Why I Sold My Leica Q

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in memory of Kristen's Leica Q, and to remember it's life and photographic contributions.....

Ok, the Q didn't die, but I did sell it. And after writing an initial impressions review where I was totally smitten with the Quirky Q, I owe you an update as to my decision to sell it.

First, let's be clear - the Leica Q is an awesome camera. There are a lot of happy users, and it makes fantastic images. The "bang for buck" is absolutely there. It's a great travel companion, and is a real treat in the lineup of cameras offered by Leica. I have no complaints about the Q. 

But I sold it because it wasn't for me.

I really learned to be a patient photographer when I got into Leica rangefinders. When I shot Nikon's, the camera drove me.... I didn't drive the camera. I let the Nikon think for me, focus for me, read the light for me, and I was lazy. Leica rangefinders - the emphasis on limited manual controls - put me back in charge of the photography, and I became a better photographer because of it.

When I used the Leica Q, I felt myself becoming lazy - slipping back into the camera-think-for-me land. Sure, with the Q you can shoot totally manual and control every setting, but I found I wasn't using the camera that way. I was letting autofocus and aperture priority drive me. 

I already have an autofocus camera - one I adore - called the Leica SL. For those times when I need or want autofocus, I found myself reaching for it. I reached for the Leica Q when I was feeling lazy, and it shows in my photographs. 

If you asked me to select my 100 favorite and best photographs that I've ever taken, the Leica Q wouldn't be represented amongst any of the selectees. That's not because the camera can't produce a result worthy of a top 100 spot - I didn't use it that way. 

I love a rangefinder. The sensation of looking through the precision glass instrument and seeing the world is my crack-cocaine. I'm a rangefinder addict. The Leica Monochrom is one of my favorite cameras to reach for when I need a fix. The feel of the shutter, the slide of the lens barrel focus ring, the stealthy size.... snort. 

The Q never gave me the same excitement. I never got a quiver down my spine when I picked it up. My toes never tingled. It is a fantastic camera, but it never got me excited to take photographs, so my photographs taken with the Q lack excitement. I wholeheartedly believe that a photographer who feels emotion with their camera can better capture emotion with their camera. 

As the announcement of the Leica M10 drew closer, Leica held some killer promotions for saving money on a new Leica M240, so I decided to trade the Q into Leica and get a M240 to feed my rangefinder addiction. I previously owned the M240, but sold it when I got my Leica SL, so it was nice to be reunited with the camera yet again. 

There are times when I miss the simplicity of the Q, but it's been 4 months since the Q and I broke up our relationship, and I have no regrets. I would still recommend the Q to anyone shopping for a great compact travel camera, it just wasn't for me.

To Hell And Back: How Durable is the Leica SL?

In the year and change that I've owned the Leica SL Type 601, I've taken it around the world and tormented the camera in dozens of cruel and unusual environments. From the scorching heat of the Jordanian desert to the -20*C of Arctic Sweden (and then -10*C in Finland), the camera has seen it all.

I recently returned from the Scenic Traverse Road Trip, where I spent a month living in a van and photographing the American landscape with the Leica SL. While it never got as hot (though it did get nearly as cold) as some of our previous adventures with the Leica SL, this trip was the true test for the durability of the Leica SL.

I do not believe in babying a camera. American street photographer Jay Maisel once gave me the following advice when asked the best way to improve as a photographer:

Always carry a camera, it’s easier to take pictures that way.
— Jay Maisel

His advice is dead on, which is why I don't carry my Leica SL in a bag. I don't even use the lens cap. I took the lens cap off the Leica 24-90mm lens as soon as we got to Los Angeles for the start of the Road Trip and I didn't put it back on for 30 days and 3,682 miles. I expect my camera to be ready to shoot when I'm ready to shoot, and I am not going to coddle it along the way.

I don't even use a strap all that often, though that's partially because I don't like the strap attachment points on the Leica SL. There were days where I didn't use a strap to protect the camera from accidental falls and drops.... even when I was hiking in the middle of the river (the Narrows hike in Zion National Park). 

Look ma! No strap as I carry the camera through the famous Virgin River hike in the Narrows. Also, this drysuit isn't the least bit flattering. Photo by Seth Hamel, http://www.zion-photography.com.

This is all to say that, despite the camera and lens combination running upward of $12,000, I don't baby it or treat it any nicer than I would a $100 camera. The camera is a tool, designed to be used, and I can't be afraid of it getting a little beaten up.

Here's a quick snapshot of the abuses subjected upon the Leica SL during the Scenic Traverse Road Trip:

  1. Extended exposures to temperatures well beyond the operating range recommended by Leica Camera.

  2. Repeatedly soaked in heavy rain, without any protection or removal of collected rainwater.

  3. Banged against rocks, scraped against rocks, and otherwise brutally impacting rock.

  4. Rolling around the floor of the camera van as we drove, with no protection on the front lens glass.

  5. Completely submerged in fine sand in Death Valley's sand dunes.

  6. Caked with coarse salt in the salt flats of Badwater Basin.

  7. Coated in a fine dust from Arizona / Utah desert sands

  8. Splashed with ice cold river water while hiking the Narrows

Oops..... Hiking in Death Valley, I slid on a sand dune and landed camera first in the fine sand. The camera was 100% submerged, and this was taken while I'm still laying on the ground, but just after digging the camera out. A little shake off and we're back in business.

So how does the Leica SL hold up to the abuse? In terms of camera function, perfectly. The Leica SL has never once failed to shoot, slowed with startup or experienced any other issue. It is rock solid reliable. You want photo, you get photo. Done.

Arguably it is the function of the camera we're most concerned with. A camera that fails to turn on, stay on, or gets upset by a little weather isn't what a landscape photographer wants to use. So where it matters most, Leica delivers. The weather sealing is remarkably good. I have accidentally dropped my camera in water and totally buried it in sand, and none of that has penetrated the outer protections of the camera body. We spent an hour shooting in a heavy downpour - where the only protection I gave the camera was to use my hat to cover the lens between photos to keep water spots off - and still, it performed perfectly.

It was pouring - really pouring - in Malibu, California as I shot long exposures of waves. I had to use my hat to cover the front of the lens between shots to keep it from getting coated in water drops, but the SL stayed on and exposed the whole time. No problem.

But that's not to say it's perfect....

Considering how much the Leica SL costs, I am rather disappointed by the durability of the finish. I have lost a ton of paint, including white paint in the 'C' of the "LEICA" logo on the front. There are huge gashes on the side of the body and several dings that expose bare metal. Every edge of the camera has a heavy silver from loss of paint. And today I discovered some of the rubber on the grip is starting to peel and tear. 

I have attached some photos showing the dings in my Leica SL as a reference for what you can expect if you are a user of your cameras. I converted them to black and white to help with the contrast of black paint vs exposed silver metal.....

For comparison, I owned a Nikon D800 for several years and never had the finish on the body get damaged. I didn't treat the D800 any better or worse than the Leica SL, but I was able to resell it in great condition. I have had the Leica SL for 13 months, but it looks like it's been 13 years.

I don't know what Nikon and Canon do for a finish that is different from Leica, but this painted aluminum needs to be revisited before the SL 2.0 is released. The paint on my Leica M240 (black paint) and Leica Monochrom are both holding up better than the SL, so Leica's engineers need to revisit the finish. 

Would I still recommend the Leica SL? As long as you understand this camera will look used if it is actually used, then yes. But if you want a camera that can be put in a box a few months down the road and be sold for "like new" despite some use, then this isn't your camera.

Those who value performance in all weather will find it with the Leica SL. Those who value looks ought to keep shopping.

Street Ninja: Leica 28mm Summaron Re-Issue

In October 2016, Leica introduced a re-issue of one of their most popular screw mount lenses, the 28mm Summaron f/5.6. The original 28mm Summaron was introduced in 1955 and was very popular, and the re-issue brought the character, design, and delightful imperfections of the old lens forward to modern times.

