Good cameras aren’t cheap, and better cameras carry heavier price tags than good cameras, so what does a new Leica system aimed at the mirror-less market cost, and is it worth its weight in gold?
There are plenty of mirror-less cameras out there, but how many have the German Leica stamp on them?
The answer to that isn’t many, but with the Leica T in the mix, one of the oldest camera companies is at least trying to change that, releasing its own mirror-less camera with some high-end internals, a body made of premium materials, and a desire to be touched.
Also called the Type 701, the Leica T fits in with Leica’s T system, hence the name, which his a new system designed for smaller lenses. As it’s a new system, there are only two lenses made for this system, with an 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 and a 35mm prime set to f/2.
The Leica T Type 701 relies on a 16 megapixel APS-C sensor developed by Sony (which is also used by Nikon, from what were understand), capable of shooting a sensitivity range from ISO 125 to 12500 in either JPEG or RAW (Adobe DNG), or a combination of both.
Video can also be shot on the Type 701, recorded at Full HD 1920×1080 or High Definition (HD) 1280×720, depending on what you choose.
Like many other cameras, the Leica T relies on SD cards to record images and video, but unlike other cameras, you’ll even find memory on the inside, with 16GB of storage built into the body.
Using the camera, you’ll find a 3.7 inch touchscreen reliant mostly on gestures, but there are a few buttons on the camera to take advantage of, with a power switch which can also flip the internal flash up, a video record button, and two control wheels along the back which will change aperture and shutter speeds if needed.
A hot-shoe mount is also included along the top, as is a tripod mount below and a battery compartment.
The body is made out of a block of aluminium, and in our review model, was silver, but you can find a black model, also.
Mirror-less shooters are everywhere these days. Panasonic and Olympus have them, as does Samsung, Sony, Nikon, and Canon.
Given that all the big players do them, it makes sense for a big camera brand with only a few digital interchangeable lens cameras to do one itself, and that must mean Leica.
Yes, one of the original camera brands is giving the world of the smaller interchangeable lens system a go with the Leica T, a new system developed for smaller bodies, taking an APS-C sensor and throwing into a body that will make you believe you’re carrying something premium, and marrying it with a 3.7 inch screen.
Does this result in the ultimate mirror-less shooter? Let’s find out.
In the hands, the Typ T is one of those cameras that elicits a mixed response.
On the one hand, it’s impossible not to notice how well built this thing is, because frankly, it’s a tank. It is the MacBook Pro of the camera world, with Leica literally taking a block of aluminium and crafting a camera out of it, hollowing elements from the single brick and making it feel as close to perfect as possible from a build point of view.
Seriously, this is one impressive block of a camera, and you have to marvel at the simplicity applied to its design.
Then there’s the feel, and that’s where things get weird.
It’s not that the Leica Typ 701 is uncomfortable, but it’s odd, feeling too sharp at the corners, and heavy for a small body thanks to the 384g weight. Leica hasn’t applied any coatings to this, so it can also get a touch slippery, making you wonder if or when the T/Typ 701 will slip out of your hands.
Thankfully, there’s a strap included, and it even comes with a proprietary locking mechanism to keep the strap connected to the camera (we say proprietary, but really it’s just like the pin-hole SIM ejector tools used on the iPhone, except applied to a camera). That strap, however, is rubbery and feels cheap in comparison to the high-end camera it’s connected to, making these two items strange bedfellows.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re delighted to see such a solid strap attached to the camera, but we’d have preferred something with a little more leather or fabric, and not something like rubber, which feels cheap in comparison to the rest of the package.
Once you get over the feeling, you can get straight down to shooting, so grab a lens and get going.
Switch the camera on using the toggle up top and the camera switches on, not terribly quickly, but fast enough for most, with a three second gap between off and on.
From there, you’ll find a screen showing your view through the lens, as well as some of the settings you might need to take a picture, with aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focus type, white balance, and how many photos you have left from the storage.
It’s all very clear, and credit to Leica has to be given because it’s unlike any other camera, with a wide display that shows the information you need in small details. If you have eye sight problems, you might have issues seeing these, mind you, as they can be relatively small, but we like the look here, as it’s a huge change from the screens that are usually littered with information.
When you decide to get shooting, you’ll find you can touch your way around the Leica T to get it working. In fact, that is the only way to get it working, and that’s a shame, as the menu is a touch unorthodox and a little slow. Honestly, we’d read the manual if you get confused, which is likely to be easy.
Essentially, it works like this:
There are three icons on the right side, with the first one sending you to the control mode (program, aperture, shutter speed, manual, or an auto mode). A camera icon in the middle brings up all your settings, or the ones you’ve selected to come up from another menu, with each of these options leading to another menu deeper in the camera.
There are lots of menus, that much you need to know, and if you want to set any of them, make sure to press the “SET” button at the top right inside of them, otherwise nothing will happen. Finally, there’s an “info” icon, which doesn’t show you info on your last shot, but rather rotates you through the info that will show on your display.
You can also swipe down from the top of these icons to lock them down, making it hard to fiddle with them if you don’t want to change anything, you know, in case you know anyone who might want to fiddle with your settings.
