Reviews |Leica Q2 Monochrom

Leica Q2 Monochrom Review

Leica Q2 Monochrom review
Review

Price when reviewed

£4994

$5995
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Our Verdict

There’s something nice about a well-made compact camera and they don’t come much better-made than the Leica Q2, a full-frame camera with a beauty of a lens. The Leica Q2 Monochrome takes that charm a step further with the promise of first-rate black-and-white images. I won’t be for everyone, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a Leica M10 Monocrom with a lens and it can focus automatically. Leica may just have introduced every photographer’s dream retirement present.

For

  • Designed to produce the best monochrome images possible
  • Compact size for a full-frame camera
  • Built-in viewfinder

Against

  • Only produces monochrome images
  • Fixed rather than tilting screen

What is the Leica Q2 Monochrom?

Leica introduced its first black-and-white-only camera in 2012 while the first Leica Q, a full-frame compact camera, came along in June 2015. In March 2019, the higher-resolution Leica Q2 was announced.

The Leica Q2 Monochrom combines the two technologies and is the first full-frame compact camera that’s dedicated to shooting black and white images.

Like the Leica Monochrom and subsequent models like the Leica M10 Monochrom, the Leica Q2 Monochrom has a sensor without the usual red, green and blue filter array. A standard Bayer pattern sensor has a grid of pixels working in fours each with one red filter, one blue filter and two green filters. This enables the camera to produce a full-colour image, but the information that the pixels gather has to be combined and interpolated. As the Monochrom sensor doesn’t have the coloured filters, it is unable to distinguish any colour and every photosite (aka pixel) is used to capture a brightness value with no combining or interpolation. This means that the camera is able to capture more fine detail and subtle tonal gradations.

Also, as there’s no filtration, all the light that exits the lens reaches the pixels. Consequently, the Monochrom sensor system generates less noise at any particular sensitivity (ISO) setting.

Read our buyer’s guide to the best gifts for photographers

Specification

  • Camera type: Full-frame compact
  • Announced: 10th November 2020
  • Sensor: Full frame 47.3Mp black-and-white CMOS sensor, without colour or low-pass filters
  • Lens: Leica Summilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH.
  • Lens construction: 11 elements in 9 groups, 3 aspherical elements
  • Autofocus system: Contrast detection with 225 points
  • Closest focusing: 30cm normally, 17cm in macro mode
  • Aperture range: f/1.7-f/16
  • Shutter speed: Mechanical shutter: 1/2000 to 60 seconds, Electronic shutter 1/40,000 to 1 second
  • Sensitivity range: ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12500, 25000, 50000 and ISO 100000
  • Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps (frames per second) for 40 images with the mechanical shutter
  • Maximum video resolution: C4K (4096 x 2160) at 24fps, 4K (3840 x 2160) at 30fps, Full HD at 24, 30, 60, 120fps
  • Viewfinder: 3.8million-dot OLED
  • Screen: 3-inch 1,040,000-dot touchscreen
  • Battery: Rechargeable 1860mAh lithium ion battery
  • Battery life: 350 shots (CIPA standard)
  • Storage: Single SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-II)
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 130 × 80 × 91.9mm (5.12 × 3.15 × 3.62inches)
  • Weight: 734g with battery
Leica Q2 Monochrom review

Specification

Aside from the sensor, the Leica Q2 Monochrom is the same as the Leica Q2. And actually, the full-frame sensor has exactly the same resolution with 47.3-million effective pixels.

As well as the missing coloured filter array, the sensor in the Q2 Monochrom has different microlenses as they need to factor in the lack of the coloured filter.

Leica has paired the Q2’s 50.4Mp (47.3Mp effective pixel count) sensor with the same Maestro processing engine as in the colour-shooting Q2.

This combination enables a sensitivity range of ISO 100-100,000. Both ends are 1EV higher than on the Q2 because removing the coloured filter array means there’s more light reaching the sensor.

There’s also a maximum continuous shooting rate of 10fps (frames per second) in Continuous High Speed mode.

As it can only shoot black and white images,  there are no colour settings on the Q2 Monochrom. However, there are three toning options, blue, sepia and selenium.

Leica Summilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH Lens

Because it’s a compact camera, the Leica Q2 Monochrom has a fixed lens. As on the Q2, this is a Summilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH that is designed to get the best from the high-resolution sensor.

