The Leica Q - Still ahead of its time
My love affair with this camera is eternal.
I have to admit. I didn’t know much about Leica for most of my photographic life. I learned on a Canon A1 film camera that my father let me tinker with at the age of 4 while my mother and I traveled through Europe. Sure, almost every shot was blurry, but man, I really enjoyed the sense of wonder presented by that cropped view of the world, where everything outside that black frame disappeared, waiting for that decisive moment to be frozen in time. 35 years later, I was still using the Canon family of cameras and lenses for abstract fine art photography, the occasional wedding, portrait work, fashion photography and, up until more recently, professional architectural photography. While my passion for photography was growing, there was something banal about the instruments I was using. Lackluster. Too utilitarian. Uninspiring. Bulky. Cumbersome. Just a means to an end.
Until this thing came along.
They often say that it’s “the wizard and not the wand” that makes the artist, whether in music, photography, painting, or even cooking fine cuisine. So much of that is true. But I have to believe that having that nice “wand” certainly makes it more enjoyable, if not inspiring, to perform what you love. Could Eric Clapton fill an entire stadium while strumming a beat-up ukulele? Most likely. But does having that custom, hand-crafted Martin guitar, designed to resonate every tune and intonation inspire him to bring the most out of the instrument? I would argue with an unwavering YES. Why drive cross-country in a Ford Taurus if you can do it in a Tesla Roadster?
They also say the best camera is the one that is on you. And this is certainly something the Leica Q excels in. It’s a compact, every day camera that you can take everywhere, and that you will love to use while doing so. The sensor will give you 24mp of extra sharp image quality that is good enough to be enlarged up to impressive exhibition size artwork without trouble.
Is the Leica Q the best camera on the market? Most certainly not. But it is damn good. And I would even say that it does some things better than what some newer cameras do. With other full-frame cameras offering 61mp sensors, in-body image stabilization, amazing ISO performance and (hey Leica) sensor-cleaning, it is tempting to overlook what the Leica Q offers. The Leica Q still does so much so well, regardless of what shiny new toy supersedes it. Just like with film cameras, some things are not replaceable. And I believe Leica has created something here that is just that. Something quintessential and timeless that can endure the ages. It’s not just a camera. It’s a work of industrial design that gets back to the essentials of photography in it’s purest form.
Let’s start with the most noticible trait, the fixed lens. Leica took, perhaps, the gutsiest step in the digital camera market in creating a highly capable camera without the ability to change out the lens. “What were they thinking? Why would anyone in their right mind offer that? A 28mm prime lens? How is that even practical?”… With all of the doubts I had in the 6 months of research I put into before purchasing this camera, these thoughts crossed my mind constantly, almost on a daily basis. My disbelief created more intrigue. But this was deliberate on Leica’s part, not the contrary. It goes back to what must have been Leica’s original objective with the Q. Distill it to it’s most beautiful and essential form. It’s uncontested that prime lenses outperform zoom lenses, both in sharpness but also in size. The 28mm is surprisingly versatile. There’s just so much you can do. From wide angle to closs-up portraits, to even architectural photography. I’ve done entire shoots with just the Leica Q. Do I wish it had an 85mm zoom, most definitely. But it forces you to think about how you photograph and I think this is what Leica was really trying to get us to do again. It’s so easy to snap a photo with our iPhone these days. While it’s equally easy to photograph with the Q, the lens makes you work at making the composition and finding that ideal vantage point.
It’s form factor. It is definitely something to behold :) The shape is reminiscent and very similar to the Leica M design that made Leica famous. No clunky edges, but rather, a nice radiused edge that is smooth and seamless. In fact, I like it better than the M because it’s discreet, monochromatic, and less flashy. It’s designed with the street photographer in mind. And with an ultra-silent leaf shutter (image stabilized, of course) it is super quiet, so you don’t have to worry about making noise when you don’t want attention called to you. My personal preference is to place a piece of black gaffer’s tape over the logo for an even quieter presence of the camera hiding the bright red branding dot that has become so distinct.
So what is it’s fatal flaw? Weathersealing, or lack thereof. The camera is prone to dust over time and has no protection from water other than its own friction fit manufacturing. And while i’ve had no issue with very light rain on the body, I’ve had to send the camera to Leica once for cleaning of dust on the sensor, a several week process, which they did free of charge even after the warranty period. I don’t know what they charge or if they charge for that, nowadays, so I can see how the Q2 would be more appealing with the increased weathersealing and resolution. That said, the Q is still a great camera and a value.
All in all, I have zero regrets on this purchase. It is one that has brought so much joy to the creation of photography that I put aside any qualms I had with the camera. It’s the revered instrument that you bring to the symphony to play what you’ve rehearsed for so long. It exceeded my expectations and continues to offer a vibe that no other digital camera on the market can offer (except, perhaps, for the latest from Hasselblad). My only regret is to have to let go of this camera that is so special to me. Maybe one day we will be reunited.
Listing on eBay. This camera has been well cared-for by a professional photographer and comes with the original packaging. Enjoy! And I hope whomever gets this shares some of the works they will produce with it.