LEICA Q CAMERA REVIEW
The Leica Q Camera (Typ 116) is a jewel of Leica Camera as a compact, point, and shoot type camera featuring a 24MP full-frame sensor and a 28mm F1.7 Summilux stabilized the lens. Price wise, it is geared for a high-end market for people who put Leica quality before all else.
It is a full frame camera that has a built-in autofocus system and a stylish design to accompany a minimalistic look that has been long associated with Leica Camera’s uncompromising approach to photography camera design. In this respect, Leica Q Camera shares much of the traits that Leica M camera has including a high-resolution electronic viewfinder but incorporates other advanced features from Leica TL2 camera like the touchscreen.
In many ways, Leica Q Camera offers a package that is both traditional and modern, avant-garde maybe the term most suited to refer to this camera’s design. Its wide-angle lens is equally impressive with a maximum aperture setting of f/1.7. Our tests show that this camera can render remarkably sharp images even wide open but excels at f/4 – f/5.6 range for optimum results.
Leica Q Camera comes with a host of features that would delight traditional Leica M users as well as newcomers. For example, the manual focus option is one that will go well with those manual camera users who want to carry a point and shoot camera. On the dials, clear markings indicate an efficient layout of functions that are accessible with a touch of a button. I particularly like the dedicated dials for manual aperture and shutter speed control that make operating a Leica Q Camera a breeze.
Leica Q Camera Features
- 24MP full-frame CMOS sensor
- Fixed 28mm F1.7 ASPH lens with image stabilization
- ISO 100-50000
- 3.68M dot-equivalent LCOS electronic viewfinder
- 3″ fixed touchscreen LCD with 1.04 million dots
- 10 fps continuous shooting
- 1080/60p HD video capture
- Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity with dedicated Leica app
- Magnesium-alloy body
- Mechanical (leaf) and electronic shutter
Leica M camera’s popularity as a traditional manually operated camera may make you ponder why Leica Q Camera was ever introduced. There are many features that make Leica Q a valid option for Leica owners, for one 10 fps bursts, wi-fi connectivity, a video function that can capture 1080p video at 30 or 60 fps. All in all, it is a camera meant to serve a utilitarian function of photographing on the go without the need to carry lenses and gear.
On the lens side, Leica Summilux 28mm f/1.7 sounds good to the ear. For those who are not familiar, Leica Camera names their faster lenses with f/1.4 aperture Summilux and their slower f/2.o lenses Summicron. For example, the Leica M series lenses with Summilux line features f/1.4 aperture while the Leica Summicron line has f/2.0. Leica Q lens falls nicely in between the two numbers, closer to Summicron than Summilux but the sound of a Summilux is always very appealing to any Leica owner’s ear.
The body of a Leica Q has magnesium alloy with the combination of a top plate that is milled from a solid piece of aluminum. The buttons and dials are well engineered that resembles the feel of a Porsche Carrera’s interior dials, beautifully designed, ergonomically laid out. Speaking of design, Leica Q Camera was developed in-house by Leica Camera, Leica T has its design roots in another German car manufacturer, Audi.
Front of the camera has a leather-like surface that helps with gripping the camera firmly for accurate balance in hand.
When Leica camera engineers laid out the buttons of Leica Q Camera, they paid close attention to ergonomics resulting in an intuitive layout for smooth operation. For example, there is an on-off switch wrapped around the shutter button that also serves as a mode selection switch. All in all, there are three functions served within a single dial.
There is a selection mode for ‘S’ for Single shooting a la “take your time to compose your frame” approach to photography, then there is the ‘C’ for continuous shooting for those “street photography” fanatics who want to nail that candid shot of the unsuspecting bystanders. You will be pleasantly surprised to know that Leica Q can capture up to 10 frames without continuous autofocus which actually beats the purpose of burst capture but nevermind.
There is a dedicated movie record button right next to the shutter. Sorry, only 1080p, no 4K and no manual settings for video. It is all baked-in look served by Leica engineers, so you don’t have to fuss in your computer to adjust color or sound or anything else for that matter.
