Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Review: Leica T—a diligently polished performer

Review: Leica T—a diligently polished performer

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  England Expects. Trafalgar Square, London. Vario-Elmar-T at 60mm. f/5.1 at 1/2500s, Silver Efex Pro preset
England Expects. Trafalgar Square, London. Vario-Elmar-T at 60mm. f/5.1 at 1/2500s, Silver Efex Pro preset

By Mike Evans

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  From a solid block of aluminium
From a solid block of aluminium

For image samples follow the links 
at the end of this article

Leica’s new interchangeable camera, the T, is a design tour de force. The Apple influence has been much commented on: Hewn from a solid block of aluminium, minimalist, unimpeachable quality, polished by diligent Portuguese to within a second of boredom. All this is apparently true.  Audi Design has produced a deliciously crafted object of desire.  It offers probably the finest finish you will find on any aluminium object.

  Leica T with the 23mm Summicron-T
Leica T with the 23mm Summicron-T

The touch control concept is also a winner. While I am not yet ready to espouse it without reservation, I glimpse the future of  photography in this user interface. It is a refreshing antithesis to the modern trend towards retro cameras, bristling with buttons and dials. A new generation, brought up on smartphones, will find nothing strange or unfriendly when first they handle this camera.  

Ming Thein puts it well: “I believe the Leica T is the first generation of a paradigm shift in the way we control and interact with our cameras.” I agree.

Visually, the T is certainly stunning. In its birthday suit of polished aluminium it is a real eye-catcher. Yet many buyers will prefer the black anodised finish because it harmonises better with the  viewfinder and lenses. It would be a hard choice for me but I think I would choose black simply on the basis of the uniformity of colour. The whole creates a subtle illusion that makes the viewfinder and lens look smaller and more integrated when mounted on the black body. 

The camera I tested was loaned by Leica Store UK in Mayfair. As usual, I concentrate on the camera in use, the controls, handling and feel of the device. I also tend to approach cameras from the relatively specialised point of view of a Leica M user. Others have undertaken more detailed technical assessments of performance, image quality and comparisons with competing cameras. While I touch on these aspects, my focus is on the camera in the hands.

In a change from normal practice I have posted separate image galleries for the T lens and M lens shots (find the links at the end of the article).

Design

The Leica T is all about good, clean modern design. And the accent is on minimalism.  If you exclude the combination on/off switch/shutter release and movie button there are just two physical controls—programmable dials that suit their function to the current mode of the camera. The rest is touch.

The only jarring note is the plastic door on side of the camera next to the grip. This opens and closes with precision but it just feels out of place against the general solid build of the chassis.  The door covers the single SD card slot and the USB port. Unusually, there is no HDMI socket. I have read that this plastic door acts as a window for wireless communication and it is a logical explanation.

The T uses a similar Sony sensor to that in the X Vario and other cameras—an APS-C CMOS design with 16.3 megapixels. There is no anti-aliasing filter, thus following the fashion in high-end cameras. 

Unlike the earlier X Vario with its fixed zoom lens, the T forms the basis of a new interchangeable lens system. The T mount looks similar to the traditional M mount but the radius is bigger to accommodate the bulkier autofocus lenses. It also features a four-pronged bayonet. I suspect it could easily handle a future full-frame  auto T-mount lens should Leica decide to go down that route. The T mount includes electrical contacts to power and control the new autofocus lenses.

  A smooth, clean image devoid of buttons and distractions
A smooth, clean image devoid of buttons and distractions

The back of the camera presents a smooth, clean image devoid of buttons and dials. The 3.7in monitor lurks behind this expanse of black. When switched on, the screen provides an impressively large viewing area with an aspect ratio of 16:9. With 1.3 Megapixels it is clear and bright and is usable in all situations except extreme sunlight. 

The touch screen is the camera’s control centre and, I suspect, you will either love or hate this approach. After using digital cameras with countless buttons, dials and switches, the T comes as a shock. 

The battery is itself a design feature of the T, with its metal-look plastic base plate which fits flush with the bottom of the camera. The battery has a large, no-fumble release lever which allows the unit to pop out proud of the base by a few millimetres. No danger, though, of it falling out completely as you switch the lever since the battery stays put until you press it back inwards a touch to enable it to be removed. This is a nice feature and is indicative of the high level of thought that has gone into the design of camera.  

The battery can be charged while in the camera via the USB port. I am a great fan of in-camera charging because it is convenient and can be a life saver when travelling. You also get an external battery charger unit to give the T owner the best of both worlds. 

The small pop-up flash is released by a third position on the on/off switch surrounding the shutter release. This is odd at first but I am sure it will soon become second nature. 

Overall, the Leica T is a refreshing take on modern camera design. It looks good, feels superb and garners intense interest from people who wouldn’t otherwise look twice at a camera. This says a lot for its showroom appeal.

