Autofocus and video

Focused using face detection.
Processed in Adobe Camera Raw | ISO 640 | 1/25 sec | F4
Photo by Richard Butler

The Leica Q2 has one of the most engaging manual focus systems of any focus-by-wire system we've encountered (to the point that you're unlikely to ever notice that it's by-wire), but its autofocus system is solidly adequate, rather than impressive.

Key takeaways:

  • Single AF acquisition speeds are best described as fast enough
  • Repeatable autofocus accuracy is a strong point
  • Continuous AF results in a good hit rate, but distracting 'flutter'
  • Face detection is reliable with single-subjects
  • Video mode is 'enabled' by a press of the center button on the four-way controller
  • Video quality is good, video autofocus isn't great

In-depth

There are a series of autofocus area modes:

  • Multi-Field (where the camera selects a subject based on centrality/proximity)
  • Spot (a very fine point)
  • Field (a moderate-sized point)
  • Tracking (Where the subject under the initial 'field' is tracked)
  • Face Detection

Autofocus is contrast-detection-based (and, probably not coincidentally, shares many characteristics with Panasonic's depth-from-defocus system). For single focus acquisition, the Q2 is reasonably swift. Not instant, but more than quick enough for most purposes.

The continuous AF experience is somewhat less impressive: the focus gets to the correct depth fairly quickly but then has to 'flutter' around that focus point to reassess whether it's still in focus. This visual effect of this flutter is distracting and also draws attention to the speed of the focus motor itself. On the other hand, focus accuracy tends to be quite good in this mode, and the 'Tracking' AF mode tends to be quite sticky.

The Q2 will lock focus with a minimum of hunting, even in extremely low light.
Processed in Adobe Camera Raw | ISO 20,000 | 1/50 sec | F1.7
Photo by Carey Rose

We've not conducted our 'bike test' with the Q2, as we doubt many people are going to try to track moving subjects with a fixed 28mm camera. In our use of the camera we've found the subject recognition aspect of its tracking mode to be very successful: easily keeping the focus box on the subject you choose.

Face Detection

The Leica Q2's face detection works really quite well with a single subject, even if they take up a relatively small portion of the frame. Once the person starts to turn away, though, and you start seeing only a profile of their face, the camera may start to lose the subject intermittently. The Q2 will also readily detect multiple faces in a scene, identifying them with 'boxes' around those faces, but there is no method at this time of choosing which face you want the camera to actually focus on.

Video

The Q2 has pretty impressive video specs, being able to shoot DCI 'Cinema' 4K at 24p, or UHD 4K at 30 or 24p. How do you engage video mode? By clicking the center button on the back and cycling through the camera's display modes. Do keep up.

Diagram showing the 1.04x Cinema 4K crop (blue) and 1.09 UHD 4K crop (red) regions

Video is taken from a slightly cropped region and gives you the option to apply the 35mm, 50mm and 70mm equivalent crops (though there too have a slight horizontal crop, relative to their still mode variants, so those numbers are approximate). The rolling shutter figures are impressive (around 16ms)

Once you're in video mode, the camera switches to Program exposure mode, with the shutter speed leaping to 1/60th or 1/50th of a second, auto ISO and auto aperture. This at least avoids any conflict between the exposure settings you've chosen on the dials and the appropriate settings for video. It implies Leica expects you to mainly point-and-shoot with the Q2, which is probably not unreasonable.

The camera maintains a separate color profile (called 'Video Style') for video shooting but all other parameters (white balance and even crop mode) carry over.

The Q2 can autofocus in video, but it's pretty simplistic and probably not trustworthy enough to be taken too seriously. The focus errs on the side of smooth, rather than responsive and is so determined to avoid flutter that it'll happily sit completely out-of-focus for a long moment, before concluding that it should probably get round to trying to get something in focus.

That said, the camera's smooth manual focus ring, linear focus response and focus peaking mean it's easier than most cameras to manually focus. The lack of any connection ports means there's no option for an external mic or headphones.