Leica T (Typ 701) Review -- First Impressions
by Mike Tomkins
Preview posted 04/24/2014
For most people, the Leica brand summons to mind two things: photographic excellence, and top-shelf style. The Leica T (Typ 701) is true to type, positively oozing both qualities -- on paper, at least. But while Leica's designs are often called retro, the Typ 701 unashamedly bucks that trend. There's no rangefinder here: Instead, the Leica T accepts an optional electronic viewfinder with integrated GPS. And while you still get twin control dials, there's also a touch-screen display -- and an unusually large one, at that. The Typ 701 even sports in-camera Wi-Fi wireless communication. This is a Leica for the modern age!
It's also quite a bit smaller than the company's rangefinder cameras (134 x 69 x 33mm), especially in terms of height, not to mention a whole lot lighter (339g without battery, 384g with). That's actually a little surprising, because the Leica T's attractive, Audi Design-styled body is milled from a solid block of aluminum -- a first for a camera, claims its maker.
The Typ 701's body is an interesting mixture of up-to-date design with the craftsmanship of days gone by. After machining, its clean, modern lines are polished by hand for 45 minutes. Lettering on labels is even milled and hand-inked, whereas the labeling on most cameras would simply have been screen-printed.
And while either side of the Leica T sports lugs for a shoulder strap, these can cleverly be removed with a quick press of a release pin in an adjacent hole. Removable dummy plugs fill the space formerly occupied by lugs, and hey presto -- those of you who never use straps have a camera with a smoother, sleeker look.
They do this with each and every camera, before hand-inking the milled-out lettering for labels.
The Leica T will be offered in anodized silver or black finishes. In the US market pricing is set at around US$1,850 for the Leica T camera body. The first two lenses are priced at US$1,950 for the 23mm f/2.0 prime, and US$1,750 for the 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom. The electronic viewfinder accessory is priced at around US$600, and the Leica M-mount adapter is the most affordable item at US$400 or thereabouts. Although availability hasn't yet been disclosed, ordering will be possible from May 26th though Leica Stores, Leica Boutiques and select dealers.
Leica T (Typ 701) Technical Info
by Mike Tomkins
Inside, the Leica Typ 701 houses a 16.3-megapixel, 3:2-aspect APS-C CMOS image sensor, while on the exterior are a brand-new Leica T bayonet mount, as well as the controls and features you'd expect of a photographer-friendly mirrorless camera. Maximum resolution is 4,928 x 3,264 pixels when shooting in JPEG-compressed mode, or 4,944 x 3,278 pixels in DNG raw format.
The Leica T mount is the big news here, though, not the sensor. It's a brand-new creation that -- while it brings Leica up to date, with electronic communication between camera and body -- may initially prove something of an Achilles' heel. At launch, there will be only two native lenses to choose from: one prime, and one zoom.
Shooters seeking maximum image quality and light capture will gravitate to the Leica Summicron-T 23mm f/2 Asph. prime, while those seeking more versatility will opt for the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 Asph. zoom. You could, of course, choose to get both, but given that they overlap in focal length, likely one will go on the body and stay there, based on your preference for image quality or versatility.
And if so, it will stay until late 2014 or early 2015, when more Leica T-mount lenses are promised. (Leica plans on presenting a Super-Vario-Elmar-T 1123mm f/3.5-4.5 Asph. wide-angle zoom and a Vario-Elmar-T 55135mm f/3.5-4.5 Asph. telephoto zoom at Photokina 2014, though we don't know when they will actually ship.) Of course, in the meantime you can use adapters -- Leica will offer its own M-mount adapter which supports exposure metering, Aperture-priority mode and Manual settings, and we're sure third-parties will step in too.
Performance is reasonable, if not stunning: The Leica T is capable of shooting around five frames per second for a total of 12 frames before the capture rate slows, according to its maker. The Typ 701's sensitivity range spans everything from ISO 100 to 12,500 equivalents. And Leica has opted for a contrast-detection based autofocus system, rather than a hybrid system as in many mirrorless cameras these days. It provides a choice of single-point, multi-point, spot, face detection, and touch autofocus.