  Vario-Elmar-T at 35mm
Vario-Elmar-T at 35mm

Strap design

Normally straps and lugs are not something that need be mentioned in a camera review. They exist, period. In the case of the T, however, the new attachment system means that only Leica accessories are currently compatible. There are slots, covered by spring-loaded doors, on either end of the camera. The supplied rubber strap terminates in a short pillar which slots into the holes for a snap fit. To release the lugs, Leica supplies an iPhone-like tool which pokes into a small pin-hole next to the slot. Think iPhone SIM card and you get the idea. 

  The supplied silicon strap has proprietary connectors for the new lug sockets. If you fit a wrist strap there is no vacant lug visible on the other side of the camera
The supplied silicon strap has proprietary connectors for the new lug sockets. If you fit a wrist strap there is no vacant lug visible on the other side of the camera

This is a neat arrangement and I am sure most owners will like it. For one thing, if you are using a wrist strap you need use only one slot—there is no vacant lug on the other end of the camera to spoil the show.

On the downside, at least for the present, there is no alternative to using the Leica strap or Leica-supplied replacements such as the wrist loop and the coloured adjustable straps. Many owners will want to use their favourite leather strap and I imagine that third-party suppliers will soon offer snap-in lugs to accept a standard split ring. 

The black rubberised-silicon strap supplied with the camera looks good, it demonstrates well and fits the modern image of the camera. But I am not a huge fan. The material is quite stiff and the sticky silicon surface catches on clothing. I prefer a smooth strap which allows the camera to be pulled up to the eye without snagging. Worse, the material is springy and the strap is difficult to coax into a camera bag. Push down one bit and another pops up, just like a child’s toy snake. In view of the light weight of this camera, my preference would be for the Leica wrist loop, although made from the same silicon material. It will be less obtrusive and will make for easier handling.

Built-in memory

One of the most impressive design clues of the T hides inside—a generous 16GB memory chip. You do not need to use an SD card with this camera provided you are happy to transfer your shots via cable or wireless. This is convenient, offering extra storage without needing to change the SD card. But it is also a welcome safety measure, allowing you to use the camera if you forget to insert a card as well as the chance to back up your photos while on the road.

The memory format function can be applied selectively either to the internal or SD-card storage. There is also a useful and straightforward copy facility to allow transfer of files in either direction between the two memories.

  Out-of-camera jpgs are excellent. Vario-Elmar-T at 60mm, ISO 1250
Out-of-camera jpgs are excellent. Vario-Elmar-T at 60mm, ISO 1250

Handling

The T was immediately comfortable for me and it feels good in the hands. Crucially, with a virtual absence of buttons there is no danger of altering some vital function by mistake. Almost every modern camera suffers from one or more controls which are far too easy to trip. On the T you can even swipe the control screen to lock functions, thus making it impossible to touch anything by mistake.

The grip (a wider section of the body needed to house the battery) is a good size and is comfortable in use. After a time, though, the sharp bottom edge of the grip can dig into the fingers and become a little painful. 

The aluminium body can also become slippery in hot weather and I am certain it will be cold during the winter. Gloves could assist in the winter but the problem is that the touch-screen interface is then inoperable.  For all these reasons I feel sure I would decide to add a leather half case, despite a reluctance to cover up that beautiful chassis.

  Big cheese. Vario-Elmar-T at 55mm, processed in Silver Efex Pro
Big cheese. Vario-Elmar-T at 55mm, processed in Silver Efex Pro

Controls 

  J  ust four things to fiddle with on this camera: The multi-function off/on/flash/shutter control, the video button and the two customisable dials. To the left is the small pop-up flash with its 4.5 guide rating
J ust four things to fiddle with on this camera: The multi-function off/on/flash/shutter control, the video button and the two customisable dials. To the left is the small pop-up flash with its 4.5 guide rating

For once, describing the physical controls of a camera is a simple matter. There are just four things to fiddle with: The shutter/on/off/flash switch, the movie button and two control rings mounted to right of the top plate at the back. These two dials assume variable functions according to the camera mode.

In aperture- and shutter-priority modes the right-hand dial works on the main variable in the selected mode. So, for instance, in aperture priority it controls aperture. In shutter speed priority it alters shutter speed. The left-hand dial is customisable in P, A and S modes with a choice of the default ISO, white balance, exposure compensation, focus mode or self timer.  In manual mode the dials default to aperture (left) and shutter speed (right). 

Whenever a dial is moved, two small side-by-side boxes to the top right of the screen show the current function of the control dials. Tapping either of these icons brings up a quick-select menu to enable you to reassign the function of the dials. This is a nice touch and soon becomes second nature.

