Camera Reviews

The desire for a new piece of gear reaches into the very soul of most of us from time to time. Wherever our interests take us, the cloven hoof of temptation is never far away. How well we each resist this is highly personal and I like to think that I am a fairly resilient person where this is concerned. But every now and again I fall head over heels for something that trundles onto decisions’ battlefield, where it jousts between head and heart for several days. Occasionally I become overwhelmed with a strong impulse to scratch an itch that, if looked at rationally, did not exist in the first place.

seven days with a ghost 1It was through such a process that a Leica Q2 found its way to my door. I have enjoyed sitting on the sidelines watching the Q series gradually evolve. I recall the original Typ 116 making its debut and sitting in on a demo arranged by Leica around it’s launch date. At the time I was really enjoying using Leica’s ‘X’ cameras as the freedom I felt working with a non-interchangeable lens camera allowed me to go back to the basic pleasure of photography and think more about my composition. It was inevitable that the Q would catch my attention, but not enough to make me take one home. The simple reason for this was the 28mm lens. It is a focal length that I have never really liked, preferring either slightly wider (24mm) or less so (35mm). To me, 28mm is neither fish nor fowl, occupying a netherworld that I never found a use for.

With a few exceptions, Leica typically launches its camera in a black finish, while the different finishes (often called ‘limited editions’) find their way to market as the product lifecycle matures. The last phase of a products life usually ends in a bonanza of these limited models, a clever way of keeping interest in a product line that is approaching its end. I have to admit, the black finish of most cameras does not appeal to me and having owned the X1 and X113 in chrome I was a little disappointed by the Q’s blandness on launch. As time passed the Q was sold in some interesting finishes, and the one that almost saw me part with some cash was the titanium one. Regardless of its uninspiring lens, its beauty really tugged at the irrational part of my brain. It would be fair to say that it is was the closest I had ever come to buying a camera on looks alone. My head eventually overruled my heart and the heat of the moment passed, dwindled and finally died.

So the Q2 came along a few years ago which has since heralded in a parade of special editions, none of which had the same effect on me as the Q Titanium. Time passed and the rumours of a Q3 began circulating. This new version was confirmed to have the same 28mm lens so I thought I would be safely sat on the sidelines as I had done for many years. Oh boy I was so wrong. When Leica announced the Ghost by Hodinkee special edition, it immediately caught my attention. I recall the M10-P Ghost that was announced in 2019 - to me one of the best looking M cameras announced but well out of my price bracket. Now we had a more affordable Ghost in the form of a Q2. Sadly I missed out on the Ghost set that was limited to 150 units (and included a matching thumb grip, strap, classic Leica engraving and unique number etched onto the rear screen), so I immediately opted for the simplified Ghost edition that does not include the extras other than the strap. As crazy as it sounds, I made the purchase simply on its good looks - for once my heart got the better of me. I tried to justify it to my inner self by recalling some of the reviews I had read about the 28mm lens… that it was not technically a 28mm but more of a 26mm lens, therefor it leaned towards my love of 24mm lenses. A very weak excuse to cough up a considerable lump of cash I know but hey, life is short. I figured I would rather regret the things I have done instead of the things I haven’t.

seven days with a ghost 2The following day, a pleasant uniformed DHL driver pitched up outside the house in his matching van and handed over an eerily matching box. I felt like I had received the full DHL experience and took my prize into the house. As ever with Leica, the unboxing experience was pure delight and moments later I was buzzing with pride of ownership as I handled my new camera. There was just enough power in the battery to allow me to boot the camera up, adjust the regional settings and personalise the menu options. As the batteries for my SL2-s were near exhausted, I would have to wait a little while before I could play further.

There is no doubt that this version of the Q2 has received much attention to detail as the different shades of grey and silver compliment each other well. How well the grey body paint wears is yet to be determined, and I guess time will tell. The light and dark greys used to highlight the numerical values on the silver lens look very classy, although I could image that some users may find them difficult to read at a glance. In my opinion there are few areas where attention to detail is lacking, and I mention them here as they culminate in a feeling that no-one at Leica/Hodinkee stood back and looked at the finer detail of the finished product.

