I was very fortunate to have received an evaluation sample of the new Leica T, code named “Taifun”. After signing my life away with the non disclosure agreement, I received the new camera, complete with 18-56mm3.5-5.6 zoom lens, Visoflex electronic finder and M lens adapter. Upon opening the box, I had a great smile on my face, getting the new camera in my hands. I had heard that the body was machined out of a solid block of aluminum, but it is hard to anticipate that visceral reaction when you place something of inherent quality of construction in your hands. It really feels good. The body is machined from a 2.2# block of metal down to a piece that weighs only a few ounces. The feel is unlike anything available on the market today.
The camera size is smaller than an M and about the same as the X Vario body. The lens mounting is similar to the S or the R system, in that the lens release is mounted in a familiar place, about 7 o’clock on the lens mount. The new lenses are auto focus, which will be very nice for most users. The lenses are lighter than M lenses, but mount to the body with the same feeling of precision. After charging the battery fully, I immediately mounted the Visoflex finder. The first thing that I noticed, is that the finder automatically activates when the finder is placed to your eye. The finder resolution is very high. I did not have an opportunity to do a direct comparison with other finders from Sony, Fuji and Olympus, but my initial impression was that it was at least as good as anything that I have seen or used recently, with good color, contrast and sharpness. The finder has the typical diopter adjustment and it also tilts through 90 degrees, which is really nice for tripod use.
The user interface is typical Leica in concept. Very simple and intuitive, especially if you own a modern smart phone. The hard controls consist of a shutter release and power switch, video start/stop button and two dials. The rest is controlled from the large touch screen interface. There are three primary touch screen buttons. One is exposure mode selection, the second is for the menu and the third controls how information is displayed on the screen. The screen is very bright and has high resolution and adjusts automatically to ambient brightness. In use, I had no problem seeing the screen in full sunlight.
I proceeded to learn and set up the menu on the T. The main menu consists of your most important settings, while the settings menu has all of the available settings. You can customize the layout of the menu by simply dragging and dropping each menu icon. I was able to configure the main menu with my most relevant settings, in the order that I preferred them to appear. This was simply a nice feature at first, that with use, I came to really love. Now that I have returned my advance copy to Leica, and am using my M again, I find that I really miss that touch screen menu.
My advance copy Taifun, did not come with a manual, so it took me a quick telephone call to figure out how to play back my images. I was looking for a playback button as my mind was not totally immersed in the touch screen user interface yet. I learned that playback is accessed by touching and dragging your finger down across the back of the screen. After that, the rest was easy. Touch and swipe to flip between images, pinch to reduce the image or to show a checkerboard of multiple images and spread your fingers to increase the image size. You can go to full magnification with a double tap on the screen. Very quick and intuitive. For auto focus, I like center spot AF, so I immediately turned off the multi point AF. AF is quick and precise. I made a few test shots. Just enough to familiarize myself with the camera. The next morning, with tripod in hand, I was off to a local wind farm to do a few more serious test shots. I found the color to be what I typically expect from Leica, which is very pleasing. The resolution was really fantastic. This is an APS-C sensor size, like the X-Vario, which I also own. I have not done a direct comparison yet, but the ISO range seems similar to the X2 and X-Vario. As good as the X-Vario lens is, this lens somehow seemed better.
On my second outing with the T, I used the M adapter with my 50mm1.4 Asph. This camera does not have contrast focusing, so I was not sure how easy it would be to use the M lenses with the EVF Visoflex. The control dials allow you to adjust F-Stop and shutter speed in manual mode, but since the aperture control is on the lens, the the other control defaults to manual focus assist, by magnifying the image either 3x or 6x. I used the 3x most of the time, but eventually found myself not using any magnification as the finder has enough resolution to do so. I did a lot of shooting with the M lens and had no problem dialing in focus at f1.4, even at minimum focus distance. After using up about 30 minutes of nice, late afternoon light, I decided to try the 18-56mm lens for some informal lens comparisons. Upon viewing the files later that evening, it was apparent to me that the zoom lens, at the 50mm setting, was performing at a level very similar to my M Summilux lens! We have some more formal lens test that we are also publishing, which directly compare the zoom to the M 50mm1.4 Asph, so you will definitely want to check out our results.
Test Raw (DNG) images from Leica T using the 50mm 1.4 Summilux ASPH and 18-56 3/5-5.6 T (Photos provided by Gary Faye: Distinguished Professional Photographer, Camera West Sales Associate)
Other Sample Images shot with Leica T and 18-56mm T Lens:
The Leica T concept is a collaboration with their partner Audi Design. The camera has several really nice features that are new to this type of camera platform. Other than the materials and construction, the strap system is quite unique in that the strap has pins on each end, which click into the body. This makes changing or removing the strap a breeze. The strap lugs pivot and swivel and the system is quite intelligent. Also, the battery removes as it does in the S system, so it does not fall out when the battery release lever is actuated. The battery pops out about 4mm and stops. You have to push the battery slightly, until you hear and feel a click, then the battery can be removed. Another great feature is that the camera has built in WiFi. I have this one set to RAW (DNG) and small JPEG. The small JPEG images transfer nicely to my smartphone camera roll and are perfect for email or further uploading to your favorite web site. This camera also has 16gb of internal storage, so while it does take a standard SD card, it is not necessary.
In conclusion, I think that many, if not most M users will enjoy owning this camera. The camera is placed between the X and the M lines. I feel that it is an excellent balance of workmanship and features, so this camera will appeal to anyone who wishes to own a high performance, interchangeable lens Leica, that does not have the desire to manually focus all of their shots. I only had the camera for about four and a half days and I overwhelmingly want to use the camera more. On Thursday, the day that this article is live, I will be receiving the 23mm 2.0 Summicron lens. I look forward to exploring the performance of that lens as well as other lenses of my M system. Keep an eye on our Blog in the coming weeks for more information on this beautiful new addition to the Leica lineup!
Review by Sean Cranor – President and CEO of Camera West Stores