Leica Q: Mr. X1 falls for the charms of the new Quid on the block
I have a new camera; I did not need an new camera. My Leica X1 and XV are really more than adequate for my needs but I had a windfall from a photo competition win so I thought what the hell, I want one of these hotshot Leica Qs that all the online photo experts are raving about.
A reasonable question at this point would be to ask why buy yet another Leica which will produce the same style of photos as my existing cameras? Why not go and buy, say, an excellent M4/3 camera like the Panasonic GX800 and a bagful of lenses and still come away with a lot of cash compared with the Q?
Well, I do have another camera system already — the Sony a7 — and despite trying hard I just cannot come to love it. For me there is something special verging on magical about most Leicas and as soon as I have a Leica in my hand I seem to take better photos. Maybe it's in my head but if that is the case it's still relevant. And I have had a very long association with Leicas. I bought my first one, which I still have, in 1968. There have been quite a few since and hopefully there will still be time for a few more.
So I phoned up Photoco Camera House in Adelaide —2000kms away —and they had a Q in stock . I am sure I could have bought one a few hundred dollars cheaper online if there had been any stock but Photoco is a little camera shop in the city market hall in Adelaide. It is run by Luke, the third generation of the Bully family associated with the store.
His grandfather was in the Royal Marines, posted to Hong Kong after the end of the war where he developed an interest in Leicas. When he emigrated to Australia he opened the shop in Adelaide. It is a little gem and I used to visit it whenever I was in Adelaide on business. Luke's father, Peter, ran the store for many years and I bought my M4 and M6 Leicas from him and also my X1 as well as many lenses and other accessories over the years. He once sold me a superb Durst enlarger — formerly used in the darkroom of the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper. They have a big stock of used gear.
We have lost nearly all our real expert camera shops — and this one deserves to be on the National Heritage Register — and I have always been treated so well by them over the years that I wanted to support them. I gave them the order and a big pile of cash and late Thursday afternoon a large brown box arrived by courier.
After unboxing and then charging the battery it was too late and dark to try it but I did sit down and read the very thick instruction manual which must be a first for me.
Yesterday there was maintenance work going on in the house so I was too busy to really try it out but I did manage a first shot and it had to be one of my favourite subjects, the little 16-year-old Himalayan one eyed, Zoe or Zo Zo as we call her. This is a jpeg straight out of the camera. It was shot with the lens wide open at f/1.7.
First impression of the camera is that it really deserves all the hype. It is sophisticated but very easy to use — once you have read that manual. It's a marked contrast to the Sony a7 and its convoluted menus and scattered buttons and dials.
I decided that the front lens element is too prominent for me to use the camera without a protective filter. The filter has a 49mm thread. I have quite a few UV examples, either on lenses or in my camera cupboard, but usually they are not the size I need. This time I struck lucky — a very high quality 49mm filter was fitted to an old Minolta lens so off it came and was screwed straight onto the Q. Now all I need is some extra batteries, a screen protector, which Photoco do have in stock, and the handgrip — on order —and I will be fully set up.
So a camera sale is coming up and the under-utilised and unloved Sony is going, as well as the too-much-hassle Hasselblad.
Since writing the first part of the Q story I have had an opportunity to use the camera some more over the weekend on Sunday. Unfortunately Saturday was a miserable wet day and in any case we had to drive down to Sydney to pick up one of our granddaughters, Ellie. She was coming up to stay overnight and then come with me to the annual Chromefest Hot Rod festival at the nearby town called rather aptly The Entrance — so called because it is where Tuggerah Lake enters the sea. The event was almost washed out on Saturday but fortunately Sunday cleared up and by late morning it was clear skies and big crowds.
Now Ellie was more interested in the rock and roll fashions at the event than the hot rods so my photography was biased in that direction and, to be fair, the rock and rollers are every bit as photogenic as the hot rods.
This was the very first field outing for my Q. I tried an experiment. I shot both DNG (RAW) and jpeg files and for the jpeg settings I turned the contrast and saturation settings to low. I was more than happy with the resulting jpegs .The colour rendition is superb and I really like the lower contrast. The jpegs are so good I am seriously considering shooting only jpegs with the Q. In fact with my X1 and XV I invarably end up using the jpegs although I have been shooting both DNG and jpeg files with them so far.
I know all the purists will say that real photographers shoot only DNG (RAW). There is even a ridiculous T-shirt with the slogan "I only shoot RAW" on sale but for me the proof of the pudding is only in the eating and if the jpegs are superb why make life more difficult for yourself?
My outing to Chromefest confirmed what all the reviewers say — the autofocus on the Q is brilliant and so is the EVF. I am finding the controls and menus very easy to use, which is not surprising as essentially they follow the same format as the controls and menus on the X1 and XV. The one feature I am not sure about is the digital zoom framing. I used it a fair bit but found myself wondering why am I doing this when I can crop the photo in Lightroom. Maybe I will come to like it but at the moment the jury is out on that one.
Are my photos from the Q any better than the photos I could have taken with the X1 or the XV? IQ wise, yes and it is great having a wide aperture lens again. Is it worth the money? Most definitely yes.
All photographs in this article by John Shingleton