Leica has moved from M to Q.
The camera looks gorgeous. More minimal than the classic M whose chassis has turned 61 this year. Is Leica planning to kill the rangefinder and follow the steps of Sony? I doubt it. Especially when the Q has a fixed lens with an electronic shutter built in it, And it is precisely this otherwise excellent optic that makes the Q less than perfect. It’s too big and fat and looks more like an R lens or a Zeiss that is fitted on a Sony RX.
Leica has corrected lots of the shortcomings found on its previous experimental designs – the X, the T and the Vario – and it has added an electronic viewfinder. Actually there is nothing missing from this body which is only fractionally smaller than an M9, the shutter dial is there (alas, only 1/2000) the exposure compensation dial is there (no markings, but who needs them anyway, they add to the visual clutter of the camera) and there is a dedicated movie button, the second red dot on the camera. There is no flash unit (thank God) but there is a hot shoe. The power on/off has the typical Single mode or Continuous found on the digital M models too. There is also a clever indented thumb resting place at the back that gives some balance when holding the camera, nice touch. Weird look though.
The Q claims to be made in Germany at Wetzlar (that’s the new factory). The back looks similar to the M with 5 buttons on the left and a arrow pad on the right which some folk may find too small. Play is on top, I would put it at the bottom, ISO should be on top or Menu with Play and Delete a bit lower. That’s how my mind works anyway. You don’t want to fiddle by searching blindly where ISO is when your eye is glued to the viewfinder. The EVF by the way is large (probably designed for users who wear glasses) but it has an adjustment wheel next to it. There is an Fn button (now common to modern cameras) that ought to be customised. The LCD screen is generously big and bright and it has touch sensitivity which I find pretty pointless on a Leica. There is Wi Fi too for both iOS and Android phones. Not bad.
The magnesium alloy Q is a beauty, to be honest, if only…
Yes, there is always an “if only” when it comes to camera design. If only then the Q had an interchangeable lens mount that would fit older Leica lenses. This is my proposal to Leica: You didn’t really need a full frame sensor. This made the lens too big and the price of the package too high. The 24Mp is a great idea but unless you print big you could make do very nicely with an 18Mp, like on the M9. This again would drop the price. You didn’t have to go to 50,000 ISO as long as you gave very clean 6400. Using an image stabilisation and a fast lens (f1,7) on a mirror less camera you can shoot in very low light conditions indeed with never having to go above 6400. Ask any serious photographer who doesn’t have Parkinson’s disease. By the way Summilux lenses are f1,4 and not f1,7. That was the tradition, is Leica changing this? An f1,7 is closer to an F2 for those who can do optical arithmetic, but never mind.
The Photoshopped image below is my kind of Q, behold:
This is the Summicron M 2/28 Aspherical lens which is an amazing optic. You don’t really need a MACRO setting on a Leica, although the Q’s dual range trick (also found in Zeiss) is very clever indeed. But have a good look. The Q looks better and lighter already. Compare this with the image below of the actual Q: this looks more like a Lens with a camera stuck behind it, not a Camera with a lens in front of it.
I find this lens size grotesque, no matter how brilliant it renders colour and sharpness, which it does. Haptics should be the priority in camera/lens design, not resolution and automation. Patience, I am sure in a year or two Leica will rethink its Q and perhaps come up with a QM or Q2 or something, that changes lenses and doesn’t cost over $4000 (body only). I will be the first to go out and get one, promise.
A fat big lens makes you feel fat when you hold it. A smaller one makes you feel like a watchmaker, more precise and more focused on your subject. Leica made a name for producing the best miniature lenses in the world (circa 1950-2000) and for those who know a bit of history that was the reason why the R system (the reflex Leica) never caught up in sales. Remember, Leica is all about lenses, not bodies really, unless you are talking classic film bodies like the M3, M2 etc. It is Leica’s optics that never depreciate in value and never break down, digital Leicas, on the other hand, have a very short life indeed, both functionally and as second hand items. See what happened to the X and the T (the Vario as well), they are pretty relics of little interest nowadays when compared with the new Q baby.
Finally, what was this business of working with Panasonic making the cheap and expensive version of the same thing? Did Leica learn from Panasonic electronics? I doubt it. The David and Goliath allegory here is totally out of place. Somehow I get the feeling that camera manufacturers love to shoot themselves in the foot at least once a year.
I find it very comical to see and read about all the excitement bloggers have over the Q. Any fixed lens camera is doomed to fade away no matter how stupendous it is. It happened to the Fuji X100 series, to name one brand. Lovely camera the X100s and T etc but not flawless. A fixed 35mm is not a bad idea but seriously folks, we are photographers and we love lenses, lots of them. Are we supposed to carry a bag with 3 cameras each sporting one fixed lens, 3 chargers and 3 back up batteries? This idea is completely against the principles of minimalist photography – let the professionals who carry tonnes of equipment on their backs follow this path. Leica is a “street” camera, and this means purist journalism ideology, philosophical minimalism, solid performance, reliance and an inconspicuous tool that fits in your hands like a glove.
At $4250 per Q, and under these design circumstances, I would expect at least a short zoom objective, say from 28 to 50mm, and I would have been happy with an F2 constant. The Q as it stands right now gives me an empty stomach feeling, once again “if only…”.