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Leica Q2 Monochrom review

The Leica Q2 Monochrom takes the brilliant Leica Q2 and makes it black and white only. How can this possibly make sense?

Leica Q2 Monochrom
(Image: © Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

Our Verdict

Leica has not deliberately ‘hobbled’ a regular camera to make it shoot black and white only. The Leica Q2 Monochrom has had the normal color filter array removed to produce a much higher level of black and white image quality than a regular ‘color’ camera can deliver, even the regular Q2. Combine that with Leica’s legendary design and build quality and you have a camera that is expensive but also highly desirable.

For

  • Black and white image quality
  • Build and materials
  • Interface design
  • Superb Summilux f/1.7 lens

Against

  • Fixed rear screen
  • Quite prone to lens flare
  • Focus breathing in video

The Leica Q2 Monochrom (and the regular Q2) do not form part of Leica’s regular camera ranges. It might look closest in design and audience to the Leica M range, and the Summilux lens bears the same name as some legendary M lenses, but this is a compact camera with an electronic viewfinder and a fixed lens, and is about as far from the M rangefinder design as you can get.

The Leica Q2 is designed for photographers who are happy to embrace the limitations and the creative constraints of a fixed focal length lens in exchange for a stripped-down way of seeing and composing images, combined with some of the finest engineering in the camera world.

You don’t buy a Leica Q2 to get the most features for your money. And that’s certainly true of the Leica Q2 Monochrom, which strips away yet another modern convenience – color – in its pursuit of a classic photographic experience.

Leica Q2 Monochrom

The Summilux 28mm f/1.7 lens on the Leica Q2 Monochrom shares the name of classic Leica rangefinder lenses, but is a modern design with autofocus and image stabilisation. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

The Summilux 28mm f/1.7 shares the same name as a range of Leica M rangefinder lenses, but it is in fact a very different lens which has both autofocus and image stabilisation built in – Leica’s M lenses have neither.

The Q2 also has an electronic through-the-lens viewfinder rather than the Leica M series rangefinders system. It looks a bit like a Leica M (and costs almost as much), but the Leica Q2 is in fact a thoroughly modern compact digital camera.

Specifications

Sensor: 47.3MP full frame monochrome sensor
Image processor: Maestro
AF points: 225-field contrast AF with face detection
ISO range: 100 to 100,000 (50,000 for video)
Video: Uncropped 4K UHD up to 30p
Viewfinder: EVF, 3.68m dots, 100% coverage
Memory card: 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS II
LCD: 3-inch fixed touchscreen, 1.04m dots
Max burst: 10fps
Connectivity: Wi-Fi
Size: 130 x 80 x 91.9mm
Weight: 734g (with battery)

Key features

Leica Q2 Monochrom

(Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

The Leica Q2 Monochrom has a full frame 47.3MP monochrome sensor with no color filter array, so it’s incapable of capturing images in color at all. The kind of user considering this camera won’t be fazed by that – they will have another camera for color work.

Despite the high resolution, the sensor also has a high maximum sensitivity of ISO 100,000 (ISO 50,000 for video). Leica says its monochrome sensor has a dynamic range of 13EV, 2EV better than 11EV dynamic range of the regular Leica Q2. It can also capture images at up to 10fps.

This might be a fixed focal length lens, but Leica has built in 35mm, 50m and 75mm ‘digital’ focal lengths complete with brightline frames in the viewfinder when these are activated. That might not sound appealing, but with 47MP on tap, a cropped image will still have lots of detail – and it’s only the JPEG that’s cropped, as if it’s set up for raw capture too, the Leica will save an uncropped DNG file alongside 

Focusing is via a 225-area contrast AF system with face detection, and Leica claims the camera can focus in as little as 0.15sec. Though there is also a manual focus mode activated via a release button on the lens, and there is quite a wide and precise focus distance scale, with handy depth of field markers for hyperfocal focusing and zone focusing.

Leica Q2 Monochrom

The Q2 Monochrom shoots 4K video as well as stills. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

It’s interesting that Leica has given the Q2 Monochrom video capability. It can capture 4K video at 30p or full HD at up to 120p. 

The lens has a macro mode for close focusing down to a distance of 17mm, which is activated by turning a ring at the base. When you do this, a new, more precise focus distance scale comes into view, which is a nice touch.

The Leica Q2 Monochrom has a magnesium alloy body and P52 dust and spray protection. It’s designed to be discreet, and there’s no Leica red dot logo on the front – though you do get one displayed briefly on the rear screen when you power down.