Menus and screen controls

The Leica T is designed from the ground up to be a touch-screen device. It inherits many, if not all, the features we have become familiar with in our smartphones. The system is easy to understand and straightforward in operation. In essence, it is a distillation of the manual controls and menu systems found on other cameras. There have been many touch-screen interfaces in the past, some of them excellent, but there has never been a control system like this. It is unique.

  The My Camera or home screen is the central control centre for the T. You can choose nine (or more if you wish) favourite functions. In effect, you design the camera back yourself. All functions are clearly labelled to avoid confusion
The My Camera or home screen is the central control centre for the T. You can choose nine (or more if you wish) favourite functions. In effect, you design the camera back yourself. All functions are clearly labelled to avoid confusion

The system is based on icons (or perhaps more accurately described as tiles).  They are large, suitable for even the podgiest of digits, and simple to understand. Each tile, which consists of a white on black image, has an icon accompanied by a clear text description. Some icons lead to a sub menu while others (such as MF/AF) are simple toggles. 

Currently there is a touch of illogicality in making selections. Often you simply press return to select. At other times you must press the SET button, an echo of the method used in Leica M and X-series digitals.

To the right of the tiled control screen are up to three soft buttons which allow quick access to desired screens. They change function as you move to other screens.  At first level the Mode button takes you directly to a screen with aperture, shutter priority or manual and scene settings. This is, in effect, a replacement for the mode dial seen on the top plate of many cameras and is rightly given major prominence in the system.

The second button accesses the My Camera screen which serves the same function as the home screen on an iPhone.  This is intended to present the principal functions to which you wish to have immediate access at all times. Think of this as representing the missing buttons on the back of the camera. The beauty of this system, however, is that you get to choose what you need rather than what the camera designer thinks you should have. 

  Vario-Elmar-T at 65mm
Vario-Elmar-T at 65mm

The T comes with a suggested My Camera screen but you can remove unwanted functions simply by dragging them to the trashcan. To add functions from the main control list, press the add button and scroll through the menu items until you find a new candidate for the home screen.  

There are nine tiles per screen and I disciplined myself to fitting all my frequently used functions into just one screen. You can have more screens but there is a certain purity in sticking to just nine items on display—the perfectly crafted camera back. The full system menu contains all 44 functions of which your home screen is a customised sub-set. 

The bottom button at the first level is the  INFO control familiar to Leica M and X users. This sets the amount of information to display on the screen during normal operation.  There are four settings. First comes the completely blank screen that many prefer.  Second is the option to overlay exposure information on opaque strips at the top and bottom of the screen. I found this a bit distracting since the two bars cover part of the scene. Although you can see through the strips, it easy to mis-frame a shot. Finally you can choose either a rule-of-thirds grid or a live histogram.

  The T makes an great camera for street photography. Easy to set up, simple to operate and discreet, especially in black finish
The T makes an great camera for street photography. Easy to set up, simple to operate and discreet, especially in black finish

Entering playback mode is the T’s party piece, sure to confuse even the most experienced photographer. Of course there is no physical button, but it takes a leap of faith to realise that a downward swipe of the screen enters playback. During playback the display changes to show the usual viewing and magnification options.

The touch-based control system currently has one major snag,  the inability to switch off the screen. It is always on and the only respite comes from using the eye sensor for the electronic viewfinder. 

What the entire system lacks is a home button, as on a smartphone, which can bring the screen to life when needed.  Leica’s only choice was to leave the screen on, subject only to the control of the EVF eye sensor. Again, I hope this can be changed at the next firmware update. 

There are three customisable user profiles which can be arranged to cover the main camera settings. A fourth would be welcome. You access them from a system icon which can, if you prefer, go on the home screen. Unlike on the Leica M it is not possible to rename the profiles to provide a useful meaning.

Overall, the control functions of the T are a masterpiece of clarity and simple operation. It really is unnecessary to consult the manual and I believe most new owners will be up and running in a few minutes. I love the idea of  a custom camera back with just the functions I need on display. This is a well designed system which belies its version one status. Leica has put a great deal of development and testing work into presenting a radical new approach to camera control. And it works.

In use

The simplicity of the control system and the freedom from inadvertent button presses makes the T a very satisfying and focused camera. You can concentrate on photography and not have to bother worrying about the settings.

The resolution and brightness of the screen is ideal for composition, focus and shooting. Only in bright sunlight did I find it difficult to see what I was doing. For this reason, I do believe that the optional electronic viewfinder is an essential accessory.  

  The large screen is a delight to use for composition and focus. With Touch AF activated you can tap the focus point to ensure ultimate sharpness of the target
The large screen is a delight to use for composition and focus. With Touch AF activated you can tap the focus point to ensure ultimate sharpness of the target

During the test I became more used to using the screen rather than the viewfinder. I liked the convenience and simplicity of this approach. I am normally addicted to viewfinders and have criticised cameras which force you to compose on the screen.  

