Home Cameras/Lenses Leica The Leica Q2 takes on Gaudi: A sui generis showdown

The Leica Q2 takes on Gaudi: A sui generis showdown

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Whenever I think of Barcelona, I picture the works of Antoni Gaudi, the Catalan architect responsible for many of the city’s most remarkable buildings. His otherworldly designs defy easy classification, leaving us grasping for adjectives to describe them: organic, nature-inspired, neo-Gothic, modernist, Art Nouveau, and sui generis.

A visit to Barcelona would be tragically incomplete without a tour of at least one of his creations. I recently saw three of them, each transporting me to an astonishing new world that sprung entirely from his imagination. All have been photographed countless times. Still, I was determined to photograph them myself: to gaze through the lens and compose my own interpretation of his genius.

Leica Q2 on the road

As described in a previous article, I travel with the minimal kit: a Leica Q2, a spare battery, three SD cards, and a MacBook Air for downloading and processing files on the hoof. I convinced myself on a previous trip to Europe that the Q2 could handle just about any photographic opportunity thrown at a tourist. Would it be up to the task of capturing these extraordinary Gaudi-designed structures and interior spaces?

Just as the Gaudi style transcends conventional genre boundaries, the launch of the Q series introduced a new Leica photographic niche. It is compact and superbly built but is not a rangefinder and has neither interchangeable lenses nor an optical zoom. Nevertheless, its 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens, 47-megapixel sensor, and tactile controls put a highly capable and versatile device in the hands of photographers preferring to travel light.

A Sample of Gaudi

Although aware of Gaudi, I had not appreciated the range of projects he had undertaken. The buildings I visited included a family home (Casa Batllo), an apartment building (La Pedrera), and his masterpiece, an unfinished Catholic church (La Sagrada Familia). All three are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Despite these differences in scope, the common architectural motifs and unifying vision I saw through my viewfinder made it clear they were the offspring of a single mind.

In this article, I have chosen not to provide a comprehensive treatise on Gaudi or these buildings; I will describe recurrent themes I found as I toured each of them over the course of twenty-four hours.

Attics

Whereas you and I probably view them as a place to store Christmas ornaments or family photos, Gaudi envisaged attics as a space in which he could create art. I roamed through the cavernous attic of La Pedrera in a daze of wonderment, marvelling at its serpentine ceiling supported by waves of brick arches.

I was reminded of a magical grotto visited as a kid on a family holiday, conjuring visions of a mystical kingdom in a fantasy novel. Its meandering halls trace the undulations of the spectacular roof above, but strolling through them, you would believe they had been sculpted solely for the purpose of enchantment. I was certainly enchanted.

The attic in Casa Batllo was more modest but still drew upon that arch motif, transporting its visitors from the mundane to the fascinating. Gaudi deployed catenary arches extensively in his work. These are described (upon inversion) by the shape a chain assumes when suspended between two horizontal points. They are similar to, but distinct from, parabolic arches.

Roofs

If his attics defied convention and provided an outlet for his boundless imagination, Gaudi’s vision for roofs was even more fantastical. Open to the cerulean skies of their coastal Mediterranean location, the rooftops he created at Casa Batllo and La Pedrera are more sculpture gardens than workaday surfaces directing rain into gutters.

Why settle for a bog-standard chimney when you can build one that looks like a row of helmeted creatures? Why install a garden-variety air vent when you can fashion one that looks like a giant chess piece? His roofs are both functional, with walkways and steps allowing access for routine maintenance, and magical, with unexpected curves, twists and turns, and phantasmagorical installations. I could scarcely believe my eyes. Good that I was wearing my Q2 and so have photographic evidence to prove I was not dreaming.

Skylights

Gaudi was concerned with shepherding natural light into his buildings: skylights illuminating staircases, large windows ushering in daylight, and courtyards looking up to blue skies.

Capturing the spiralling interior staircase in Casa Batllo stretched the Q2 to its limit. Its field of view grappled with the tight quarters, and its sensor battled with the contrast between shadowy lower regions and sunlight bursting through the skylight. It performed admirably.

The camera didn’t even break sweat while capturing the view looking up from the courtyards delivering natural light to the many rooms and hallways at La Pedrera. My neck and arms did the heavy lifting as I arched my back to point the Q2 directly upwards, completely level. The swivelling, tilting screen of my Lumix S5 would have come in handy for these shots.

