Is Leica’s New Q

The An­swer? // Col­lect­ing


SO, AF­TER ALL THE DRAMA OF THE out-of-left-field Leica T, we’re now back on script with the Q. As we noted at the time of its launch, the T was the cam­era Leica had to make and so, in all hon­esty, is the Q, ex­cept for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons. The T is an im­per­a­tive, the Q is in­tu­itive. In other words, Leica couldn’t not make this cam­era. It’s in the genes.

You can just imag­ine the Leica de­sign depart­ment look­ing at the Fu­ji­film X100 cam­eras and, prob­a­bly more specif­i­cally, the Sony RX1/RX1R, and think­ing, “We can re­ally do bet­ter than this”.

So the Q ticks all the boxes the oth­ers missed. It has a full-35mm sen­sor sans op­ti­cal low pass fil­ter. It has a fast f1.7 speed 28mm lens… not dubbed ‘the cin­e­matic fo­cal length’ for noth­ing. It has a built-in elec­tronic viewfinder which re­sets the bar for im­age qual­ity. And, above all else, it’s a gen­uine Made-In-Ger­many Leica cam­era. What’s not to like? Well, some are baulk­ing at the price tag, but this needs to be put in per­spec­tive given what you’d pay to have the same combo from any­where else in Leica land (i.e. M Type 240 body + Sum­milux-M 28mm f1.4 ASPH lens = ouch!). So the Q’s Sum­milux 28mm f1.7 ASPH lens is fixed, but how many M users mostly use just one lens… typ­i­cally ei­ther a 28mm or a 35mm? These fo­cal lengths rep­re­sent pretty much the essence of RF cam­era pho­tog­ra­phy.

On a more prac­ti­cal note, a fixed lens means no dust-on-sen­sor is­sues and, more im­por­tantly, a more com­pact and, yes, less costly de­sign. It also means the lens is pre­cisely matched to the sen­sor which has real ben­e­fits in terms of the imag­ing per­for­mance.

Cre­at­ing A Pres­ence

While it’s smaller and lighter than a dig­i­tal M, the Q isn’t ex­actly com­pact. It’s more mid-sized, but it has real pres­ence and is dis­tinctly M-like in its styling, the way it feels and the qual­ity of its con­struc­tion.

The top panel is milled from a solid lump of alu­minium while the main shell is a mag­ne­sium al­loy com­po­nent. All the mark­ings are laser en­graved and ev­ery­thing works with a typ­i­cally Leica smooth­ness and pre­ci­sion. There’s a tra­di­tional shut­ter speed dial and, on the lens, an aper­ture ring. Both have ‘A’ set­tings so, like on Fu­ji­film’s X100 mod­els, the se­lec­tion of the ‘PASM’ ex­po­sure

con­trol modes de­pends on whether both, ei­ther or nei­ther are parked on ‘A’. The lens also has a man­ual fo­cus­ing col­lar and its dis­tance scale is very niftily switched over when the macro mode is se­lected.

How­ever, sig­nif­i­cantly, the Leica Q has aut­o­fo­cus­ing – en­gaged by set­ting the fo­cus­ing col­lar to its ‘AF’ po­si­tion – and here, per­haps, is a glimpse into the fu­ture. At first glance, the Q’s lens looks like it might be in­ter­change­able and, on closer ex­am­i­na­tion, there doesn’t seem any rea­son why a mount couldn’t be ac­com­mo­dated. Leica has hinted that the Q – its fac­tory code is Typ 116, by the way – is just the start, but whether there’ll sub­se­quently be a se­lec­tion of fixed lens mod­els like Sigma’s qu­at­tro dp se­ries or an in­ter­change­able lens cam­era isn’t clear. Nev­er­the­less, with its EVF and aut­o­fo­cus­ing, the Q does start to look some­thing like the ba­sic for­mula for a ‘fu­ture M’. We shall see.

