What a fantastic beast this camera is! As a take-with-you-everywhere street camera, it’s hard to imagine anything better than the Q2.
First, the good points.
Let’s start with the lens. Leica has definitely not just phoned it in with this lens and stuck something ‘good enough’ on the camera body. In every respect, the 28mm f1.7 Summilux is simply outstanding: breathtakingly sharp wide open, with snappy contrast, gorgeous out-of-focus rendering, minimal distortion, and 3D micro-contrast pop. Bravo. Also, a real ‘secret weapon’ of this lens is the macro mode. I didn’t give much thought to this when buying the camera. But it’s quickly become a go-to feature when I want to get much closer. It doesn’t replace an actual macro lens, but allows you to frame things much closer than you normally would with a 28mm lens.
From my informal testing, this lens is as good, if not a touch better, than the Sony GM 24mm f1.4, which is a virtually perfect lens. I also compared the Summilux with the Leica 28mm f.2 Summicron, and found that the Summilux was better in terms of sharpness and bokeh, the Summicron was better with distortion and color, and that the overall character of the images from both lenses was extremely similar. Of course, the sensors of the two cameras had an effect on these images, so it wasn’t a truly scientific test. But I still feel confident, from comparing the two sets of images, that the Summilux is in no way an inferior lens to the Summicron. This is especially impressive considering that the Summicron costs almost exactly the same as a new Leica Q2!
Portraits with the Leica Q2 and Summilux 28mm f1.7 (above) and Leica M10-P and Summicron 28mm f2 (below):
Do the Leica lens and sensor give you a totally distinctive look that no other camera can match? Yes and no. There are many other cameras and lenses out there that can deliver a great ‘look.’ But the images coming from the Q2 often have a certain ‘something’ to them. At f1.7, this lens reminds me of the Canon 35mm f1.4; both are extremely sharp and contrasty where you achieve focus, and have a rather dreamy and gradual bokeh. This combination makes for a rather dream-like image, in a subtle way.
Of all the focal lengths, it could be argued that 28mm gives you the best balance of coverage and aesthetics. Perhaps 35mm achieves this even better, but 35mm is often simply not wide enough to fit certain scenes into a frame. With a 28mm lens, you get wide enough coverage for virtually anything, but the world still looks relatively ‘normal.’ To those people who claim that 28mm is ‘too wide’ for artistic photography, I would recommend they look at the work of Trent Parke, Mary Ellen Mark, Joseph Koudelka and the many other great photographers who have made excellent use of this focal length. Used in the right way, the 28mm lens gives a sense of being immersed in an intensely three-dimensional world.
Next, the sensor.
The higher resolution of 47 megapixels really does facilitate the crop modes wonderfully. While the crop mode doesn’t replace actual lenses of various focal lengths, it’s an extremely useful and addictive feature. I often shoot portraits in 50mm mode, and you can get a very high-resolution image with rendering that could easily be mistaken for a real 50mm lens. It’s actually quite hard to believe sometimes, when looking at the final cropped images, that they were done with a 28mm lens!
Q2 portraits taken at 50mm-75mm:
The dynamic range can’t quite match sensors like those of the newer Sony or Nikon cameras, but still gives you a lot of latitude in post. It seems to be virtually identical to the Canon 5D Mark IV, which I used for several years – in other words, excellent but not class-leading. You can underexpose by four stops and easily bring back detail; and even push it by five stops and the image will look surprisingly good. I did a comparison between the Q2 and my Sony a7R III, and was shocked to see how well the Q2 compared. The Sony was about one stop better, but with the caveat that it was only better when super-underexposed. In other words, when both cameras are looking bad, the Sony looks slightly less bad. Overall, I’m extremely happy with this amount of dynamic range, and don’t feel the need for much more. Most importantly, gone is the horizontal banding that plagued the original Q. You can now underexpose your photo, then push and pull it as you like, without getting any nasty banding.
Another factor is color depth. According to DXO Mark, this camera scores very high in this category. And I must say, I can actually see it in the files. At ISO 50, you get vivid, nuanced, natural but almost ‘luscious’ colors. I hesitate to say that no other camera is capable of this, but I will say it’s the first time I’ve stopped and noticed such nice colors coming from a camera. I’ve worked with Canon, Sony, Panasonic and now Leica, and I have to say that this camera has my favorite color science of them all. There is one caveat: you need to stay below ISO 800; any higher and the colors become acceptable but less attractive.
The auto-focus is snappy, and the manual focus experience of this camera, coupled with the focus peaking, is perhaps the most pleasurable I’ve ever experienced – buttery smooth and perfectly accurate.
