Monthly Archives: June 2015

Leica Q Hands on Review (Video + Sample Images)

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The Leica Q is an awesome new compact camera from Leica. I was lucky enough to be able to get my hands on it for a little while yesterday and was not only able to make the hands on review (above) but also a number of sample images from a walk around with this camera. This is all thanks to the Leica Store Soho, in NYC, as of yesterday (June 12, 2015) they still had these bad boys in stock, so look them up if you want one.

Anyway, as you will notice from the video I use the words “nice” and “cool” about a million times. Honestly, its just the words that kept springing to mind when I was holding this camera. I’m a Leica M shooter, I have been for many year now, and nothing will replace my digital Leica M’s (Leica M9, and Leica M9 Monochrome) or my 35mm film Leica M7. However, you don’t always want to take 1 to 3 expensive, manual focus cameras and multiple lenses on every trip or excursion you take. It was for this reason that I bought the Sony RX1r with its 36mp full-frame sensor and fixed 35mm f/2.0 Zeiss lens. When I bought this camera last year I liked its straight forward ness, and its lack of an EVF (and optional Optical viewfinder, which I always use). I don’t like EVF’s, I’m just going to say that upfront, and I think you already knew that about me. When I’m taking pictures, I want to see the scene with nothing in the way, and EVF’s don’t do that for me. That being said, the new Leica Q has the best EVF I have seen to date on any camera clocking in at 3.68mp with a high refresh rate. The new sensor on this camera is also very nice and provides shocking ISO performance for a Leica, and for cameras in general. The sensor, combined with the sharp new 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens and its fast and accurate autofocus makes this camera a really nice walking around camera.

Sample image from the new Leica Q taken in Soho, NYC.

Leica Q ~ 1/640 – f/5.6 – ISO 200 @ 28mm

Size and Build Quality: As you can see in the video above, the Leica Q is a relatively substantial size for a compact camera, being very similar in dimensions to the Leica M240 (excluding thickness and weight of course). However, thanks to its magnesium alloy body, it is extremely light, in fact it is lighter then the smaller Leica X and Leica Q cameras which feature aluminum bodies. This make the camera really nice to hold and carry around. The thumb detent on the back of the camera fell right into place for my hand and added a nice bit of grip. Without this, I think the camera would have been a bit slippery. The addition of the optional hand grip made this camera feel really nice in the hand, and helped make it a really nice package to carry around.

Despite its light weight the camera feels very substantial and solid. Generally, when you think of a light weight camera you think of something flimsy (I know I do) however with this Made in German camera you will not only be marveling at its weight, but also its sturdiness and build quality.

Sample image from the new Leica Q taken in Soho, NYC.

Leica Q – 1/100 – f/1.7 – ISO 800 @ 28mm

Menus / Dials / Buttons / Controls: The majority of the controls on this camera are pretty darn good, as you would expect. Everything on the top plate of the camera functions exactly the way that it should from a Leica. Personally, I think I would have liked to have seen a traditional threaded cable release on the top of this camera. I like how threaded cable release look and feel and think this is a classic design element that they should have stuck with.

As you can see in the video, the various controls on the lens itself function very well as well and they are all built the way that they should be. I can’t see anyone having a problem with any of these controls on this camera.

On the rear of the camera, I have one slight complaint. This is the “Tri-Elmar” button which engages the crop modes on the rear of the camera. I get the reasons to offer these crop mode features (for idiots), but having their own dedicated button seems a bit strange to me. I suspect (and hope) that in the first firmware update for this camera they decide to make this button into a programmable function button so that you can map some other function to this button. The button is well placed and not likely to be hit while operating the camera, my concern with this button is that it is unnecessary to have a dedicated button for this Tri-Elmar mode when it offers nothing that you couldn’t do with a crop in post. Maybe there is more to the Tri-Elmar mode that I missed, but all I can say is a real Tri-Elmar lens on the camera would have been far more preferable to this feature.