The most obvious change to the new 28mm Summaron is that it now has the M-mount, so it can be used with any of the modern Leica M lineup without the need for a screw-to-M-mount adaptor.  Other modern updates include the Leica 6-bit coding, which is really just six painted squares inside the lens that tell the camera which lens is mounted for the purposes of metadata, and some modifications to the exterior casing. 

But the classic design, which leaves a particular color rendering and distinctive vignette, still remains.

Leica is known for being expensive, but that expense comes with perfection. Many of their lenses possess some of the finest optics available - lenses like the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux are the pinnacle of optical engineering. So for Leica to re-release a lens that has many imperfections struck many as very un-Leica.

But when has Leica ever been predictable? This is the company that had the guts to make a black and white only camera, and price it over $6k. Then they made a digital camera without a screen. Remember that "predictable" company? 

So in predictable Leica form, they release an old lens without any optical design improvements, and then sell it as 'made to order only.' Guts.

I was drawn to this lens for several reasons:

  1. On paper, it looks like a great street photography lens. I often shoot at f/5.6-f/8 on the street, so having a 'slow' lens was fine with me.
  2. It's the smallest and most compact street photography lens that Leica makes. It's the non-exsistant lens.
  3. There's a certain charm and nostalgia to using a lens with the design and styling from 1950s. And who says you can't look awesome while taking awesome photos? Leica shooters do care about the look of their camera, and any that says they don't is lying to you. 
  4. I like the look of old lenses. I own several 1980s era Leica lenses (from the Made in Canada era) and I love their imperfections.

The first few of these features are self-explanatory, but let's talk about #4. Compared to my other Leica lenses, the Summaron has a distinctive contrast and color rendition that the others lack. I struggle to describe the look with a word other than "unique" - images taken with this lens are just a little different from every other lens. There is also a distinctive vignette - very distinctive - and I love it. Vignettes are seen as imperfections, but many of us add a vignette to an image in post processing to help focus the eye on the subject of the image. I don't see the vignette on this lens as an imperfection, it's adding character, but there are certainly times I don't want vignettes, and I would select another lens for those times.

I wouldn't recommend the Summaron to anyone who is looking to be a one lens shooter, and I will rarely carry it as the only lens on a day of street photography. It's small size lets me pack a second faster lens (like a 35mm f/2 Summacron) and easily stash the Summaron in a pocket. But if you have a few other lenses and want something that will look totally different from your other nearly-perfect Leica glass, then I highly recommend the 28mm Summaron. It's a great lens for street photography, and the unique renderings from this lens look great in color and black and white.

The Leica 28mm Summaron comes in a lovely jewelry box case and includes a metal hood and lens cap. The hood, while fantastic in the construction and feel, totally defeats the point of having a stealthy and compact lens - so it stays at home when the lens goes out and about.

Of course, in Leica fashion, they are asking a pretty penny for this lens re-issue - over $2,500 USD for an f/5.6 prime lens may seem crazy to a lot of photographers. And that is reasonable. It's expensive - as are all things Leica - but the look and feel of this lens is unlike anything else.

I draw a parallel here to film. The cost per image of film can greatly exceed digital, particularly if you shoot thousands of images, but folks (myself included) still flock to film because we like the look. And if you want a unique look, this lens is another tool to get the vintage feel, imperfections, and unique color rendering that otherwise only comes through editing.

Black & White Shootout: Leica Q vs Leica Monochrom

Every so often I get questions in my inbox asking me a subjective question - a question like "how does the Monochrom compare to a black and white converted photograph from the Leica Q / Leica SL"?

I actually like these questions; they challenge me to trace back my thought process to when purchasing these cameras and re-validate the logic I used. I purchased the Leica Monochrom with the understanding that it was the best tool available for shooting black and white photographs. I bought the Leica Q to be a lightweight travel companion. One is not supposed to fill the niche of the other (at least for me). 

The contestants - the Leica Q with the 28mm lens vs the Leica Monochrom with a 50mm Summicron. I don't own a 28mm lens to put on the Monochrom, so I cropped the Q files to give the same field of view.

While that was the logic when I purchased the cameras, the reader's question prompted some interesting internal debate. Is the black and white image quality of the Monochrom really superior in a side-by-side shootout? I almost never carry two cameras like this at the same time, so I don't have much real world basis to judge, just my perceptions from using each. So challenged by the question, I decided to take the Leica Q and the Leica Monochrom for a quick shootout today.

A few notes: I've previously tested that the Leica SL and Leica Q deliver very similar image results, so I decided to only bring the Q out for this test. Theoretically there will be minor differences between the SL and Q and Monochrom, but I'm not doing a scientific review, and figured the Q could represent on behalf of Leica's best color sensors. On the topic of science - there is none to be found here folks. I don't shoot paper focusing targets for hours on end or setup precision tools to compare these things. I did this shootout hand held on the streets of Cambridge, England. The framing between the two cameras is not scientifically accurate. I am a real photographer that wants to do realistic comparisons, not science experiments. If you are too anal to accept these minor differences, please find another blogger.

With all that out of the way, let's briefly describe the shooting setup. Since the Leica Q has a fixed lens, there isn't much to discuss there..... but I did use the in-camera frame line selector to display a 50mm crop on the images so that I could match the lens I was using on the Monochrom. For the Leica Monochrom, I shot a 50mm f/2 Summicron lens. I shot both cameras on Auto ISO, Aperture Priority, and in RAW with -1/3 stop exposure compensation. The same aperture was used on both cameras.

When generating the black and white for the Q images, I just moved the desaturation slider in Lightroom to 0. I made no other edits (which is why you can see some dust spots.... ick). Also, be sure to click on any image for a full screen preview.

Example I: Window

This was my first comparison, because it was a scene with some nice detail and contrast. The brick have a lot of tonal variety due to their age, so that made it interesting for a comparison. First, lets look at the color image from the Q, then we'll look at the desaturated Q vs Monochrom.

Window - Leica Q @ f/4 (50mm crop)

Leica Q image (desaturated) 

Leica M Monochrom image

Ok, so the Monochrom is maybe darker and has less tonal variety in the brickwork than the Q desaturated image, but I'm sure if I edited it, I could get them to look the same..... With a boring subject like this, not sure I really have a preference for the "winner" because both are uninteresting! 

Example II: Bike

Not only do I look stupid photographing a brick wall, but it's also not interesting. So to spice things up for the second side-by-side I went wild and found a bike leaning up against a wall to photograph. I know, pretty wild.

Bike - Leica Q @ f/5.6 (50mm crop)

Leica Q image (desaturated)

Leica M Monochrom image

This wild and crazy example is actually more interesting. I certainly could not differentiate which camera produced which image. I would say there is maybe a touch more dynamic range (tonal difference) in the shadow detail in the Monochrom image?

Example III: Street

I love photographing this street, particularly the awesome line of chimneys, and frequent visitors to ScenicTraverse.com will recognize this street from a dozen or so street photographs I have previously shared. Anyway, today I decided to shoot up the street for the comparison (I definitely prefer the composition shooting the other direction, but live and learn)

Street - Leica Q @ f/5.6 (50mm crop)

Leica Q image (desaturated) 

Leica M Monochrom image

In this comparison we really start to see the differences between a desaturated color image and the Monochrom files. First, the highlights in the Monochrom are lost and blown out (a common problem), while there is still cloud detail in the Q image. The simple explanation for this is that the Q saves color in three channels, and detail in those channels is lost at different rates, so a blown highlight in a color image may not be totally lost - you may be able to recover some detail from one of the color channels. The Monochrom just captures luminance values, so lost is lost. If you want more information about how and why this happens, I suggest reading about the Bayer Color Filter and the Monochrom's lack of one.

Also interesting in this example is the shadow detail. The Q shadow is much harsher and more contrasty, while the Monochrom file is flatter and has more detail in the shadow. Personally, I would rather have the shadow detail and underexpose a little more to preserve the highlights - meaning I'd vote for the Monochrom file in this comparison. Could I get the same result with editing the Q file? Probably.

