Leica took its sweet time to release a modern, mirrorless system camera. Dubbed the Leica T, available in black and silver, it resembles a design we have seen from Sony in its NEX cameras. The camera will be manufactured and assembled in a dedicated plant in Germany, while the native lenses for the new T mount will only be Leica branded but in fact be manufactured and assembled
by Panasonic in Japan [Update: the lenses are not manufactured by Panasonic, they are manufactured in Japan by a third party, not Leica]. The camera lives inside a brushed and polished aluminium body made from one piece of metal, which is very elegant. Advertising that a single worker takes 45 minutes to polish one body, the price point Leica asks for this camera puts it well into the luxury category, akin to fashion items that serve little more function than to be elegant.
So, what are my first thoughts on Leica’s new offering? I can be very blunt about this. Based on what is known already about this camera, its lenses, the lens road map and availability of accessories, my personal first thoughts are that this camera is pointless. From a photographic point of view, there should not be a market for this camera, as there are other camera systems out there which are cheaper, better, smaller, easier to use and so on. Some might even argue that other, cheaper camera systems are more pleasing in their design. I certainly think so. Nobody needs this camera system, it doesn’t do anything better than other camera systems. And yet, Leica built a plant dedicated to producing this line of cameras only. It’s safe to say this camera will still find its niche in the market. A niche for people who buy designer products for the sake of the design and the red dot. A niche for buyers who do not care about primary function properties of a camera system but in fact appreciate the fact that a German worker brushed their camera for 45 minutes before it found its ways into their hands. I daresay these buyers are not primarily photographers but fashion victims first and if Leica can make a business out of exploiting these buyers and their craving for luxury, I salute them. Well played. And way to ruin a reputation and kill off a long standing legacy and tradition as a camera maker.
I think the riskiest part of Leica’s strategy around this new T system is that they chose to produce the camera themselves, while they only design but don’t manufacture or assemble the lenses. This is new for Leica. Leica always focused on lenses over cameras. If you bought a Leica made camera, the lenses were always Leica made. As a Leica T system owner, you find yourself paying Leica prices for lenses which are essentially non-Leica lenses made in Japan. Why pay Leica prices for third party made in Japan lenses?! That doesn’t make any sense, it’s ridiculous. Here is a simple example to illustrate how retarded Leica’s offering is. The example assumes you have no problem with lenses made by third parties which are designed by Leica only, are made in Japan but carry the Leica branding. As a camera system owner, you are interested in a complete system that covers views of various angles, including wide angle, normal view and tele.
A Leica T and the two lenses currently available will put you back EUR4450 without any accessories like the optional viewfinder, a flash and so on. You will get a zoom lens which covers most focal length you’ll need. The zoom lens is slow in terms of available aperture range, so for low light work and more play with depth of field you currently only have one fixed focal length in the normal range.
So, what can you get for 4450EUR when your preference is for Leica branded, auto-focus lenses on a mirrorless system camera? Well, you can buy a Panasonic Lumix GX7, which puts you back less than EUR800 for the body only. That camera comes with a built in flash, a great electronic viewfinder, silent shutter, better video and in my opinion, looks much better than the Leica T. The GX7 resembles the form factor of classic rangefinder cameras with the viewfinder in the top left corner. Now, you still need lenses. And you want Leica branded lenses. Well, you can get a Panasonic Leica Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH for about EUR580, a Panasonic Leica 25mm DG Summilux 25mm 1.4 ASPH for about EUR480 and the absolutely stunning Panasonic Leica 42.5mm DG Nocticron 1.2 ASPH OIS for about EUR1450. In total, your camera system puts you back less than EUR3300. You still have EUR1150 to spend on accessories for your Panasonic Leica setup, you have a much much better camera in terms of usability and you shoot your pictures on Leica lenses made by Panasonic which are proven to be excellent and best in class. By the way, if your main concern is still small form factor and style, you could still buy the Panasonic Lumix GM1, which is smaller than the Leica T and looks better in my opinion. That will save you an additional EUR200 and you will still be able to shoot with those excellent Panasonic Leica lenses.
So my first thought about the Leica T system is: only rich and vain people, not caring about photography first but fashion and style will buy this overpriced status symbol. I will never be able to suppress a chuckle and roll my eyes when I will come across people buying and using this. You can get the same image quality from Panasonic made Leica lenses in the Micro Four Thirds realm, a technology that is so mature by now, that it rivals systems with bigger sensors in many regards.