The menu system is very simple and straight forward, but I think that there are a few things which will need to be improved in firmware updates (easy fixes). First is the submenu architecture. When you go into the submenu’s of this camera its possible to get a bit lost, so some sort of directory at the top letting you know where you are would be nice. Another thing is that the menu is basically just one long list that you scroll down. This should be broken up into pages or sections or something. I think the easiest implementation for this camera would be a Canon style menu system where going left/right on the directional pad lets you get to the different pages.

Sample Image from the New Leica Q showing its wide dynamic range in Soho, NYC

RAW DNG (Left) – Edited ACR (Right)

Leica Q – 1/3200 – f/4.0 – ISO 200 @ 28mm

Image Quality: The new sensor in the Leica Q is really nice, and certainly outclassed the (older) Leica M240 in my testing. Images a vibrant and crisp thanks to the pairing of this sensor and the ultra-sharp 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens on this camera. As you can see in the above example, the camera packs in a lot of dynamic range which can easily be brought out with little effort in editing to make some really nice images.

The real start of the show for this sensor though is its ISO performance. This camera has some one of the nicest ISO ranges that I have seen on a camera to date, and certainly the  best ISO range to date in a full-frame Leica camera. Leica has done away with some of their weird half-stop ISO’s and this camera now offers an ISO range from 100-50,000 (100 – 200 – 400 – 800 – 1600 – 3200 – 6400 – 12,500 – 25,000 – 50,000. ISO’s from 100-6400 are impressively clean and very usable, for me even ISO 12,500 would be usable if I didn’t plan to crop the image significantly. ISO 25,000 could due in a pinch, but is starting to push it. ISO 50,000 isn’t as terrible as you might expect, and could also do if you were really pressed for some reason. With a 28mm f/1.7 lens, and a lot of dynamic range you shouldn’t ever really have to go up this high anyway.

The most impressive thing for me in the ISO range is the reduction of blotchy color noise which plagues most ultra-high ISO’s. For me with this camera, the noise produced from the entire ISO range (up to ISO 25,000)  is relatively pleasing and not too distracting. It does this by being pretty uniform and retaining a lot of nice detail (relatively speaking of course). At ISO 50,000 some banding starts to show making it much more distracting, and not pleasing; it is also accompanied by enough loss of detail to be bothersome if you are planning to print big. You can see 100% crops of the entire ISO range at the bottom of this post. You can also head over to my Flickr page for a full-resolution ISO series (as well as 100% crops). This ISO series was done hand held, but thanks to the lightweight of the camera and dedicated ISO button, I think it came out reasonably well. 

Sample image from the new Leica Q taken in Soho, NYC.

Leica Q – 1/800 – f/4.0 – ISO 200 @ 28mm

Lens / Optical Performance: The lens on the Leica Q is top notch. It is very sharp at all apertures with minimal vignetting wide open, particularly impressive for a large aperture wide angle lens. You certainly won’t be complaining about the sharpness coming out of this lens. I think it has been really nicely paired with the sensor to bring out the best of both, which is one of the great things about cameras like the this Leica Q, the Sony RX1 (and RX1R), and the Fuji X100s.

The 28mm focal length is a very mature focal length and it is interesting that Leica is putting it into a fixed lens camera. I happen to like 28mm (I think I generally prefer 35mm of all focal lengths) and find that it can create some really nice images. To me, 28mm lives in a strange world between 24mm (wide angle) and 35mm (wide standard). It, in theory, has minimal distortion and can be used for many different types of photography. In most shooting you won’t notice the minimal distortion that the lens on the Leica Q has, However, in the image above it is relatively obvious. I suspect that once Adobe puts a lens corrections profile in for this lens that it will become very flat which will be excellent.

As I mention in the video, the Leica Q does have a dedicated macro mode. It is true that the Macro mode lets the camera focus closer, however “macro” has to be taken with a grain of salt because this is a 28mm lens. Rather then macro, lets just call it close focus. It’s well integrated and like many of the controls on the Leica Q requires deliberate action to engage, meaning that it cannot be accidentally engaged. The changing focus scales are also pretty cool.

Sample image from the new Leica Q taken in Soho, NYC.

