The Leica Q2 Monochrome has to be the most liberating camera currently on the market.
When I first used the Leica Q2, I was disappointed by the autofocus performance and a few other quirks. But that all improved over time–for the most part at least. And with the new Leica Q2 Monochrome, Leica has created the most liberating camera on the market. It takes the high ISO wars and slaps them in the face. It doesn’t bother too much with quibbles about the dynamic range. And it sure as heck doesn’t care about color depth. Instead, you’re getting pure sharpness, beauty, and freedom to shoot. At the heart of this camera is a Monochrome sensor. As I realized too late when testing the Leica M10 Monochrom, you don’t need to worry about high ISO noise. In this case, you’re embracing it. It can put out images that look like film developed with Rodinal. But beyond that, autofocus has also come a long way. Is it perfect? No, but this has to be the most refreshing camera that Leica has produced in 2020. And more importantly, it has to be my favorite camera of the year.
Editor’s Note: We’ve already reviewed the Leica Q2 before. And this camera is mostly that camera. If you want a more in-depth look, head to our Q2 review. But we’re going to focus on a lot of the updates here with the Leica Q2 Monochrom.
The Leica Q2 Monochrom fuses the idea of the Leica M10-P and the M10 Monochrom together. The exterior doesn’t have significant Leica markings: it’s just a plain black and white camera. In fact, none of the red markings are on it. You’ll still get features like the switch over to Macro focusing, and the lens can still act as a manual focus optic like the M mount lenses do. There’s still no joystick, and I’ve learned to live with that. The manual focus and peaking are very effective as an alternative. You can also zone focus with the lens. Most of my time shooting with this camera was spent with it in continuous AF mode and multi-field focusing. The Leica Q2 Monochrom would scan the scene and figure out what I wanted in focus. A lot of the time it did a good job.
Let’s first examine the idea behind the Leica Q2 Monochrom. Some may scoff at the price and the elitist idea. But I think it’s brilliant if you don’t care about tech specs. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think all those camera manufacturers care about catching up to cell phone technology. So in the consumer market, they’ve lost the war. And cameras need to go the way of the watch. Cameras need to be three things: professional tools, jewelry for passionate photographers, and cult collector items. There’s still room for professional cameras since lots of consumed media is done using said cameras. Jewelry likens itself to items that people are passionate about and have fun with. And cult collector items are all about hype. It still blows my mind today that the Contax T2 went for around $2,000 and Zeiss decided to not bring it back for a limited run. Seiko did this with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous watch in all his action movies. And people go crazy for them. The camera manufacturers need to innovate, and the Leica Q2 Monochrom is doing just that in a way that matters.
It’s just a black and white sensor, you say? Okay. But then why haven’t you only shot in black and white? The only folks I know who do are Fujifilm photographers using the Acros mode. When you have the option available, you’ll use it. But when it’s taken away from you, you’ll focus on what you have. And isn’t that the big point with the world today? Seriously, we have so many options. Look at what happened with streaming services in the past year. Paying for a simple choice is fair. Anyway, the sensor in the Q2 Monochrom is a reworked version of the same one in the Leica SL2 and the Leica Q2 from my understanding. It’s sharper, better at higher ISOs, and it’s monochrome. That makes this camera arguably even better than the Leica M10 Monochrom.
And most importantly, the Leica Q2 Monochrom is a small camera that begs to be taken with you everywhere. You’ve got one lens. One camera. One image choice. And it’s compact. Plus it’s weather sealed and reliable. In the past few years, not many cameras have really done that to this degree of weather sealing and compactness. Fujifilm has it with the X Pro 3, but it’s not as weather sealed. It’s got a Titanium body, and that’s great. One could say the X100V is a close choice, but some folks want full frame. It also doesn’t have near this level of weather sealing. No lens and body combination that Sony has currently on the market can match this.
I’ll start this off by talking about the interface. The Leica Q2 Monochrom gives you everything you really need to take better photos. It removes everything else. I’d welcome a full touchscreen; the Leica menu system is more than capable of being navigated by touch. But otherwise, this camera puts all the controls you’ll really need right at your fingertips.
The thing I see Leica Q2 Monochrom owners shooting the most is street photography. And for that, it’s a mixed case. First off, you should know that you’re never going to get every shot you want in street photography, and the heartbreak of that is just something you need to live with. Using this camera has reminded me of a few profound quotes that have reverberated in my head during the pandemic.
- “Things can’t get better if you give up.” This is a quote that all street photographers should remember. Of course, there’s the balance of giving up on one thing over something that suits you better. But you need to make that decision for yourself.
- “Today might have been awful. But tomorrow might not be. And there’s only one way to find out.” This quote has always kept me going in street photography. And the Leica Q2 Monochrom has been a reminder of this.
