Back in January, I pondered what the Leica T might turn out to be. Yesterday, most of my questions were answered.
Like the pre-season photographs of Renault’s new turbo engine, now at the heart of several Formula 1 teams, we saw something desirable, something to stir deep lusts. I wrote to a friend at the time; “Damn, that’s sexy.”
And so, with the Leica T. As an engineer, my baser instincts were stirred by the precision and finished surfaces; technical me knowing that it had been designed, not just drawn-up as so many cameras seem to be. If you don’t get that, pick up your current camera and ask why it is that just about every flat and curved surface has a different shaped knob, button and excrescence protruding from it, all in seemingly random places and serving similarly assigned functions. In a technological age, that’s incomprehensible.
Back to the T. Amongst others, Michael Reichmann and DPReview’s Andy Westlake have had an initial waltz with this new camera. I’ll leave you to read their reviews and wonder just how useful their words and a clutch of pre-release, late beta, test images might be.
I was hoping the T would deliver a platform for my M mount lenses. Tick. Would produce great images and be easy to use with same. Uncertain tick – no focus peaking. I wanted something that on the street, would disappear into a hand or pocket. With it’s EVF, I can see me dragging the camera from my pocket along with the lining, coins, sweets and other detritus we all carry around. Meanwhile, the shot I wanted has gone. For ever.
I currently use a Sony NEX-7 and a Zeiss 25mm Biogon on the street, but have been aching to get some use from my 35mm Summicron. When the world is belatedly bolting for full frame, an APS-C sensor doesn’t help me much. 16mp is OK, but it’s not going to set the world on fire – especially as I already have a two year old NEX-7 with a brilliant 24mp sensor. Last evening as I looked at the T on various Web sites, I was tempted. The design and simplicity are clear winners. I can (probably) afford the body and 23mm Summicron. Should I? Will I?
If you’ve read my piece on the Nikon Df, you’ll already be familiar with my thinking.
Nikon didn’t even bother to break a sweat. Leica tried much harder, but also missed. I’ve thought about it quite a lot and for me, the deal breaker is the EVF. On top of £1350 for the camera, £1350 for the 23mm lens, another £400 for something that looks like an afterthought and will tip the contents of my pockets out every time I want to use it is taking the piss.
BTW, if you spotted the disconnect, I am an engineer. I simply changed careers; trained and practised as an Illuminating engineer for many years. In the ‘80s I moved into marketing where I remain to this day. I’m still an engineer at heart – it gives me a curious perspective on life 😉
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I think Leica feels they can justify their prices based on brand loyalty. This approach might “work” for some people. I know of a few people who still make their purchasing decisions this way.
A serious challenge to this approach comes from living in an age where the ‘net can freely/instantly give you all kinds of feedback about a product. It’s much easier than it was 80 years ago when Leica first started for potential buyers to compare real world performance between various tools before spending a dime on something pricey or on an item marketeers highly tout.
Audi designed? Er? Convince me this somehow makes a difference in my work. $1700 lenses? With 16mpixels APS-C (running at ~110lp/mm resolution) show me how they’ll visibly improve my image making. A Leica label? Ah… I fondly remember my pair of M3 cameras and the 35/50/90 collection of optics that went with them. I also can instantly and rather visibly compare my current crop of mirrorless and DSLR images to what I made 50 years ago and I know which I prefer.
That’s exactly true. But probably only from our point of view.
I guess if you’re an enthusiast amateur with a love of nice design, the T would probably be a godsend. It looks great. It makes fantastic photographs. It’s the photographer’s iPhone. It’s just that we have been used to such amazing gear from game changers such as Sony that we put a higher priority on IQ for our money than on the criteria the T seems to be gunning for. I wouldn’t mind if Sony took a few ergonomic design hints from Leica, though, to be honest.
It’s just a shame that the brand pushing this Audi-design brand-is-everything strategy should be the same that was inseparable from so many of the big names of photographic history …
Paul, a couple of months ago, a UK lingerie company interviewed hundreds of men and women and asked them to define the perfect body from “celebrity parts”.
