A week with Leica's T, the most beautiful mirrorless camera money can buy

Leica's cameras have always been good-looking, and they've always been expensive. You might expect the German camera maker's most visually stunning model yet to cost more than a pretty penny, and it does, but at $1,850 (body only), it's also one of the company's most affordable interchangeable-lens cameras to date. The Leica T, machined from a single block of aluminum and hand-polished for 45 minutes, is not going to be produced by the millions and marketed around the world. And considering the nearly $2,000 you'll pay for each of the camera's brand-new lenses, you can definitely invest in a more capable camera system for less. But the T is a work of art, and people will pay ridiculous sums for a desirable piece. This one just also happens to take pictures.

Shooting with the Leica T was quite an experience. It's not inconspicuous -- everyone from partygoers to construction workers noticed the camera every few minutes. Tourists stopped walking so I could finish taking a picture. One gentleman nearly tripped trying to duck below my subject. It's clear that to passersby, I was no longer just another schlub taking pictures. I was a photographer. The T will definitely attract attention, making it either the best or worst camera for street photography on the market, depending on what you're going for.

It's clear that to passersby, I was no longer just another schlub taking pictures. I was a photographer.

One Leica rep I spoke to envisions the T being a hit with design-oriented professionals. Architects may use it to photograph their buildings, or an advertising executive could use it for casual shots while filming a campaign. Professional photographers could carry the T, too -- it'll certainly fit in at a high-end destination wedding -- and for consumers that have the cash to spare, it's without a doubt one of the most desirable mirrorless cameras you can buy.

Clearly, Leica's primary focus is on the T's physical design, but its capture capabilities have not been overlooked. There's a 16.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor -- the same size you'll find in many other mirrorless cameras, like Fujifilm's X-T1 (another pricey model) or Sony's Alpha 6000. It can shoot 1080p video at 30 frames per second and still photos at 5 fps (for up to 12 consecutive frames). Physical controls are limited to a power toggle, shutter release and two dials on the top, so you'll use the 3.7-inch 1.3-million-dot touchscreen to frame shots and control nearly all of the camera's settings.

The screen is relatively bright (it adjusts automatically based on ambient light), but limited viewing angles make it difficult to use in sunlight. Fortunately, you can add on an electronic viewfinder, but that accessory will run you a whopping $600. Part of Leica's justification for the shocking price tag is that the EVF includes an integrated GPS module (the T's all-aluminum housing wouldn't make it easy to find a signal otherwise), but WiFi connectivity is integrated within the body. Compared to other mirrorless cameras, image quality is excellent. Details were sharp; exposures were typically spot-on; and the T focused quickly. Again, glare can definitely be an issue in bright daylight, so you'll want to add on the EVF in order to confirm settings and verify proper exposure when shooting outdoors.

I tested the camera with the versatile 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 Vario-Elmar-T lens. Normally, you'd receive such a lens as part of a kit, included in a camera's price tag. Leica's equivalent, however, costs $1,750 -- almost as much as the T body itself. Granted, that lens is of much higher quality than its "free" counterparts from Samsung or Sony, but Leica's glass pushes the camera out of reach for many consumers. You'll probably also want to add on the 23mm f/2 optic, which retails for $1,950, or the $395 adapter you'll need to use Leica M-mount lenses with the T. Of course, more lenses are coming later this year -- eventually, you could expect to spend $10,000 or more to build out a complete collection.

Should you buy the Leica T? That's tough to say. It's an absolutely gorgeous camera that shoots great photos, but it costs a ton, and skimps on features that many pros need, like 1080/60p video, audio inputs and super-fast consecutive-shooting speeds. And while I love the clean design, the lack of physical controls is absolutely a dealbreaker for serious photographers. If you're shooting outside on a sunny day, the touchscreen and its minimalist interface can really throw a wrench in your workflow. For casual users with (very) deep pockets, though, the T is a great option. It looks fantastic; it's a ton of fun to use; and it'll garner more attention than a fancy handbag or a piece of flashy jewelry. For what Leica set out to create, the T is definitely a winner.