Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leica’s parallel universe: The case for a Q2 Monochrom

Leica’s parallel universe: The case for a Q2 Monochrom

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Leica Monochrom Mk I with 75mm Apo Summicron (Mike Evans)

During the past decade, Leica has shown itself willing to be the outlier, able to take advantage the versatility of small-scale production and its relative fleetness of foot when it comes to making decisions and implementing them in a timely manner. And a well-heeled and Apple-like customer base is the icing on the cake.

Twice in the past ten years, the company has confounded the market with controversial products that could easily have sunk without trace. Only they didn’t. Both have been successful enough to make further development possible.

Both were surprise announcements and both were outside what the rest of the camera industry was doing.

Monochrom madness

Back in 2012, the Berlin announcement of the first Leica Monochrom, based on the then-current M9, raised more than a few eyebrows. Who would spent £6,000 on a digital camera that produced only black-and-white images? Not us, chorused the general photographic press.

There was a certain amount of derision even in Leica circles. But disbelief was legion within the ranks of non-Leica fans. The Monochrom may have encapsulated Leica’s policy of Das Wesentliche (the essential) but, surely, the company had reduced the essence a little too far this time.

All the critics were confounded, as we now know. Leica’s management had made the right decision at the right time. There was no great campaign for a monochrome-only digital camera. In fact, no one knew they needed one. But, presented with a new camera and a cogent argument for black-and-white photography, and plenty people were willing to dig deep into their pockets. In this sense, the concept was something of a master stroke.

Since then, the rangefinder monochrome brand has flourished and we are now on the third iteration, based on the M10 but bearing a fearsomely effective 40MP sensor which provides for seriously improved resolution.

28 mm? You must be joking

And three years later, Leica did it again with the announcement of the Leica Q. Once more, there was a degree of disbelief and derision, largely based on the perceived inappropriateness of a fixed 28 mm focal length. While Ricoh and others had dallied with fixed-lens 28 mm compacts, the general prejudice back in 2015 was for 35 mm or, even, 50 mm in such a camera (or, more likely, for a zoom lens).

The 35 mm Sony RX1 had hardly been a stunning success, as many pointed out. But the Q was priced well, at £3,000, just a few euros above the Sony at the time and relatively cheap for a Leica.

Much was made of that f/1.7 Summilux lens. To get a camera and a fast Leica lens for little more than the cost of an equivalent M optic was seen as quite the bargain. At the time, the 28 mm Summilux cost a full £1,000 more than the Q and its lens.

The Q has turned out to be Leica’s most successful camera. The lens, especially with that switchable macro mode, is a delight. And even the 24MP sensor of the original Q is capable of superb results. The Q2, with its 47MP sensor, is of course even more satisfying.

High fliers

Now comes the third of Leica’s fliers, a monochrome version of the Q2. If rumours are to be believed, this camera will arrive before the end of November. It will be identical to the Q2 except in its lack of a colour array, and will be the ultimate stealth machine, complete with black Leica roundel.

The question is, will it enjoy the same success as the monochrome versions of the rangefinder and the Leica Q? Many, including some senior people at Leica, are on tenterhooks to find out how this new camera will be received.

I have no doubts. I believe this will be a much sought-after camera. It will be another of Leica’s blinders.

The first positive factor, but perhaps the least important, is price. While the Q2-M won’t be cheap (I would reckon between £4,750 and £5,000), it will be much less expensive than an M10-M with a 28 mm Summilux (£12,450). But price is only a part of it. We know that the Leica market isn’t particularly price sensitive. Real Leica enthusiasts do not baulk even at twelve grand and, to some extent, it can be said that Leica, as a manufacturer of cameras, lives in a universe parallel to that of the rest of the industry. If the product is attractive it will sell, irrespective of price.

No, it isn’t really the price that will sell the new camera. The attraction of the Q2-M will be in its form factor, the feeling that it is just right as a carry everywhere camera. In addition, it has a built-in pull for the thousands of happy Q and Q2 owners who have espoused the 28 mm focal length and who have successfully swapped zooming and a multitude of lenses for an all-in-one solution.

