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My Leica Q camera review

Discussion in 'Other >= 1" Sensor Cameras' started by dalethorn, Jun 27, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    Video review:

    Photo: http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Leica_Dlux/Camera_Leica_Q116_01.jpg

    This review covers my use of the new Leica Q (typ 116; 'Q-116' hereafter) camera for general-purpose photography, shooting JPEG format images only. This is a personal non-commercial review, so for full details of all of the camera's options and operations, check the major photo websites including Leica Place, Photographers' Lounge (formerly Serious Compacts), Red Dot Forum, Steve Huff, Ming Thein, Kristian Dowling, TechRadar, and Luminous Landscape among others. Note that a small part of the $4250 USD price for this camera is for the Lightroom software included with the purchase (and free to use perpetually), downloadable from the Leica Q-116 registration site. The Q-116 isn't directly comparable to many other premium compact cameras, primarily because of the combination of features (built-in high-res EVF, full-frame sensor, Summilux f1.7 lens etc.) in the small-ish camera body, as well as the advanced photographer options using the camera's various control rings, switches, and buttons.

    The Q-116 lens has a fixed focal length of 28 mm** and a maximum Aperture of f1.7. The ancestry of this camera includes the M9 (or 'M') for the full-frame sensor, the X1/X2/X-113 for the body and fixed wide-angle lens, and some collaborations with Panasonic for the high-resolution EVF. Leica previously created the X-113 as an advancement over the APS-C X1 and X2, with a new faster (and larger) f1.7 lens, in a much larger body than the X1 and X2, but with the same size sensor. My sense of the Q-116 is that it's the full-frame sensor equivalent to the X-113, and to keep the camera body to a more-or-less compact size, the Q-116 lens had to be limited to the 28 mm focal length. While I see the Q-116 as a compact camera, the thickness of 3.5 inches due to the lens projection means that it's compact compared to full-size cameras such as DSLR's etc., but nowhere near pocket size. The Q-116 can be used with one hand to some extent, but with a weight of 1.5 lbs, one-hand use has its limits.

    **The Q-116 has a couple of in-camera crop options, and while that feature may seem redundant when most people crop their images with computer software, I've found it pretty handy in use, since it shows the crop-frame lines on the screen and EVF, and is easily toggled using the Zoom/Lock button.

    Since I generally shoot JPEG format only as noted above, and I prefer to have the camera automatically select Aperture and Shutter values for me (I tend to keep the ISO fixed at 200 for daytime shooting), it's a real annoyance that the Q-116 prefers to select too low on Aperture and too high on Shutter speed by default. Out-of-focus areas in images are good when composed that way by the photographer, but when the Q-116 selects f1.7 and 1/1000 second in daylight situations, the out-of-focus areas become unpredictable and a nuisance in many instances. Hopefully that can be fixed with a firmware update. Manufacturing of the Q-116 is done mainly by Leica, as is the case for the 'T' typ 701, the X Vario, and the X1/X2/X-113 cameras. All of these except the Q-116 have APS-C sensors, while the Leica compact cameras manufactured by Panasonic (ex: D-Lux typ 109) top out at the 4/3 sensor size.

    I've been posting images from the Q-116 camera to my dalethorn website, and there are currently about 25 photos posted there. I think these images will speak for themselves, but bear in mind that these were shot as JPEG's only, so if you're willing to work with the DNG-format images that the Q-116 produces when the DNG option is selected on the camera menu, you should get even better results than I have posted there. My experience with the Q-116 so far says that the image quality is better than the best of the previous compact cameras I've owned, including the Leica 'T', X Vario, X1, Panasonic GM1, and the Nikon Coolpix A. The Q-116 has a better lineup of physical controls than the cameras just noted, but it's actually very similar to the D-Lux-109 that's made for Leica by Panasonic. I'll leave most of those details to the commercial reviews while I describe a few of the anomalies I've found.

    The only serious problem I have with the Q-116 is the auto-Aperture feature noted above. A secondary problem is the lack of a compact camera case for this compact camera, like the 18821 case made for the Leica D-Lux-109. The last issue I have is not having a way to keep from losing the lens cap, via a lens cap string - another nice feature of the D-Lux-109. The Leica Q-116 comes with a skinny neck strap but no wrist strap, which I consider to be the opposite of what's appropriate for a compact camera. But since I don't have a compact carry case yet, I purchased a similar Leica strap that's 1.6 inches wide at the back of the neck. In every day carry, I have the neck strap and a Leica wrist strap attached, and when I get a compact carry case, the neck strap will move to the case where it will beome a shoulder strap, then when I remove the camera from the case, the case will remain on my shoulder and I'll use the wrist strap to keep the camera secure.