Example IV: To the Water

Lets get saucy.... In the above example I postulated that I could probably generate the same looking file from either camera, so this time I am going to challenge myself to create two photographs that are as similar as possible. IE: Can I create the same photograph in Lightroom from either camera?

A quick note: I did not science this. Obviously the photographs are not the same, but thats okay. I spent about 3 minutes trying to match them up in Lightroom, and got this result. 

Leica Q

Leica Monochrom

Like I said, not scientific, and it really would be hard to do so. They are completely different lenses with completely different contrast, bokeh, and sharpness. But I'd say the result is generally similar. With more tweaking I could probably get them even closer, but this is good enough for me to stamp it as complete. PS - I like the Monochrom file better, but that is probably because I like contrast, and the 50mm lens I'm using from 1983 has a knack for contrast ;-)

Example V: Chimney

For this last comparison, I did a similar test to the above, except that I processed the images in Nik Silver Efex instead of Lightroom. 

Leica Q

Leica Monochrom

I'll let you draw your own conclusions here, but look at the tonality of the white clouds, tonality of the sky, and detail in the shadows.... While the photos are similar at first glance, there are certainly differences.

Verdict

When photographing a subject that didn't have much dynamic range (example I - the wall), the results were pretty similar and boring. But as the images got more complex with highlights, shadows, white and blacks to contend with, differences certainly started to emerge in the final product. 

In Example V I used Nik Silver Efex to make the photographs similar, and although the tone on the brick is pretty similar, the Monchrom has better rendering of the white in the clouds and more detail in the shadow. 

Back to the reader question, the answer is that the files are similar, but certainly different. And this is where preference becomes so subjective. The Monochrom has interchangeable lenses, is a rangefinder, and lacks autofocus. The Q is a fixed 28mm lens, but has fast autofocus, and is deadly silent. Neither is better - its a matter of personal preference. The Q is a simple camera that can deliver tremendous results, while the Monochrom requires more work to use. At the end of the day, I choose the tool for the photographs I want to create on that day. 

If this post has interested you, be sure to read about my experience photographing the Tour de France using the Leica Monochrom

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

Review: Thumbie for Leica M (Type 240)

I never used a lot of the thumb grip accessories available for Leica cameras until I got my Leica Q. The Match Technical Thumbs Up grip for the Q has made all the difference in the world, and I can't imagine shooting without it now.

When I got my Leica Monochrom (Type 246), I wanted to get another Thumbs Up grip, but the problem was that I wouldn't be able to use the Thumbs Up and the Leica EVF-2 in the hot shoe at the same time. Since I use the EVF-2 whenever I shoot my favorite lens, the Leica f/0.95 Noctilux, it was a non-starter to consider the Match Technical Thumbs Up grip.

Thankfully there is no shortage of inventive people out there! An English gentleman has designed a different product for the Leica M bodies called the Thumbie that provides the same grip benefit, but without hogging the hot shoe. The Thumbie is also significantly cheaper than the Thumbs Up grip (around $30-40), but it isn't available at mass retailers like the competition. I found mine on eBay and it was delivered to my home in the UK two days later.

The Thumbie arrives in a silver box - although it's not a Leica silver box - but seriously, who is that snobby? Inside is the Thumbie grip, some spare adhesive strips, and instructions for installation.  Nothing fancy. 

Of note, the Thumbie fits a whole range of M bodies - the Monochrom uses the same version as the M240. Versions are also available for the M8, M9, film bodies, etc.

The Thumbie as delivered. Nothing fancy, but it is a silve box, in true "Leica fashion" 

The Thumbie as delivered. Nothing fancy, but it is a silve box, in true "Leica fashion" 

The instructions are fairly straightforward and suggest that the double sided tape (which is apparently designed for use in the automotive industry) will not damage the finish of the Leica body, assuming you remove it without a jackhammer. 

Inside the box is the Thumbie, some spare adhesive strips, and instructions for installing the Thumbie onto a Leica M240 style body

Inside the box is the Thumbie, some spare adhesive strips, and instructions for installing the Thumbie onto a Leica M240 style body

Thankfully the adhesives for the Thumbie are pre-cut, which is good, because the actual flat surface isn't a simple rectangle. The little notch fits above the scroll wheel on the back, and the provided adhesives are cut pretty close to size. Good, I don't want more arts and crafts projects! 

The Thumbie, as it comes out of the box. Construction is metal coated in a black paint. 

The Thumbie, as it comes out of the box. Construction is metal coated in a black paint. 

Before installing the Thumbie, I wiped the back of the Monochrom body down to ensure there was no oil or grease from my hands on the surface that could interfere with the adhesive. The instructions call for a very tiny amount of dish soap added to a bowl of water and to lightly coat the adhesive in this soap water mixture prior to adhering the Thumbie on the camera. This allows you to carefully setup the Thumbie in precisely the right location before the glue sticks. Clever. 

Preparing to install the Thumbie. The instructions call for using some water with a little soap to help position the Thumbie into the correct location before the adhesive sticks.  

Preparing to install the Thumbie. The instructions call for using some water with a little soap to help position the Thumbie into the correct location before the adhesive sticks.  

The adhesive on the back of the Thumbie, just prior to installation. 

The adhesive on the back of the Thumbie, just prior to installation. 

The installation overall was very easy, and took less than 5 minutes (including time spent taking photos for this review). The instructions suggest waiting 30 minutes after installing to ensure the adhesive is fully stuck on - after 30 minutes the attachment felt pretty strong. 

The Thumbie nests right next to the scroll wheel on the back of the M bodies, so I was a bit concerned that it would interfere with the operation of that dial. However, I was pleased to see that the Thumbie's smaller size and profile keeps it from interefering with the dial's operation.  

In all fairness, the Thumbs Up grip certainly is beefier and feels more solid on the M than the Thumbie...but it is also three times the price, and hogs the hot shoe. I played with the Thumbie for awhile after installation and it did a satisfactory job of giving my right hand more tactile control and surface to hold the camera body. It may not be as sexy as a naked camera, but I'm a real photographer, who really uses their camera to take real photographs. And if an inexpensive attachment prevents some hand fatigue and makes it easier to carry my Monochrom with the Noctilux all day, then sign me up.  

Thumbie installed on the M Monochrome (Type 246) 

Thumbie installed on the M Monochrome (Type 246) 

Thumbie tucks around the back scroll wheel and does not interfere with the operation of the dial (which I have set to control exposure compensation) 

Thumbie tucks around the back scroll wheel and does not interfere with the operation of the dial (which I have set to control exposure compensation) 

Time will tell on the durability of the Thumbie. Assuming that rubbing along my pants and side doesn't cause it to rub off into the street gutters one day, I think I'm a satisfied customer. And if that ever does happen, I'll update the post to let you know. 

Overall, for the money, Thumbie may be one of the best purchases I've made for my Leica!

The finished result.... Thumbie installed, EVF-2 in the hot shoe, and Noctilux on the front. Everyone wins! 

The finished result.... Thumbie installed, EVF-2 in the hot shoe, and Noctilux on the front. Everyone wins! 

Quick Shot: Alone

It was a long hike to get this photo.....well, it was a long hike where I got this photo! After several miles of uphill through a swampy and overgrown mountainside in Wales, I began descending a steep rock face. Looking up along the cliff during my descent, I found this lone tree perched on the cliff. A lone tree would have been photographic, but the bizarre crooked shape of this tree really made the shot!

Photographed with the Leica SL and Leica f/0.95 Noctilux lens. 

image.jpg

Leica Q: First Impressions of Leica's Quirky Compact

The Leica Camera Q has been on the market for almost a year now, so it may seem a bit bizarre to have a "first impressions" take on something that has been around this long, but as long as Leica still struggles to meet demand for this camera in some markets, I think it's fair game to write like the camera is brand new. 

Leica's quirky Q camera

If you are a frequent reader of my posts (website, Facebook, Instagram), then you probably already know that I got the Leica SL Type 601 in December 2015 and have fallen head-over-heels in love with that system. The SL is my primary camera for all things digital (as I still shoot plenty of film)... So why buy into a Leica Q?