Im­por­tantly though, Leica has nailed the EVF in the Q. It’s a LCOS-type dis­play (the ini­tials stand for Liq­uid Crys­tal On Sil­i­con) with a res­o­lu­tion of 3.68 mil­lion dots and it’s quite the best we’ve seen so far, su­pe­rior even to Sony’s ex­cel­lent OLED dis­plays. It’s bright with a real world colour ren­di­tion, lots of def­i­ni­tion and a good dy­namic range. While the LCOS dis­play is a field-sequential type (i.e. each point al­ter­na­tively shows red, green and blue), there’s no no­tice­able lag or colour ‘tear­ing’ when pan­ning. Prox­im­ity sen­sors in the eye­piece en­able au­to­matic switch­ing be­tween the EVF and Q’s mon­i­tor screen which is a fixed TFT LCD panel with a res­o­lu­tion of 1.04 mil­lion dots and touch con­trol. How­ever, un­like the all-or-noth­ing T, the Q’s user in­ter­face is con­ven­tion­ally menu-based with a four­way nav­i­ga­tor and the touch con­trols are there as an op­tion (although the fa­cil­ity can’t be switched off com­pletely).

Es­sen­tial In­gre­di­ents

The Leica Q has a full-35mm CMOS sen­sor – source un­known and not the same de­vice as is used in the M Typ 240 – with a to­tal pixel count of 26.3 mil­lion and a sen­si­tiv­ity range equiv­a­lent to ISO 100 to 50,000.

The ef­fec­tive pixel count of 24.2 mil­lion gives a max­i­mum im­age size of 6000x4000 pix­els, but there’s the op­tion of record­ing at three smaller sizes. Ad­di­tion­ally, there are two ‘dig­i­tal zoom’ set­tings which equate to the 35mm and 50mm fo­cal lengths and which can be se­lected on-the-fly via a but­ton on the back panel ad­ja­cent to the thum­brest. These are ob­vi­ously crops, but in the case of the 35mm set­ting, the res­o­lu­tion is still 15.4 megapix­els so it’s a handy fa­cil­ity for, say, street pho­tog­ra­phy. The crops are shown in the EVF and mon­i­tor just like the bright­line frames in an RF cam­era’s fin­der and, sim­i­larly, what’s hap­pen­ing out­side the frame can be seen as well.

Fur­ther­more, with RAW+JPEG cap­ture, the RAW file is still recorded at the 28mm an­gle-of-view and the crop­ping frame can sub­se­quently be moved around in Adobe Light­room (which is supplied as a free down­load with the cam­era).

A fixed lens means no dust- on-sen­sor is­sues and, more im­por­tantly, a more com­pact and, yes, less costly de­sign. It also means the lens is pre­cisely matched to the sen­sor which has real ben­e­fits in terms of the imag­ing per­for­mance.

As is stan­dard on Leica dig­i­tal cam­eras, RAW files are cap­tured in the Adobe DNG for­mat. There’s only one JPEG set­ting which is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of Leica’s min­i­mal­ist ap­proach, en­com­passed in the slo­gan “Das Wesentliche” which trans­lates as “the es­sen­tial”. In other words, why would any­body want to record lower qual­ity im­ages in-cam­era? Good ques­tion.

In the spirit of “Das Wesentliche”, the Leica Q also lacks any pic­ture pre­sets (although JPEGs can be fine-tuned for sharp­ness, con­trast and sat­u­ra­tion) and, God for­bid, any spe­cial ef­fects. It does, how­ever, have a set of sub­ject/scene modes which in­clude panorama stitch­ing, an in­ter­val­ome­ter and, just to con­tra­dict the last sen­tence, the ‘Minia­ture’ ef­fect (well, it’s more about fo­cus than a gim­mick, isn’t it?).

