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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1/125, f/1.7, ISO 12500
1/100, f/1.7, ISO 12500
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.
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.
1/1000, f/1.7, ISO 100, 3EV ND
1/2000, f/1.7, ISO 100
1/1000, f/1.7, ISO 100
1/1000, f/1.7, ISO 100
1/250, f/10, ISO 100
1/1000, f/4, ISO 100
1/1000, f/10, ISO 100
1/15, f/5, ISO 100
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.
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!