One especially nice touch is that the menu system has been modified for the monochrome version, so that instead of Leica’s regular color modes, you now get monochrome toning options.

Build and handling

Leica Q2 Monochrom

(Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

You wouldn’t say that the Q2 Monochrom has been moulded to fit the human hand, exactly. Like Leica’s M models, it has a simple rectangular shape with enough grip (thanks in part to a scalloped thumb rest on the back) but not a lot. You’ll want to wear this camera with a strap.

The controls are minimal but effective. The lens has a clearly marked aperture ring, plus an ‘A’ setting for automatic aperture selection. On top there’s a shutter speed ring, also with an ‘A’ setting. If you set both to ‘A’ you get program auto exposure; otherwise you set one to ‘A’ and adjust the other to get aperture-priority or shutter-priority automation. Or, of course, you can set he exposure manually.

Round the back is a fixed rear screen that doesn’t even have a tilt adjustment, three buttons and a small four-way controller. This looks and feels quite small but has a very firm, precise action. 

Leica Q2 Monochrom

Both the viewfinder and rear screen show your subject in rich, clear black and white and give a good impression of the tonal range the camera will capture. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

Leica Q2 Monochrom

The minimalist controls actually offer very good access to the camera settings. You can program the function button settings just by pressing and holding them to show a list of options. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

There is a small unmarked button on the back which you can use to cycle through the optional ‘zoom’ settings, and on top are two further unmarked function buttons. You press these once to activate that function, or press and hold for a few moments to choose which function they will be used for.

This is so much simpler and more intuitive than the tedious setup screens other camera makers insist on. In fact, the Leica’s whole interface is both clear and efficient. One press of the Menu button opens a quick settings screen and then, if you need more menu options, you just scroll down to that option. Why use two buttons when you can use one? Whatever Leica pays its interface designers, they’re worth it!

Leica Q2 Monochrom

The fixed 28mm lens has an aperture ring (with 'A' setting) and a long and detailed focus distance scale with depth of field index markings. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

Leica Q2 Monochrom

On the top is a shutter speed dial with an 'A' setting for auto exposure and a '1+' setting for exposures of one second or longer. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

Many controls are not labelled, but you very quickly learn and remember what everything does. The EVF and rear screen are both excellent, displaying the same rich, dense monochromatic tones captured by the sensor.

The shutter action deserves a special mention for being EXTREMELY quiet and soft. There’s no mirror mechanism to make a noise and because the lens is not interchangeable Leica has been able to use – we understand – an in-lens leaf shutter rather than a bigger and noisier focal plane shutter.

Performance

The black and white screen helps you see the world as light and shade, tones and contrast. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

The Leica's lack of a tilting screen does mean you may have your chin in a puddle now and again. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

The key point about the Q2 Monochrom (and the previous M10 Monochrom) is that the mono sensor is not just a pointless limitation. With a monochrome sensor there is no data interpolation or detail-softening ‘demosaicing’ process as colors are reconstructed from neighbouring pixels.

In principle, this doesn’t just mean sharper detail, it means less noise and better image quality, but less noise too – particularly if you like to use red, yellow or green ‘contrast’ filters to change the way different colors translate into shades of grey. With a regular color sensor, background noise in the individual color channels can soon start to appear; with a monochrome sensor (you will need old-fashioned lens filters), this doesn’t happen.

The Q2 Monochrom's edge to edge sharpness is remarkable – though it does tend toward underexposure now and again. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

The Leica's JPEGs are dense and full of contrast – perfect for capturing patterns, shadows and textures. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

The fact is, real-world images from the Leica Q2 Monochrom are quite remarkable. The Summilux lens delivers edge-to-edge sharpness that’s so consistent that if there is any drop-off, it’s hard to see it with the naked eye. At low ISOs there is not just an absence of noise, but also none of the tiny edge artefacts you get with regular bayer sensors. 

With image stabilisation, an f/1.7 lens and incredible high-ISO image quality, the Q2 Monochrom is an available light photographer's dream. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

This is ISO 100,000, and the Q2 Monochrom still captures all the contrast, texture and detail in this gravel path. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

At high ISOs, the Q2 Monochrom is quite remarkable. Leica seems to have tuned the processing to deliver a more film-like grain pattern, so that even as noise levels increase, the noise itself is far less objectionable. We took some handheld night shots at ISO 25,000 and ISO 100,000. The ISO 25,000 shots are very sharp, full of crisp detail and have an attractive granularity. We would shoot at this setting without hesitation. At ISO 100,000, the detail is reduced and you’re not going to be able to recover much shadow detail, but images still look sharp, detail looks tight and contrasty and this a genuinely usable setting, unlike the pixel soup generated my most cameras at these extreme sensitivities.

