Leica Q Review

Leica Q Review

Photo of Leica Q camera

Background

I have been a big Leica fan for a while now. My Leica collection has included owning an M6 (at two different points in time), M8 and M240. And I have a feeling I will end up including an M10 or M10P on this list at some point in the future! ;-) When Leica Q was first introduced, I thought it was an interesting camera but not one I would consider buying. The 28mm was way too wide for me (I had only just switched from zooms and 50mm to 35mm), it didn’t offer interchangeable lenses and the price was pretty steep for a ‘compact’ camera. Fast forward three years later, I took the plunge and bought it after playing with one for a few days.

Usually, I don’t get too excited about unboxing cameras, but this was definitely an exception! ;-) Leica’s premium packaging outmatched even Apple’s packaging. I appreciated the meticulous and luxurious attention to detail, especially considering how much it costs.  More importantly, I am pleased to say that the camera has an equally premium feel to it. It is truly beautifully designed – clean, minimalistic and high quality. It is simply a good-looking and sharp camera that makes the vast majority of other cameras look and feel either utilitarian, cheap or both ;-) Some reviews spoke of the Leica Q not being as premium or having as solid of a feel as the Leica M. Although the M is a bit bigger and noticeably heavier, I have to disagree with these reviews. If anything, Q feels exactly as I expected versus the M that is too heavy for such a small camera.

The Q doesn’t just look fancy, it is put together really well. When I shot my first wedding with the Q, the strap caught on an edge of a bench and the camera fell two feet before hitting concrete. I was panicked! Luckily, the only damage was a couple scratches on the lens hood. When my Nikon D750 fell on a grass from a similar height, the shutter literally fell apart!

After shooting the majority of this wedding season with the Q, I decided to review my personal experiences with you all. So far, I have used this camera for a couple of engagement sessions, multiple weddings, a couple of short holiday breaks, a fair amount of casual shooting and street photography.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics is usually my biggest complaint when it comes to small cameras. Yes, they are small but handling usually suffers in the process. The ‘soap bar’ shape of the camera’s body along with quite a sizeable lens does not look like something that’s particularly comfortable to hold. Surprisingly though, the camera is actually quite comfortable to hold. Sure, it does not have the same level of comfort that the Nikon D750 offers; but even with a smaller and lighter body, it is not bad at all. I had one small blister on my thumb after I used it for a wedding. However, after that, I no longer had any issues with it. It may sound a bit odd that I praise this camera’s ergonomics, while I simultaneously complain about Sony A7 ergonomics. The reality is though that I find Q more comfortable to use. It may be due to the fact that you cannot put a big, heavy lens on it. Or perhaps, I am just used to Leica M cameras. Either way, I find it more comfortable to use.

The one complaint I have regarding the ergonomics is that the Q has very limited customisation options. I rarely (if ever) use video, yet there is no option to reprogram the video recording button to a different function. Also, the Zoom/AFL button has quite limited options but at least the Fn button got additional customisation options after 3.0 firmware update. It would be nice to see that expanded to the Zoom/AFL and rec button.

Leica Q top plateLeica Q back

Size and Weight

In short, these are some of the main reasons why I like this camera so much. You get a very capable camera in a very small package. Including the battery and the metal hood, Leica Q is just 687 grams. In comparison, Nikon D750 with 28mm f1.8 lens is 1146 grams, and with 28mm f1.4 E lens (yes, it has larger max aperture but also, it’s closer to the Q’s Summilux in terms of optical quality) is 1469 grams – more than twice the weight of the Q! The images below show Leica Q next to both Nikon setups – the difference in size in quite considerable.

Leica Q and Nikon D750 size comparison

Leica Q next to Nikon D750

Leica Q size comparison with Nikon D750 with 28mm f1.8 lens

Leica Q and Nikon D750 with 28mm f1.8 lens

Leica Q comparison with Nikon D750 and 28mm f1.4 lens

Leica Q and Nikon D750 with 28mm f1.4 E lens

For me, the main benefit is not simply less weight and bulk to carry. The small size and very quiet shutter mean that the Q is much less ‘threatening’ to wedding guests in comparison to a DSLR. I can come closer and shoot without drawing much attention to myself, which in turn, allows me to capture natural candid moments much easier. The same thing applies to street photography. This alone is a huge benefit to me. Whether I am at a wedding or shooting on the street, I like to carry my gear in Ona Berlin II bag which perfectly fits the Q, flash, trigger and some small bits and pieces. Unlike the Nikon D750 with 85mm lens which was always a bit of a challenge. ;-)

Lens

The camera is fitted with a 28mm f1.7 Summilux ASPH lens. As you would expect from Leica, this lens is an absolute masterpiece – razor sharp even wide open, with beautiful bokeh and rendering. Unfortunately, the 28mm focal length is not everyone’s cup of tea and probably one of the most common complaints about the Q. I’ve been working with 28mm focal length a lot this year. Yes, I’m still finding it a bit challenging as you have to be very close to the action. Would I prefer the 35mm lens? Not particularly. There is a pretty cool 35mm crop option (and rather useless 50mm crop), which I utilize quite often. As I have mentioned earlier, I’ve noticed that due to the small size of the camera and quiet shutter, I find it easier to come closer to my subjects.

