With the exponential development of camera technology, Leica inevitably felt lost and unable to stay relevant. For so long, they’ve invested purely in mechanical and optical perfection, rendering them archaic compared to more tech centric cameras. But things are changing in Wetzlar. They’ve become surprisingly innovative recently, having launched the beautiful Leica T, and an X camera that’s actually quite good. Then in June, Leica surprised everyone with a completely new camera - the Leica Q. It’s everything we dreamed Leica would make - a compact street camera with a fast auto focus lens, full-frame sensor, and built-in viewfinder. Best of all, the Q costs only $4250. It may seem like a lot compared to other brands but for a full-frame Leica with true substance, it’s a bargain.
The Q is a product with no compromises. It’s beautifully made but also immensely capable. For many people, owning an M is no longer a necessity, especially if auto focus is a priority. It’s no wonder that the Q has been so popular since launch. It’s been months since the camera became available but it’s still backordered everywhere, and being sold by resellers with insane mark-ups of up to 200%. I’ve been using the camera for a month now, but not my own. Two of my coworkers have received their cameras before me and have been nice enough to let me use them while I wait for mine. I have my name down on a few wait lists but to this day, my camera isn't in my hands.
Design is of course one of the biggest pillars of Leica. The Q is no exception and is without a doubt, and attractive piece of hardware. The problem is that the Q isn’t as pretty as the M and certainly not as good looking as the Leica T. The thing that I really don’t like is the grip material finished with a debossed diamond pattern. Thankfully, Arte Di Mano is already selling pre-cut replacement leather grips for the Q. I have one on order and can’t wait (the sad reality is that it'll probably arrive before my camera).
One of the aesthetic issues I have with the Q is that the camera comes only in black. I’m not against black cameras but I'm just personally not a fan of black Leicas because they do such a fantastic job of satin silver finishes. It's a constant reminder of the prettier finishes available. It also annoys me that the Q is made from aluminum and magnesium but doesn’t use it to its advantage. I wish Leica would have let the aluminum shine using a unibody construction like the T or just went with brass like the M so that we can get Leica’s signature finishes.
Although the Q isn’t the most attractive Leica, it is very much a functional one. The camera is wonderful to handle and immediately fits the hand like a glove. It's relatively lightweight thanks to the extensive use of magnesium and is just thick enough to give you a firm grip. The back of the camera also has a little divot for your thumb, which obviates the need for an unsightly accessory grip.
Along with a well balanced feeling in your hand, the Q has very logical, intuitive controls. The camera has essentially the same control layout as the M, which is certainly a good thing. Most cameras require a few weeks to familiarize and develop muscle memory but the Q is immediately obvious. All the controls you’d want are there and there are none that you don’t. It’s a proper Leica.
There’s probably one controversial aspect to the Q, and that’s the lens. The Q is not a camera with an interchangeable lens has a built-in 28mm f 1.7 ASPH lens (fixed focal length). This is obviously not the first choice for many people and honestly, a 35mm lens would have been more appropriate/popular. However, the 28mm glass is surprisingly useful. Distortion is minimal, making it ideal for cropping, and street photography. The lens is also astoundingly sharp, even wide open (you can seriously shoot exclusively at 1.7 if you wanted to) and renders images beautifully. It really does feel like an M lens - and it’s no wonder Leica claims it’s just as good. The lens also comes with a lens hood similar to the M's Summarit 35mm - which is one of the more attractive ones.
The Leica Q has a small button next to where you thumb sits that switches between crop modes. The camera has 35mm and 50mm crop modes, which I’ve found to be immensely useful. Rather than showing you a cropped image, the camera creates digital frame lines (like the M), which is great for composing shots. This seemingly simple feature may not seem revolutionary but there's something it that makes the lens feel more versatile and workable.
Some may not like the idea of cropping images but the camera’s files are large and so crisp that I have been doing it constantly. The crop modes are also useful for shooting things like products to minimize distortion. For those still doubting the usability of a 28mm lens; my B&O H8 review was shot exclusively with the Q.
