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Leica T versus Fujifilm X-E2: Modern Art vs Retro Cool

Taken with Ricoh GR @ Matchstick Coffee in Chinatown, Vancouver. 1/250th F/5.6 @ ISO 800. Window light only.

I got the email from my local Leica rep. It was coming. Yes, the all new Leica T was on its way. The week before, I almost flew down to L.A. for the worldwide release of Leica’s newest interchangeable lens system. Was it going to be M43, APS-C, full-frame? Most guessed it would be APS-C, but what would it look like? Would they go with the X styling (X1, X2, X-Vario), or more M styling? Would it have a built in EVF or OVF? So many questions… Then the Leica T was finally released… what the?

It was nothing like what I expected. It was very different, and a very bold departure from what we were expecting from a very traditional camera brand. Was I disappointed? Nope. Confused? A bit. Excited to try it? Yes!! I watched the crazy 45 min video showing how each Leica T is hand polished (with German labour!) and Steve Huff’s enthusiastic first impressions video. Clearly this camera is well built, but can it shoot? More importantly, is it good for a street-style photographer? It was time to test Leica’s latest, greatest camera.

Same shooting specs as above. Notice the different design philosophy. The Leica T is a solid brick of aluminium.

I was actually preparing my quick preview of the Leica T when I decided to do this comparison first. I thought it would be fun to compare the T to it’s closest rival (not really), the Fujifilm X-E2. Knowing that the Leica T was coming with the all new Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm lens, I asked Fujifilm Canada to send me the XF18-55mm for comparison. I knew this comparison wasn’t going to be a serious one, since those who want the T will buy the T, and the same for the Fujifilm X-series cameras. Although they may share basic specs (APS-C, mirrorless, kit 18-55(56)mm lens) each camera and brand is marketing to their own specific target consumer.

However, just for fun I did try some back to back shots between the two cameras (JPEG only) and some AF and exposure tests and see the differences. The Fuji focuses quicker and is more accurate, but not significantly so. In low light, both slow down significantly, but both still lock on confidently when there’s adequate contrast. With the new firmware update on the X-E2, the EVF was significantly better on the Fuji than the Leica in low light, although less noticeably better in bright daylight. The switching from EVF to LCD was also faster on the Fuji, at about 1/4 sec versus Leica’s 1 sec.

Fuji’s JPEGs are punchier and better right out of camera, although the Leica has better RAW images. As for lenses, the Leica is actually smaller and lighter than the Fuji, although Fuji does have a built in aperture ring and image stabilization. Curiously, the lens mount on the Leica is much larger than on the Fuji. In fact, it’s larger than the full-frame M-mount, and the same size as the Sony-Minolta A-mount! The question is, why? Some speculate a full-frame T in the near future. True or not, by the looks of the mount, it sure looks like it can accommodate a full-frame lens and sensor.

Both lenses have a similar design (telescoping zoom), although the manual focus feel on the Leica is more natural than on the Fuji. The lens hood on the Leica is also half metal (the part that attaches to the lens is metal) so it feels solid attaching on and off. Both lenses are made in Japan and are of high build quality and both produce great images. I’ve always said that the Fuji XF18-55mm is the best, current model kit lens available on any ILC system, and I still hold to that. However, the Leica Vario-Elmar-T lens is very, very capable. It’s not image stabilized, but all corrections to image quality is done optically (recent information from DPReview shows this not to be true. Check out article here) , where Fuji utilizes the now normal practice of correcting images both optically (multi-coated glass, aspherical lens elements) and digitally (lens optimization technology). I don’t have an issue with correcting in-camera, and I’ve been very happy with the results coming out of the Fuji X series lenses.

The Fuji lens has a half stop advantage at 18mm, and a full stop at the long end, although it doesn’t really make a difference shooting in daylight. Image quality? Both lenses are sharp wide open on either end of the zoom range, although I can’t help but feel the Leica is a tad sharper than the Fuji at equal aperture, although not much more.

How do the cameras feel in the hand? Very different (clearly visible in the pictures). The Leica is definitely heavier and more solid feeling, but also slippery. I wouldn’t shoot this camera without the strap, or at least invest in a half-case. It does feel really good in the hand though, but a completely different feel from the Fuji X-E2. The Fuji feels like camera in the hand, functional, ready to shoot. The Leica feels like a piece of art in the hand, that can also take great pictures! Is this a bad thing? It is if you’re a pro photographer or someone who wants utility over aesthetics. Where am I? Well, I care what a camera looks like (just like how I care how my car or bike looks like) but I still want it to function as a proper, image-making machine. As a street photographer, I would probably pick the black version to be more stealth, and I would never shoot without the strap attached for convenience and safety.