Tile and Glass

Tiled surfaces are usually found in modern-day bathrooms and kitchens, their water-resistant and easy-clean surfaces mounting a fit-for-purpose riposte to those splashes and spills. Gaudi put his tiles to work covering interior and exterior surfaces far from a bathroom or kitchen.

He clad curved surfaces on Casa Batllo’s and La Pedrera’s roofs with a mosaic of tile fragments. The technique, trencadis, employs broken glazed crockery and multi-coloured tile fragments Gaudi obtained from Fabrica Pujol i Bausis.

Gaudi also arranged square tiles in a diagonal chequered pattern on the walls of the skylight and sit-in fireplace at Casa Batllo. The harmonious integration of tiles into his design, such as those surrounding the flowing Art Nouveau window in the stairway, implies their custom manufacture.

Stained glass discs embedded in a door frame, Casa Batllo
Stained glass discs embedded in a door frame, Casa Batllo

The same must be true for the profusion of glass discs incorporated into windows and door frames throughout the house.

I assume he worked directly with craft manufacturers, designing exactly the materials required to root his ideas in practical reality. The following equation comes to mind: imagination + attention to detail + mastery of materials = striking visual impact.

Ceilings

Since I had only ever seen photographs of the exterior of La Sagrada Familia, I had assumed its higgledy-piggledy assembly of ventilated, curving spires was the main attraction.

Exterior Stonework, La Sagrada Familia
Exterior Stonework, La Sagrada Familia

I was, therefore, completely unprepared for the sight that greeted me when I reached its interior. I have explored a few cathedrals in my time, but the glowing majesty of this sanctuary, illuminated by late afternoon sunlight bouncing from myriad columns and staircases, all fashioned in beautiful pale stone, set my head spinning.

Interior stairway, column, and ceiling detail, La Sagrada Familia
Interior stairway, column, and ceiling detail, La Sagrada Familia

My arms, neck, and arching back all received another workout as I craned to capture images of the ceiling and upper extremities of columns holding it up. I can only describe the extraordinary panorama by reaching for those adjectives listed in the opening paragraph: organic, nature-inspired, sui generis.

Ceiling detail, La Sagrada Familia
Ceiling detail, La Sagrada Familia

I understand why the style of La Sagrada Familia is described as neo-Gothic since it employs architectural principles found in the Gothic piles dotted across much of northern Europe. But, to my eyes and to my 28mm lens, its embodiment of those principles lies on a different plane of human imagination and artistry.

By pure luck, I visited as light was streaming through stained glass windows on the west-facing aspect of the building, bathing the interior in a warm, comforting glow. It was heavenly.

As I wandered through the sanctuary, furiously snapping shots in a frenzied effort to capture the beauty all around me, I felt the processor in my Q2 become hot to the touch — the first time this had ever happened — reflecting the flurry of 85 Mb RAW files being flung at it.

Virtuoso performance

Once again, the Q2 proved to be an outstanding camera, capable of capturing memorable holiday snaps and adroitly handling the challenges of photographing three remarkable buildings.

In all its glory, La Sagrada Famili
In all its glory, La Sagrada Famili

Yes, a tilting swivelling screen would prevent the photographer from engaging in impromptu callisthenics; yes, a wider angle lens would avoid the photographer having to risk life and limb backing up to frame a shot optimally. But these are minor quibbles.

My Q2 delivered the goods: I achieved my aspiration of photographing Antoni Gaudi’s creations and will continue to appreciate his genius through my collection of images; the camera and I have gelled as a team, ready for the next challenge.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. I recently took a Q2 on trips to Greece, Spain and Portugal & London as I wanted something weather sealed, small, portable and little to no faff that could deliver Leica quality images. I was pleasantly surprised with the Q2 performance. I agree with the comments about the tilting screen. Even the ability to use the EVF from my M11 would help for some shots when a low angle is needed but it’s nothing I couldn’t easily overcome. Low light performance lacks a bit but it’s not impossible to get good night shots with a little effort and manual focussing. I’m keen to see what the Q3 might deliver… triple res BSI sensor from the M11 and USB-C charging would be sufficient to flick my switch. Very useful IMO for travel photography 🙂 Fabulous photos by the way, nicely captured and mission accomplished I’d say.