The SL system and most dSLRs have one glaring thing in common- they aren't small and subtle. Everyone in a 100 mile radius knows when I bring that camera up to my eye, even if the shutter sound is nearly silent. That's okay, the Leica SL isn't trying to be small or discreet. 

Since owning an SL, when I wanted a smaller camera, I turned to the iPhone. While the iPhone is a decent camera, it isn't a tool that I felt comfortable using to create fine art photographs (kudos to those who have done so successfully). I wasn't willing to skimp on image quality for the sake of compactness - again, the goal is to create fine art photographs. After some reading on the Leica Q, I realized I could get the same incredible image quality that has drawn me to the SL in a smaller body by investing in a Q system...... If I could find one!

The Leica Q released to much fanfare and has been touted as the best compact full frame digital camera ever built. And for that reason, it's still very difficult to find one for sale almost a full year after the camera's release. 

Let's take a quick look at the highlights on the Q's spec sheet. Aka, the features I cared about:

  • 24.2 megapixel CMOS full-frame sensor (same specs as the SL, if not the same sensor)
  • Maestro II image processor (same as in the SL)
  • Fixed Summilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH lens
  • Electronic viewfinder (like on the SL)
  • Near silent shutter
  • Good battery performance
  • Ability to use autofocus or manual focus
  • Macro mode
  • Overall small size

A Q-uick Note

With the exception of the Leica SL and Q comparisons below, the images in this post were converted to black and white in Lightroom. I prefer to present street photography in black and white to remove some of the natural bias that color can introduce.

The settings used for these images were Auto ISO, f/1.7 and aperture priority. 


"Taking a Break" - Leica Q at Hawker House, London

Getting the Q

As previously mentioned, the Q is very hard to find in some markets, including the United States. While I live in the United Kingdom, I had a work trip to the Washington, DC area where I was hoping to find a Q for sale so I could buy it stateside and avoid paying her majesty the 20% VAT. 

Leica Store DC.... No stock. Actually, they did get a camera one morning but sold it in a few hours, before I had any chance of getting to their store. 

B&H Photo.... No stock.

Amazon...... Only if you are willing to pay $1,000+ more than MSRP (nope)

Ace Photo.... One in stock!

"Waiting Game" - Leica Q at Canada Water, London

By some miracle, Ace Photo, which was my go-to camera store when I lived in DC, had a Q in stock, but the way their website displayed the stock implied it was sold out. I had emailed Mo, the owner, and he replied that he had one and was willing to hold it for me... Woohoo!

For what it's worth, the Leica Q is equally challenging to find in London right now. There is limited stock at some retailers, but Leica Mayfair continues to be out of stock on the Q. Clearly, Leica did not expect and produce for the demand this camera generated. 

After getting the Leica Q, I returned to my hotel and tossed the battery on the charger, eager to play with the camera before taking it to a Washington Nationals baseball game later that evening. 

"Pop" - Leica Q at Southbanke Center, London

Learning the Q’s Personality

While the Leica Q bears many similarities to the Leica SL, it has its own personality as a camera and a few distinctive nuances. First of these is the menu screens, which have some notable differences. One of the first obvious differences is the layout - the SL has four sections to the menu (Camera, Image, Setup, and Favorites) while the Q menu is all in one section. This isn't a problem, but I do like having a favorites menu in the SL to quickly jump to my most commonly used settings.

Also of note, the Q does not allow the user to capture DNG only - it's JPEG or JPEG + DNG. As someone who doesn't care for the JPEG files because I'll always give at least a basic edit in Lightroom, it'd be nice to have a firmware update allowing the user to only shoot .DNG raw files.

Finally, you’ll need to read the manual or some online reviews to know what some of the titles in the settings menu adjust - like ‘OIS’ - which stands for Optical Image Stabilization. Apparently spelling that out in the menu would be too hard? How about just "Image Stabilization?"

"Ride" - Leica Q in London's Underground

Did I Break it Already? An Early Design Flaw

At the ballgame that night, the Q performed well - although the 28mm focal length is hardly the right one for shooting sports! But a few fan and stadium photos gave me something to pixel peep on my iPad later. Going to the game did highlight one of the first (and maybe the only) real problem with the Leica Q. The diopter adjustment for the Q sticks out the right side of the viewfinder, meaning that as the camera back rubbed against my shirt as I walked around the stadium, the viewfinder got out of focus. At one point I raised my new camera to my eye to take a picture and felt like screaming.... It's broken! The image was blurry and the camera never came into focus?! Was it something on the front of the lens? No. It was the dang diopter adjustment. While I figured it out after a few panicked seconds, there was momentary freak-out as my new camera suddenly was very blurry. I had read on other reviews that the diopter adjustment could be a bit too sensitive to the touch, and experienced the problem day one.

Thankfully, adding the Match Technical Thumbs Up grip to the Leica Q covers that wheel and prevents it from accidentally spinning. I also love the grip the Thumbs Up adds to the Q - it made it very comfortable to carry one handed in London all day.

"Skater Boy" - Leica Q at Southbanke Center Skate Park

"Vertical" - Leica Q at Southbank Center Skate Park

"Grind" - Leica Q at Southbanke Center Skate Park

Battery Performance

I have this weird thing about batteries. I get stressed when my iPhone drops below 50% - this irrational fear takes over where the phone could die any second! Ironically, the same phobia doesn't cripple me when it comes to filling the car with gas….

Anyway, this fear of dead batteries manifests itself in my photography. I dread the idea of being without power at a critical photo opportunity. I carry three batteries for the Leica SL to ensure I can go for days without a charge. So one of the first tests with the Q was the determine how much endurance that little battery had after a day of shooting.

Leica rates the battery to somewhere in the 300 shot range, but I easily got that type performance and then some. Granted I have the screen auto power off after 30 seconds and the camera shortly thereafter; I avoid using the LCD screen on the back, and never record video (I’m told the camera can do that). While I am conservative in the screen usage, I am not afraid to walk with the camera turned on for stretches at a time, particularly when taking street photographs. During a full day of walking through London, I used maybe 50% of the battery, so I think Leica’s rating is very conservative. Of course, that didn’t stop me from buying a spare!

"Supervisor" - Leica Q at Moorgate, London

I’m Awake!

The Leica Q impresses me with the turn on and revive from sleep speeds. Turning the camera on, it can be ready to shoot in just over a second (I didn’t time this, but if I am carrying the camera on my side and I flip the switch to on and bring it to my eye, it’s just about ready to shoot once it gets to eye level). And if I think a photographic opportunity is imminent, I’ll carry the camera on because the revive from sleep time is near instantaneous. I distinctly recall being pleasantly surprised while walking in London; the Q had gone to sleep, but I brought it up and clicked the shutter to take a picture, not realizing it was asleep. The camera didn’t seem to care - it woke and took the photo immediately. I actually remarked to my husband my surprise that the Q awoke and shot that fast.

"Sharing a Secret" - Leica Q at Trafalgar Square, London

"Check In" - Leica Q in Soho, London

Eye Candy Creator - Summilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH Lens

The real gem of the Leica Q is the lens; a Q with a 50mm f/4 wouldn’t be nearly as impressive or popular. I don’t own a 28mm M lens for comparisons, but I did shoot some side-by-sides with the Leica SL at 28mm, which we’ll cover in a minute. However, I think the 28mm Summilux f/1.7 lens that Leica has paired with the Q is a perfect match. It’s a great focal length for travel and street photography. And with the macro mode, the lens is far more versatile than most of the Leica M series lenses.

I will comment that I wish the focus ring was as smooth on the Q as it is on my M lenses. It’s not the same buttery feel and takes a little bit more force to rotate, but one of the appeals of this camera is the autofocus - if I want to shoot manual focus I can do it, or I can reach for one of my M rangefinders.

