Home Features 28mm Focal Length: Far too wide or good all rounder?

28mm Focal Length: Far too wide or good all rounder?

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  This high viewpoint precluded walking closer to the Anderton Lift in Cheshire without changing the relationship with the River Weaver and the old factory in the background. (Leica Q ISO 100 1/500s f/8.0)
This high viewpoint precluded walking closer to the Anderton Lift in Cheshire without changing the relationship with the River Weaver and the old factory in the background. (Leica Q ISO 100 1/500s f/8.0)

28mm could be considered far too wide for a fixed lens, compact camera. Who would want to be limited with no alternative focal length lens? That was a typical response when the innovative Leica Q was announced and launched in 2015. I have to confess that I shared this view at the time. But very soon initial user reports and test reviews described a rather special camera offering a very different shooting experience, both in handling and performance. Had photographers misjudged this new model, or was the Leica Q a genuine break-through? There was good evidence for both points of view.

  Without moving, here is the same view with in-camera crop to 35mm field of view. (Leica Q ISO 100 1/800s f4.0)
Without moving, here is the same view with in-camera crop to 35mm field of view. (Leica Q ISO 100 1/800s f4.0)
  From the same viewpoint, here is the same view with in-camera crop to 50mm field of view. (Leica Q ISO 100 1/320s f/8.0)
From the same viewpoint, here is the same view with in-camera crop to 50mm field of view. (Leica Q ISO 100 1/320s f/8.0)

It seems that Leica had brought together in a relatively compact full-frame 24MP CMOS sensor camera body, a stunning fixed Summilux lens and a class-leading electronic viewfinder or EVF. Now add excellent autofocusing, quiet operation, and accurate manual focusing capabilities and the specification begins to look enticing. But you are tied to that one wide-angle 28mm lens. Let us consider some facts.

Do you have a Smartphone?

Consider the millions of smartphone camera users, worldwide, who take billions of pictures without questioning what kind of lens produces their satisfying results, including millions of ‘selfies’ and travel scenes. I doubt if many smartphone owners would be aware of that fact that they are using a 28mm equivalent focal length lens in their smartphone cameras. 28mm is a focal length more than acceptable to millions of users. So why should we find it limiting on a modern premium compact camera — the Leica Q?

  An ideal landscape for the Leica Q (Leica Q ISO 100 1/250s f/5.6)
An ideal landscape for the Leica Q (Leica Q ISO 100 1/250s f/5.6)

To a large extent, it was the quality of published pictures which prompted me to reconsider the Q camera which I had initially dismissed. Some early adopters were even talking in terms of making it their sole camera for holiday photography and travel and published results to confirm their trust in the Q. I am not sure I would go that far.

I have become a strong advocate of one camera – one lens for my potentially repeatable photo sessions, mostly in my local area. But I needed some persuasion to forego other in-bag options where return visits were unlikely.

  I shot this picture having selected the 35mm frame in the Leica Q to reduce the area occupied by road. But when I processed the picture I preferred this panoramic format instead. So I adjusted the framing in Lightroom with this result. (Leica Q ISO 100 1/125s f/8.0)
I shot this picture having selected the 35mm frame in the Leica Q to reduce the area occupied by road. But when I processed the picture I preferred this panoramic format instead. So I adjusted the framing in Lightroom with this result. (Leica Q ISO 100 1/125s f/8.0)

Taking the Plunge

Nearly three years ago, in early 2016, I bought one, still on back-order at the time. I have had no regrets whatsoever. The Leica Q has become my favourite camera with regards to design, build, form, handling and performance. It is a joy to use and not a burden to carry. It is an extremely deceptive high-quality compact camera with very few foibles. I find adding the Leica handgrip very reassuring and an essential aid to comfortable and sure handling.