    • Hi Rod, thanks very much for the comment. In the absence of a tilting/swiveling screen I usually don’t hesitate to scramble around on the floor, or even lie on my back, in order to get a good angle for a shot. But, on this occasion I was wearing white shorts, and it was crowded, so I resisted the temptation! Would you really upgrade to a Q3 if it possessed those features? I have never traded in a camera, and I feel very attached to my Q2, and so I would be unlikely to do that. I look forward to hearing how you handle the introduction of a Q3 of your dreams! Cheers, Keith

      • Haha yes, I’ve been there scrabbling about on the floor to get the right shot as well. I can visualise your situation there 🙂 I shoot an M11 most of the time and my SL2-S is my weapon of choice for most of my paid work. The Q2 is a neat tidy package which I can literally have with me every where I go and not worry too much about it. Currently, it fits that requirement brilliantly and I couldn’t imagine not having it in the fleet. Boosting the low-light performance and giving me the ability to charge on the go, and select lower resolution to reduce file size would certainly be of interest to me as those things would radically bring the work-flow upto the standard of the other two cameras.

  2. I took only my Q2 on a three week trip to England and I think it excelled. You just have to think about what the camera can do and work with that rather than huffing and puffing about the lenses/camera you wish you had with you.

    That means you discard ideas that require a 135mm lens and focus on what a cracking good 28mm can deliver. The only real restriction I found was in cathedrals when the 11-23 lens + CL would have been a better option.

    Would I just take the Q2 on another trip? Yes. It simplifies the process of shooting, means less weight and less faffing about with accessories you need for multiple cameras or lenses.

    • Hi Le Chef, we are of one mind! Unless I were to take a driving trip directly from home, which would make it easy to transport multiple lenses and camera bodies, I shall be sticking with my Q2 for all my future jaunts. Cheers! Keith

  3. Thanks Keith for an amazing series of images and a interesting piece of writing. The shape of the ceiling in La Sagrada Familia reminds me of Moorish architecture that you can find in the Alhambra in Grenada and La Mezquita de Cordoba. 28mm is a wonderful travel lens. I usually pack my 2 Ricohs GR. I admit I appreciate the crop factor I can get with the camera. Do you sometime use the crop mode on your Q2 or do you adhere to a 28mm strict discipline?
    Enjoy the weekend
    Jean

    • I seldom use the crop mode on the Q2, mainly because I don’t create JPGs, and I prefer to crop RAW files in Lightroom. It’s an interesting option but something of a gimmick. Interestingly, the crop mode on the Q2 attempts to simulate the framelines on an M, where you see the entire frame while working within the crop frame. Ricoh, on the other hand, crops the viewfinder image to the selected focal length. I am really not sure which I prefer.

      I can say with confidence that cropping 47MP images is perfectly feasible. I routinely crop to 50mm, and I have had some success even with 75mm. With the upcoming Q3, which is likely to have a 60MP sensor and (I hope) triple-resolution technology, cropping will be even more satisfactory. We can get a taste of this already with the M11. Recently I’ve spent a lot of time with the new steel-rim Summilux and find that 35mm is now more versatile, using the increased cropping ability without losing too much resolution.

    • Hi Jean, thanks so much! I was swept away by the experience of touring these buildings and so got a bit carried away in describing my response to them! Yes, I do use the crop mode on my Q2. Most of the time on these trips the framing lines are switched off, but they are occasionally very useful when I know I will be cropping the image in post, for example when I am taking a shot where a telephoto would be ideal. Thanks again, Keith

  4. Hello Keith
    Thank you for writing such an interesting article illustrated with some gorgeous images.
    You perhaps need to visit the cathedral again in 2026 as I believe it is scheduled to be finished then.
    Your Q2 certainly did you proud.
    Chris

  5. Hi Chris, many thanks! I would return in a heartbeat to see the cathedral complete and Gaud’s vision fulfilled. I believe the spire currently under construction will be both the tallest in La Sagrada Familia and one of the tallest in the world. I focused the article on Gaudi’s architecture, but enjoyed many other aspects of Barcelona during my brief visit, including two outstanding dinners at very cool restaurants. It’s quite a place!