Along with the lens, the sensor is what makes the Q so brilliant. It’s a full-frame 24MP CMOS sensor, and is paired perfectly with the lens. Colors are beautifully rendered, but at the same time well mannered - something I think Leica balances really well. Dynamic range is also really good, and staggering amounts of detail can be recovered in post. After living a happy year with the Leica T, I didn’t think I’d need a full-frame camera. Looking at the files from the Q makes me realize I was wrong though.
One of the great features of the Leica Q is the ability to switch into a macro mode. This is done using a macro ring, which also physically slides the hyperlocal distance meter into a dedicated macro distance meter. It’s marvelously engineered and so German.
I was a bit worried about the usability of a 28mm lens as a macro lens but it turns out to be quite capable. The macro mode has a minimum focus distance of 17cm and performance is fantastic. The autofocus works perfectly at this distance and the resulting images are sharp. Who knew that a fixed lens could be so versatile?
The Q is compact and discrete, two things that make you want to use it every day. It fits easily into any backpack and doesn’t attract too much attention when you’re shooting with it. I’ve gotten many compliments and questions about my Leica T when shooting with it in public, which is both annoying and distracting. The camera also has a nearly silent mechanical leaf shutter which makes it good for shooting on the street.
I can’t shoot without a viewfinder, so when I learned that the Q had one built-in I was jumping with joy. It’s a good one too with a staggering 3.68MP resolution. The Leica T’s optional Visoflex was one of my favorite things about the camera and the Q’s seems to be just as good. The only issue I have is that the viewfinder can’t rotate, which is a feature I found immensely useful with the Visoflex.
One of the advantages of using a Q over an M is autofocus. It’s really fast and reliable, and easily better than any of my pervious cameras (Leica T and Sony RX1). There’s even an iPhone-like touch-to-focus feature that works remarkably well, although I fail to imagine a scenario when it would be useful. For more tricky situations, the camera also supports a proper manual focus mode with focus peaking. Focusing is done using a very M-like focus lever, which feels buttery smooth.
The images from the Q have a really nice color palette, although I found them to be too punchy after being accustomed to the Leica T. I’ve said this before, but I personally don’t like shooting RAW, as I want to spend as little effort post processing as possible. The T wasn’t 100% reliable for me, so I ended up shooting mostly in RAW but the reverse is true for the Q. The sensor is so consistently good at rendering images that I keep the camera in JPEG mode with a few tweaks to the on-camera JPEG settings. If you’re wondering, here are the settings:
Sharpness Medium high
After spending a few weeks with the camera, I’m convinced that one of my favorite features of the Q is the ability to select crop modes between 28, 35 and 50mm fields of view. This may sounds like a frivolous feature and something you can do in Lightroom but it completely changes the way you shoot with the camera. There’s something that changes in your brain when you switch between these “digital lenses” making you really shoot as if you had just switched lenses physically. It’s a revelation.
And of course, you are paying with resolution when cropping images but as long as you don’t shoot too much in 50mm crop mode, things shouldn’t be an issue, even for print. Here’s a chart of the image sizes relative to the different field of view modes:
28mm 6000 x 4000 px
35mm 4800 x 3200 px
50mm 3360 x 2240 px
Leica’s aren’t known for low light performance but the Q is pretty decent. From my experience, as long as you don’t go over ISO 6400, you’re guaranteed to have clean images.
I love a camera with good white balance and the Q does well here as well. There were a few instances in indoor situations where the camera got a little confused but for the large part, I’ve had no issues. This is something I hope a future firmware release could improve.
If you’re in the market for a new camera and have 4K to spend, this is where your money should go. The Q does everything right. It’s beautifully made like all Leicas, but is super capable and functional in a way that many Leicas haven’t been able to deliver. This is a camera that is the best of both worlds, which isn't a common thing. It’s a sports car that can also seat 5 and get great gas mileage. Every time I pick up the Q, I'm amazed that it's a product that was even able to come out of Leica. It really does makes me question the fate of the M in its current form.
A camera is a complex object that requires months of use for a proper evalution. Like I have with the T, I’ll post an extended review in a few months time. But for now, I’ll just say this: put your name down on a wait list ASAP. I guess it's too late now but you don't want to be waiting as long as I have.