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).

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