Should You Buy a Leica T ?

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Leica this morning announced its rumored Leica T. At the same time, several Leica beta-testers and Leica-oriented bloggers published their reviews.

Very quickly: the T is a 16-megapixel, APS-C mirrorless – but not a rangefinder – camera with AF, a new lens mount and two new lenses available at launch. It costs $1,850. The lenses are a 23mm f/2 prime (35mm equivalent) at $1,950 and a 16-56mm f3.5-5.6 at $1,750.

Being devoid of Leica – or any other brand – love and lacking an enormous audience, I have not seen or stroked this new masterpiece. What I have done, my dear reader, is read a bunch of those reviews and come to some quick conclusions.

I will now speak as to what I consider is one of you, someone who loves photography for its joy and results and who appreciates a nice piece of gear. That’s where I come from as well.

The following list might seem a bit harsh, but I’m going to try to cut through the usual excuses that always surround early Leica impressions and reviews, as if the brand deserves to be judged differently than its peers. To me, a Leica is a camera, not a show piece.

I also overlook the expressed beliefs that this Leica is not aimed at the competition in the mirrorless segment. It is. It has the form factor and the specs of a high-end mirrorless camera, just like the Sony A7(r), the Fuji X line, the Panasonic and Olympus Micro Four-Thirds offerings and it bears some of Samsung’s gestalt.

So, without further ado and with putting the T in the market segment where it belongs, here are your considerations.

You should buy the Leica T if:

  • you are willing to pay a premium for gorgeous – or at least unique – design, just like many are willing to pay a premium for Apple products;
  • you actually care that your camera is made out of a single block of aluminum;
  • you prefer a touchscreen interface over buttons and dials;
  • you want to use your Leica M lenses on another Leica that doesn’t cost you more than $5,000;
  • you want a relatively affordable Leica delivering 16 megapixels.

You should not buy the Leica T if:

  • you are not willing to pay that premium;
  • you prefer the newly popular retro looks of buttons and dials over a touchscreen;
  • you prefer the interface of all other high-end Leicas over a modern interface;
  • you want full-frame;
  • you want more than 16 megapixels;
  • you want segment-leading autofocus;
  • you want higher ISO than 12,800;
  • you want a tilting LCD screen;
  • you want a faster shutter speed than 1/4000 sec;
  • you want more than 5 frames per second;
  • you want a fast zoom lens;
  • you want a weather sealed body;
  • you want in-body stabilization;
  • you want a built-in EVF;
  • you want to pay less than $1,700 for native lenses;
  • you don’t want to pay $600 for an external EVF.

That’s it.

Cameras from Sony, Fuji and Olympus offer better all-round performance than the Leica for lower prices. Other than 16GB of internal memory and that solid block of aluminum, the Leica really has little to go for it in terms of standing out in its market segment. If any other brand had offered this camera at this price point, it would rack up cons and be disregarded as quickly as the Canon M. It would be faulted for all it lacks, not heralded for the little it introduces.

I think that’s the key element that’s missing with this camera. It doesn’t have anything real to offer over the competition. No camera is perfect, but in the serious mirrorless segment Olympus trumps with IBIS, Panasonic with video, M43 with lens selection, Sony with full-frame high-resolution sensors and Fuji with EVF and JPEG quality. The Leica T brings nothing to the table that makes it stand out among that crowd, other than its brand name.

And quite honestly, I don’t care that it’s a solid block of aluminum if Leica can’t tell me why that matters in the real world. I have the Olympus EM-1, but apart from its IBIS, I could easily have gone with the Fuji X-T1. I have a Fuji X100s. And I have a Sony A7R, which I mostly use with Canon lenses. So, I’m actually a solid believer and user of mirrorless cameras and well invested in them, but I wouldn’t know what to use the Leica for that any of the others can’t do.

The reviewers all liked the camera, and I might like it as well if I were to use it. But seemingly at a loss to explain why Leica built this camera now, they write how Leica seems to go after a new audience here, one of well-heeled people who want a modern quality camera that isn’t complicated. I’m not so sure that audience exists, and if it does, whether it wants a system with interchangeable lenses.

