Many have waited for it patiently, and even more can only dream of affording it, but there is one thing you simply cannot deny: the Leica Q3 is a damn good camera. Is it worth the price? To many Leica lovers, undoubtedly. To you? Well, let’s see what it offers first.
Unfazed by the Modern World
As I’ve said in my first hands-on written a week ago, the design of the camera is timeless, minimalistic, and many would even say simplistic. The body focuses on a simple goal. Take the picture and don’t worry about the rest. Here’s a quick disclaimer: I’ve never been a Leica lover. I never understood the appeal, especially considering what the guys over in Wetzlar are charging for their cameras. The SL2 is just a deeply uncomfortable camera to use for my personal tastes. Up until the M11, I never really grasped the hype and many shooters’ dreams of ever having one. With all that being said, though, I just loved using the Leica Q3. That is not an exaggeration. Although, it was not an instant love at first sight. It took me a few days, but once I got there, I had a few more days with it before I had to sadly return it.
Everything you need to take the shot is laid out on the camera just how I like it. You’ve got your shutter speed dial on the top next to the exposure compensation dial, which can become your ISO/shutter speed dial after a single press, depending on your settings. The lens is well known from the previous two generations of the Leica Q cameras. That means your aperture dial is still in the same place as well as the manual focus ring and macro switch. The back of the camera holds the same amount of buttons as the Leica Q2, which means we get a simple d-pad, play, menu, and three blank Fn buttons. Two welcome improvements have happened back here, though. Firstly, the buttons have moved to the right side, meaning you can easily operate the camera with just one hand.
The second improvement has been the inclusion of a tilt mechanism to the rear LCD screen. And a really nicely done one at that. The tilt feels solid, smooth, and effortless. Nothing squeaks or clicks. It just works. The screen is perfectly visible even during a sunny day as long as you don’t smudge it with your face before you use the viewfinder. We left-eye shooters know this all too well. The only complaint I might have about the tilt is the fact, that the ridges on the top and the bottom of the screen made for us to be able to grab the screen are a bit small and hard to grab without having to resort to nails. It is not much of an issue at the moment, but I can see it becoming hard to use in winter when you’ve got gloves on.
My last complaint regarding the external controls has to go towards the focus ring. The mechanism of switching between manual and automatic focusing is well done. It’s built into the small handle underneath the lens, which you use when you focus manually. But focusing manually just did not feel nice. The ring is smooth, very precise, and doesn’t go all around like many other fly-by-wire lenses do. However, the resistance is a bit too much to be able to focus quickly. You need to give it quite a bit of force for it to move fast, and even then, it is definitely not as quick as what we’re used to from Leica’s M mount lenses.
Fast Enough for Most Uses
Luckily, the autofocus is decent enough for you not to need to use the manual focus ring too much. I have used the camera for more than a week, so I have had a decent amount of occasions to test it out. For a majority of my shots, it performed flawlessly. I often swapped between spot, field, zone, and face detection modes, either in AF-S or in AF-C. And whether the camera was used during my street photography walks, on a walk with my restless lil’ one who’s just learned to run, or to document a concert in a moderately lit church, it rarely failed to focus on the subject.
But I would be lying if I said it was flawless. There were occasions when the desired subject managed to move past the focus plane by the time I fully pressed the shutter button. This often happened when the subject was walking towards me or when the light was a bit dimmer. My recommendation? Don’t expect to be able to shoot fast-moving action unless it’s parallel to you. The focus speed and tracking capabilities reminded me of a Panasonic S5, which was not bad by any measure when you used single-shot focus and did not plan on tracking.
The 60-Megapixel Star of the Show
In the 10 days I have been using the Leica Q3, it has managed to spoil me. The same sensor loved by Leica M11 users is running the show here, and I hope you pardon my French, but damn, it’s spectacular! I’ve used high-resolution cameras many times before. I have shot with the a7R IV and V from Sony, Canon’s R5, and every single GFX Fujifilm has released so far, and they are all great cameras each in their own way. But the combination of this sensor and lens just feels different in the best possible way.