  6. What a fantastic subject to photograph. A day spent here with a Leica must be like a photographer’s heaven. Top of my list if I have a chance to visit Barcelona.Thanks for sharing the photos, had not seen pictures of the interior before. In my case, would be happy to carry my SL2s with just a 24-70 but your Q2 performed superbly. I personally don’t care about tilting screens ( makes it too easy, I like to work at it to get the shots I want ) and anyway, it would deprive my friends of the amusement they get when they see my physical contortions as I’m trying to get the right angle. I do carry a small, lightweight foam cushion to save my knees! I’m guessing they don’t allow tripods so would IS be useful with this subject?

  7. Hi Stephen – many thanks! In my opinion a Q2 can handle the light levels within these interior spaces, and all my shots were taken hand-held. I might have propped myself against a wall on a few occasions, but most were taken without support. The extra range of a 24-70mm zoom might have been helpful, but 28mm with a sensor big enough to allow digital cropping works well in my experience. These are indeed fantastic subjects for photography. I hope you have a chance to try yourself sometime. Cheers, Keith

  8. Simply breath-taking images! Thanks for sharing. A beautiful lesson in 28mm photography! Do you think you would have got much the same results if you had been using the first Q (116)? (Just asking, because I might one day rise to a used Q116………. Do you really need those 47mp? Also, Leica have proved that they will NEVER provide a tilting screen. Even Fuji gave way on that with the X100V. On Mike’s point, I think I would prefer the Ricoh-style cropping or just settle for pp as I do with most of my cameras.

    • Hi John, thank you! None of the photos was heavily cropped, and so I think the original Q, possessing the same f/1.7 lens, would have performed comparably. It would be ideal to have direct, side-by-side comparisons, but unless there are Macfilos readers out there who own both cameras, or who live close to someone who owns the other model, we are unlikely ever to see that. I just checked online and saw several used Leica Qs at around $2,800. Used Q2s were coming in at $4,500 to $5,000, and so those extra megapixels still cost a lot of money! All the best, Keith

  9. When I lived in Barcelona I used to go for a late lunch after work to a fantastic beer place down Rambla de Catalunya. Perhaps still exists in the corner with Gran Vía. Later some times walked up along the bony Casa Batlló and later La Pedrera, where often they had interesting exhibits. For probably going in the afternoon to a photography book store at Calle Mallorca. I had photographs for sale there for a long time, and a pity they finally closed some years ago. Kawasa was an important reference of photography during the time they were open. This part of one of my previous reincarnations was nearly forgotten already. Sagrada familia, few times visited, was far for my common walks, the same as Parc Güell, that I recommend you to visit next time. Thanks

  10. Keith.

    Thanks for this appreciation of Gaudi! It was revealing/educational for me on several levels.

    First — I find I’ve been underestimating what the Leica Q2 can do — rather, what a serious photographer can do with it! I expected it to be very good with architecture, as with your — er, glorious “In all its glory”, La Sagrada Famili. What I hadn’t expected was the beautiful pictures of details, particularly the windows of the Casa Batlló, and the adorable cubby with fireplace. Oh, and, of course, the details of the rooftops 🙂

    The other eye-opener for me was Gaudi’s work itself; I’d seen photos and videos of these buildings, but they seemed so ornate, in so very odd a style, as to be incomprehensible. Your takes led me to a better understanding (and I was even surprised to see those Art Nouveau touches!). I was also struck by your discussion of his use of light. I love your photo “Interior stairway, column, and ceiling detail” in La Sagrada Familia — though this has a personal meaning for me. In 1970 I visited Notre Dame with my brand-new Pentax Spotmatic, and took a very similar photo. Though I must say that both the Q2 and your photo did a much better job. But, even though I no longer have the cathedral, at least I have the memory and the photo.

    One last thing. If I may, I felt that at times, your prose complemented the Gaudi very well. A delight to read.

    Kathy

    • Hi Kathy, thank you for your generous comments! I am glad that the article increased your appreciation both of Gaudi’s work and the Q2. When one considers the time, money and effort invested in traveling almost 4,000 miles to visit a city and its distinctive architecture, I think it’s critical that one’s camera gear is up to the job of seizing what could be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to photograph them. The Q2’s lens and sensor are sensational! I am especially glad to hear you thought the writing was up to the quality that Gaudi’s work deserves. I don’t think I have ever spent so much time drafting, revising, and polishing a piece before! All the best, Keith

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