A focal length of 28mm is a good choice for everyday photography but the Q2 Monochrom also has crop settings that produce framing equivalent to 35mm, 50mm and 75mm. These result in 30.0Mp, 14.7Mp and 6.6Mp images respectively.

Helpfully, when the crop settings are used, the Q2 Monochrom also records a full-resolution DNG raw file with the full sensor information.

Leica’s Q and Q2 cameras can focus automatically and the Q2 Monochrom’s autofocus system is the same as the original Q’s. It uses on-sensor contrast-detection with a claimed response time of 0.15sec.

Although there’s face-detection autofocusing on the Q2 Monochrom, there’s no tracking AF because that uses colour information.

In another nice touch that will be unfamiliar to Leica M users, the Q2 Monochrom has optical image stabilisation is built-in and it works for both stills and video.

Video

The Q2 can Monochrom can shoot 4K (3840 x2160) video at 24/30fps or C4K 4096x 2160 at 24p, and naturally, all the footage is black and white.

There are no ports to connect either an external microphone or headphones.

Connectivity

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity is built-in to enable the camera to connect with a smart device running Leica’s Fotos app. As well as facilitating image transfer, this app allows you to take remote control over the camera.

Find out which cameras can shoot 4K video at 120fps

Leica Q2 Monochrom review

Build and Handling

Leica has given the Q2 Monochrom the same magnesium alloy body with a top plate machined from aluminium as the Q2. It’s also weatherproof to the same standard – rated at IP52.

Like the Q2, the Q2 Monchrom is a solid feeling camera, but the back only has a small indent for your thumb, which makes me nervous. Leica changed the texture of the leatherette coating on the front of the Monochrom camera but I still wouldn’t consider using it without some form of strap. To be fair, neither the Q2 nor the Q2 Monochrom slipped from my hand during testing, and I’m pretty sure they would dent the ground they fall on, but I don’t feel comfortable with the thought that one slip could see a £4,995/$5,995 camera hit the deck.

Leica Q2 Monochrom review

 

Controls

Leica doesn’t like to crowd a camera with buttons and dials, and the Q2 Monochrom has a fairly simple control arrangement that’s identical to the Q2’s and that lets you adjust the features you want quickly.

For example, the lens has three rings. The ring nearest the body switches between normal and macro focusing, reducing the minimum focus from 30cm to 17cm.

In the middle, there’s the manual focus ring which has a lock that needs to be unlocked to enable manual focusing. You switch back to autofocus by rotating the ring all the way to the furthest focusing point until it clicks.

Then towards the end of the lens is the aperture ring. Setting this to ‘A’ means that the camera is in control of the aperture. Alternatively, the ring can be set to a specific value (marked from f/1.7 to f/16).

If the shutter speed dial on the top-plate of the camera is set to ‘A’ and the aperture ring is at a specific value, the camera is in aperture priority mode and will set a shutter speed that takes the aperture and sensitivity (ISO) setting into account.

Alternatively, setting the aperture ring to ‘A’ and the shutter speed dial to a specific value puts the camera in shutter priority mode.

You can take full manual control over the exposure by setting the aperture ring and the shutter speed dial to specific values. And the camera can take control if both the aperture ring and the shutter speed dial are set to ‘A’.

Leica Q2 Monochrom review

Viewfinder and Screen

Leica has used the same 3,680,000-pixel OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) in the Q2 Monochrom as is in the Q2. In the Q2 it gives a very detailed and accurate preview of the captured images and it works very well in the Q2 Monochrom.

There’s also a fixed 3-inch 1,040,000-dot TFT touchscreen on the back of the camera. Again, this is the same unit as is on the rear of the Q2, and it shows plenty of detail but images sometimes look a bit flatter on it than when you open them on a computer.

It would be nice if the screen could be tilted. As it’s a fixed screen, it’s not a great deal of help if you want to shoot very high or low -level images. Inevitably, I found myself crawling on the ground to get low-level shots.

As I said earlier, there aren’t many controls on the Q2 Monochrom and the menu isn’t extensive, which makes a refreshing change. Pressing the menu button brings up a screen that lets you adjust the focus, metering, drive mode and self-timer, or start the smartphone connectivity. At the top of this screen, which works by touch-control, there’s the option to switch between stills and video mode with a tap.