  • The manual focus lug on the lens is finished in black, making it look like a careless add-on. It should have been finished in silver.
  • A standard battery is included. As this is a limited edition, the end of the battery that forms part of the body should have been finished in matching grey body paint for completeness sake. It detracts from the overall body aesthetic.
  • Full marks for including a silver coloured hot shoe cover instead of standard black (or none at all). However it is plastic and nothing like the quality aluminium ones included with the X113 or T series cameras.

Apart from these three points, the Q2 Ghost looks stunning. 

Of course, many people will argue that the Q2 is simply a tool to get a job done and that the way it looks is irrelevant. I completely understand this view for some products. For example, my power tool collection has been purchased from a simply functional point of view. It is accurate, tough and never lets me down. However, guitarists I know have maybe a dozen guitars. Some are brought to produce a different sound while others are added to the collection based on style and colour. To me, cameras fall into the latter category…if I like how it looks I am more inspired to pick it up and use it regardless of whether I have others in my collection that are more suited to the task in hand. 

The first real opportunity to use the Q2 was a week-long trip to the seaside town of Parga in North West Greece. I decided not to take any other photo gear along and see if I could make the Q2 work for me as a single camera/lens solution. My X1 and 113 had been used for similar tasks in the past but I was struggling to reconcile this with the Q2 due to its 28mm (ish) lens. My resolve remain stoic and, apart from my phone, I left all other photo gear behind for this trip.

I enjoy the liberated feeling I get when using a non-interchangeable prime lens camera. Gone are the thoughts about which lens is best suited for a scene. Gone is the opportunity to zoom, I have to use my legs. I need to concentrate far more on composition, and work with the lens’ properties. Everything I need is in my hands and not in a backpack. To simply wander the streets of old Parga town with nothing more than this was emancipating. And the best part about it was that I forgot I was using a 28mm lens. The fast f1.7 aperture allowed me to get better isolation of some subjects than I thought would be possible. I had huge reservations about using a Q2 for portraiture but soon realised that while the focal length was a far from ideal, it came into its own for environmental portraiture. I am not a fan of the ‘digital zooming’ often emphasised in the the marketing material for Q series cameras. Yes, it is easy to make 35 and 50mm ‘crops’ that provide an illusion of other focal lengths. But that is where the similarity ends. The character of a 35 or 50mm lens cannot be emulated, i.e. depth of field, bokeh etc. And for me, they are as important as a focal length. Of course if using the camera to produce cropped images, the overall file size is reduced as the crop size increases. Again this is something I find very unappealing. 35 and 50mm are amongst my favourite focal lengths but I would not by a Q camera for the purpose of producing lower resolution files. I intend to exploit the 26/28mm lens in ways that only real world composition can produce.

seven days with a ghost 3Like many places in Greece, Parga is not short of a historical monument or two, and the nearby castle soon found me wondering its grounds and exploring some of the subterranean tunnels. Wide angle lenses make such sites the perfect hunting ground for images, allowing a lot to be captured without having to back up much. Careful framing is required to create an interesting image as it is easy to allow the lens to push everything into the background resulting in a picture that has no significant point of interest. A quick review of very old images of archaeological sites I created when I started out in photography illustrate exactly this. They serve nothing more than a pictorial record of me being there, and completely lack interest and creativity. Always include something interesting in the foreground that leads the viewer into the scene. Pay particular attention to depth of field, depending on if you want the whole scene to be in focus or only a small portion. When using the Q2, I had to put in more work but I felt like the fixed angle of view was rewarding me for my efforts.

Image stabilisation helped tremendously for low lit shots in the castle tunnels, allowing me to exploit the dank atmosphere to my advantage. Similarly, evening walks around the old town gave me an opportunity to use longer shutter speeds in conjunction with fairly clean iso values to capture low lit taverna scenes. 