But in this instance the T has modified my views. It is just a pity that the screen does not tilt as on so many other modern cameras. This would be a help for  low-level shots in particular. It would, however, spoil those gorgeous lines.

When Touch AF  is enabled it is neat to be able to tap the screen to select a focus point and view the result. The system does not run to control of the shutter from the screen (as is possible, for instance with several cameras including the Canon EOS M). In addition to Touch AF, the autofocus mode selector offers the usual spot, single-point, multi-point and face detection. Face detection works extremely well and is reliable.

  Camera B&W jpegs are full of detail. Vario-Elmar-T at 27mm
Camera B&W jpegs are full of detail. Vario-Elmar-T at 27mm

The  contrast-based autofocus system is faster than that of the X Vario and earlier Fuji X cameras. It is now well up to the standard of competitors, although not quite as fast as the class-leading speeds of the latest Olympus OM-Ds or the Fuji X-T1.

The Vario-Elmar-T locked on to focus quickly and surely in good lighting conditions but there was some hunting present in low light. 

On the downside, the T is not the fastest camera from startup. After switching on I counted up to four seconds before the system comes to life. And waking from sleep is not much faster. This enforces more anticipation before taking a shot and can be frustrating. 

The impression of slowness extends to the transition from rear screen to EVF when putting the camera to the eye. The eye sensor does its job, but there is a perceptible delay before the viewfinder springs to life.  I hope that these problems are tackled at the first firmware update.

As a Leica rangefinder user I am used to aperture priority and I found this to be the most useful mode with the automatic zoom lens. The mode soft button on the touchscreen gives instant access to the menu and it is very simple to change. Having selected a mode, the righthand dial on the top of the camera adjusts the variable, aperture or speed with the left-hand dial set by default to adjust ISO. In program mode the two dials control aperture and shutter speed. This all works very well and is intuitive and straightforward.

The scene mode setting offers a fully automatic set up as well as a suite of modes which will be familiar to most digital photographers. I tend not to think of using scene modes but they can certainly be effective for quick shots in unusual lighting conditions when you just want to point and shoot.

The battery is rated by Leica at approximately 400 shots but this depends on how much use is made of the screen, the wireless functions and the optional viewfinder, as well as the power saving settings. I found I was getting around 300 shots and, since I did not have a spare battery during the test, some care had to be exercised. Note that it is possible to turn on airplane mode, as on a smartphone, and I would recommend this unless you intend to use wireless functions. Smartphone users will be well aware that wireless functions eat batteries, especially with applications that rely on GPS.

  Vario-Elmar-T at 80mm
Vario-Elmar-T at 80mm

The ability to have instant access to the nine (or more if you wish) most-used adjustments via the touch screen is a big improvement over the traditional system of a mixture of buttons and menus. For one thing, you can dispense with buttons you seldom use whereas with a normal camera you are stuck with the designer’s choice. This software-driven interface offers greater opportunities for firmware updates to cover almost any aspect of the camera’s operation. With a normal camera, if one button is badly placed or too trigger happy there is nothing to be done.

With the Vario-Elmar-T zoom mounted and ignoring the radical new control system, the T in use is very similar to Leica’s earlier fixed-lens bridge camera, the X Vario. It produces similar results, with high image quality. I am a great fan of the X Vario and I feel I could change over to the T without making any sacrifices. I would also have a lighter and more versatile camera.

Viewfinder

The accessory viewfinder is a huge improvement on the VF-2 model seen on the M and the X2/X Vario. It is sad that the almighty M is saddled with an inferior and ancient unit. The Visoflex incorporates a larger high-resolution screen (2.4 million dots) which is bright and suffers less from lag than the VF-2. The inclusion of a GPS receiver is a neat touch—at least it gets a good signal—and will be appreciated for the geotagging data it provides. I look forward to the time when the new Visoflex can be used on a future M.

  The Visoflex viewfinder and lenses are black, contrasting with the polished aluminium body. Many will prefer the all-black look afforded by the anodised black version (this picture taken with a Leica M and 50mm Summilux)
The Visoflex viewfinder and lenses are black, contrasting with the polished aluminium body. Many will prefer the all-black look afforded by the anodised black version (this picture taken with a Leica M and 50mm Summilux)

As a wearer of glasses I had no problem with this viewfinder and could see well into the corners of the frame. The large diopter adjuster wheel on the right-hand side is a significant improvement and it shows that Leica designers have listened to critics. The wheel clicks around and holds its place, making it easy to achieve and keep perfect resolution.  

The Visoflex, unlike the VF-2, connects with electrical contacts inside the hotshoe. It sits more firmly than the VF-2 and is less easily dislodged when putting the camera in a bag. It tilts to 90 degrees, a very useful tool for low-down shots, and clicks back into horizontal quite firmly. It is not constantly tilting as does the VF-2.

