BEAR with me. I would like to share my experience using my two-year- old camera. This is my treasured Leica Q. I am not an endorser but an amateur trigger-happy shooter. For me, photography is not about device features, or even technique, but a relationship. It is about finding a camera that makes you want to shoot with it — a buddy that is a joy to use. That’s how I had felt with the Q.
Years ago, when I was drooling over Nikons and Canons, I started glancing and secretly researching with envy Leica cameras with no expectation to buy one (mainly for budgetary reasons).
But a model intrigued my mortality for anything superior, being mirrorless, and packing fixed lens (28mm f/1.7), full-frame sensor, manual control dials, fast and accurate autofocus and dedicated manual focus that defied anything conventional among professional DSLRs.
I was told by the reviews I chanced upon during my nocturnal browsing that “for the traveler who demands the best in a camera in regard to building quality and optical excellence they need not look farther than the Leica Q.”
Why? The Leica Q is a German-engineered and -built full-frame, fixed-lens camera. Leica products from the Wetzlar plant have a heritage performance and quality. The camera is remarkably simple to operate, with little in the way of bells and whistles but from this we are presented with a camera that is nimble and quick, allowing the photographer to focus on composition and emotion. Sporting a quality EVF, the camera hails from its historic roots of the heralded M series of film and digital rangefinder cameras.
I had a fantastic time with this camera. If you can handle the cost of this camera (ugh!), you will simply not regret your decision to own one.
Leica Q is an acquired taste, like a 99-percent cocoa dark chocolate. The sensory experience is satisfyingly rich but without giving up some sweetness. The mirrorless shooter can be operated in auto-mode, but the real benefits come from adjusting dials to get what you want from each and every shot. This is not Hershey’s chocolate. But with the bitter bar comes a robust flavor and simplicity.
Leica doesn’t overwhelm with unnecessary features. The Q presents what you need, no frills, and where you would want it to be.
I will not bore you with a long list of specs but simply go to where it matters. Ergonomics. Amazing balance. Full-frame sensor. Fixed lens. Wide-angle perspective. High ISO. Optimal image stabilization.
This is an intimate street shooter. A camera with attached telephoto can create a sense of intimacy but keep you discreetly away. Leica Q will want YOU to close the distance with the subject.
One word describes bringing together the sensor, lens, auto-focus, and overall consistency of colors and contrast among the photos: reliability. Leica Q is the most reliable camera that I have ever used. As such, I can trust that most images will come out as my eyes see them and that nearly all will be usable. Trust isn’t a word often applied to digital cameras, but it must with Leica Q. Trust and reliability are the biggest acquired instincts and how these and other attributes balance together.
This quality, when married to the 28mm perspective, means that I can focus on composition superfast, whether thinking about the shot in the moment or how to crop-in later on.
In terms of image quality, I found it to be impressive all around. When shooting raw files, colors are bright, skin tones are accurate and overall detail is also fantastic. The 28mm F1.7 lens is incredibly sharp throughout the frame. I personally like to shoot wide and occasionally crop in, in post (as opposed to in-camera).
In low light, the Leica Q also does very well, though the top two ISOs of 50,000 and 12,500 do display some visible banding. At 12,500, it’s possible to minimize this banding using noise reduction—detail is so good that I can crank up the NR, without hurting overall image quality much. In fact, a few of the music photos sprinkled throughout my shooting experience were shot at ISO 12,500.
“Leica Q’s leaf shutter is one of the quietest shutter I’ve ever used,” Richard Wong writes. “Street photographers would love the Q as the super-quiet shutter combined with the black understate body make it perfect for capturing some sneaky stealthy street photos”. Let me once again use the “I” word, intimate, and add another: Paparazzi.
It is in fact near-silent. I’m a fan of street photography, and while it’s certainly not my strongest photographic discipline, it’s something I’m working to improve daily. Shooting the streets with the Leica Q is a whole lot of fun because of how incredibly quiet it is. Even when shooting inside a public library, the Q was barely audible in operation.
The more I started to use the Leica Q the more and more I fell in love with it—it really is a mesmerizing gateway to the Leica world. With my Canon system, I used to worry too much with these questions whenever I was getting ready to go off on a trip or looking at a scene to capture: “What lens do I want to use, wide, zoom, prime, 16-35, 50, 85?”
Just picking a lens was troublesome. Once I had the lens, then picking exposure, aperture, focus, drive mode had me jumping and hoping through menus, knobs, wheels and so on.
Before you know it, you have wasted a perfect moment to just capture the shot. With the Leica Q, the camera has simplified my whole process and this is the biggest goal of Leica. Simple, intuitive and mechanical engineering at its finest. Never do I need to go down a checklist of questions for shooting nowadays. I can focus on composing and capturing what is in front of me.
Leica Q is not for everyone and likely isn’t for most people. The camera is costly but could save you money over the long run. You get one lens and won’t be tempted to purchase any more, because you can’t interchange them. The single piece of glass won’t be enough for the majority of shooters, though. That’s okay.
The Leica Q is one of the best investments—it’s more than a purchase—that I have ever made. Yes, there are times that a zoom lens would be useful, if not necessary. But the balanced benefits and how the full-frame compact inspires me to photograph more are what matter most.
Leica Q isn’t a camera, it’s an experience. Again, a relationship.
This is not a review of the Leica Q but an experience I thought was worth sharing. The joys of a simple camera have given me the time and space to focus on creativity. Within the last 12 months I have taken more shots and felt like I have taken better quality pictures than I had with my four-year-old Canon 5DMark III camera. I believe this sums up how the camera has given me the experience to align myself with the creativity I want to create, and hope that this inspires more photographers who can relate to where I was prior to using a simple camera system.
Ultimately, the Leica Q is a camera (with its hefty price tag) most will stare longingly at, but never own. Still, it is priced considerably less than any other full-frame Leica camera, and offers a great shooting experience, in a simple, tough-built body, with impressive image quality and a very sharp lens. So, if you’re considering a camera of this type, the Leica Q is definitely worth more than its legendary red dot logo.
A day with the Leica Q may have taken the sparkle out of my 5D3 but I am not complaining.
Good work, good deeds and good faith to all.