The built-in macro function is also brilliant. It reduces the max aperture to f2.8 but that is hardly an issue for close up shots. Macro combined with 28mm lens gives quite a unique look. I have to say that I really enjoy using it for occasional detail and close up shots. It is also very convenient for casual shooting where I sometimes found Leica M’s 70cm minimum focusing distance to be a bit limiting.

One thing I don’t like about this lens is that it has quite a fair bit of distortion.

The lens can also produce a very nice flare in extreme situations. Some may see it as an issue but I really like it.

Flare example with no hood at max aperture

No hood, max aperture

Flare example with no hood at f16

No hood, f16

Example of a flare with hood at max aperture

With hood, max aperture

Example of a flare with hood at f16

With hood, f16

EVF

Normally, I am not a fan of EVFs but this is the first one that I actually really, really like! I was never a huge fan of Fujis and Sony A7RII. It was always a relief when I could switch back to an optical viewfinder of a DSLR or a rangefinder of Leica M. When I use the Q and I don’t mind the EVF at all. In fact, I now prefer it to an optical viewfinder.

Skin Tones/Colours

In short – I love them! The Q provides some of the best, if not the best, SOOC colours and tones that I have ever seen. The Leica M 240 tends to lean towards magenta or yellowish-green tones in similar shooting scenarios, while Nikon’s D750 and D850 tend to produce cooler tones and flatter image. As much as I love Q colours in most shooting scenarios, there are occasions when they don’t produce as well as I would like. This is especially true when shooting in low light or shaded areas with a lot of green. The colours can then sometimes look a bit mushy or have some unnecessary magenta tones. I am also really nicely surprised to see how compatible the Q is after simply applying one of my presets. With other cameras, I use my presets as a starting point for editing. But with Q files, applying my presets is often the only thing I do to the image. This is a huge timesaver!

Leica Q out of camera colours example

The shot above shows SOOC colours – zero editing, just converted to JPEG and resized for web

Of course, you can edit images from any digital camera to make them look great and you can create your own camera colour profiles. However, I will always happily welcome anything that can speed up my workflow.

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Dynamic Range

Although the Nikon D750 has better dynamic range, I can say that the Leica Q comes pretty close. I can honestly say that there were only a couple of occasions when I wished I had more dynamic range. Lifting 3.5-4 stops of underexposure in post results in a very minimal amount of uniform noise pattern and this is only visible at maximum magnification. The two shots below show an image SOOC and with exposure increased in Lightroom by 4 stops. Most of the frame looks clean and perfectly usable.

Underexposed photo from Leica Q

Underexposed shot SOOC

Underexposed photo from Leica Q with corrected exposure

Same shot with the exposure corrected in Lightroom +5EV

The shot below is the corner of the frame – the darkest part of the image with exposure lifted by 5 stops. At this point, the banding is quite visible and becomes an issue.

Corner of an underexposed photo with visible banding

High ISO Performance

Overall, the noise is very well controlled. I prefer my images to be clean and as free of noise as possible. I am comfortable using the Q up to 6400 ISO if I can nail the exposure. That last bit is very important as underexposing at 3200 ISO and above can result in quite a bit of noise and banding. I occasionally find it to be an issue since my post-processing tends to involve lifting the shadows a bit. Below is a comparison of the Q and Nikon D750 at 6400 and 12800 ISO. Leica Q produces a bit more noise and at 12500 ISO there is some banding but I think it also preserves details a touch better. The images below are RAWs converted to JPEG without any editing or noise reduction applied to them.

Leica Q 6400 ISO example

Leica Q 6400 ISO 

Leica Q 6400 ISO 100% crop

Leica Q 6400 ISO 100% crop

Nikon D750 6400 ISO example

Nikon D750 6400 ISO

Nikon D750 6400 ISO 100% crop

Nikon D750 6400 ISO 100% crop

Leica Q 12500 ISO example

Leica Q 12500 ISO

Leica Q 12500 ISO 100% crop

Leica Q 12500 ISO 100% crop

Nikon D750 12800 Iso example

Nikon D750 12800 ISO

Nikon D750 12800 ISO 100% crop

Nikon D750 12800 ISO 100% crop

Focusing

Autofocus is fast and accurate in the single shot mode. Usually, I choose to focus and recompose, or I manually select the focusing point. Although the latter method is a bit slow as the camera doesn’t have a joystick. Sadly, this is not my only complaint regarding the focus factor. Touch-to-focus can only be used, which is a shame since this could speed up focusing on many occasions. In general, autofocus performs well but it is a bit disappointing that the camera does not offer more customisable options such as programming different modes to the buttons, etc. It is even more frustrating considering that this could be done through a simple firmware update which would make the camera even nicer and more efficient to use. On the plus side, however, manual focus is smooth and very accurate. This is convenient for situations where autofocus is struggling or if you want to use zone focusing, which I often do in street photography. I also enjoy having the macro option, which allows reducing the minimum focusing distance from 30cm to 17cm. More on the macro function later.