The image quality, the noise levels, the color, and the amount of detail all combined in such a comfortable package, which I had no excuse to not carry with me everywhere, resulted in a truly fun experience. I never really zoom in in-camera once I take a shot to see if it is in focus, but with the Q3, I just had to all the time. Not to confirm focus, but to just enjoy what the camera managed to create, especially in the beautiful viewfinder. I always liked the viewfinders of my Fujifilm cameras, but when I shot a concert using a Q3 and an X-T5 with the new XF 56mm f/1.2 R WR lens, I just felt disappointed by the Fujifilm’s viewfinder in comparison. The Leica is just on a whole other level of clarity, brightness, and color.
Back to the sensor, though. As long as I exposed well enough not to blow the highlights, I knew I could always bring the shadows back up effortlessly and with minimal noise. The files are fairly clean, and high-ISO images have this lovely “grain” structure. The color is rather neutral, but you’ve got a ton of room to work with it after the fact – nothing over the top in terms of color shifting one way or another like we’re used to from other brands.
Crop of a 60-megapixel shot
The one negative I encountered was the longitudinal chromatic aberration in the out-of-focus contrasty areas. It only happened when I shot in a dark environment with bright windows in the shot. The transitions from black frames to the bright white do show some color aberrations when they are out of focus and shot at f/1.7. Nothing terribly noticeable, but it’s there when you know what you’re looking for.
The Day-to-Day Use
Let’s start with the most important note here, the battery. For my use, it was a non-issue. CIPA rates it at 350 shots, but I easily squeezed twice as much out of it by simply using it just like I would use any other mirrorless camera. Switch it off when it’s down, and switch it on as you’re lifting it up to your eye. The start-up time is barely noticeable. Combine that with either USB-C charging or the new option of wireless charging with the optional HG-DC1 ergonomic grip, and you do not have to worry about battery life.
Getting images off of the camera should be easy using the included USB-C to Lightning cable. I’m an Android user, but I edit most of my images on my basic 2021 iPad, so I was looking forward to that feature. Unfortunately, the Leica Fotos app was taking its sweet time sending images to my iPad via cable. I resorted to just using my trusty Lightning to SD card adapter, which made the import to Lightroom much faster and simpler. And thanks to the files being DNGs, I did not need to wait for official support from Adobe. The files just work, even though the camera is not really out yet.
One last tip is the strap. The eyelets are a tad too small for the Peak Design anchor links loved by many. You’d need to resort to traditional D-rings to attach a strap. Luckily, I’ve got a Falcam strap using a similar system but with slimmer anchor links that fit through the eyelets easily.
What I Enjoyed
Just carrying the camera with me every single day and using it as my “daily driver” just made sense. The images I was getting were beautiful, and the process of using the camera was just fun. I managed to customize the controls for my personal use in such a way that I never needed to enter the menu and could just focus on the scene in front of me. The camera is incredibly silent thanks to its combination of an electronic shutter and a leaf shutter. Flash users will definitely enjoy the ability to sync up to 1/2,000 s.
The autofocus was fast enough for most of my uses, and I rarely missed a shot once I knew how to work with it. The viewfinder was bright, large, and sharp. And so was the tilting screen on the back. Both were equally usable, each with their own specific advantages. There has not been a single drop of rain while I had the camera to play with, but I am very happy with the IP52 official rating. It’s nice not to worry about rain when you’re out trying to capture the moment.
What I Didn’t Like
The front of the camera is very flat and has no features to hold on to. This can be fixed with an optional grip, and as a Fujifilm user, I understand the opposing thumb argument, but a small ridge on the front as seen in the X-Pro line-up would make a huge difference. I often feared dropping the camera if I tried using my thumb to press a button on the back one-handed.
Definitely Not For Everyone
Did I really enjoy using the camera? Definitely! Will I buy one? No. I can get the same job done at a fraction of the price, maybe except for the stunning amount of detail. But I fully understand the appeal and why anyone would spend the money getting one. It is fun to use, gets beautiful results, feels premium, and does not scare your subjects away.
Single focal length large sensor compact cameras are a niche, and there are not a lot of options. We’ve got the GR III from Ricoh, the X100V from Fujifilm, and the king of the pack, the Leica Q3. Each of these has its own list of benefits over the other. The Leica Q3 has many, and it’s merely up to you which of these is perfect for your use.
That being said, I’m sticking to my Fujifilm X70, which I used to shoot the titular image of this review as well as the other shots of the Leica in the article, apart from the one taken outside.