The good news is the T system isn’t dead.
The bad news is it’s still over priced.
As far as APS-C lenses go, the 35 Summilux-T isn’t bad. And if I actually owned a T, I would seriously consider this lens. But with the soon-to-be-released S-adapter for the SL I’d rather just toss on one of my S-lenses. I’d have considered purchasing the T lens for the SL if it had faster AF, a more interesting rendering and a cheaper price.
I know Leica isn’t cheap and I’m no stranger to expensive glass, but I believe you should get what you pay for. And at $2,400 USD (at the time of writing this) I’d have expected the lens to have had more character, or some other magical spark that distinguished it from the Sony/Zeiss/Fuji APS-C lenses out there.
Here are a few quick shots wide open on the SL:
(My wife wasn’t with me on that particular outing, so I had to ask a nice gentleman if I could take his portrait)
I’ve frequently driven by Haw Par Villa on my way to various client meetings, the wholesale market…even when satisfying late night durian cravings. But in the 10 years I’ve known about its existence, I’ve not once wandered in.
Today however, I had a reason.
I wanted to test out the new Leica SL and the Vario-Elmar-SL 24-90/2.8-4-ASPH. I also wanted to see how my prized lens The Legendary Summicron-APO 50/2 fared when mounted onto the SL via an adapter.
The plan was simple: walk through the theme park until I reached the end, then switch lenses and walk back to the entrance.
I managed to walk to the end of the park leisurely with the zoom attached, but ten minutes into switching lenses and retracing my steps, it started to pour with rain. And not just any rain – the type of rain that causes flash floods which sweep people away.
Knowing my SL was waterproof I decided to keep shooting. The problem was that I had to switch back to the zoom lens as the M lenses do not share the same weather resistance that the new line of SL lenses boast.
So much for the plan. Most of the images seen below were taken with the Vario-Elmar-SL. A few of them were taken with the 50APO. Can you tell which are which?
Despite almost drowning, I had a fun time at what I like to call “The Creepiest Theme Park on Earth” (see images). I hear Haw Par Villa was messed up in its heyday, but it’s even worse now that it’s fallen into disrepair.
Oh, and as for the weather sealing on the camera…well let’s just say it’s more water resistant than I am.
For the record my priorities may be different from your own. What I touch on in this “review” is important to me and the way I shoot. It may or may not be significant for your style of shooting. I’m not going to write about all the little buttons and functions. Just the stuff that was on my mind, the stuff that matters to me and affects my ability to work fluidly with the camera.
Overall responsiveness – The first thing I noticed. The shutter is snappy, and the blackout time is quick and consistent. It doesn’t hesitate it just fires and is ready for the next shot. I have the camera set to MF mode. I focus with the back button. I have tried the continuous shooting mode (which was VERY FAST), but ended up using single shot mode. The image preview time is slower than I’d have liked, though twice as fast as with the S-006. Zooming in and out for 100% previews is as fast as one would need. There is a quick startup/wakeup delay. Nothing that bothers me if I pre-press the shutter before lifting the camera up to my eye. Something I do with the M-P and S-006 out of habit. For those of you who have had the M9 and moved up to the M240, it’s much the same feeling speed wise. Though more like the M-P (which I find faster than the M240) but with a snappier shutter.
AF speed – Tricky to accurately explain. It’s almost 3x faster than the S-006. The AF performance is close to most mirrorless cameras in speed. Here’s the tricky part, it seems as if the AF is to quick! Sometimes it misses the mark causing it hunt back and forth a bit before it locks on. Thus the S-006 ends up being faster. Slow and steady, but doesn’t miss it’s mark. This doesn’t happen in anything but low or tricky light. And it happened FAR less with the 35S than with the 100S. My 100S upgraded itself the second I plugged it into the S-007, and the 100S works well on my S-006 (so it’s not the lens). Leica isn’t alone, other AF systems from the big manufactures suffer this as well.
