Leica Q guest review: A free Leica camera?

by | Jul 20, 2015

Written by Andrew Funderburg, creator of Fundy Designer, a program for serious photographers who want to design and print albums, books, and wall art.

Is spending $4295 on a Leica Q equivalent to getting a free Leica camera with the purchase of a 28mm f/1.7 Summilux? Let’s take a look at current Leica 28mm lens prices. The Leica Summicron f/2 is $3779. The Leica 28mm f/1.4 is $5950. Looking at these two prices, a Leica Q with a 28mm f/1.7 Summilux at $4295 looks like a bargain. Now to find out if it really is.

Back Story

I’m currently shooting with the Leica M type 240, a Summicron 35mm f/2, and a 50mm f/2. I also own a 75mm Summicron f/2, but rarely use it. My two loves, in terms of focal lengths, are the 35mm and the 50mm. I shoot primarily street photography and street portraits. I have gone through spurts of shooting landscape images, but the majority of my photography is street-related and done in black and white.

Before shooting the Leica M, I had used both the Olympus OMD system and the Fuji x100s. Both of these were great cameras, but I had always wanted to shoot a true rangefinder.

Goal of this Review

A Leica isn’t just a camera. One does not go shopping for a new camera and compare Leicas to Nikons, Canons or Sonys. Leica is a way of life. Either you are all in and you pay astronomical prices for magical glass, or you don’t go in at all. So this review will not compare this camera with other cameras. At $4300, you are either looking for your first real Leica or you are looking to add the Leica Q to your arsenal of M cameras. So with this review, I will try to answer two questions:

1. Could the Leica Q replace an M system for someone who either can’t afford an M system or isn’t ready to put down that much cash? (Remember, a basic M system with one lens starts at $9500.)

2. Would the Leica Q be a great addition to an M system, particularly as a backup or as the main 28mm option? (Remember, a 28mm Leica M lens is going to be about as much as the Leica Q.)

My Main Concerns Going In

I love Leica cameras. In addition to the M, I also own the D Lux type 109 and the V Lux type 114, both made in conjunction with Panasonic. My dream is to own that new Leica M Monochrome and maybe even that special, retro-looking M Correspondent designed by Lenny Kravitz. So I will admit, I’m a bit of a fanboy when it comes to Leicas. Despite this, I did have two concerns:

1. The Q has an EVF. While I don’t mind EVFs on my smaller point-and-shoot cameras, for $4300, I wondered if an EVF would give me a true Leica experience.

2. 28mm is not my favorite focal length. If I was running Leica, I would have stuck a 35mm lens on there as that seems to be the most popular Leica focal length among its user base, at least here in the States.

Before diving into how this camera performs, let’s take a look at what it is. I won’t be covering all of the specs; there are plenty of sites that do this and you can get all of the information off of the Leica site.

The Build

Leica is known for its craftsmanship. Does the Q have the high quality build and finish of a Leica M? Not quite, but almost. It is a beauty to behold. It has a lot of metal, with solid controls and information engraved right on the body. This is definitely not a plastic point-and-shoot.

From the Leica website:

The Leica maxim ‘focusing on the essentials’ also applies to the Leica Q’s exterior design. Made in Germany, the high quality materials and outstanding craftmanship guarantee maximum durability. The top cover is milled from a solid aluminum block, while the housing is finished in magnesium and all labels and markings on the adjustment wheels are laser engraved. The thumb rest on the back of the camera and the diamond pattern of the exterior finish make the Leica Q beautifully easy to grip.

 

The Sensor + Color

This is where things get really interesting. Leica included the same sensor that they use in the Leica M. Well, it has the same specs, anyway. I assume it is the same sensor, although nothing on their site confirms this. It is a full-frame, 24MP, CMOS sensor.

What is missing from the Leica Q are the custom Leica M film looks. I’m pretty sure Leica is currently holding former Kodak employees hostage. The black and white out of the camera is Kodak Tri-X and the “Smooth Color Film” setting is undoubtedly Kodachrome 100. While the color and black and white is somewhat similar to the M, it isn’t quite the same.

