Leica released the next generation to their compact, full frame Q lineup with the new Q3. Now sporting a BSI 60Mp sensor and other improvements while retaining the superb, non-interchangeable Summilux 28 f/1.7 ASPH lens.
Review: Leica Q3
The new Leica Q3 has a retail price of SGD 8,960 inclusive of GST.
The Leica Q3 is a two week loaner from Leica Singapore, to whom we are greatly indebted to for allowing us to use the camera.
A compact, high end, full frame carry anywhere camera
The Leica Q series is a premium, luxury full frame digital camera with a non-interchangeable lens. The camera has a built in Summilux 28mm f/1.7 lens. The series began in 2015 with the original Q, which has 24 Mp sensor with image stabilisation, and was the first full frame Leica to have an autofocus system. The Q was a very successful camera, being hailed as the do-it-all, carry anywhere camera. In 2019, Leica followed up with the Q2 equipped a 47Mp full frame sensor. And in 2023, the Q3 (our review subject) was released with a 60Mp BSI sensor with some major improvements in the autofocus, ergonomics and video capabilities. The Q was released at SGD 5,990, the Q2 retailed at SGD 7,450k at release, but has since increased from the launch price to SGD 8,200 in 2021 to the current price (yes, the Q2 is still available simultaneously as the Q3 in 2023) at SGD 8,510. The Q3 has a retail of SGD 8,960.
The Q3 is the latest iteration in this series. It shares its general outline and the same stabilized 28mm F1.7 lens with macro mode as its forebears, but adopts a new 60MP BSI-CMOS sensor and a tilting rear panel. Other improvements include a new hybrid autofocus system and better video capabilities, now up to 8K30, 4K60 & 4:2:2 10-Bit, FHD ProRes HQ video.
The Q-series cameras has always been an easy to operate and fun to use camera, meant as an everyday carry as well as for travel. The lens is permanently attached, and is a well regarded 28mm Summilux with a maximum aperture of f/1.7. The lens also incorporates a easy to use macro system, but more of this later in the review. The camera is weather sealed, and is quite compact for a full frame camera.
Build quality, as is expected from Leica is outstanding. The camera feels solid in the hand, with a nice heft without too much weight. All parts are beautifully machined and nicely finished. The dials and controls work with a good tactile feedback and with a smooth feel. A joy to use.
We will not describe the camera and bore you with specifications. The Leica official Q3 site is an excellent resource for that, and many other websites offer this information. We will dive in straight into the use cases we have subjected the Q3 to. So, here we go!
Use case: Advanced photographers
For use by advanced photographers, the camera serves well as a second or backup camera to a larger, more flexible system with interchangeable lenses. The Q3 is a capable second camera to a system with say the Leica SL2 or SL2-S, or even the medium format S3.
The Q3’s new BSI 60Mp sensor is likely the same chip used in the M11 and performs very well. We also think this is the same chip as the one used in the Sony A7RV. The usable ISO range is a very high 102,000, though most photographers will be likely not shoot above ISO 3200. In our use, we set the auto ISO limit to ISO 3200. We did experiment with ISO 6400, and the results had visible noise, but was still usable. The image stabilisation is optical, and built into the lens unlike IBIS which works by stabilising the sensor.
The Q3 uses the same optically-stabilized 28mm F1.7 lens as the earlier models, which according to Leica is optically able to outperform the 60MP sensor’s capabilities. As would be expected for a Leica, the lens feels sturdy and well machined. The lens can be manually focused by a ring on the lens barrel. The focus ring has a finger tab, just like the M lenses, and is useful for fast manual focusing. The same ring also has a position to switch to the lens to autofocus by unlocking a small button. The aperture is set using another ring on the lens barrel, and also has a position to set it to automatic. Shooting modes of automatic exposure, aperture priority or shutter priority can be set using the combination settings on the rings or via a dial on top of the body.
Groves on the rings are beautifully machined and stamped with f stops in clear, legible and typical Leica sans-serif font. The feel of both rings are tactile, with smooth with very satisfying motions and clicks. The design is quite minimalistic, unlike many Japanese designs with buttons everywhere. Not only are there only a few buttons, but the layout is logical and easy to reach while operating the camera. Most buttons are not labelled, and are programmable by a long press to access a drop down selection menu.
The Q3 now also sports a tilt screen, instead of the fixed rear LCD in the Q and Q2. This is the first digital Leica camera to offer a tilting screen. This is a welcomed ergonomic improvement. The screen moves in one direction only, and can fold out and rotate up to face the user from a 90-degree angle when shooting from the hip or a low camera position, and tilted down in a high camera position. The touchscreen is the same 3″ size as the previous fixed version but the resolution is increased from 1.04M dots to 1.84M dots. It is bright and clear. The viewfinder is also excellent with a resolution of 5.76M dots, 120 fps, 0.79x magnification.
The fixed focal length 28mm lens is excellent, with good performance corner to corner even at wide open at f/1.7. This is a well chosen focal length for a fixed lens camera, but for professional applications, it is a bit limiting. Autofocus is excellent, as the Q3 is equipped with a hybrid AF system that utilises a combination of contrast metering, depth mapping, and phase comparison metering with AF metering points in the sensor. Leica claims that the autofocus is faster, more accurate than the Q2, especially when working with moving subjects or in mixed lighting conditions. The addition of phase-detection focusing also enables an intelligent subject recognition system that can detect and track people, faces, eyes and animals in the frame. In use, it works the autofocus works well almost all the time, but ultimately loses out to the speed and accuracy demons like the Sony A7RV with its blindingly fast AF, almost instantaneously snapping into focus.
