Not all cameras are the same, and Leica’s Q proves it, packing a full-frame 35mm sensor, 28mm f/1.7 fixed lens, and a body that says “camera” more than most others.
A little different from the typical interchangeable lens cameras we see from Leica, the Q — also known as the “Typ 116” — is a self-contained advanced compact camera with a lens built in that is not removable.
Despite that, the lens is packing some pretty high-end glass, with Leica making the Summilux lens into an f/1.7 lens, ranging from that low aperture all the way up to f/16, with macro support thrown in for good measure focusing at a minimum distance of 17cm.
The camera itself is equipped with a 24 megapixel full-frame 35mm sensor, but the camera also includes a digital reframing button which can change the capture frame and crop it to both 35mm and 50mm. This inclusion of three image sizes results in a standard image size of 24 megapixels in 28mm uncropped, 15 megapixels in 35mm cropped, and 8 megapixels in 50mm cropped.
Images are captured in 14-bit, with the capture formats in both JPEG and RAW’s Digital Negative “DNG” format, and movies can be captured, too, either at Full HD 1080p (1920×1080) or HD 720p (1280×720) in the MP4 format.
The sensor in the Leica Q is rated for low-light sensitivity ranging from ISO 100 to 50000, with both automatic white balance and several settings, with several settings also available for saturation and contrast.
Automatic image stabilisation is also included here, turned off by default, with focus handled by a contrast-based autofocus system. Points can be selected if needed, and manual focus controls also exist on the lens with a focus ring.
The camera also features both a viewfinder and rear touch screen, the former of which offers up a 3.6 million pixels display, and the latter with a 3 inch touchscreen display showing 1 million pixels.
Several buttons are included, ranging from play, delete, function, ISO control, and menu, as well as a directional pad, all of these found on the back, while the top controls are for the power switch setting up either single drive or continuous drive mode, and a shutter speed control dial. Aperture controls can be found using the aperture ring, and all of these can be set to auto.
Connections for the Leica Q include microUSB and microHDMI, with images stored to an SD card, with compatibility extended for SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards.
Wireless support is also here, the Leica Q talking to smartphones and tablets over 802.11b/g/n WiFi via an app made for both Google Android and Apple iOS. Near-Field Communication can help with the setup of compatible mobile devices, while QR codes can SSID look-up can be used for devices where NFC cannot be found.
The body of the Leica Q is made from aluminium, as is the lens. A hot-shoe can also be found at the very top of the camera, and there is no built-in flash with this camera.
A battery is included with the Leica Q which is removable and needs to be charged in an external charger.
You don’t have to look far to realise that cameras come in all shapes and sizes, to all manner of price points, and to different styles to match different image capturing techniques, with models ranging from the simple point and shoot, the more advanced models, the interchangeable lens cameras, and even cameras which are a little bit more special and do unusual things.
But every camera can be used for something unusual, because our style is often what makes it that.
One hundred year old Leica understands this better than most other camera makers. The brand is one of the oldest still existing camera brands out there, responsible for high-grade optics not just in the photographic community, but also in the science world, with high quality glass making the difference in the line of work of various professionals who have to look down the line of one of the company’s many types of optical gadgets.
Those one hundred years have seen a lot of cameras and a lot of photographers, and the list includes some pretty spectacular greats, including the likes of Alexander Rodchenko, Elliot Erwitt, Robert Capa, and Henri-Cartier Bresson to name but a few, all of these creating images synonymous with the style that these small Leica cameras have been known for, much of it impromptu with no setup, resulting in life being captured from the viewfinder.
Street photography is generally the style a Leica is known for, or at least a Leica rangefinder, and these cameras generally focus on fixed lens lengths for capturing the day-to-day, which is a classic style of shooting and a little restrained in comparison to the modern way of looking through a camera and being able to zoom in if you’re not happy where you are.
This older style has been used in Leica’s rangefinders over the years, even as Leica jumped from film to digital, which the company now sees itself squarely in, complete with options for people who like to work in colour and even in black and white only.
But affordability has never been something Leica has really worried about. It was almost as if the company knew you were buying the best, and so as to not compromise, never really dropped prices. Camera bodies tend not to come with lenses, and therefore fetch a minimum price of around $8000, and the lenses start at half this and go up.
This year, however, we might be seeing Leica find a compromise, a middle ground, if you will, that will let someone who doesn’t have that spare cash happily spend it on something high quality with the Leica style and design, with the Leica heritage of high quality lenses and attention to detail.
