Like many of us, I am not new to Leica’s Q series, factually one of the brand’s best selling series since 2015. My multiple reviews of the Leica Q and Q2 are as linked.
However I have not experienced the Q2 Monochrom, and I have been intrigued by the fascination of some photographers with a camera that only photographs in pure black and white. In fact Leica is typically the butt of jokes in charging more for lesser functions and most of all, I wanted to see for myself what Leica refers to as ‘embracing the Soul of photography‘ in their description of the Q2 Monochrom.
A question I wanted answered was: “is there really something special with the Monochrom sensor’s output?”
My Pre-Q2 Monochrom belief: “I see the world in colour, and justifiably mostly photograph in colour”
But an opportunity popped up from Leica Singapore for me to test the Q2 Monochrom and here’s sharing my experience in demystifying the Q2 Monochrom in a layman’s manner.
I often feel it is superfluous to talk about specifications when Leica is involved, because after shooting with the M10, M typ240 and M35mm Summilux FLE, M50 Summicron and even a half-century old 35mm Summicron, one will understand that Leica is unlike brands like Sony where excelling in the technical prowess department is their perennial focus.
But anyway, Leica would like you to know that unlike the colour-possible Q2, the Q2 monochrom’s 47.3 Megapixels CMOS monochromatic sensor features a no colour filter array with no interpolation required, and as such allowing it to render sharper and better than any other predecessors. This design boosts light sensitivity on the Q2 Monochrom, and according to Leica, translating to at least a 30% improvement in sharpness. Tones and details captured at every single pixel are clearer and cleaner, giving the Q2 Monochrom an ISO range of 100 to 100,000 and dynamic range unmatched by its ‘color-able’ peers.
In simpler English, the omission of having to manage colours in the Q2 Monochrom’s sensor has allowed it to further pursue the quality of its imaging output to the extreme, significantly above what the Leica Q2 can output.
The time-tested optically stabilised Summilux 28 F1.7 ASPH lens has been around since 2015 on the original Leica Q, and distinguished by its razor sharp clarity and bokeh expected of a Leica lens tuned and mated to the body’s sensor.
Presented with 11 elements in 9 groups and 3 aspherical elements with a 0.3 meters minimum focusing distance (MFD), one has very little to critique. (if you shoot Leica, you know that a MFD of 0.3m is worth raving over) Also, in macro mode this Summilux 28mm F1.7 actually goes to a MFD of 0.17m.
And as an bonus, the Leica Q2 Monochrom does record 4K UHD and Cine4K video at 30/24 FPS in MP4 format. It even does 10fps and supports a top flash sync speed of 1/2000s with a top electronic shutter speed of 1/40 000s (yes, you will need it because the Summilux 28mm begs to be shot wide open).
Performance & handling
If you drop the Q2 Monochrom on your foot, you will be seeing an orthopaedist.
When you hold the Q2 Monochrom in your hands, you will realise that every single inch, every nook and cranny of this photography tool has been thoroughly obsessed over, and every design element never an after-thought. One might scoff at Leica’s sky high price of USD6195 for a ‘point and shoot’, but if you handle it, you will understand because there is nothing flimsy in the camera. Even removing the battery requires an easy two-step approach that ensures it is almost impossible to drop the battery during a change.
In fact, the Q2 Monochrom has only 1 door, where you pop in your UHS-II SD card. Factually Leica could have made a ‘dunkable’ into water camera like the X-U if they wanted to by going ahead with internal memory.
I had shared on how the Leica Q2 had earnestly and thoughtfully improved over the original Leica Q and all these improvements are carried over to the Q2 Monochrom. Functionally, the IP52 rating of dust and splash protection, 3 inch 1.04 million dots touch-screen, 3.68MP OLED 0.76x magnification EVF all work in tandem.
Somehow Leica has deemed it suitable to include 3 digital crop modes (35/50/75mm) at 30MP/15MP and 7MP output. it is useful to note that using these modes gives one a cropped JPEG file but the DNG (raw) files are provided uncropped. If you are worried about image degradation, don’t. What Leica does is simply a reduction in megapixel count and not interpolation.
The 225-points contrast based auto-focus system is snappy and most of all, easily manages most of the shooting conditions one will encounter. The Q2 Monochrom offers multi-field, field and spot modes with a face-detection system that is pretty reliable. Note that there is no subject tracking, simply because that requires a sensor that supports colour capture.
Coming from Fujifilm, working with physical dials proved to be easy-going for me, with aperture, ISO, shutter speed all instantly managed without having to dig through the menus. Frankly speaking, if you are constantly digging through the menu shooting a Leica camera, something is not right.