The Lens: Just How Good Is It?

I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty damn good. It’s incredibly sharp, and the focus fall off and the out of focus areas definitely have that Leica magic in them. I can say without a doubt that this is the best quality lens I have ever seen on a point-and-shoot camera (meaning a camera with a non-interchangeable lens).

The camera allows “digital cropping” with the lens and EVF. There is a small button just left of your right thumb when holding the camera. This button toggles between full frame at 28mm, digitally-cropped 35mm, and digitally-cropped 50mm. The lens does not move or zoom at all, the cropping is done on the sensor. This is of limited use, since you could always crop in post, and to shoot these other two “focal lengths” with this camera might be misleading, since you still get the distortion of the 28mm. For example, this portrait at the 50mm setting still has the look of a wide angle lens. My personal preference would be to have a 35mm lens standard and have it crop into a 50mm. But that is just me.

Macro and Manual Focus

Where the lens shines again is the ability to Macro focus down to nothing and also the ability to focus manually – I mean real manual focus. Cameras like the Fuji X100T allow you to manually focus, but it is a “fly-by-wire” mechanism. This means that the turn of the lens doesn’t physically move the lens elements, but sends a signal through a wire that then activates a focus motor to move the lens. This means that you can’t really focus by feel, like one would do with actual manual focus lenses.

I often focus by distance. With my Leica lenses, I know by feel where 6 ft is when focusing. The Leica Q 28mm lens has the same ability. To activate the manual focus, the ergonomics are insanely awesome. Just press the small indent on the lens next to the focus tab and the lens is free to move. It has the same, smooth focus rotation that all Leica M lenses have. That is to say, it is butter.

Additionally, just behind the focus ring on the lens is a macro toggle. Turn this toggle left to go macro and right to go back to regular. It’s a very manual, intuitive process.

The EVF

The EVF is by far the most beautiful EVF I’ve ever seen. The color is fantastic and the refresh rate isn’t even an issue. It is a live view into the world. I love it. But there are two issues related to the EVF. One can be solved by Leica. I hope they are listening and change this in an update. The other is just the main problem with EVFs.

The first issue has to do with the functionality of the camera. This potentially could be changed with a firmware update. Currently, you have the choice to always use the EVF, always use the LCD or have the camera auto switch for you. I like to have it set to EVF always. This makes it easier to shoot and I feel it is more responsive. The problem is that if you have it set to EVF, then anytime you hit the playback or menu button you have to do everything in the EVF. This is just ridiculous. I was standing on a street corner with my eye to the camera so I could change some settings. They need a third option that uses only the EVF for shooing but turns on the LCD during playback and menu display.

The second issue is just due to EVFs in general. To save battery life, the camera goes to sleep. If the camera goes to sleep and you see a great moment and bring the camera up to your eye to take a photo, it takes a split second for the camera to wake up—and you miss the shot.

What I Would Request In a Firmware Update

1. The above EVF/LCD option where I can use the EVF only for shooting and the LCD for review and settings.

2. A dedicated BW option. Currently it is under the JPEG saturation settings.

3. Add the Leica M film looks.

4. When you manually choose an aperture, the back dial acts as exposure compensation, as it should be. When you set aperture to auto, however, the back dial then becomes your aperture dial. This makes no sense as you have the aperture ring on the lens. A firmware update should allow for setting the back dial to other functions.

Conclusion

Pros

• A Leica sensor, body, and lens for the price of the lens alone.

• AF is extremely fast and accurate.Stabilization is great.

• Aperture control, manual focus switch, and macro mode are more than I could ask for.

• Dedicated frame button is very cool.

• Build and controls are on par with an M.

• EVF is very beautiful.

Cons

• Lens might be an issue if you prefer a different focal length (as I prefer 35mm).

• The switch between LCD and EVF can be slow.

• Lack of Leica Film Modes.

• The battery life isn’t fantastic. You’ll need a spare.

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