A day with a Leica – a hands on report
Leica has always had a special meaning in the photography world. Beautifully designed cameras, gorgeous lenses and this special Leica look of the images. Everyone possessing a camera which wears the red dot is proud of it.
I was keen on testing a Leica for a long time but due to the price of these cameras, it never happened. Until recently, when I had the opportunity to use a Leica T with the Leica Vario Elmar 18-56 F3.5 -5.6 ASPH. Special thanks to my local photo store Werkgarner (www.werkgarner.at)!
About the camera
The Leica box itself is already really special. The build quality of it is very high. It opens like a flower and you find a box closed with magnets. After opening you find the box with the camera on the top and two little drawers underneath which contain documents and accessories.
I opened the camera box and took out the Leica T. The build quality of Leica is really outstanding. I was blown away by the feeling of the T. It is machined out of a solid aluminum block and finished to a matte look. There is no way to overlook the red Leica dot on the front. On the back, you find a massive 3.7 inches touchscreen. The only buttons and dials of this camera are positioned on top, where you can also find the popup flash (which you activate by turning the power switch up to the flash position). On the bottom, the battery of the cam is located which you can release with a lever. After using the lever, the battery gets loose but doesn’t fall out. You have to press it a bit and it will fall into your hands. Although the camera looks slippery, I had no problems to hold it safely while I was shooting with it. I didn’t use the strap at all. Overall build quality is, like I mentioned before, great.
The Vario Elmar 18-56 F3.5 – 5.6 ASPH. is also of very high build quality. However, you have to pay 1400 $/€ for this “kit” lens. The numbers are easy to read, and the focus- and zoom rings are very smooth to turn.
Using the camera
The 3.7-inch touch screen is very bright and clear. Also in bright sunlight, I had no troubles using the camera. The Leica T relies on a touchscreen interface only (except the view dials and buttons on the top). It was a bit unusual in the beginning, but it made sense quickly. It was like using a smartphone with apps. You can customize the menu by adding the icons of your choice into your custom menu (camera icon) via the button. It is very intuitive and easy to use.
After taking the pictures you can preview them by swiping your finger from the top to the bottom or vice versa. Then you can switch the pictures by swiping left and right. Pinch to zoom is also no problem. Leaving the picture review mode is also easy by swiping up or by half-pressing the shutter.
Speaking of taking pictures. You can set the Leica to take jpg in variable quality as well as DNG raws plus jpg in variable quality. DNG raw only is sadly not possible. If you shoot raw you should use a large memory card because you always get an additional jpg. When shooting jpg you have some picture profiles to choose from vivid, natural, standard or monochrome. The best image quality certainly will be achieved in using raw only, but the jpg engine is also good.
The image quality in combination with the lens is very good. The camera sports the good old, well known, Sony 16 MP sensor without an AA filter. With the Vario Elmar 18-56 ASPH. lens Leica gets the maximum out of this sensor. The images are very sharp from the center to the edges and the contrast and colors are very good. Dynamic Range is also very good. Shadow recovery is very easy. The lens also produces nice bokeh, handles flares very well and vignetting is not visible at all.
A big plus of the Leica T is the internal 16 GB storage. It once saved my day because I forgot to bring memory cards! I think all cameras should have 16 GB internal storage.
Sample pictures – landscape and wildlife.
Sample pictures – street shooting in Wels, Austria
The not so good things about the Leica T
It was a lot of fun using the Leica T for various opportunities like landscape, street shooting and so on. But as every camera, even the Leica has its flaws.
The contrast autofocus is quick but not that precise. I got some blurry pictures although the camera gave me a green AF confirmation.
A letdown for me is the lack of the viewfinder. As good as the screen is, I want to look through the viewfinder. You can buy an external viewfinder which will be attached to the hot shoe, but it is expensive and you are no longer able to use other accessories.
Also, the software of the camera has its flaws. I experienced it very often that after taking a picture the camera froze a few seconds when I wanted to take the next picture. Also leaving the picture review mode caused this issue sometimes.
The 16 MP sensor was, although it’s a good sensor, at the point of release already a bit outdated. But Leica managed to get the last bit of image quality out of it. Nevertheless, I wished it had a modern 24 MP sensor inside.
Leica is also not the quickest in terms of new lenses for the T. The camera was released back in 2014 and until now only 6 lenses for this system are available. One macro (recently announced), 2 relatively fast primes and 3 slow zooms. I have to admit every lens of this 6 is flawless, but a bit more variety is always better.
The biggest flaw of this Leica and all other Leicas is, at least for me, the price. Leica cameras are clearly luxury cameras for people who are willing to give the money for a, admittedly great engineered, but a specification-wise average camera.
The Leica T is, despite its flaws, a very nice camera to use. I had a lot of fun with it in this short time. Leica managed to get the last bit of image quality out of it with their gorgeous lens. Also, the touch interface is very easy and intuitive to use and the build quality is perfect. The camera is a piece of art in my eyes. It’s simply beautiful. Holding and using this camera with the red dot was indeed a special feeling and the flaws didn’t bother me too long.
Maybe this is the magic of Leica – they let you forget about average software and specifications by delivering beautifully designed and perfectly built cameras that are easy to use and deliver, due to the lenses, perfectly sharp images with beautiful colors and without flaws. In the end, the picture is all that counts and I think with my pictures I didn’t do the camera justice. If only it was cheaper…
Rumors say that Leica will present a new Leica T – called Leica TL – at the upcoming Photokina 2016. Let’s hope they address the flaws and the specifications of the camera will be more up to date than the Leica T was at release in 2014.
PS: The Leica T also offers a video mode, Full HD at 30 fps, but I forgot to test it, sorry about that.