Leica Q In-depth Review
Our latest test scene is designed to simulate both daylight and low-light shooting. Pressing the 'lighting' buttons at the top of the widget allows you to switch between the two. The daylight scene is shot with manually set white balance aimed at achieving neutral grays, but the camera is left in its Auto setting for the low-light tests (except Raw, which is manually corrected during conversion). We also offer three different viewing sizes: 'Full', 'Print', and 'Web', with the latter two offering 'normalized' comparisons to more fairly compare cameras of differing resolutions by ensuring equivalent viewing sizes.
The Leica Q has no direct rivals. If you want a full-frame fixed-lens camera, the Sony's 35mm F2 RX1R II is your only alternative. If you're more of a fan of 28mm equiv, then the likes of the Fujifilm X70 and Ricoh GR are options but these both have F2.8 maximum apertures and smaller, APS-C sensors. Our studio scene should show the differences this makes.
The Leica Q shows an impressive level of detail, considering how closely it has to be shot to our test chart. Its 24MP sensor can't match, but it's more than a match for the or . is fairly well handled, with no signs of halos, but there is a little stair-stepping on high-contrast edges, suggesting the camera is pushing to the very limits of what it can capture.
Color is not the Leica's strength.are neutral and unsaturated to the point of being unflattering, when compared with any you choose to compare it to. And even in this carefully white balanced scene, there's a slight green tinge to everything. takes itself very seriously - neutralizing tones to a greater extent than any of its , though still leaving that tiny hint of green.
The camera's noise reduction suppresses chroma noise very heavily, but leaves the more grain-likeessentially untouched. This isn't a bad decision, but can't compete with the more sophisticated system offered by , which manages to suppress AND retain detail and saturation. The Leica may be struggling with at higher ISOs but its means it can easily outperform the Ricoh and when it comes to overall image quality.
The sharp lens and lack of AA filter means the Leicawith the consequent risk of moiré. The is far from shabby, despite the application of distortion correction as part of the lens's design, even when compared to a very good, uncorrected prime lens shot further from the chart.
Noise performance is a little behindand perhaps even a touch better than other . This means it shows something like the 1.3EV benefit that its sensor size should give it, over the likes of the , and that's before you take into account its maximum aperture being 1.4EV faster.
Overall, then, an impressive performance from both the sensor and the lens but, while the rather simplistic JPEG noise reduction is pretty well judged, we have real concerns about the color rendering and white balance performance - concerns borne-out in our real-world shooting.
Sony doesn't consider distortion corrections to be an essential part of its lens design so allows them to be turned off. In this scene, the JPEGs were shot with correction on but the Raws were processed with it switched off. The Leica requires the correction as part of its design so they are engaged in both cases.
Real-world image quality
As we've covered previously, the Leica Q will reward you with predictably good image quality in most situations. The dynamic range may be lacking for some more demanding landscape photographers (or if you mis-judge your exposure and need to push several stops), but noise levels are usually fairly well controlled into higher ISOs.
|In most shooting situations, files out of the Leica Q are perfectly fine. Photo by Carey Rose. F8 | 1/320 sec | ISO 100|
However, there are two issues we repeatedly ran into with files from the Q, one of which is relatively minor, and the other relatively major.
The minor issue concerns JPEG processing out of the Q, with real-world results mimicking our studio findings above. Leica claims that the JPEG output is intentionally neutral, at the expense of bright, printable images. However, with limited JPEG engine customization options (color space, sharpness, contrast, saturation), users coming to the Q from other systems may find the JPEG performance lacking, and will simply turn to the Raw files. The 'greenness' of default yellows in the Q's JPEGs does show up in real-world shooting, and can cause unpleasant results when photographing people. Couple that with unreliable auto white balance performance under artificial light, and frankly, I ignored the JPEGs altogether.
In the below comparison, note how the out-of-camera JPEG is skewed green, compared to a more pleasing white balance when processed from Raw.
|Out-of-camera JPEG||Processed to taste from Adobe Camera Raw|
The second issue is arguably more major. Although outright noise performance is good with the Q, pushing the exposure or shadows of your Raw files in post processing can result in noise 'banding.' The degree to which you'll see it varies from 'barely' all the way to 'terrible,' and it is present even at base ISO. The more random nature of the additional noise you see at higher ISOs can help to hide some of the worst banding, but it is still visible.
In the below example, the original exposure was a bit dark. It was pushed by 2.45 stops in Adobe Camera Raw, with the shadows lifted some more. Banding is clearly evident (and clearly unpleasant), but this level of adjustment is not a particularly strenuous exercise for the majority of full-frame cameras on the market (most notably, those with Sony sensors).
|Photo from our Leica Q real-world sample gallery. Photo by Barney Britton. F1.7 | 1/60 sec | ISO 200|
It's also important to note that files that have only had slight exposure adjustments (and not additional shadow pushing) can still show banding, if you look carefully. In the below example, the out-of-camera shot looks a bit dark, and so exposure was brought up slightly, and banding is just visible on the car interior to the right of the dog's head. A final extreme adjustment shows the banding pattern more clearly.
If you're not one to really push your Raw files, this probably won't concern you. But it does represent an additional shortcoming that users coming from other systems may not be prepared for from a fairly recent full-frame sensor. To get a more in-depth and controlled look at this banding and its implications, jump to the next page of our review which goes into more detail concerning the Q's Raw dynamic range.
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