I also tested the camera in backlit situations, locking focus more consistently than most mirrorless bodies. On par with the S-006 in this respect (yes the S-006 backlit AF is better than the Sony mirrorless cameras).
Keeping in mind the lenses are big, elements heavy, spaced apart. Naturally the AF will be considerably slower than other systems moving from min to infinite focus. In real world use I find my lens not having to travel so far between shots. But it’s good to note the limitations. Though the AF seems to move the lens faster even in these situations (more power going to the motor). Improved yes, but AF is still not fast enough to consistently nail focus on subjects moving towards the camera.
Colors – Highly subjective. Either you like the colors or you don’t. In my case I liked the M9 colors, but the short comings were enough to make me want to upgrade to the M240. Using the M240 for over two years I’ve grown accustom to the colors. Now I can’t get along with any other system. The S-006 was the first camera in a long time that I was blown away by, color wise. And due to the fact that it was semi-medium format, I was willing to put up with the short comings. Does the S-006 remind me of the M9? Yes, but not exactly. Perhaps due to the lenses, or maybe the profile Leica created for the S-006. And the DR of medium format plus higher pixel count. Somethings different. I mention all that because initially I thought that the M240 and the S-007 would share the same color profile. It does, and it doesn’t. I feel the S-007 has more flexibility in the DNG files, and the skin tones tend to be easier to “correct” (make appealing to myself). Still, there isn’t anything wrong with the M240 skin tones (in fact, I’m happy with them, and I think the M9/M240 color debate was blown WAY out of proportion). Though I do find that the M240 tends to lean a little to the yellow/green tint. And getting just the right amount of blues and reds into the skin tone can be difficult in certain lighting conditions. To be fair, good colors in general on an M9 in tricky lighting conditions can be difficult. So it’s a trade off. I feel the S-007 “suffers” from the same problem as the M240, but it’s a LOT easier to coax M9 skin tones out of the S-007.
Truthfully the S-007 colors are great. Familiar coming from the M240 as well as the S-006. One issue, the JPGs aren’t great (a similar complaint I have with my M240). It’s not important for me, but to some it might be. Maybe I should have fiddled more with the JPG settings and tried harder for a more appealing WB. But after quite a bit of fiddling, I gave up and went back to shooting. After all, I’m happy with how easy it is to edit the DNG files to my taste, and that’s all that really counts.
ISO – I love using strobes, but I do a LOT of natural light shooting. It seems I can never have clean enough ISO. I know ambient light can get ugly, but at least noise is one less worry. To shoot 3200 ISO and still be happy with the files, that’s a good feeling. The S-007 delivers on that good feeling. I will add there’s a catch. I find that the shadows tend to shift green when shooting at or above 3200 ISO. This is something that can be corrected easily enough and something that’ll probably be fixed in a firmware update, or through Adobe’s LR profiles. Problematic for the JPG files, unfortunately. To clarify it’s similar to an M240 at ISO 200 pushed 4 stops in LR. I’m not bothered by it. By the time I’m using 3200 ISO, light is crappy anyway, so I’m doing a lot to salvage the photo. ISO 800 is great, and 1600 ISO is perfectly useable for most situations. I’m also happy with 3200 ISO if I tweak the colors a bit in LR. A clear 2 stop – debatably 3 stop advantage over the S-006.
Odd Quirks – Leica’s constant reinvention of the wheel. In this case literally the shutter wheel… It doesn’t have numbers on it. The wheel will spin and spin and digitally the shutter will change. A quick look at the shutter dial will tell you nothing. No more shutter by feel. And Germany’s reason, now you use the shutter dial to zoom in and out of your images. Genius right? No, it was fine before. All I want to do is check sharpness at 100% and be done with it, why zoom in stages? I’d have much preferred to have the hard stops built into the dial. Personal preference though, as I know some of you will love/enjoy this feature.. It’s so DSLR.
