Leica Q (Typ 116) Review

Since Sony’s first compact camera with a 35mm sensor was a big success, it was just a matter of time before other manufacturers would join the party. It took them a while, but finally here it is, the first real competitor and it’s a Leica.

A couple of days before the official announcement it was already pretty clear what the camera would look like and of course most of the specs had been leaked as well. The only thing we had no clue about was the price and because the RX-1 was over 3000€ when it came out and that even didn’t include the external viewfinder, which is an almost 500€ accessory, I expected the price tag to be 5000€ or even more.

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All words written here are reflecting my opinion only and that might not fit your style of shooting, please keep that in mind. Of course, I am going to try to be as objective as possible. All images have been processed in Lightroom CC.

Build Quality And Exterior Design

What do you expect, if you’re buying a camera that costs 4000€? Right, you want something that is beautifully put together and built like a tank, nothing more and nothing less. Well, the Leica Q even exceeded my already high expectations. If you hold it next to other fairly well built cameras like an Olympus E-M1 or a Fuji X100, you will notice that there is a substantial difference in build quality. All the dials and buttons have a nice resistance to it and are a joy to use. First I was skeptical about the size of the four-way controller on the back, but after using it a lot, I must admit that it is very usable and the size is almost perfect.

The 28mm Summilux is no slouch either. The aperture ring is a joy to use and is very well balanced in terms of power you’ll need to turn it. To put it into Automatic Mode, you’ll need to push a little harder, that’s very well thought trough and will prevent you from hitting the „A“ setting by accident.

The lens is basically a M-Mount lens with autofocus, so the focus ring is locked as long as you’re in AF-mode, but on the focusing tab there is a little knob and when you press it, you’ll be able to focus manually. The focus ring turns very smoothly and is not focus by wire operated. A very neat addition is the focusing tab, which makes it very easy to guess focus. It is also possible to put the lens into Macro Mode, which lets you focus down to 17cm. To get there, just turn the dial with Macro written on it and you are good to go. If you do so, the focusing scale will change automatically, which is a very neat feature.

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1/2000, f/2.8, ISO 100, Macro Mode

In terms of design, the Leica Q looks to kill. It is rather minimalistic, but very functional at the same time. It seems like they have done their homework pretty well. On the back of the camera there is this small build in thumbs-rest, which can’t compensate for a proper grip, but it’s obvious why they went this route instead of ruining the aesthetics by adding a big and chunky grip. Even though it doesn’t look that useful it actually is, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable using the Leica Q without a strap running around the streets for a couple of hours or a whole day.

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Autofocus

The Q is the first digital Leica full frame camera that features autofocus. At first I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after using it for almost 11 weeks now I can definitely say that I am really impressed. I used it for street shooting, portraiture  and a couple of weddings and most of the time the AF was fast and spot on. Even in dimly lit scenes the autofocus is pretty reliable. I took it to a Hardcore/Punk Show and to realize a shutter speed of 1/125 I had to bump the ISO up to 12.500 and even under these demanding conditions the autofocus worked pretty well. Well done Leica!

One thing I didn’t try out was continuous AF, since I barely need it.

Image Quality

Judging the image quality of a camera is usually done by taking a look at the sensor only, but since the lens is not interchangeable you have to look at both, the sensor and the lens. That being said the 28mm Summilux is gorgeous and is able to deliver crazy sharp results even wide open. The corner performance is pretty good at f/1.7 and it gets super sharp when stopped down slightly. Contrast is also pretty impressive right from the maximum aperture. Since I am a sucker for nice bokeh, sharpness is not the most important thing for me. Luckily the Leica Q delivers in both departments. Especially for a 28mm lens the bokeh is damn good and when you are close enough it is very easy to separate your subject from the background.

In terms of high ISO performance, the Leica Q is a very decent performer. Up to ISO 6400 noise is really well controlled and if you get the exposure right, it is even usable up to ISO 25.000. The only issue is a noticeable banding that is easily visible in the shadow area of an image shot at ISOs above 6400. The same thing will happen if you push the RAW files too much. I have no idea who is manufacturing the sensors for Leica, but it´s obviously not made by Sony. I think Leica would be better off buying the sensors from Sony, therefore the dynamic range and high ISO performance would be even better and banding wouldn’t be an issue at all.

