The Leica Q2 is an impressive beast, a true successor to the surprisingly successful model of 2015. But there is one less than appealing aspect of the new camera that should give buyers pause for thought. The image files produced by the Q2 are enormous.
DNG files from the Q2 take up 86 MB of disk space and, if you add in a large jpeg, every image easily grabs more than 100MB of your storage real estate. Ten shots? That will be one gigabyte, please, no change given.
Why is this? One of the most important reasons is the quest to keep the camera cool.
The subject of heat came up as I discussed the new Lumix S1R with a Panasonic technician in Birmingham at the Photography Show earlier this month. We talked about the high probability that both the new S1R and the Leica Q use the same — or very similar — 47MP sensor. It’s too much of a coincidence, when you think about it. What’s more, it is probably the sensor that we will see in the Leica SL2 when it arrives later this year. I suspect the Q2 is a testbed for the SL2 sensor.
The Panasonic representative said that it had been a big challenge to keep down the heat during the development phase of the S1R. He wondered how Leica had fared when facing similar issues while dealing with a much smaller body. The smaller the body, the less easy is it to distribute and dissipate processor heat.
One of the main ways in which Leica has likely dealt with the heat problem is to forego RAW image compression. Compression is just one further burden on the processor and the resulting heat is a clear danger. They took the same no-compression route with the SL but, with the smaller 24MP sensor, the DNG files are a more manageable 45MP.
Still big, but not worryingly so. Similarly, the original Q (with the SL sensor) produces 41-45MP DNGs. It is not surprising, then, that the Q2 file size is nearly doubled when you take into account that 47MP sensor and the lack of compression.
I should say, however, that Leica engineers could have other technical reasons for not using lossless compression. If there is a reason, other than responding to heat gain, I am sure we would all be interested to hear.
The Panasonic S1R, like the M10, offers lossless image compression, thus reducing the side of RAW files. RAW files from the SR1 are around 69MB in size, still big but some 26MB smaller than those from the Q2. OOC jpegs from the S1R range from 14-24MB, very much on par with those from the Q2.
With the current M10/P/D the 24MP sensor produces DNGs of around 29MP in size. That’s par for the course these days and no one is complaining.
When we come to the much larger sensors now being used, however, the introduction of lossless compression has significant benefits for storage and processing speeds. As we have seen, the Q2, without compression, creates monster files which will soon fill up your disks.
That said, we should be less concerned with the storage implications than with the increased “teeming and ladling” (as they say in Yorkshire) that goes on during processing during file upload.
There is a significant time penalty when importing Q2 files. I haven’t attempted to quantify this because of the variables of computer processor speeds, amount of RAM and other influencing factors, but I do know that it is annoying and I am left waiting much longer than is the case with imports from other cameras I own, including those from the M10-D.
Disk storage, as I say, is less of a problem. It gets cheaper by the year. The 100MB combined DNG+JPG of the Q2 is unwelcome, but not a deal breaker. With 8TB external discs now available for around £150, expanding storage is not a big issue.
After all, yesterday’s megabyte is today’s gigabyte and tomorrow’s terabyte. Soon we’ll be talking in petabytes and the little critters will become ever more affordable as time goes on.
Another factor which could account for the decision to create uncompressed DNG files is the added processor burden of lens distortion software. The Summilux lens of the Q2 is very compact for what it is, and there have to be trade-offs. One of these is in the area of distortion, and the processor has to correct shots in-camera before saving to disk. It’s an essential part of the Q2 and the processor time cannot be avoided.
This extra churning creates more heat, adding to the problems faced by engineers in squeezing such a dense full-frame sensor into a small package. It’s the combined effect of all this extra processing that causes the problem.
It is quite possible that the Q2 would not be so handy and compact if the designers had decided to incorporate lossless compression.
Despite all this conjecture, the fact remains that we are now faced with a big jump in storage and processing speeds with the Q2 — and with the forthcoming SL2 unless Leica takes a leaf from Panasonic’s book and adds in lossless compression. That is quite possible, of course.
Huge image files are yet another factor in the decision process of whether to go for the original Q or the Q2. It is certainly an important aspect to consider if you own the Q and are thinking of upgrading. Usually, storage is something you don’t much consider when buying a camera. With the Q2, however, you have to face it head-on.