The heavy-lift­ing is done by Leica’s cur­rent-gen­er­a­tion ‘Mae­stro II’ pro­ces­sor which en­ables con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing for stills at up to a snappy 10 fps as well as video shoot­ing at 1080/60p. While it’s res­o­lutely a stills cam­era in de­sign, the Q is ac­tu­ally fairly ca­pa­ble in the video depart­ment. Clips are recorded in the MP4 for­mat (us­ing MPEG 4 AVC/H .264 com­pres­sion) with stereo sound via builtin mi­cro­phones which have a gain ad­just­ment and a switch­able wind-cut fil­ter. Ad­just­ments are pro­vided for sharp­ness, con­trast and sat­u­ra­tion, while con­tin­u­ous AF and all the ‘PASM’ modes are avail­able. In­ter­est­ingly, the lens em­ploys just one el­e­ment for aut­o­fo­cus ad­just­ments so the op­er­a­tion is vir­tu­ally silent which is a bonus when shoot­ing video. A ded­i­cated video record­ing start/stop but­ton is lo­cated ad­ja­cent to the shut­ter re­lease on the cam­era’s top panel.

Sharp Shoot­ing

The Q’s AF sys­tem is sen­sor based and uses con­trast-de­tec­tion mea­sure­ment with­out, it would ap­pear, any ‘go-faster’ pro­cesses, but it’s still ex­cep­tion­ally re­spon­sive and very re­li­able. There’s 169 mea­sur­ing points which cover vir­tu­ally the en­tire frame with the op­tion of au­to­matic or sin­gle-point se­lec­tion, auto track­ing and face de­tec­tion.

Switch­ing be­tween sin­gle-shot and con­tin­u­ous op­er­a­tion is man­ual (via the main menu), but there are ‘Touch AF or ‘Touch AF + Re­lease’ oper­a­tions avail­able on the mon­i­tor screen. A low light/con- trast il­lu­mi­na­tor is pro­vided. While the AF is very ca­pa­ble, it wouldn’t be a real Leica cam­era if the man­ual fo­cus­ing ex­pe­ri­ence didn’t make this way of do­ing things ar­guably the more de­sir­able op­tion. The fo­cus­ing col­lar is freed from its ‘AF’ po­si­tion by de­press­ing a small but­ton set into its fo­cus­ing tab and the sub­se­quent move­ment is as smoothly fluid as that of any Leica M lens. Sim­i­lar to any M lens, the dis­tance mark­ings are in both me­tres and feet, and there’s a depth-of-field scale for f4, f8, f11 and f16.

The min­i­mum fo­cus­ing dis­tance is 30 cen­time­tres, but as noted ear­lier, there’s a macro mode which is se­lected by turn­ing a ring on the lens which also clev­erly switches the dis­tance scale to the close-

While the AF is very ca­pa­ble, it wouldn’t be a real Leica cam­era if the man­ual fo­cus­ing ex­pe­ri­ence didn’t make this way of do­ing things the more de­sir­able op­tion.

up range of 17 to 30 cen­time­tres. It’s Leica show­ing off, re­ally, but a very nice piece of pre­ci­sion me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing nonethe­less. Fo­cus as­sist is via the dis­tinctly mod­ern-era de­vices of a mag­ni­fied im­age (up to 6x) with a fo­cus peak­ing dis­play in a choice of four colours.

Up To Speed

The lens’s aper­ture ring has click-stops in one-third EV in­ter­vals and the lens in­cor­po­rates a leaf shut­ter with a speed range of 30-1/2000 sec­ond. It’s de­scribed as a “me­chan­i­cal” shut­ter, although of course, it’s elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled (and so fully de­pen­dent on bat­tery power) and the word is used to dis­tin­guish it from the Q’s sen­sor-based “elec­tronic” shut­ter which takes the faster speed range on from 1/2500 sec­ond to 1/16,000 sec­ond.

With the shut­ter speed dial set to its ‘2000+’ set­tings, the faster speeds are sub­se­quently se­lected via the cam­era’s com­mand wheel. The switchover be­tween shut­ter types is per­formed au­to­mat­i­cally. Flash sync is at all speeds up to 1/500 sec­ond, but like any M body, the Q doesn’t have a built-in flash. Ex­ter­nal units sync via a hot­shoe only as there isn’t a PC ter­mi­nal.