The relationship between rear screen and viewfinder is not ideal, however. The eye sensor is slow to recognise the eye and results in a small but significant delay when raising the camera. Worse, it is not possible to switch solely to EVF use because the rear screen must be available (as a control centre) at all times.  

One aspect of using the Visoflex was annoying. The compulsory chimping period when the last shot occupies the finder was longer than usual, certainly longer than with the VF-2 on the X Vario. Several times I was fooled into thinking the previous shot was the live view and had to wait for the display to clear before taking a second picture. 

Vario-Elmar-T lens

  Two T lenses are available now with two more to come by the end of the year. Further expansion of the T-mount system is planned
Two T lenses are available now with two more to come by the end of the year. Further expansion of the T-mount system is planned

There are currently two autofocus lenses available for the T. Default choice for most buyers will be the 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T zoom which offers a full-frame range of approximately 27-85mm.

The 23mm (~35mm) f/2 Summicron-T provides a fast prime in one of the most popular focal lengths. A further two lenses will follow later this year and, presumably, the system will be extended.

T lenses are made in Japan, but specifically not by Panasonic, Leica’s long-term partner. The glass is German. 

The zoom, which I tested, is likely to be the default choice for most T buyers and will possibly be the only auto lens needed. This is especially the case for existing M owners who are happy to use their M lenses as primes.

Curiously, Leica has not seen fit to equip this lens with optical stabilisation, unlike in competing lenses such as the popular and competitive 18-55mm Fujinon. For some reason the company is either unable or unwilling to add this feature which, I am sure, would help newcomers who might not appreciate the risks of camera shake at slow shutter speeds. See my comments on ISO in this respect.

The lens is well built and appears to be constructed from a lightweight metal with a black anodised finish. It weights only 256g without the hood, respectably light for a high-performance zoom.  The f/3.5-5.6 aperture range is relatively slow but is pretty typical for this type of standard zoom and is consistent with the weight and size. It is slightly faster at the long end than the lens of the X Vario.

In terms of ergonomics, this is a typical modern zoom with fly-by-wire controls. In manual mode it is less satisfying to operate than the similar Vario-Elmar of the X Vario. The Vario’s lens has a clear aperture scale with the ability to switch from manual to autofocus by moving past a détente. It is simple and intuitive. 

The X Vario lens also has a clear, M-like focus ring which moves through approximately 40 degrees and has a clear stop at either end. This ensures fast focusing which emulates Leica’s manual lenses. With the T lens, on the other hand, the focus ring twiddles through nearly two complete turns and is as frustrating to use manually as any modern autofocus lens.

Unlike the neat X Vario lens, which zooms largely internally—with just a hint of protrusion at 28mm and 70mm—the Vario-Elmar-T has a significant extension of almost 8 cm.

Both the focus and aperture rings on the Vario-Elmar-T are smooth, well damped and quiet. The stepping motor is almost silent and helps create the overall impression of smoothness. The clip-on reversible hood, while large, is preferable to the screw-on device of the XV’s lens. Fans  of polarised and graduated ND filters will be glad to hear that the front of the lens does not rotate.

Image quality

With the 18-56mm (~27-85mm) zoom mounted on the T the image quality is outstanding. It is every bit as good as that from the X Vario. Both distortion and chromatic aberration are well controlled in camera jpgs. This lens is a far cry from the cheap kit zooms supplied with entry-level DSLRs. 

This Varo-Elmar is sharp and full of contrast at all focal lengths and demonstrates an impressive dynamic range. There is a tiny amount of barrel distortion at the widest setting but this is consistent with results from similar lenses. There is also a touch of chromatic aberration noticeable in high-contrast areas but this is easily corrected by turning on CA correction in Lightroom. Bokeh is especially pleasing.

  Detail is impressive in his heavy crop (original picture and crop are in the image gallery, linked at the bottom of the article)
Detail is impressive in his heavy crop (original picture and crop are in the image gallery, linked at the bottom of the article)

Leica has said that the aim of the designers of the Vario-Elmar-T was to equal Leica prime standards at every focal length. I think they have largely succeeded.

As with all Leica’s X-series digitals, it is not possible to produce RAW images without an accompanying jpg. I am not alone in finding this odd arrangement rather annoying. It can sometimes be an advantage if you want immediately useable jpgs but like the assurance of having the RAW in reserve. That said, it would be nice to have the option to choose.
 
The camera offers two levels of jpg quality, fine and superfine, with the option to add a DNG file to either of these.  Choose from vivid, natural, B&W natural or B&W high-contrast jpgs. In every preset there are adjustments for contrast, sharpness and saturation. 

