cold fingers it's not the easiest camera to hold.

Now the Leica T (Typ 701) isn't a revolutionary camera, but it is significantly different from the rest of the herd. And for Leica, the embodiment of retro chic, a serious departure from what they have released before. And I suspect therein lies another problem. Because with the lazy and unimaginative thinking that permeates much of the photographic internet, that is simply not acceptable. The Leica Q (Typ 116) has been much more warmly received and many reviewers have praised it because it's more like what they think a Leica 'should' look and feel like.

Now I have a Q and I like it very much, but I can't help thinking that it is a bit of a cop out. Somewhat like Leica saying 'OK, they didn't like the T much, we'd better give them something more familiar.' I do suspect though that Leica's target audience is probably pretty conservative. I know for a fact that the perception of what a Leica should be on the photographic internet is exactly that, because you only have see how people write about the brand. And it seems Leica can't bring out a camera radically different to what else is out there without getting trashed for their affrontary.

To conclude, I love this camera, I love the lenses and I especially love the results I can get with it. It's nominally 16MP, but with the quality of the files I doubt I've uploaded many files at that size to my stock picture libraries. In fact almost always I upsize my files to 20 or 24MP and they still look better than many results from cameras that have those image sizes as standard. The extraordinary live view screen shows me the image I'm creating in my hand and has pretty much completely changed the way I like to compose and record pictures. The lenses are super sharp and free of the corner softness that plagues many other mirrorless brands. The whole system pleases me aesthetically, in terms of handling (when the weathers warm that is!!) and technically in terms of the gorgeous image files it produces. I am and always have been, somewhat bewildered by the hostility the camera has generated and I can offer no real explanation for the need for some 'reviewers' to invent negatives / faults that the camera doesn't suffer from.

N.B. As ever with my articles, this is a personal piece of writing and there is no intent to persuade anyone to make the same purchasing decisions that I do. Regular readers will be aware that I pretty much go my own way anyway and I doubt I'm typical of the photographic market in any way shape or form. And of course this blog is written for all those genuine photographers who prefer the exception to the rule anyway. (And think creating images is way more important than owning the 'right' gear.) And for me the Leica T (Typ 701) is very much an embodiment of both those things. Yes, it seems I'm in a minority of one with these views, but then I've never had a problem with that.