Leica’s Q2 upgrade is an impressive camera and no mistake. There is not much to dislike. But the designers did get one thing wrong and it is a big bad thing. In simplifying the user interface, Leica has introduced a booby trap for the unwary.
The designers deserve full credit for simplifying the control system on the Q2. The CL-style three-button layout is much preferable to the earlier control incarnation on the original Q, but simplicity can have its limitations.
The four-way pad does what it is intended to do — it scrolls through menus, it moves the focus point around the screen. Unusually, though, the centre button on the pad is not there to confirm settings but to toggle through the display in the absence of a dedicated DISP button. Wonderful idea, but…
So if you want to adjust the level of information on the screen or viewfinder display, you press the pad centre button until you see what you need. So far so good, except that plumb in the middle of these display options is a video screen. Oddly, this is the only way to access the video function. There is no dedicated video button with the option for it to be disabled.
What’s wrong with this? Well, a lot actually. It is all too easy to select the video screen by mistake. I do it on every outing at least once. This means that the next time you press the shutter button you start shooting video. My SD cards are littered with impeccable footage of my feet as I continue unwittingly to run down the battery.
This is an egregious decision and should never have got through the beta stage. What on earth were they thinking of? I can imagine the design boffins, having removed all the rear controls except for three solitary screen-side buttons, a diopter adjustment, a frame-line toggle and a four-way pad, sitting back with satisfaction. Until someone mentioned video. How on earth can we switch to video, they probably wondered. There are no buttons left! Bereft of sensible ideas, they decided to make video an option in the display toggle.
As an aside, video is in any case an afterthought in most Leica cameras. Whether or not Q2 owners (or owners of any Leica camera for that matter) really want video is a debatable point. The factory has already given in and removed video from the M10. Everyone I know who owns a Q or Q2 uses it for stills only. If they need video, I suspect, they can afford to buy a good video camera such as the Lumix GH5 in addition to their Leica.
The Q2 is definitely not a camera for video enthusiasts, irrespective of the quality of output. There are no ports so there is no way of directly streaming output. Nor is there a flip-up selfie screen which is increasingly important for dedicated vloggers who need to see themselves as they drone on.
Video on the Q2 is there to keep up with the Jones’s. Yet the Jones’s have parked their uninspiring little car right in the middle of the still-photographer’s display selection. It is a constant and unwanted intrusion.
My second gripe with the Q2 is an old chestnut that will be familiar to Macfilos readers. There is no way to lock the focus point (either spot or field) to the centre of the screen. It is well recognised (by everyone except the factory, it seems) that many Leica photographers, weaned on the rangefinder, prefer to focus and recompose. I certainly do, but Leica doesn’t make it easy. Fuji and some other makers recognise this need and provide a menu option to disable unwanted buttons.
All Leica mirrorless cameras in recent years have suffered from the wayward focus point, moving unbidden as the ball of the thumb brushes the four-way pad. The X Vario was an incorrigible offender. The CL is even worse. While it is undoubtedly an individual problem, I find the ball of my thumb constantly jiggles the pad to cause the focus point to move around the screen unbidden. Even an accessory thumb grip doesn’t solve the problem for me.
The SL, too, had this same problem of dancing focus point although here it was the joystick at fault. The joystick is easily nudged and moves the focus point around the screen.
For some reason Leica (or, more than likely, Panasonic which is probablt in charge of the electronics) refuses to provide a lock to keep the focus point dead centre in the frame. It’s a common fault on Lumix cameras as well, which isn’t too surprising. Daddy Panny doesn’t like it.
However, Leica, of all manufacturers, should realise that many customers prefer centre-focus-and-recompose shooting as they have been used to with the rangefinder. Yet, time after time, the company argues that a lock is not necessary. At first, then comes the inevitable surrender to user dissatisfaction.
In the first or second firmware upgrade, the company invariably bows to this pressure. An option to disable video on the M240, a lock for the joystick on the SL, a curious lockdown for the CL — an oddity which is all sledgehammers and nuts.
The lockdown on the CL works in the same as that on the D-Lux 7 (proving, if proof were needed, that Panasonic has its hand in the pie). The difference between the CL and the D-Lux 7 is that the D-Lux sports physical controls for aperture, speed and compensation. You can therefore work happily with the camera locked (thus preventing inadvertent presses of the direction pad and subsequent movement of the focus point). You can still adjust the main exposure parameters while wayward buttons are in lockdown. It’s a good solution.
But what is a good solution on the D-Lux 7 is a Frankenstinian kludge on the CL. Locking the camera prevents any adjustments to exposure settings. The camera is locked, stock and barrel. TL lenses do not have aperture rings and there are no physical adjustments for aperture, speed or compensation on the camera. All these functions, performed admirably by soft controls, are locked when lock-down is selected.
This is all very well if you are not planning to change settings and, I admit, I use this total lock-down a lot of the time because I am fed up with the focus point dancing around the screen. But it is not a satisfactory solution. The lock even switches off when the camera is powered down, something which further annoys many users, including my friend Don Morley. Why not simply provide a menu option to lock the four-way pad and make it a sticky feature?
Learning from mistakes
As I’ve said, some of these faults (for, indeed, they are faults in my book) can be tackled by firmware update. But why does Leica (or Panasonic) not learn from past mistakes and get it right on launch day? Most Leica owners want a centre-focus lock option. It’s as simple as that, yet Leica designers refuse to listen, camera after camera after camera. It’s depressing, really.
In fairness to the Q2, despite the absence of any type of lock, I have had few problems with this particular four-way pad. Because of its placing and perhaps thanks to the useful thumb indent, I don’t find myself nudging the focus point overmuch. It does happen on occasion, and that’s why we need a lock, but it is by no means as frustrating as it is with the CL or was with the SL or X Vario.
Minimalisation of controls, as in the harmonisation of the Q2 layout with that of the CL, is all very laudable and, in general, I approve of what has been done. But throwing video into the middle of the display toggle system is a ridiculous solution that is already upsetting me and, I suspect, will upset most users. The sooner we get a firmware update to allow optional skipping of this destructive video screen the better.
And, while you are at it, Leica, a focus centre lock would be appreciated.
I admit there is a lot of nitpicking here. This is the nearest I get to a rant, but it demonstrates my strength of feeling. I also realise that not everyone agrees with the need for a centre-lock for focus. The Q2 is a wonderful camera and continues to delight. But it isn’t perfect. Yet.