By Rick Bronks
The much anticipated arrival of a compact interchangeable autofocus lens camera from Leica has finally happened, and I got my hands on one for a few weeks. Did I like it? Was it any good? Read on to find out. Gallery of images at the bottom of this post.
Make no mistake - this is a beautiful looking piece of kit. It's solid. Really solid and it feels amazing to hold. It's the camera I want to dearly love, and it seems like an ideal partner for someone who has a larger DSLR kit and wants a smaller kit as a backup, or indeed as a second camera if you are already a Leica M shooter (like me). I thought I'd give my opinions on using it in a 'real life' situation, on a recent trip I took.
There's a LOT of choice out there at the moment if you're in the market for a compact system camera- there are some outstanding models and lenses to be had. So is there space in this crowded marketplace for the sexy Leica T?
Leica has always been about high quality- and exacting standards. I am a massive fan of their M rangefinder and their lenses are some of the best in the world. With this experience it should only be good news for the new Leica T.
I travelled with the Leica T and the 18 to 56 f3.5-5.6 ASPH Vario-Elmar lens. I wasn't able to check out the faster 23mm f2 ASPH but I quite liked the idea of carrying one camera with a nice zoom range on the lens and seeing how I got on. I also had the Viewfinder attachment and an adapter to use my existing M series lenses.
The camera is carved from a single piece of aluminium - very much like the unibody Apple laptops. Leica caused a viral stir with their 'most boring ad ever' which features a person hand polishing the case for 45 minutes. That's Leica. Handmade excellence. Audi have also had a hand in the design of the camera - and if you were to pick one up you'd feel how amazing it is.
It has a 16.3 megapixel APS-C sensor (same as in most consumer DSLR cameras) and the ability to shoot up to 1/4000 of a second.
It also has 16Gb of internal memory- which is a great idea if you are prone to leave your memory card at home - or as an emergency 'reserve' if you fill your own card on a shoot. The ISO is from 100 to 12,500 but it was totally unusable at this setting.. I rarely used it at 6400.
I love the fact the camera comes with a battery charger - but can also be charged via micro USB. I did find it takes longer via USB but it means that you can keep a cable handy and top up the battery from pretty much anywhere there is a computer or even a phone charger. I left it charging overnight and it was fine.
The camera is operated via a very large rear touch-screen and also a couple of dials that can be assigned to various functions. There's the usual shutter button and a cute but averagely powerful pop-up flash. Leica have developed a clever way of attaching a shoulder strap - there's no traditional lugs but these little posts that clip into the body, and can be removed using a little tool - the result is that it keeps the clean lines of the camera when you don't want a strap attached. They also do a few different and very vibrant colours and snap on cases to match too. Like this one. In yellow.
There is also Wi-Fi and an associated app which lets you control the camera from an iPhone or iPad. Nice idea but the problem I had was that the camera AND your iDevice need to be on the same physical wireless network to talk to each other - so while I was travelling I couldn't get the images onto my iPhone because there was no wifi network, which seemed to defeat the point in having wifi. Other devices use each other to create the network so it doesn't matter where you are. I think this needs looking into - because its a nice idea to be able to pull images off the camera and send them via the phone, but you're more likely to need this feature when you're travelling. A solution is to use the Apple SD card adapter and just import the card and images into your device, but thats not as cool.
The battery pops in underneath and is quite cool in the way that it forms the base of the camera so there's no flaps to fiddle with, but the battery slots right into the bottom of the camera much like pro-DSLR bodies or indeed Leica's own medium format S-system.
I found the screen pretty good in most light apart from really bright sunlight - but this is common to all cameras with an LCD. I also had the clip on viewfinder which I used when the sun was too bright. The electronic viewfinder which also has a built in GPS (that does drain the battery quite a lot)
The resolution of the viewfinder is excellent and the refresh rate is good too - so you can frame and shoot with decent accuracy.
I did get used to the touch screen after a while - the problem is that we're all used to using iPads and other touch screens so there's the inevitable comparisons. This screen and the usability of the interface will never compete with those of Apple - purely because Leica don't have the massive resources of Apple or Microsoft. They're a small company who have to pretty much develop from the ground up and not with huge teams.
You can customise the 'home' screen with the features you commonly use and re-order them.
The lens is also solidly built. No plasticy feeling here. It felt good and the zoom was smooth. The lens hood proved quite effective too.
So what's it like to actually use?
It is great in the hands - I didn't feel the need to use any grips or cases with zoom attached. The lens wasn't too heavy and the whole unit felt nicely balanced. In the future with perhaps a longer lens it may be tricky but right now it's perfectly fine.
Autofocus seemed pretty good in all but the dimmest of light. I did find the white balance a little slow to change when I moved from outdoors to indoors. Sometimes I felt it wasn't too sure or was a little too indecisive. It's not lighting-fast but it's consistent and fine.