  This famous Bristol Pegasus engine powered military and civil aircraft in the 1930s and 1940s. Here is a specimen recovered from the depths of Pembroke Dock when a Sunderland flying boat sunk in a storm in WW2. Note the high ISO needed (Leica Q ISO 10,000 1/60s f/5.6)
This famous Bristol Pegasus engine powered military and civil aircraft in the 1930s and 1940s. Here is a specimen recovered from the depths of Pembroke Dock when a Sunderland flying boat sunk in a storm in WW2. Note the high ISO needed (Leica Q ISO 10,000 1/60s f/5.6)

To ease my anxieties about travel scenes unlikely to be revisited, I have paired my Leica Q with either of two of my existing in-use cameras, very successfully depending on my missions. A compact solution – Q plus D Lux – is a popular pairing for me. The D Lux Typ.109 is delightful when inconspicuous photography is the order of the day. It is also invaluable when I foresee the occasional need for a modest telephoto lens, say up to 75mm. My alternative twinning was with my versatile and high-performing X Vario. However, in this article I want to explore the scope of the Leica Q without any augmentation whatsoever to show how I get the best out the solo camera.

Leica Q as a Bi-lens or Tri-lens camera

Generally speaking, digital zooming is somewhat frowned upon as a modern digital photography technique. But Leica thinks otherwise with the Leica Q because selective electronic frame lines overlie the full frame and are available at the touch of a button. First press brings up the framing for the 35mm angle of view and includes a tiny ‘35′ in the bottom right corner of the frame. Press again and a smaller frame with numerals shows the frame for a 50mm lens. One final press and you are back to the default frame for 28mm. Nothing has changed with the lens which remains a 28mm Summilux. Also, nothing has changed with the file size captured.

  The red pillar box with bees inside shows what happens when you place a known circular object in a margin of the frame when using any wide-angle lens. (Leica Q ISO 1,000 1/60s f/5.6)
The red pillar box with bees inside shows what happens when you place a known circular object in a margin of the frame when using any wide-angle lens. (Leica Q ISO 1,000 1/60s f/5.6)

The smaller frames indicate accurately the fields appropriate for the longer lenses leaving the immediately surrounding field of view visible to aid accurate framing. Each represents a precise representation of two in-camera crops which are individually viewable and reversible. When you come to process your digital files, each is shown as the view represented by your chosen 35mm or 50mm lens. However, if you try to crop the scene further, (Press ‘R’ in Lightroom) unlikely but possible, you suddenly find the full 28mm field of view with your chosen crop lines superimposed. So you now retain the freedom to decide precisely how you wish to crop your final picture or move the cropping frame around the wider scene. Indeed if you process using Lightroom, your master file always remains at its maximum size.

Now let us suppose we need to send a copy of the 35mm cropped version to a publisher. That is easily done by exporting the file as a TIFF or JPEG, and the recipient will only see your 35mm crop. But you retain the full 28mm file, with crop markings, in case later adjustments need to be made. What a vital feature. Lightroom is non-destructive.

A Price to Pay?

Yes, I am afraid there is. Each crop sacrifices a proportion of the original full frame data. The original 24 megapixels with full frame become 15.36 MP when cropped to 35mm coverage; and 7.5 MP with a 50mm setting. How significant are these reductions?

In my view, reduction to 35mm equivalent cover is quite acceptable. In fact, the file size is very similar to that produced by the excellent X Vario. Whereas trimming to 50mm equivalent would mainly only work for me for use online or for family snaps, certainly not for unlimited printing sizes or publication. (I did mistakenly send a 50mm crop of a subject to a publisher and it was accepted without question. Maybe I am a little bit too critical)

  Full frame cover at my desired viewpoint included peripheral figures and furniture which was distracting. So I shot this as if it was a 35mm lens. (Leica Q ISO 100 1/125s f/1.7)
Full frame cover at my desired viewpoint included peripheral figures and furniture which was distracting. So I shot this as if it was a 35mm lens. (Leica Q ISO 100 1/125s f/1.7)

So essentially I treat my Leica Q as a Bi-lens instrument and rely on a second camera when I need longer or shorter focal lengths. It is perfect for travel, landscape, street, low-light interiors, social and wedding photography with its beautifully sharp prime lens and exquisite handling. It is easy to work within its limited focal length as discussed below. That is how I use my Q.

My Q is primarily used when my desired quality matches Leica’s full-frame performance, but size and weight require a more compact solution. The Q is lighter and more compact than my M plus two or three lenses, though not as versatile. That is the main penalty when travelling light. Salvation comes with modest cropping.

