Hemingway – the Leica Q

by Jonathan Slack

Introduction

On December 18th last year I received an email from Peter Kruschewski asking whether I was interested in testing a new and promising concept:

“It will be a full frame compact camera with a f1.7 lens with fixed focal length and a full feature package”.

As you can imagine, I was intrigued: The prototype camera arrived on Christmas Eve 2014 and was immediately put to work for our family celebrations. A production model turned up in March (greatly improved on a number of levels). The camera has been a constant companion for six months, it’s been up the Alps skiing, it’s been to pubs and parties, on long country walks and business trips and most recently it’s heading for China (I’m writing this article on the flight to Hangzhou).

My role with Leica is to test the cameras, not to write reviews of them, and it’s important to understand that this is not intended to be a critical review. If I find something wrong with a camera, then I tell Leica. Having said that, this is my work, nobody has suggested what I should write, and I certainly wouldn’t say anything that I don’t believe to be the case or omit anything that seemed to be an issue. Please note, these images were taken with a pre-production camera and in some instances a prototype, so you should not consider them to be representative of the final image quality.

I’m intending to go into a little more detail than usual as I feel this is a particularly interesting camera and a real step forward for Leica and certainly the best digital camera they’ve produced outside the S and M ranges.

Lands End

Lands End with puddle
ISO 100 1/1000th f 4.5

Wasteland and Emma

Wasteland and Emma
ISO 100 1/640th f 1.7

Overview

The Leica Q is a relatively compact autofocus camera with a 28mm f1.7 Summilux lens. It has a built in EVF and traditional manual controls for shutter speed, aperture (on the lens like the M system) and manual focus (complete with distance scale). It has hardware based image stabilisation and a full frame 24mp CMOS sensor designed and built exclusively for Leica which was not made by either CMOSIS or by Sony, (at the moment they are not releasing who actually made it) .

Unlike some recent cameras the Q was not designed by the Audi design team, but is an in-house Leica design by young designer Vincent Laine.

The Q has clearly been developed with the successful features of the Leica X cameras in mind. However, this is a very different camera with great improvements both technically and ergonomically. It has obviously been thought about very hard, it hasn’t lost any of the traditional features of the X, in fact, in many respects it feels even more traditional, but it’s right up to date in terms of features, performance and image quality.

Shadow Lean

Shadow Lean
ISO 100 1/1000th f 2.5

Red Pyramid

Red Pyramid
ISO 100 1/800th f 6.3

The Body and Controls

The camera is quite light, but feels very solid – it’s no pocket point and shoot, but it’s small enough for a large coat pocket; It’s a little narrower and a little taller than an M6 Classic, fairly comparable in size to the Leica X.

At the top left of the body at the back is the built in EVF, this is a little contrasty to my taste, but it’s high resolution and very responsive with a nicely made hard rubber eyepiece. The dioptre control is a small dial to the right of the viewfinder.

The top plate is reminiscent of the M240, with a shutter speed dial, video button and shutter release with a collar to switch the camera on single shot and continuous mode (although sadly not to self timer).

The back of the camera has buttons on the left and and a 4 way controller with a central info button on the right of the high resolution touch screen LCD. There is an indent for your thumb, with a control dial – again, broadly similar to the M240.

 

The buttons on the left are:

  • Play
  • Delete
  • Fn
  • ISO
  • Menu

There is also a programmable button just to the left of the thumb indent.

The function button can be programmed in the menu – or by holding the button down for 2 or 3 seconds, the options are:

  • White Balance
  • Exposure Compensation
  • Scene Mode
  • File Format
  • Exposure Meter mode
  • Wireless LAN
  • Self Timer

The unlabelled button on the left of the thumb grip can be programmed in the menu to be:

  • Digital Zoom (more on this later)
  • AEL/AFL (Auto Exposure and Auto Focus Lock)
  • AFL (Auto Focus Lock)
  • AEL (Auto Exposure Lock)

The menu system is also reminiscent of the M240, pretty straightforward, and better still, for most situations there really isn’t any need to use it!

Seamaster watch

Seamaster
ISO 800 1/60th f 2.8

Criss Cross 1

Criss Cross 1
ISO 100 1/800th f 5.6

 

The Lens and Controls

The lens is a masterpiece of coherent design. There are three control rings (none of them programmable)

At the front of the lens is the Aperture ring, just like any M lens, and just where it should be.

