The Leica Q2, Leica’s newest serious digital camera, is supposed to be a world-class photographic tool. Just listen to their advertising material, which describes the camera as “a perfect symbiosis of the essentials and innovation.” I’m not sure what that means, but after two months shooting the Q2 in all sorts of conditions, I’m sure of this – there’s no other digital camera that I’d rather own.
I used the camera during a week-long vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida. I used it on a beach for snapshots, for low-light shooting and long exposures at night, and as a macro camera chasing bees and fireflies. I spent a week with it shooting nothing but street photography. I took it (and my kids) to the zoo and shot portraits of the animals (by which I mean my kids). The quick takeaway – the Leica Q2 is a compact camera with an excellent full-frame sensor, an impressive lens, and intuitive classic controls. It’s a camera that can do it all with virtually no exceptions and just a few drawbacks (though one of them is significant).
What is the Leica Q2?
Leica’s original Q released in 2015 and showed the world what Leica could do in the compact, fixed-lens digital camera segment. Listed at about half the price of the interchangeable lens digital M rangefinder, it was and remains an incredibly popular camera. Leica even released an aesthetically minimized version in the Leica Q-P earlier this year.
Now four years after the original’s debut Leica’s released the improved Q2. Its brand new full frame CMOS sensor nearly doubles the original Q’s resolution, packing (a ridiculous) 47.3 megapixels into every frame. New weather sealing protects the juicy innards from dust and splashing water. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is a much-improved 3.68 megapixel OLED unit boasting improved processing for as-lose-to-lag-free operation as we can get, and the battery pack has been upgraded to the one found in the pro-spec Leica SL (BP-SCL4). This increases shots-per-charge by 30% over the original Q, and though I didn’t count my shots, I know that a single charge repeatedly carried me through two full days at Disney World.
Improvements noted, many core features carry over from the Q. Like the earlier camera, the Leica Q2 is a fixed-lens, full-frame digital camera. It’s got everything a modern digital camera should have, and plenty that many don’t. The previously-mentioned 47.3 megapixel sensor is fronted by an incredibly versatile hybrid shutter capable of a top mechanical speed of 1/2000th of a second and an electronic shutter capable of a mind-blowing top speed of 1/40,000th of a second. Sitting in front of this shutter is the camera’s 28mm F/1.7 Aspherical Leica Summilux wide-angle lens equipped with automatic optical image stabilization.
These core specifications are already impressive, and the extra stuff packed into this body elevate the package above nearly any competitor product. There’s an incredible EVF, ISO range of 50-50,000, a 3” LCD touchscreen, a mechanically activated macro mode, manual controls of aperture and shutter speed plus available shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and full auto mode, a burst mode capable of a blistering 20 frames per second, 4K video (no external jacks), a hot shoe, and a tripod mount.
Styling and Build
What is possibly most stunning about all of these features is the compact and virtually featureless body into which they are all packed. Those who value minimalism in design will adore the Leica Q2. Like its predecessor, the Leica Q, it’s a visually sparse camera. Stylistically cleaner than even the original “Bauhaus” cameras of the film-burning Leica M series, there’s no digital camera as elegant as this. But elegance can also be severe.
Offered only in anodized black (at the moment – Leica typically releases silver and other special editions later in their cameras’ lifecycles), it’s a stealthy machine. Aside from the red dot adhered to the front, there’s very little on this camera that shouts “Leica,” or makes any kind of statement.
It’s a dense and solid machine, feeling every bit as robust as the sixty-year-old mechanical Leica’s we film freaks know and love. I assume it’s made out of a mix of alloys; Leica says magnesium, but I’d also accept adamantium. I didn’t drop mine or scratch it to test. But during a particularly troublesome egress out of a sopping Pirates of the Caribbean boat, during which both the camera and my four-year-old daughter were hanging around my neck, it did swing around on its strap and hit me hard in the kidneys. It felt like passing a stone.
In similar situations aboard the other torture vessels of Splash Mountain and Kali River Rapids, the camera was splashed copiously. I cringed slightly with every dousing, before remembering that the Q2 has earned an IP52 rating (having an IP52 certificate means that the device is protected from limited dust ingress and protected from water spray less than 15 degrees from vertical). I didn’t bring a protractor with me to Disney World, but the Leica Q2 did not fail.