Other than that I am pretty happy with the image quality the Q is giving me. But that is something a camera at this price point should be able to deliver.

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1/125, f/1.7, ISO 12500

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1/100, f/1.7, ISO 12500

Viewfinder

The viewfinder is gorgeous, it is high res and is reproducing colors very naturally. The eye cup doesn’t seem to be very useful in very bright environments but it actually is. The only complaint I have is the low refresh rate under dimly lit conditions, but I guess this is more due to a lack of processing power.

Shooting Flash

The Leica Q has no internal flash, so you will need to bring an external one in case you wanna use it. Thanks to the leaf shutter the camera will give you sync speeds up to 1/2000 very easily. That is awesome and will allow you to underexpose the ambient light by just bumping the shutter speed without losing flash power at all. I am mainly using it in combination with my Profoto B2 and I love it.

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1/1000, f/1.7, ISO 100, 3EV ND

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1/2000, f/1.7, ISO 100

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1/1000, f/1.7, ISO 100

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1/1000, f/1.7, ISO 100

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1/250, f/10, ISO 100

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1/1000, f/4, ISO 100

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1/1000, f/10, ISO 100

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1/15, f/5, ISO 100

Usability

For me personally the Leica Q is an all purpose weapon. A lot of people were complaining about the focal length which seems to limit the usability of the camera. I wasn`t so sure about it as well. Eventually after using it for a while, I am absolutely loving it. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, since I always loved 24/35mm lenses and the Q`s 28mm is obviously a perfect compromise in between.

Usually it is always a lot of fun to use newly purchased equipment but this effect will eventually wear of pretty quickly. Not in this case! I used the Q almost every day since release and I am still stocked about it.

My main use for the Leica Q is reportage, street photography, environmental portraiture and even concerts. And since this is more than 90% of what I shoot anyways, it is obvious why I like it so much.

Even though the Q has a lot of modern features, especially for being a Leica, the shooting experience is very simple. The layout of the camera is very well thought through and most people should be able to simply pick it up and use it without studying the users guide at all.

The menu is straight forward for the most part and I barely need to dive into it. For often used functions there is a dial or a dedicated button and customizable ones are also available.

 

Things I love about the Leica Q

  • Superb image quality
  • Ease of use, especially the simplicity of the camera
  • Exposure compensation in manual mode possible, very useful with ISO on auto
  • The shutter is super quiet
  • Electronic Shutter up to 1/16000 enables shooting wide open even in very bright conditions without ND filters
  • Image stabilizer, technically not as advanced as the one you would find in a modern Olympus camera, but it gets the job done
  • Syncing flash up to 1/2000
  • Very reliable and fast AF performance
  • Additional Macro-Mode allows fairly good close up shooting
  • Elegant and timeless design
  • Build quality

Things to improve

  • In manual focus you’re only able to magnify the centre of the image. This makes no sense at all and should be addressed by a firmware update
  • ISO values are only available in full stops, this is not case when using Auto-ISO. This is not a major issue, but it would be nice to have at least the option to chose the ISO in smaller increments. Again this could be easily fixed by a new firmware
  • There is no option for shooting DNG only. I don`t JPEG files and RAW+JPEG gives you a file size of almost 50MB per image. Leica please fix this via firmware.
  • The Q can shoot up to 10 frames/s but the buffer fills up pretty quick and it takes ages to clear it. Even in single shot mode the buffer can become a problem. On a wedding I was shooting 1-2 pictures every second and after 10-15 seconds I wasn’t able to take further shots until the buffer had cleared up. This is not an issue of the memory card, since I always use the fasted ones available.
  • My biggest complaint about the Leica Q is the diopter knob which can be turned accidentally very easily. This happens to me all the time and it can be really annoying.
  • Video mode is almost useless since there is no full manual control.