In the middle of the lens is the Focus Ring, with a proper distance and depth of field scale running from 0.3 metre to infinity. There is a traditional focus tab with a small button on it which enables the move from Auto Focus (firmly click stopped just beyond infinity) to manual focus. By default manual focus zooms in to aid focusing, and the camera does have focus peaking.

At the camera side of the lens is the Macro setting. This is infinitely satisfying: Turning to macro mode slides the distance scale forwards, replacing it with a macro scale setting. Macro mode goes from 0.17 metre from the sensor plane (that’s about 6cm from the front element) to 0.3 metre. The widest aperture in macro mode is f2.8 so as to maintain the image quality of the lens, however, as you can see from the attached photos it’s very possible to limit the depth of field at close range.

It’s hard to convey how satisfying this layout is, immediately familiar to any M user, with a simple and natural change to macro mode and autofocus.

Goggles

Goggles
ISO 100 1/100th f 1.7

Criss Cross 2

Criss Cross 2
ISO 100 1/1000th f 5.0

Emergence ISO 100 1/160th f 2.8 (macro mode)

Emergence
ISO 100 1/160th f 2.8 (macro mode)

Peroxide (macro mode) ISO 100 1/1000th f 3.5 (macro mode)

Peroxide (macro mode)
ISO 100 1/1000th f 3.5 (macro mode)

Performance

For street, candid and reportage photography the most important thing is to be able to catch the instant in the most difficult conditions, I feel that any camera which gets in the way of this is not up to the job.

The startup (and wakeup) time with the Leica Q is less than a second, and it’s exactly the same with the EVF to your eye. Blackout time when taking an image is almost imperceptible. Shot to shot times in single shot mode are really fast (from a practical point of view you can just keep on shooting). The buffer fills with about 12 quick fire shots after which you can continue shooting at roughly 1 frame per second whilst the buffer clears.

The auto-focus is extremely fast and accurate – even in low light . If you prefer to manual focus, then you simply turn the focusing ring. The distance scale makes it easy to see what you have set (and of course this is retained when you turn the camera on and off). The Aperture ring is in the right place (just in front of the focusing ring). Combined, this makes zone focusing as easy as it can be.

Penberth fishing boats

Penberth fishing boats
ISO 100 1/800th f 6.3

Breakfast

Breakfast
ISO 500 1/60th f 1.7

Image Quality

This lens is a real cracker, it has a little lens curvature, but it’s sharp from corner to corner at all apertures and all distances. I’ve been testing it in conjunction with the Leica 28mm Summilux Asph, and it holds up really well against this excellent lens (which costs as much as the Q with it’s lens). It has excellent bokeh, soft and satisfying without the nervousness often associated with wide angle lenses.

The camera has a base ISO of 100, with  (roughly) 1 stop increments up to 50,000 ISO together with Auto ISO which allows you to set a minimum shutter speed and a maximum ISO (I have it set to 12,500).

I’ve done formalised high ISO tests against the M9, the M240, the X113 and the Sony A7 mark 2. I was expecting to find that the camera performed better than all the older Leica cameras but I was really surprised to find it performing  notably better than the Sony from 1600 ISO and up to the Sony maximum of 25600 50,000 ISO is for emergency only, but it is still quite usable. Sean Reid at www.reidreviews.com has also done comparisons with the Sony RX1r and other cameras.

The colour is very much Leica, and the images are very sharp with excellent (but not brutal) micro-contrast. Reviewing the thousands of images that I’ve taken over the last six months has been a real pleasure, I’ve been continually impressed at what a great job the little Q has done.

Garlic and Chilli Pepper

Garlic and Chilli Pepper
ISO 100 1/1000th f 5.6

Birthday Party

Birthday Party
ISO 640 1/125th f 1.7

Special Features

Electronic Shutter

The mechanical shutter on the Leica Q is really quiet, it goes up to 1/2000 second. However, if your image will be over-exposed, the electronic shutter cuts in automatically and will increase the shutter speed up to 1/8000 second; in this case it’s effectively silent. It would be nice if this could be an option at lower shutter speeds (I’ll be pestering to be sure!).

Botallack mine

Botallack mine
ISO 100 1/6400th f 6.3 (electronic shutter)

Digital Frame Selector Mode

The camera has a ‘Digital frame selector’ mode – you can use the function key to toggle between 28mm (24mp) 35mm (15mp) and 50mm (8mp); the viewfinder doesn’t change it’s aspect ratio, but it has framelines showing the chosen focal length; very familiar for M users.