    The battery capacity is better than what I've experienced with those other small cameras. The backup Leica battery was delayed for 17 days from when I got the camera, but it's on the way now. I'd recommend against taking the Q-116 out for more than an hour of shooting without a second battery. Leica supplies an external charger, which seems to charge from completely exhausted to full in about two hours. The connection to the computer is via the micro-USB port, or you can remove the card and copy from it directly. The camera doesn't come with an SD card, and you'll want to get a really fast card for it. I tried shooting bursts with JPEG-plus-DNG enabled, and those 8-9 shot bursts took 30 seconds to write to the card and clear the buffer. I've used a Lexar 64 gb SD card labeled 300x and (1), and also a Sandisk 64 gb MicroSD card in an SD wrapper labeled Ultra and (10). I think a 'UHS' card is supposed to be the fastest, but I don't know if the Q-116 can write as fast as the fastest cards can accept data.

    The HD videos (1080x1920) I've taken seem to have good exposure in low light, whether I use auto-ISO or leave it fixed on ISO 200 that I use for stills. A problem I've experienced is the camera doesn't seem to focus on what I point it to using the "1 Point" setting, so either I'll have to try using Spot focus for video or just focus manually. One feature I use a lot with the Leica D-Lux-109 is the Highlight-Shadow exposure option, and I don't see anything quite like that on the Q-116 menu.

    Camera forums are rife with complaints about the price of replacement batteries, and I always recommend carrying at least a second battery so shooting can continue if the first battery runs down. Contrary to what many people suggest - saving money with third-party batteries, I consider the price difference and if it's huge, I need to know why. Before I could even consider a very cheap battery, I would need several independent reviews that affirm the quality of that particular battery as well as the reliability of the manufacturer of that battery. On top of that, I would need to know that if their battery damaged my camera, they would pay to replace my camera promptly. Lithium-ion batteries can be very dangerous. If the price difference were less than my expenses in replacing a defective battery (packaging, shipping, time wasted, loss of battery for a period of time), I would certainly get the camera manufacturer's battery.

    The tripod socket is one inch from the battery door, so if your mounting plate is small like mine (2 x 1.5 inch), you'll be able to change the battery with a tripod attached. Some manufacturers warn about attempting to use a tripod mount with a thread that's too long, so that's probably something to be careful of. Summarizing, the Q-116 should be a great camera for a person who wants a full-frame sensor with corresponding high image quality, a 28 mm non-removable prime lens, simple but flexible design and operation, and a minimum set of high-performance features that most semi-pro or pro users require for their work.
     
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  2. Archiver

    Archiver SC Top Veteran

    618
    Jul 11, 2010
    Melbourne, Australia
    Thanks for the review, Dale, and thank you also for the images and DNG's.

    Strap: the Q is based on the design of the M line, which has always been a shoulder/neck strap camera, and not a wrist-strap compact camera, Cartier-Bresson's carry habits notwithstanding.

    Batteries: my understanding is that the Q uses the same batteries as the Leica V-Lux, which is a rebadged Panasonic. The corresponding Panasonic batteries are about half the price of the Leica-branded batteries. Initial reports suggest that the Panasonic version work fine in the Q.
     
    • Informative Informative x 1
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    "Based on" is a clear misunderstanding of the Q camera. With its small size and fixed lens, it's clearly a compact camera, much like some of the Canons and Nikons. It's clearly not a rangefinder, DSLR, nor a bridge camera. In fact, held in hand and examined very closely next to a Leica D-Lux or Pana LX100, it's virtually identical except for a slightly larger size.

    Edit: From the Q owner manual, page 250 - Technical Data: "Digital Compact Camera".
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 28, 2015
  4. serhan

    serhan SC All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    NYC
    Thanks for the review, Dale.

    In the camerastore review, they used Panasonic batteries to show that they are compatible. They even talked about Panasonic involvement in Q...

     
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  5. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    Thank you - I read for years about how the Leica D-Lux series were just rebadged Panasonics, but lately I'm beginning to see Leica's influence in those products. It has to be a tough job for the legal depts to work out the details in those collaborations, especially for all-new products. I don't know about Leica, but if you have an iPhone, just scroll through the About/Legal section - hundreds of pages!
     