Cropping is popular with Q2 owners because of the high-resolution 47MP sensor, but it will be even more usable with the Monochrom’s increased resolution. We will have to wait to see the reviews, but my guess is that the Q2-M will significantly outgun the M10-M if only because of the 17.5 increase in pixel density. It’s the same sensor as used in the Q2 and SL2, so we know it is no slouch. And without the colour array it should fly.

The only downside of that 28 mm lens is that it is still acts as a 28 mm even when cropped to an extreme 75 mm. It has the same constant depth of field and is patently less versatile than a rangefinder equipped with a trio of lenses, say 28 mm, 50 mm and 75 mm. Yet this hasn’t daunted the legions of satisfied owners of the original Q and, now, the Q2.

Second thoughts

Even if you are the fortunate owner of an M system with a good stock of lenses, the £7,000-plus outlay for an M10-Monochrome is sufficiently high make you ask yourself if black-and-white is definitely for you. But a Q2-M will make for an easier decision. It will sell. While it will not be the massive success that was the original Q, it will join the M Monochrom as a desirable niche product. It is something that probably only Leica could do in the current climate.

Will we see an SL2 Monochrom? Perhaps not, but this SL2 image gets a good makeover in Silver Efex Pro 2 (Mike Evans, SL2 with Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm)
Will we see an SL2 Monochrom? Perhaps not, but this SL2 image gets a good makeover in Silver Efex Pro 2 (Mike Evans, SL2 with Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm)

So, I will say in advance to all the naysayers (and there will be many): Leica is right to produce a monochrome version of the Q2. It adds little to Leica’s production complications but will do a lot to enhance the image of the company. In a way, those raised eyebrows and howls of cost-related disbelief are grist for Leica’s mill. The furore actually makes the product more desirable. That Leica can contemplate producing something as focused as the Q2 is an accolade in itself.

Your views

What do you think? Will you buy the Q2-M when it is announced? Or do you believe that a monochrome-only camera is a waste of money; that you can produce the same results from a colour camera with deft post-processing?

Next step, I believe, will be an SL2 Monochrom. They have the camera, they now have the sensor. it’s just a matter of putting the two together.

See commentary on Photo Rumors

20 COMMENTS

  1. No I would not buy one, and for exactly the same reasons as I did not buy a M Mono when that first came out, though what I did do then was hire one for a few days and took it out alongside my then M9 and very carefully shot the same subjects at the same time and with the same latest M lenses so as to establish if I thought the Leica Mono images were significantly better B/W’s than were my M9 images when they were converted to black and white.

    Honestly I tried VERY hard to justify buying myself a Mono but the bottom line for me was although the Leica Mono’s B/W results maybe were very slightly better as black and whites than those matching colour shots I had converted to B/W from the M9, those differences however were virtually worthless to me given I was also able to have superb colour images at the same time from the M9, which of course the Mono could never so.

    Maybe later Leica Mono’s now do show greater and more beneficial image quality differences, I do not know, but so did my MP 240M over the M9 and no doubts so does the M10 and given the M9, M240, M10 or my SL and Q all shoot such wonderful colour images which are so easily converted to black and white I for one cannot see any point in buying a B/W only camera.

  2. I don’t think I’m buying the Q-M, but I find the idea of a monochrome camera fascinating. As a person who started with bw film photography (I had a Fuji 645GS, something quite Leica-like), I greatly appreciated monochromatic light photography, which is much different from the monochrome images you obtain from a conventional sensor. When you put an orange filter in front of a bw film or true monochrome sensor, what you do is taking a picture that only uses orange light. The result is different from an image taken with a Bayer sensor and white light, and then converted to bw with the simulated effect of the orange filter. Orange light is less affected than blue light by haze and yields sharper pictures (if you shot landscapes), and no conversion procedure can restore details that you have captured using blue light. But may be I’m paranoid.

  3. What an exciting read, Mike – even for one unlikely ever to be in this league!
    What I really should like to see before even thinking of buying a second-hand Q (not2) is two identical framings – one with say a 50mm crop from a Q and the same picture taken with a 50mm lens.
    Could you oblige? I’d be really grateful.

      • Narain,

        Thanks for this excellent bit of comparison. I had it on my list of things to do but I would not have been able to do such a precise comparison and I think readers (especially John Nicholson) will be grateful. Your conclusion confirms what I feel, that the Q2 (and by extension the Q2-M) is a great general-purpose camera that successfully covers the range of the old Tri-Elmar MATE. And even crop to 75mm is perfectly acceptable for my purposes on the blog. The depth of field issue is another matter and is where a longer lens on an M or SL offers more choice. But, for general use, I love the Q2.