This is the Leica Q, a take on Leica’s rangefinder with a fixed lens that you cannot remove and a full-frame 35mm sensor, providing what feels like a cross between an advanced compact and a interchangeable lens camera, even if you can’t actually take that lens off.
At $5990, it’s still going to sit in that category of “not cheap”, but in comparison to most Leica models — in comparison to any other digital Leica rangefinder — it’s a bargain, and that’s before you actually get to using the camera.
Pick it up and you’ll feel a solid aluminium body the likes of which is a little unusual in the world of digital cameras.
You’ll see aluminium and magnesium from time to time, but a solid block is a little different, and it’s a whole heap better than the block Leica used in its Typ T, which we saw last year.
That model was a great shooter, but arrived with a lens system that wasn’t yet defined, and while the aesthetics of the unit made it seem like the perfect camera to accompany an Apple MacBook Pro, it still felt too minimalist and less like a camera, without the soul we expect a photographic thing of beauty to feature.
In contrast, the Leica Q is like one of Leica’s classic cameras made for today, with a textured surface, soft corners, and a thumb grip on the back to help you grip the body. Granted, that thumb grip isn’t going to be suitable for all thumbs — it’s pretty slim — but it does give you a starting off point, and if you’re holding your camera right, this combination of details will help to make the body fit your hand like a glove, a large aluminium block of a glove, but a glove nonetheless.
Switch the camera on using the switch up top and you’ll find yourself in either the single shot (S) or continuous shooting (C) mode, a choice of either shooting in one, shot, at, a, time, or several if you’re into continuous shooting such as if you need to capture something in motion.
This decision to put the single mode ahead of the continuous can result in you being put into continuous mode too often, just from a simple switch on, and we wish Leica had decided to make S the last one, so a full switch of the power could put is into the singular mode only, but we can live with this, and it just means you’ll have to control your fingers, training them how much pressure is needed for that power switch to bring you to the right mode.
Once in the right drive mode, you’ll find no listing of the regular camera modes on the top of this camera.
While most camera bodies display the typical P/A/S/M — Program, Aperture, Shutter, and Manual for those of you who left your jargon manual at home — as well as some auto modes, these aren’t found on the body. Rather, if you want to make the choice of an auto mode or manual-specific option, you have to do this with the 3 inch LCD at the back of the camera, which Leica has also included touch support.
You don’t have to use the LCD either, as there’s a viewfinder found above this to the left revealing a super bright 3 megapixel view of the world, easily one of the brightest and sharpest we’ve ever seen or heard of.
Even though the features might sound like Leica has made a camera that is remarkably new, and it has, for the most part, the Leica Q is assumed to be a camera for people who like to go old school, for people who play with their lenses with options for auto-focus or manual focus when the focus control button is pressed on the bottom.
The Leica Q is also for people who like to define the shutter speed and control the speed like an old camera would, and that’s what the dial up top is for: shutter speed control.
That’s a very old school camera option, as is the aperture ring which is on the lens and can be controlled for your depth of field. If you don’t really want that, however, the Leica Q accommodates for this with the inclusion of auto aperture and auto shutter speed, there when you stick it on “A”, and this doesn’t have to be done for both.
If you want the aperture controlled for you but the shutter speed set to 125, you can set the aperture ring to A and control the shutter with the top dial, setting it to 125, or anything else.
Let’s say you want the opposite, and depth is important to you but shutter speed isn’t. In that situation, you can set the shutter speed to A on the top dial and control the aperture on the edge of the lens manually yourself.
And if you don’t want any control of either, that’s totally fine too, as you can set both to A and let the camera do its thing, which it does surprisingly well, running through either an automatic ISO selection, which can get pretty useful even in low light, which offers as high a low-light sensitivity as the rocking 50,000, which isn’t going to look fantastic in colour, but will be pretty handy if you’ve found the monochrome mode.
Yes, it wouldn’t be a Leica if it didn’t support black and white photography, and while this isn’t like the M Monochrom — a camera from Leica that can only shoot black and white (don’t laugh, we’d use that) — it does have an excellent monochrome mode hidden in the options for colour saturation, with it being the first option.
This isn’t a simple greyscale either, with a good solid black and white recreation of the image that can be captured in either JPG or RAW on the Leica Q’s 24 megapixel full-frame sensor.
In black and white, the blacks were deep with plenty of clarity and a lovely tonality running from the white to the blacks, though it’s not a black and white mode you can define like you can on other cameras, with no option for colour filtration control, so no extra bright skin tones from a red filter nor can you get heavier contrast from a blue or green filtration.