 

More Image Samples:

Since the Leica Q is perfectly suited for street photography, here are some images taken on a short trip to Lisbon.

Leica_Q_Review1Leica_Q_Review26Leica_Q_Review25Leica_Q_Review27Leica_Q_Review24Leica_Q_Review23Leica_Q_Review22Leica_Q_Review21Leica_Q_Review20Leica_Q_Review19Leica_Q_Review18Leica_Q_Review17Leica_Q_Review16Leica_Q_Review15Leica_Q_Review14Leica_Q_Review13Leica_Q_Review12Leica_Q_Review11Leica_Q_Review10Leica_Q_Review9Leica_Q_Review8Leica_Q_Review7Leica_Q_Review6Leica_Q_Review5Leica_Q_Review4Leica_Q_Review3Leica_Q_Review2

 

 

If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I will try to answer them as soon as possible. And of course smack the like button and follow me on facebook!

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30 Kommentare
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  • GeorgeAugust 28, 2015 - 12:01

    hi.

    After reading this ,I do not understand what is so special about this Leica .I must say I am not impressed with any of Leica’s products.

    Leica have been a great name of the film and past photography.However ,retro styling ,overpricing ,and hype isn’t my thing.
    Then ,it’s “In terms of high ISO performance, the Leica Q is a very decent performer” .very decent performer for 4000 euros?

    After that is the build quality.Comparing this to the Olympus semms really like a bad idea ,because ,I have seen Olympus in the shower ,resisting water for 15 minutes….. Ming tein a Pro photographer has done this test…

    I would love to see Leica in the shower for 15minutes… because despite personal opinion about build quality ,water testing ,IS water testing.

    Now , DPReview says that Olympus from March 5th 2015 to August 3rd 2015 has filed 3 patents … thats what I call innovation.Leica’s offering is ,well ,expensive and ,there is really strong competion including Sony’s A7RII, with its 40mp full frame sensor.Also there is an adapter for Canon’s FF lens with autofocus ,for use with A7RII.Users saying it working nicely….so , if someone is considering a FF body ,Sony is a suggestion that someone shouldn’t bypass.and sony ,as you mentioned makes great image sensors.

    I do understand the Leica name charm , and i also appreciate the very high quality lenses too.Then again Olympus also makes great lenses, and so does Carl Zeiss for Sony.

    In my opinion , a camera is a photographic tool.Regardless of sensor size ,styling ,lense range and quality ,it’s function is to TAKE GREAT PICTURES.Someone might argue that for 4000 euros one might purchase a Sony A5000 ,and buy 2 or 3 Carl Zeiss lens ,thus making a wire range purpose photographic system.Same system could be purchased with the “lesser built quality” OMD.
    and I strongly believe that both systems would produce great pictures .Plus an Olympus user doesn’t worries too much about sensor dust 😀 (*I use sony and Olympus)

    regards

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    • RobinAugust 28, 2015 - 13:27

      Hi George! First of all, thank you for your comment! You are right, a camera is basically a photographic tool. I am professional photographer and I have no brand affiliation or whatsoever.
      Currently I am using Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and Leica cameras and I am really happy with the results I am getting.

      My E-M1 has weather sealing, but I would never take it into the shower, why would I?

      I bought the Olympus almost two years ago and it was 1500€ without a lens. A high quality one like the one you find on the Q would be really expensive even for the m43 system and if you also take the cost of the far bigger sensor into the calculation, the Leica Q isn’t that much more expensive.

      In terms of build quality the Leica Q is better despite the lack of weather sealing. But that doesn’t mean that the E-M1 isn’t high quality as well.

      If you are on a budget, then get the A7 and throw a FE 28/2 on it. This will set you back 1500€ and will give you pretty good results. But would it be a similar shooting experience? Of course not!
      Sometimes it is not only about the images, but also the way you get to the results you want.

      For street shooting the Leica Q is the perfect tool for me. The dead silent shutter and the simplicity of the camera are really tough to beat.