  4. I think it’s a great idea! I have to caveat that because there are two black and whites that have been on Macfilos and they stick out in my mind, unfortunately neither was by a Monochrome. First was by that camera called Paula, it was the opening of Joni Slack review of the X Vario, it was a person and I think dog walking away from the camera going down a forest path! The second was by contributor Jean Perenet of a city area being swept by a row of cleaners in SE Asia. That was taken with his Ricoh. So LEICA if you read this why not have both these gentlemen be testers for this camera. Mr Slack and Mr Perenet, could collaborate and bring a lot to the table. Jono Paula article and Jean mastery of 28 mm shows both make smaller lenses sing!

  5. I’ll buy a QM! I still have the original Q – love the 28mm focal length. Love the idea of a Monochrom camera but I don’t shoot M cameras. I convert mostly to BW anyway.

  6. I probably won’t buy a QM for the same reason I haven’t bought a Q, which is that I prefer the rangefinder for almost every type of photography.

    I have two digital M bodies, the M-D 262 and the original M9-based M Monochrom, which is by far my favorite camera. Actually an SL-M would make more sense to me, as the only real reason I’d move away from the M system would be my vision, but I’d want to take my M lenses with me.

  7. I don’t think the defining benefit of a Q2M will necessarily be that it produces inherently better tonal gradations than a mono rendition of what the Bayer filter works up into colour. It probably will. I find there is a glow to the mid tones from my M246 I don’t get on SL2. I think it should( hopefully) be the absence of chroma noise , the pleasure of fine luminance noise and the astounding high ISO performance which will entice folk to buy Q2M. My own use of a 246 alongside SL/ then SL2 Suggests the gains in these departments are very substantial. Aesthetically shots from the 246 at ISO 2500 are much more pleasing and usable than comparable shots on SL2. Of course, the highlights from Q2M will still need watching like a hawk but I think this well known limitation will be vastly outweighed by the quite staggering shadow recovery achievable on a mono sensor. My intrigue is whether the more clinical rendering of the Q’s 28mm AF lens will produce less characterful images than M lenses on the M monos.

  8. I am sure that it will have its army of devotees, I am not so gone on the concept.

    For me, as others, the colour conversions that various software programs can manage is pretty good… I still use Iridient Developer.

    I am more interested in the haptics, I prefer an uncluttered back to my Leicas. I (like Andrew) have the M-D (262) and intend to keep it. For the same reason, if I know that I am likely to shoot in black and white, I will grab the CL or whichever M/l39 (film) camera that I am caressing at the time.

    So how about this: Leica Q-D?

  9. For the time being, I’ll stick to my Ricoh GR and Leica X2 for black and white images. Their black and white high-contrast options are pretty impressive.

  10. I just wish Leica would add a couple of optional aspect ratios.Such as 1to 1. 4 x 5 . It’s going to be a great landscape. camera as well. Every other camera company has this availability. It’s not even a damn part. It’s a firmware update. Actually in the future a Q-21mm. 28 35 50 frame cut outsi. Ansell Adam’s model.Thankyou.

  11. I have the M10 Monochrom, so no need for the Q2M. One huge plus of the M10M that is rarely mentioned is its incredible low-light / high ISO performance. It will be interesting to see if the Q2M performs similarly. The M10M photos are superb, IMHO, and I rarely use filters. Also, I am biased towards B&W, although at times I prefer color. Most of the time I have my 50 APO on the camera, although I have a 35 FLE in reserve should the need arise. 28mm is a tad wide for me, as a rule.

    • John,

      I owned both the first two iterations of the Monochrom and was attracted to the M10-M but didn’t get round to doing anything about it. I go through phases with black and white. Sometimes it’s the bee’s knees, others I think colour is the natural choice. It will be interesting to see how the Q2-M performs at higher sensitivities. I suspect it should be very similar in capability to the 40MP Monochrom sensor. We won’t have long to wait. At least those interested in B&W now have a clear choice of buying an M body and using existing lenses or going for the all-in-one 28 mm experience of the Q2-M. – Mike

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