Battery life is very good, and in our two week test period, we managed very well with only one battery, and only having to charge it 3 times.
The Q3 does not have an internal memory, and an SD card is required for operations. Due to the size of the images produced by the 60Mp sensor, and even more so for video applications, we would highly recommend UHS-II cards. It would have been nice to have dual card slots, but the Q3 only has one. It can shoot tethered via USB-C or wirelessly using the FOTOS app. The app works flawlessly with our iPhone.
The design of the Q3 is meant for mostly hand held use, and though a tripod socket is provided, it is somewhat impractical to use. Attaching a quick release plate, like the Arca-Swiss plates we use, would block the SD card slot. Normally this is not a big issue, but for a professional photographer, frequent access to the SD card is necessary to allow photographs to be quickly downloaded mid-shoot for processing.
Use case: Watch Macro
Macro mode can be activated by rotating a clutch near the base to switch the focusing distance from full range to macro. When engaged, it restricts the lens to a focus distance of between 30cm to 17cm. The distance scale also swaps out to a new shorter scale to aid in focusing.
We found that the maximum magnification is only 1:4.1 and in this mode, the maximum available aperture is reduced to f/2.8. While this maximum aperture reduction is not an issue, the magnification is not quite sufficient for watch macros. Below is the closest we can get to a watch. The Q3 is quite capable of doing wrist shots, and environmental shots with watches, but not detailed product photography.
Of course, we can put the Q3 into the digital zoom crop modes, but we lose resolution and printing the resulting images might be a challenge. The Q3 is definitely not our choice for detailed product photography of watches.
IBIS and high ISO performance works well for this low light lume wrist shot, photographed hand held.
It is possible to use an Elpro magnifying lens over the Summarit of the Q3 to produce closer images, but we did not have access to that during the loan period.
Use case: Novice photographers
During the loan period, one of our writers – Stanley Leung, a novice photographer used the camera for a few days as an everyday carry. He has this to say:
“As a newbie, carrying a Leica is like wearing a Patek Philippe watch. The Q3 is akin to a Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 where it tells time and is high end horology. There is a feel good factor just carrying it around, and I get noticed by people. The Q3 definitely appeals for a newbie who wants to move away from using their phone and start to dabble into photography. It is certainly an excellent gateway. Easy to use, no complicated fluff of having to consider a body and then suitable lenses which can sometimes a bit overwhelming for a novice. Initially I set the Q3 to full auto mode and used it as a point and shoot camera. But eventually, with better understanding and familiarity with the technical aspects of photography, I started to try out different settings to achieve the desired results. All the while still maintaining the simplicity and ease of use of a fixed body and lens camera. It is to me a very well suited camera for a newbie. One can be proud to rock a Q3 anywhere, and will not feel like one has brought a knife to a gunfight even when in the company of photography enthusiasts and professionals.”
“After returning the Q3 to Peter, I went on a trip to Perth, and I had the opportunity to try a Leica Q2 belonging to a friend. From the short interaction with both and being an entry level newbie, I cannot spot much differences other than the cosmetic changes and conveniences like the tilted LCD. Both are honestly similar to me, especially when straight out of the camera. I don’t yet do any edits, and only view the photos on my phone and on social media. I do not print or view the images on some super ultra HD monitor. However, one big difference is that the Q3 is better during low light conditions.”
“Overall, I liked the handy size, ease to use, and the quality of the photographs. And since the price of Q3 and Q2 is very similar, if I were starting out, I would just go for Q3. For my friend who owns the Q2, she thought the difference is not big enough for her to make the change.”
Here are some of the photographs we took during the two weeks the Q3 was with us.
Dusk scene. Colours and contrasts are nicely captured. Shot in DNG raw format, the file is malleable enough for heavier processing to push or pull to reveal more of the shadows or the highlights.
The Q3 also has an interesting mode called Perspective Control, first introduced in the M11 as a firmware upgrade. This system analyses the scene and looks for converging verticals. The camera then displays a quadrilateral with frame lines to represent a flat, perspective corrected plane. The JPEG output has this perspective control baked into it. Shown below is the Malabar Mosque, using this mode. Works well and easy to use.
For travel and general daily use photography, the Q3 excels. The excellent 60Mp sensor coupled with the superb 28mm lens is very capable of producing superb images.
The Q3’s macro mode is useful for food photography. Even in the dimly lit restaurant, at ISO2000, the image is quite noise free and very clean.
The Leica Q3 has received almost unanimous praise from the camera media since the launch. And having experienced it over the two week loan period, we begin to understand the hype. It has the unique combination of an excellent, technical and well specified camera with the superior build quality of a luxury objet de désir. It makes a statement not only in the images it is able to produce, but also in the pride of ownership and the pure joy of operating that only Leica can muster. Of course, luxury and high competence comes at a price, and if you have the budget for the SGD 9k asking price, we would highly recommend that you try the Leica Q3 out for yourself.