The ultimate camera for street photographers, with gorgeous design and features – if you can stomach the price
- Stylish design
- Traditional controls
- Full-frame sensor
- Fixed lens
- Fixed screen
Leica is a brand that will always be synonymous with photography, and street photography in particular. Once the darling of 1940s and 50s monochrome shooters, its modern cameras are the preserve of those without the bother of budgetary restriction.
The original Leica Q, announced four years ago, was pitched as the ideal model for street photographers. With a gorgeous retro design, sharp 28mm f/1.7 fixed lens and a killer full-frame sensor, it was one to drool over if not – thanks to its roughly £3,500 price – ever actually own.
So what’s changed with the Q2? We have a brand new sensor, the addition of 4K video, some handy water resistance and a revamped viewfinder. But is it still as lust-worthy as before?
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Leica Q2 Review: What you need to know
Design-wise, the Q2 is more or less the same, but internally there’s been quite a big refresh.
First up: that fantastic new sensor. The newly developed full-frame, 47.3-megapixel sensor has just shy of twice the resolution of its predecessor’s 24 megapixels. Match that with the fixed 28mm f/1.7 ASPH (aspherical) lens which remains from the Q and you’ve got a recipe for some seriously sharp output.
A new processor, the Maestro II, facilitates a few improved functions, such as a faster frame rate (up to 10fps at full resolution), plus 4K video. The ISO range has been slightly expanded to include ISO 50 – 50,000 – beware, though, as the expansion is the inclusion of ISO 50, rather than an improvement of the camera’s high-sensitivity range.
Other interesting new features include IP52 dust and splash resistance and a viewfinder which now uses an OLED panel with a higher refresh rate.
Leica Q2 Review: Price and competition
Cameras like this – at this price – don’t have heaps of competition, but the obvious contender is the 2015 Sony RX1R II, although you’ll be doing well to find one on the shelves these days.
The Sony RX1R II uses a 42.4-megapixel, full-frame sensor and a fixed 35mm f/2.0 lens, and, if you can get one will set you back around £3,000: a relative bargain.
Otherwise, you might consider the Fujifilm X100F. It has a smaller APS-C sensor with 24.3 megapixels, and a fixed lens with the same field of view as the Leica Q2 and the Sony RX1R II (23mm f/2, giving you 35mm in equivalent terms). It costs around £1,200.
Leica Q2 review: Design and key features
The Q2 and the original Leica Q are very similar externally, but there have been a few tweaks. Gone is the dedicated video record button from the top plate for instance, but you do now get a customisable button in the centre of the scrolling thumb dial.
Elsewhere, you’ll also find things have got a little simpler. For example, the on/off switch merely switches the camera on or off, instead of additionally giving you the option to switch between single and continuous shooting.
Flip to the back and where you once found five buttons, you’ll now find three. You can customise what they do, so your favourite settings are still quickly available.
The Leica Q2 is a beaut. Gad around with it strapped to your chest and you can’t help but walk a little taller, not least because that little red tells other snappers you’ve spent nearly £4,500 on a camera.
It’s a strong, sturdy beast. Adding water and dust resistance is smart for something that obviously belongs on the street. Our only ergonomic complaint is that there’s no grip on the front, making it a little awkward at times.
The 28mm f/1.7 lens is a good choice for street photography, as well as a range of other subjects – landscapes, for instance. It’s a classic Leica so you can adjust aperture from a ring around the lens, while handy extra dials activate manual and macro focusing, the latter being useful when you want to get close. If you’re thinking 28mm sounds a little restrictive, there are digital zoom options, newly enhanced thanks to that high resolution sensor. You’ve got 35mm, 50mm and 75mm options available directly in camera, plus of course the option to crop in software later.
This is hardly a camera designed for video, bu, Leica has added 4K video recording for good measure. Now that there’s no dedicated button for video, you need to press the central button in the navipad to activate video mode first. Despite the price – for which we’d expect something a little more all-singing and dancing – there are no sockets for an external microphone or headphones.
When it comes to the viewfinder and screen, Leica has stayed pretty close to the original’s specifications, but with a few tweaks. The viewfinder offers the same 3.68 million pixel resolution, but is now an OLED with a higher refresh rate. Using it is very pleasant and feels natural. Alternatively, you’ve got a fixed screen which seems the same as before, but which Leica claims is a newer unit. Regardless, it’s a 3in, 1.04-million pixel touchscreen that you can use to compose, or quickly tap to set the autofocus point. Considering the price, it would have been nice to have a tilting mechanism for those awkward angles.
Another specification which seems a little over the top is the fast frame rate of 10fps. You’re hardly likely to use the Leica Q2 for sports or action, but those belonging to the school of “spray and pray” photography could find it useful.
In terms of focusing, the Q2 does a good job of keeping up with moving subjects when you need it to – again, there are some street scenarios which might require this. Otherwise, in single-shot AF mode, we found it snappy and accurate.
Leica Q2 review: Image and video quality
If you’re going to shell out the best part of £4,500 for a fixed-lens camera, you’d hope its images were pretty damn good. The good news is that the Leica Q2 doesn’t disappoint – phew.
Doubling the resolution of its predecessor means lots of delicious fine detail, as well as giving you much more flexibility for cropping, either in camera or software). Shooting at the widest apertures revealed a little softness in the corners upon close examination.
Colours are well saturated in JPEG images directly from camera. They’re perhaps lacking the punch some other manufacturers give – but they’re arguably a lot truer to life.
The Q2 uses the universal DNG raw format, so you should be able to use pretty much any post-processing software if you want to tweak your files. The raw files are very malleable, with the potential to reveal hidden details in shadows and highlights. Exposures are generally well-balanced, but you may find you need to switch to spot-metering in certain high-contrast situations.
In low light, ramping up the ISO is not always necessary thanks to that lovely wide-aperture lens. If you do need to you’ll be rewarded with images which are relatively noise-free to around ISO 3,200. At ISO 6,400 there’s some loss of detail, but for small printing and sharing sizes, it does the job nicely.
Video quality is very good too, although this clearly isn’t a camera for videographers or vloggers. It feels like 4K is only present to stop reviewers whinging. You can shoot at Cinema 4K at 24fps, or regular 4K at 24 or 30fps. Full HD offers some interesting options – you can shoot 24, 30, 60 or 120fps at 1080p.
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Leica Q2 review: Verdict
For the average person, cameras like the Q2 are objects of lust that will almost likely never be seriously contemplated as a purchase, but if you’re here hoping to read that this is an expensive toy for those with too much money you’re only half right. It is expensive; it’s also very good, producing great images from a body and lens combo which is delightful to use.
This camera has its faults, but using the Leica Q2 comes with all the prestige the heritage brand can offer, without the ungodly faff of the M10, a rangefinder touted as a street photographer’s dream but which is a pain to use.
If you’ve already got an original Q, whether you consider the Q2 worthy of an upgrade depends how happy you are with your existing camera. The updates here are good rather than life-changing. The addition of 4K video is a bit of a misnomer on a camera like this, but the bump in sensor resolution does give you some advantages.
The Leica Q2 isn’t just expensive; it’s niche. You might be able to justify spending this wedge of cash on something that could be used for every picture you’re ever likely to want to take. But its fixed lens means it will always suffer from a certain inflexibility for generalists.
Overall, there’s a heck of a lot to like about the Leica Q2 – but that might not make you any more likely to buy one.