Multi-zone, cen­tre-weighted av­er­age and spot me­ter­ing mea­sure­ments are avail­able and the auto ex­po­sure modes are sup­ple­mented by up to +/-3.0 EV of ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion and auto brack­et­ing over the same range for a se­quence of three frames.

The white bal­ance con­trol op­tions com­prise auto cor­rec­tion, five pre­sets, pro­vi­sions for mak­ing and stor­ing two cus­tom mea­sure­ments, and man­ual colour tem­per­a­ture set­ting over a range of 2000 to 11,500 de­grees Cel­sius. No brack­et­ing or fine-tun­ing. Also ab­sent are any man­u­ally-set pro­cess­ing func­tions for dy­namic range ex­pan­sion or noise re­duc­tion and, per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, there isn’t a multi-shot HDR cap­ture mode. No doubt Leica thinks many Q users will shoot in RAW and sort all this out post-cam­era.

Pared down to the essen­tials, the menu is a sim­ple ar­range­ment com­pris­ing one, con­tin­u­ously-scrol­lable sec­tion with the sub­menus ac­cessed via a rightclick of the nav­i­ga­tor. The lay­out is crisp and clean with the em­pha­sis on func­tion­al­ity above all else. The live view screen can be con­fig­ured to in­clude a guide grid (the clas­sic ‘rule-of-thirds’), a real-time his­togram, high­light warn­ing and a sin­gleaxis level in­di­ca­tor plus all the im­por­tant sta­tus in­di­ca­tors and read-outs. All are ob­vi­ously repli­cated in the EVF.

Def­i­nitely not quite so clas­si­cal, is the built-in WiFi mod­ule which pro­vides the con­ve­nience of NFC ‘touch-and-go’ con­nec­tiv­ity. The Leica Q app al­lows for the wire­less trans­mis­sion of files and re­mote cam­era con­trol, in­clud­ing ex­po­sure set­tings. The live view im­age is also avail­able at the mo­bile de­vice, ei­ther iOS or An­droid.

There’s only one JPEG set­ting which is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of Leica’s min­i­mal­ist ap­proach, en­com­passed in the slo­gan “Das Wesentliche” which trans­lates as “the es­sen­tial”.

Speed And Per­for­mance

With our ref­er­ence 64 GB Lexar Pro­fes­sional SDXC (Speed Class 1) mem­ory card

loaded, the Leica Q fired off a burst of a burst of 26 JPEG frames in 2.454 sec­onds which rep­re­sents a con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing speed of 10.6 fps. The typ­i­cal file size for this test was 8.7 MB so the Q has no prob­lems de­liv­er­ing on Leica’s shoot­ing speed claims.

The JPEG im­age qual­ity is sim­ply de­li­cious. The colours are slightly muted (fixed, if so de­sired, by set­ting it to ‘Medium High’ in the cam­era which adds some ex­tra punch), but the dy­namic range, crisply-de­fined de­tail­ing and smooth tonal gra­da­tions are all ex­cel­lent.

Noise isn’t an is­sue up to ISO 6400 and still ac­cept­able at ISO 12,500, but the two high­est sen­si­tiv­ity set­tings do ex­hibit some blotch­i­ness in ar­eas of con­tin­u­ous tone and the colour sat­u­ra­tion suf­fers ac­cord­ingly, but the sharp­ness less so. Nev­er­the­less, the RAW files con­tain just so much de­tail that post-cam­era noise re­duc­tion can be ap­plied with­out un­duly di­min­ish­ing the over­all im­age qual­ity. This, com­bined with the f1.7 lens speed and im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion, give the Q ex­cep­tional low-light shoot­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Of course, the lens is part of the deal here and there’s a dis­tinctly Leica ‘look’ in terms of the con­trast and colour bal­ance. Cen­tre-to-cor­ner sharp­ness is pretty good even at f1.7, but ex­cel­lent from f2.8 and be­yond. There’s no vi­gnetting and it’s very highly cor­rected in terms of dis­tor­tion – three as­pher­i­cal el­e­ments are in­cluded in the op­ti­cal con­struc­tion – and both spher­i­cal and chro­matic aber­ra­tions. The Q does per­form some in-cam­era cor­rec­tions for lens aber­ra­tions, but re­gard­less of how it gets there, the end re­sult is noth­ing short of bril­liant. The out-of-fo­cus ef­fects are beau­ti­fully smooth so im­ages ex­hibit real depth and al­lure. And the 28mm fo­cal length is hugely ver­sa­tile, pro­vid­ing plenty of scope for ex­per­i­ment­ing with com­po­si­tion and the ‘room’ to crop later on if nec­es­sary.