Leica Q – 1/80 – f/4.0 – ISO 800 @ 28mm

Manual focus functions well on the Leica Q, feeling pretty similar to manual focusing a real Leica lens. Focus peaking is also offered if you need it, which you probably well. Personally I think manual focus on a camera like this is a bit of a gimmick, because even with the excellent EVF on this camera it is still very difficult to be able to accurately focus on this thing (if you ask me). Really the only part of this camera that feels kitschy to me is the focusing tab. It feels like a bad imitation of the focusing tab on a 50mm Summilux (or other) Leica lens. Its the only noticeably plastic-y feeling part which is disappointing. The small control button on it however is very well implemented. Again it has to be deliberately pressed and effort applied to switch between manual focus and autofocus. I can’t believe that anyone will ever have a problem because of how robust a control this is.

The Leaf shutter in this lens is also great, allowing the camera to go all the way up to 1/16000 of a second which is pretty cool. It means that whatever bokeh / shallow DoF you can get out of this lens will be available to you in most lighting conditions. Being a leaf shutter it also reduces vibrations which is also nice, though you probably won’t ever notice whilst shooting this camera handheld with a 28mm lens (your only option ;) ). Of course another nice thing about this leaf shutter is that it is virtually silent, meaning you can use this camera just about anywhere.

Sample image from the new Leica Q taken in Soho, NYC.

Leica Q ~  1/125 – f/4.0 – ISO 200 @ 28mm

Things I Don’t Like: Both surprisingly and unsurprisingly when it comes down to it there is really only one thing about this camera that I don’t like (take a wild guess), the electronic viewfinder (EVF). What is surprising about this is that this is really the only major complaint that I have with this camera, and taking this complaint into account, I still kind of want this camera. EVFs do nothing for me, I have already discussed this in this review and elsewhere. I just want to say it one more time though, this is a really good EVF! That being said, I don’t really know why it is on this camera. I think that this camera should have had a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder system like on the Fujiflim X100. I think Leica could have sprinkled some of their magic on a feature like this and made it even better then Fuji’s. Personally this being an EVF only camera doesn’t make sense to me in the realm of Leica and it is pretty surprising that this is something that they would chose to do. Hopefully its not a sign of future things to come, maybe version 2.0 will have a hybrid viewfinder, which would be pretty cool, and make this a really powerful camera if you ask me.

I have one other slight complaint about this camera. The Leica Q can only record images in two modes 1. JPEG 2. JPEG + DNG. On the surface this doesn’t make much sense, why can’t they just have a third DNG only option? Well, the answer is pretty pathetic. The answer is the preview system that Leica uses needs JPEG’s to generate the previews. This may sound like an alien concept to most, given that every other camera on the planet manages to be able to shoot in DNG (RAW) only and still generate previews. This is a bit of laziness on the part of Leica which is more of a nuisance then anything else. I think it would take a pretty extensive firmware fix to change this, but maybe not. However, if this is my second biggest complaint about this camera, then by my own estimation this must mean that it is a pretty solid camera (which I think it is).

Sample Image of the high ISO performance of the Leica Q at ISO 12,500

How do you like them apples?

Leica Q – 1/800 – f/8.0 – ISO 12,500 @ 28mm

Conclusion: As you have seen I was really taken with this camera. I’m not sure that it would make me switch from my Sony RX1, but it is certainly something wroth giving some more consideration considering the awesome ergonomics and the great image quality that the Leica Q delivers. It would be nice if it had some high-quality add-on lenses like the Fujifilm X100 which let it optically go wider as well as more telephoto (18mm, 35mm, 50mm, and maybe longer)

Priced at $4250 this isn’t the “affordable” Leica M that people want, but its not supposed to be. It is supposed to be a high-end compact camera, and it more then delivers 0n that promise. Given that this camera has a better sensor then a Leica M240, I think its the best comparison when considering price. This would be an $11-13k system on a Leica M, and that wouldn’t have autofocus or automated features for easy shooting (yes Leica M users don’t want this, but Leica Q users probably do). The camera is also competitively priced when compared to my Sony RX1R. The RX1R body alone is $2800, the Lens hood is $175, the thumbs-up grip is $250, and then the optical viewfinder is $600 (EVF is $450). If you total up this my Sony package it comes to $3825, which makes the Leica Q sound pretty reasonable, and not outlandish. Given the image quality you get form this camera I think that it is well priced and should sell very well (possibly to me).

