Leica Q3 in-depth review – Five critical improvements to the Q-system
Aug 14, 2023
Leica Q3 in-depth review – Five critical improvements to the Q-system
Announced on 25 May 2023, the Leica Q3 is the third iteration of one of Leica’s most-loved cameras. As of now, I am sure there are many specifications-focused reviews available hence this review will focus on what I deem to be the five critical improvements in the Leica Q3 over the Leica Q2 that gleamed over my hands-on user experience over the last 3 days.
This review will be long as I have tried to structure the review based on the questions requested by photographers across social media platforms instead of the typical boring regurgitation of specifications.
*The loan period for the Leica Q3 review is a week, a positive shout-out to Leica AG for always ensuring a reasonable loan duration.
*For fairness, the Leica Q3 used for this review is a pre-production set running pre-production firmware.
The Leica Q3 brings real significant improvements over the already very competent Leica Q2 in performance, functionality, and even in the ergonomics and build of the camera.
The Leica Q2 is a very capable camera, supported by Leica with Firmware version 5.00 recently released. It will satisfy most users, but the Leica Q3 will be the one that the most demanding users will yearn for.
Love the fact or hate it, with the dead-on-arrival Zeiss ZX1 and the unknown fate of the Sony RX1 series, the Leica Q is the only choice of premium fixed-lens camera in the full-frame arena. The Fujifilm X100 and Ricoh GR series have their own strengths, but none will give you the same optical potential as the Leica Q3.
The Three common questions
As usual, once Leica’s announcement was made and the 1st wave of reviews was shared, the three most common questions asked were:
- Is the Leica Q3 worth upgrading from the Leica Q2 or the Leica Q1?
- Is the Leica Q3 the best, beating other premium fixed lens compacts into submission?
- Which body part should I sell for the Leica Q3?
I lack the know-how to help with the third question, but as any self-respecting reviewer would, let me attempt the 1st two questions and leave the final deliberation to you.
Five critical improvements over the Q2
Regardless of whether one is a hobbyist, enthusiast, or professional, there will always be a few key areas that matter. Let us see how the Leica Q3 brings the Leica Q series forward.
Intelligent Auto-focus capabilities
Firmware 5.00 adds additional autofocus capabilities to the Leica Q2. Still, the newly developed PDAF+CDAF autofocusing system of the Q3 takes the autofocus reliability, tracking, and speed of the Leica Q3 to a significantly higher level.
With almost instant activation and excellent tracking, subject recognition has improved significantly, especially in eye/face/body detection. Leica has also worked on the focusing menu options, for example, including a new option, “Intelligent AF,” that one can apply and allow the camera to intelligently determine the most appropriate focusing mode.
I prefer more control over my autofocusing and use spot metering; hence while some will prefer to simply let the camera do the heavy lifting, I quite frequently change Auto-focus modes between Eye/Face/body detection to Spot or Field focusing and the touch-screen/menu system allows me to do so quickly.
Of course, no camera system can give one 100% hit rate for auto-focusing, but the Leica Q3 is confident in its autofocus reliability. If one wishes for higher hit rates, the camera allows up to 15 frames per second of captures.
Menu-wise, under Drive Mode, one now sees a more precise definition of the different ‘speeds’ available. Instead of Leica Q2’s Continous Low/Medium/High/Very High, Leica Q3’s menu clearly states the differentiation from 2/4/7/9/15 frames per second, with 14-bit files only available up to 7 frames per second.
Coming from the Leica M11 and newer M10 series models, this function is also now available on the Leica Q3, allowing one a handy in-camera tool in aligning converging/diverging verticals while composing.
Suppose you have never used Perspective Control and prefer photographing converging or diverging lines. In that case, you are definitely missing out, and this is one of those little yet extremely handy functions that I frequently use in my Leica M10-R.
Low Light focusing and image output
The Leica Q3 shares the same triple-resolution sensor as the Leica M11 but possesses a more advanced Maestro IV processor (Leica M11 uses the Maestro III).
One highly requested topic and seldom touched on by other reviewers is the Leica Q3’s performance in low light.
Photographing in low light, even with street photography, where one generally requires higher shutter speeds was a breeze with an auto-focus system that never even hunted once.
Your storage options may curse at me, but if this is a 60 megapixels capable camera, I will use it at 60 megapixels. The output of the Leica Q3 is beautiful even in low light, with Leica’s signature micro-contrast enhanced by a good repertoire of punchy colours.
Some may question how high ISO performance will be affected if one chooses between the 18, 36, and 60-megapixel modes. My quick answer is simply that I will need to have the camera longer to test this properly, but my experience with the files is that they are excellent to work with, and as always, with Leica equipment, I shoot for the shadows instead of the highlights.
Ergonomics and Firmware
Leica has emphasized that adding a tilt screen is a big deal. While helpful, I believe a tilt screen is not compulsory. My M10-R and MP cameras do not come with a tilt screen, and I have never lost a shot because I did not have a tilt screen, but I digress.
What is more critical for me is one overlooked area by a few other reviewers; with the buttons now shifted to the same side, one-handed operation of the Leica Q3 is now possible, which is an experience-changing design change.