      The A7RII is a nice camera too, but I don’t need all of it’s features. I have no canon lenses and I don’t need the sophisticated AF system nor the internal 4K video. For that and high ISO I have my A7s and in case I need high res files, I just take the A7r and I am good to go. 😉

      If I had to pick just one camera, I would probably go for the A7RII.

      The bottom line is, be happy with what you’ve got and don’t judge other people by the choices they make. In the end we all benefit of the product variety that is available and otherwise progress wouldn’t be possible. Just in case you don’t know, Leica invented the autofocus system a couple of decades ago.

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  • Marcelo StefaniAugust 29, 2015 - 03:59

    Hi, Robin
    Like you, my point is street photography.
    Like you, I’ve used Leica M, Oly and Sony.
    And I’m waiting for my Leica Q!
    When I read the specs, I realized immediately: This is THE camera for me! For my street photography!
    I see many people who do not know how to use a 28mm in the streets.
    You know!
    Congratulations for this wise and balanced review.
    And for your nice pictures!
    You confirmed everything I imagined!

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    • RobinAugust 30, 2015 - 19:24

      Thank you Marcelo! Hope you don’t have to wait too long for your Q to arrive! 🙂

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  • StefanAugust 31, 2015 - 18:07

    Hallo Robin,
    Interessantes Review und wunderschöne Fotos. Vor allem die Street Fotos sind absolute Klasse 🙂
    Ich habe allerdings noch zwei Fragen 😉 zum einen würde mich interessieren, warum Du die Möglichkeit des “beschneidens” auf 35 und 50mm nicht erwähnt hast ( sollte ich es überlesen haben,sorry 😉 ) und ob die Street Fotos so aus der Q rausgekommen sind, oder ob Du hier noch bearbeitet hast.

    Viele Grüße aus Bayern
    Stefan

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    • RobinSeptember 1, 2015 - 10:58

      Hallo Stefan, freut mich, dass dir meine Arbeiten gefallen! Die Crop-Modi sind weder originell, noch bringen sie einen echten Vorteil. Falls ich mal ein Bild beschneiden möchte, dann mache ich das lieber später am PC. Die gezeigten Fotos wurden alle in Lightroom CC bearbeitet.

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      • StefanSeptember 1, 2015 - 13:18

        Hallo Robin,
        Danke für deine Antwort. Da hast du natürlich Recht, zumal das Croppen ja auch Auflösung kostet soweit ich gehört hab.
        Ich freu mich auf weitere Reviews und Bilder von dir 😉

        Viele Grüße
        Stefan

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  • More OffeyOctober 17, 2015 - 21:11

    Some really fantastic shots, truly. That said, there are a few oddities that are quite baffling. Your wedding shots are a visual car crash – especially the Morgan in situ. Your street stuff is far, far superior. Avoid the over processing wedding stuff. A clear talent.
    Enjoy.

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    • RobinOctober 22, 2015 - 10:00

      Thanks for your comment. No idea what you’re trying to say here “Avoid the over processing wedding stuff”. The pp is not much different than on the street stuff. Those pictures are supposed to show the usage of flash with the Leica Q. Especially the Morgan was lit using multiple strobes.

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  • Melvin NeoOctober 22, 2015 - 03:23

    I’ve read loads of review on the Leica Q. But the fantastic pictures on this post (especially the street ones) convinced me that I should get it. Thanks for the great review, Robin! 🙂

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    • RobinOctober 22, 2015 - 10:06

      Hi Melvin! I am glad I could help. The Q is a fantastic camera, you will love it!

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  • Rodrigo VargasNovember 3, 2015 - 14:52

    Damn! Just wanted to congratulate you for the images in Lisbon. I live quite near to Lisbon and tend to shoot there quite regularly and the images you did are probably the best review I could have for the camera. I’m thinking about buy it or not, since i just sold my old RX1 that I really liked the results but the AF were totally unrealiable. Your review gave some points to the Leica Q in my decision but I still have a lot of reading to do before making the call 🙂

    Thanks!

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    • RobinNovember 3, 2015 - 23:26

      Thanks Rodrigo! You could also check out the new RX1R MKII when it comes out. It has the same AF system as the A7rII and that works really well. For me personally the Leica Q is the better choice, since I am totally in love with the wider lens.