New PhaseOne XF Camera Body Announced

PhaseOne XF

It’s finally here, after all the years, after all the rumors, and after all the late breaking leaks, the new PhaseOne XF body has been announced. The new PhaseOne XF body replaces the aging 645DF plus platform and replaces it with a truly modern medium format digital platform for those who need that. The last model of Mamiya 645 based cameras, the 645DF+ didn’t differ that much from the original Mamiya 645AF which was released in September of 1999. Yes improvements were made and compatibility added for Digital Backs and Leaf Shutter lenses, but the fact of the matter is this system (as well as the Hasselblad H released at Photokina in 2002) have remained substantively unchanged for over a decade. As digital backs have become more advanced and as users have come to expect more out of their modern cameras (due to rapid advancements in ILC’s and DSLR’s), the MamiyaLeaf / PhaseOne 645DF+ and Hasselblad H bodies could not keep up. It should also be noted, that the XF camera body will be exclusive to PhaseOne, and will not be offered in a MamiyaLeaf variant.

Before beginning to comment on this camera, it should be noted that I have not handled it, but I hope to as soon as possible, and hopefully also be able to produce a video showcasing some of its features. For more information, head over to Digital Transitions website to read more about new features on the PhaseOne XF.

After seeing the basically the same camera body on all PhaseOne cameras for the past decade, it is refreshing to see a new design on the PhaseOne XF. Other then for aesthetic reasons, this camera is necessarily physically different because of all of its new features. I like the design, its reminiscent of more robust earlier film cameras like the Mamiya M645 as well as others. The PhaseOne XF takes design cues from the PhaseOne IQ series of digital backs and seems to flow as an extension of this.

The design is much more then a pretty face, and it has modularity, and customizability at its core. The most notable design feature, and one that was noted as lacking on the 645DF+ (compared to the Hasselblad H System) was a waist level viewfinder (WLF), which has been added on the PhaseOne XF camera body. Even with added modularity (which could create weak points), PhaseOne has beefed up the camera to make it significantly more durable and robust. This comes at a price, of a slightly heavier camera body. I can only speak for myself, but I am happy to carry a bit more weight for a lot more durability. Another interesting physical feature is that all ports are now covered like the firewire port on an IQ series digital back without the need to worry about loosing the small rubber covers that plagued the 645DF+ (and earlier models).

In terms of physical added modularity, there are two big changes. The addition of a modular viewfinder has opened up new doors in creative uses of the PhaseOne platform. Medium format photography was created with the Hasselblad V system, with the idea of modularity and this is something that has carried through to today allowing photographers to create a camera that works for them for their applications. The waist level viewfinder will be a great addition to the system that many photographers across different types of photography have requested. Hasselblad V series users have enjoyed this feature for 60 years, and Hasselblad H users, and Contax 645 users have also had access to WLF viewfinders for years. One slight bummer with the WLF is that you will not be able to see exposure information when using the WLF the way you will with the normal 90 degree viewfinder. Speaking of the 90 degree viewfinder, it is supposed to be much brighter then the 645DF+ which should allow for some interesting improvements in the uses of slower lenses including my Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses.

More exciting (also in the vein of manual focus lenses), as the addition of interchangeable focusing screens on the PhaseOne XF camera body. You can now choose between Matte, Split, and Center Prism screens on the XF camera body. I am sure that others like Bill Maxwell will also offer focusing screens for these cameras in different flavors. One of the problems with the Mamiya 645AFD and PhaseOne 645DF platforms was that, while their screens were interchangeable it was a much more difficult process (I am not the foremost expert on this but I will try and explain as best I can). Basically, the way the 645DF (and earlier) bodies were made, the focusing screens would be warped during manufacturing, this wasn’t a problem because calibration of the sensors was done after this process occurred, this meant that despite an individual body/screens warping the camera would be correctly calibrated. However, this also meant that if you swapped out the focusing screen for a new custom one, the camera would have to be recalibrate. This is because the new focusing screen would be flat, and this is not what the Mamiya/PhaseOne bodies were calibrated for. So while these screens were interchangeable, they were not easily interchangeable because of the re-calibibration that was necessary. I assume the modular PhaseOne XF will feature a focus screen changing system similar to the Hasselblad V and Hasselblad H series cameras, which is very easy taking mere seconds.