Setting my bias aside, the Q2’s fixed 28mm lens is a wonderful optic. Even though it is not my favourite angle of view, I really appreciated it’s wide open performance and ability to produce chromatic aberration free images. I am not sure if this is a result of optical formula or some post processing that takes place in the imaging engine. However it is achieved is of no real concern to me as I am happy for software correction to be applied if it helps with the end result. It has been a very long time since I have used a lens that has the aperture control on the lens - in fact I have never owned a lens for a digital camera that has this feature. The closest I have ever experienced is when occasionally using Ethan’s Pentax system, and the superb 31mm f1.8 lens. It felt a little odd at first, but the more I used it, the more I fell into a reverie concerning my much loved Olympus OM Zuiko film lens days. As Leica Lenses are corrected for use wide open, I tend to use them at this setting whenever possible, stopping down only when extended depth of field is required. Many Leica users talk of a Leica ‘look’ or ‘glow’ that seems illusive to describe or capture. But when it does happen, the result is ethereal. I am not sure is this exists but if it does, I think it belongs to those wide open apertures, where light, subject distance, bokeh and subject matter collide to produce a result of startling quality.

When I used to use Olympus OM3Ti and 4Ti cameras, I was an avid fan of the multi-spot metering system, using it for 99% of my work. Used with care the output was very good, particularly with narrow latitude slide film. Spot metering helped considerably when preserving highlights as they were very easy to blow out if careless with exposure. Today I use single point spot metering for a large part of my work, but with many of the cameras I have owned, it has never been sufficiently implemented into the design to feel as natural as my old OM’s. The Q2 has changed that for me. By repurposing the rear function button as an autoexposure lock and switching the metering system to spot, I find the control placements and overall camera design to work in a manner that feels very natural. If focussing manually, focus peaking contribute to a sublime experience that lends a feeling that the camera is working with me to produce the best possible results. If only all of my cameras worked in this manner I could simplify my workflow greatly.

I have been spoiled by the SL2-s electronic viewfinder. Its 5.76 megapixel panel is something to behold and when switched to 120 fps refresh rate, is getting close to an optical viewfinder experience. The viewfinder in the Q2 felt like a step backwards. At 3.68 megapixels it is still very high quality, particularly as it supports 120 fps which is a real boon in low light situations. I still have the plastic fantastic party-cracker Visoflex 020 add-on finder for my X113 and T series bodies. At 2.4 megapixels, its resolution is just about acceptable. Comparing the Q2 finder to this is like comparing apples to oranges…they are completely different creatures. If I had never used an SL2 series camera, I would have been completely happy with the Q2. The one feature that I really like about the Q3 is that it shares a similar viewfinder with the SL2, and while I haven’t peered into the Q3’s finder I can image that the experience is amazing.

seven days with a ghost 4I found the Q2’s rectangular eyepiece to be a little uncomfortable and I feel the rubber surround should be a little thicker. Additionally I cannot help think that at circular eyecup similar to the SL cameras would be a better choice, and it would also allow less stray light in. I was quietly hoping for this to be included on the Q3 but, alas, no.

Overall, my experience in Parga with the Q2 was a very positive one and I genuinely did not miss the ability to change lenses. To be fair, I was also in the ‘honeymoon period’ as it was my first serious outing with it. What is very interesting is that I have not used the camera since and probably speaks volumes about where it sits in my camera arsenal. As stunningly beautiful as it is,  along with equally stunning results, it cannot replace the rest of my gear. But it is not designed to do so. For use when I simply cannot be bothered to tote several lenses around, it fills a niche perfectly. 

If Leica were to bring to market a Q with a 50mm lens (as well as keeping a  28mm variant in the catalogue), they would make a formidable pair and seriously challenge interchangeable lens cameras. For those people who enjoy the crop modes, this would push their versatility out to around 135mm - not bad for a pair of small fixed lens cameras. I for one would certainly be interested.

I still love and use my X113. If I was really honest with myself, the Q2 is surplus to my requirements as I prefer the X113’s 35mm equivalent lens. But from a sheer beauty viewpoint, it is one of the best looking cameras in my collection, so it stays.