Leica Q2 review: an artful composition
The premium compact Leica is a cut above the competition
Leica’s Q2 is, at first glance, an odd beast. Handsome, of course - the minimalist design and matt-black finish are Leica through-and-through - but the spec sheet is somewhat puzzling.
In an era when even camera phones are offering powerful zooms, why build a camera with a single lens and a fixed focal length? Why build a compact camera at all, in fact, let alone one selling for well over £4,000?
Yet, as the name suggests, the Q2 is a sequel. Its predecessor, which had a similarly restricted format, was evidently a success worth replicating. And for all its idiosyncrasies, the Q2 is a delight to use, with an ultra-fast lens and advanced sensor that produce ethereally beautiful images.
The 28mm lens is, arguably, an un-Leica-like compromise. It’s not quite wide enough to be a true landscape specialist, but a little too wide for portraiture. It is, however, excellent for travel and street photography.
In any case, the huge, 47-megapixel sensor provides some leeway with that fixed focal length. Setting the digital zoom to 50mm (or cropping the photo afterwards, which amounts to the same thing), will leave you with a 14.6-megapixel image - plenty for most purposes.
What really sets it apart, though, is the unusually wide f/1.7 aperture, which crisply separates subject and background. Combined with optical image stabilisation and an ISO rating that can be pushed to 50,000, it also lets you capture usable images in the murkiest conditions.
Design and usability
The Leica Q2 is compact and light, but its weatherproofed magnesium finish feels rugged. A built-in lens hood provides additional protection. The controls are robust, precise and satisfying to use, as you would expect from a Leica.
Given the relative simplicity of the camera, it has no shortage of dials and switches. The lens barrel has two control rings, one for focusing and the other for selecting aperture width, while a dial on top controls the shutter speed. All three can be set to auto.
A thumb dial behind the shutter button can be customised, but defaults to exposure compensation, while a stubby little joystick below it selects the autofocus point, scrolls through images on the touchscreen display and navigates less frequently used settings in the digital menus. The interface quickly feels intuitive: after initial set-up, you will rarely have to use anything other than the primary controls.
Although the rear screen can be used to compose images, most photographers will gravitate to the electronic viewfinder. It may be slightly disorientating at first if you’re used to an optical system, but the tiny 3.68-megapixel screen is impeccably sharp and bright - particularly useful when you’re focusing by hand.
The results from the Leica Q2 are technically excellent - sharp and detailed across the frame, or with sumptuously soft backgrounds when you want the subject to stand out. But that’s really only half the story: this is also a camera that encourages creativity.
Since the fixed lens prevents you zooming in for the predictable shot, you will be forced to slow down, think about composition and reframe your image around details you had originally not seen. Along with the wafer-thin depth of field, this process can imbue run-of-the mill scenes with atmosphere and artistry.
Leica has always ploughed its own furrow, less subject to the mundane constraints of practicality and value for money. In the Q2, it has created a camera that is much less mad than it might seem. Whether or not it represents value for money is an individual calculation, but it is certainly both practical and a pleasure to use.
Yes, it has its limitations, but treat them as a challenge and it will make you a better photographer - just as the restrictive rules of poetry encourage a writer to rise above the prosaic.
Leica Q2, £4,500, leica-camera.com