Or even do it by accident, because there are a lot of menus, and a lot of submenus, and enough settings to poke a stick at, and rather than map them to specific buttons like other cameras do, Leica wants you to use these through options on the touchscreen, which is nice to look art, but feels clunky in use, forcing you to press and swipe through layer after layer to get things done.
Once you have set everything up, however, you can get to shooting, because it’s here that the Type 701 excels, taking lovely photos.
Colour or black and white, it doesn’t matter, because up close, the images look excellent, and Leica has some excellent monochromatic profiles if you decide to go old school and shoot with a look of silver gelatin, matching the camera and its history beautifully.
Noise tends to creep in above ISO 1600, hardly a surprise, but overall, if you’re shooting with plenty of light and an understanding of exposure, you’ll likely find some good shots are possible, and with an ability to shoot both JPG and RAW’s Digital Negative, there’s room to move.
We didn’t spend too much time with the camera at night, but if we decided to, we’re delighted to see a flash built in, which flips up when you push the power switch too far.
After shooting the photos, playing them back will be the one thing you’ll want to do, but this is a little hit and miss, and works in one of two ways.
The first one is to use the touchscreen interface to play your photos, and that involves some swiping gestures to flick them on the screen. When they’re loaded from the memory, zooming into images is fast, but when you swiping new ones onto the screen and browsing through your history, the experience is sluggish, and not the sort of thing you expect from a camera of this quality and craftsmanship.
It’s a similar problem if you decide to use the WiFi feature, which in theory will let you transfer images from your camera, but only if you use an iPhone and only if you’re connected to a network at the time.
It seems strange that Leica’s sibling brand that is Panasonic has Near-Field Communication in its cameras, as well as support to send the image straight from the camera to a phone by creating a mini WiFi network between the two devices or using Bluetooth, and yet Leica’s more expensive camera does not.
We’re not impressed either, though, that to make this happen you can only really use an iPhone app, and it’s not a great one at that, reading everything on the card or the storage in the camera, thumbnail by thumbnail, which if you have a lot of photos, leaves you waiting for the list to load before you can really do anything.
If you don’t have iOS or want to move files over using a computer, you can connect using a web browser and take a gander through a rudimentary version of what is technically the same interface, albeit one inside of a tiny web page, but we wouldn’t recommend it.
Like the app, it’s slow, clunky, and forces you to wait for the card reader in the camera to create thumbnails for every image.
Seriously, just take the card out of the camera or plug the body directly into a computer using a microUSB cable. You’ll save yourself some time, frustration, and the realisation that Leica’s best efforts were out there chiselling aluminium into the right shape and make great glass, not building a good WiFi image transfer system.
We’re also surprised by the omission of a dust filter.
Seriously, there is no dust filter in this camera, and if you, heaven forbid, get dust on the sensor, make sure you have a blower with you, because otherwise there will be no getting it off your future images.
That’s a seriously odd feature to skip out on, especially since pretty much every other interchangeable lens camera has a form of dust removal feature built in, regardless of how well it works, or doesn’t. But not Leica, because that doesn’t exist on the T model Leica, and that confuses us greatly.
Our biggest dilemma with the Leica T, though, comes down to price, and this thing is staggering in terms of how much you’ll be charged for the privilege of using it.
Let’s start with the body only price: $2300.
Yes, that’s a two with a three and two zeroes next to it, and no, we’re not joking. That’s the sort of moolah you might expect to pay body only for an enthusiast DSLR, not so much a mirror-less.
But that doesn’t even factor in the cost of a lens, and for the Leica T, you’ll need special glass made for the T series. With only two lenses out there, you won’t find a lot of choice, with the 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 grabbing another $2300, and the fixed 35mm f2 fetching $2500.
We can’t help but bite our fists when we see these sorts of prices, though we do need to note that there will be a converter to make Leica glass from Leica’s other mounts work on this camera. They’ll likely be manual only, but at least the option will be there, since only two lenses — two relatively short lenses — isn’t much to work with.
In general, though, you’ll need to pony up close to $5K if you want the Leica T, and while that might be typical Leica pricing, it isn’t really value for money, even with that impressive body made from aluminium.
Make no mistake, there are better digital cameras out there, with more lenses for their subsequent systems. Really, what you’re paying for appears to be the brand and the Leica glass, and while that last one is good, focus distance on this lenses isn’t impressive enough to make us forget about the cost. Just no.
Even the accessories come with that high price, with the electronic viewfinder fetching $700. We know that Leica is also making other straps, SD card holders, a small flash head, camera holsters, and even a bag or two, and while we don’t know the prices, given everything else in the Leica T family, we don’t expect these will be cheap.
Leica’s T is an unusual beast, with the resulting product being the sort of product you’d buy if you wanted a mirror-less camera, but needed something that sat in the upper echelon of camera spending money.
That said, it’s hard to recommend the Leica T to anyone, unless perhaps they have so much money that they can’t be seen without something as luxurious as a Leica, instead of say something from Olympus, Panasonic, Nikon, Canon, Sony, Samsung, or any other camera company out there.
If this is you, fantastic, and once you’ve spent the money, you’ll probably have a brilliant time with the Leica T, but if it were us, we’d probably invest in a proper Leica digital rangefinder since it will have more lenses in its system, and you’re already talking about spending several thousand more than other brands already.