Tiny New Cameras with Big Sensors: The Leica T vs. Sony's A6000
What would you do if you were running a camera company now?
I mean, the writing is on the wall. Camera sales are plummeting. Everybody takes photos with phones now. Who on earth would buy a separate machine just for taking pictures?
Given this tectonic shift, the camera companies are doing exactly what you’d probably do if you were CEO:
1. Emphasizing things a real camera can do, that a phone can’t.
Their cameras have huge optical zooms, incredible low-light capabilities, interchangeable lenses, and they make sharp pictures with beautifully blurry backgrounds.
2. Adding wireless.
Who wants to use a cable to transfer photos? With wireless, you can use your phone to post or transmit a photo that you’ve just taken with your camera.
3. Making really good cameras that are smaller.
Sony, in particular, has attacked this item with a vengeance. It has recognized that the Holy Grail is a big sensor inside, to absorb more light and produce better photos, but a small body outside, to make the camera easier to carry. (Read my column here to understand better why sensor size matters and about Sony’s push.)
Lately, the other camera companies have been following Sony’s lead, with various degrees of enthusiasm and success.
Two of the latest and most delicious cameras in this category — mirrorless, compact, interchangeable-lens — come from Leica and, again, Sony. They have big, semi-pro-sized sensors (technically, APS-C sized) that have been ingeniously engineered to fit into coat-pocketable bodies.
Herewith: a review of the Leica T-System and the Sony A6000. A snapshot, in other words, of the state of the art.
Leica has a long history of photographic excellence — and nosebleed prices. Last year, for example, it offered a camera that shoots entirely in black and white. For $8,000. You all go ahead.
Its latest model, the Leica T (Type 701), is a relative bargain at $1,850, although that’s just for the body. Most photographers prefer to attach a lens, too; your options are a non-zooming, 23 mm, f/2.0 lens for $1,950 or a 3X zoom (18-56 mm, with an unimpressive f/3.5 to f/5.6 aperture) for $1,750. Yes, that’s right: The lens costs as much as the camera. You’re out at least $3,600 before you can take your very first shot.
An adapter is available, too ($400), that lets you attach existing Leica lenses; of course, then you’re losing much of the advantage of having a small camera.
But, man, it’s delicious. No other camera has ever looked or felt like this one. It was designed by Audi. Its body is carved from a single block of aluminum, then hand-buffed and finished in black or silver. (If you’ve got 45 minutes to kill, you might enjoy watching this YouTube video of the hand polishing in action.) I think unicorns breathe on it before it’s put in the box.
Every moving part — the rubber neck-strap attachments, the on-off switch, the pop-out flash, the battery-eject system — has the solid, hushed feel of a Lexus car door.