The jpg output is excellent in my view. The out-of-camera results are so good that very little, if any, work is necessary. All Leica’s X series cameras, including the X1/X2 and X Vario produce good, well-worked jpgs it has to be said. Despite my preference for working in RAW with the M and Monochrom, I rapidly came to trust the output from the T. This is fortunate because the T is likely to attract new photographers who will not want to bother with RAW files. That said, the  DNG files are also excellent and provide extensive recovery possibilities.

Manual focus

Manual focus is selected from the AF/MF control tile. The setting sticks even when the camera is switched off—a good point. Magnification (if selected) is automatically enabled when the focus ring is moved.  The selection of magnification options can be confusing and I mention this later in  relation to the use of manual lenses. The focus ring has a long throw of nearly two turns from near to infinity. It is thus slow and cannot be compared with the quick focus experience with a manual M lens or the X Vario’s simulated M focus ring.

During manual focus a scale appears in the display to indicate focus distance and an approximate depth of field. This scale is lacking in detail, showing only 0.3, 1m, 2m and infinity. I have seen better on other cameras. All things considered, I see little reason to use manual focus with T lenses except in special circumstances.

In direct contrast, the T has been designed specifically to work with full-frame Leica M lenses and it shows. After struggling with the focus ring on the T lens, working with an M lens is a revelation.

To mount an M lens on the T you need the £300 Leica M Adapter T. While expensive, this is a well-crafted device, made in Leica’s Portugal factory, which offers more than the simple spacing ring that you find with cheaper aftermarket units sold for some cameras. It reads the six-bit coding from a modern lens and transmits this information to the camera.  This is no small benefit since, with other cameras such as the Sony A7 or Fuji X series, you get no information in the metadata when using third-party manual lenses (except, in the case of Fuji, with the lens profiles you can set up manually within the camera).  

The APS-C sensor in the T means that the focal length of any given lens is multiplied by 1.5. While this is often cited as a problem, I see it as an advantage since the lenses in your bag can assume a dual rôle when the T body is used in conjunction with a full-frame M. A 50mm Summicron, a perfect walk-around lenses on an M, becomes a satisfying portrait-ready short tele of 75mm on the T. 

With a manual lens attached, the camera has no way of knowing what aperture is set.  It cannot detect movement in the focus ring (which, on the T system lenses triggers manual focus magnification automatically). The Leica M, which uses the movement in the rangefinder linkage, is the only camera that can sense movement in a manual lens. The camera does at least know that a non-T lens is attached and manual focus comes into operation without the need to delve into the settings. 

   Modern lenses from the 21mm Super-Elmar to the 50mm Noctilux worked well on the T. Here is a sample from 21mm. Below,a crop from the same image
Modern lenses from the 21mm Super-Elmar to the 50mm Noctilux worked well on the T. Here is a sample from 21mm. Below,a crop from the same image

Because of the six-bit coding connection Leica has the future ability to modify the camera’s firmware to adopt individual lens profiles. I am not sure to what extent, if any,  this has already been implemented but it opens exciting possibilities.

When using a manual lens (or an automatic lens in manual mode) the function of the left-hand dial is rather curious. Flicking the wheel to the left initiates focus magnification at the rather low factor of three.  A box showing 3x/6x is then displayed on the screen. To get to 6x magnification it is necessary to the tap the screen every time. This arrangement is unwieldy and counter-intuitive. It would be simpler to allow a further flick of the left-hand dial to select the higher level of magnification. The choice of 3x and 6x magnification is also odd. On the M the maximum magnification is 10x and on the Sony A7 it is a whopping 14x. Occasionally, this much higher magnification is useful.

The T works well with all the M lenses I tried, from the 21mm Super-Elmar through to the 0.95 Noctilux. I did not have the opportunity to try 75mm or 90mm lenses, something I hope to remedy soon. In general, however, longer lenses present fewer challenges and I would anticipate no insurmountable problems.

I believe there are fewer reservations in using M lenses on the T than on any other make of camera, not least because of the improved metadata available for future reference. I did no extensive testing but I have created a separate gallery of shots taken with lenses between 21 and 50mm (link below).

After some practice I found it easier to focus M lenses on the T than on any other APS-C camera I have tried. The resolution of the viewfinder is such that manual focus is straightforward even without magnification. It is possible, in the main, to rely on the slight shimmer, or moiré effect, that hits the image as it comes into focus. This effect is not unique to the T and appears to be a natural optical phenomenon.  I have noticed it on other cameras such as the Fuji X-E1 and Sony A7. There is no focus peaking aid on the T but I am not generally a big fan and can live without it.

If I chose to work with manual focus I would prefer an M to a T lens any day. The short, tight movement of a typical M focus ring lends itself to quick adjustment. By contrast, the woolly fly-by-wire double-circle action of the Vario-Elmar’s focus ring is disappointing.

