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The Leica T - A New Camera System for PhotoArk

Readers of the PhotoArk blog will be aware that I have been evaluating different camera systems for the last year with the intent to buy into and build a new system for personal use. Having no commitment to any existing system at present made this job a little easier, as I have very little legacy equipment that I wish to continue using. For the last 18 months I have been using the Leica X and before this, Leica’s X1. Both cameras are excellent performers but I have felt a longing to return to wider and longer focal lengths. The X series camera’s I use have fixed 35mm equivalent focal lengths, excellent in their own rights and one of my favourite angles of view. Both models have provided years of use as my primary cameras and I intend to keep using them well into the future, due to their stunning image quality and portability.

Given that I have spent a lot of time reviewing different camera systems, I have concluded that there has never been a more exciting time to purchase. OK, the recent drop in sterling’s value has forced most manufacturers prices up, but I have tried to let this influence my decisions as little as possible. Camera systems I have evaluated over the last several months are;

  • Pentax K-1
  • Olympus OMD & PEN
  • Leica T, SL & M
  • Fuji X

All of the above offer a superb range of lenses that more than covers my requirements. They all have active roadmaps which shows a level of commitment and future proofing. Some will handle extremes in weather, others are eye-wateringly expensive. Having handled each brands offerings on more than one occasion I reached a point where I could no longer decide what would be best for me. All had feature sets I was looking for, so a forced hiatus was necessary in order for me to gather salient information and thoughts.

After a few weeks I noted down the three points I required most (interchangeable lenses was a pre-requisite and reliability is something of a moot point with today’s generation of electronics), and came up with the following; 

  • Build quality
  • Image quality, including lenses
  • Simplicity

Build quality was a tough one; anyone who has picked up the Pentax K-1 will know that it is constructed to take the worst that mother nature can throw at it and this is true of the OMD also. Leica gear is very resilient but environmental sealing is limited to the SL. Fuji’s XT line have also found favour with photographers requiring sound construction.

For me, it really is all about image quality…not necessarily sharpness or massive megapixel counts, but the symbiosis of camera, software and lens to produce output that resonates within me. Some of this is tangible such as absence of aberrations, noise control and micro contrast. But other attributes are more ethereal…lens bokeh springs to mind here.

I also love simplicity - not just in camera gear, but most aspects of my life. When looking for products I often look for and select those that are built to the ‘less is more’ philosophy. A product should be easy to use if it is to gain quick acceptance. When it comes to camera’s I am only interested in those features that allow me personal creative control, so art filters, jpeg output etc. are lost on me. If truth be told I require just one accurate metering method and a wide range of shutter and aperture control that allows me to send the results to a RAW capture device. I am even prepared to forsake autofocus.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, the recent announcement of Olympus’ 25mm f1.2 lens had swayed me back into the Olympus camp. I have the OM System film equivalent lens from many years ago and it remains one of my favourites. The arrival of the M4/3 version really made me sit up and take notice as this, along with a wide angle and fast short telephoto could form the basis of my new system.

But way back in March during the annual photography show held at the NEC, I spent a lot of time on the Leica stand trying out the M System with a strong intent to buy. Not the cheapest system to get into I know, but there was something about the systems purity and design that I found appealing. However, after handling the Typ 240 and trying several lenses, I was left feeling that the rangefinder experience was not really for me. Unbeknown to me at the time, Ethan was trying out the T System with the new Summilux 35mm f1.4 lens attached. Up until this point I had pretty much skipped over this system, thinking it would not meet my criteria. But then I picked the combo up and used it a little. I found the ergonomics superb and handling was as simple as I wished to make it. It is a beautifully built utilitarian camera with lenses to match and it was not long before the T’s design philosophy had got under my skin. I would have purchased there and then, but the 35mm was not available, so I left the show empty handed.

Fast forward to several days ago, and to the point I lifted the embargo placed on my future camera system thought process. Having attended Pentax K-1 and Fuji X-T2 launch events since the Photography Show, I was surprised that the Leica T still figured prominently in my choice. After all, the Pentax and Fuji systems were superb in every respect and I enjoyed handling them. But the T kept calling to me. It has no (real) image stabilisation, is not weather sealed nor does it have any kind of sensor dust removal system. But the design and image quality reached out above this so, after a little more prevarication, I jumped in and ordered a chrome body with 11-23mm lens.

The rumour mill is currently alive with comments about a replacement body, and conversations I have had with reputable dealers bear this out. Whether this has caused a price drop in existing stock I don’t know, but I did find one at a very low price which was difficult to pass up on. 

So here I am, having committed to a brand new system that really excites me. I anticipate adding at least two more lenses through 2017 that will expand my creative capabilities. Did I make the correct choice of systems? Looking and holding the T, I am inclined to say ‘yes’ but I guess time will tell…