Yes, we did say touch: As mentioned, Leica has gone decidedly modern with its control system. The Leica T's roomy 3.7-inch rear-panel LCD monitor, which has a high resolution of 1,229,760 dots (854 x 480 pixels) is topped with a touch-sensitive overlay that allows it to double as an input device. You can touch to focus on a specific subject, or touch your way through setting changes, just as you're used to doing with your smartphone. But if you're feeling more traditional, fear not! While the Leica T lacks a rangefinder, you can mount the optional Leica Visoflex electronic viewfinder accessory on the camera's hot shoe, rather than shooting at arm's length.
Exposure modes are much as an experienced photographer would expect, plus a few that will cater to those for whom style was the motivating factor in their purchase. Traditionalists will stick to the Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual modes, while less experienced shooters can opt for fully automatic, sport, portrait, landscape, night portrait, snow / beach, fireworks, candlelight, or sunset scene modes.
Exposures are determined using the image sensor, and a choice of multiple field, center weighted or spot metering modes are available, as well as +/-3.0 EV of exposure compensation in 1/3 EV steps. You can also bracket three frames, with a step size of up to +/-3.0 EV, again in 1/3 EV increments.
Shutter speeds offered by the Leica Typ 701 range from a maximum of 30 seconds to a minimum of just 1/4,000 second. White balance modes include auto, five presets for daylight, cloud, incandescent light, shade, and flash, as well as two manual settings and a color temperature setting. And if you want to get into the picture yourself -- or just avoid camera shake when shooting on a tripod -- you'll find the optional two or 12-second self-timer handy.
You can also opt to shed a little more light on your subject, courtesy of the Leica T Typ 701's built-in popup flash and ISO hot shoe, both found on the top deck. The stadium-shaped popup flash has a guide number of 14.8 feet (4.5m), and recharges in around five seconds with a fully-charged battery. For more power, you'll rely on an external strobe such as the Leica SF 26 -- so long as you don't want to use the optional electronic viewfinder accessory. (Both share the same hot shoe, so can't be mounted at once.)
The Leica T has a choice of six flash modes: automatic, forced, and slow sync, each with optional red eye reduction. As well as its exposure compensation, it also offers flash exposure compensation within the same range of +/-3.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps. The Leica T will sync with strobes at up to 1/180 second.
Another feature of the Leica T that's atypically modern compared to the company's other interchangeable-lens cameras is its built-in Wi-Fi wireless communications technology. We've seen Wi-Fi in a Leica camera before -- specifically, 2013's Leica C -- but that camera was something of a special case. While it bore Leica's badge, it was essentially a rebadged Panasonic LF1, and inherited its wireless features from that camera.
The Leica T, though, is an in-house effort, and therefore the company's first venture into Wi-Fi. You'll be able to connect to 802.11b/g/n wireless networks running in infrastructure mode on channels 1 to 11, and the Typ 701 supports both WPA and WPA2 encryption. The wireless connection is available not only for image and video transfer, but also for remote control with live view streaming and the ability to adjust aperture and shutter speed, among other functions. Sadly, Android users need not apply: The required Leica T app is available only for iOS devices, at least for now.
As well as Wi-Fi, the Leica T also offers a wired data connection, just as you'd expect. Specifically, it's a USB 2.0 High Speed port, and it also allows for in-camera battery charging at a maximum of one amp. Batteries charge courtesy of an included BC-DC13 charger, and you can expect around 400 shots on a charge from the Leica T's BP-DC13 7.4V, 1,040 mAh lithium-ion battery pack. The only other connectivity offered by the Leica T is its top-deck hot shoe, which doubles as a connector for optional accessories such as the Visoflex electronic viewfinder which has integrated GPS and can tilt and swivel. (No word on specifics such as resolution and magnification yet.)
Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital or MultiMediaCard memory, and the Leica T does support both the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC card types. 16GB of internal memory is also provided. For still images, you have a choice of JPEG-compressed files at one of two compression levels, DNG raw files, or both at once. Videos are saved as MP4 files, and have a choice of either Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels; 1080p) or HD (1,280 x 720 pixels; 720p) with a fixed frame rate of 30 fps.
The Leica T ships with a BP-DC13 battery pack, BC-DC13 charger with six adapter plugs, a USB cable, carrying strap, and two carrying strap release pins. While no software is included in the package, you can download Adobe Photoshop Lightroom free of charge upon registration, and the Leica T app for iOS devices is a free download from Apple's App Store.