Leica Q came out in the middle of 2015 to a lot of expectations. People were skeptic at first, myself included, because the honest truth is that Leica has never been that good at making ‘digital’ cameras. When M8, the first digital M, emerged on the scene it didn’t seem much like a digital camera. It almost felt like a film camera that they shoved the digital-ness into it. It was one of its charms, for the most part. And M cameras, they never really needed great digital features. After all, it is a ranger finder.
Leica managed to merge technology into M series with time. They weren’t so lucky with their other digital products, however. For the most part, their digital cameras had a horrible AF systems. X series, S series, T series, you name it. Not only that, they lacked many features that usual ‘digital’ cameras required. Sensors weren’t good enough to be justified as a good night time camera either. Up until Q came around, M was really only digital camera worth buying from Leica. I did use Leica X, but it was mostly because of the love I had for the Leica brand. So when they said Q was this full frame camera with such small size and features, I didn’t buy into it. But once I had a chance to take a look and actually play with it, I knew right then this was the best digital camera Leica has ever produced. I managed to buy it in August of 2015, and since then, it’s been my supporting camera next to Leica M, my primary weapon. And it has served its purpose marvelously. It in some ways changed the way I photographed.
I’ve thought of writing a review on the Q for the longest time. But finally, I feel now is a good time to reflect on my experiences with this guy. I’ve hung with him for the full year and then few months more. In those time I’ve traveled to 10 countries to work on my personal projects. I think there are enough materials to show you what Q can do, and what it did for me. It certainly have become one of the most satisfying cameras I’ve ever used and it’s not often I feel that way about a compact camera. So with that being said, let’s show you the images and how I went about getting them. This is going to be a long journey. So buckle up. Grab a coffee. Here we go.
I’ve got my Q just a day before I left for Romania. This was a short trip, and mostly centered around Transylvania region. This became a spot to test out its features and start to get some feel for it. What I had to first adapt to was shooting on 28mm focal length. I think this is the most unpopular feature about the camera. Most Leica users use 35mm lens as a default. Myself, 50mm is my comfort zone. 28mm is kind of focal length that is not wide enough, but also not close enough either. So the first challenge for me was getting my eyes to see the world in 28mm. Recognizing type of scenes that calls for the use of Q. In a way, it being the camera with a built-in lens came in handy, since I didn’t have to think of which lenses to use. I knew I had 28mm anywhere I went. I knew that was the frame I had to work with. Slowly but surely, I started to take its advantages.
I took the Q to Ethiopia next, and this was where we really became friends. I started to understand what it can do for me more clearly, and I could use it with more confidence. It changed the way I shoot with its ability to make such smooth high ISO images. As much as I liked my Leica M240, I rarely went over using ISO 1,600. I would go up to 3,200 in the most dire situations but no more. The Q provided me images I could work with all the way up to ISO 12,500. Surely by then it was kinda noisy, but was perfectly usable for my street photography. This opened up doors of taking photographs in ways I was not able to before.
28mm lens having the brightness of f1.8 was also a plus. It gave me crisp images when I tried out some long exposures on a tripod. Image sharpness, color vividness, it was all there. To be honest, I almost felt the lens were little too sharp. As I’m not a type of photographer who’s too crazy about getting razor sharp images. I know this might sound weird to some of you, but for me photography is not about getting it as ‘real’ as possible. It’s about getting my perspectives expressed, telling a story. But I’m not complaining. It’s just that I don’t have to use ‘sharpen’ option in Lightroom anymore. It’s already that sharp.
In Ethiopia I traveled from Adis Ababa to Arba Minch. Entered Omo Valley where famously fashionable tribes live. In the end I made my way to Hara. People in this part of the world can be sensitive to photography. M has been really great at making those people feel relaxed. Leica Q is even smaller and looks non-important. It was a plus for a photographer like me. While your clients might wonder what kind of a toy camera you’re using to shoot their big budget project. I like it though.
I wanted to visit Beirut for a while, a place they call ‘Paris Of Middle East.’ Fortunately me and the Q could make my way here together and we had a great time photographing the cultural and religious collisions on the streets. I think here I should mention the AF system of the Q. I used to have Leica X, the latest version, and I took it for my Asian journey for 100 days. It too was used for moments where using M wasn’t an option. Countless times, however, I failed to get the shot I wanted, because X had really horrifying AF system. It couldn’t focus well enough. Not only it was slow at focusing, sometimes it just got it wrong, or couldn’t focus on anything at all. Once I got the Q to myself, those days were over. Q is the fastest auto focusing camera Leica has ever made. It’s fast, and it’s accurate. It also provides handful of different focusing options. I’m more of a manual photography worshiper, as you can expect from me being an avid M user. But when I use a camera with AF system I use them for a reason and I expect them to be reliable. Many Leica digital cameras didn’t deliver in this regard. Q finally did. In all the chaos happening in Corniche, Mediterranean seaside promenade in Beirut, I could capture the moments in an instant. The fact that its shutter sounds so quiet is an added plus. It’s easy to take photographs without making a scene.