Tuning the Brain

Given one focal length, I have found that the best technique is to ‘tune the brain’ to seek and select potential subjects to match the chosen focal length. With 28mm that sometimes means getting closer to your subject. When that is impossible, (see my illustrations of the Anderton boat lift in Cheshire) and before giving up, select the 35mm or 50mm cropping frames and test their suitability for the subject you have in mind. Remember that you can always refine the crop in post-processing; you are not tied to the suggested framing. Another technique is to learn to improve the quality of capture by including interesting and appropriate auxiliary subjects of interest in the foreground. It is surprising how a few moments thinking about a scene and repositioning can lead to more satisfying compositions.

  Although designed to operate in Macro mode, for my needs I dislike being forced to shoot at very close range. It introduces distortion, disturbs live creatures and imposes depth of field problems, especially with subjects having depth. (Leica Q ISO 160 1/80s f/8)
Although designed to operate in Macro mode, for my needs I dislike being forced to shoot at very close range. It introduces distortion, disturbs live creatures and imposes depth of field problems, especially with subjects having depth. (Leica Q ISO 160 1/80s f/8)

The excellent Summilux lens gives exceptionally high-quality images, even at full aperture. So you can safely shoot at f/1.7. This capability opens up many shooting possibilities in low light, particularly indoors. In fact the Q excels indoors or in twilight settings. One of my illustrations was taken at ISO 10,000 – a first for me at such simulated speed. So when entering a museum, exhibition hall or indoor market, for example, the Q is a perfect and relatively unobtrusive camera to use. Its silent or near silent shutter betrays no aural evidence of a photographer lurking in the shadows.

Inevitably I encounter potential subjects unsuited to a wide angle lens. My solution is to take a picture for reference and make notes for a future return visit which is easy if within a photographer’s catchment area.

  Macro works best with a fairly flat subject with little depth of field when using the Leica Q. Documents or natural history on the ‘flat’ works well. (Leica Q ISO 800 1/30s f/5.6)
Macro works best with a fairly flat subject with little depth of field when using the Leica Q. Documents or natural history on the ‘flat’ works well. (Leica Q ISO 800 1/30s f/5.6)

How about the future?

Inevitably there are some photographers already clamouring for a Q35, Q50 or even zoom lens versions. However, the bulk, weight and cost would rise with each such change unless simpler less complex lenses were fitted to a hypothetical Q derivative. A recent firmware update continued the refinement of this remarkable camera, enabling improved battery power saving, for example.

The viewfinder eyepiece diopter adjustment is my only small but real criticism of the camera design. It is a tiny wheel with a serrated rim. However, I could live with that if the adjustment friction could be increased or the wheel made lockable into the desired position.

Otherwise, the Leica Q leaves little to be desired in performance or handling, and it remains a potent full frame alternative with huge appeal and potential. It is a joy to use and quite a lot less expensive than a near equivalent lens alone for M series rangefinders, before you factor in the cost of an M body. That helps to put the cost into perspective.

Copyright © David Askham 2018

16 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this very convincing view on the Q. I do not own a Q but could use one from a friend and it was real fun. You put most of my felt conclusions in word.

  2. I owned the Q but I am not sure it is actually 28mm; it often seems it might be a bit wider. I compared it to another 28mm lens and the Q did seem a bit wider, but it is difficult to make the comparison so I was never sure. I also was bothered by the amount of barrel distortion, this was a deal breaker for me. No matter how much post-processing correction I did, some images never looked quite right. Great camera with a few quirks that didn’t work well for me.

  3. Thanks David for this interesting article. I recently met a professional newspaper photographer on a train in London. He carried in his bag a Canon 5D MkIV with a 50mm lens and a Leica Q which I assume met his needs. My ‘wish list’ camera would be a Q body, full frame with EVF, and a 28-70mm zoom as on my X Vario but I suppose that will never, could never, happen.
    Kevin

    • Thank you Kevin. A Q-zoom would clash with the Leica SL with standard zoom, not a conflict Leica is likely to accept. Interesting observation on your professional photographer’s choice of pairing a Q with his DSLR.