If you shoot DNG+jpg, then the jpg will reflect the digital zoom, but the DNG will be full frame. If you use Adobe Lightroom, then the DNG file is automatically cropped to the chosen focal length, but clicking on the crop tool will allow you to re-frame or revert to the full sized full frame image. This really is very cool.

“Digital Zoom” is a bit of a dirty word, but this is a clever idea, and it’s well implemented. When shooting pictures of people it’s helpful to have framelines for 35mm or 50mm, and even more helpful to be able to change your mind about the cropping after the event! (the jpg files are fine, but surely you’re going to shoot DNG with a camera like this?).

Concentration

Concentration
ISO 1250 1/250th f 1.7 (using 50mm framelines)

Video

I’m afraid I haven’t used the video much – it really isn’t in my comfort zone, suffice to say that the camera does not do 4k, but it does to 1080p at 60fps with the option of taking stills. I’m afraid you’re going to have to look elsewhere for a real assessment  of the video capabilities.

Touch Screen

The Leica Q has a touch screen. In the spirit of Leica it’s functionality is limited to the necessary. In playback mode it recognises the standard gestures we’re all so familiar with. You can also choose to touch focus, and there is a touch shutter mode where touching a point on the LCD screen will focus on that point and take an image.

Bee Hives

Bee Hives
ISO 100 1/800th f 4.5

Ice Cream Van

Ice Cream Van
ISO 100 1/800th f 5.6

28mm?

There are a number of high quality 35mm fixed focal length lens cameras on the market, including several Leica X cameras and the Sony RX1 range. The only 28mm camera is the excellent Ricoh GR (APS/c) camera, which seems to be universally loved for it’s interface and excellent image quality.

At first sight 28mm might seem a bit of a challenge, but the 24mp sensor with excellent resolution and no AA filter means that cropping to 35mm still gives you 15mp. Of course, a 35mm lens cannot give you a 28mm field of view!

It takes a little time to get used to using 28mm as your primary focal length, but I’ve found it to become increasingly inspiring. Having said that, I’d love to see a sister camera with a 50mm summilux lens and digital frame selectors for 75mm and 90mm!

Party Spirit and Milo

Party Spirit and Milo
ISO 100 1/800th f 8

Fern (macro mode)

Fern (macro mode)
ISO 100 1/800th f 3.5

The perfect companion for an M?

Hemingway’s control layout almost exactly mimics that of the Leica M, and it makes a really lovely lightweight companion for any M shooter.

When travelling I need a small, light camera with great image quality. Over the last few years many different cameras have come and gone, these days the image quality is often fine, but never as good as my faithful Leica M cameras.

So these compacts have remained unused for a while and then made their way to an auction site. The Q is quite different; it’s tough and lightweight and very easy to handle. More importantly it doesn’t require any sacrifice in usability or image quality, and it behaves fundamentally just like the M cameras I love shooting with.

Matty

Matty
ISO 6400 1/60th f 2.8

Ribbon Rope

Ribbon Rope
ISO 100 1/800th f 4

Sunset and Seagull

Sunset and Seagull
ISO 100 1/800th f 6.3

Conclusion

The only obvious competitor for the Q is the Sony Rx1r. The Q is a little larger, but it seems to be superior in pretty much every other respect: Distance scale on lens; elegant MF/AF solution; built in electronic viewfinder; fast startup and operation times; faster lens; better macro mode, much faster auto focus.

More than that, the Q is a real photographer’s camera; under normal circumstances there is no need to delve into menus; all the controls are at your fingertips and visible with the camera away from your eye.  The macro feature and the frameline option means that the camera really can cover all the bases as a travel camera.

In the same way as the  Leica M cameras, the Leica Q does not get in the photographer’s way, it allows you to work without intruding and the shot to shot performance is just excellent. I can honestly say that since the production level camera arrived in March I haven’t lost a single shot for which I can blame the camera.

With Hemingway Leica have proved that they can do better than keeping up with the opposition; they can design and manufacture a cutting edge camera which performs on all levels. I think that the Q represents Leica’s coming of age in the digital era. It’s hard not to seem over enthusiastic about this excellent little camera. I’m sure that it’ll soon be recognised as a classic.

