Smartphones make great travel cameras; everyone knows that at this point. You’ve always got your phone with you, for one thing, and recent advances in quality, software, and hardware have elevated smartphone photography to new heights. But you don’t get the professional lenses or interchangeable options that come with traditional cameras, and with increasing power comes decreasing battery life.
On the other hand, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras provide their own challenges. Often they are bulky and overcomplicated, making them not so ideal for travel or street photography.
Enter the Leica Q2 Monochrom. This compact travel camera from the iconic German camera manufacturer packs a full-frame sensor punch into a relatively tiny package. And being a black-and-white only camera, it has the luxury of leaving out color sensors to create incredibly crisp, sharp monochrome images. So let’s dive in and take a look!
Lens and Sensor
The Leica Q2 Monochrom shoots in 2:3, 35 mm digital format on a full-frame 47.3 million pixel sensor that lacks color or low-pass filter. Because the sensor lacks a color filter array, the camera is free to measure only light levels, freeing it up to produce amazingly rich black and white images. The custom-made sensor also features a broad dynamic range (13 stops at ISO 200) and low image noise. You can crank the ISO up to 100,000 if you want to. Yowza.
The built-in Summilux 28f/1.7 ASPH prime lens is both fast and sharp, and that 1.7 f-stop range gives you plenty of soft bokeh with which to wow your Instagram friends. It delivers exceptional low-light performance and is an ideal length for street, landscape, and travel photography.
Now, 28-mm lenses aren’t generally considered perfect for portrait photography, which is where that enormous sensor comes in. Digital zoom technology allows you to hit focal lengths of 35, 50, and 75 mm, with corresponding resolutions of 30, 15, and 7 megapixels, respectively. We usually always choose optical over digital zoom and would maybe hesitate to go all the way up 75 mm, but 30 megapixels of resolution at 35 mm is still plenty of sharpness for quality portraiture.
The other thing we love about this lens is that it is threaded for E49 lens filters – meaning you can put colored filters, polarizing filters, and neutral density filters over your glass to fine-tune your effects in-camera. That’s the way the professionals do it, and that’s the way you should do it as well. A lot of compact travel cameras with fixed lenses don’t have this feature.
Other Notable Features
The Leica Q2 Monochrom has most of the features you’d expect from a modern compact camera, including a timer, WiFi, a three-inch LCD screen, and a battery that gets you approximately 350 exposures. But let’s talk about some of the other touches that Leica has worked into the camera that make it unique, or, barring that, at least unusually well-engineered.
The OLED viewfinder has a resolution of 3.68 megapixels and activates via sensor with no visible lag when you bring it up to your eye. The diopter wheel is retractable, so you don’t accidentally change focus on the viewfinder – a feature we really love, speaking as folks who’ve ruined images due to poorly adjusted diopters.
The camera is dust and water-resistant to IP52, which is pretty good for a travel camera, but not as great as we’d like for a piece of equipment with this cost. The “2” in IP52 means the camera is protected from water spray less than 15 degrees from vertical. We’d love to see the protection rating sitting at IP54, which protects from water spray in any direction.
Menus and Operation
One problem with many compact cameras is that the controls are increasingly digital, as the range of options outstrips available real-estate on shrinking camera bodies. The upshot is that it can be difficult to operate the camera quickly – a real downside when talking about compact travel cameras. The Leica Q2 Monochrom has enough physical dials to get the job done, and the digital menus are simplified because of the lack of color settings.
At around $5,995, the Leica Q2 Monochrom isn’t going to have universal appeal. But for black-and-white enthusiasts looking for a compact and versatile tool that produces world-class images, it’s hard to imagine anything better.