  6. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    I've been google'ing for an hour but can't find the camerastore review.
     
  7. serhan

    serhan SC All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    NYC


    Also I read that Sean Reid just posted a very thorough side by side (with and without correction) test of just how much impact the digital software correction for distortion impacts off axis resolution for the Q. His review site is a paid subscription site.
     
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  8. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010

    Some size comps from Camerasize.com:

    2015-06-28_1427.

    2015-06-28_1428.
     
  9. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    Well, since Leica declares it to be a compact, and since it's a fixed size and lens, and since it weighs quite a bit less than an M with lens, I'd say the compact designation is a done deal. Besides, there can't be an argument that it's better for me to carry my Q in a bag that's 3 times bigger than the camera, when a 18821-style case would be 1/3 that size. A 1.5 lb metal brick around the neck is a very clunky and uncomfortable thing, which is why so few people are willing to tolerate it, especially that you don't see them carrying their heavy neck-camera everywhere, like going out to dinner etc. My cameras that have the compact case are always with me.

    I find it very interesting that there are so many arguments *against* a wonderful and functional design as the 18821 shoulder-carry case. Why not just say "Hey - that's a great idea"?
     
  10. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    Thanks for that! I find the in-camera crops useful, and I certainly don't think that the JPEGs are s*** as the guy says here. The second guy even says that there's no manual exposure control. I don't get that -- you can set ISO, Aperture, Shutter, color balance or temperature, focus -- i.e. it seems totally controllable.

    Anyway what I find to be a problem in reviews of any product are absolutes like "the JPEGs are crap", without comparing them to previous generations of similar cameras. The quality of the Q's JPEGs are better than previous Leica compacts - X Vario, T, X, and other lesser cameras. Also, the dismissal of the X Vario as a terrible or failed camera is way off the mark. The biggest fault it has is a fairly slow lens, but in good light it's amazingly good, having a superb lens. So I think these guys could improve their review quite a bit by removing the absolutes and using comparisons instead.
     
  11. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    I just did some comparisons of my Leica D-Lux and Leica Q, based on the Camerasize dot com photos Amin provided. The compact cases I noted (ex: 18821 for D-Lux) carry the camera vertically with lens projection outward, so the 37 percent larger dimension of the Q is the least important. The 21 percent larger height is of no real consequence in vertical carry. The 7.5 percent greater length is the most important dimensional difference, but 7.5 percent itself is inconsequential. The 74 percent greater weight has huge consequences for neck carry (23.5 to 13.5 ozs), but no real significance for shoulder carry.
     
  12. serhan

    serhan SC All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    NYC
    I am guessing you are talking about camerastore review. Second guy talks about the video, nothing else... I didn't remember what they said about jpgs, but you can get more information, better dynamic range by shooting raw. Maybe that is what they meant. Check the review below with before and after shots eg how he can push and pull the images (from Overgaard's review links):
    http://kristiandowling.com/blog/2015/6/10/leica-q-typ-116-camera-review-part-2

    Overgard's review also:
    http://www.overgaard.dk/Leica-Q-Hemingway-digital-rangefinder-.html

     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2015
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  13. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    Thank you - I did reference Kristian Dowling in the above review, but hadn't seen Overgaard yet. The last time I shot RAW was 2007, and I freely acknowledge the better control and results, but there's a philosophy behind what I do that I can best analogize from a 1980 Hewlett-Packard computer article:

    "By the year 1999, all of the programs that have been written to date (1980) will be able to run on a current computer in less than a minute".

    What he's saying is that by and large, the JPEGs from the Q are probably better than the better DSLR RAWs from 10-15 years earlier. So in essence, getting the best output from the extra effort in developing RAWs is more of a competitive thing, especially for working professionals, than a personal satisfaction thing.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 28, 2015
  14. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    I finished the Overgaard review, which is more an A to Z tutorial than a review, which is awesome in its thoroughness. One thing I disagree on is the 3 frames per second Continuous shooting - I shoot 10 fps because, despite the image stabilization etc., I compare each 8-9 image burst back home and find that there are some slightly sharper than others. In most cases a very slight difference, but sometimes quite noticeable. Also in many shooting situations, movements of people and things in the frame, while not fast movements as in sports etc., are just enough that frame 4 may be perfect and frames 1-3 and 5-8 might not be as good.

