Leica T: A second look at the unusual T and the phenomenal 11-23mm zoom
Earlier today I picked up a Leica T and a brace of lenses, the workhorse 18-56mm and the wide-angle 11-23mm. Object of the exercise is to evaluate the firmware updates that have improved this camera since its launch—and since I first reviewed it—in mid 2014. Flossy Bellm at Leica UK indulged my wish in providing a black T this time round. I have to say that I much prefer the anodised black finish which creates an altogether more harmonious whole when combined with the top-mounted EVF and one of the all-black zoom lenses.
Leaving Bruton Place, I bolted on the 11-23mm, which equates roundly to a full-frame 16-35mm (actually, 16.5-34.5mm) only because last year I had a long play with the 18-56 and it is therefore familiar territory. The wide-angle Super-Vario-Elmar-T 11-23mm zoom (to give it its full title) promises to be a perfect optic for street photography, offering the comfort of the 35mm view alongside wide-angle performance tailored to city architecture. It's relatively compact, too.
But what a lens this is. I took a few practice shots on the way back to the office, via a pint of Proper Job at the Black Lion, and I was immensely impressed, not just with the ale. This is a great lens, crisp, sharp and utterly pleasing, with no obvious distortions. This is just my first impression and I look forward to putting the lens through its paces over the next couple of weeks. I see a wide-angle Christmas coming on.
Since the introduction of the T-system in 2014 the landscape has changed. When I reviewed the T it was a new, untried system and there was an obvious worry that the new lens mount was part and parcel of the T itself: Sink or swim. Without the T, would the lenses have any value? That conundrum was answered with the arrival of the SL this Autumn. We now know that the T-mount, renamed L, is the heart of Leica’s plans for both full- and crop-sensor auto-focus lenses in the future. Buying a T lens is now a much more of an investment than was obvious in 2014.
There has never been a doubt over the quality and performance of these zooms, which are about as far from “kit lenses” as you could could imagine. And the compact 23mm (35mm equivalent) f/2 Summicron stakes a strong claim for favourable comparison with the equivalent M lens.
It now looks like Leica is committed to continuing the concept of the interchangeable lens APS-C range and I believe the lenses can now be purchased with confidence. Not only that, they can also be used on the full-frame SL, although the design of the optics means that only a cropped portion of the sensor will be addressed. On the other hand, these T zooms are compact and light and would make an ideal travel companion for the SL in preference to the bulky full-frame native kit.