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Hands-on with the hand-polished Leica T camera

Leica’s new T-System digital camera may have one of the most tedious ads ever made, but the camera’s looks are far from boring.

The German manufacturer’s first system camera with built-in Wi-Fi is very much a piece of eye candy. It starts shipping this month, and its reverse-psychology promo video has been generating buzz.

Leica has described its video for the T-System as perhaps “the most boring ad ever made.”

It shows a Leica technician polishing the camera’s aluminum body, scrutinizing it and then polishing it again. For nearly 45 minutes.

Leica is pushing its “obsessive craftsmanship” with the T cameras, which begin as a solid block of aluminum before being milled and then buffed to a sparkling silver or anodized black.

The T-System’s sleek, modern looks, which were conceived by Audi, are enough to lure even casual photographers. But what’s it like to handle?

The aluminum frame gives the T a remarkably solid feel even though it weighs only 384 grams, nearly half that of the tank-like Leica M, a full-frame, retro-styled digital rangefinder released in 2012.

Beyond the chassis, the most evident feature of the T is its lack of a viewfinder, a hallmark of Leica rangefinders, but something the camera tries to make up for with its 3.7-inch TFT touchscreen LCD on the back. There’s also an optional Visoflex electronic viewfinder that has a small, 2.4-million dot display inside and integrated GPS.

The former is a far more natural way to frame photos than peering at a tiny screen. The large display is not as responsive as the touchscreen on a Google Nexus 5, for instance, but it does a decent job of providing easy access to menus and photo playback. It’s also simple to use and makes up for a lack of dedicated buttons.

Users can easily adjust exposure settings such as shutter speed with the twin control dials on the top plate right beside the shutter button.

Pushing that button produces a convincingly mechanical-style clicking sound as the T records with its 16.5-megapixel APS-C sensor, which has an ISO range of 100 to 12500. While the autofocus can be a little slow depending on shooting conditions, the images live up to the sharpness users expect from the venerable brand.

The camera has built-in Wi-Fi, which lets users transfer images from the internal 16 GB memory, so the SD card slot isn’t really needed for casual shooting. It can also be remote-controlled via smartphone and a Leica app.

As a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, the T was announced with two lenses sold separately, an 18-56 millimeter F3.5-5.6 zoom lens, and a 23-mm F2 prime lens. Switching them out is a snap, and the mount can be fitted with an adaptor for Leica’s M-mount lenses.

While the lenses are made in Japan, the body itself is made in Germany, as the wording below the T’s touchscreen proclaims.

Evaluating the Leica T inevitably comes down to whether it’s worth the suggested retail price of US$1,850 for the body alone, with each lens costing around as much.

The back-to-basics, sleek styling is its own fashion statement, but one that may not generate too many new converts to the brand due to the price. As a thoroughly non-retro Leica, however, the T is a unique combination of style and performance that will be a touchstone for future models.

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