Six years ago today saw the launch of a revolutionary new camera, the Leica T. Hewn from a solid block of aluminium and polished in Portugal to within a micron of its life, this was the camera that Leica hoped would revolutionise photography. In a nod to the growing threat from the smartphone, Leica introduced a touch control system that is still unique. It was a bold step into the unknown, but how has it fared since then?
From the beach
On the day of the announcement, I was in Greece. In my journal I wrote: “At 4 pm the Leica T was announced so I had to do a quick review and post to Macfilos. The T appears to be a unique camera and, although the body is cheaper than I had envisaged, the lenses and accessories are very expensive.”
I followed up this original announcement with a four-year-up reprise in April 2018. I’d just re-purchased, at an affordable price, an example of the original T from 2014. With strong rumours of the arrival of the CL, I decided it was time to get back into Leica’s APS-C system. Unfortunately, I sold the T when the CL arrived but I now wish I had kept it in the same way that I’ve kept the X1 and X2.
Looking back to 2014 from 2020, however, it feels like a much longer period. At the launch, most reviewers homed in on the novel hewn-from-the-block construction and the equally unusual touch control system with its now-familiar block menu icons. At the time, this was seen as Leica’s (and the photographic industry’s) answer to the threat of the smartphone. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em with a familiar all-touch control system.
What seemed less significant at the time was the new, massively proportioned mount system, the T. It was clearly big for an APS-C camera and, indeed, the mount almost filled the front of the small T camera. We now know that this mount was designed primarily for full-frame use and that the SL was already well under development when the T was announced.
Now known as the L-Mount, this new design was probably the most significant aspect of the T launch. While the T was heralded as the future for Leica, it was really the L-Mount that fills that role.
In contrast, Leica’s entry into the ILC APS-C market has been less significant. With the T, then the TL, the TL2 and the CL, we’ve seen steady progress but no break-through that would have made Leica a leader in the crop-frame market.
It’s too early to write the obituary of the TL2. Many people love the camera for its bold design and unusual handling. If it had had an integral viewfinder from the start, I suspect it could well have been a much bigger hit.
The accessory Visoflex was a good effort in 2014 and, indeed, it is still the current offering on the M10. Many T owners loved it for its ability to swivel upwards to help with those lower-angle shots, but the majority saw it as an unwelcome protuberance on an otherwise biddable body.
The CL was designed to overcome the negative reactions to the T — with a good built-in viewfinder and more traditional controls. It has a strong following among traditional Leica users but in my opinion, it has failed to grow the sector by attracting back Fuji and Sony users.
Price is a big factor, not necessarily the cost of the CL itself – for a Leica, it is a reasonably priced little camera. It’s the lenses that hurt when it comes to building a system. They are all good performers and they are small and light. With the exception of the 35mm Summilux and the 23mm Summicron, they are all slower than we now expect from professional-quality lenses. And the longer zooms, particularly the 55-135mm are tarnished in the eyes of buyers for their lack of stabilisation. Yet, for what they are, they are perceived as being expensive.
Sadly, I see little future for the aluminium T range – although all three cameras will remain desirable as second-hand buys for their unique qualities. In fact, I expect them to become classic digitals in their own right. If you own one, I’d hang on to it.
Leica’s APS-C hopes are focused on the CL and I have a shrewd suspicion that we could see a revised CL2, taking the design forward in the same subtle but meaningful way as did the SL2. We might even see in-body stabilisation, something which would put new life into the existing lens range.
Unfortunately, with the absence of alternative L-Mount cameras from other manufacturers, there seems little possibility that we will see a range of excellent and affordable lenses such as the Art series produced by Sigma for the full-frame cameras from Leica and Panasonic.
Of course, all full-frame L-mount lenses can be used on the CL but this rather defeats the object of going for a smaller sensor. In the main (with the exception of that Sigma 45mm f/2.8 – which becomes a useful 68 mm on the CL), they are all too big and heavy. In a way, it is a pity for Leica that Panasonic has definitely decided to ignore APS-C.
Back to today, the sixth anniversary of the Leica T. It is also the sixth anniversary of a new mount, the L, which has succeeded in breaking out into a wider world of alternative cameras and high-quality affordable lenses. The L-Mount is destined for success, aided by both Panasonic and Sigma. Whether or not it will continue to serve APS-C systems in the future is less certain. Let’s hope that the CL2, when and if it arrives, will inject some new life into the system.
What’s your view? Was the T revolutionary or just a bold misstep on the way to the modern digital camera? And what do you think of the future for the CL and a possible CL2? Love it or hate it? Leave your comments below