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Will the Leica Q Kill the Leica M?

Get Leica Q and Leica M at B&H Photo.

Leica Q

That is, if the Sony A7R II has not already killed it.

Shooting the Leica Q is a vastly more enjoyable experience than shooting the Leica M: hugely superior and built-in EVF along with autofocus. I enjoyed the Leica Q in spite of some really nagging operational issues (that could be fixed by Leica in a firmware update if the will is there).

The Q sensor appears to be superior in dynamic range and color rendition to the M240 sensor, and the optical performance compromises of the Q are not likely to be of concern to many shooters (not that M lenses are free of problematic compromises, particular the faster designs, ike wide-open aberrations and field curvature). But for those looking for pin-sharp results to the edges, do look elsewhere than the Q or M; a Sony A7R II with Zeiss Batis comes to mind, or perhaps a future Sony RX2R with a 43MP sensor.

The Q is notably smaller, lighter and cheaper than the Leica M240 (about half the price or even less when the M240 + 28mm f/2 Summicron are the pairing). The image quality of the Q has an extraordinary visual impact and in this regard most users will find its images stunning. I want one, but the price is so high and I have so much gear, and I have to look at thing in ROI terms.

What if the Q were available in 4 or 5 focal lengths? What exactly would be the point of the aging M platform? That is, what would be the point to the vast majority of buyers, many of whom are dilettantes and collectors and have little interest or ability to grok the nerd appeal of the M.

So will the Leica Q kill the M platform? Yes if Leica makes other Q models with additional focal lengths and also fails to take the M platform forward.

The M platform clings to multiple handicaps:

Leica M240 with 50/1.4 Summilux
  • It is simply not usable by some users (eyesight).
  • The camera still crashes sometimes, requiring power off to recover, and losing the image.
  • The optional M240 EVF is a toy-grade low-res optional wart atop the camera. Awkward.
  • The M240 rangefinder is an anachronism used by some shooters, but entirely unusable by others (eyesight, framing, etc), and subject to mechanical tolerance errors along with grossly inaccurate frame lines and it is impossible to make a level image with wide angles using the rangefinder or absurdly expensive optical hot-shoe viewfinders.
  • The M240 is larger, heavier and much more expensive. With only a few lenses, it quickly becomes a $20K to $30K system.
  • The Leica Q sensor has superior dynamic range and color over the M sensor, with none of the color shading problems of the M wides.
  • My field experience shows vastly more accurate metering with the Q. I have to shoot on manual all the time with the M; with the Q I just shoot on aperture priority with minor exp comp adjustments.
  • Leica M lenses simply are not as good as they could be versus a fresh approach to mirrorless. They are chock full of stale film-era compromises that need not be there with fresh designs for mirrorless. I would hold up the Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 Distagon as a vastly superior lens as compared with Leica’s best (at 1/6 to 1/3 the cost!). Leica could do even better at double or triple the price the Batis.

So where should the M body go?

  • Introduce a smaller and lighter EVF-only ME (“M EVF”), with no rangefinder. This brings the cost down, usability up, size and weight way down.
  • Maintain compatibility with M lenses, but offer all new MA (“M autofocus”) lenses with autofocus and leaf shutters that rock with a built-in flash utilizing the wasted space currently occupied by the rangefinder. These lenses can be new designs optimized for mirrorless and be made larger so as not to require such esoteric optical designs (no more concern in blocking the rangefinder).
  • Raise the resolution and dynamic range of the sensor: 36 megapixels minimum, 14+ bits dynamic range. As they say in Russia, tough shitsky if those vaunted M lenses show their limits even more than they do now at 24 megapixels.

This should all have been done a year ago.

Hail peppers climbers descending Mt Dana, delivering auditory and tactile and olfactory delights while the eyes feast on the sunlit Mt Conness and Saddlebag Lake area.

Mt Dana Hailstorm with view to Mt Conness in sunlight
f4 @ 1/100 sec, ISO 100; 2015-07-11 14:10:24
LEICA Q (Typ 116) + 28.0 mm f/1.7 @ 28mm

[low-res image for bot]

Dan M writes:

OK, so you’ve shown us this again. [Mt Dana hailstorm] And now I look at it with a bit more care to the nuance and detail [and enlarged] and realize just how few camera/lens combos could deliver this image.

You don’t notice the quality right up front because of the extreme circumstance of the shot. But there is depth, excellent detail and proper color everywhere in a situation where most gear would produce a sack of mush.

DIGLLOYD: yes, the lens on the Q has its quality limits at the periphery, but as I've said in my review of the Leica Q, what I term the “visual impact” is superb. This comes from high contrast for coarse and fine structures (high MTF) and strict control of aberrations. The only negative is the loss of peripheral sharpness from the severe distortion, which must stretch pixels to make the image, starting with an effective captured area of only about 22 megapixels.

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