Ergonomics and Usability
The camera’s strict adherence to its no-frills aesthetic tickles the eyeballs, but tortures the wrist. The Leica Q2 weighs 718 grams, which is 78 grams more than the earlier Leica Q and more than 200 grams heavier than the Q2’s nearest competitor, the tragically-named Sony RX1R II. This weight, and the fact that the Leica Q2 features no front grip, creates an oblique feeling that it’s always trying to escape. On the back of the camera exists a precious indent fit only for the tiniest of thumbs, but it does little to inspire confidence.
The only thing that keeps this decidedly weighty camera from slipping out of the fingers is the diamond-patterned grip material that’s spread across the available space on the front and halfway along the sides of the camera. An additional indent on the front of the camera could have retained the Q2’s sleek, unbroken curves while also providing a handhold, but it’s likely that a lack of internal space precluded this option. In the end, the Leica Q2 is a camera to be held with two hands.
But as far as ergonomics are concerned, this is the camera’s only major shortcoming. In all other ways the Leica Q2 is a masterclass in usability and mechanical design.
All dials, buttons, knobs, switches, levers, and controls sit exactly where they need to be, and all actuate with incredible precision. The mechanical macro switch, which twists and extends, revealing a second focus scale from within the seams of the lens barrel, is a guilty pleasure. The dampened smoothness as it slides into place is the kind of mechanical actuation that this website was built to obsess over. It is very pleasant.
The back of the camera features refreshingly few controls. There’s a Play button for reviewing images, a Function button, a Menu button, and a directional pad. The menus contained within this camera are, similar to the Leica CL, direct, uncluttered, and uncomplicated. Take note, Sony.
The shutter speed dial is easily flickable with a finger or thumb. The aperture ring is where we expect it to be and actuates delightfully in 1/3rd stop increments. Though the camera’s autofocus mode is nearly flawless, some users will prefer manual focus. A manual focus tab on the underside of the lens is unlocked with a fingertip, which activates whichever manual focus aid the user has selected (magnification, focus peaking), after which it glides along like any manual focus Leica lens made in the past fifty years. Settling this tab back into its locked position automatically reactivates autofocus. This is smart.
AF works extremely well. Faster slightly than the original Q, and much faster than the Leica M10 (that’s a joke – the flagship Leica rangefinder can’t autofocus) it offers multiple modes including subject tracking, face recognition, multi-field and single zone (225 fields). My favored method was to set the zone for the central focusing dot, set the back button focus to the thumb function button, and use the tried and true focus lock, recompose, shoot method. It’s also possible to simply tap the LCD screen on the back, after which the camera will focus where you tapped and take the photo. It’s like magic. Even when I forayed into the other methods (AF systems that I typically never use) I found nothing to complain about. I’m coming from the world of film cameras and manual focus – this thing is like stepping into a self-driving, supersonic hovercraft with complementary brick oven pizza.
The camera’s many programmable function buttons can be set to control whatever the photographer deems to be the most important parameters (as mentioned, mine were set to back-button AE and AF lock, and ISO control), and using these becomes second nature. The offset rear dial (used in aperture-priority mode to control Exposure Compensation) is slightly too offset, but forgivable since it is literally the only thing I have to complain about.
Simply put, the Leica Q2 is a camera that works the way that a camera should straight out of the box. And if the photographer picks it up and finds a few controls aren’t mapped to his or her liking, well, he or she can simply map them until they’re correct. For users who grew up on film cameras or users who appreciate tactile, direct control, the Leica Q2 is hard to beat.
Raising the camera to one’s eye automatically activates the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). As mentioned, this OLED EVF is impressive, with 3.68 megapixels, increased sharpness and contrast compared with its predecessor, and slightly higher magnification as well (0.76x). It displays as much or as little information as the photographer desires, from a full display readout to simply a straight frame of what the camera sees. There’s no lag in good light and only minor lag in low light conditions. It’s without question the best EVF I’ve ever used.
Lens, Sensor, and Image Quality
If you can’t make a good image with a Leica Q2, it’s not the camera’s fault. The lens, sensor, and software all combine to create digital images that are excellent (though not perfect, and in certain situations, not great).
The 28mm F/1.7 Summilux lens is comprised of eleven elements in nine groups, with three aspherical elements. Optical image stabilization smooths things out at speeds under 1/60th of a second, and stays deactivated at faster speeds. This means we get the sharpest, cleanest images possible at all shutter speeds. The camera uses significant software correction when making both JPEGS and even raw DNG files. This does not bother me, personally, as the final image is typically all I care about when making images. If the end product looks good, I don’t much care how we got there.
