A Review of the Leica T and 35mm Summilux-TL

As a most-of-my-life Leica M Rangefinder user, the Leica T Camera is a major shift for me in terms of form, function, process and procedure. With this camera system, however, Leica has managed to maintain “purity” of experience by focusing on “Das Wesentliche” (the essentials). Generally speaking I find most digital cameras too overloaded with cavernous menu systems, copious buttons and controls. Additionally, the menu settings can be so overbearing that I have often found my photographic experience stifled, and as a result I have missed many shots. Missing a shot with a digital camera instantly reminds any photographer who started with film, why we still love and cling to the experience of shooting an analog film camera like an old M3 or even a current MP. This is where the Leica T truly shines. It is a quick, efficient, and ultimately streamlined camera that allows the photographer to focus on what is most important: the photography.

The Leica T Camera System was first announced and subsequently released in 2014. Since that initial launch the system has seen some minor incremental firmware updates, but the most recent update was major. Version 1.5 of the Leica T Firmware, released in January of this year, was a major overall of the operating system that added several new features and most importantly, boosted the overall operating speed of the camera. From before the update to after, the Leica T now feels like a brand new camera.

Leica’s product development team and software engineers were careful to listen to their T Camera users, and many of the added features came directly from customer feedback. Among the many features added, I was particularly happy with the addition of the ability to create a direct WLAN link between the camera and a smartphone or tablet. When linked together, the mobile App for the Leica T allows for remotely controlling the camera and also shuttling photos from the camera to your mobile device. Being able to quickly and easily load photos from the camera to my iPad was very convenient for sharing content on social media and also for sending photos to friends and family.

Also new this year, is the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux TL lens. And what better way to test out a new lens than in a foreign land? I recently took a 2-week trip to Japan, part guided tour and part independent exploration. As my kit, I brought the Leica T Camera, Visoflex EVF, and the newly released 35mm1.4 TL lens in the stylish silver finish.

With the crop factor of the APS-C sensor in the T camera, the new 35mm Summilux TL lens functions essentially at 50mm, THE classic Leica focal length (think Cartier-Bresson, the M3, etc). My favorite lens prior to the release of this 35 Summilux was the 23mm f/2.0 Summicron TL lens, which with the crop factor works at a 35mm focal length.

As with all Leica lenses, they are designed to be be shot wide-open. The beauty and distinctive characteristics of any Leica lens are most prominently displayed when the lens aperture is at its widest, and stopping down should really only be used for depth of field control. I realize this is not always possible and I sometimes find myself in situations where I have no choice but to stop down. That being said, the head of lens design at Leica, Peter Karbe himself, told me the following in quite an enthusiastic manner:

“...shoot the lenses wide open. Do not stop down for exposure control. STOP IT. Use an ND filter if it is too bright out and please only stop down to control the depth of field...”

I am inclined to take his advice. Thus, almost all the photos in this post were shot wide-open at f/1.4. And with good reason. As you can see, the bokeh is beautiful and the photos all have that magical and intangible, “Leica Look”. It’s also worth noting that most of these photos were shot at base ISO 100. With the new 35 Summilux TL lens, I found that I could keep ISO really low in a variety of lighting situations, which was really fantastic for low-noise and detail extraction.