It’s a sad fact that we photographers have te resort to the same sort of jigsaw puzzle approach to define the perfect camera. I think Olympus and Panasonic are pushing really hard to make their respective offerings as good as possible, albeit in a sensor format that not everyone will want. But all the others appear to focus on one aspect of camera design at the expense of others. Sony sensors are just good enough to make us forget about the poor ergonomics (to state it midly) and Leica seems to be thinking in reverse. It baffles me how many manufacturers repeatedly release “good enough” products, good enough for their business model, good enough for their board, but not good enough for photographers to want to keep the camera forever like it used to be the case in the film age.
Oh well, you just saved yourself a bob or three 😉
It amazes me how a company can “toot it own horn” about style, looks, art and quality and then top off the camera with the most ugly EVF in history! WTF!!! I love Leica, but I suspect some high level manager had to open their mouth at the last moment by adding that “do-hickey” on top, and in the process killed what skilled designers and artists created. As a piece of advise to Leica next time, keep the door shut when you see management approach!
Commercial blogger Steve Huff is prasing this T thing. He, imo, lies about how people stopped him in the streets admirirng this ugly EVF.
Every reviewer takes a time to tell an amazing story about alluminium being polished for 45 minutes by hands. Lol This is nice but only if other more important things are also great. In this camera they are not.
Agreed. A company whose revenue comes in part from collectors who never even unbox their pink leather clad cameras can probably get away with it 😉
I really love how this blog post completely summarises how I feel about the Leica T. As another NEX-7 and M Mount lens owner, the Leica T certainly stirs some emotional feelings. It looks beautiful, it seems simple, it may create technically beautiful images (once production reviews are available). However, I too doubt that I will be getting one.
At a purely technical and logical level the Leica T doesn’t have enough to pull me away from what I have already. Compared to many other mirrorless cameras the performance of the Leica T just doesn’t justify the investment. The tangible benefits over the NEX-7 seem to be the simpler UI, better integration with Leica M lenses and the potential for the sensor to perform better in low light and with wide angle lenses. All great benefits but in my mind not quite enough. The emotional benefits of the Leica T however can’t be under estimated.
I happen to love the cameras I already own. This includes a dSLR, a NEX-7 and a wonderful Pentax Spotmatic which belonged to my dad. Strangely however, the emotional attachment I have to these cameras is inversely related to their technical performance. None of these cameras and their associated lenses are bad. However, the Pentax makes me happy and perhaps some of this happiness is reflected in the pictures I take with it.
I can imagine that the Leica T, as with many other Leica’s, can be described with words like Beauty, Joy, Quality and perhaps Love. I suspect that lust is also another word that can be used. The aesthetic of it, the simple UI, the access to high quality lenses and even the (rather pricey) accessories all combine together to pull on the emotional heart strings. The same emotional heart strings which makes us photographers. The Leica T may also finally overcome the performance barriers that hindered its other non M cameras.
I think that if I didn’t love the equipment I had already the Leica T might be more attractive. Sure, it’s still expensive. However, it’s the cheapest digital Leica camera that integrates with Leica’s M lenses and it exudes Leica qualities at a much more affordable price than Leica’s full frame offerings. I suspect that Leica is hoping that the Leica T could be the gateway drug into the Leica system.
I’m lucky that I love what I have already and enjoy making images. I hope that the combination of my cameras’ capabilities plus my love for taking photos with it will be sufficient to stop my gear lust. Oh… but it’s difficult to resist…. oh so very difficult.
Amusing detail. On Lula’s test, there’s enough vibration one some photographs to blur the whole image. Lloyd Chambers is going to have kittens about this one.
More seriously, pitched against an RX1, I can’t think of a reason to buy the Leica. But I’d *love* to own a camera as beautiful as the T one day.
I couldn’t agree more.
You and I know each other and you know how passionate I am about the qualities of my Leica cameras and, in particular, the qualities of the lenses – the M lenses are second to none, unless, of course, you bring the S lenses into the equation..!!
However, although it’s too early to judge and one should only ever judge on the basis of a properly constructed print of an appropriate size, as opposed to low resolution web images, I will not be joining the ‘T Fraternity” either, despite the (too many) M lenses and couple of R lenses I own and will stick with Sony and Olympus mirrorless for the uses for which they are (almost) perfect and my Leica S for what it does best. If the T had been full frame with a resolution greater than 24mp, I might have been interested because of its ability to take M lenses but this system is, in my opinion, going to be completely swamped by what is about to be offered by the others, Sony in particular, especially if “real Zeiss” comes to the party with some top grade primes for the E mount.
