Leica T Review - The Leica T is the premium manufacturer's first ever compact system camera, signalling a move away from previous Leica models. Does the T manage to please both Leica fans and the wider CSC market? Find our in our full review.
Leica M system digital rangefinder cameras, for example, remain one of the most desirable set-ups going to both tech heads and style gurus alike.
Yet when you factor in the potential cost involved with the purchase of just a couple of lenses, you’re looking at a wallet-busting bill of nearly £10,000 to buy in to the series.
As you therefore might expect, there has long been pressure on Leica to announce a more affordable system camera which maintains the Leica construction and premium design ethos but does so at a more affordable price.
This is where the new Leica T (Type 701) steps in. The model is the manufacturer’s first CSC and is much more affordable then the Leica M – priced at £1,350 body only at time of review.
Although it does feature a host of Leica hallmarks, it is a drastic departure in terms of design. So will it win new fans over to the Leica brand, and is it a step too far for Leica aficionados?
Leica T Review – Features
Perhaps the most eye-catching feature in terms of the camera’s specification is found on the rear of the camera. The Leica T sports a screen measuring in at 3.7in and featuring a 1.3-million dot resolution, and as you might expect for a screen that size features touchscreen functionality.
As you have probably come to expect now with high-end CSCs, the Leica T sports Wi-fi connectivity for both the wireless transfer of images and for remote control from either a smartphone or tablet.
Perhaps a touch surprisingly the Wi-fi functionality is only compatible with Apple iOS devices, rather than Android and iOS as is the case with most other models.
In another nod towards the ‘smart’ nature of the Leica T, the model sports an impressive amount of internal memory.
As well as offering storage options through a conventional SD cards, the Leica T also offers an impressive 16GB of internal memory – an amount more than enough for most casual users in between uploading images to their laptop or desktop.
In terms of the conventional side of the specification, the Leica T sports a 16.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor that features a native ISO range of 100 – 12,500.
The model shoots both Raw and JPEG files, as you might expect, although one interesting note is that the Leica T stores Raw files in the universal DNG format, thus allowing for simple compatibility with the majority of image editing software.
On the note of image editing software, purchasers will no doubt welcome the fact that the Leica T ships with the latest version of Lightroom as standard.
As well as breaking away from Leica tradition in terms of now featuring a large touchscreen and internal storage, the Leica T features a range of scene modes to complement the more traditional PASM shooting modes.
Leica T Review – Design
The first thing that strikes you about the Leica T is the quality of the materials used in its production. The model is honed from a single block of aluminium in much the same way that Apple – another noted premium brand – engineers their Macbook laptops.
The actual process of giving the camera its sleek finish involves polishing each individual camera for some 40 minutes, and such attention to detail is certainly noticeable.
As you might expect for a camera with such an ample and impressive touchscreen, the Leica M’s body is noticeably lacking in any major physical controls.
In fact, outside of a pair of unmarked control dials on the top plate, along with the shutter button and on/off switch, there is a total absence of conventional buttons and dials.
The two dials set on to the camera’s top plate control shutter and aperture respectively when shooting in manual mode. If shooting in either of the priority modes one of the dials offers access to the designated control while the other controls other variables such as ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation and so on.
This lack of physical controls places a great emphasis on the layout of controls, and the responsiveness therein, of the touchscreen. The interface is somewhat basic, but the size of the buttons therein are certainly large enough, while the screen itself is certainly responsive.
The touchscreen also offers the benefit of giving a simple one-touch method of picking the desired focal point – a process which can be somewhat long-winded on some competing compacts.
The only real disappointment in terms of the camera’s body is the door covering the USB sockets and memory card hatch. This is made from plastic and feels somewhat out of sync with the rest of the quality design and build.
Leica T Review – Performance
Although on the whole the level of performance on the Leica T is impressive, when it comes to the video capabilities of the camera it feels like it’s an overlooked area.
While the Leica T delivers ‘Full HD’ 1920 x 1080p resolution at 30fps, the model is lacking in an external microphone port. However, there is the potential that a microphone accessory might be developed in the future to fit on the camera’s accessory shoe.
The Leica T is also lacking in an optical viewfinder, although an electronic viewfinder is available as an optional extra and at a cost of £400.
In terms of the AF system employed on the Leica T, the model features a straight-forward contrast detect AF set-up rather then the hybrid AF system found on a range of alternative new models.
Although this system is a touch slower than other CSCs, it’s certainly fast enough to meet the demands of the target market. It’s also the case that contrast detection AF can prove more accurate than other set-ups, and there certainly aren’t any problems with accuracy here.
Even in low light conditions the general level of performance is good thanks to the employment of an AF illumination light on the front of the camera.
As mentioned previously, the touchscreen’s virtual menu system is somewhat sparse at first glance. However a bit of further research reveals that the menu itself is fully customisable.
Thanks to that, and the responsiveness of the screen itself, you’ll very rarely feel the need for more buttons on the camera’s body.
Leica T Review – Image Quality
Colour and white balance
In general the model’s auto white balance performs well in a range of conditions – including both overcast conditions and bright sunlight. There is a slight tendency to produce more neutral results than one might expect in bright conditions in particular, however there is a range of presets which allow you to tailor end results to your needs.
Unlike a host of other cameras with which the Leica T is competing, the amount of colour settings it features is surprisingly limited.
However, the limited amount of colour settings is actually somewhat refreshing. The only real criticism being that you cannot apply colour filters to effect black and white film modes.
One thing you can certainly rely upon with the Leica T is the performance of its metering system. Highlights are pushed to the very limited of their capabilities, although this does mean that shadows can sometimes lose a touch of detail.
It’s pleasing to be able to leave a camera such as the Leica T in the evaluative metering mode and be assured of even exposures in a range of lighting conditions.
The Leica T also delivers in terms of dynamic range, managing a level or performance around expectations when you consider the size and resolution of the sensor.
In terms of image noise, the Leica T does a very good job of managing it in both Raw and JPEG files. In the latter there’s very little of note to complain about right up to ISO 3200, and it’s only at ISO 6400 that there are some hints of purple and magenta noise.
To get the best results out of the camera however, it’s probably worth limiting the ISO range to between ISO 100 and 1600 in most shooting settings.
Raw vs. JPEG
As is almost always the case, to get the most out of the Leica T it’s best to shoot Raw.
The difference between Raw and JPEG files is most keenly felt when comparing the amount of detail captured. While in JPEG setting the Leica T resolves an amount of detail in keeping with its CSC status, when shooting Raw the level of detail captured is almost comparable to that of a high-end full frame model such as the Nikon D800E.
Leica T Review – Verdict
There’s no denying that Leica’s first foray in to the compact system camera market won’t be to everyone’s taste.
The unconventional control layout, large touchscreen and lack of a viewfinder – to name but three features – will mean that many Leica aficionados will write the camera off without closer inspection.
However, those that do may well be missing out on what is an impressive CSC. It’s very well engineered, has a fairly packed feature-set and delivers an excellent level of image quality.
So while it doesn’t quite do enough to beat the very best in high-end CSCs, the Leica T shouldn’t be written off without further consideration.
Sample Image Gallery
These are just a small selection of image captured with the Leica T. For a wider range of images head on over to the Leica T review sample image gallery.