No manually operated camera would go down without a dedicated shutter dial, Leica Q does not fail to deliver on that front as well, there is one on the left of the control dial looking perfectly suitable to be used by anyone who tires of the auto functionality of the Leica Q Camera.
Touch Screen Focus
The popularity of touchscreen focus can never be underestimated since the boom of YouTubers who are all about touching their cameras’ screens to focus as they do on their smartphones. Leica Q offers face detection and “touch-to-focus” and “touch-to-shoot” options for that new generation of photographers.
But before you go out to buy one for your teenager or your newly graduated college avid photographer, Leica Q does not offer smartphone ease of operation when it comes to operating it from the touchscreen. For example, in playback mode, ‘tap-to-zoom’ is limited in zooming, “pinch-to-zoom” works very slow in comparison to a smartphone. In Live View, Touch AF and Touch AF + Release modes do function relatively smooth but at the speed of an Apple iPhone.
Now, you may want to turn off the touchscreen altogether but that is a “no-no,” and you will run into accidental activation of functions and playback if not careful which may end up draining Leica Q Camera’s battery faster. Overall, it is a “take and like” it proposition with the touchscreen where you can’t disable swipes, taps and pinching to navigate, and zoom during playback. The screen is best used in Touch AF and Touch AF + Release modes, the rest of the operations should be managed via button and screen combinations.
Menus, Leica cameras probably have the best navigation menus of any camera. This is why it is easy to use a Leica camera anytime you pick them up for the first time regardless of their age or design. There are only five pages in the menu, but there is no touch functionality enabled for menu navigation.
Optical image stabilization
Look at other camera manufacturers, especially the more recent mirrorless cameras; they feature in-body stabilizations that are often work in conjunction with the lens stabilization resulting in superior control over the blur and camera shake. Leica Q is not without one, and it has optical image stabilization which delivers about two and a half stop stabilization.
The real advantage of Leica Q Camera is that it features a wide angle lens that is more forgiving than faster lenses. This translates to being able to shoot at speeds of 1/8 of a second for relatively good results.
Leica camera engineers ensured that high ISO numbers of the Leica Q did not result in unusable images, for this, you need to turn on the upper ISO limiter. Recommended upper limit is 3200 ISO. If you push past 6400 ISO you better know Lightroom to correct for noise.
The Leica Q Camera comes with an app downloadable for Android and iOS devices. Hoorah !!! The pairing is easy, and you can transfer your JPEG images for instant upload to your Instagram account or Facebook.
The app for Leica Q is a good one, offering remote shooting control and an ability to change exposure, shooting mode, white balance and other settings. However, the most important feature is the ability to download images from Leica Q Camera to smartphones for instant viewing pleasure and online distribution.
Leica Q Camera is not a designed to be the do-all camera for videographers, far from it, it is designed to provide means to capture footage in High Definition (1080/30/60p). Optical image stabilization is not designed to give smooth footage to handheld operation. Instead, a gimbal would do better.
There is no touch-to-focus in video function which means you are not going to have focus transitions by touchscreen. The audio is not acceptable quality for Youtube presentation or otherwise, but if you are a grandparent running after your grandkids in the backyard, Leica Q would be a significant step up from a 16mm film camera.
The Lens – The Lens
Unlike other camera and lens manufacturers, Leica Camera likes to take the road less traveled. I call it the unorthodox approach, to illustrate this point, look at Leica SL zoom lenses, while the rest of the lens manufacturers produce 24-70mm lenses, Leica Camera gives you 30-90mm focal length. The others give you a faster f/2.8 aperture, and Leica Camera says “no, no, I give you variable f/2.8 – 4.
Leica Q Camera is no exception, the Sony Rx1 series offers a 35mm focal length which is considered most popular of the wide angle lenses, and Leica Q comes in 28mm. Is there a logical explanation for this, I doubt it. Instead of deciphering the logic, Leica Q should be accepted as a unique camera among the point and shoot full frame cameras.