This is black and white, simple as it is, with no extra control until you bring the image into an imaging processing application.
Adobe’s Lightroom is included with the purchase, handy if you don’t already own a copy of aren’t a Photoshop user, which is supported too, because the RAW format of choice is Adobe’s Digital Negative, otherwise known as DNG.
When you take the black and white RAW into either of these apps, it’ll switch back to colour, but have no fear because you’ll have a black and white JPEG saved alongside it, which is handy too.
Colour is the other great part of this camera, with vibrant colours that feel closer to life and more accurate in white balance recreation than we see from most of the cameras that pass by our way.
This journalist and photographer isn’t much of a colour image person by default, but the Leica Q could change that, with a lovely sense to the images that feels like life has been captured, and won’t require all that much polishing to make it look better out of the camera.
Part of this feeling has to come from the quality of the glass Leica has opted for in the Q, with the 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens totally matched for the technology inside the camera.
More than that, the lens is razor sharp, with a beautifully pristine ability to capture detail, and an extra macro mode thrown in for good measure.
To get to that mode, you simply twist the lens near the back of the lens (at the camera), and the lens will change, the focusing distance guide moving forward and telling you that yes, you’re in macro mode.
Granted, this isn’t the best macro mode we’ve seen, and we’re not exactly going to trade our dedicated macro lenses on other camera systems for this any time soon, but it’s still very, very nice, and thanks to that low aperture setting of f/1.7, you’ll find you can get some sharp details flanked by significantly blurry macros, almost lending itself to a more romantic way of shooting, as elements of images fade into themselves like they were going through a dream sequence.
Back in the regular lens mode, the camera performs beautifully in most environments, and almost every shot we had out of this camera was a winner to us. Up close, they images are sharp, and very easy on the eyes.
Good luck complaining about lens quality here, because there’s no need to.
You can even take a selfie on this camera, with the 28mm lens wide enough, the automatic aperture and shutter speed good enough, and the sensitivity playful enough to allow you a moment of vanity and capture yourself in either light or day.
Certainly, this is the best selfie camera we’ve ever played with, though if we ever call it that again, you have our permission to yell at us.
The camera’s reliance on manual modes also makes it suitable for the old school photographer that hates living in the modern world, but it’s still not a bad option for someone who loves those automatic shooting choices, and the full-on auto mode with auto-focus, auto-aperture, auto-ISO, and auto-shutter speed still works very, very well, and better than you’d expect from a camera that feels more like it was designed to cough at the thought.
Carrying it around the city, we found it was a comfortable body to hang around our neck, to hold in our hands, and the style it brings to you does make you feel like you’re a Rodchenko or a Bresson, carrying this little piece of history to get your own street shooting done.
Some modern elements have also been thrown in for good measure with smartphone control now here, and to Leica’s credit, it has actually pulled them off, which is a far sight better than what we saw in the first camera that heralded these for Leica, the T.
Wireless setup can now be performed on more than just the iPhone, with Android found here, too, supporting image backups from camera to phone, found in the original JPEG image size, and there is also camera control.
Camera control is exactly what it sounds like, with Leica offering the lens and sensor through your smartphone, turning the iPhone or your Android device into what is essentially an off-camera viewfinder, but it’s more than that, as you can control aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure, and touch the screen to focus, with the image firing the moment you fire the shutter on the phone.
It’s a very handy little feature, and while we’ve seen it on a few other cameras in the past, Leica’s is one of the better implementations without doubt.
One of the more curious additions, though, is the digital reframe button, a small button near the top right that isn’t marked, but it will make itself known to you pretty quickly.
Just as an aside for this, you need to remember that the Leica Q is a fixed 28mm camera, with no ability to zoom in. Sort of.
The digital reframe button is a bit of a cheat, cropping down to what would be 35mm and 50mm, and showing those reframed image sizes on screen, to give you an idea of what you’re shooting and framing when you fire the shot.
When you do capture the shot with either of these activated, the image will crop, with the 28mm full-frame 24 megapixel shot going down to 15 megapixels in 35mm mode, and down to 8 megapixels in 50mm mode.
With a RAW file, it’s a little different again, with Leica’s DNG pre-cropped to those sizes, but still offering you the full-frame if need be. It’s a little reminiscent of Nokia’s PureView technology and how it cropped down to the right zoom level on its 40 megapixel sensor, but let you later on recrop the image if need be.
