src="http://www.mirrorlessons.com/wp-content/themes/mirrorlessons A Question of Beauty: Hands-On with the new Leica T type 701
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Leica Reviews

Date: 30/04/2014 | By: Mathieu

A Question of Beauty: Hands-On with the new Leica T type 701

E-M1, 1/100, f/ 28/10, ISO 1600

A Question of Beauty: Hands-On with the new Leica T type 701

Beauty in photography can be represented in many forms and has different meanings. But if we associate the word with the actual tool, in this case a camera, it is usually a question of aesthetics: “It looks nice” “It looks modern” “It looks ugly” and so on.

With Leica, the “Beauty” of a camera (with a capital B) is approached in a different way. It is not just a question of design; it is a concept, a philosophy. The new Leica T is a truly Beautiful camera because of the way it has been conceived.

So the question becomes obvious: how important is to shoot with a Beautiful camera?

The Leica T Type 701 Main Specs
Sensor: 16.3 million pixels – 23.6mm x 15.6mm (APS-C) CMOS with no AA filter
Lens System: interchangeable lens system – Leica T Mount
ISO Sensitivity: 100 – 12500
Continuous shooting: max 5 fps
Autofocus: Contrast detection AF
Internal Stabilization: No
Viewfinder: 2,4k electronic VF (external)
LCD Screen: 3.7-inch LCD TFT, approx. 1,3k dots

Movie recording: 1920 x 1080 pixels (30p) with stereo sound
Water, dust and freeze proof: No
Sensor Cleaner: No

Manual focusing: digital zoom

Built-in Flash: Yes
Extras: wifi capabilities
Dimensions: 134 (W) x 69 (H) x 33 (D) mm
Weight: Approx. 384 g

 

The Feel

 

The video above is an official promotional video for the Leica T featuring the hands of a German worker polishing the aluminium body for 45 minutes. Does this sound stupid, boring, or fascinating or is it purely a viral marketing strategy? Anyone can come to his or her its own conclusion, but what matters is not what you see but the message behind the video. It reiterates the Leica philosophy – the belief in artisanal work. The belief in the man, not the machine. We are all more sensitive to the beauty of a wooden rocking chair made by a carpenter than to one made by an industrial machine, or to a painting by a skilled artist, or a photograph developed and printed by a photographer in his or her own house. In the case of Leica, it is the work of men that matters. Not the megapixels, the ISO or the autofocus points.

E-M1, 1/100, f/ 28/10, ISO 1250
The new Leica T

So when you pick up the Leica T, you should feel some connection to this inner Beauty. Admittedly, I am not an overly sensitive person and in total honesty, I care little about how the camera has been polished. However, at the same time, I can also say that the Leica T has a different feeling in your hand than other cameras. Yes, it feels nice.

The Leica T with external EVF Visioflex and 18-56mm
The Leica T with external EVF Visioflex and Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 28/10, ISO 2500
Ultimate precision

The Leica T is a unibody, meaning that the aluminium chassis is made out of a single block of metal. The design is simple yet very elegant: the grip is solid and comfortable, despite not having a thumb grip on the back or rubber on the main grip itself. It weighs slightly more than I had expected. The two dials are small but perfectly smooth and accessible with your thumb. They are very nice and precise to use. Same goes for the on/off flash switch and the shutter button. It is the culmination of “fine art engineering” as they call it, true Leica build quality.

E-M1, 1/30, f/ 5/1, ISO 3200
Side view with the innovative strap attached

But there are certain aspects that make me wonder if the camera could become less enjoyable after an extensive day of use. Imagine being in a hot area and having sweaty hands. Would the aluminium feel remain as pleasant?

E-M1, 1/100, f/ 28/10, ISO 1600
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 28/10, ISO 1600

The innovative strap locks can also be a big limit when using the camera. While the mechanism is certainly beautiful, you can end up with a metal piece between your fingers when holding the camera, and this may certainly hurt a bit and leave marks on the skin.

Top View
Top View

So, yes, it is beautiful and has a refined design made in partnership with Audi but may not be the most comfortable camera to work with extensively. Since I only tried it for a couple hours, I will need more time to confirm this. However, I’m sure that some accessories like the coloured covers will help with some of these issues. I’m tempted to call it a “smart” design. We all end up with covers on our iPhones because the device is slicker: we can do the same with the Leica T.

Leica T coloured accessories
Leica T coloured accessories

The Touch

The beauty of the camera isn’t limited to the body design alone. It takes it to a second level where it embraces one of the most successful kinds of technology of recent years: a touch sensitive screen. Here again, the feeling is beautiful.

Rear view with the 3.7" touch LCD TFT screen
Rear view with the 3.7″ touch LCD TFT screen

The screen is large (3,7″), clear and sharp. The way the software has been designed is clever and going through the menu to change the different settings is easy and more importantly, feels natural. This may be because we are already used to this kind of interaction with our devices. You can swipe down with two fingers to go into playback mode, double tap to zoom in, and pinch and swipe left or right to scroll through the different photographs.

