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The perfect, simple digital camera

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Mike Johnston at TheOnlinePhotographer blog has been musing about the perfect 'simple' digital camera again, and I can't help thinking that a Leica T(L/2) fits his description perfectly - if only he (and his readers) knew it.

He acknowledges that Leica is the only camera company embracing photographic simplicity, but the spectre of Leica prices keeps coming back - both in the blog posts and the comments - and the only cameras they seem to acknowledge are the M-series.

To me, the menu system in the Leica T is the most intuitive and minimal interface that's possible in an advanced digital camera - especially the way that each user can choose their own subset of visible menu items: I have only 4 items in that menu, and regularly only use one of them (the metering type).

Nowadays the T can be bought for less than a Fuji XE3. You can even pair it with an adapter for non-Leica manual lenses (ie: Olympus OM). Couldn't be simpler or cheaper.

Incidentally, one of the points being missed in a lot of the comments on TOP's site is the scenario where the user changes a setting on a camera unintentionally. A lot of the commenters say it's easy to just ignore menus and settings they don't understand. But this was one of the problems I persistently had with my X100 - I'd pick it up after a long hiatus and somehow an exposure or other setting had been inadvertently changed, and it would first take me a while to notice, and then usually a long time to fix (hunting through tens of menus). And I'm an app developer, so used to device complexity.

The T has solved all those problems perfectly.

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I had to laugh when I read the article and its comments.

One guy was complaining about the Olympus E-M1 ... well, I happen to have the same camera. It is indeed a whirligig of features and customization potential with over 180 different menu options to pick from, many of which work in different ways in combination. But once set up, it is also a shockingly pointed, simple camera to get exactly what you want out of because of all that customization capability. The sword cuts both ways.

I don't use it much anymore. My photography has changed in directions that don't need all the feature support of such cameras.

The Leica M-D, even moreso than the M10-D, is the ultimate in simple digital cameras ... It's just an M7 with a digital sensor in it. There are no options beyond setting the ISO (no AutoISO), the f/stop and exposure time, and focusing. Oh, you can set whether you want single shot, continuous sequence, or self timer, but that's trivial and ignorable. You can also set an EV compensation factor for use with aperture priority mode, which I do use but is also trivial and ignorable. It only stores raw files, no way to see them til later, etc, no JPEG settings or LCD or other things to think about. There are no other options, so there's nothing to distract or complicate things. But the M-D, like the M60 before it, was a limited run camera and is pretty expensive, an obstacle for a lot of people. 

Dropping down a price grade, I agree that the T/TL/etc can be pretty simple. I thought about buying one when they were first announced. What held me back was that I'd had the Ricoh GXR with M-mount module, which produced great photos and could be set up to operate very simply and fluidly, but I always needed to complicate/enlarge the camera with a viewfinder of some sort because I prefer to use an eye level viewfinder most of the time. That meant I always had their EVF on it, or an optical finder, which made it less handy (it just doesn't slide in and out of a large pocket or bag quite so effortlessly). Between that and the touch interface, I just didn't go for it. 

A few years later, with an SL and a couple other cameras in the middle too, I sold off the SL and bought a CL body to use for macro and other niche uses beside the M-D. And here I find the simplicity that I was looking for: EVF is built in and really good quality, using my M and R lenses on it is a piece of cake, there are few enough menu settings that I learned it and had everything well defined within a day; and with fw2.0 installed, a long press on the left dial's button locks everything electronic other than the shutter release so I don't bump settings into another state inadvertently. I often fit the Pentax-L 43 or Elmarit-R 28 lens, set ISO 320, lock everything, and go shooting just like I do with the M-D—no options at all, just focus, set exposure (usually with aperture priority AE and the half-press shutter button AE-Lock), release shutter. I even turn the LCD completely off and use the EVF exclusively. And it's handy and easy to grab and shoot with, nothing to catch on bag or pocket. It also has enough features for when if I want to take advantage of more automation stuff, it is easy to set up for it and remember how to use it. 

The CL solves the issues of complexification for me so well that it makes me question whether I really need the M-D, that's how simple and versatile it is. 

So, do I agree with Mike? In some ways, yes. The churn of digital cameras' adolescence was really off-putting, even to me, and the elaborate layering of more features, more buttons, more decisions to make when shooting, when thinking of shooting, when framing a particular shot simply became "not fun." But then there's the camp of folks who have the compartmentalization to ignore all that they don't need to use and just get on with it, and I'm partially in that camp too because I appreciate the additional capabilities for those less frequent moments when I might actually need them. 

There can be simple cameras, and complex cameras, and simple usages, and complex usages. There is no single, simple solution to the whole picture ... :D


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I really love the CL, but I also love the T. They are different, but excellent=. 

Actually a T with a integrated EVF and a joystick can be excellent. Keep the video button and bring back the pop-up flash

Or even better a CL with a bigger screen maybe. No need for the three extra large buttons. Replace the d-pad with a joystick. And bring back the video button !

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On 3/26/2019 at 8:53 AM, Bill W said:

I did not think much about the CL when it came out but now I own two of them....!

Had an M9 about 10 years ago. Sold out of it after a few years just keeping a couple of lenses that started out with my M6. Sony A7R2 is what I imagined to be my "travel camera" but even as small as it was, by the time I had kitted it out with lenses, it was a large and too heavy bag. Bought a used Q,  3 years after its intro. Really love that one. I didn't think much of the CL either, then I picked up a used CL w/18-56 as a companion to the Q--and I really love the CL. In close quarters I use just the Q, no urge to use the CL. CL is definitely my walk around outdoor camera with the zoom. Added a couple primes for lower light situations but the truth is I really like the 18-56 and rarely find a reason to go lens changing outdoors provided I have enough light. I even bought an M adapter L for my two M lenses but that was probably unnecessary. Doing the whole "Marie Kondo" routine to my Sony camera shelf and assorted odds and ends and it feels pretty damn good.


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