The Leica T shares the same sensor as the Leica X-Vario, which all of you know I simply love (check out my recent Tokyo-X-Vario project). Yes, it had a lot of quirks and outright frustrations, but nobody complained about the files coming out of the X-Vario… simply beautiful. The Leica T is the same. Decent JPEGs (very neutral colours), but shoot RAW, trust me. I compared the files against the M240, and although the resolution is lower, the image feel is exactly the same. How does the Fuji compare? The Fuji is also amazing, but in a different way. Fuji files have more punch, more colour, and great skin tones. It’s a little smudgy when it comes to fine details, but the overall aesthetic is very pleasing. As I’ve mentioned before, when it comes to Fuji and the X-trans sensor, I prefer shooting their JPEGs. The Leica is noisier at high ISO, but it has a grain-like quality. It has a Leica look that I really like, but remember, shoot RAW to get the most out of this camera. 

Fujifilm X-E2 w/XF18-55 @ 55mm. 1/680 F/4 @ ISO 400. JPEG.

Leica T w/18-56mm @ 56mm. 1/640th F/5.6 @ ISO 400. JPEG.

But let’s be honest here, there is no real comparison between the Leica T and any Fujifilm X series body or lens. It’s like comparing a Rolls Royce with a Lexus. I’m sure the Lexus can outperform the Rolls Royce in many areas, but those who are looking to buy a Rolls aren’t auditioning the Lexus as a second choice. Those who are lining up to buy the new Leica T want it not because it can outperform the Fuji X (or any APS-C format ILC system camera), but because of the status, style, and history associated with the Leica brand. They also know its a capable performer, without a doubt. Is this a bad thing? Of course not! We don’t buy something as personal and stylish as a digital camera for function only (at least I don’t). Even DSLR photographers often pick brands based on how the body and lenses look and feel (I remember in the film days, many hated the look of the Canon EOS 1, versus the dial-happy Nikon F bodies, even though the Canon often outperformed the Nikons).

The Leica T is a sexy camera, and I wouldn’t hesitate buying it (if I had the money!). The cool strap system, the slick rear smartphone-like LCD interface, the beautiful body lines, the solid aluminium body feel, the quirky looking pop-up flash and Cyclops-like EVF with built in GPS-tagging. People were coming up to me and asking me what it was. It looks really cool in person (I must admit I wasn’t impressed when I saw the first pictures), so don’t judge it until you see it and hold it in your hands. It looks and feels impressive.

Leica T with Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm @ 56mm. 100% crop. RAW converted. 1/2000th F/5.6 @ ISO400.

We can compare the Leica T with the Fujifilm X-E2 on a image-making level; but because of the large price divide, it’s not really a fair comparison. If I had to choose just on image quality only, I prefer the better detail (albeit more noise) and the smoother light transition quality of the Leica file (RAW) versus the Fujifilm X-E2. The lens quality is also higher with the Leica, again at a much higher price point. However, for shooting ease and speed, hands down the Fuji is superior. Price point, again the Fuji is the winner… but Leica buyers don’t care. The quality of presentation (cameras, lenses, packaging, accessories) is almost ridiculous, no different than buying a Rolex watch. Each accessory and item comes with its own cloth bag, each with the Leica logo on it. The lens comes with a really handy pouch as well, and even the EVF case comes with its own cloth pouch! You also get a full copy of Adobe Lightroom. That’s what you get when you buy a premium product. Is it worth it? If you can afford it, sure, why not.

Let’s go over the quick advantages of each camera and system:

Fujifilm X-E2
-mature system camera with smooth operation and function
-really good JPEGs. You can almost present images right out of camera!
-quick built-in EVF and fast switching between EVF and LCD screen
-ergonomic feel and good grip. Lots of quick access dials and buttons and custom features
-high quality and fast kit lens with built-in image stabilization with lots of lens options
-great price-performance on bodies and a wide range of high performance lenses

Leica T
-beautiful design, high quality build, solid feel.
-unique innovation (strap system, battery compartment, all new interface)
-huge 3.7″ screen with unique interface with lots of customization and double thumb dials.
-really nice images when shot in RAW. Free copy of Adobe Lightroom to edit images.
-A real Leica lens (open for debate) with high quality lens design and build (made in Japan).
-exclusive camera (if that’s your thing)

Thanks to both Fujifilm Canada and Leica Canada for allowing me to do this comparison. I know both manufacturers realize that neither are each other’s competition, but I’m sure were curious to see how their own cameras held up against the “competition”. My Leica T preview will be up soon with more pics and details, as well as my Fujinon XF23mm and XF56mm lens test on the Fujifilm X-E2 body.

Thanks for dropping by and happy shooting!



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