Leica launches new T-System for photographers to lust over
By Simon Crisp
April 25, 2014
While many camera manufacturers are releasing retro-looking mirrorless offerings, Leica, arguably the king of old-school style, has revealed a thoroughly modern new line of interchangeable lens shooters. The Leica T is a minimalist camera which is milled from a solid block of aluminum, uses an APS-C sensor and features a new lens mount. It also boasts a redesigned touchscreen interface, Leica's fastest autofocus, and built-in Wi-Fi.
The Leica T is a big deal for the German firm. It's not another rebranded Panasonic, or an X-series camera, it's the start of a new camera system with its own new lenses, to sit alongside the venerable M-System. Designed in collaboration with Audi Design (which also had a hand in the Leica C), the Leica T appears to be targeted at a new market: users who want to own an interchangeable lens Leica, but maybe without quite as much bulk or cost, and with mod cons like autofocus and Wi-Fi.
Looking somewhat Apple-esque (and arguably better than the Jony Ive Leica M) the Leica T (Typ 701) is machined from a single block of aluminum which is then polished by hand for 45 minutes. Leica is so proud of this level of hand-crafted detail that it's even produced a real-time video of the polishing happening. The resulting camera, which obviously features that famous red dot, measures 134 x 69 x 33 mm (5.3 x 2.7 x 1.3 in) and weighs 384 g (13.5 oz).
The rear of the camera is taken up with a 3.7-inch touchscreen LCD with 1.3 million dots. This is another area in which Leica is going modern, and the traditional list-based menu system has been replaced by an intuitive icon-driven set-up. Users can select shooting options by tapping the screen, which can also be used for focusing. If composing shots on the rear screen isn't your thing, there will also be an optional tilt-and-swivel EVF with 2.4 million dots. Because of the way the touchscreen can be used and the drive for minimalism, there are only four tactile controls on the Leica, including the two dials up top.
While there's no disputing the design or build-quality of the Leica T, when you get to the specification list, the US$1,850 body-only asking price becomes a harder sell. There's a 16.3 effective megapixel ASP-C (23.6 x 15.7 mm) CMOS sensor, paired with a newly developed image processor. This means the camera features an ISO range of 100-12,500, burst shooting at 5 fps for 12 shots, and Full HD video recording at 1080p 30 fps … all of which is comparable to many mid-range mirrorless cameras which are far cheaper.
Though any sort of autofocus on an interchangable lens camera from Leica is going to be a big deal, it's interesting that the firm has opted for a contrast-based system. While users will be able to use features like face detection, the camera is unlikely to keep up with the speedy hybrid systems on other mirrorless cameras like the Olympus OM-D E-M1.
The Leica T is also the first Leica system camera to feature built-in Wi-Fi for sending content to smartphones, tablets or computers. A free Leica T app for iOS devices also enables remote shooting with control over shutter speed and aperture in addition to being able to activate the shutter release. The camera can shoot JPEG and/or RAW stills, which can be stored on either an SD card or the built-in 16 GB of internal memory.
At launch, the T-System will consist of the T camera and a pair of new lenses. These are the 23-mm Leica Summicron-T F2 lens, giving a focal length equivalent to 35-mm in 35-mm-format (which always proves popular with Leica shooters), and the 18-56-mm Leica Vario-Elmar-T F3.5-F5.6 which has a 28-85-mm equivalent. Other upcoming lenses due to land in 2015 include an 11-23-mm Leica Super-Vario-Elmar-T F3.5-F4.5 (17–35 mm equivalent) and a 55-135-mm Leica APO-Vario-Elmar-T F3.5-F5.6 (80–200 mm equivalent). An optional M-Adapter T allows the use of most of the lenses of the Leica M-System.
Other accessories being made available for the Leica T include a powerful SF 26 Flash, which doubles as a constant LED light for video recording, and a number of cases, holsters and bags.
The Leica T (Typ 701) is available for pre-order now for $1,850 body-only and is expected to start shipping in May. The 23-mm and 18-56-mm lenses will set you back an additional $1,950 and $1,750 respectively. A black version of the camera will also be available later this year.
Check out the video below to find out a bit more about the Leica T.
Product page: Leica T (Typ 701)