Leica cameras have always had an allure of sorts — while most see their price tags first, true camera enthusiasts know and appreciate the highly honored history held by the company for more than 100 years. Alongside its past, customers pride themselves in owning a piece of equipment that is built to last, adopts “less is more” mentality in design, and produces award-winning images for professionals around the world. The company’s most revered model, the Leica M, has evolved from a robust film camera used during World War II into a field camera for photojournalists, and has now hit the mainstream consumer market with travelers and amateurs embracing it as their go-to shooter.
This past summer, Leica introduced a new, full-frame sensor camera called the Leica Q. While it’s not an M System camera, its strengths lie on parallel to those of its older brother and the company’s history. It’s certainly a capable contender to the compact-esque, full-frame digital market and is perhaps a highlight of sorts before hitting into the M system rangefinder cameras. Here are four reasons why the Leica Q typ 116 is worth checking out.
Its Build Quality
Leica and build quality — two words rarely separated from any given sentence. The German corporation founded in the mid 1800’s has held much pride in its build quality, constructing its cameras out of solid materials, such as brass and metallic alloys, that made them dense and heavy, rather than lightweight and portable.
The Q is no different; once you hold one in your hands, it feels so solid that you’re confident it’ll withstand a (albeit cringeworthy) waist-level drop. The shutter button and the ones on the back click with a reassurance you won’t find elsewhere, and the aperture ring and shutter speed dials rotate with solid “ticks” that don’t easily change in a bag or case. A nice touch is the recessed thumb grip that adds a feeling of rigid handling, but does not add bulk that a convex grip would. Furthermore, the focus ring rotates freely, allowing for a very precise focus every time outside of auto-focus. Alongside the camera, the squared-off lens hood is made of a sturdy metal that attaches with ease, and threaded so that it is perfectly parallel to the camera body once fully fastened — no more, no less. This level of detail is what Leica build quality is all about.
Its Image Quality
Another synonym to Leica’s foundation is its image quality, primarily due to its excellent handmade optics but also to its digital sensors in the modern age. Back in 2012 with the introduction of the Leica M typ 240 digital camera, Leica controversially moved away from the original CCD sensor design found in the M8 and M9 and adopted a new, bespoke CMOS sensor which promised higher ISO values, video recording and live-view for consumers. While some complained about this transition and felt the new tech lacked “the Leica look” (a highly subjective look and feel found in images produced by Leica cameras), the new adoption is still very much capable of creating stunning imagery, and the Q is no different from its bigger M240 brother.
Contrast and color-wise the photographs are rich and textured, and the camera has no trouble picking out fine details in its macro photography. Edges lack any instance of distortion due to the perfected 28mm Summilux ASPH lens, nor do they show much vignetting when shot wide open at f/1.7. While the camera lacks any anti-aliasing, repeating patterns may result is moiré — a distortion where parallel lines meld and mix together — but for the Leica photographer, the sharpness as a result of the missing AA filter is well worth it. Tack sharp, subjects in the foreground tend to pop while the background, including the bokeh or out-of-focus elements in the background, blend and melt without any harsh lines or rough edges. Optics and sensor, working hand-in-hand with no compromises.
Cameras nowadays are a dime a dozen when it comes to image quality and features, but most with a full-frame sensor come with a fairly bulky and large DSLR as its body. Sony’s RX1 was a breath of fresh air when it hit the market in 2012, pushing a full-frame 35mm sensor into a body significantly smaller than your average full-frame Canon or Nikon. Now the Leica Q, the answer to the Japanese giant’s RX1, effectively packs the sensor (35mm, 24MP) in a very similar, squared off body. The similarities it seems stop there, as the Q incorporates an electronic viewfinder into the body (no need for an external optical or electronic one on the hot shoe), a larger aperture of f/1.7 to Sony’s F/2, and a wider lens of 28mm.
The Sony’s 35mm perspective is one that most shooters prefer, but Leica’s decision to go wider is one that makes perfect sense, as the Q has more of a “traveler’s camera” feel to it thanks to its minuscule dimensions and overall ease of use. Incorporating a macro functionality is also a God-send for Leicaphiles; rangefinders’ Achilles’ Heel have always been the inability to focus closer than .7 or .5 meters without the need for some sort of adapter which made the camera cumbersome. And another function Leica has never had in its rangefinder cameras is autofocus, not to mention one as responsive as the one on the Leica Q. Suffice to say, the Q is not like any M camera shooters are used to.
With all the above said, Leica has somehow still found a way to preserve its heritage in the Leica Q. Yes, the functionality and automation of all camera settings does take away from the manual “slow down for your shots” nature of a true Leica M system, but the overall look, feel and usage of the Q isn’t too far off. For instance, the familiar focus tab on the lens barrel does encourage manual focusing, an offset viewfinder to the top left-hand side of the camera body is preserved to its original location, preset framelines for 35mm and 50mm zooming, along with the choice to go with a fast prime lens — a Summilux to boot which is its fastest high performance compact lens before reaching the Noctilux denotation — instead of fitting a clunky flash module into the body.
Leica even managed to go with an ultra-quiet leaf shutter mechanism which harks back to legendary cloth shutters in the Leica M film cameras; as a result the Leica Q is one of the quietest and stealthiest cameras you can buy now. But perhaps the most heritage-friendly detail about the camera is its lack of markings — no bold lettering on the body front, subtle black paint, tiny lettering on the top plate, and the signature red dot as its only symbol of authenticity. The Q thus even looks like its older brothers the M9 and M240, with only a few differences — not shortcomings — in functionality.
So the question now is: Who is the Leica Q aimed for? Is it a professional camera, or perhaps a backup to a workhorse? Its essence is more of an enthusiast’s camera, a traveling companion where “getting” the shot is more of an artform, rather than a science. Important is the fact that the Q has limitations, but in the larger picture of things, it’s a side note or a complement to what Leica has become and how it has adapted to change dynamically with the times. This ultimately implies another truth; it is not a Leica M. Owners are so engrained into their cameras that anything resembling it could never live up to the M. But if you’ve never tried one before and want a small taste of what it’s like to own one for a fraction of the cost, for the first time ever you have an option in the Q.