Other Features

The Leica Q has a rather impressive 10fps max shutter speed. Unfortunately, it is not very practical as the buffer will fit only around 12 images thus clogging up after just over one second. Mid (5fps) and Low (3fps) settings have much more sense but it would still be nice to have a bigger buffer. Something twice the size of the current one would be very welcomed or at least more bandwidth to clear the buffer once it fills up.

The touch screen is very nice for reviewing photos but it’s a shame it’s not utilised more (e.g. in the menu or better implementation of the touch-to-focus feature).

The leaf shutter is brilliant. It is so quiet, and I don’t have to worry about banding (up to 1/2000s). I much prefer the very subtle click to a completely silent shutter. And while we are talking about the shutter, it is great to be able to use flash at 1/2000s and have a maximum shutter speed of 1/16000s. Both are very helpful when shooting wide open in bright light.

The battery life is not ample, but it is what I would expect from such a camera. Depending on the shooting style and conditions, I have been getting anything between 400 and 800 shots (continuous mode set to Mid, so a lot of short bursts) or around 3-4 hours of shooting from one battery. When I shoot weddings, I need 3-4 batteries. Please note though that I always change them when there’s still charge left as I don’t want to run out of power at the worst possible time.  On this note, I find it quite annoying that the battery level is only shown as three bars. It would be really helpful to be able to see the exact percentage of charge left, similar to the way it’s done in Leica M.

Lastly, although I don’t utilise the image stabiliser very often, it is a great feature to have on those occasions when it is needed.

Price

With the price tag around £3500-3700, this is certainly not an inexpensive camera, let alone an affordable compact camera. Yet if you look at what you’re investing in, this price is actually not too bad. First of all, full frame, high-end compacts are a very small niche, essentially limited to two cameras – Leica Q and Sony RX1RII. Sony is £3000 and has somewhat different specs. In my case, the Q is replacing one of my Nikons so it’s the cost of Leica vs £1350 for Nikon D750 plus £550 for Nikkor 28mm f18. Although as 28mm f1.8 is an inferior lens, it would be fairer to compare it to the 28mm f1.4, which is £2080. That’s a total of £3430 which is pretty comparable to Leica Q price. Sure, you could argue that it is a superior lens, so this comparison may not be very fair. For me personally, this is the setup I replaced with Leica Q which I found applicable.

Conclusion

All in all, the Leica Q has been my main camera for most of this wedding season and my go-to camera for all my personal work over the last few months. I think it is absolutely brilliant. It’s my favourite travel and street photography camera and my favourite camera for candid/reportage wedding photos. It is a pure joy to use and although it has a few weaknesses, I just love using it. Although it’s over 3 years old, it remains very capable and relevant.

Yes, it doesn’t have the visceral feel of Leica M and you could even say that it’s too easy to work with but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t see this camera as a replacement for the M. Yes, I sold my M240 as I was not using it much since I got the Q, but I also know that eventually, I’ll get another M. For the time being, I find the Q to be much more versatile and perfectly fits my shooting style. The only thing I’m missing now is a 50/75mm version!

Pros:

–    Small and light

–    Awesome lens

–    Well built

–    Simple (fixed lens, controls, menu layout)

–    Great EVF

–    Almost silent

–    Fast autofocus

–    Well implemented manual focus

–    Image quality and colours SOOC

–    Macro function

–    Image stabiliser

–    Touchscreen

–    1/16000s max shutter speed

–    1/2000s max flash sync speed

–    An absolute joy to use!

Cons:

–    Insufficient buffer

–    Very average battery life (and poor battery level indicator)

–    Lack of flip up screen (although I do love the clean design)

–    Not enough customisation options (re-assign buttons)

–    Cannot use touch to focus alongside another focusing method

–    Single card slot

–    Expensive (although it depends on the context)

 

Few wedding photos taken with the Leica Q.

Photo of bride and groom under an arch of rosesBride and groom portrait in a college gardenWedding guest dancingPhoto of bridesmaids at a weddingLeica Q review multilayered photo of guests at a wedding

 

And a few street shots – most shot at 1600 ISO. Minimal editing other than our standard ‘street’ preset.

Street photo with a reflectionStreet photo taken with Leica QMultilayered street photo taken with Leica QChinatown street photo

Night photo of a restaurant in Chinatown

 

 

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