Part of the whole Q ex­pe­ri­ence us un­doubt­edly the han­dling. It feels like an M and can be worked like one too, but there’s also the op­tion of go­ing to full point-and-shoot op­er­a­tion – com­plete with touch screen con­trols – or any auto/man­ual com­bi­na­tion that’s pre­ferred in be­tween. How­ever, what’s re­ally telling is that the Q is as com­fort­able – and pretty much al­most as ef­fi­cient – to use with man­ual fo­cus­ing and ex­po­sure con­trol as it is to set ev­ery­thing to auto. The sim­plic­ity – and this word is used in a very pos­i­tive sense – is re­fresh­ing and, much more so than the T, the Q bal­ances the tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary in a way that gives it far wider ap­peal.

The Ver­dict

Let’s talk money. Live with the Leica Q for even a short pe­riod of time and the price tag be­comes eas­ier to jus­tify. It is an ex­pen­sive cam­era, but then it is a full-blown Leica – in terms of the build qual­ity (both body and lens), the way it op­er­ates and the per­for­mance – and it’s also a com­bi­na­tion of fea­tures and ca­pa­bil­i­ties that makes for an im­mensely com­pe­tent pack­age… more so straight out of the box than any of the mod­els sug­gested as ri­vals. And, in the end, there’s also a cer­tain de­gree of ex­clu­siv­ity that comes with Leica’s 100-year-old legacy and the con­sid­er­able rep­u­ta­tion that this has built. In the end, po­ten­tial buy­ers will have to de­cide whether they’re happy to pay a pre­mium to have this cache.

But be­yond the brand and badge, the Leica Q is a truly fine cam­era that’s a sheer joy to use and de­liv­ers won­der­ful re­sults. End of story.

The con­trol lay­out is sim­plic­ity it­self. The sin­gle cus­tomis­able ‘Fn’ but­ton is in the mid­dle of the rear-panel ar­ray.

What you see is what you get. The ‘2000+’ and ‘1+’ po­si­tions on the shut­ter speed dial pro­vide ac­cess to the ex­tended range of set­tings (up to 1/16,000 sec­ond via a sen­sor-based shut­ter).

Built-in EVF is a bright LCOS­type dis­play with a res­o­lu­tion of 3.68 mil­lion dots. Prox­im­ity sen­sor on the eye­piece pro­vides auto switch­ing be­tween fin­der and mon­i­tor.

Sim­i­lar in styling to the clas­sic M, but the Q is smaller and lighter… and the 28mm f1.7 Sum­milux lens is fixed.

Small lever within the fo­cus­ing tab (this is at the base of the lens) al­lows for the fo­cus­ing col­lar to be un­locked.

Turn­ing the fo­cus­ing col­lar off its ‘AF’ set­ting en­gages man­ual fo­cus­ing. The Macro se­lec­tor ring switches to the close-fo­cus­ing dis­tances.

Aper­ture ring is cal­i­brated in one-third stop in­cre­ments.

Fixed TFT LCD mon­i­tor screen has touch con­trols, but the Q also has con­ven­tional menus and a set of tra­di­tional ex­ter­nal con­trols.

In keep­ing with the M se­ries bod­ies, the Q lacks a built-in flash. Ex­ter­nal units sync via the hot­shoe.

The menu de­sign is also clean, sim­ple and in­tu­itive.

The replay screen can be con­fig­ured for a real-time his­togram and high­light warn­ing ( just vis­i­ble as a small black sec­tion in the top left of this il­lus­tra­tion).

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