The PhaseOne XF camera body brings in amazing new customizability thanks to its many user programmable buttons, as well as its new touch control panel on the top o the camera. This means that users will be able to decide what they want where, and more interestingly how they want it to act. You will be able to customize not just the feature that the controls access, but also how the controls function. If you like you shutter speed or aperture dials to rotate in a particular way, you will now be able to do that. This is great customizability that the 645DF+ was lacking due to its confusing and arcane menu system. One feature that I am particularly excited to be able to map to a specific button is the Automatic Hyperlocal Focusing mode, which does exactly what it sounds like based on the lens attached. This is great and will allow for “mystical”  hyperfocal focusing to be done with ease.

Speaking of focusing, the PhaseOne XF camera body has a new, in-house autofocus system that they are calling the Honeybee focusing system (don’t ask me why). I’m not the best person to explain the intricacies of this focusing system, but the fact of the matter is it should be much better then the current focusing system which isn’t always the best. I believe it does this through a small new CMOS style AF sensor that should decrease focusing errors. While this is all very exciting, one thing that users have cried out for is movable auto-focus points, unfortunately we will have to keep waiting. While more accurate, center point focusing only is a great disappointment. I don’t really care what reasons (excuses) are offered for this, its a extremely important feature that all DLSR’s have, and would be a defining feature of a modern medium format camera body. As far as I am concerned, this is really the biggest blunder of this camera.

But now to something much more exciting! The PhaseOne XF camera body will now use the same rechargeable batteries as the PhaseOne digital backs! This is huge, and awesome and makes life much easier. An independent company and then PhaseOne released a different rechargeable battery solution for the 645DF+ camera body, however this was a pain since it meant another charger, and an oddly shaped battery to carry. So I am quite pleased with this improvement since the PhaseOne DB batteries are very easy to carry and use. Also, the XF and IQ3 series will be able to share power when put together, which is one of the interesting new features of the IQ3 series (discussed below).

More of a line-item then anything else, yet still worth talking about a Profoto wireless trigger is now integrated into the PhaseOne XF camera body with a 20m range. It seems as if they may have done away with the V-Grip Air, which is a bit of a bummer. Yes, one part of the V-Grip Air was the added Profoto wireless integration, but the biggest things for me were the additional battery compartment and the added ergonomics of the shutter release, the V-Grip basically lives on my 645DF camera body. Hopefully this is something that they will bring back.

Update: I have been told that, if there is enough demand a vertical grip solution of the new XF camera body will be provide, so make sure you tell your dealer that you want one! I sure do. 

The PhaseOne XF also features an accelerometer and 6-axis Gyro. Which I understand will become powerful tools as new features are added to this body through firmware upgrades. At release, an interesting feature resulting from these components is the “Seismographic mode”. This mode, uses mirror lock up (MLU) + a timer, with the aforementioned sensors to reduce vibrations when taking long exposure images. It does this by monitoring vibrations until they are reduced and then fires the camera shutter at this optimal moment. I believe this feature may only work with Leaf Shutter lenses, but I will update when this has been confirmed for me. Either way, really cool feature that takes advantage of these fancy new components, it will be exciting to see what else they will be able to do in the future (maybe tracking motion, so that a image-stabalization like de-blur feature can be used in C1?, after all once you have the movement data, its just math SEE BELOW).

Update: Seismographic mode can be used with all lenses, however it will be most effective with leaf shutter lenses, given the vibration reduction inherent in not using the focal plane shutter. 

