The Technical Stuff
The Leica Q2 Monochrom is definitely a boutique camera with the quality and craftsmanship of the finest products made. Id definitely consider it the Herme’s of the camera world with pure elegance in both its handling and its design
The Monochrom is a beautifully compact camera weighing in at 734 g with battery and measuring just 130 x 80mm and just 91mm deep including the stunning fixed prime Summilux 28mm f1.7 ASPH. The bright clear 3.68 MP OLED viewfinder is a joy to use for both viewing your subject or reviewing the photograph you’ve just taken.
The Leica Monochrom hosts a massive 47MP full frame sensor with ISO up to 50000 from a native 100 with a quick auto focus phase detect system. capturing DNG raw files letting you choose frame lines from its standard 28mm through to 35, 50 and 75 mm crop options in j peg format.
The camera is fully weather sealed to protect against dust and water and as you’ve a fixed lens you’ll never have to worry about cleaning your sensor!
The Leica Q2 lens also features a macro mode that will focus down to just 17cm making it great for getting in real close when needed.
Using the Leica Q2 Monochrom
Having purchased the camera it fell nicely into place with a trip the following weekend to recce a street photography course potential in Paris.
Looking at this beautiful camera you would think that the lack of a grip in the front and the smooth shape will make it uncomfortable or slippery to hold, but the perfectly placed thumb notch and the balance of the camera makes it very comfortable to hold and handle.
When shooting the street I am used to a very fast camera with a swivel screen, counting on blazing fast eye detection and using the back button focus technique. Also, I very often use the back screen with the camera at waist level to shoot.
The Q2 forced me to change a little my habits: the back screen is fixed, so the waist level shooting went out of the window. No matter though, the high quality viewfinder is a pleasure to use, and seeing the world in black and white really helps with the monochromatic compositions.
The focusing is another thing I had to adapt to: from back button focusing and continuous autofocus with eye detection I had to first transition to shutter button autofocus. There is no way to have a viable back button focus setting on the Q2 (there is a focus lock option, but it will stick the focus until you press the back button again and the shutter button still has the focusing function). Then there is the focusing system itself: albeit good and fast, it is contrast detect only. This means that tracking will be hit and miss when the subject moves towards the camera (as it will mostly be when using continuous AF in street photography) compared to the phase detection AF most other cameras have nowadays. Single AF it is, with focus and recompose. And recompose you must if you want to be fast, because although you can move the focus box easily enough around the screen with the rear selector, it would be so helpful to be able to simply press the centre button to reset it instead of having to move your thumb to tap twice on the touch screen. Options! Why not give options? And we are not asking for the camera to fly by itself, these are basic, fundamental features that any camera fancying itself up to professional grade (and with the build and price tag this is up there) should have. Every other brand does. Lastly, eye detection is not available: with this kind of resolution and the processing power you would think it should be there, especially given that it is not ground-breaking space age technology. Well, at least it’s not a deal breaker in street photography.
These niggles apart, the lightness of the kit, the manual controls, spectacular lens and decent battery life made the experience of shooting the Leica Q2 Monochrom a real pleasure.
Performance was rarely an issue apart from the buffer: I am using UHS-II cards, pretty fast although not the fastest in the market. Often I use burst mode continuous shooting to nail the shot when there are too many variables that can go wrong in the scene. The specifications claim a 14 raw shots buffer: I never managed more than 5 shots (in raw) before it stopped shooting, and it takes a while to clear. Never more than 5: now, regardless of the cards, the buffer is an internal memory and it should get the 14 in! What gives? Needless to say, after the first burst you might as well pack your things and go because before you can do a second full burst (of 5!) the scene is far gone. What is baffling is that given the price you pay you expect performance to be a little more than basic, especially given how much of a great photojournalism/reportage tool this camera could be. And also given the eye-watering premium price you pay for it.
Now, complaints apart, once you know the limitations and adapt your shooting style to it, I had a blast shooting with the Leica Q2 Monochrom. Truly.
I just wish I didn’t have to adapt to it: some of its issues are really firmware based and could definitely be fixed!
Using the Leica Q2 Monochrom as a rangefinder camera
Shooting out on the street one of the main aspects is you need to be fast at times, particularly if you’re either following someone or something or something just happens in front of you.
One of the best ways to do this and the way many great Leica M street photographers shoot is to use the hyperfocal method of focusing. It still takes a lot of practice but initially set your camera to manual focus and if you are shooting F8 set the infinity symbol in line with 8 on the barrel lens . this will give you a depth of field of anywhere between 1.8m and infinity. go to f11 and you now have from 1.2m and f 16 will give you all the way from 0.8m to Infinity!
The real manual focus lens on the Leica Q2 Monochrom is perfect for this technique, because it has a focus distance scale that most modern autofocus lenses don’t have anymore, and it has a real manual focus coupling, giving a wonderful haptic feedback, and a hard stop at infinity and minimum focus distance, missing from the electronically coupled focus ring of modern lenses.
I’ve set the camera up as if I were shooting a 35mm prime lens, displaying the frame lines similar to a Leica M viewfinder with a 35mm lens, although when I download the RAW file the full 28mm frame will still be available. This is just a personal thing as 35mm has always been my go to lens.
Other settings I’ve selected are single frame shooting , auto ISO, aperture priority and then I have the right dial set to exposure compensation allowing me to quickly adjust or tweak my exposure on the go.
The Leica Q2 Monochrom is a camera that just brings me joy, taking me back to shooting just in Black & White. This is probably for me one of the most liberating cameras out there in the market.
Processing the Leica Q2 files
I make my initial cull using Photo Mechanic and then import my selections into Lightroom to edit the Raw DNG files.
Once inside Adobe Lightroom I adjust the image using the various sliders and then finish it off by taking it into Silver Efex. I like as a starting point the High Structure Smooth preset and then make further adjustments from there until i’m happy with the end result.
The images are then exported as high res jpegs for printing.
The raw files coming straight out of the Leica Q2 Monochrom are quite flat, giving plenty of scope to modify them, and are very malleable. Watch out your highlights though, the Monochrom sensor doesn’t like them very much! I find myself watching my exposure often to slightly underexpose to avoid clipping the lighter areas. I never tried the out of camera jpegs.
The quality of the finished files is nothing short of spectacular, the combination of the B&W sensor without the colour filter array and the fantastic Summilux lens delivers and exeptional image.
LEICA Q3 suggested improvements
Although I loved using this camera and the user experience Id really like to see the following additions to take the Leica Q2 Monochrom to the next level
- Bigger buffer: it’s too small at the moment when shooting Raw DNG
- Flip Screen
- Leica Q3 28mm and 50mm versions. (I think Leica would be amazed at how many people would buy 2 bodies)
- Back Button focus option
- Eye focus
- Internal memory at least 128G
- Phase detection autofocus
- Click back button to re-centre focus point