This digital reframe option in the Leica Q is a bit of a cheat for zoom, though it is a way for the modern photographer to deal with the very fact that the Q cannot zoom in, with the hopes that 8 and 15 megapixels is enough, which it is for us, but might not be ideal for all.
We’d say most photographers would be happy with what’s available, but this camera’s lack of range definitely makes it more suitable for casual photography, portraits, and candids, but if you need to shoot something from far away, steer clear because even 50mm at 8 megapixels won’t get you close.
Despite this little cheat, we love the Leica Q, and if the above paragraphs haven’t given away how thrilled we are with the Leica Q, then let us say it proudly: this is a stellar camera, made for people who love to tinker and get focus the traditional way, as well as those who want the camera to do all the work.
It isn’t your camera made for shooting images from afar, making it useless for sports photography or music photography unless you’re sitting up front and can feel the sweat of the athlete or the spittle of the performer.
But it is ideal for street photography, for candids, and for portraits intending to be shot with the most pristine of glass, because that’s what Leica offers in the full-frame sensor of the Q.
Where Leica doesn’t succeed, however, is with the battery, which struggles to get more than 200 shots out of a single charge, and which loses life quickly and dramatically when the wireless mode is engaged.
Simply put, if you switch WiFi on and move images from the Leica Q to your smartphone or tablet, the battery will fall over very, very quickly. Without WiFi and capturing RAW and JPEG together, you’ll find a little over 200 shots available to you which still isn’t fantastic.
This not-so-impressive battery life means if you invest in a Leica Q, you’ll want to grab a couple extra batteries and keep them with you for a day out.
It’s a good thing the batteries aren’t very big and can easily slip into a pocket without weighing you down, but next time, we’d like to see Leica spend more time in the battery department and produce something that can handle a little more juice.
Buttons are one of the other issues we have with the Q in that there just aren’t enough function buttons. In fact, there’s only one.
One function button at the back is the only button available to you for quick configures, and it doesn’t do a whole lot in terms of things.
It does offer quick access to a variety of functions, including white balance, exposure, scene mode, file format, and the wireless networking (WLAN) mode for switching it on and off, but you need to hold it down to get those options, with a selection of the mode you want being mapped to the button.
It works like this: hold the function button down to choose what it connects to, and then press it quickly to go into the mode.
You can remap it later on, and remap it on the fly, and we found we would use this to switch file format regularly, jumping from RAW and JPEG back to JPEG when we didn’t feel we needed it, while we could hold the button down for exposure or white balance control when we wanted to remap that button.
Remapping is easy, and once you’re familiar with the button location and how it all comes together, it’s a cinch to do, but we would have liked at least one more function button, especially since this is designed to feel like a professional camera, or something close to one.
Even the enthusiast cameras tend to come with at least two function buttons these days, so Leica is kind of letting this area down a little.
Not a huge issue, mind you, but it is one to be aware.
There’s also no flash, which isn’t as much of an issue as you might think.
That was one we cottoned onto quite early, but it’s something rangefinder cameras aren’t really well known for. Indeed, that’s very much the same sort of situation here in the Q, and you’ll have to rely on the high ISO capabilities of this camera to get you through situations where light is a bit of an issue.
An optional flash can be found through Leica, and that works here, but we found that rather than dwell on the idea that a flash wasn’t included, we spent time with the low-light capabilities and found that the tremendous range of this camera was more than helpful.
Likewise, the automatic modes could do with some work. Specifically, the auto modes outside of the regular “let the camera do its thing on auto” mode that many will use.
For the most part, the Leica Q’s auto mode is pretty good, but we weren’t particularly enthralled with some of the modes you have to get in via the menu, like the panorama mode, which just didn’t feel quite as good of a stitcher as other panorama modes we’ve tested.
We’re not sure how many Leica users will end up playing with these, and it’s quite clear the Q is targeted at people who know how to use (and love using) traditional cameras, but the amateur shooters out there may find their way to these modes, and they could do with a bit of an update.
The last issue, though, will be one on the mind of anyone looking to buy a Leica Q, and that’s price, and at $5990, you’d understand why. Simply put, this is not a cheap camera, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Granted, you get a low-light lens and a full-frame 35mm sensor, but still, it’s not cheap.
There aren’t many cameras this can be compared to either, and the only one we know of is Sony’s RX1, which again takes a 24 megapixel full-frame 35mm sensor and plonks it not a small body with a fixed 35mm f/2.0 lens, a little different from the 28mm f/1.7 offered here, and with less ISO range (a max of 25600).