As always, I wish Leica well but I see this appealing more to the fancy leather case brigade than the out and about, picture taker in all weather brigade.
See you in a couple of weeks time.
I agree – I think the key is; “If the T had been full frame with a resolution greater than 24mp, I might have been interested because of its ability to take M lenses but this system is, in my opinion, going to be completely swamped by what is about to be offered by the others, Sony in particular…”
I’d guess the T has been in development for a while – possibly as much as three years. What makes me sad is that as Leica are rolling it out, it looks like three year old thinking. The NC crafted hull is a brilliant stroke, but not new technology if you own (for example) a Mac notebook. The lenses might be top of the range, but shortchange by at least a stop or two. The software looks quite smart, but no-one has had much experience with it yet.
Don’t ask me about the merit, or value of 45 minutes of stroking – the implications are all too self indulgent to contemplate. Still, I wonder what the job interviews were like?
It’s common currency that Leica buyers are a financially dedicated, tightly defined small group. My guess is that there is a considerable level of aspiration and desire amongst photographers to join that group, but few can make the financial commitment it needs. Lowering the entry barrier with a new camera system and a lower price might work. It might also eat its own market share – for certain, Leica had to be careful not to cannibalise M sales by making the T system too good.
So, worst of all, it might be that having bought the T system, the photographer finds that he/she still has the aspiration and desire for a real Leica. Now, your money’s spent and not only can you not afford what you really want and on top of that, are left with a compromise that might be technologically perfect, but emotionally unsatisfying.
Time will tell.
Leica have missed the boat in my humble opinion. What they should have done – and perhaps it will appear at this year’s Photokina – was to produce a Leica M equivalent of the Fuji X-Pro with a dual, high resolution viewfinder offering traditional rangefinder values, for those who wish to remain stuck in the past, and a modern EVF to allow those of us who wish to use non coupled lenses and M lenses with focal lengths longer than 50mm. More resolution than the current M240 would be nice, as would sensor based stabilisation and sensor cleaning, but I don’t think we’ll see either of those. The current M, although capable of lovely images, is pretty flawed – I’m qualified to comment as an owner and user and, as you know, someone who has used many and varied systems over the years – and is neither fish nor fowl with a rangefinder which goes out of calibration easily, is useless with lenses over 50mm and is challenging, to say the least, for those of advancing years with the corresponding eyesight issues.
Leica have found it difficult to build new systems in the past – take the S launched almost 6 years ago as the shining example where several of the promised (and needed) lenses are still nowhere to be seen. It makes one wonder how quickly this new T system will build into a “system”?
Paul, I share your view entirely, except I would have been a lot harsher towards Leica.
By asking that sort of money for a camera that basically replicates the IQ of a Sony NEX 5N, they are in effect telling their clients that either (a) money doesn’t matter to them, or (b) IQ doesn’t matter to them. Yes, a fine object, finely designed and finely made, is highly desirable, but VW performance at Porsche prices doesn’t cut it. And now we are talking Skoda performance. Except that, when I went to Iceland with Boris, I rented a Skoda, and it was fine. Same parts bin as Porsche. Damn, need to find another metaphor.
More specifically, it’s not like it is the first Leica to offer such underwhelming performance. Remember the X-Vario?. Well, commercially, this slowest-kit-zoom-in-the-world-on-the-long-end seems to be a complete dud, except nobody knows how many Chinese may -or not- be buying luxo-photo stuff needlessly.
Furthermore, Leica have now obligated themselves to designing and suporting yet another range of lenses, at a time when Zeiss are upping ther game in terms of releasing new lenses significantly. Is it such a good use of what has to be limited resources?
Finally, Leica are using a Sony sensor, but one which is 2 generations behind the current Sony product (the NEX7 and the all-new 6000). I find it hard to believe that Sony wouldn’t do a deal with a more recent one. So it could be that either Leica didn’t want a 24Mp sensor because it couldn’t handle the size with their electronics (smacks of the M and the S), or internal development time was overtaken by Sony sensor development speed.