In terms of investment, it is worth bearing in mind that since the T works so well with M-mount lenses there are many opportunities for economy. An older and relatively inexpensive prime 35 or 50 from Leica, Voigtländer or Zeiss should perform quiet well. Unfortunately, however, unless you are using modern six-bit-coded Leica glass there will be no lens metadata to refer to. The T body, without a T lens, is a cheap way of owning a second camera for M lenses.

ISO settings

   ISO performance at 6400 is surprisingly good. See the detail from the mirror below. Leica Vario-Elmar-T at 50mm, 1/125s at f/4.9
ISO performance at 6400 is surprisingly good. See the detail from the mirror below. Leica Vario-Elmar-T at 50mm, 1/125s at f/4.9
  Detail from the above shot at ISO 6400
Detail from the above shot at ISO 6400

As mentioned, neither camera nor lens has optical stabilisation and it is fortunate that the auto ISO function on this camera has been so well designed. It allows variable combinations of maximum exposure time (from 1s to 1/4000s) and ISO limits up to 12500.

This gives the user full automatic control over when the camera will bump up ISO to compensate for poor light. It also permits the shutter speed to be kept high, at 1x or 2x effective focal length, to minimise camera shake. 

Intelligent use of the auto ISO function is undoubtedly a big aid in avoiding camera shake. It should be said, also, that the silent vibration-free shutter is also a boon. It is quieter than those of the Sony, Fuji or Olympus and dramatically less jarring than the noisy, vibratory shutter of the A7 and A7s.

I was surprised by the performance of the T at ISO 6400. It is better, in my opinion, than the X Vario in this respect and I would have no hesitation in using it whenever necessary. As with the  X Vario, 3200 ISO is superb and shows little noise degradation. At the extreme, 12500 is just acceptable. It is naturally much more noisy but remains sharp and has a surprisingly attractive grain. 

Communication

The T has a free companion Leica App which allows the camera to connect to any iOS device for sharing or remote camera operation. I like the remote control function which turns an iPhone or iPad into a wireless electronic viewfinder.  It’s ideal for sneaky shots, not that I ever do sneaky shots of course. The app was easy to set up and works well.

The integrated wifi module lets you transfer results from the camera to a smartphone or tablet. It is also easy to share pictures on social media or via email or iMessage. It works with the browser gallery on Android devices although I wasn’t able to check this. 

  Vario-Elmar-T, 27mm, ISO 500
Vario-Elmar-T, 27mm, ISO 500

Video

I do not use the video function on my cameras so am not qualified to pronounce on the T’s video performance. The camera offers MP4 recording capabilities at 30 fps in either 1920×1080 or 1290×720 format. Video is there if you want it. Many Leica stills photographers are not interested in video but I can understand that the new markets targeted will expect good results.

Warranty

All Leicas supplied in the UK come with Leica Passport, a one-year accidental damage insurance, and a two-year warranty. You are also able to download up to two copies of the latest edition of Lightroom. In addition, nee owners have the opportunity to attend a free one-hour induction course with a Leica Akademie expert (currently only in London but I am told this might be extended to other major centres).

  Vario-Elmar-T at 80mm
Vario-Elmar-T at 80mm

Target audience

Leica is hoping for a new set of customers with the T. The company believes it will do well among younger, tech-aware, well-heeled consumers.  They will be willing to pay the Leica premium for the stunning design and the red dot. 

I am sure they are right but I think it would be wrong to ignore the traditional Leica buyer. There are many existing M users looking for a smaller, less expensive second body for use with their M glass. The ability of the T to read lens information from modern six-bit coded M lenses is a major selling point as is the opportunity to mount an automatic zoom lens.

Prices

By Leica standards, the T body is a bargain at £1,350 and is especially so when the high quality of design and manufacturing elements are taken into account. You really feel you are getting value for money. The lenses, on the other hand, are a tad expensive within their peer group although cheap by M standards. The zoom costs £1,250 while the 23mm Summicron-T is £1,350. 

The minimum entry ticket for the T system is £2,600 but most buyers, I suspect, will want to add the £400 electronic viewfinder so will be handing over £3,000. Anyone wishing to use M lenses  will need to fork out an additional £300 for the adapter.

  Vario-Elmar-T at 85mm
Vario-Elmar-T at 85mm

Last word

I am very impressed with the design and handling of this camera. Moreover, the results are outstanding and the out-of-camera jpgs are some of the best I have seen.

The T is a radical and brave step for Leica. The degree of customisability of the interface is exemplary and it will be easy for any owner to set up the T to offer as much or as little direct control as desired. 

It is a relatively simple camera to set up and operate compared with its main competitors from Sony and Fuji. It follows the classic Leica ethic of minimalism that is one of the brand’s most endearing features. 

