Time for another T: Leica's polished aluminium block revisited
A strange thing happened last week. I came across a two-year-old used Leica T, not the latest TL but the original version, at Harrison Cameras in Sheffield at an attractive price. I phoned Nathan Maguire, Harrison's used equipment specialist, did a very good deal and the sparkling black T arrived on Friday, nicely packed in its original box and complete with all accessories. Just the hotshoe cover was missing and I can live with that. In appearance, the body is like new. The pristine cosmetic condition gives the lie to the suggestion that the black T would suffer in use. It hasn't. Or perhaps it has had one very careful owner.
So why the T after I’ve spent the past two years saying I don’t like cameras without integral viewfinders? I felt it was time for another look at the system.
I did like the T when I tested it back in 2014 but never took the plunge largely because of the absence of an integral viewfinder. Now, though, I have a suspicion that after three years and a fairly routine TL upgrade, Leica is now putting some much-needed TLC in the way of the T system. I'd love to see a T with an integral viewfinder but, as always, we have to wait and see.
With the possibility of a new T version in the offing, it seems a good idea to get familiar again with the APS-C system. Since I already own the Visoflex (it’s the same as used on the M10) and a 23mm T prime, all I needed was the camera body. I also have the essential T/M adapter as used on the SL, so that’s another bit of cash saved. I’m now in business to start using this old T with all my M lenses. The crucial thing is whether I think I can live with the system.
Yesterday I took the little camera, together with the 23mm Summicron-T(L) and my 35mm Summilux-M for a few shots at the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey.
I was surprised how small and light the T is, contrary to my recollections. I suppose that, having owned the SL for the past year, anything seems small. Equipped with the 23mm Summicron-T and the viewfinder, the T weighs the same as my Panasonic GX8 and Leica DG 15mm pancake lens. That’s quite remarkable given that the T has the larger APS-C sensor and lens bulk to go with it. The T’s body is less bulky than the GX8 and the 23mm is remarkably light at only 170g.
Below: Old Sunbeam motorcycle taken with the 35mm Summilux-M and, right, a crop from the same photograph.
The body is thinner than you imagine and it is quite gorgeous in black. I never liked the silver because I think it suffers terribly from the juxtaposition with the black lenses and the less-than-attractive black Visoflex. But, again, this is very much a matter of personal opinion. I’ve met people who think the silver is the T's knees.
Coming back to the touch-control system after three years was a better experience than I imagined. It took just a few minutes to re-familiarise myself with what is essentially a very simple set-up. The main menu functions are arranged over 41 large rectangular tiles which are proddable and swipeable. The subsidiary "My Menu", which mirrors the Favourites pages on the SL and M10, can be built up by dragging the tiles to the menu icon. Once you've built up your favourites they can be rearranged by press and drag as with icons on a smartphone. Anyone used to modern technology will find themselves suited down to a T with this layout.
There are no dedicated physical controls, other than the on-off switch and the video button (which, annoyingly, cannot be disabled). All functions are selected with the aid of the menus and the two soft dials which can be programmed to suit your way of working. In normal use the right-hand dial covers exposure set up (aperture in aperture priority, speed in shutter priority, etc) while the left-hand dial can be set to one of six options. I prefer to have this fixed to exposure compensation, as I remember from my earlier use of the camera.
The left-hand dial is also used in conjunction with manual lenses to select magnification. It toggles off/x3/x6 and has to be prodded before every shot if you need magnification. There is no focus peaking, which I find odd but it's not a deal breaker. There is the usual shimmer in the image when focus is achieved — something that is common to all mirrorless cameras in my experience — and it is perfectly possible to focus easily without magnification.
Despite the latest firmware update (1.610) there is still no ability to toggle screen and viewfinder as on most cameras. The screen is always on, simply because there is no way of controlling the camera if it is disabled, and the only option for use of the Visoflex is to rely on the auto switch over. There is an annoying delay of about one second when the viewfinder is brought to the eye. I recollect this aspect annoyed me during my earlier use of the T in 2014.
These are minor issues and I hope that a new T will address the shortcomings. And, please, please, let's have an option to disable that pesky video button which I have pressed twice by mistake in the first day. I hate video buttons, especially when it is the only button on the camera.
Over the next month or so I shall be taking a close look at the T and polishing my opinions formed two years ago. I also hope to lay hands on the upgraded TL to see what improvements have been made. Will I have a change of heart and will I grow to love this rather ingenious and definitely unique little camera? Will it be my cup of T?
Whatever happens, one thing is clear. Leica seems committed to developing its APS-C offering — which is as it should be.
- All photos in this review by Mike Evans