Leica Camera knows about lens design; this is why Leica Q features a lens that has an aperture dial right on the camera. There is a selection for ‘A’ that stands for auto, but you are seduced to dial your own aperture if you have ever used a Leica M camera. But for those who want to shoot all automatic, but aperture and camera mode can be set to ‘A’ for fully automatic operation.
There is the option of using the camera in aperture priority mode by selecting the desired aperture or selecting the shutter speed via a top dial to use it in shutter priority mode can be engaged, intuitive, smart, and easy to use for anyone who understands the basics of photography.
Leica Q allows you to dial in your aperture in offers 1/3-stop increments all the way up to f/16. The sweet spot of this lens is somewhere between f/4 and f/5.6 for best sharpness. I prefer to shoot wide open at f/1.7 for the best bokeh results otherwise landscape, and general scenery shots can be dialed up to f/8 for best results.
What you are paying for is the lens when it comes to Leica Q. The lens has 11 elements in 9 groups with 3 aspherical elements to reduce distortion and purple fringing. The lens is fast and sharp revealing great detail and contrast when used accurately.
The Leica Q Camera leaves very little to the user when it comes to correcting for lens distortions and other issues. The camera incorporates a host of design features that automatically enhance corner sharpness, lens distortion even sharpness. This means that all the idiosyncrasies of a lens are almost ironed out for that perfect shot and for the most part that is what everybody wants, right?
Leica Q Camera appeals to a higher income market segment, some of these potential customers are keen on following the true and tried the path of manual focusing even with an auto-focus camera. For those, manual focus capabilities of Leica Q can be summed up as the best in the market of any mirrorless camera.
Forget Fujifilm’s X100, XT cameras, Leica Q delivers a manual focusing experience like no other camera in the market. The focusing ring has a mechanical operation, and hard stops with a smooth, buttery dampened feel mimicking the Leica M series best lenses. There is even a groove for your finger to gain support as you dial your Leica Q to your heart’s delight. There is also a locking mechanism that is well thought out for the otherwise menu selection required to engage manual focusing.
For those who long to line up frames to attain focus, Leica Q Camera offers an alternative solution of magnification and focus peaking a la state of the art mirrorless video cameras. Magnification also serves as an excellent back up if you are keen on keeping your aperture wide open but still want to nail accurate focus.
The third generation is Sony RX1R II which has 42MP, ISO range of 102,400 and a body weight that is about 130 grams lighter than Leica Q Camera. It is a whole different beast altogether. For my taste, I like to think of Leica Q as a product for a unique market segment and would not compare it to anything else.
The Leica Q Camera has a 49-point contrast-detect autofocus system with options for both single and continuous autofocus which delivers pleasing results in everyday circumstances. This is not a Canon autofocus system that has been in the market, tested and tried then refined. Leica Q is a relatively new camera that is dipping its feet in the waters of autofocus technology. What we will see are improvements, firmware updates, integration of improved autofocus function in the years to come and we will continue investing in their next version of cameras.
S for Single
Remember, you are a photographing for a reason, Leica Camera prefers you take your time to compose and think before pressing that shutter button. For this nothing beats the idea of photographing in a single mode where one click translates to one frame of image capture. As a recommendation, I suggest you start out with single mode before trying out continuous designed by the C.
To use Single mode properly, forget touchscreen instead use the viewfinder which delivers better results overall and helps you to track the subject more efficiently. This efficiency could be attributed to Leica Q’s contrast-detect-only focus system where single-point single autofocus works accurately.
The other important consideration for achieving good results with Leica Q autofocus is to know how the camera behaves under different lighting conditions. For example, in a low light scenario, you need to relay more on your eyes then be entirely dependent on autofocus to deliver the best results because contrast-based autofocus works best in adequately lit situations. Just make sure you take your time to ensure that the camera has attained proper autofocus by half-pressing the shutter then timing for the perfect shot.
Leica Q Camera offers face detection but only works if the subject is facing the camera which makes the camera hunt for focus if the subject is not staring into the camera. It is best to use your eyes and common sense to know the limitations of the camera and photograph accordingly.