The aperture ring clicks into place with the feel familiar to my other Leica lenses. It is maybe just a tad tighter than my Leica f/0.95 M Noctilux, but that’s if I’m being picky and comparing the rotation of them side-by-side (which I just did).

Optically, the performance of this lens is wonderful. The bokeh is soft and creamy, although not Noctilux dreamy. And while 28mm is a newish focal length to me, I found it familiar and natural to use. I owe this to my iPhone, as the focal length of the Q and iPhone is very similar. 

For day-to-day shooting, I will always equip the lens hood to protect the front of the lens, although the cap goes into my pocket and doesn’t come out between shots. Honey badger doesn’t have time for a stinkin’ lens cap.

"Canon in D" - Leica Q at London's Southbanke Center

"No Place to Go" - Leica Q at London Homeless Shelter

Automagic Focus

There are times when I wished my M series bodies had autofocus. Times when I missed a shot because I am a mere mortal (or when I was shooting the Noctilux, which has extremely narrow tolerances for focusing). As much as I love to manually focus and to have the total control afforded to manual focus, there are times when it’s nice and easy to have autofocus - particularly if the goal of the photograph is documentary. 

The autofocus of the Q is what makes this camera so wonderful. It’s all the great stuff of an M body (except for interchangeable lenses) but with autofocus. The focus is fast and nearly always accurate. All of the images in this preview were shot with autofocus.

And in those instances where the Q fails to correctly read your mind and selects the wrong focus point, you can re-press the shutter half way and it’ll select a new point. I can’t tell you how wonderful this is - I felt like my Nikon and I would fight over focus point selection, but the Q knows it is your camera, and graciously offers alternative focus points if it missed on the first try.

"Partners" - Leica Q at Millenium Bridge, London

Image Quality

I am totally smitten with the image quality of the Leica SL, so the question for me was, can the Leica Q replicate the same quality but in a more compact package? Challenge gauntlet thrown!

I compared the cameras by matching similar settings - auto ISO at f/4 and let the camera choose the shutter speed. Both cameras had -1/3rd stop exposure compensation dialed in. The images you see here are both .JPEGs that have undergone the same post-processing in Lightroom (IE, both got the same adjustments for clarity and vibrance). I conducted this comparison hand holding the cameras, so minor differences in composition are “user error.”

Remember to click on an image for a full preview

Leica SL

Leica Q


Leica SL

Leica Q


Leica SL

Leica Q

Overall, the three tests are very similar. In a blind taste test, I don't think I’d be able to correctly identify which camera made which image. There are slight differences in the casting of the blue and green shades on the helicopter body, and the Q reveals slightly more shadow detail than the SL image does.

When comparing the flag photographs, big differences can be seen in the sky - the SL has almost a greenish hue (likewise, the flag is a little more green) while the Q seems to render the sky more accurately. However, recall that I shot in aperture priority - the SL in that image was a full stop brighter than the Q, which is probably a difference in metering off the reflective car hood, and may have caused some of the sky detail and color to be lost.

Of these test shots, I prefer the Q image in 2 out of the 3….. will the Q overtake the SL in my eyes as the king of image quality? It might be a little early to crown it, but the Q has certainly joined the SL in “Kristen’s smitten circle of cameras.”

"Lean" - Leica Q at Street Market in London

"Shine" - Leica Q in Soho, London

Silence is Golden

It’s worth noting that while the Leica SL is near silent, the Q is totally silent. Unless you are in a totally silent room, you cannot hear the shutter of the Q. On the street or in an area with any ambient noise, the Q will make as much sound as your iPhone (that is, none). The people you photograph on the street will never know you took their picture from audible clues. I have found myself occasionally questioning if the camera actually took a picture - it’s ninja silent. And that’s perfect, because the Q will certainly be thrust into situations where the loud sound of a shutter would not be appreciated, but where it will tippy toe through the scene without notice. 

"Poetry Slam" - Leica Q at Trafalgar Square, London

Who Should Q?

I don’t know who Leica was targeting when they produced the Q, but the continued demand for the camera suggests they underestimated the market for a perfectly engineered, full-frame, mirrorless, compact, 24 megapixel, f/1.7 28mm, stealthy, silent, shooting machine. So who should want a Q?

Without doubt, the Leica Q is a professional tool, and it can produce fine art prints for consumers and professionals alike. The image quality, which is probably owed to a combination of wonderful glass, a drop-dead gorgeous sensor and the Mastro II processor, produces results that rival Leica’s new larger body Leica SL. 

Personally, I will be using the Q to fill a space that the Leica SL didn't fill for me - the desire to have a small travel camera that I can discreetly use on the street or to document little moments that aren't "worthy" of the Leica SL. There are times when it's not appropriate to use the SL - for instance, with a shy subject in a tribal village - and where the small and silent Q will allow me to still collect those moments with incredible quality. And with travel to Norway, Germany, Austria, Thailand and a month long road trip through the US upcoming, the Leica Q will get plenty of use, and a formal review after more extensive work will be forthcoming.

As Craig Mod put it, the Leica Q is the “unicorn of consumer products….you can’t help but wonder how it clawed its way from the R&D lab” - and I cannot agree more with his sentiment. Although the Leica Q was released before the SL, the best explanation I can offer is that it’s like the M series and SL series mated, and produced this beautiful bastard child that was so quirky that Leica had no choice put to apply the same moniker to name it….. It’s the Leica Quirky Q.

And quirky is very good.

Quick Shot: Desert Panorama

I don't shoot a ton of panoramas, but if the location is right and I'm in the mood, I'll compile the odd panorama image. In this case, I had climbed a cliff in Wadi Rum, Jordan to enjoy sunset over the desert and happened to have a tripod handy, so I fired away.

The resulting image is 111 megapixels..... it's the composite of nearly 20 images, and the detail is phenomenal. In the full sized image, you can zoom way in and see a guy riding a horse out in the desert. Of course the full sized image is also 700 megabytes, which is a bit much for sharing on the internet! So you're seeing a compressed and smaller version here, but be sure to click on the image to maximize it to the full screen view. I'm glad I made this panorama - I can print it to wallpaper size and really let myself get absorbed in the experience of standing atop that cliff. I hope this view helps you experience what it would have been like to enjoy that sunset by my side.

Shot with the Leica Camera SL & Leica 24-90mm lens using a 3 Legged Things tripod.

Quick Shot: Martian

I am fairly certain I boarded a plane for Tel Aviv, Israel and a bus for Jordan. The in-camera GPS says I was still on planet Earth, but I'm still not convinced.....

Wadi Rum, Jordan, is arguably the only place I've ever travelled that left me wondering if I had taken a trip to someplace else in our solar system. The sand is neon orange, the rocks are florescent red, and the sky even had an orange shimmer with the dust in the sky. The result is an environment that is what most of us imagine Mars looks like, just with atmosphere and lifeforms!

If you have seen movies like the Martian, then you have seen Wadi Rum - it's unique bright orange look has attracted numerous filmmakers who want the extraterrestrial look. Of all the photos I took in Wadi Rum, this one is the most "Mars-like" to me - I was shooting up at this big sand dune and liked how the two rocks framed the sand pile. As knelt down to get the photograph, I could see a little bit of orange sand tinting the color of the sky. I shot from super low to the ground so that lots of the orange sand was in the view - the result is that you can barely make out a blue sky behind the overall orange-y look. 

This photo is probably the most emotional landscape photograph I have taken; I have discussed how certain people touched me as a photographer, but rocks don't tend to have that effect. In this case, I remember reviewing the image through the Leica SL's electronic viewfinder and thinking "this is totally bananas" - I couldn't believe that I was standing at the base of this orange sand dune taking this photograph. The experience leaves me thirsting for more opportunities to explore bizarre and surreal sites, but also grateful for the opportunities I have had!

Shot with the Leica SL and 24-90mm SL lens. Adjustments in Adobe Lightroom.

Quick Shot: Where Film & Digital Meet

Every so often I get this crazy whim to try something really bizarre.... this weekend it was to merge some film and digital exposures together....

