The red dot. It's nearly every photographer's fantasy to own. However, for the first time, Leica has released a camera with a red dot AND a full frame sensor for under $5,000. Quite a deal if you ask me. Coming in at $4,250, the Leica Q is one of Leica's newest additions to its full-frame camera selection. I'm willing to say it's among its best.
Its design is timeless. The pill shape of the Q's body is unmistakably Leica, and even looks like a smaller M. The Q has much of the classy design of the M bodies, but lacks the heft and brass construction. The magnesium alloy body of the Q is light, but does not feel flimsy or fragile, and has held up to a month of abuse on my trip to Singapore and Hong Kong. In light rain, and in extremely humid conditions, the Q soldiered on, without any problems. I only encountered one lock-up, which was fixed with a quick pull of the battery.
The layout and interface of the buttons across the back of the camera are simple to use and also very similar to that of Leica M bodies, such as the M9 and M240. One thing I wish that Leica would integrate is more customization for its buttons. As a Sony a7Rii shooter, used to almost limitless customization, the small number of choices for assigning functions to the two customizable buttons is pretty discouraging. The AEL function of the camera is actually quite useless, because of an exposure preview problem (quirk), but more on that later in the review.
Attached to the Q is a 28mm f1.7 Summilux lens. And yes, this lens definitely lives up to Leica's Summilux name. It's gorgeous. Images are sharp, and are rendered with a 3D quality not unlike that of many other Leica lenses. At 28mm, the Q's lens is quite wide, and may sound constraining at first, but after a whole month of usage, it's safe to say that Leica's choice of using the 28mm focal length was the right one. It's possible (and actually great) to shoot everything from landscape to street to portrait to close-up using just the 28mm lens.
LOW LIGHT PERFORMANCE
Simply put, the Leica Q rocks in low light conditions. Two years ago, I visited Gardens by the Bay in Singapore to photograph the garden at night with my Sony a7R. That camera struggled in the dark, hunting for focus, and plagued by loads of noise with high ISO shots. This time around, I visited Gardens by the Bay again with the Leica Q to take some handheld shots as well as some long exposures mounted on a tripod. I was blown away by the results. The Q's built-in image stabilization also helped a lot with handheld shots. Noise levels were low, and the jpeg files from the Q required minimal noise reduction.
Color from the Leica Q's combination of its Summilux lens and sensor is a dream. Viewing images shot as jpeg files straight from the camera on my 15" MacBook Pro Retina is mind-blowing and continues to surprise me pleasantly, even with the most mundane photos. Reds and blues are vivid and often add a certain life-like personality to photos that most other cameras don't. With the Leica Q, photos shot as jpeg files already seem like works of art on their own, and require little post processing. With other cameras that I've used in the past, such as the Sony a7R (i & ii), the Nikon D750, and Nikon D800, I often need to do much more post processing before photos look presentable.
BLACK AND WHITE
In addition to its amazing color performance, the Q also offers strong black and white results. When converted to greyscale in Photoshop, the images from the Q retain loads of details in its shadow areas, thanks to great dynamic range from its sensor. However, when it comes to black and white photos, the Q isn't too far off from the Leica M9 Monochrom.
Known for crafting beautiful manual focus lenses, Leica surprised many with the Q's autofocus Summilux lens. The Q's autofocus is FAST. Much faster than even Nikon and Sony autofocus lenses. In bright light and even in somewhat dim conditions, the Q's autofocus is quick and accurate. However, on objects with little contrast, the Q sometimes hunts and misses focus completely. Only then do I resort to manual focus.
The Q is discreet. One problem that street photographers often run into when shooting on the street is trying to avoid the attention of their subjects. With the Q, it is almost never a problem if used properly. With quick autofocus in bright and low light conditions, and accurate subject tracking, it's ridiculously easy to focus on a moving subject across the entire frame, without even pointing the camera right at your subject.
AS A TRAVEL CAMERA
Since I purchased my Leica Q only a week before I headed on a month-long trip to Singapore and Hong Kong, I brought it with me along with my Sony a7Rii and three different Zeiss lenses: the Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZM (for Leica mount), the revered Zeiss 55mm 1.8 FE Sonnar, and the long-awaited Zeiss 85mm 1.8 Batis. To my absolute surprise, the a7Rii stayed in my hotel room for most of the trip, as I brought the Leica Q with me everywhere I went.
I thought that I would miss the varying focal lengths that the Sony could offer, but because of the size and weight differences, the Q became the ultimate companion for my travels. The Q was perfect for almost everything. I needed no other camera. Low-light performance was more than adequate, rendering the Sony a7rii an expensive paperweight in my hotel room's safe when I went out to shoot at night.
This thing gets close. The Leica Q has one of the few Leica lenses that can shoot subjects closer than 0.7 meters away. IT CAN SHOOT SUBJECTS 0.17 METERS AWAY. Which means you can get shots like these:
Yes, you can take selfies with the Leica Q, and they're great. Also, if you're blessed with long arms, then the 28mm focal length distortion won't be too bad. However, if your arms are a bit short, then your Q selfies will leave you looking a bit like Pinocchio after a particularly bad lie.
FOR PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY
You might think that 28mm is an awkward focal length for portraiture. It's wide. Really wide. Like, iPhone lens wide. The edges of the frame distort, and if you get too close to your subject, everything is stretched to comical proportions. But, take a step back and you can get some really unique portraits. With a focal length as wide as 28mm, you can incorporate so much more of your surroundings into portraits, often adding a nice touch of context into your photos.
EXPOSURE PREVIEW PROBLEMS (QUIRKS)
Since I usually shoot with Sony a7 series bodies, I'm used to their effective and quick exposure previews that change instantaneously to my current exposure settings. Of course, I expected the same from the Leica Q. To my dismay, the Q's exposure preview can be unreliable in low light conditions. The camera, in Auto ISO, or Auto Shutter Speed settings, does not preview the exposure settings until the shutter is half pressed, OR sometimes even not at all! The EVF live view shows that the photo is perfectly exposed, but after the shot has been taken, it can be completely blown out or completely underexposed. Leica claims that this is a feature to help the camera achieve autofocus quickly, regardless of your exposure settings. However, I find it to be extremely inconvenient, and can cause me to miss important shots (or as Leica likes to say, the decisive moment).
There really is no camera like the Leica Q. When it was first released last year in April 2015, I thought to myself that I would never need or want it. I had two Sony bodies, a Leica M9-P and a good amount of Zeiss prime lenses. I thought that I would have absolutely no need for the Leica Q, a seemingly overpriced, oversized point-and-shoot camera.
After spending a month with the Q, I can't imagine photographing without it. It's really THAT good. If I didn't shoot portraits or events professionally, the Q would be the only camera that I'd need. But, for the extra resolution, speed, and versatility, I still need to keep my Sony a7's around. So, I leave you with this: if you have the money, and the strong lust for that famous red dot, you can't go wrong with the Q.