My findings on autofocus with the Leica Q2 Monochrom are a lot of highs and lows–just like in life. If you’re going to autofocus with it, there’s no major reason to use anything beyond multi-field and face detection. More importantly, you should always use continuous autofocus and shoot fast. That’s not to say that you can’t just use single autofocus and single-frame shooting. But in most situations I see folks using this camera for requires speed. And the Leica Q2 Monochrom has tons of that. Face detection was especially good when it came to pandemic wear; the Leica Q2 Monochrom is very good at detecting a face wearing a mask. But keeping it perfectly sharp in focus while moving is a bit of an issue. That’s where I recommend embracing this camera for what it truly is. I rarely ever shot with this camera below ISO 400. In fact, I spent most of my time between ISO 3,200 and 100,000. Why? Well, it’s a black and white sensor. Who cares? I have the kind of liberation where I don’t need to worry too badly about sensor noise. Any issues I had were easily fixed in Capture One Pro 20.
Unlike the Q2, the Leica Q2 Monochrom can’t track faces as they move. At least, there isn’t a mode for that.
Shooting wide open and tracking at f1.7 doesn’t give you the most accurate results. But that doesn’t mean that this camera can’t do the job. Stop it down, and you’ll get the shot. You’d think that’s common sense, but much of how we test other lenses and cameras require us to track subjects moving with lenses wide open. With the Leica Q2 Monochrom, it doesn’t make sense to do that because you’re shooting street photography with this thing.
And that reminds me, I wish that face detection wasn’t a dedicated mode. The Leica Q2 Monochrom should be able to incorporate it into all of its focusing modes. Whether I’m in single field, spot AF, etc., the camera shouldn’t give me any trouble with this. But it’s an odd decision. Still, it’s not so complicated that you wouldn’t want to go out and shoot with it.
Also note that the Leica M10 Monochrom isn’t going to nail it with every shot. Leica needs to find a way to add “people detection.” Considering their cameras are used so much for street photography, it’s a pretty obvious one for me. Not just faces, but people. These two images below say everything about that to me. These could have been two great shots if they were both in focus. I was shooting while on the move instead of stopping. During COVID-19 and on the streets, it doesn’t always make sense to stop in one place and shoot. Moving is much safer. The two images below showed me the power of framing with the 28mm lens attached. The distortion is cut down. But in one shot, they look almost equal as a couple. In the other shot, there seems to be a far different story. She’s obviously angry, and he’s trying to make amends.
While shooting with the Leica Q2 Monochrom, I found myself often shooting through glass windows. And in those situations, I really wanted to cut down reflections. So a built-in Polarizer filter could have greatly helped here. I remember one time walking through NY’s Chinatown and seeing Peking Duck in the window. The chef behind it was working, and I wanted to shoot the ducks hanging with the chef in the background. But all I got instead was a ton of reflections. Adobe’s Dehaze tool could probably fix that. A few cameras have a built-in ND filter, but those aren’t as useful no with electronic shutter speeds. However, Polarizing filters are incredibly useful. This is even more critical with lots of outdoor booth dining. Minimizing reflections is critical and I don’t want to bring a Polarizer with me everywhere.
Working with the Leica Q2 Monochrom centered me mentally. Working with it made me just shut up and shoot instead of sitting here complaining about one thing or another. There are lots of factors adding to this. You’re liberated from ISO issues. You don’t really care about the color depth. And the dynamic range is good enough that you can rely on post-production if needed. The lens is very capable and the autofocus is also very reliable. Because you don’t need to worry about the ISO issues, you don’t have to be afraid of shooting into otherwise nuclear levels. If that doesn’t sound liberating to you, I don’t know that will.
Walking around NYC is pretty weird during COVID-19. I’m testing the camera in late October when lots of people have returned to the city. The subways are busy again. People are on the streets. And hopefully, people are also being more careful. But it provides us with a better vantage for street photography. Lots of shooters loved documenting the city with no people, but that’s gone again for the moment. The real NYers who stayed are now rejoined by the long term visitors and tourists. And with everyone distancing and being careful, the city provides a lot of surreal things to shoot. There’s a ton of outdoor dining. And restaurants are doing all they can to ensure that doesn’t go away. Building structures outside, booths, and glass rooms are pretty common in the lower third of Manhattan. And again, the Leica Q2 Monochrom proves pretty effective at documenting it all.
One other thing: be careful shooting in artificial light. You’re sometimes going to get banding as a result with electronic shutter. But otherwise, the images are a thing of beauty. I can’t really complain majorly about the Leica Q2 Monochrom. It’s nearly perfect. Is it a niche product? I guess. But no one these days will sit and accost you for posting black and white imagery. There are entire cults behind it. And you should see why they’re all so passionate about what they do.