The first image ("Queen") was taken with my Hasselblad using Fujifilm Cameras medium format film as the background. The overlay is a chalk painting from Trafalgar Square that I photographed using my Leica Camera SL and f/0.95 Noctilux. The second image ("London Southbank") uses the same cameras, but the film was a double exposure, making the resulting image a triple exposure photograph.

Of course there is no reasonable way to merge the film and digital images "in camera" - so I developed them all and merged them using Adobe Photoshop. The result is a little crazy and a little fun!

Which do you like better?

The Queen

London Southbank

Storytelling with the Leica Noctilux

What happens when the most brilliant engineers and lens design specialists spend decades perfecting the already near-perfect lens? You get the Leica Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 lens.

I can rewind to a year ago… it was about this time that I started looking to purchase my first Leica M camera - a Leica M-P (35mm film). Although I knew the reputation and brand, the specifics of the brand lineup and offerings were new to me, so I spent hours reading blogs from Thorston Overgaard, Ming Thein, Steve Huff, and others to absorb as much as possible about the Leica system. In all of this reading, I kept seeing mention of this lens, the Noctilux.

When Noctilux is mentioned online, it’s usually in one of two contexts: 1) Holy crap that thing is expensive and you must be nutty to spend that much on a lens or 2) This is the best lens ever made, and its performance justifies the price tag.

Seeing the $11,000 price tag of the Noctilux for the first time literally took my breath away. I sided in camp #1 - the “you have got to be kidding” camp. I already had sticker shock over the $2,000 of the ‘basic’ Leica lineup - how could another $9,000 improve on a lens that was already supposed to be one of the bests in the world? It’s not like Leica makes bad glass or cheap lenses!

For months thereafter I gave the Noctilux very little thought. Occasionally I’d bump into some review or post about the Noctilux and would read it, amused and wishing for the type of disposable income that could make that a reality…. the same way I also wish for a sports car and private yacht. 

Click on any image for a full-sized preview.

Once Upon a Time

There are lots of websites covering the history and legacy of the Noctilux, so I’ll sum it up simply. There are three versions, but only two were produced in large numbers: the f/1 and f/0.95 model. Done.

In my opinion, the real history and legacy of this lens hasn’t been written. We’re at the “once upon a time” part in Noctilux history….. Once upon a time there was a lens, called the Noctilux. It was adored, expensive, and specialty, but it hadn’t realized it’s true potential as a lens. Then one day a camera named Leica SL came along, and it was a perfect union of technology and optics. Finally, the Noctilux lived happily ever after.

Ok, that was a bit cheesy, even for me, but the point stands. The real potential - no, the real value - of the Noctilux is unleashed when it is mated with the Leica SL Type 601. 

The Noctilux Epiphany

When Leica announced the new SL Type 601 camera in late-2015, I was completely head-over-heels with the system. It was a great fit for my photographic style and would allow me to finally separate from some of the Nikon equipment I’d been holding onto. I sold everything that didn’t have a red dot affixed to it and went all in on the Leica SL. It’s been a phenomenal decision! But what I didn’t realize at the time was that the Leica SL would be the driving factor for my desire to get a Noctilux, and as much as this review is about the Noctilux, I cannot overlook the relationship to the camera behind the lens.

If you are not familiar with the Leica SL vs the traditional M-series, then there is one very important key difference you must understand going forward. The SL uses an electronic viewfinder instead of the rangefinder to focus. A common issue with the Noctilux when used on the M rangefinder bodies is the need for precise calibration between the rangefinder and the lens - but the SL’s electronic viewfinder negates this issue. Looking through the eyepiece, you see exactly what the sensor sees, leaving no doubt that you nailed the focus even when shooting with the razor thin f/0.95. There are plenty of other differences between the camera systems, but the focus mechanism is most relevant to our discussion here.

Ironically, in my decades as a film and digital photographer, I have only ever owned one 50mm prime lens. It was a cheap Nikon lens and I only used it for infrared photography. Prior to the purchase of a Noctilux, I had maybe only ever taken 200 photographs with a non-Leica 50mm prime lens…. a focal length regarded as one of the best. I wouldn't say that my lack of 50mm use was intentional - I used a lot of zoom lenses that covered that focal length and didn’t see the value in owning a prime lens that replicated the functionality of a zoom lens.

When purchasing the Leica SL, I nearly fell into the same trap again. I purchased the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm ASPH zoom lens, which is an absolutely magnificent lens, to shoot on the SL body. Again, I told myself that I had a zoom lens that covered 50mm, why would I need another 50? I already had a Leica Summilux f/1.4 that didn’t get much use, did I need another (and far more expensive) 50mm lens?

Storytelling

Photography is about storytelling. It’s about capturing the emotions, expressions, feelings, mood, and world as it existed in that instant. It’s become easy to forget about the storytelling element of photography - we’ve become numb to having a camera and what that camera affords us. For instance, I will use my iPhone to take a snap of ingredients in a recipe book before I go grocery shopping, but that’s hardly storytelling. Likewise, as a Nikon shooter, I was too focused on technical perfection via equipment and accessories, and not focused enough on the story. That’s not to say Nikon equipment couldn’t allow me to be a storyteller; there are many phenomenal photographers who use that brand to create masterpieces. But storytelling is what Leica specializes in, more so than anything else.

You see, Leica doesn’t produce a lens that costs $11,000 for the sole reason of pointing out their technical superiority. They produce that lens because they know that, for the people who can afford it, that lens offers storytelling opportunities that no other lens can compete with. Leica’s emphasis on the essentials and manual controls force the photographer to think about the story they are telling when they click the shutter.

I didn’t buy the Noctilux because I was looking for a 50mm lens. I bought the Noctilux because I realized the opportunity that lens represents; the opportunity to tell a story in a way most other lenses cannot. That difference lets my work stand apart, and I value the opportunity the Noctilux offers enough to pay for the opportunity. Of course, if you saw my initial preview of the Noctilux, you know I didn’t spend anything close to $11,0000 either!

The Elephant in the Room - Price

So let’s explore the price. Chances are, if you read this far, you’re hoping that I’ll blow you away and the photographs will change your opinion of the lens, or you already understand the price and accept it at some level. Either way, price is what makes this lens so polarizing and yet so interesting. 

Considering the retail price of $11,000, the Noctilux is arguably the most expensive manual focus, manual aperture selection, fastest prime lens available. That’s right, you’re not paying big bucks for incredible autofocus or image stabilization…. it doesn't even have those features. What you are paying for is a lens that laughs at darkness and is crafted with incredible precision. And if you value quality, incredible feats of engineering and some storytelling opportunities, then the Noctilux’s price isn’t that crazy.

The glass used on the Noctilux represents the best-of-the-best. Leica saves the clearest and most perfect glass for this lens; it’s rumored that just manufacturing the glass elements takes years. And then the lens is assembled by hand to the most exacting specifications and tolerances. While I don’t know if it’s true or not, it’s been said that Leica makes almost no profit on the Noctilux because the overhead cost to produce is so high. Leica does make some overpriced collectors edition cameras and lenses that are artificially price inflated, but the Noctilux is not one of those.

The Feel of a Noctilux

I never held a Noctilux until the day I purchased mine. I knew that it’d be hard to put down if I ever picked it up, so I limited myself too drooling from across a locked glass display case. When I finally held the Noctilux for the first time, I was shocked by the sheer amount of glass in the lens. It’s a heavy sucker, no doubt the heaviest M lens in production, but on the SL body, the weight counterbalances the camera body nicely. The combination is similar in size and weight to a more traditional dSLR setup. The Noctilux on my M7 is another story - the body is not heavy enough to counter the weight of the lens, but this is one of those times when my mom would tell me that I can’t have my cake and eat it too. You can’t ask for f/0.95 and not sacrifice some weight. Pick your priorities and Leica’s probably got a lens to suit them.

When I was shopping for the Noctilux f/0.95, I took the time to compare it to the older f/1 Noctilux for image aesthetics, feel, etc. I reviewed the differences in my Noctilux Preview, so I won’t repeat it here, but there were two differences in feel that I’ll cover. 