The EVF is superb, and is one of the new generation of ‘almost better than reality’ electronic viewfinders, where you get the advantages of an EVF but with an OVF-like clarity.
The new battery is excellent, and I feel confident shooting for an entire day without needing to replace it.
Finally, there’s the overall sense of quality, the industrial design of the camera, materials used, haptics, and so forth. This camera is simply a joy to look at, touch, hold and use. It’s extremely intuitive, and becomes an ‘extension of you’ in a way that most cameras don’t. When you’ve used it for even a short time, you quickly realize that the makers of this camera made it with love. A desire to make a profit, too? Of course. But they clearly tried to make a ‘perfect camera,’ and in my opinion they’ve succeeded. The love is apparent all over the camera – from the incredible lens, to the little details like the battery door, where you pull a lever to pop the battery out, but then give a nudge to the battery (which otherwise would simply fall out of the camera).
Is it all rainbows, however? My ‘work camera’ is a Sony a7R III, which blows away the Leica in most spec-type technical categories. With the Sony as my natural frame of reference, I’ve noticed a few negative things about the Q2.
First, the lack of dual card slots. The one consolation here is that the existing slot takes the newer, more powerful UHS II card in addition to the older UHS I card. That said, I would really appreciate two card slots.
Second, again unlike the Sony, this camera has a rather narrow range within which you get the best results. For example, shooting at ISO 400 will give you vastly better IQ than ISO 1600, although ISO 1600 is by no means bad. Another example of this is the dynamic range capabilities. Overall, you have to be more careful with your settings when using the Q2, because the image quality can vary a fair amount; whereas with some of the newer cameras like the Sony, you can use virtually any setting and the camera will perform consistently.
That’s about it for the negatives. I could talk about lack of a tilting screen, better grip, etc. But those are things that one doesn’t expect or necessarily want in a simple, minimal camera like this.
Compared to the Fuji X100V:
I owned the Fuji for several months before buying the Q2, and really put it through its paces. My first impression of the Fuji was that it was much more powerful than expected – it almost looks like a toy, but in terms of functionality and image quality, it delivers. Interestingly enough, people are much more likely to notice the nice aesthetics of the Fuji than the more understated and minimal aesthetics of the Q2. I kind of fell in love with the Fuji, and for a while thought ‘Does it really get any better than this?’ but a few things bothered me. One is the colors. I don’t think the colors have the ‘depth’ or richness of full frame cameras that I’ve used, particularly the Q2. The colors are pleasant and Fuji’s film emulations are fun to play with, but there doesn’t seem to be as much color information in the files. There’s a certain flatness to them. Lens-wise, the Fuji lens is an awesome accomplishment – stunningly sharp for such a tiny pancake-style lens. But I struggled with the bokeh. While I don’t always need ‘bokehlicious’ bokeh, I often want enough bokeh to get a nice background separation, and the Fuji often has a hard time doing this. Steve Huff talks about the Fuji X100F files having a certain ‘flatness,’ and I would agree on that point. You don’t get the kind of 3D pop that you do with the Q2; in fact, you could say that images from the Fuji look more ‘old-fashioned’ in their rendering, and images from the Q2 look more modern. Which style you prefer is a matter of taste. Another negative, arguably, is the overall gimmicky industrial design of the camera, which is charming at first, but quickly becomes less so – still charming, mind you, but I started longing for something more simple and ‘zen,’ without a million wiz-bang features. Another area of frustration was working with the files in post. The Fuji files, while great, start to break down relatively quickly; it’s not hard to get ugly-looking watercolor-type effects if you make dramatic changes to the colors or bump up the contrast. From all this, you might conclude that I hate the Fuji, but nothing could be further from the truth, I loved it and still rather miss it. For the most part, it achieves its walk-around camera destiny beautifully. It’s just that, once you’ve used the Q2 for a while, you realize it’s doing everything the Fuji can do, but even better.
This is my first Leica, and even when handing over the money to the store clerk, part of me was thinking, ‘What if the cynics are right, and all you’re getting is a red dot?’ Even in the first few weeks, this feeling persisted slightly, and I wondered if I had just wasted a bunch of money on a nice but overpriced and underpowered toy. But as the weeks passed and I took more and more photos, my skepticism slowly changed to satisfaction, then to delight and amazement at both the handling of the camera, and the images it produces. Those feelings have only gotten stronger. At this point, I bring my Q2 with me everywhere I go, and I can’t imagine my life without it.