The AF performance is mixed. It’s fine for static shots but can hunt and dither in continuous shooting and in video. It might be no concidence that the Q2 Monochrom shares similar specs to Panasonic’s 47MP full frame sensor array, right down to the 225-area contrast AF system.

Here's a sample video showing the Leica Q2 Monochrom's video mode and AF system in action.

The uncertain continuous AF is made more obvious by the Leica lens’s visible focus breathing during AF shifts. The Q2 Monochrom can shoot really nice-looking 4K video, but you’ll get better results by choosing the focus point manually and picking an area with clearly defined details and not leaving it to ‘hunt’. Left to its own devices, it will create smooth but slow focus transitions as your subject or the camera moves, but you’ll get a snappier and more positive response by tapping a focus point on the screen while filming.

Lab data

The Q2 Monochrom doesn't have many direct fixed lens, digital camera rivals. We therefore cast our net a little wider for our lab data comparison to include Leica's other current black-and-white offering, the M10 Monochrom. It's also interesting to see how the Q2 Monochrom compares to Leica's other 47.3MP camera, the SL2. Our final comparison camera is another retro-styled model with similar handling and an emphasis on artistic, creative shooting: the Fujifilm X-Pro 3.

Resolution

(Image credit: Future)

Resolution is measured in line widths/picture height, a widely used standard for resolution measurement that's independent of sensor size.

With 40+MP on tap, all three Leica cameras are capable of resolving very similar amounts of fine detail. it's M10 Monochrom equals the Q2 Monochrom throughout our tested sensitivity range, which is impressive as its sensor resolution is lower. However, the actual difference in image dimensions isn't that large when comparing the M10's 40.9MP (7864x5200) DNG files and the 46.7MP (8368x5584) Q2 Monochrom's raws. Consequently the Q2 Monochrom and SL2 can't quite resolve measurably more detail than the M10 in our resolution test.

Dynamic range

(Image credit: Future)

Dynamic range is measured in EV (exposure values, or 'stops'). It's a measure of the camera's ability to record detail in extremely bright and dark areas of the scene. The higher the value, the better.

As the Q2 Monochrom and SL2 share similar sensor specs, it's little surprise that both cameras capture almost identical amounts of dynamic range. The Q2 has a slight edge over the SL2 at ISO 1600 and above, which could be due to its monochrome sensor. However, if all you want is dynamic range, Fujifilm's X-Trans 4 sensor in the X-Pro 3 is in a league of its own, proving you don't have to sacrifice color data to achieve the best possible highlight and shadow capture.

Signal to noise ratio

(Image credit: Future)

Our signal to noise test measures image clarity, specifically the ratio of the actual image 'data' you want to capture, versus the image noise that you don't want, but will inevitably be visible when shooting at higher ISO sensitivities. The higher the score at a given ISO sensitivity, the better.

Here the Q2 Monochrom's mono sensor gives it an edge over the color SL2, at least at higher sensitivities, where it demonstrates noticeably lower noise levels. But as with dynamic range, that pesky X-Pro 3 beats all three Leicas, as it produces the cleanest shots of the bunch.

Verdict

(Image credit: Leica)

The Leica Q2 Monochrom offers a number of surprises. One is the sheer visual quality of its monochromatic images, due in part to the dedicated mono sensor but also the edge to edge sharpness of that Leica lens. Another is its performance at high ISO settings. Its special ‘Leica’ noise rendering is reminiscent of gritty black and white and it holds both edge detail and fine textural detail at quite insane sensitivity settings. The third surprise is the rather good 4K video – as long as you work around the limitations of the AF system.

What shouldn’t be a surprise is the sheer engineering quality, which you would expect at this price, of course. But it’s not just the glass and metalwork that’s impressive, but the Leica’s control layout and digital interface. Both are rather remarkable.

As with any Leica, there will be those who simply can’t and won’t countenance this camera’s price and its quite narrow target market. Instead, the Leica Q2 Monochrom is designed for those who love black and white, who love cameras as physical objects, and who can afford both this camera and others for ‘regular’ photography.

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