If you are a serious photographer, chances are that you have always wanted a Leica rangefinder, or any Leica camera for that matter.
Enter the new Leica Q (Typ 116). This is a full-frame digital compact camera with a Leica Summilux 28mm f1.7 lens for only $5,990.
That is right. Only $5,990.
Image sensor: 24-megapixel full-frame CMOS
Lens: 28mm f1.7
Screen: 3-inch touchscreen LCD with 1,040,000 dots; built-in electronic viewfinder with 3,680,000 dots
Sensitivity: ISO 100 to 50,000
Shooting speed: Up to 10 frames per second
Connectivity: Wi-Fi and Near Field Communication
Weight: 640g (with battery and memory card)
Value for money 4/5
Battery life 3/5
Before you call me crazy for saying "only", consider that a Leica Summilux-M 35mm f1.4 lens - just the lens - costs about $7,000. So the full-frame Leica Q is seriously a steal.
It looks almost like a regular Leica rangefinder. But the Leica Q's 28mm lens is fixed. The only telltale sign that the Q is not a Leica rangefinder is that the iconic red logo sits exactly where you would expect to find the rangefinder's optical viewfinder.
Instead of an optical viewfinder, the Leica Q uses a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF), which is bright and sharp.
Its button layout closely follows the classic rangefinder's. A shutter-speed dial, shutter-release button, command dial and dedicated button for video-recording sit on the right at the top of the camera. Under the shutter release is a lever that works as a toggle for power and single/continuous shots.
On the rear of the camera is a 3-inch touchscreen display and next to that is a four-way clickable directional button. Five buttons - Play, Delete, Function, ISO and Menu - are arranged vertically to the left of the display.
You hold down the Function button to change settings (such as ISO or file format) that you want to access through this button. The usual path has been to go to the Main Menu to assign a function to the Function button. But now, when you hold down the Function button, a screen pops up to prompt you to change the function, which is a much faster method.
On the lens barrel, you will find an aperture ring in front, a focusing ring in the middle and then a macro ring. To switch to macro mode, turn the macro ring to Macro.
As with any rangefinder, the aperture can be changed using the aperture ring and the shutter speed can be adjusted with the shutter speed dial. Both have an Automatic mode.
The focusing ring has markings for distance, infinity and an autofocus marking for autofocusing. It also has a contoured focus tab for use during manual focusing. To activate manual focusing, you press a button on the contoured tab to move the ring out of autofocus marking.
When in manual focusing mode, turning the focusing ring using the focus tab will cause the display or EVF to zoom in automatically on the subject and let you adjust to get a sharp focus. This is a nice touch and a good workaround. The classic or "real" rangefinder requires you to turn the focusing ring until the two images become one. Overall, the Q's handling is superb.
Light and solid
The camera's build is top-notch. The top plate is made of aluminium; the chassis, of magnesium alloy wrapped around the middle in textured leather. The result is a solid and sturdy build. I particularly love the recessed thumb rest that allows you to have a solid grasp of the camera.
Perhaps most important to many is Leica Q's smaller build and lighter weight (640g). The body of the excellent Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) that I recently reviewed, weighs 680g on its own. The Q's 28mm f/1.7 lens, small profile and silent shutter make it an excellent tool for street photography.
One downer is that you cannot shoot only RAW images. The camera shoots either JPEG or RAW+JPEG. Hopefully, a firmware update can resolve this issue.
Operation-wise, the Q is quite speedy for a compact camera. It starts up in only 1sec while shutting down takes around 1.7sec.
Using an SD Card with a writing speed of 12MB per second, the Q was able to shoot 10 RAW and 10 JPEG files concurrently in 1.5sec.
The camera was able to lock on to a focus almost instantaneously in bright sunlight. Even under dim lighting conditions, the Q only took around 1sec to secure a focus with the aid of an autofocus assist light. Shutter lag is minimal.
The image quality is excellent. Image sharpness is maintained from edge to edge in the frame without any barrel distortion or chromatic aberration throughout the aperture range. Colours are vivid and saturated, with great dynamic range.
When using the largest aperture f1.7 and the resulting shallow depth of field, the bokeh effect - the deliberately blurred out-of-focus areas in an image - is smooth, natural and beautiful.
Image noise performance is very good. Noise artefacts become evident only at around ISO 6,400. Even at ISO 12,500, the images are still good enough for Web use.
Battery life is average at around 350 stills before the battery goes flat.
The Leica Q (Typ 116) is for someone who aspires to own a classic Leica rangefinder. It delivers brilliantly sharp and beautiful images with a fast lens in a sturdy compact package. It comes with an affordable price, at least by Leica's standards.