Japan is close by my home country of Korea, and for that reason is a very popular travel destination by my fellow countrymen. But for that reason I haven’t been there for 6 years. I guess I felt like I could go there whenever I wanted to. After 6 years I made my return in 2015, as I was summoned by Finland Tourism Board for an interview. I took the chance to be in Tokyo and also travel a few days more. The Q was also right there with me. When you go to these mega cities, you have a lot of people with cameras on the streets. For me it’s always important to make myself look like nobody. It is for that reason I do not like carrying a huge camera. I want to look like what I’m shooting is complete garbage, and not usable, so to speak. I want to people not to be nervous or suspicious. For this reason the Q complements my appearance very well. Looking like a simple point and shoot camera is an advantage that any street photographer would appreciate. This Japan trip provided me a good chance to try it on in a metropolis. I was impressed.
I was chosen as one of five adventurer to enjoy winter Finland at the end of the year 2015, as I’ve documented here. Leica Q did more than its job during my three months stay in the Finnish lapland. First of all, it was a chance for me to try the Q on in an extreme environment. I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never been to a place where it’s colder than -20 degrees celsius, let alone taking pictures in those kind of weather. I’ve got to use it up to the temperature of -40 degrees celsius and that wasn’t easy for me, and for the Q also, I believe. To my surprise however, it never went out. All things functioned normal up to -20. It was one night where the night temperature went below -40, where I was staying outside for hours to photograph auroras, that finally Q seemed to slow down. Auto focusing failed, and LCD screen started to show strange colors. And yet, it still worked. And next day, the camera warmed up and was back to normal. I think it’s safe to say Q is a battle proofed camera. Getting the job done at -40 celsius is good enough for me. What do you say?
Leica Q was very helpful when I was driving my husky sleigh. While I try to get my best images using Leica M, I had to use Q on my sleigh as there was no way to use my two hands while driving it. To be honest, instructors said we have to use both hands on sleigh at all times, but I decided to use one. As a photographer I couldn’t just pass by and not taking photos of those beautiful sceneries unfolding right before my eyes. So using a hand meant using a Q, and Q with its fast AF and temperature proofed body, got me some nice images, like the one at the last on the above bunch of Finland images.
After my Finnish adventure I’ve decided to visit Russia. It’s right next to Finland, so why not. I’ve only visited two cities though. Beginning in St. Petersburg, and ending in Moscow. March was not an ideal time to travel in Russia, so they say. It’s not winter anymore and yet it’s still not spring. It was kind of true. Streets were colorless for the most part. But as always, I’ve found colors from the people. By then I’ve come to realize how best to utilize 28mm focal length the Q provides. Only way to use the Q to its fullest was to get right at the people’s faces. I mean, I really had to get up close and personal. Only then I’ll be able to get close up expressions and yet get the whole sense of what’s going on around my primary subjects. It wasn’t easy for me as I was more comfortable shooting from 50mm lens, but slowly I started to adapt and the images I made in Russia reflect this. I was more of a photographer who shoots at f1.4 to f2.8, to set my primary subjects apart from others. But with Q I’ve learned to dial it down more, and started to shoot more in the range of f5.6 to f8. I’ve started to look into the details of little things in the images more. I think it was a good lesson and it gave me a new vision. I think it’s important that you keep on growing as a photographer. That you’re always ready to learn. I feel like I have, while using the Q alongside with M during the last year or so.
Iran has been on my to-go list for a long time, and 2016 was the year I finally made it. With the tension between U.S and Iran growing my the minute since Trump became president, I believe it won’t be easy to visit the country for a while. I’m just glad I did when I had the chance. I already wrote a post on visiting the country during Nowrus, their biggest holiday of the year. Indeed it was a magical time to visit Iran. I put to use everything I’ve learned of the camera so far and then some. One thing I could mention here is its EVF and live view mode. In general I don’t like EVF. I like seeing what’s happening in the real world more. And I’ve never been one to use live view mode to take a picture. To my surprise however, I found myself using both and doing it well. EVF, you have no choice, but I think Q has one of the best EVF and it’s really easy on your eyes. I still like OVF better, but I’m not too bothered when I use Q. Also the live view mode Q has is actually pretty usable. I never use it on my M but I use it sometimes on the Q. It just has it figured out much better. Doesn’t like the back screen LCD that much though. It doesn’t look much when I see them there. It’s when I open it up on my computer that I go wow!
So in the end..
What can I say. This is not much of a technical review, per se, but more of how I felt of using it and how I used it. Still, I think you can learn a thing or two through my images. Sometimes looking at others’ work on a camera gives much better idea of what it can do for you than just reading out those specifications. Leica Q for all its specifications can’t beat out Sony cameras in terms of features. But I guess you know it if you’re a Leica user like myself, it’s not just for the features you use Leica. It only applied when it came to using a M. But Q became a first non-M that I really like from Leica. I think it will keep on supplementing M on my works and they make a great duo. For some people it can be their primary camera too, I do not doubt it. I truly believe this is one of the best digital camera Leica has ever made. When I look at all the images I’ve got with it, I’m just glad I took a chance with this guy.