When it comes to niche cameras, Leica is probably somewhere near the top of the list. This is especially the case with Leica Monochrom cameras. The most recent release from the company is a black and white version of the compact fixed lens camera, the Leica Q2. The new Monochrom version promises lots when it comes to image quality.
Build Quality and Design
As with most Leica cameras, the Q2 Monochrom continues in the tradition of exceptional build quality. Although it's not quite on the level of an M series camera, the build and design are still some of the best on the market. It has a wonderful feel in the hand, which almost makes up for the hefty price point. Overall, the solid construction feels great, and the way the dials switch and click is satisfying, to say the least. Even the way you switch to macro mode on the lens is extremely smooth and shows off that typical premium build from Leica.
Although it may not be completely fair to compare the Q series of cameras to the M series, the rangefinder-inspired the design of the Q2 really does invite the comparison. Now to be clear, the Q2 cameras are not rangefinders; however, some of the design choices offer a vaguely familiar experience. This is mostly down to the location of the viewfinder, button layout, and also the location of the dials. The flat body and grip-less, sleek design, is also similar to Leica M series cameras, and personally, I think it's great.
The biggest difference between the M and Q series of cameras is that the Q is a "modern" mirrorless camera. What I mean is that the Q2 cameras offer autofocus features, video features, and also focus by wire. For some, this may take away from that "authentic" Leica experience, but I think it just makes it easier to shoot with.
Compared to the original Q2 camera, Leica has made some very subtle changes to the Monochrom edition. The first is the leatherette finish; the Monochrom feels smoother in the hand. The matte finish and monochrome lettering also offer a very stylish and stealthy look to it. Also, Leica, in typical fashion, has also removed the red dot logo from the front of the Monochrom camera.
Other than that, the Monochrom is almost identical to the original Q2, especially when it comes to overall handling and usability.
In my view, Leica cameras in general tend to have pretty poor ergonomics. This has been the case for almost every Leica camera I have shot with, except the SL2. As much as I love M series cameras, they're pretty poor when it comes to ergonomics, mostly because they don't have a grip or a comfortable place to rest your fingers.
This is also the case with the Q2 and the Q2 Monochrom. As great as they feel in the hand, when it comes to actually shoot with it, the lack of having a grip does reduce some of the pleasantness of the experience. This is not to say that the Q2 and Monochrom are dissatisfying to shoot with, simply that the experience could be better.
Having said that, I appreciate the fact that the overall design is more important than a few ergonomic complaints. Therefore, I don't think this will or should be changed, because many Leica cameras are predominantly about design and aesthetics. I can't imagine an M series or Q series camera with a grip, and personally, I find the add-on grips to be quite unsightly. Nonetheless, it's still an important point to mention, because cameras such as these almost require some kind of strap, whether it be a neck strap or a wrist strap.
The Monochrome Benefit
There are very few camera manufacturers that produce completely monochrome cameras. In fact, there are only two companies that come to my mind, and they are Phase One and of course, Leica. I've never really felt the allure of having a completely black and white camera; however, I decided to compare the new Monochrom to its colorful counterpart and see if there are any benefits.
To produce the Monochrom camera, Leica stated that they had to redesign the whole sensor. Simply removing the color filters just wasn't sufficient; therefore, a great deal of effort was required in order to produce the final product.
One of the key benefits that Leica was able to exploit by removing the color filters was the sensor's light-gathering ability. Removing the filters allowed the sensor to gather a full stop more light at any given ISO. This meant that Leica had to reevaluate all the ISO settings, and the base ISO was moved to 100 instead of 50. Although users lose a stop of low-ISO performance, the real benefits are to be had in high-ISO scenarios, and this is something we tested in several ways.
In the above comparison, the Monochrom was shot at ISO 12,500, whereas the original Q was shot at ISO 6,400. Even with the disadvantage of a higher ISO setting, the Monochrom produces significantly cleaner images when compared to the Q2. For photographers that require great low-light performance, the Monochrom is a huge upgrade in that regard. We cover this point in greater detail in the video linked above.
Another key benefit that Leica confirmed was that the new Monochrom camera has improved dynamic range. This is something we were able to confirm too. The Monochrom definitely produces images with cleaner recovered shadows. Even when recovering images that are five stops underexposed, the Monochrom remains very clean compared to the original Q2.
The above images were underexposed intentionally in a controlled environment and then recovered in post to the tune of five stops. What's brilliant is how well the Monochrom is able to keep details intact in recovered shadows. The Monochrom is also much cleaner in comparison to the original Q2.
Simply put, the Monochrom is a big upgrade when it comes to low-light performance and dynamic range.
Sharpness and Detail
One of the other things that Leica claims about the Monochrom is that the new camera will produce better, sharper, and crisper details. The removal of certain filters means that details will be much clearer in the Monochrom. In our testing, we haven't found this to be the case. In almost every scenario, both in "real-world" and controlled scenarios, the details and clarity between the two were pretty much identical. There is no noticeable change in how much detail the Monochrom captures when compared to the original.
This is the case when you're pixel-peeping and even in macro, mode as you can see in the comparison above. Both cameras produce an identical amount of detail.
The Look and Feel
This point is entirely subjective; however, when it comes to the look and feel of the images each camera produces, there are some differences. These differences are not significant by any means, although some black and white photographers may prefer them.
Personally, I don't really see any great benefit from the Monochrom when it comes to the look and feel; however, as mentioned above, this is a subjective point. I think the differences when it comes to look and feel are negligible at best. Any perceived differences could be easily matched through some very simple changes in post.
What I Liked
- Fantastic build quality.
- A huge upgrade when it comes to low-light performance.
- Improved dynamic range.
What I Didn't Like
- More expensive than the original.
Leica is known for producing cameras with limited features, and this is something that works for its brand. On that basis, the Leica Q2 Monochrom sits perfectly in the lineup among other high-priced luxury cameras. The improvements in low-light performance and dynamic range are sure to catch the eyes of some Leica photographers. Overall, I think this is a good camera; however, if I had to, I'd purchase the original Q2 and simply convert in post.
The low-light performance and dynamic range benefits are useful, but I'd rather have the ability to shoot in color and black and white. I can imagine that for some, the low-light benefits may be crucial, and for those of you, this is a worthwhile update. For most other Leica photographers, I think the Q2 would probably be a better fit.
You can preorder the Leica Q2 Monochrom for $5,995 using this link.