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  • Rodrigo VargasNovember 5, 2015 - 02:48

    Thanks Robin! Is there any other place where I can view more photos from you?

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    • RobinNovember 5, 2015 - 18:54

      If you haven’t already you can check out my wedding blog. And there is more to come pretty soon here on my blog!

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  • CarlosDecember 2, 2015 - 19:44

    Simple and to the point review, plus wonderful images, feels like a fresh air instead of the usual speech’s and pointless ISO samples, real world photos! Thank you for the review!
    Let me ask you this, I usually use 3 focal lengths 24mm 35mm and 50mm, I can live with 28mm but can’t make it without a 50mm. what’s your experience with the Leica Q in 50mm crop mode? I really don’t care about less MP..I actually can make it with a 6mb file. I don’t see many comments on the versatility of having a 35 and a 50mm POV in such a wonderful sensor/camera. Please let me know what’s your experience with the camera set to 35 and 50mm. Thank you!

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    • RobinDecember 29, 2015 - 10:44

      Thanks Carlos!

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  • Ridli WebdesignFebruary 4, 2016 - 15:23

    Wunderschöne Fotos. Tolle Arbeit, originelle Objekte – es ist sehr angenehm die Bilder durchzusehen. Sie sind ein guter Meister!!!

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    • RobinFebruary 5, 2016 - 14:04

      Danke! 🙂

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  • BVillanuevaMarch 16, 2016 - 17:16

    One thing I noticed with the Leica Q, when I’m using a strobe it darkens as soon as you meter and confirm AF, otherwise it’s one of the best cameras i’ve used, files are gorgeous on this thing nothing beats the jpeg files this thing creates, none!! It’s so unique in colors and contrast, I had a Sony A7II, it’s a good camera but then again using it for a year, i sometimes cringe on the files it puts out, i really wanted to love the A7II since I wanted to sell my 5D Mark III, in the end I kept my 5D Mark III and a couple of lenses, The A7II’s got all the bells and whistles with a superior sensor, but it’s just not the image quality that i was looking for, The Leica Q is something else, I don’t understand why people are so hostile when you’re using a Leica, Never owned a Leica camera before but I owned Leica lenses adapted to the Sony A7II, The Q is a complete package in my opinion, lens and sensor is perfectly matched. For those on the fence, Rent the Leica Q first and reserve your judgement other than reading countless brashing of the brand, I used to hate Leica for their ridiculous pricing and lack the modern technology, after renting the Q from lensrentals, I fell in love with it, make a long story short pre-ordered and ended up waiting for 3 months, imagine How tough that was, had to call B&H every other day. Now I Know!

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    • RobinMarch 17, 2016 - 15:37

      Thank you for your comment. Can’t tell what you mean with the display darkens and I can’t try it out on my own since my Leica Q is at
      the Leica service to get its sensor cleaned. Besides the sensor dust I am still pretty happy with the Q. The files look great and the lens is
      crazy sharp wide open. I just came back from a trip to the Caribbean and the results are amazing. I’ll post some images somewhere next week.

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  • Sammy TanMarch 18, 2016 - 12:35

    Look the review. Can I just asked what color plugin you use for the warm finishing look of the photos? I love the film colour quality finishing.

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    • RobinMarch 18, 2016 - 15:18

      Hello Sammy. Thanks for the comment. I use Lightroom with my own custom presets.

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  • Chris WestOctober 17, 2016 - 16:02

    Utterly sensational photography

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    • RobinOctober 25, 2016 - 11:12

      Thank you Chris!

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  • Marko DrazicJanuary 25, 2017 - 09:53

    Hello Robin,

    Would you be so kind to tell me what mount remote you use for triggering the B2 Profoto head , and also does TTL works ?

    I’ve read that TTL does not work with Leica only with C/N

    Best regards Marko

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    • RobinJanuary 25, 2017 - 11:43

      Hello Marco, I use the basic ProFoto Air Remote. For TTL you have to use a Canon, Nikon or Sony camera.

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