Macro photography is possible with Leica Q Camera, just set the camera into the Macro mode and you can capture insects, flowers, objects with minute details for spellbinding results. The camera automatically switches to f/2.8 for the widest aperture while the best results are achieved at higher f stops. For those who like to measure the distance from the camera to the object, there is even the depth scale.
Ahaa… For the delight of those who love point and shoot cameras with a zoom lens, Leica Q has the answer with the “digital frame selector.” This feature means you no longer have to import your photos to Lightroom and crop to your heart’s content instead you choose 35mm or 50mm, losing resolution but achieving the “desired” focal length.
HOW TO USE LEICA Q FOR BEST RESULTS
JPEG vs. RAW
The Leica Q is a 24MP camera that delivers excellent results in RAW but not JPG. Let me explain this, take a JPG image from Leica Q and import it to your Lightroom, the first thing you will notice is the desaturated “look” it has which always needs tweaking, the skin tones are neutral but look bland without the striking image you would expect straight out of the Leica camera.
If you shoot RAW/DNG then you have the flexibility to mold the image to presentable photograph. A single DNG file is 43.1MB which means you have plenty of room to adjust it in the studio. Yes, you will need to do some tweaking in Lightroom, starting with denoising if you have shot the image above 1600 ISO then add some saturation, increase the contrast. Voila! You will have a fantastic image that far exceeds what Fuji can do with its smaller sensor.
For those who want to throw up their hands in protest, yes, Leica Q Camera has built-in noise reduction, but if you are genuinely after a photograph that stands out from the rest, you will need to work on that DNG file. Remember patterned fabrics; lines may be subjected to moiré issues since Leica Q does not have any Anti-alias filter.
When you are photographing with Leica Q, you will achieve best results if you stick to camera’s native ISO which is set at 100. This means your photographs will look best outdoor during daylight hours. When the lighting conditions deteriorate, open the iris to the maximum aperture to allow maximum light which means you will need to set your aperture to f/1.7.
In low light, wide open aperture and lowest possible shutter speed should be the aim before pushing the ISO numbers higher. It is best to capture images as close to the correct exposure and work the images in Lightroom.
Choosing the Right Memory Card
Leica Q Camera best operates with a high-performance card like the Lexar Professional SDXC UHS-II Speed Class 3.
Leica Q can shoot 10 frames per second, but the buffer fills up at 12 which means you only get about a second of fast shooting. Remember to take into consideration that best results are achieved using the camera prudently within its limitations.
Leica Q will last you a full day if you are taking your time to select what you are photographing but if you are aiming to capture weddings, you will need extra batteries.
Leica Q is a great street photographer camera due to its leaf shutter that operates near silent. I would recommend it to anyone who is content with using a single focal length. For me, it serves as an ideal travel camera because of its wide-angle lens that helps me to capture details in churches, piazzas, buildings.
On the portrait side, you will need to get close, and I mean quiet close to your subject to get that wonderfully intimate photograph. If you do, you are ahead of all the rest who shoot with zoom lenses because there is a sense of intimacy that a wide angle lens provides that is hard to match with longer focal lengths.
If you are someone who does not want to dabble into manual focusing with Leica M cameras, Leica Q is your camera to buy. It is simple, easy to operate and offers the same image quality as a Leica M camera. So, unless you are one who likes to line up frames to focus and risk capturing that perfect moment in time, Leica Q will serve you for years to come.
Professionals can carry this camera as a backup or as a compact camera when the situations call for it. Personally, I prefer to take my Leica Q Camera when I know a single focal length would be suitable to achieve the results that I am after. Leica Q Camera holds its value well, and you will be pleasantly surprised to own it as you become familiar with using it.
Where to buy your Leica Q Camera
Leica Q Camera can be purchased at a great value by clicking the links below, plus, other Leica cameras that are on sale can be found by following these links.
For my upcoming 2018 photography workshops, here are the links
I hope you have enjoyed this article.
Camera Review Team