E-M1, 1/50, f/ 4/1, ISO 3200
The shooting mode menu

On the right side there are three virtual buttons. The first will let you choose the shooting mode, the second will prompt the main settings you like to use often. By touching the “+” sign, you will extend the menu and be able to scroll up and down. The third will let you change the information displayed on the LCD and external EVF.

E-M1, 1/15, f/ 56/10, ISO 3200
The main menu

During shooting mode, you can of course select the focus point area. All the icons in the menu can be moved and repositioned, meaning that you can put the most used functions like ISO and white balance on top for example. Also, the camera will automatically arrange the icons according to the ones you use the most.

Overall, the touch sensitive part seems very well designed and easy to use.

I can say with confidence that the Leica T is probably a “stupid proof” camera. You can learn how to use it in five minutes.

Again, this second level of beauty can also be a limit. I wonder if for example the LCD would be bright enough to let you dig into the menu easily on a bright sunny day at noon. It was raining outside this morning so I couldn’t check.



It should be mentioned that the unit I tested didn’t have the latest firmware update, so activating playback with the swipe gesture didn’t work all the time, for instance. It sometimes took three or four tries to get it to work. I’m sure that this won’t be the case with the final version.

The lack of many physical buttons you usually find on other cameras in this range means that you often need to go through the touch LCD screen. There isn’t a playback button or other function buttons despite two dials and the video recording button.

E-M1, 1/80, f/ 28/10, ISO 500
Only essential buttons and dials

Leica calls it a minimalistic design. They got rid of all non-essential buttons to simplify its usability. But photographers usually like physical buttons, which leads me to wonder: for whom is this camera intended?

Image quality, Autofocus and other things

The Leica T features a 16mp APS-C CMOS sensor with no AA filter, probably the same you can find in the Leica X Vario or X2. In short, the sensor isn’t new. I haven tried these cameras so I cannot write a lot about how the Leica T performs in terms of image quality. I was authorised to take pictures inside the camera store and from what I saw, quality is certainly up to high standards. Colours seem very natural and pictures at 3200 ISO are very pleasant with a fine almost non-perceptible grain. White balance is also very accurate. The JPGs turned out slightly darker and colder than the DNG (RAW) files I opened with Lightroom.

LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/80, f/ 4/1, ISO 800
LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/80, f/ 4, ISO 800
LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/30, f/ 35/10, ISO 1600
LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/30, f/ 3.5, ISO 1600

The autofocus while not being the fastest I’ve tried on a mirrorless camera is certainly good. I would say it’s at about the same level of the recent Fuji cameras but I need to test it more to confirm this. Its operation is very silent as well, as is the shutter sound which makes it overall a very discreet camera.

LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/100, f/ 56/10, ISO 3200
LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/100, f/ 5.6, ISO 3200

The Leica T doesn’t have a built-in viewfinder but an external EVF is available separately and can be mounted on the hot shoe. It is bright, sharp and big enough to suit most users. I actually find it very nice to use. You can also tilt it by 90° approximately.

The camera has a built-in flash that is activated via the power switch (very clever).

The T System

E-M1, 1/80, f/ 28/10, ISO 2500
A world class performer “kit lens”?

As for the new T lenses, I could only try the Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6. There will also be a 23mm f/2 available at launch at the end of May. Two more lenses will come: a Super-Vario-Elmar-T 11-23mm f/3.5-5.6 (17-35mm equivalent) and an APO-Vario-Elmar 55-135mm f/3.5-5.6 (80-200mm equivalent).

Stylus SX100, , f/ , ISO
The 11-23 and 55-135 will be released in early 2015.

No word on more primes, but you can use the dedicated M adaptor with your legendary Leica glass.

LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/40, f/ , ISO 100
LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/40, f/1.4 , ISO 100 – Summilux 35mm
LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/60, f/ , ISO 100
LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/60, f/1.4 , ISO 100 – Summilux 35mm
LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/50, f/ , ISO 100
LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/50, f/1.4 , ISO 100 – Summilux 35mm
LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/100, f/ , ISO 100
LEICA T (Typ 701), 1/100, f/1.4 , ISO 100 – Summilux 35mm

Manual focus is easy with the EVF. I didn’t find a peaking option but you can set one of the two dials as a focus magnifier, which makes the process easier.

The prices won’t be cheap. The 18-56mm will cost €1490 and the 23mm €1650. Add to one of those the price of the camera, which is €1545 and you get a system that starts at more than €3000. But it is a Leica, so what else could we expect?

Leica-T-hands-on-review-product-19

Available as accessories will also be a dedicated flash unit, coloured covers that attach directly to the camera body, silicone coloured straps and hand straps, a leather holster for the camera and a leather bag.

Below you can see the official Italian prices. They should be the same across Europe.