I was going to write a few more minor cons and some pros. But really, it’s nitpicking, and honestly I love the simplistic controls. Another reviewer mentioned his 645Z has 26 buttons. Screw that, I hate buttons. I really only need access to the exposure triangle and I’m set. Though WB and other features are nice to have at your finger tips (and the 4 buttons on the back, and 1 on the front are still customisable, which allows me to set a few other things that are nice to have at your finger tips). No button labels, fine with me. I get use to gadgets very quickly (video game generation). And owning a S-006 helped.
Video – So not important to me. I did test it out. Jello/rolling shutter.. Bad both in HD and 4K. The video I did take was really crisp and beautiful for the 3 seconds I could hold the camera still with my wife in sharp focus.. After that you need to have a full production team backing you. My videos were mostly a shaky mess AMAZING though, I could see them being really beautiful if done well. These S-lenses seem stellar for video. But I still think the 50APO is the best video lens I’ve ever had the satisfaction of using for still photography
Would I recommend this camera?
If you were thinking of upgrading from the S-006 to the S-007 would I recommend you do so?
Honestly, depends on your needs. The S-006 is still amazing, it didn’t get worse just because the S-007 came along. Actually it got better if you consider the price of them now. Side by side the S-007 feels a LOT more like a DSLR than the S-006 does. In my opinion, I’d say that the S-007 is a DSLR, no question. I’ll be calling it that from now on. The DSLR with the best image quality in the world. The S-006 is the MFDCB that has the best image quality in the world – and sorta feels like a DSLR.
All images in the S-007 Review were taken with the 100mm Summicron-S @ f/2 (the best way to torture test the AF system).
Before I put in writing my overview feelings towards the Leica Q. I need to write a few disclaimers.
(BTW, all images in this article were shot with the Leica Q.)
I love the Range-Finder experience. I believe it’s the most fun, and most educational camera tool out there today. I also believe that Leica M lenses are so unique that more then just focal length or sharpness comes into play when trying to select a kit. Sometimes I get tired of manual focusing. I am willing to admit the camera is a bit heavy (though well built, and not large. My fingers are long).
I’m also willing to admit that the Q may be a bit on the small side, even though the lighter weight is welcome.
Let’s just pull back to the lenses. If I felt the need to own 28mm lenses, I could straight up justify why a 28mm Elmarit-ASPH and a 28mm Summicron-ASPH are both necessary in a kit. The end result is visually different, you’d need to consider what works best for you. Concerns like size/speed/price could be a factor, but rendering should be priority. I can confidently say this about every focal length Leica supports. 21mm, 35mm and 50mm are focal lengths that come to mind where I have had more then one lens at a time, and have genuinely needed/wanted to own them.
You can read my 28 Elmarit-ASPH thoughts HERE and 28 Summicron-ASPH thoughts HERE
The Range-Finder experience.. Most companies wouldn’t be willing/able to give you anything close to the joy you get from seeing your framing within a scene and being able to actually make informed decisions about taking steps back to include missing elements. Yeah the Q tries this with a nify “throwback” crop mode. Though why by a FF compact camera, then willingly recompose for a crop. You wouldn’t, or at least I wouldn’t. Part of the minimal Leica experience, is the fact that everything is in half stops. I know this sounds a bit trivial, but half stops give you enough movement that you can fine tune without feeling like you’re missing something. 1/2 stops are quick because going up two stops only takes 4 clicks rather then 6 with 1/3 stops. The idea of one half is a lot easier for your brain to process (and more flexible then full stops). This brings me to my point about it being a learning tool. Fine enough adjustments, but nothing unnecessary. All evenly spaced out so you can do everything by feel, and the math is simple, so you don’t get confused. It’s the easiest camera to learn. The essence, the most important thing about Leica M cameras, the simplicity to change settings without having to think, only needing to feel.. This isn’t something you can get with todays DSLRs or other mirrorless/point and shoot cameras.
Let’s move onto the Q.
