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Leica T (Typ 701): A camera of desire

Published on May 23, 2014 2:26 AM
 
Leica T (Typ 701)

Technically speaking, Leica has been producing mirrorless cameras before the term was coined, as its legendary rangefinders do not have the reflex mirrors found in DSLRs.

But the manual range-finding focusing mechanism that Leica cameras uses to achieve a sharp focus is a world apart from the image sensor that modern mirrorless cameras use for contrast autofocusing.

Now, Leica has made its first foray into the expanding mirrorless camera market with the new Leica-T system. The Leica T (Typ 701) represents the system's first camera.

The T's design is clean and minimalist. The chassis is carved from a single block of aluminium, polished and anodised in either black or silver.

The T looks like a work of art but feels like a solid sturdy workhorse. Its body is smooth but not slippery. On the right side is a nice bulge that acts as a comfortable grip.

The camera handles superbly. On the top are two command dials sitting close to where your thumb will rest at the rear. In front of them, you will find the shutter release, power lever switch and a dedicated video-recording button. They are the only buttons you will find on the T.

The back is dominated by a 3.7-inch touchscreen display. It handles all changes of shooting modes. Although I would have loved a Mode dial, it would have spoilt the look of the camera.

Thankfully, the menu interface is quite intuitive, with big icons that make it easy to avoid mistakes. It takes two taps to change shooting modes and you can move your favourite settings to the front panel. You can even lock the touchscreen by swiping down from the top of the interface's right sidebar.

When in a shooting mode, the physical dials take over the changing of settings. In Aperture-Priority mode, the left command dial controls the ISO; the right command dial controls the aperture. In Manual mode, the left command dial adjusts the aperture and the right command dial changes the shutter speed. This arrangement allows for intuitive and speedy setting changes.

Personally, I still prefer to use a viewfinder for composing photos. Leica offers a new electronic viewfinder (EVF) Visoflex ($765) to insert into the T's hot shoe.

Oldies will remember Visoflex as an add-on SLR-like viewfinder for Leica's M-series rangefinder models. The revamped Visoflex is a 2.36 million-dot EVF with a GPS module for geotagging. It is also tiltable up to 90 degrees.

When your eye nears the Visoflex, it switches on automatically and the display is turned off. But there is no way to turn off the display permanently and use the Visoflex exclusively.

The T has an internal memory of 16GB, so it will work even if you forget your SD card. It is the first Leica camera to have built-in Wi-Fi. You can control it remotely via the Leica T app (iOS only, for now) to change settings, take pictures and videos, and download the images from camera to your smartphone.

It works like any other mirrorless camera. It starts up in around 1.9sec and shuts down in around 2.5sec.

But autofocusing (AF) with the 18-56mm kit lens used for this review is slightly slower than in its competitors. In bright sunlight, there are times when it fails to get a sharp focus. But at other times, a sharp focus is almost instantaneous.

In dim conditions, the AF can take up to 2sec to secure a focus. But sometimes, it just gives up.

Using an SD card with a writing speed rated at 45MB per second, the T is able to take 12 RAW images in 2.5sec before the buffer runs out.

Image quality is great, with clear details even in the darker areas of an image. The JPEG images do look slightly soft but that can be rectified with a little sharpening in post processing.

The images are devoid of noise even at ISO 800. Only at ISO 1,600 will you notice noise artefacts. In fact, at ISO 3,200, the images are good enough for Web use. Just avoid ISO 6,400 or faster speeds.

There is no cover for the battery compartment because a cover is built into the battery, seamlessly protecting it once it has been slotted into the camera.

It lasts for about 400 pictures on a full charge, slightly better than the 350-frame average of mirrorless cameras.

  • The Leica T (Typ 701) is undoubtedly a camera to lust after, with its smooth aluminium unibody and great image quality. It may be the most affordable interchangeable lens camera from Leica but still wildly expensive to most.

trevtan@sph.com.sg

Background story

TECH SPECS

Price: $4,950 (with 18-56mm f/3.5-f/5.6 lens); available from next Monday

Image sensor: 16.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS

Display: 3.7-inch touchscreen LCD with 1,300,000 dots

Sensitivity: ISO 100 to 12,500 Connectivity: Wi-Fi

Weight: 384g (body only, with battery and memory card)


RATING

Features: 4/5

Design: 5/5

Performance: 3/5

Value for money: 3/5

Battery life: 4/5

Overall: 4/5