Everyone is raving about it, but just what makes the Leica Q so good? Richard Sibley puts the premium compact to the test
At a glance
- 24.2MP, full-frame CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-50,000
- Leica Summilux-M 28mm f/1.7 Asph lens
- 10fps continuous shooting
- 3.68-million-dot EVF
- 3in, 1.04-million-dot touchscreen
- Price £2,900
Ever since digital photography went mainstream, Leica has been stuck between a rock and a hard place. Traditionalists have wanted Leica to stick as close to its heritage as possible, while others have seen the company as something of a relic, making expensive cameras that offer little in the way of innovation. As you would expect, the reality is somewhere between the two.
Leica’s M-mount rangefinder cameras are beautifully manufactured, but they come at a premium price and offer little in terms of image quality that you can’t find elsewhere for less money. The company’s compact cameras are rebadged Panasonic models, with a red-dot logo and the Leica levy added to the price. As for its own fixed-lens compact cameras, such as the X series, Leica has never managed to capture the essence of what it is to use a Leica rangefinder camera – until now.
The Leica Q is a game-changer for Leica. The company’s X-series cameras, with their 16.2-million-pixel, APS-C-sized sensors and lack of viewfinder, failed to capture the imagination. The cameras didn’t offer the same experience as the Leica M rangefinder and they came at a time of fierce competition from the likes of the Fujifilm FinePix X100. However, the new Leica Q is a different beast. For this new line of cameras, Leica seems focused on the experience of using the camera. If that experience means breaking with some users’ preconceived ideas of what Leica cameras are about, then so be it.
Leica Q (Typ 116) Review – Features
So just what has Leica done to make the Q work so well? Let’s start with the sensor. The Q features a 24.2-million-pixel, full-frame CMOS sensor. To date, the only compact camera that can rival this sensor is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 (and RX1R). This means that the Leica Q stands out in the already crowded premium compact camera market.
Next is something that is not typical of Leica – a 3in, 1.04-million-dot touchscreen. The Leica T (Typ 701) compact system camera also uses a touchscreen, but the Leica T targets a different type of photographer. Touchscreens are becoming almost standard, so it is perhaps not such a surprise to see one on a classically styled Leica camera. However, the final key feature is a surprise – a 3.68-million-dot electronic viewfinder that is built into the camera.
With such a high resolution, the electronic viewfinder in the Leica Q is the highest in any commercially available camera. There are 5-million-dot EVFs in development, but currently Leica can claim a first. For the German company it is a real feather in its cap to beat major electronics companies like Sony and Panasonic to this.
Leica rangefinders obviously use an optical rangefinder mechanism, and in the past Leica’s X-series have had optional electronic viewfinders. Incorporating an electronic viewfinder in the Leica Q is sure to raise eyebrows, with many people asking if the EVF is a sign of Leica forsaking its roots. With a touchscreen as well, the Leica Q doesn’t seem much like the Leica cameras we know at all.
Regarding the more conventional features of the new camera, the Leica Q has a sensitivity of ISO 100-50,000. Shutter speeds range from 30secs-1/2000sec and are available via the mechanical shutter. In another concession to modernity, the Q also has an electronic shutter. This automatically kicks in at 1/2500sec and allows shutter speeds of up to 1/16,000sec.
Fixed to the front of the Q is a Leica Summilux-M 28mm f/1.7 Asph lens. The aperture is controlled via an analogue aperture ring on the front of the lens, and a manual focus ring sits just behind this. There is also a ring that switches between the standard and macro mode of the lens. This clever piece of engineering shifts the entire inner lens forward, and even reveals a new focus-distance chart. The result is that the lens switches its shortest focus distance from 30cm to 17cm.
The 28mm lens is also optically stabilised. Looking into the lens, you can see the stabilisation element moving to counteract any camera shake. It is an impressive and intriguing thing to see.
A feature on the Q that was previously found on the Leica T is built-in Wi-Fi. This is used with a dedicated Leica Q app that is available for both Android and iOS via their respective app stores.
Elsewhere there is quite a comprehensive, if somewhat standard set of features. The camera has the standard set of exposure and metering modes, as well as a set of scene modes. The Q can shoot continuously for up to 10fps, as well as being able to capture video at a full HD 1920×1080 60p or 30p resolution.