Image Quality – the Essentials
Every well-thought of photograph seeks to tell a story, it is how the photographer seeks to weave the tale he had visioned into the eyes of the viewer and having to shoot in a monochromatic format really forces one to ask oneself the purpose of making the shot. Like shooting a M-camera, instead of spamming shots and picking one, one instead plans and decides before making the shot on the Q2 Monochrom.
Like the camera, you will start getting very sensitive to the presence and interplay of light and shadows, because this will be the brushes you paint with.
To this day, black and white photography continues to exude a unique fascination and beauty. Compared with colour photography, black and white is the most authentic manifestation of “painting with light”. No distractions, only a focus on what is essential in the art of story telling.
Prior to using the Q2 Monochrome, I have already used the Q and Q2 extensively and actually was pretty intrigued about a version of Q2 that refuses to shoot in colour.
“After all, there are so many critics who will argue for shooting in colour and then simply post-processing it in black and white and simply criticise the Q2 monochrome’s output to a JPEG filter in their cameras.“
But do you realise most of these critics have NOT used a pure monochromatic sensor before?
sorry, I am being truthful here. We live in a world where people conclude even before reading the details.
Image quality from the Q2 Monochrom is a league above the Q2.
I realised my pre-conceptions were wrong when I sat down at the desktop and started editing the DNG files from the Leica Q2 monochrom. It was not just the details that jumped out at me, Leica had done something here which they did not manage to do for even the Q2. The tonality, the depth and how this all comes together to produce the whole image really stunned me.
Colours on their own serve to provide another layer of attractiveness, peel away this layer and one faces a relentless layer of only tones and shades left to paint the image and in this sense, shooting with a Monochrom really is a very interesting experience.
The separation, the ‘pop’ from the excellent Summilux 28mm lens works fluidly with the 47.3 MP sensor. There is no noticeable noise even up to ISO6400 and files at ISO12800 are easily usable.
The Q2 Monochrom simply takes in every shot I made effortlessly, exposing correctly when I had tried to trip it up. Some cameras I had reviewed would have gotten over-exposed edges around the 2 and 4 or missed the reflection of words on the top panel but not the Q2 Monochrom. And look at the reflection of the tiles captured across the glass walls in the middle top of the image.
Leica has always attracted me because of how true their optical systems are able to depict reality as we see it. There is no lie, no exaggeration of colours but simply a retelling of the story that one’s eyes saw at that decisive moment and the Q2 monochrom is one such tool that takes this belief to the bare essentials, while at the same time pushing the image output to a point where the word ‘excellent’ sounds short.
The shot below and its 100% crop easily tells the story of how far Leica engineers have pushed the capabilities of the camera to.
But it is as important to say that even as Leica markets the Q2 Monochrom as a point and shoot camera, it is a huge over-simplification. Yes, auto-focus at 10 fps means one can spam shots but this is a camera that is extremely niche, and framing, visualising every shot takes a bit of mindful-ness and planning. For starters, even though an affront to some, I will never recommend the Q2 Monochrom to anyone who seeks to use the JPEGs straight out of camera because you would have lost so much image potential doing so.
Leica won’t be happy to read this but in my opinion, straight-out of camera JPEGs on the Q2 Monochrom are pretty ‘flat’ to my taste and I do spend time post-processing the DNG files from the camera.
and once you work with the DNG files, be prepared to be surprised pleasantly with how much details you are able to work with.
This is a camera that sells at USD6195 or SGD9180, a full 12% above the Leica Q2 and at the end of my experience with the Q2 Monochrom, I have to be honest and say that yes, the price differential is worth paying for if one is indeed into this niche area of photography and expects a no-compromise photography tool.
In fact, there is no comparable equivalent of the Q2 Monochrom in the market.
Unless you are referring to the Phase One XF IQ3 100MP Achromatic, but that is a full frame medium format 100MP interchangeable lens system camera selling at USD55,000.
*there is a M10 Monochrom if one is into an interchangeable lens system. I have not tried the M10 Monochrom. I hope to one day if Leica reads this.
1. The Leica Q2 Monochrom was a loan from Leica Singapore and returned at the end of the review.2. The Leica Q2 Monochrom was running firmware 1.1.3. Every single product shot and sample shared here was photographed by me and edited to my preference in LR Classic CC. I am a firm believer of not using stock photos or worse, drawing conclusions without even using the photographic tool.
Thank you for reading.