I’ve now spent about two months with the Leica T. It’s been one of the most controversial products I’ve ever reviewed with no shortage of Leica hate mails in my inbox. There were plenty of people promising that I’ll eventually come to hate the camera but the opposite has been true. Haters gonna hate but the T lives on.
The design of the Leica T is probably its strongest attribute and I’m still astonished by the level of craftsmanship present here. It’s one of those products you can’t help but fondle while working at your desk. It’s beauty seems to be universal too, which I realized when every barista greeted me with, “That’s a beautiful camera.” One of my reasons for not using a DSLR is to avoid attention when shooting in public. Unfortunately, it seems that the T isn’t quite as invisible as I had hoped and use of the leather case is a must for incognito shooting.
When the T launched this summer, Leica promised its users frequent firmware updates to address the issues that they ran into. The company seems to be serious about their promise and released a second firmware update for the camera last month. Firmware 1.2 adds a few features, bug fixes and most importantly, an improvement in responsiveness.
There are two changes with firmware 1.2 that I immediately noticed. First is responsiveness. It seems to power on faster with the drastic improvement in switching over to the Visoflex viewfinder. The T still isn’t the fastest camera on the street but it’s become much more acceptable.
The other change is with autofocus. The T would miss a focus here and there and be particularly miserable in low light. With the latest firmware, both the focus speed and accuracy have been improved. It’s solid in bright locations and pretty good in low light too. I would now put it on par with the Sony RX1.
In terms of hardware, I don’t have much to complain about but I did notice that the T’s display isn’t treated with an oleophobic coating. It’s not a big deal but does make the screen get smudgy really quickly, which can get annoying when shooting in bright sunlight.
It's why I ended up buying a Visoflex viewfinder after going on a trip to Los Angeles. I’ve always shot using exclusively a viewfinder and find the Leica considerably better shooting with one too. You don't get glare, framing is easier and it also makes you a little more brave when street shooting. The Visoflex has the sharpest and brightest display I’ve ever seen and has GPS built in to add coordinates to your photos. It’s the best viewfinder I’ve ever used and unfortunately priced like it. The Visoflex is $595 but if you’re like me and prefer shooting through a viewfinder, there’s no other choice.
Like many things in life, I prefer to reduce the amount of unnecessary complexity. I always have the camera on auto ISO, white balance and focus so when I’m actually shooting, the two dials which are set to aperture and exposure compensation are all I need to interact with. This makes the Lecia’s setup ideal for a user like me. If you insist on shooting in full manual mode, this probably isn’t what you’re looking for.
I want to talk about the actual photos that come out of the camera now. The biggest surprise for me has been the camera’s low light performance. Leica was smart in limiting the camera to 16 megapixels because the T does a formidable job in low light. I’m constantly surprised by how much detail can be pulled from these files and how infrequently you have to play with noise reduction in Lightroom.
Like I’ve said in my initial review, my favorite thing about the T is the way it renders images. There’s a neutral, reportage like look to the photos that I have had to largely simulate with my previous camera. With the T, I just shoot in JPG, do a little bit of post processing and I’m effortlessly at the image I want. What more do you want in a camera?
Leica likes to remind you that the Summicron-T 2/23 ASPH is a true Leica lens and the results speak for themselves. I almost shoot exclusively wide open and the lens doesn’t seem to show any loss in clarity. I do sometimes miss the really shallow depth of field possible with the Sony RX1 but a photo is more about what’s in focus, not what isn’t.
Being a 23mm, my Summicron isn’t really designed to be a macro lens. But coming from a RX1 which had a clever macro mode, I do feel a bit limited by the minimum focus distance. The 23mm is fine for shooting food but future investment in a second lens seems like something that’ll have to happen.
Yes, the Leica T is a niche product, and yes, it’s expensive. We can argue about the T all day long but in the end, it’s just a camera and all that really matters is that it takes photos that its owner is happy with. And the Leica T gets this so right; it renders images in a way I love. Yes, the Sony RX1 is technically superior and more affordable, but to get the Sony’s images to look the way I wanted required a lot of fiddling around. For the longest time, I had spent more time making corrections than shooting photos. I’m now far more focused when I’m taking photos and try to actually put some care into my shots. This camera has made me realize the essence of taking photos again and that’s doing much more than what was advertised.