The Leica T official prices
  • Leica T (Type 701) Black or Silver: 1.545,00€
  • Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH: 1.490,00€
  • Summicron-T 23 f/2 ASPH: 1.650,00€
  • EVF Visoflex (Type 020) black: 465,00€
  • M-Mount adaptor: 295,00€
  • Extra battery black or silver: 85,00€
  • Leather cover: 95,00€
  • T – SNAP cover black, white, yellow, orange or gray: 59,00€
  • Leather shoulder bag: 175,00€
  • Leather holster: 175,00€
  • Silicon Strap black, white, yellow, orange or gray: 69,00€
  • Silicon hand strap black, white, yellow, orange or gray: 39,00€

 

Beauty at its essence: will it be a success?

E-M1, 1/60, f/ 4/1, ISO 2500
100 years difference: one of the oldest Leica vs the latest

This year is Leica 100th anniversary but the truth is that I don’t know the Leica world very well. I have shot very little with a Leica M and have yet to embrace the system, the philosophy and the history behind it. I am also a very rational person. For me Leica cameras are too expensive and I cannot afford them. The time will come when I review them on MirrorLessons, but to purchase them would be a massive investment. To me, it is as simple as that.

The Leica T is too expensive for me and I believe for many other people. It is a camera Leica made to attract another kind of audience. But it might risk remaining trapped within the Leica niche anyway. A German worker can finish up to seven bodies per day, so we are not talking about a massive production. Leica believes it will sell around 1000 units in Italy in one year, and is satisfied with this goal, so the ambition to sell this camera in large quantities appears to be absent.

It is true that it is the cheapest Leica system available as of today (the fifth overall system that Leica has created in 100 years) but it is still expensive when you see what the competition has to offer in the same APS-C category, especially regarding lenses. However, I’m sure these new Leica T lenses are way better in terms of image quality, with almost if no distortion, chromatic aberration and colour fringe.

E-M1, 1/60, f/ 4/1, ISO 2500
Leica M3 vs Leica T

It is an interesting camera for its design and original approach regarding touch-screen interaction. It is certainly an innovative product and that is positive.

Only time will tell how the system will be perceived. Leica apparently has other surprises this year. I also know that a new factory with advanced technology will soon open in Germany, so they are certainly investing a lot in their products and I think that this is a good thing.

So, back to the original question: how important is to shoot with a Beautiful camera?

I’ve already expressed my standpoint: I am a rational person, so it has less importance for me. But, please Leica, land me a unit to review anyway. I like to be challenged and proven wrong. Who knows, I may change my mind down the road! 😀

A personal thanks to New Old Camera and Ryu for his kindness. If you ever stop by Milan, this is the camera store to visit!

E-M1, 1/60, f/ 4/1, ISO 800
Thanks Ryu for this photo!

You can find the Leica T and the many accessories that go with it on Adorama!


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About the author: Mathieu Gasquet

Mathieu Gasquet is a professional photographer with French and Italian origins. Besides running his own video and photography studio 3Dit Lab, he is also the official photographer for the National Cinema Museum in Turin. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Mathieu

    I’m afraid that we won’t see cheap lenses for this system. Leica wants to stick with its high standards regarding lens quality and… prices.

  • Steve Jones

    Mathieu that is what those colour accessory covers
    pictured above are for. Leica have already solved that one!

  • Steve Jones

    The fact that Leica have come up with a user interface that you can intuitively use in minutes without struggling with menus is the BEST thing about this camera. You can concentrate on your subject not the complexity of a computer menu.
    Can’t tell you how HAPPY that makes me.
    A metal finish is actually no problem in humid or hot conditions s it feels cooler to the touch than a a plastic or rubber finish. That is my experience shooting in Asia. However, it won’t be so good in the cold but you can always put one of those tacky color cases on it and cover up the nice finish and all that polishing, yes, just like some people do with their iPads! I could wish that the LEICA CAMERA WETZLAR GERMANY lettering was some where else than right under the screen where it is distracting every time I look at it. Out with the black tape. And about the zoom lens. Too slow at that price. Compare to Olympus 2.8 for EM1. Yes I know that’s bigger. But it has the speed too. In choosing the lens most photographers want the speed and the quality and a good price. Leica ticks off only the quality box getting 1 out of 3. The lens needs to be cheaper especially after the body purchase or needs to be faster. One of the two.
    But, it looks like a great camera to use and the possibility of using the Leica lenses you already own with an adaptor is a huge plus in my opinion.
    There’s a lot to like about this camera.

  • Nick932

    The most obvious prediction is that cameras will be more and more software controlled and have higher integration between hardware and software. Obviously that will bring UI changes, that we already experience . The consumer camera market should decline and see more smartphone camera market increase. The prosumer market should integrate tighter with software and remain stable.

    I would love to see a phone stuck in this T. One less device to carry with the ability to have M Mount lenses and a pancake zoom. It could be a little thinner. But definitely I would carry on my belt. We shall see.

  • Mathieu

    I don’t know about licking, but the fingers point is good. Maybe they will release Leica gloves as well 😉

  • T N Args

    What happens if I lick that delicious body in freezing temperatures? Will I suffer the dreaded Leica Lock?

    (This question also applies to fingers, BTW)

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