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Leica Q: Autofocus Fails Permanently (well, actually a weird cross-coupling of AF to info display)

Get Leica Q at B&H Photo.

Update 14 July: upon returning home, I discovered that AF is working, but with a confusing twist that precluded me from using autofocus while out in the field. Details further below.

Today I climbed Mt Dana with my daughter. It was an important day to me, this being our first summit climb together, ever. I took the Leica Q for its relatively compact size and light weight.

But the Leica Q (with about 40 frames on it from new) failed. Its AF system went AWOL and power cycling the camera and pulling the battery numerous times did nothing to restore AF functionality. I was left with a brand-new $4250 camera that could not autofocus.

While readers know that I often use manual focus, this is not so easy with dark sunglasses and varying light conditions and a moving subject (and balancing on rocks). So the Q failed miserably to deliver what I needed this day.

Fortunately, knowing that every Leica camera has failed me more than once (S and M and now Q), I was not a complete idiot. I took along the superlative and far, far less expensive Ricoh GR, which performed admirably and with a built-in flash for flash fill to boot. I still shot the Q with manual focus for some things, but it lost me some shots due to the delay and subject movement.

I did use the Q for the summit shot on a mini tripod, pre-focusing manually. The Q endeared itself by forcing me to re-enable the self-timer for every shot, shuttling back and forth over slippery icy rocks. The lack of insight into real photography at Leica is appalling: this situation is hardly uncommon (group shots on a tripod or similar). The other annoying behavior is getting 4 or 5 frames instead of 1 frame by going from S to C when turning the camera on (in the real world, I'm hiking, have gloves on, etc). And its propensity to drain 1/4 of its battery overnight. Look, if you’re a street shooter walking out of your hotel or whatever and then back to a dinner and coffee, maybe the Q works for you. Out on the trail, this stuff gets frustrating, fast.

UPDATE 14 July

Back home, I could not get the camera to autofocus with any conventional setting (spot focus, face detect, etc). But then I noticed that touch focus works. And then that the rear button performs AF. But not the shutter release.

Finally I realized that toggling through the info settings (center button on 4 way dial) has 2 of 3 display modes that disable autofocus with the shutter release. One of those modes has the horz/vert level display. Since I shoot almost exclusivley with the screen with the leveling function enabled, and this is one of the three AF-disabled views, the camera would never autofocus! I never considered the idea that the info display on the rear LCD would also mysteriously coupled in a way that enables or disables autofocus.

Apparently this is as-designed and can be classified as RTFM (which I did, but somehow if this is described, I missed it). There is a setting Zoom/Lock-Button which I had set to AFL. But it is not AF-lock, it is AF disableforever, even after camera power offs or the battery removed (unlike the self timer which unsets itself at every shot!). Adding to the confusion, this center button toggles the rear LCD 3 ways, while simultaneously locking or unlocking the chosen function. This coupling of display info to a locking function is a bizarre design choice that baffles me. What does locking focus or exposure have to do with toggling the rear display info?

The solution seems to be to set Zoom/Lock-Button = Digital Zoom, which seems to have no ill effects and to allow AF with the leveling functionl. This makes no sense at all to me, but it works.

UPDATE 15 July

Leica contacted me to say this:

The info setting button on the backside of the camera should not deactivate the AF in any setting. It is just a switch between video rec info, still info and clear display.

As the behavior of your camera sounds strange we would suggest to return to camera to the Leica service for deeper evaluation.

DIGLLOYD: the behavior is consistent: when Zoom/Lock-Button = AFL, pressing the button inside the 4-way controller* toggles the info screens and disables AF in the two non-video modes. When Zoom/Lock-Button = AEL /AFL is used, the AF system operates as expected via the shutter release.

* The Set button labeled #31 in schematic in the manual, the 4-way controller being the Direction Pad.

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