Image quality

Out-of-camera JPEG | ISO 100 | 1/80 sec | F4
Photo by Carey Rose

Key Takeaways:

  • Raw performance is generally good, with high levels of detail capture.
  • High ISO performance is around one stop behind the best modern sensors
  • JPEGs are disappointing, with unsaturated color and low contrast
  • ISO 50 appears to be a full ISO setting but the JPEGs clip unexpectedly early
  • The camera's Auto ISO mode will not use ISO 50 so you'll have to manually engage it for the maximum dynamic range.

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you'll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to see the effect of different lighting conditions.

The Q2's Raw image quality is very impressive, it's very sharp near the center and is shows noise levels comparable with the best of its peers. At the extreme corners it's a little softer than those cameras we've shot with dedicated 85mm lenses, but gets better, the closer you get to the center. This is possibly a consequence of the fairly extensive distortion correction that it part of the camera's lens design: we'll look in more detail on the next page.

At high ISO settings the Leica falls behind its contemporaries, with the difference opening up to a whole stop at the higher settings.

The story in JPEG mode is a little less positive. Detail capture remains very good but the color response is among the worst we've seen for some time, with a distinct magenta tinge to the reds and a green hint in both yellows and blues. This isn't just something we're observing in our studio scene: our real-world shooting has left us disappointed, too. Add to this rather unreliable white balance and very low default contrast, and it's safest to assume you'll need a Raw processing plan for the Q2.

At high ISOs, the camera's noise reduction does a reasonable job of balancing noise reduction and detail retention, but low-contrast detail is lost in the process. That said, it's important to remember that Leica has always chosen to leave a little more luminance noise in than its competitors, and in any case, the Q2's performance here it's a step up from its predecessor in this regard.

Dynamic Range

The Leica Q2's all-new 47MP sensor is a good performer, if not up to quite the high standards set by some competitors' sensors at this time. As you can see in our ISO invariance test, there will be an increase in noise if you use a low ISO and push the exposure, versus exposing at a higher ISO from the get-go. This suggests the camera is adding some noise to its images, the role of which can be diminished by adding amplification at higher ISO settings.

This means that, for advanced users, you can use a lower ISO value and underexpose your image to keep your highlights from blowing, but brightening up the rest of the image will result in more noise than if you used a higher ISO value to begin with.

Now on to exposure latitude, in which we use the camera's base ISO and try brightening increasingly dark exposures to see how much noise is being added in the deep shadows. Here, you can see the Leica Q2 is around one stop behind the Nikon D850 in this regard.

What's the Q2's base ISO?

The Leica Q2 has an ISO 50 mode which, so far as we can tell, is a distinct ISO setting that allows the camera to be shot with 1EV more light than the ISO 100 mode with a measurable increase in dynamic range. The JPEG files clip around 1EV sooner than the ISO 100 ones, which makes it look like an extended setting (essentially ISO 100 overexposed by a stop), however, the Raw files tell a different story and appear to retain an extra stop of highlight data.

It is important to note, however, that ISO 50 doesn't actually give the Q2 any more dynamic range than ISO 100 on a comparable camera like the Panasonic Lumix S1R, which uses a very similar sensor. It's confusing, and we can't help but wonder why Leica didn't adjust the scale / labels of its ISO range to simply use 100 as the base value.

So, if you're shooting Raw and want the maximum dynamic range from your camera, you should shoot at ISO 50. If you're planning to use the JPEGs, you can leave the camera in Auto ISO, which will never use the ISO 50 setting, and just accept the 1EV noise cost of using shorter exposures.