For me the biggest disappointment was that the camera's useable ISO is no more than 3200 and even then there's a fair bit of noise in the shadows. I was hoping that because the lens was quite a lot slower than the usual lenses I shoot with (f14, f2.8), I'd be able to push another couple of stops out of the camera by upping the ISO to compensate for the f5.6 maximum aperture at the zoom end on the lens. Alas, I wasn't able to and this was a little annoying. Even at it's brightest f3.5 I felt myself needing to shunt up the ISO in an averagely lit room.
I started trying to use the camera as a more manual camera - and wasn't getting on with it at all. I'm not convinced this is what Leica had in mind with this unit. I popped the ISO into auto mode and never allowed it to max out more than 3200 ISO.
Once I did this I found it a lot more pleasurable to use. I tended to use P mode most of the time and let the camera figure out the settings -it was quicker and less fiddling on the screen, so I missed less shots.
I did use Aperture Priority by setting one dial to be my F-stop controller and the other as exposure compensation. I left the camera on auto focus and auto ISO.
At the moment Apple haven't updated their OS to be able to read the RAW files so I knew I was going to have a bit of a round-trip to get the images into my image editor (Aperture). I shot RAW and JPEG fine and the picture settings I had set to all neutral.
I found the neutral settings ok - did find the skin tones a little pale but nice enough and smooth. The colours were good but not overly rich and fake.
I was using Aperture to edit the JPEGS and actually found them amazingly robust. For the shots in this review I actually exported the RAW files using Photoshop's Raw editor then saving as TIFF files then re-imported into Aperture.
This let me pull some more details from the RAW files than using the JPEGS but I don't think the difference is massive - but it's certainly better using the RAW/TIFF converted files. I am sure that editing the images natively once they are able to be read by OSX that this process will be a lot better.
I have to admit I was impressed with the images once I was using the TIFF files. The colour is good and there's a heck of a lot of detail.
In good light the lens performed like a champ. Once you're in a low light environment you're going to be in bother. This what what infuriated me about this - that this wasn't the all-rounder I really wanted it to be.. once indoors it was a bit of a struggle to get a decent shot. I'm not talking pitch black here.. just what I would call normal early evening light indoors. Perhaps a little window light and some artificial light. I was shooting wide most of the time to keep the aperture at 3.5 but at anything more than 3200ISO it was pretty poor in terms of grain and noise. Spot metering helped me get a decent shot of the singer you can see above.
With the 23mm lens at f2 this may not be so much an issue- but it was disappointing I couldn't really push up the ISO past 3200.
When I travel I like to shoot video too - Video shooting on my M240 is quite tricky handheld, so I usually throw my RX100M2 into the bag to use as a point and shoot and also for video clips. I was excited to use the T for both stills and video. If it performed then I'd be even more excited about it's possibilities.
Unfortunately the video quality was just about ok. I was shooting in 1080p the whole time and whilst it was good, it wasn't anywhere near as good as my small RX100M2. The colours are a little washed out and the images looked over-sharpened. Don't get me wrong - its not 'bad' but it's just not up to my standards and I was a little disappointed. For most people though I am almost certain it would be fine- and looks good (not excellent) on a 48inch LED TV.
The Leica T is a fine looking camera that is capable of taking very good images. Leica have firmly placed their feet into the CSC (compact system camera) market with a potentially exciting product. The touchscreen is very nice too - and although the interface and operation may not be as finessed as other devices it's very useable.
The additional viewfinder has a good screen and is helpful for framing in sunlight or using as a 'brace' when shooting video. It also adds GPS if you want to log your travels- but be prepared to carry a spare battery.
The camera produced a good JPEG out of camera and they're quite robust in editing if (like me) the system can't read the DNG files it produces as it's RAW output.
Video quality is 'ok' if not a little disappointing, and the 18-56mm lens is a little on the slow side.
The ability to use M lenses means that you can perhaps start your foray into the world of Leica at a much more friendly price point and then perhaps graduate to their Rangefinders once you've saved enough!
What's for certain is that this is a very interesting camera. Albeit with disappointing performance at high ISO's.
I want to love it.. but not quite yet.
To see Rick’s gallery images go to: http://www.satureyes.com/leica-t
Rick Bronks writes about himself:
I am all about great images and stories.
My work has a strong narrative, with elements of lifestyle.
I am firmly established as one of the leading photographers in the live events world.
I am a qualified member of the BIPP (British Institute of Professional Photography) and a certified European Photographer.
My professional career began with eight years working in TV, producing national TV shows as well as documentaries and award shows for SKY TV.
I learnt how to shoot with broadcast cameras and edit video. I am an Apple Certified Professional in their industry standard editing and motion graphics applications.
My background in TV enables me to offer my clients a video production service alongside stills photography. I am able to shoot both stills and video at an event and turn the content around very quickly.
Member of the British Institute of Professional Photography & Federation of European Photographers