First, the f/1 Noctilux was much stiffer when rotating the focus ring. While it could have just been the unit that I sampled, the stiffness of the focus ring was no where close to the smooth, yet firm, of the f/0.95 Noctilux. I realize that smooth and firm are contradictory statements, but that’s precisely how you want the focus on a lens like this to work; smooth enough that it takes little effort to rotate the ring, but stiff enough that it doesn’t turn unless you turn it. The focus ring on the Noctilux is perfect, and I hope it feels exactly the same as it does now in 10 years.

Second, the lens hood on the f/1 Noctilux did not lock in place, and a strong stare could have retracted the lens hood. While lens hoods are designed to prevent flare, I primarily use them as a front element bumper. I’d rather the lens hood get dings and scratches than the front glass elements. Therefore, a hood that doesn't stay securely extended is of no value to me. The f/0.95 hood pulls out and turns to lock into place. This design is far better, but I have encounter the lens rubbing along the side of my body when carried on a strap is often enough to unlock the hood. 

Noctilux as a Landscape Photographer’s Lens

Most of the reviews you’ll find on the Noctilux focus on it’s application for street and portrait photography, but I’m not a portrait person, so I will instead discuss the Noctilux as a street and landscape photography lens.

Landscape and street photography have many similarities, which is why I’d argue the Noctilux is so good for both. In these fields, photographers are often trying to use light and the surroundings to portray the subject. Whether it is grassy fields or a busy market street, the razorr thin depth of field on the Noctilux allows the photographer to isolate their subject, while maintaining as much (or as little) of the surroundings to story tell. The biggest difference between the photographic fields is the amount of time afforded to the photographer; street photography requires split-second decisions, while landscape photography is often at a more relaxed pace. Yet with proper technique, the Noctilux serves both admirably.

I have become partial to the Noctilux for landscape photography. Using the unique Noctilux look, I’ve been able to isolate a small patch of grass in a sunbeam or individual pieces of straw in a way that none of my previous lenses have done. Several people have commented that the landscape photographs I’ve taken using the Noctilux look “dreamy” and “surreal” - as though they were taken in a mythical place. Whether or not that is my intention is irrelevant (although it is)….. it’s a comment I’ve never received on my photographs taken with another lens. And that, my friends, is why this lens is so special. Viewers notice the look.

I split time as a color and black and white photographer - color for landscapes and nature, while street and urban photography is entirely black and white. For both applications, the Noctilux is incredible. The color rendition is fantastic; I used to always adjust the saturation in Adobe Lightroom, but its almost unnecessary with the incredibly sharp and vibrant colors captured in the RAW DNG files using the Noctilux. 

Technical (in)Perfection

The Noctilux is proof of what incredible engineering can give us - it pushes the boundaries of lens design in many regards, most notably for it’s incredible f/0.95 aperture. Yet for it’s technical accomplishments, there is one nasty side effect that you will face…. Chromatic Aberration.

Chromatic aberration usually occurs in the highlights where those highlights meet a strong dark and contrasty area of the image. For outdoor photographers, we’ll often associate chromatic aberration with the purple outline where tree limbs and bright sky meet. 

I hate chromatic aberration - but it’s an artifact of digital photography that we cannot escape, just like dust is an artifact in film photography. Unfortunately, at f/0.95, the Noctilux has very strong chromatic aberration, probably some of the worst I’ve ever seen in a lens. Stopping down even just to f/2 resolves all of the chromatic aberration, but at the cost of the storytelling benefits of f/0.95. Again I face the cake vs eating conundrum, and I choose cake….. to shoot at f/0.95 and deal with it in Lightroom.

Lightroom, Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw all have great chromatic aberration removal tools available, and a shallow depth-of-field Noctilux shooter should get familiar with them quickly. Even when I convert to black and white, I will take the time to resolve the chromatic aberration to prevent weird tonality changes. 

Delivery

The Leica Camera marketing team clearly wants you to feel special if you’ve spent $11,000 on alens, so they’ve packaged the Noctilux far more luxuriously than the other lenses I’ve owned. The exterior box is the traditional silver and black cardboard affair, but it’s big enough that I could store a pair of shoes in it. All the talk about how big the Noctilux is compared to other 50mm lenses in the Leica lineup isn’t helped when the box is that big!

Inside the box is the usual buffet of Leica paperwork: an instruction manual (sort of funny, if you think about it), a guarantee card, a certificate of inspection, and Leica Passport card. Remove the foam insert holding these pieces and you are rewarded with yet another box. This box is solid black with the Leica Camera logo stamped on the top and with a ribbon latch. Except for it’s large size, you could mistake it for an engagement ring box- which might have been Leica’s intention. If you buy a Leica Noctilux, you’ve become married to the brand? Untie the ribbon latch and inside the box rests the lens… on a silky pillow. With this sort of presentation, I’m a bit surprised the Noctilux doesn’t include a pair of white gloves for handling!

Final Verdict - to Noctilux or No?

I love the Leica M system - there is something very genuine and raw about taking images with a rangefinder body. While I own what is arguably one of the best lenses for the Leica M bodies, it’s not my go-to shooting lens, because of it’s size and semi- temperamental focus. This isn’t to discount the work of the photographers who do like the Noctilux and M body combination - kudos to them for their success. But if I didn’t own a Leica SL, I wouldn’t own a Noctilux.

With the SL, the Noctilux is a completely different lens. You can nail tack sharp focus on every shot; it becomes easy to shoot with the Noctilux. I was at a photography trade show recently and several Leica employees engaged in a discussion of the Noctilux + SL combination. Apparently many of them share my opinion: that the Noctilux is a different animal on the SL. The Leica SL is everything I didn’t know I wanted in a camera, and the Noctilux is the lens I never knew I needed. Combined, they are the right tools for me to great artwork. They aren’t the right tools for everyone, but with the Leica SL and the f/0.95 Noctilux, I’ve found my combination - one that provides me with new storytelling and artistic opportunities.

Hands-On Preview of the Leica APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280mm f/2.8-4 Lens

I just had the opportunity to use the new Leica APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280mm f/2.8-4 ahead of the official late-March 2016 release date. A demo lens was available at the Photography Show in Birmingham, UK, and I spent awhile shooting and handling the lens during the exhibition today. Although I’ve had a chance to now go “hands on” with the lens, I won’t call this an official review, but it will hopefully help anyone who is considering the purchase of this lens when it releases next week.

Leica was kind enough to let me mount the lens on my body, so not only did I have a chance to handle and shoot it in the trade show, but I have some image results to evaluate….

First and foremost, this lens has the same incredible design and construction we’re used to seeing with Leica glass. While it’s big and heavy compared to most lenses they make, it’s actually quite compact and comfortable compared to similar zoom lenses from other manufacturers. I was particularly impressed with the internal zoom mechanism; looking down the front element of the lens while rotating the zoom allows you to see several glass elements that are adjusting internally. This process, which was incredibly smooth, allows you to zoom from 90-280mm without the lens expanding in size. When a lens expands as you zoom, the center of gravity of the lens shifts, which can make it harder to shoot. With everything internal, it was easy to hand hold and zoom in and out without experiencing any need to adjust my hand positioning. 

Leica, in typical German engineering form, also improved on the tripod collar mechanism. Unlike most Nikon / Canon tripod collars that just have alignment markings for rotating between portrait and landscape orientation, the Leica tripod collar has little stops that click into place. These stops would make it extremely easy to rotate the lens when mounted on a monopod or tripod without having to guess if you’ve correctly reoriented the camera - you can feel it click into place. The collar rotates all the way around the camera so it can be used as a carry handle if you fancy. Rotating the tripod collar is achieved by the traditional loosening of a knob. A second knob closer to the base plate allows for the removal of the tripod base plate. The base plate has a grooved notch on it to ensure that it can be mounted back square to the collar if it was removed. The lens hood is a long cylindrical hood- maybe 3-4 inches long. It used a twist to lock into place.