At the same time, Sony are making a 51Mp medium format sensor, which is being released for use in medium format cameras by Hasselblad, Phase One and Pentax. This is going to make life more difficult for the flagship Leica S system. I would have much preferred to see Leica consolidate their position in that market segment than go for a too-little-and-too-late in the fast-moving APS-C mirrorless one.
And Sony are about to release a RX camera with a curved sensor, which has the potential of being a breakthrough in IQ. Yes, I know, it is all Sony, and I shoot a Sony camera, so you can accuse me of bias. But right now, it seems that Sony are the only camera company intent on pushing the envelope. Milling a camera body from a single block of aluminium and hand-polishing it is no excuse for undistinguished innards IMHO
Philippe – without wanting this thread to become a DS-fest, I agree totally. This is an age where disruption is the key mover, not nice, safe roll-outs.
Living where I do (Cape Town), technology takes a while to arrive – iPhone 5 has only recently become available for example – and so, I’m thinking I shouldn’t be too harsh, or opinionated before I’ve held/used a T camera/lens, or anything else for that matter.
Meanwhile, an RX that doesn’t have colour and fringing issues? Bring it on.
… and yet, Leica continues to exist, in spite of serious “head-winds” from Canon/Nikon/Sony…
Which make me think that the power of spending money to impress others remains in strong play. I believe some people spend a lot of money for a Porsche/Ferrari/Lambo to been seen. If the parking lot in front of the casion at Monte Carlo is any indication, that is. I don’t recall being passed by one actually being driven in anger. Ever.
That said, the world is a great place where we can find tools that do the job and help us create wonderful images at less than stratospheric prices. 🙂
Two good things about this camera is the design and the shutter (much clunkier on the NEX, let alone A7R).
Without an APS-C sensor it is 3 years late, probably no better IQ than an NEX5N but I guess they don’t want to compete against themselves with a FF sensor – at least for now, since the mount can easily take it.
If only Sony could come up with a NEX7 replacement, as in the corners the new A6000 sensor is a definite improvement with Leica glass (and also has very good AF if needed), but they held back a bit on EVF and build quality.
Christopher, you can’t drive anything in anger in Monte-Carlo, not even a Trabant, without it becoming an instant international voyage! Except one week-end in the year, of course, if you like going around in circles…:-)
More seriously, while your assertion is correct, the question is: can Leica keep up their “mystique” while releasing high-status-but-humdrum-performance products? Remember, Lamborghini was born out of frustration that Ferrari cars didn’t run very well, and the Commendatore wasn’t apologetic enough with an irate customer. But, while they have provided an always spectacular and often worthy alternative to Ferrari, they singularly failed at making any money in the process. Even now, with Audi-VW money, technology and parts bin to hand, their numbers look sad.
Personnally, I’d hate to see Leica leave the stage. Who else would design these ground-breaking lenses, and provide a good rangefinder experience to those who love it? This is why I cringe when I see such talent spent on what looks like marketing-driven products that don’t make a difference.
In some ways it feels as if Leica is headed down the path that Hassleblad has trod. That is, increasingly toward, at worse, irrelevancy or, at best, redundancy.
Perhaps these things are a measure of the difficulty in image making innovation in an age of large continuous R&D investment by Canon and Sony? How to differentiate when you have a very small R&D budget?
I realize Leica has wonderful lenses, but so do nearly every competitor these days. Great/expensive lenses are a very difficult “sell” if viewers can’t really see a difference.
It’s true that the quality of cheap lenses has made such tremendous progress that it seems difficult to justify the 10x price delta on technical superiority alone. I think one appeal of Leica lenses is their traditional handling, great build quality, tight tolerances and the certainty that you are buying for the long term. But, today, does it make sense to buy expensive and for the long term? There’s so much going on inside the electronic brains of our cameras that the optical high-road may well become redundant fast. As I wrote in a previous post, I’m not sure it’s worth collecting lenses anymore … Leica could differentiate though innovative designs. The T is a move in the right direction but ignoring the lust for the latest technology when it comes to sensors seems like a very strange decision. Shame, it was such an appealing body.