Leica Q2 Monochrom review

Pressing the button again takes you to the customisable favourites menu, from here, subsequent presses of the menu takes you through the pages of the main menu. It’s a delightfully simple and intuitive system.

Read our Leica Q2 review

Leica Q2 Monochrom review

Performance

When I tested the Q2 I found that its 47.3Mp full-frame sensor is capable of capturing a lot of natural-looking detail. Taking the coloured filter array out of the equation enables the Leica Q2 Monochrom to produce extremely good monochrome images with an impressive live of natural-looking detail.

As usual, the best results are produced from the raw files. The jpegs are very good, but in the default settings, the micro-contrast sometimes looks a little high in places.

Leica’s experience as a lens manufacturer really shines through with the Q2 Monochrom. Its Summilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH is excellent, delivering sharp details and controlling distortion well. Flare is also kept under very close control even when a bright light source like the sun is in the frame.

Image Quality

With a colour image, you’d normally make a black and white conversion and adjust the brightness of the individual colours to manipulate the contrast and overall feel of the image. As the Q2 Monochrom can only generate monochrome images, it’s not possible to make that kind of edit. Instead, you can go back to how things are done with black and white film – using red, green, blue, orange and yellow filters to brighten objects of the same colour as the filter and darken opposite colours. A red filter, for example, darkens a blue sky but brightens anything red within the scene.

Even without filters, the Q2 Monochrom produces great results, and you can just the tonal range using curves of highlights, whites, shadow and black controls or by dodging and burning. But using coloured filters enables you to create tonal separation between objects of the same luminance.

Without any colour in the image, there’s no chroma noise, only luminance noise. This is handled very well up to around ISO 25,000, and even then it may be acceptable in some cases, but some details that are visible in lower ISO files are lost in ISO 50,000 images and the shadows can look a bit muddy.

Dynamic Range

Leica claims that the Q2 Monochrom records 2EV more dynamic range than the Q2, taking it to 13EV. I’m not in a position to measure this, but the images contain a wide range of tones and you can pull back the highlights in a bright sky quite some way and produce a natural-looking result. Conversely, low-ISO shadows can be brightened significantly to reveal more detail.

Autofocus

Although it uses contrast detection rather than phase-detection, the Q2 Monochrom’s autofocus system is good. It gets the subject sharp even in low light, usually quickly. It works so well that although I experimented with focusing manually, I felt no real reason to switch away from using the AF system for most of my shots.

I mainly used the Q2 Monochrom in Spot AF mode to allow me to specify which of the 225 points I wanted to use for focusing. That is particularly important when you’re shooting at f1.7. However, there’s also multi-zone and field mode if you want to give the camera more control.

Face detection is also available and it does a good job of spotting a face in the scene.

Video Performance

The Leica Q2 Monochrom is capable of producing very attractive 4K video that matches the stills it produces. However, there’s a subtle audible hum that rules out using it to record sound. There’s also no microphone or headphone ports so the audio would have to be recorded on an external device.

That said, I think it’s extremely unlikely that the Q2 Monochrom will be bought for its video capability. It might be used to capture the odd arty clip, but it’s not a serious video tool.

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Leica Q2 Monochrom Sample Images

Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution images from the Leica Q2 Monochrom.

Leica Q2 Monochrom Image Gallery

Leica Q2 Monochrom Sample Video

This video was shot hand-held on the Leica Q2 Monochrom at 4096 x 2160 24p with the image stabilisation on. The audio was recorded using the on-board mic – there is no mic port.

Verdict

Although some people questioned Leica decision to produce cameras that are only suitable for producing monochrome images, the results from the M10 Monochrom and co speak for themselves. Freed of the colour interpolation duty, the sensor is able to gather an incredible amount of detail and render subtle tonal gradations extremely well.

Transplanting that technology into a ‘more affordable’ Leica camera seems like a great move. The Q2 Monochrom produces superb-quality images and I expect the Q2 Monochrom to sell even better amongst black-and-white image-lovers.

For most of us, however, the price, combined with the limitations of a black-and-white-only compact camera, is way too high. If I had the sort of bank balance that meant I could spend £5/$6K without having to justify it, I’d love a Q2 Monochrom.

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Paul Hart
Paul Hart
1 year ago

Respectfully it is not logical to identify ‘only produces monochrome images’ as a negative in a camera that was specifically designed only to take monochrome images. I’d be annoyed were I to find that mine could take colour images!