Tulip (macro mode)

Tulip (macro mode)
ISO 100 1/800th f 4

Links

Sean Read     www.reidreviews.com

Sean and I have been testing the Q since Christmas time – we have communicated and compared notes extensively. He will be publishing a thorough field test and image comparison with competing cameras.

Ming Thein     www.mingthein.com

Ming’s reviews are always well worth reading and he has been testing the Q and will be publishing his feelings either now or in the very near future.

Emma Slack     Cancer Research donation page

https://www.justgiving.com/Emma-Slack5/

My wife, Emma Slack, Is doing the 12th Annual Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run in aid of Cancer Research

21 comments on “Hemingway – the Leica Q

  1. Brian Mosley

    Hi Jono,

    thanks for this review – I was particularly impressed by your photography here, I think I can actually tell from these that you were inspired!

    This must be a delightful camera to use – hope to try one out in due course.

    All the best

    Brian

  2. kit laughlin

    Very useful review, Jono.

    You wrote ““…Having said that, I’d love to see a sister camera with a 50mm summilux lens…”; this is my position (or a 45), too. 28 is just too wide for me; even 35 is too wide for the go-everywhere tool (tho’ I am using an X-100s for this and have been for the last year, but I can see how few head shots I have made as a result). If you have any ‘in’ with Leica, please pass this along; I doubt mine is a unique perspective.

    The UI seems excellent; its features tick all my boxes (EVF, especially) and although ridiculously expensive (if one compares with other mirrorless FF cameras) one of these with a 50 would be enough for me to buy one.

    1. Charles2

      +1 to a Qn at 50mm.

      A blog had an interview with Peter the product manager and the designer. They all but said that other focal lengths would happen if and when they solve a technical+design problem: they want the lens to be of the same quality AND as compact as the 28mm, which is apparently more challenging at 35 and 50 mm.

  3. johneaton

    Jono.

    Many thanks for putting in so much hard work and dedicated time to using the Q — I’m sure it must have been very distracting when trying to do your daily chores :).

    Seriously, I like many others truly value your insights and experiences as an honest photographer with integrity exploring new equipment — please keep on finding the time!

    John.

    1. jonoslack Post author

      HI John
      I’m sorry not to reply before – I’m glad you understand how hard it is to produce this material, and how much more I’d like to be doing my daily chores. 🙂

      Sorry not to have replied before, I saw your message in China, but the internet was rather odd!

      all the best
      Jono

  4. johneaton

    Jono.

    Thank you very much for putting in so much hard work into understanding and using the Q — I’m sure it was really tough to tear yourself away from the daily chores :). Seriously, like many others, I really appreciate and value your insights and experiences as an honest photographer exploring new equipment.

    John.

  5. Godfrey

    Great review, Jono!

    “…Having said that, I’d love to see a sister camera with a 50mm summilux lens and digital frame selectors for 75mm and 90mm!”

    I’m of the same mind. But lucky they didn’t, because I need the money for the MM246. 🙂

    G

    1. jonoslack Post author

      Hi Godfrey
      Thanks for the kind remarks . . . I fear that the Q is a harbinger of terrible danger and GAS in the future – it seems I’m not alone in liking it, and finally Leica have got themselves together to create a cutting edge camera . . . . assuming it’s a success I think we should all be Very Afraid!

      All the best
      Jono

    1. jonoslack Post author

      HI there – sorry to miss out the DP1 – there’s no excuse for carelessness . . . but apparently no way of avoiding it 🙂
      All the best
      jono

  6. ashwinrao1

    Jono, what a great review, and equally importantly, great images. How do I get to be a Leica tester :)?

    Seriously though, I am excited to hear that you and others simply love the camera as early testers. it seems like much that I would want in a travel/street photography companion. I am first on the list for this camera at the Local Leica store, and while I was hoping for a price lower than listed, I will be in line with credit card in hand to do my own “testing”. Thanks for your perspective. It is invaluable in firming these types of decisions.

    1. jonoslack Post author

      HI Ashwin
      It’s interesting writing this stuff in a vacuum – it’s only after the release you find out whether others agree . . . . or not!

      As for testing – I could tell you that it’s really hard work and takes lots of time . . Actually, the real benefit for me is that it really forces me to focus on My photography.

      I worry about anyone making decisions based on what I say, but I suppose they will . . Anyway – you seem to like the camera, so I guess it’s okay.

      All the best
      Jono

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