There’s some vignetting and extremely light chromatic aberration when shot wide open at F/1.7, and at larger apertures the lens also exhibits softness in the corners of the frames. However, stopped down to F/4 and smaller there’s nothing to complain about in good light.
The Q2’s sensor combines with the lens to make raw files that are packed with detail. Exposure latitude is strong, and dynamic range is good. We’re seeing results that are just slightly less impressive than the newest DSLRs, which is truly impressive in a camera of this size. And any substandard results only show in low light situations. Generally speaking, higher megapixel sensors tend to suffer more noise in low light, high ISO shooting. The Leica Q2 is no different. It is not a superlative low light shooter. While it’s technically capable of shooting at ISO 50000, images made at any ISO higher than 6400 are (to me) unusable. Luckily, with the incredibly quick F/1.7 maximum aperture, it’s usually pretty easy to keep the ISO within acceptable limits.
Removing the Red Dot-tinted Glasses
There were some rare moments of frustration with the Q2. As with any camera (or any thing, really) perfection is impossible. The rear LCD display control combines with the video record button, and this is mapped to the central dot of the directional pad on the rear of the camera. Pressing it toggles the information on the LCD screen and eventually sets the camera to video recording mode. There were times when I accidentally pressed this button and found myself unexpectedly recording video. It caused me to miss a couple of shots, though I did capture confused videos of the moments surrounding my intended photos (which is interesting).
The Q2’s incredibly powerful burst mode can overload the camera’s brain, causing it to lock out functions as images are being recorded to the card. I bought the fastest card that this camera accepts and it couldn’t handle the workload. When shooting macro photos of flying bees, especially, this caused issues for me.
The much-bandied crop mode, which Leica promotes as allowing the Q2’s 28mm lens to act as a 35mm, 50mm, 75mm lens would, really does no such thing. Sure, it superimposes frame lines onto the rear LCD display or inside the EVF, and that’s nice for composing if one is accustomed to the rangefinder way of life, but these images are still just 28mm focal length images with pre-selected crop lines superimposed atop them. The lens obviously doesn’t render as a 50mm or 75mm lens would render, since depth of field is always that of a 28mm lens. 75mm cropped images are so cropped that the end image ends up being effectively a 7 megapixel shot. Not the best use of our expensive Leica.
What’s more intrusive is that photos shot in crop mode automatically crop when imported into an editing program, which inevitably causes me to undo the crop and crop to my desired result. It just doesn’t work for me and my workflow. I’d rather record as much as I can and control the crop myself, or get the framing right when I release the shutter, or just be happy with a 28mm lens (which I am). This all turns the crop mode into something of a gimmick.
The camera’s incredible sensor makes amazingly detailed images. But it does so at a cost. Every raw file I made (and I made over 1,400 images in my time with this camera) bit into my hard drive for an astounding 85 MB. This makes for a slower workflow than I’m accustomed to with my Sony A7. Arguably this point is less a knock on the Leica and more a knock on my 2017 iMac, but it makes me wonder if the Leica Q’s half-sized files make for a more livable situation.
And lastly, there’s the big one – price. The Lecia Q2 is the only digital camera I want to own. That’s true. But with an MSRP of $4,995 it’s a big pill to swallow. My time with the Q2 has me eyeing the less expensive Q-P, or even the original Q, and contemplating if these cameras would be enough (I suspect they would, and those who own them already should not “upgrade” to the Q2). While it’s true that these cameras lack the weather-sealing and some of the control refinements of the Q2, it’s also true that they’re significantly less expensive. And then there’s the fact that I could buy five Ricoh GRIIIs for the same money I’d spend on one Q2, and it’s very likely that the images and experience making them would be just as good.
But the gripes highlighted in the last few paragraphs aren’t deal-breakers. The Leica Q2 is an amazing camera and weeks after returning it to my friends at B&H, I still find myself attempting to talk myself into the purchase. It’s the most fun, engaging, and enticing digital camera I’ve ever used. To be clear, I think it’s worth the asking price.
The Leica Q2 is an everything camera. I could use it every day for the next ten years and not get bored, and its capability is so high that it shouldn’t become obsolete in all that time. It’s a camera that’s capable of everything that I need and want a camera to do – shoot my travels, make street photos and contextual portraits, record my family and make editorial style stills of our day-to-day lives, allow me to have fun with macro photography when the mood strikes. The Leica Q2 is simply a versatile and exciting camera, and it makes me want to take photos. And that’s sort of the most important thing that a camera can do.
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