  4. Excellent article and lovely photos, David.

    I’m not bothered at all by the concept of fixed lens, fixed focal length cameras. The Ricoh GR is beloved by many great photographers. The Fuji X100 series (of which I now have one) is a modern classic. I’d love to be in a position to own a Q. As you say, you have to train your brain to adapt to the focal length and restrictions. I find that a few hours with the X100 is enough to get the instincts going as to what scenes will work and which may not. It’s actually a lot of fun. I lean slightly towards 35mm over 28mm, but my favourite lens on my MFT bodies is the 15mm Summilux, which falls right in the middle at 30mm equivalent fov, so I think I’d get along with 28mm just fine.

    Many thanks.

  5. An excellent article, and for a while the Q was on my list of future cameras – alas I deviated and bought my Nikon Df. I also use the X typ 113, and love it – so a fixed camera is no difficulty for me. In fact I love the images out of the X.

    I personally prefer a 35mm lens.

    I look forward to your next article.

    Dave S

  6. Thank you for an interesting article and photos. As for the 28mm focal length, it is a great “street photography “ and candid focal length. Ming Thein, extremely competent photographer and past Hasselblad ambassador, loves this focal length and has used the Ricoh GR and then used the Leica Q.
    The challenge of 28mm is taking great images as it harder to eliminate distractions to the subject and create strong compositions due to the wider the focal length. It gets even harder with 24mm and so on. I remember when I purchased a 20mm a few years ago that my failure rate on images when I reviewed them was extremely high and had to educate my self on taking strong photos with ultra wides.

    Even though the smart phones use 28 mm, that does not make for success with the Q. I see so many iPhone photos with obvious distortion such as big noses due to the photo being taken too close. The Q is a great camera for someone that likes a wider focal length and/or has the appropriate subject interest such as reportage/street photography and so on.
    I am excitedly waiting for my Q-P delivery shortly and will carry it alone or with my Panasonic G9 with a longer prime or zoom for a compact kit.
    Your article has made me more excited to take delivery and go out and make pictures!

    • Brian, thanks for your interesting comments on my article. Picking up on your comparison with smartphone photographers, my observations are that most users treat their phone cameras as point-and-shoot devices without thought or knowledge of how lenses perform. Distorted faces are just part of their fun and enjoyment. Readers of Macfilos think differently and understand how to use different lenses. Or they learn from their mistakes.

  7. I was one of those people who was tempted to keep the Q and sell my M9 at the time and I would probably have done so had it had zoom or at least changeable lenses. Photos cropped to 50mm have been supplied to photo libraries and seemingly happily accepted. My big problem was my occasional need of a 90mm lens. The Q is a remarkable camera in my opinion and completely changed my opinions of what is possible with EVFs The link here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/in-pictures-35091201/feeding-the-koalas is to an audio slideshow I made for the BBC news web site shot almost entirely on a Leica Q except for a couple of 90mm shots taken on my M9

  8. My own thought path was much the same as David’s, indeed I even shot with my M9 and 28mm f2 Summicron exclusively for a entire week just to see how many times I would find myself wishing I could change lenses which was often and hence this then persuaded myself the Q was not for me, but boy was I wrong as despite all of that so called logic I then weakened and bought one.

    Since then the Q has become my most constant companion, backed up sometimes by my CL outfit for whenever I need longer lenses, and you know what beyond that, and to my own utter amazement, it is my M9 and previously much loved MP240 which have since gone, and whats more so far without any regrets.

  9. Thank you David for this very interesting article…I have been doing Street Photography for a few years now, starting with my lovely M9 and 35 Summichron. Whilst my rangefinder skills are decent, and work well in situations when the environment I am shooting is slowish moving or static, I was able to get relatively sharp images.Where I struggled was in fast moving situations and shooting people working towards me, and despite trying zone focus and pre focussing at fixed distances, I had limited success.
    Along came the opportunity to try a Q for Street, and I was amazed at how quick and responsive the Q is and is now my go to camera for Street. I have found that shooting fast moving situations is much easier and I have adjusted to using the 28mm focal length bu getting closer,,I love the Q..it’s my all time favourite camera, but I still shoot with my M9 and a 50 chron, and sometimes use a 90 Elmarit.
    This combo works for me, and I have never loved my photography more than I do now as a result of having my Q.

    John Houston

    • John, thanks for your comments. Like you I needed faster and more accurate focusing in dynamic situations. Relying on zones is at best a compromise. The Q fills that need quite brilliantly.

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