In fact, being a happy owner of the Q2 Seal, I sometimes wish that the camera comes with the convenience of USB-C sharing, and the Leica Q3 finally brings this to the table.
Kudos to the designers for being creative enough to include magnetic charging capabilities; it is cool, but this is not a function serious photographers will be desperate to have, especially when it costs approximately USD400 to unlock.
SCL-6 versus SCL-4 batteries
The SCL-6 was released along with the Leica Q3 with a higher capacity, notably to support the 8K recording and more power-hungry Maestro IV processor. Some current Leica Q2 owners wonder if they should dump their current SCL-4 batteries.
Firstly, using the SCL-6 on the Leica Q2 will not bring any benefits or extended battery life, but the battery is fully compatible. However, using the SCL-4 battery on the Leica Q3 will not allow 8K recording, and I did notice that on a few occasions, a very slightly longer start-up time on the Q3 (but I am using a pre-production unit; hence this has to be fully verified later).
Unless swimming in money or where 8K video recording is non-negotiable, I will not rush to dispose of my current SCL-4 batteries for the Q3.
Breaking new grounds with new capabilities
This was one area I did not expect, but the Leica Q3 comes with significant improvements in its video capabilities. The Leica Q3 camera now supports 8K recording at 30fps, 4K at 60 fps, or Full HD at 120fps.
In a nod to practicality, Leica Q3 now has an HDMI output for connecting to an external monitor or recorder and a USB-C port for power/data transfer. Other advanced video features include ProRes recording, Leica’s L-log profile, and LUT compatibility.
I am sure video creatives would be asking about microphone inputs that there’s no microphone socket for higher quality sound. I guess Leica would offer this through USB-C later through a firmware update.
- 60MP full-frame sensor with Triple resolution technology (18/36/60 Megapixels)
- 28mm ƒ1.7 Summilux stabilized lens with integrated macro mode (focusing up to 17cm)
- Digital crop to 35, 50, 70, and 90mm (39, 19, 8, and 6MP)
- 5.76M dot OLED EVF with 0.79x magnification, 3″ tilt touchscreen LCD with 1.8 million dots
- Native ISO range of 50 to 100,000
- Shutter speeds of 120sec to 1/2000sec using the in-lens mechanical shutter, extending to 1/16,000sec using the electronic shutter.
- Hybrid autofocus (PDAF + contrast AF with new intelligent subject recognition)
- 8K video capture in UHD or DCI ratios up to 30p (H.265)
- Apple ProRes 422HQ support for 1080p video capture up to 60p
- AI-assisted perspective control and dynamic range tools for JPEG mode
- IP52-rated dust and water resistant
- USB-C and micro-HDMI ports, new SCL-6 battery with wireless-capable charging grip HG-DC1
- New Leica Looks (JPEG profiles building on the existing ones)
Another much-touted improvement is the availability of the Leica Looks to the Leica Q3; this is one area I hope to touch on later if I manage a second review of the Leica Q3.
The Leica Looks, for now, consists of the following options: Contemporary, Classic, Selenium, Sepia, and Blue, and below is to share a sample to start.
Note that one needs to transfer the Leica Looks profiles from the FOTOS app to set them up for direct use in the camera.
Some users might like them, but I prefer Leica’s standard look, so this is subjective, but I guess, more options are always good. These work as filters one can apply for the JPEG files directly in camera once you transfer them over from the FOTOS app, for example, Contemporary, which comes with a straightforward but subtle reddish tint and, in my opinion, the one that most users would use more frequently.
I realize quite a few considering the Leica Q3 from the Leica Q2, maybe have focused wrongly on the surface-layer attributes, such as the addition of the tilt-screen and, well, the new “Leica Looks” and as such, neglected the significant improvements under the hood and I hope this review here touches on these areas.
Similar to the Fujifilm X100 & Ricoh GR series, the Leica Q series is unique in specific ways and designing a worthy successor is never an easy feat.
The Leica Q3 lives in a market segment with no real competitors, the premium fixed-lens full-frame camera segment. This alone makes it unique, and even for a Leica M and Fujifilm X-mount system user like me, I see how the Leica Q3 complements my system.
For current Q2 owners, upgrading or not is very personal, but this is a no-brainer question for Leica Q owners. For current owners of the APSC-sensor fixed lens options, these are excellent cameras with their cult following (I have reviewed both and owned them too). Still, my honest opinion is none of them will ever come close to the imaging potential of the Leica Q3. Thus, the decision returns to which factor regarding the camera performance one prioritizes the most.
One unequivocal fact is that Leica has indeed taken the very competent Leica Q2 and, yes, improved it to an even higher level of performance with the Leica Q3.
Even when they could have simply continued to sell the Leica Q2.
About the author
Keith Wee is a Singapore-based mathematics teacher and photographer who believes in sharing honest, hands-on reviews of photography gear with real-life samples of its use. He works to live a life of positivism and to spread a bit of optimism. You can find out more about Keith on his website and follow his work on Instagram. This article was also published here and shared with permission.
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