Also, we should be very excited about the possibilities of the accelerometer, at the time of my initial writing I was not aware of this, however a US Patent #US6747690 B2 entitled Digital camera with integrated accelerometers filed by PhaseOne a number of years ago suggests in its abstract that “Data relating to static and dynamic accelerations are stored with recorded image data for further processing, such as for correcting image data for roll, pitch and vibrations … Data may also be used on-the-fly for smear suppression caused by vibrations.” There are other  PhaseOne patents that deal with the accelerometer, but this one would suggest that what I alluded to above could very much be on the menu in the not too distant future, and would certainly be a modern feature!

Along with the large degree of user customizability in the physical features, the Firmware of the PhaseOne XF will also be easily upgradable as new features are enabled. While details of future features are scarce at launch, there are a number of exciting possibilities given the large degree of integration between digital backs and the camera body that the XF platform offers.

CaptureOne 8.3, will also feature much more integration of camera body controls (as you would expect) with the PhaseoOne XF body. This is great since it opens up new possibilities for remote control of the camera for stability as well as creative image making where the camera controls might be inaccessible.

The PhaseOne XF camera body will be compatible with the new PhaseOne IQ3 series cameras (launched with the XF) as well as with IQ2 and IQ1 series digital backs. P+ back compatibility will not be included, which I imagine has more to do with their being less useful given their lack of potential for integration into the XF then anything else. IQ3 series backs will be fully integrated into the PhaseOne XF, which (to me) is hauntingly reminiscent of the Hasselblad closed system that started with the H3D under similar auspices. However, will tighter integration is offered, it is still very much an open system. IQ2 series digital backs will be able to access most of the integrated features that the IQ3 will enjoy through a firmware upgrade. The IQ1 series of digital backs will not be able to enjoy this integration, however will still be usable on the PhaseOne XF, and will be able to enjoy the new features of the camera body.

Two new lenses have been announced. A Leaf shutter 120mm f/4 macro lens (which has been a long time coming), as well as a new leaf shutter 35mm f/3.5 wide angle lens with a new optical formula. I’m sure people will love the LS ability on the 120mm lenses, but I am most excited about the new design 35mm lens which should be a nice upgrade to the aging Mamiya 35mm f/3.5D lens (which I have been using a lot more recently). An exciting new feature of the PhaseOne XF camera body is that it will have new, lens specific focus calibration that is user customizable. For these two new lenses, it will be based on serial number, allowing for the greatest customization possible for optimal focusing. With older lenses, these features will be available but they will be focal-length specific rather then lens specific, great new feature to help improve image quality if you ask me.

As mentioned the PhaseOne IQ3 will offer higher integration with the PhaseOne XF camera body. This will be done mostly through the greater control given to the entire system through CaptureOne. There will also be a new power share feature allowing for the back and body to power each other which is also nice to allow for extended shooting if one runs out of power. I will be following up in much greater detail about the IQ3 series digital backs later today (and will link to that here).

To conclude, I will say that the PhaseOne XF camera body offers many neat new features that we have wanted for a long time. It is the most modern medium format digital camera body, however it is still far off from the most lame DLSR. That being said, its the best we’ve got (re-modern features) so thats something. I will be interested to see how some of the new features discussed above work (particularly the autofocus with AF lenses as well as how it helps in Manual Focus only lens focusing). All of these new features are all well and good, but lets see what they are going to cost…

First, according to Lance Schad (link to direct email) of Digital Transitions, there will be an upgrade program for PhaseOne 645DF and 645DF+ users, with more information to come on this in the near future. For the moment, pricing stands as follows:

  • XF Camera Body, Prism Viewfinder, 80mm LS Lens -$8,990.00
  •  XF Camera Body with Prism Viewfinder – $7,990.00
  •  XF Camera Body (no viewfinder) – $6,490.00
  •  XF Prism Viewfinder – $2,490.00
  •  XF Waist Level Finder – $790.00

You can also find a full summary of the PhaseOne XF camera body’s features below courtesy of Digital Transitions my preferred PhaseOne Dealer:

PhaseOne XF Featurese