The cameras are of course totally different, but Sony’s version arrives with a local price tag close to the $3500 mark. Leica’s Q isn’t Sony’s RX1, and is three years newer, the RX1 first appearing in 2012.
Does this alone make the Leica worth the extra $2400?
Not having reviewed the RX1, we couldn’t tell you, but we look at the price of the Leica Q not solely as a competitor to the RX1, but as a smaller Leica model for people who know they won’t ever really have the cashflow to support entry into the Leica system.
You can class this writer in that bunch, because the ticket to the Leica rangefinder system doesn’t start small, with $6500 grabbing you the M-E and $8300 netting the standard M, the latter of which relies on a similar full-frame 35mm sensor set to 24 megapixels.
Leica lenses aren’t much cheaper, with M-based lenses starting at around $2800 for a 28mm f/2.8, and while there’s no equivalent Summilux lens from Leica outright — no f/1.7 on a 28mm that we can find, anyway — the 28mm f/1.4 Summilux-M is around $8000.
So if you take the Leica M digital for $8300 and the 28mm f/1.4 for another $8000, you have a camera setup that costs a good $10000 more than what the Leica Q gets.
If that were us, we know we’d be struggling to ever buy another lens for a Leica, and that’s who this camera feels pitched at: people who love Leica, and who love the quality the brand pushes out, but who also are realists and know they’ll never be able to afford another lens, so have decided that one lens made just for the camera will be more than ideal.
Leica’s Q is a particularly interesting camera, and one that really grabs your attention, with so much going for it. It has the look of something old, and yet it is much much better than just another camera meant to capture the retro design of the heritage cameras.
It’s also a camera that causes disagreements, with some photographers looking at it and questioning why it costs so much.
The answer to that one can simply be brought back to “it’s a Leica”, which is a similar response to why a Ferrari costs as much as it does. Both are machines at the height of their craft, with an attention to detail few other brands have, and a name that automatically commands respect.
We’ve all felt that ping of jealousy when we see a Ferrari tear down the road, and even though it’s obviously not a practical automobile for going down to the supermarket, you can’t help but wish you had something of that quality in your own garage.
A Leica is a little like that, with the camera brand existing for over a hundred years, used by hundreds of recognisable photographers, and a quality in bodies and lenses, as well as shutter mechanism design, that is hard to fault.
Why does a Leica cost as much as a Leica does? It’s a Leica.
But still, you find a disagreement.
Take this writer’s father, for instance, who argues that it is more than likely the photographer handling the Leica Q in this review that is taking the photos to be proud of, not the camera itself, and that he could probably get the same result out of the Nikon he has at home, or even any other camera if need be. He could take an old Mamiya off the shelf at home, load it with film, and get similar results.
That’s part of the toolkit response for photographers: it’s not the camera making the image, but rather the person behind the camera, and explains why the camera does not make the photographer, and why any old Joe can’t just buy an expensive camera and get great shots out of it.
There’s another approach to this, however, and that is a photographer is only as good as the equipment they’re using, because while you can get great images out of any camera if your skill is already up there, you can get even better images out of a camera if the camera and lens quality is even higher.
That’s what the Leica Q does to the photographer’s toolkit, elevating the quality to heights few cameras and lenses can achieve, but it does come at a cost.
Indeed, the $5900 price tag isn’t cheap, and it does make you think twice about if the fixed-lens camera is really worth plonking down close to six grand on a body that could do with better battery life.
But if that’s the one serious complaint we have with the Leica, that’s not much to squabble with, especially since the lens quality is so high, especially if almost every image out of this camera has been one this writer and this photographer has been proud of.
So instead of thinking about the price being so high, we instead have to think about how much a real Leica digital interchangeable rangefinder would be, and then knowing that we couldn’t justify it at all, not until we sell a book or two, and possibly the movie rights.
With such a high cost, we’re probably in the group who would only ever buy one lens, which is exactly what this camera feels like it is being pitched to at a cost lower than that of the body and lens combo, offering a solid piece of glass with a body that it has been matched to perfectly.
And sure, it’s still quite expensive for what’s on offer, and almost three grand more than the Sony equivalent of a similar product. But the Leica Q is something special, and is easy one of the best cameras we’ve ever seen.
Seriously, this writer has found the camera that he’ll use to take photos of his family with. Now he just has to save up for it.