  With modern Leica M lenses, to take advantage of the six-bit coding, the T has already has access to a lens for every occasion. Note the fabled 0.95 Noctilux not he extreme left and its sharper but slower competitor, the 50mm Apo Summicron on the far right).  If older legacy M lenses are added, the choice is phenomenal. The T works better with M lenses than other APS-C cameras or the full-frame Sony A7 and produces exceptional photographs
With modern Leica M lenses, to take advantage of the six-bit coding, the T has already has access to a lens for every occasion. Note the fabled 0.95 Noctilux not he extreme left and its sharper but slower competitor, the 50mm Apo Summicron on the far right).  If older legacy M lenses are added, the choice is phenomenal. The T works better with M lenses than other APS-C cameras or the full-frame Sony A7 and produces exceptional photographs

It is not the fastest camera on the market. It is relatively slow to start and wake, although autofocus speed is actually above average. But the T offers some of the best image quality obtainable from an APS-C sensor together with a brace of excellent new lenses and the promise of more to come. Encouragingly, too, it has an aptitude to work with M lenses that is likely to woo the traditionalists.

This is a landmark device that pushes the the boundaries of modernity. It is a genuinely nice camera to use and offers the comfort of a simple, easy-to-understand layout and handling. It is not a camera for sporting events or for fast-moving subjects, but it excels in being a Leica. 

Thanks are due to my friends Brian Parkes, George James and John Shingleton for reviewing drafts of this article at various stages and for their invaluable comments and corrections. They bear absolutely no responsibility for any factual errors which are entirely down to me.

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Go to the T image gallery of shots from the 18-56 Vario-Elmar-T

Go to the T image gallery of shots with Leica M lenses

Read more of our camera reviews:

Leica Monochrom

Leica X Vario

Leica C

Fuji X-E1 with Leica lenses

Fuji X and Sony A7 with Leica lenses

Voigtländer VM-E Close-Focus Adapter for Sony A7

Sony A7: Bargain basement quality zoom from Leica

 

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent review, one of the best I’ve read so far, I can’t understand why more people haven’t commented.

  2. George, I agree. Maybe Leica T owners are too busy shooting and non-T owners only read reviewed relevant to their current needs. It is a crowded world.

  3. Don’t understand why Leica cannot build in a viewfinder. The Visoflex is an ugly item, worse than the old model on the M, and spoils the lines of the camera. All that type about polishing then they stick on a monstrosity like that. I like the idea of the T but I will not buy another camera without a built in viewfinder. Leica should look at the Fuji XT1 to see how it should be done.

  4. Excellent review if a bit short on technical stuff and quite a few unsupported opinions, but it’s entertaining and give a good feel for the camera. I am persuaded to sell my X Vario and move over to the T after reading your views on the touch control system. I didn’t think I would like it but I am beginning to see it has advantages. Thanks.

  5. Good article, as others have already said.
    Slightly confused with a couple of Vario Elmar T pictures, at "80mm", and "85mm". Typos?
    Thanks.
    Gary

    • Gary, the Vario-Elmar-T for the Leica T has a nominal range of 18-56mm. As I explained in the previous reply, this is equivalent to 27-85mm on a full-frame lens. In other words, the picture in the frame on the Vario-Elmar-T at 56mm is exactly the same as 85mm on a full-frame camera. I haven’t checked back on the captions but I imagine I was correct in quoting 80 and 85mm. It is very confusing, I admit.

      Another example: If you buy a Fuji X camera, which also has an APS-C size sensor, the same as the Leica T, the standard zoom lens is 18-55. Again, this is roughly equivalent to 27-85, same as the Leica. The most popular prime lens for the Fuji is the 35mm Fujinon. But this is actually a 50mm lens in terms of the crop of the picture. With a Leica M and its full-frame sensor, you would need to use a 50mm lens to achieve the same result as the 35mm lens on the Fuji.

    • Hi Gary, I agree it can be a confusing way of describing the effect of using a full-frame lens on a smaller sensor. The sensor on the Leica T is known as APS-C which is smaller than what is commonly referred to as a full-frame 35mm sensor (the same size sensor as the frame of an old 35mm film). Theis smaller sensor cannot use the full view as seen by the lens, it uses just the centre portion. It is therefore cropped. The crop factor with APS-C is 1.5 which has the effect of narrowing the angle of view from the lens. Hence, a 35mm full-frame lens (such as a Leica M lens) becomes in effect a 52.5mm lens when used on a camera with an APS-C sensor. In general we round this down to 50mm and say that the 35mm full-frame lens has a 50mm equivelence in 35mm terms. Similarly, a 50mm lens is roughly equivalent to 75mm, so much narrower than the true 50mm you see on the Leica M. I hope this helps.

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