Size comparison between the 24-90mm and 90-280mm lenses.

Sample Images

Click on any image for a larger preview

First, I conducted a few tests of the lens’ performance at close focus. I stepped about 3 feet away from my subject and was able to focus on his eyes at 190mm and the result has incredible detail and clarity. Zooming out to 90mm at f/2.8 gives a sense of the soft bokeh that can be achieved with this lens; notice how the edge of his cap softly fades out of focus.

Shot from about 3 feet away @ 190mm, f/3.5. Nice soft bokeh!

Zooming out to 90mm @ f/2.8

Likewise, Leica boasts a 3 stop image stabilization, and while I can’t validate that figure, it was certainly very good. Normally anything below 1/60th of a second can be tricky for me to hand hold and keep tack sharp, but this image was taken at 1/50th and is perfect. 

The image stabilization was good enough that I hand held this photo at 90mm 1/50th

The bokeh on this lens is also very pleasing - shockingly so, actually. At 280mm, the lens shoots at a best f/4, but I still found the bokeh pattern very pleasing. In this image, you can see the bokeh renders in a circular / oval shape. While it’s certainly not the dreamy melt of the Noctilux, the bokeh results I see in my demo shooting suggest this lens should be great for framing sports, action, or even portrait photography. Personally, I’ll be using this lens for outdoor and wildlife photography applications, and I cannot wait. The bokeh throughout the zoom range should give very pleasing storytelling opportunities, no matter what the situation.

An example of the bokeh at 280mm @ f/4

Bokeh at 250mm, f/3.8

The autofocus speed of this lens is not to be overlooked. It’s easy to build long lenses, but long lenses that can jump instantly to proper focus without lots of hunting are another story. As much as I liked my Nikon 80-400, it would often do the obnoxious “dunk-dunk-dunk” of a lens hunting for focus. My experience is obviously limited, but the lens had no issues keeping pace with the busy exhibition hall, particularly as I turned from far away subjects to close-up shots. 

280mm @ f/4..... see crop below. Notice there were no corrections for any lens distortion or vignetting.

Crop of above image

Reviewing the results now in Lightroom, I’m noticing almost no vignetting and only minimal distortion. It’s the type of artifact that I’d probably never take the time to bother correcting (and that cannot be corrected now since Adobe doesn’t have a lens profile for this lens yet).

Included is a clip showing the internal focus mechanism - apologies for the video quality.

Thank you to Leica Camera for letting me demo their new APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280mm f/2.8-4 lens today - any doubts I had about the pricing have been erased and I’ll be looking to snag a copy upon their release this week.

Leica Announces Details on APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280mm Lens

Hooray! Today Leica announced the release and pricing of their second lens in the SL lineup, the Leica APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280mm f/2.8-4 telephoto lens.

I’m very excited about the announcement as several London-based Leica dealers indicated they thought Leica was behind on the release and it would not come in 2nd quarter 2016, like initially forecast. But this announcement proves them wrong and finally gives us something to get excited about.

Stock photograph of the 90-280mm lens mounted on the Leica SL body. Image from LeicaRumors.com 

Although I adopted Leica M-series cameras last year, it was not until the Leica SL was released that I could finally separate from my Nikon equipment completely. I had retained my Nikon gear for those times when I needed a fast autofocus telephoto lens, something that wasn’t a strong part of Leica’s lineup until the SL was announced. Even though this lens wasn’t available until now, knowing it was coming gave me the confidence to part with my Nikon 80-400mm lens and dSLR body.

The Leica Camera press release published today has a few small surprises with regard to this lens. First, and most exciting is that “….the overall length of the lens does not change when either focusing or zooming.” Awesome! Although I have not seen it in person, the 90-280mm lens appears similar in size to my old Nikon 80-400mm, except that lens did expand during zooming. I fully expected this lens would likewise extend in length while zooming, and am pleasantly surprised to hear that will not be the case. Second, the lens retains the weather sealing against dust and water, like the rest of the lineup. I expected it would, but happy to have confirmation. Finally, the press release makes mention of a detachable tripod place and rotating tripod collar, which I’m looking forward to seeing and really studying for quality. 

Weight and size wise, this baby is certainly larger than the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH lens. It weighs approximately 800grams more…. if that is as meaningless to you as it is to me, then here are some common objects that weigh 800grams:

  • Eight average sized apples
  • Just less than two loaves of bread (US) or one UK loaf of bread
  • A single mens shoe

In other words, this baby isn’t a compact or lightweight lens….. it’s a heffer, but so are most 280mm lenses, so lets not hold that against Leica.

Leica is also advertising the lens will have a non-rotating filter thread that accepts E82 filters and will include a lens hood with the purchase. The focus distance will range from 0.6 meters - 1.4 meters, which is surprisingly close for a lens with this sort of zoom. 

I am hoping that the bokeh of this lens will be similar to the surprising bokeh of the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm ASPH lens; this will certainly be one of the first things I test once I purchase a copy.

The lens should be fully available by 24 March 2016 and is slated to sell at £4,650 in the UK, which works out to $6,550 US Dollars, as of the time of writing. That pricing is very competitive and on par with Canon’s pricing for telephoto lenses.

I’ll update this post as I get additional information and will prepare a full review once I have had an opportunity to purchase and shoot a copy myself.

Quick Shot: Moonrise

In northern Sweden, especially in January, the sunrise and sunset blur into one long "day." The soft light and sunrise/sunset colors can last all day, creating a photographer's dream.

I had been taking photos with the beautiful afternoon light as it tints the pure white snow into a beautiful shade of light blue. My face was almost fully covered in heavy clothes and several hats to protect against the extreme (-30C / -25F) temperatures, so I almost didn't notice the moon that appeared above the tent. After spotting the perfectly clear moon, I immediately knew the composition I needed to capture.

Positioning so that the moon appears almost directly over the tent, I used the Leica SL (Type 601) with the Leica 24-90mm lens to take a series of shots at apertures around f/11. I knew it would be some trial and error to get the moon in perfect focus with the tent, but after a series of experiments, I got the shot I wanted.

I am elated with the resulting image, and I hope you share my excitement with this photograph.

Really Right Stuff L-Plate for the Leica SL

When Leica released the Leica SL (Type 601), they targeted the camera at landscape and nature photographers; a group of folks who frequently use tripods. When I got my SL body, one of my first projects was to rummage through my drawer of L-plates and tripod base plates to find a suitable choice for this body. Unfortunately, makers like Really Right Stuff have not introduced a plate specifically for this camera, and the ones I already owned were too big to suit.

Thankfully, Really Right Stuff has a great website and support team. After a few emails and pulling out the calipers to measure against their blueprints, I decided to purchase the Really Right Stuff MC-L Multi-Camera L-Plate for my SL. 

Turns out, it fits like a glove! The plate mounts snug to the bottom of the camera while not being oversized. In fact, the plate leaves space so that the battery hatch and release switch can be accessed without removing the plate- a huge plus.

The Really Right Stuff MC-L plate weighs only 3.2oz and has the quality I've come to expect from their products. With this plate securely mounted, I can now use my acra swiss style clamp on the tripod to get photographs in both the horizontal and portrait orientation while keeping the weight of the camera over the center of the tripod.

I'll be putting the plate to the test next week when I head into the Arctic to shoot the aurora borealis, but I have every expectation that it will handle the task admirably! 

The Really Right Stuff MC-L Multi-Camera L-Plate

Solid construction and dovetail grove for acra swiss style tripod clamps

The Really Right Stuff L-plate mounted to the bottom of the Leica SL

The length of the L-plate, when mounted in the second slot like pictured, still leaves space to access the battery hatch and release. 

The plate is almost the same width as the Leica SL body. It is just barely wider, but the extra width is almost unnoticeable. 

If I needed to access the connections on the side, I could mount the plate on one of the other slots to permit enough clearance.

The plate would not interfere with a strap that went through this side of the body and gives plenty of clearance for all types of straps.