I’ll start by saying the Leica Q is the most fun I’ve had since picking up my first M. A camera that’s a joy to say the least. It’s not without fault, and I will get to that. Though I cannot stress how fun it is to use, and for the most part, it doesn’t get in the way.
My first and second “gripes” about the camera are personal. I’m not a 28mm guy. I tried to, I love 50mm lenses, 28mm just made sense.. But no. I’d rather use a 35/75 or 35/50/90 then a 28/50/90 setup. Playing with the Q over these past few days has confirmed it for me. I don’t like 28mm lenses. This is not the Q’s fault, hence only a “gripe” of mine, and not something that needs attention from Leica. The reality is, it’s a challenge for me, one that I’m willing to take up because the Q is just that much fun!
The second gripe is IQ. I think that for the size and price, Leica should have done a bit more with the lens. I’m not saying it doesn’t take good pictures. It does. I’m saying for the price/size, I would have expected to be blown away with the sharpness across the frame, contrast, color pop and also lack of distortion. Distortion is one of those things I figured Leica would pay attention to. Thus far, it’s the biggest IQ fail. If you don’t care about distortion, then this is the camera for you. If you do (and can’t deal with software corrections), you might want to consider sticking with a friendlier camera/lens combo. Again, only a “gripe,” I’m not privy to the limitations of current technology/economics. I will note the 28Elmarit-ASPH is a far more brilliant lens in that regard. I do need to stress that for a walk around kit, the Q’s image quality is SUPER and the lens renders in a pleasing way (just slightly lacking the color pop/contrast I like to see). Unless you’re a corner-pixel-peeper, you’ll love the images coming out of this camera. The JPG files are spectacular. I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot a whole vacation on JPG only mode, if I forgot my spare SD cards at home. I probably wouldn’t miss all that much, save for a few AutoWB errors that may need correcting (situations where all cameras would fail).
Gripes aside. There are a few SERIOUS issues that need to be addressed. I’m going to get to them, but I do want to touch on some positive aspects. I think it’s only fair that I explain WHY I feel this is the most FUN camera I’ve used to date (save for the M-system).
I was walking around playing with the Q. Just myself and the camera, no distractions. I felt the EVF was just a joy to use. At no point did I feel it was lacking. I tried to make a point of stopping my lens down to f/5.6 or f/11 just to get an idea of the quality that could be achieved if I was the kind of guy who stopped down. Since I’m not, I would find myself taking the same shot again at f/1.7 and aside from the 1/3 stops, it was effortless for me to spin the ring around. I did have to check the aperture info in the EVF to make sure I was going back to f/5.6 because I’m not use to counting 1/3 stops, but it wasn’t bad. I found myself frequently spinning the macro ring. I think it was probably the hardest for my hand/mind to grasp. I felt the grip of the ring should have been in a different orientation. I did get use to it nearing the end of my walk. Overall the macro ring is smart, and really very intuitive. The lens can get crazy close without the macro ring, but it’s neat to have the option. In the interest of keeping things simple, I did put the camera on automatic shutter and automatic ISO. I found that this allowed me to be fuss free the whole walk. I need to stress that the EVF is one stop brighter then the final images. I knew this going into it, but I kept forgetting or not trusting my own claims and I would use the EV-1 compensation a lot. Then I’d find at home my pictures were -1 stop to dark. The good news, spot metering on the Q is reliable. The bad, the EVF at LOWEST brightness (which I always set) is still 1 stop brighter then reality. It can get confusing/annoying. I’m not going to mention this in the “what needs to be fixed” because it’s so minor and something that wouldn’t make or break an image for you.
That whole last paragraph didn’t touch on AF. The reason, it was perfect. The walk was overcast, nothing to difficult, but not once did the AF get in my way. The only time I hit an AF snag was when I forgot to take it off Macro mode and stepped out of the macro range. This also mirrors my at night walk around. I had no problems with the AF even at ISO 50,000. Notice I didn’t mention the manual focus feature? Well it’s a great feature, and it’s beautifully executed. I don’t even notice the Focus By Wire in actual use. Though the AF is so great that I find it difficult to want to use the manual focus. However when I do, it feels like I’m using a M240 w/advanced EVF.