Reading beyond the reviews and delving into the forums, it all reminds me a bit of the launch of Abode CC, where most photography sites were either just factual or justifying Adobe, while their forums were filled with people crying foul over Adobe’s move.

It’s going to be interesting to read the reviews by people who don’t have a special love or relationship with Leica and judge the camera purely on its photographic merits in the segment where it belongs.
Here I’ve done it again: writing in such a way you probably don’t want to rush out and buy the camera (I should really learn from Steve Huff), but in case you are interested, here you go (all B&H):

T Digital Camera (Black)
T Digital Camera (Silver)
Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Lens
SUMMICRON-T 23/f2 ASPH LENS
Visoflex Typ 020 Electronic Viewfinder for Leica T Camera (Black)
M-Adapter-T for Leica T Camera

Finally, the review I recommend is the one by Sean Reid at ReidReviews.com, a subscription site. Worth it.

Comments

  1. Last Year I down-sized to an Leica X2. Will stay with the X2. I Don’t use Telephoto lens just 35mm . Or wider on a Canon DSLR.

  2. If you think that “Sony, Fuji and Olympus offer better all-round performance” than what this camera offers you should never in you life express an opinion about photography. If you cannot get a better image with a Leica the you have a problem.

    Here is a simple fact:
    I own a GX-7 and E-M1 I bought the OEM adaptor for m4/3 to M lenses from panasonic and guess what it does not work. Novoflex worked.

    In my Fuji X-E1 worked whenever the camera wanted. Even the latest X-T1 leaks light.

    Sony A7 are documented that wide M Lenses do not work very well.

    One of the main attraction of getting any MILC camera is the ability to use other lenses such as the M lenses.

    Here is the main reason:
    M lenses render superior image quality. Just this fact alone is good to buy this marvellous innovative camera.

    However there is a reason to buy a an Olympus which is weather sealed. Or a GX7 with a pancake zoom is very nice travelling camera.

    But since moments happen once a lifetime and if you could use it to get the best possible results then you better have a Leica.

    • Thanks for your comment. You disqualify quite a few people from ever writing about photography again, since I’m pretty sure I’m far from alone in saying other cameras offer better all-round performance than the T.

      I didn’t address just image quality. In fact, I didn’t touch much on image quality at all and neither have the reviewers because nobody has yet used a production model with the final firmware.

      And photography isn’t all about the final image quality anyway. It’s very important, but that last bit of contract or sharpness isn’t what determines a masterpiece.

      And, yes, M lenses generally render superior image quality, but they’re not alone in that. Zeiss, Schneider, Rodenstock are up there as well. We actually don’t know yet who makes these Leica-designed and branded lenses and how well they will perform.

      We also don’t know if this camera, like many other cameras from other brands, will have issues once the production versions hit the market.

      You’re right that M lenses don’t perform well on some other cameras, but some reviewers have said that those M lenses still seem to perform better on the Ricoh than on this T. Finally, since the T has an APS-C sensor, the issue of corner performance which is big on the full-frame Sony’s is moot here.

      In many ways, this camera will not allow you to take a picture where the other ones I’ve mentioned will or it will not allow to take a picture at a resolution as high as the Sony’s will.

      So, despite your take that I should never again express an opinion about photography, I will continue to do so and I do stand by my article. Sorry about that.

  3. It’s a shame that Leica didn’t use their ability to read the the 6 bit code on M lenses to have the T make software corrections for the inevitable corner softness, light fall off and color shift which occurs when using M lenses on mirrorless cams.

    The biggest problem I see with the T is that you have to hold the camera in front of you and have the LCD on in order to make any changes to the settings even if you’re using the EVF. I would find this a very slow and awkward way to have to work. The camera demands that one work with it as one does with a smartphone.

    On the other hand it looks to be a beautiful object and by all accounts the IQ is excellent. Sadly, not everybody is wealthy but there are a lot of wealthy people in the world and if this is how they want to spend their money I don’t begrudge them that luxury. There is no better camera than the one you enjoy using the most. Despite the explosion of technically good cameras and the staggering number of images made these days there is very little truly innovative photographic work being done so almost all of photography boils down to personal enjoyment. I don’t think anybody should be made to feel foolish for buying a Leica T.

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