Technically speaking, Leica has been producing mirrorless cameras before the term was coined, as its legendary rangefinders do not have the reflex mirrors found in DSLRs.
But the manual range-finding focusing mechanism that Leica cameras uses to achieve a sharp focus is a world apart from the image sensor that modern mirrorless cameras use for contrast autofocusing.
Now, Leica has made its first foray into the expanding mirrorless camera market with the new Leica-T system. The Leica T (Typ 701) represents the system's first camera.
The T's design is clean and minimalist. The chassis is carved from a single block of aluminium, polished and anodised in either black or silver.
The T looks like a work of art but feels like a solid sturdy workhorse. Its body is smooth but not slippery. On the right side is a nice bulge that acts as a comfortable grip.
The camera handles superbly. On the top are two command dials sitting close to where your thumb will rest at the rear. In front of them, you will find the shutter release, power lever switch and a dedicated video-recording button. They are the only buttons you will find on the T.
The back is dominated by a 3.7-inch touchscreen display. It handles all changes of shooting modes. Although I would have loved a Mode dial, it would have spoilt the look of the camera.
Thankfully, the menu interface is quite intuitive, with big icons that make it easy to avoid mistakes. It takes two taps to change shooting modes and you can move your favourite settings to the front panel. You can even lock the touchscreen by swiping down from the top of the interface's right sidebar.
When in a shooting mode, the physical dials take over the changing of settings. In Aperture-Priority mode, the left command dial controls the ISO; the right command dial controls the aperture. In Manual mode, the left command dial adjusts the aperture and the right command dial changes the shutter speed. This arrangement allows for intuitive and speedy setting changes.
Personally, I still prefer to use a viewfinder for composing photos. Leica offers a new electronic viewfinder (EVF) Visoflex ($765) to insert into the T's hot shoe.
Oldies will remember Visoflex as an add-on SLR-like viewfinder for Leica's M-series rangefinder models. The revamped Visoflex is a 2.36 million-dot EVF with a GPS module for geotagging. It is also tiltable up to 90 degrees.
When your eye nears the Visoflex, it switches on automatically and the display is turned off. But there is no way to turn off the display permanently and use the Visoflex exclusively.