    Another oddity in Overgaard's review is what I read as a tutorial (as well as a sales tool), mostly for non-experts and non-professionals, who want a *simple* camera of high quality, but to get there they pretty much have to jump into the Adobe workflow system. I haven't, and doubtfully ever will, unless it means I can open up the DNGs in a batch in Adobe, press a button and let it quickly convert those DNGs to JPEG using set defaults, and not have to worry about backing up enormous amounts of data just to manage 10000 or so images. But maybe those users who want a simple camera of high quality are ready for the full process? No idea....
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 28, 2015
  15. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Who's arguing against a carrying case?
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2015
  16. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    Oh my - lots of people. I've done enquiries, posted comments, made video reviews .... I've received nothing but negative comments, and not one person has said they thought the compact vertical-shoulder-carry case is a good idea. Yep, true.
     
  17. Archiver

    Archiver SC Top Veteran

    618
    Jul 11, 2010
    Melbourne, Australia
    Interestingly, 2007 was the year that I started to experiment with raw files, having only used jpegs, whether from small sensor cameras or DSLR's. Even then, it took another couple of years before I began to shoot everything in raw. At first I was content to shoot my Canon DSLR's in Natural and adjust the jpegs, but there were just too many instances where I wanted to recover shadow or highlight detail that couldn't be gained from jpegs, or I wanted to adjust the colour temperature in ways that raw made much more easy. Many a time, I began to lament not having raw files from which I could extract the maximum amount of data, whether from the image of a child's face to a sunset over a mountain.

    Storage is becoming cheaper every year, and having the best starting information is important to me. The Lightroom workflow does not bother me at all, as I have created a series of presets that give me a base 'look' that is good enough for most things, and gives me a basis from which to make further adjustments if necessary.
     
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  18. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    I don't know if that's going to push me into it, but it sounds like good advice, so thanks!
     
  19. Archiver

    Archiver SC Top Veteran

    618
    Jul 11, 2010
    Melbourne, Australia
    No worries! My Adobe workflow is very simple.

    I import raw files into my computer via a card reader in the front panel of the workstation. I use Picture Information Extractor (PIE) by PicMeta, a multipurpose program that is very handy for automatically importing and renaming images and videos, among other things. The settings I use add the camera name to the raw files filenames, so I know which camera shot what!

    Then I import the raw files into Lightroom. This only takes a few moments.

    Once all files are loaded, I select the preset I want, based on the look I want the images to have. Since I've been working with Lightroom for a few years, I've created a number of presets suited to any given camera I might use, so I have Leica M9 presets, Ricoh GR presets, Panasonic GM1 and GH3 presets, etc. It's easy to just bring up the grid of images on screen, select, and apply the preset to all of them. You can even create rules that when Camera A is detected (by serial number) that preset 'Camera A' is automatically applied.

    This is enough for 90% of my day to day imaging. Anything I want to send or otherwise display or enjoy goes through some custom tweaking.

    After streamlining the Lightroom workflow, it is really easy, and everything has better quality than if you just used out of camera jpegs.
     
  20. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    My file management is probably too time-consuming to get into that. Firstly, all of my JPEGs are named hierarchically, such as Charleston_Church_St_Michaels01.jpg, or Mt_Pleasant_Events_Sweetgrass_Festival01.jpg, and so on. I like to carry all of my photos on my iPad and iPhone6, so that I can retrieve any photo in any subject more-or-less instantly, for discussions and other purposes. But of course, Apple doesn't provide a direct way to load those photos by filename as they do with music tracks and videos. And the extra burden of 'folders' just makes it worse.

    So since iTunes likes to load photos onto these devices from a computer folder or folders by date/time written to that computer folder (presumably because most users want to see their photos by date and not by name?), I take a clean high-speed USB drive, create my photo folders on it, then copy the files from the PC to the USB drive using DOS, which streams them into the USB drive folders, effectively setting the written-to date/time same as filename (since DOS copies them sequentially by filename, whereas Windows Explorer or Mac copy utilities aren't designed to do that).

    But that's just the tip of the iceberg in file management, and there's no program in existence that can automate that fully. I have a lot of automation tools that help, but they require a watchful eye to check for write-overs that shouldn't happen. Workflow for photos is easy enough -- save the image as Filename_a, then a modified copy as Filename_b, _c, _d, etc. Both the Mac and PC are able to toggle through a series of these to see what the edit effects are visually. Once the final edit is made, the _x suffix is removed and the file is saved to some permanent folders on the PC and then backed up** onto several media, both in-house and off-site. All of that is very time-consuming.

    **I don't do fully automated backups, because I never write over files that have already been backed up, unless the contents have changed.