Onto the points that need to be addressed, if I am ever to buy a interchangeable lens version of this camera. These points almost make me want to sell the camera, if it weren’t for the images it produces and the insane amounts of fun I have despite my dislike of the focal length, I’d consider selling on the listed points below:
1) This pertains to how I work and interact with a client and is crucial. When you set the camera to EVF only mode (to save batteries), you should be able to press PLAY or MENU and have the LCD automatically switch on. Or at the very least, have it sense if you still have your eye up to the EVF or not. That way, you can show your client an image without having to scroll through the display settings. This is mandatory, and the one thing I’d honestly sell the camera because of. I have this problem with other EVF cameras, and believe me when I say, it gets in the way.
2) The aperture ring and shutter dial MUST match. I would prefer 1/2 stops, but if not, they still HAVE TO MATCH. If I have my exposure on my M set the way I want it, but I’ve decided that I need more DOF, it’s 4 clicks on the ring, and 4 clicks on the shutter dial. I know that’s 2 stops in opposing directions, my exposure stays the same, easy! The switching of visual objectives without thinking, removing my eye from the camera or changing my exposure should be priority.
3) The thumb wheel, right now it serves a silly purpose. It will do one of the following things. Either it will compensate EV +/- if you have your camera set to A shutter. It will allow you to make in-between stop adjustments if you have your shutter set to a fixed value. And if everything is set to Auto (shutter/aperture) it’ll let you adjust your aperture from the thumb wheel. This is just silly and unnecessary with all the dials at your fingertips. What needs to be understood is that the Q is an auto focus camera. And since most everything is already accessible with other dials, the only thing I feel one would change on the fly while working, is the way the AF operates. Let me explain in more detail. You have three basic usable AF modes. Center point AF, which with the little donut dial can be placed anywhere on the screen (brilliant). Face recognition, which also works great when it’s hitting the right face (more on this in a second). And multipoint. Imagine f/5.6 or f/11 basically the AF version of smart hyperfocal distance, shooting from the hip. There are a few other ones, touch screen and AF-C which adds more confusion. I could see the working user switching between two of those three modes on the fly. Why not have a menu option where you can select which AF styles you want, and then while you’re using the camera a quick flick of the thumb wheel will give you one of the how-many-ever selected AF styles. They did something very similar with the function button, it allows me to pick my metering mode with the press of a button (genius). Now I don’t fault Leica for this, they’re new-ish to AF. Though I think it’s something that would make the camera infinity more usable on the fly, and make use of an otherwise pointless wheel.
The Future for Leica?
What if Leica decided to either make a interchangeable lens system, or even out right replace the RF with a M-body like this. I have to say as much as I love EVF, there is no way I would give up the optical viewfinder in my M camera. I would sooner shoot the M-P240 well into retirement. With that said, my last point is that although I think this is a great system (assuming above points get address in a future body). I still think that finding a way to have an optical RF that looks exactly like my M-P RF, but with either a digital patch projection for M lenses and a full EVF for AF lenses would be almost necessary to fully merge the two lines M+Q. If not, I’d stick with my M-P for when I wanted to use RF cameras and I’d buy an interchangeable Q setup for when I just couldn’t be bothered to manual focus. In which case I hope the points above are addressed, and that the interchangeable Q lenses would at least be excellent performers (even if they have to be larger). Why not just retrofit M lenses with AF?
Walking back to my car from my favorite Teochew porridge stall, I noticed the most amazing wall texture down a back alley. I decided to take a few shots but unfortunately I only had my 50mm so I was forced to focus only on the weathered details.
50 Summilux-ASPH @ f/5.6
50 Summilux-ASPH @ f/2
50 Summilux-ASPH @ f/5.6 & f/1.4
50 Summilux-ASPH @ f/5.6
50 Summilux-ASPH @ f/5.6