photography and photographs understood

Leica Q Decision

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: Sep 2018; revised: Sep 2018; readers past month: 660

Recently, I decided to sell all of my cameras and lenses, and then buy a new camera and lens, to have just one camera, one lens to improve my creativity and to encourage myself to take more photos. My plan was to sell my Leica M3 and M9 cameras, the three Leica lenses I own, and my FujiFilm X100F. I would use the money from the sale of all of this equipment to buy a Leica M-D camera and a Leica Elmarit-M f/2.8 28mm lens. It would be a marvelous pairing. The Leica M-D is so basic, it’s like a a digital film camera.

Leica M3 Camera, Leica Elmarit-M f/2.8 21mm Lens
Leica M9 Camera, Leica Summicron-M f/2 50mm Lens
Leica Elmarit-M f/2.8 90mm Lens

It was a good plan, but the cost of the camera and lens is high. I’ll eventually have enough to buy them, once I sell all of my old equipment. Until then, I’d have to do without a camera. I could bootstrap my way into it by holding back the Fuji camera until everything else is sold. But I decided to bring it all to a couple of photography stores in Milan to sell, and use what cash I have to buy either the Leica M-D camera or just the 28mm lens for now—I can go a while without take pictures.

In the midst of deciding what to do, though, I chatted with Matthew Osborne, a professional portrait photographer in England that uses Leica rangefinder cameras. He recommended I rethink my plan to get a Leica M-D, so I did. What follows is my assessment and determination. Although this process is particular to me, you may find my thoughts on this useful in deciding which camera is best for you—or you may just find this article an interesting read.

Usage Assessment

As I pondered my options, I thought more about why I haven’t been using my Leica equipment, and have been using instead my FujiFilm X100F compact camera. The primary reason is because it’s portable. My policy has been to use the Leica cameras and lenses for studio portraits and special photographing, and to use the X100F for travel and simple snapshots. Looking in Adobe Lightroom at the number of photos I took in the past twelve months, I see that 89.8% were made with the Fuji X100F, 8.6% with my iPhone, and only 1.6% with my Leica M9—none with my Leica M3.

Karen Nakamura, a Yale professor who specializes in photoethnography, recommends in her classic camera buying guide that you use regularly all of your cameras—or sell them if you don’t. I’ve tried over the years to adhere to that advice, to make it one of my policies related to photography. This is why I sold several cameras I liked very much (e.g., a Canon P, and a Zeiss Ikon). If I haven’t been using my Leica equipment because they’re not portable and because I do very little studio portraits these days, will that change if I get a new Leica M-mount camera and lens—even if I sell my compact Fuji camera?

Influencing Factors

One reason I haven’t been using the Leica equipment is because I’m using more convenient cameras (i.e., the Fuji X100F and an iPhone). In an article I wrote last year, I explained that I bought the X100F to replace a Sony RX100-III. I had determined at that time from my photos in Lightroom that I took eighty percent more photos during the year I owned the Sony, compared to each of the previous two years when I only had the Leica M9. In the twelve months that I owned the Fuji—which I bought for the better quality, larger image sensor—I took seventy-eight percent more photos compared to the previous twelve months when I owned the Sony. This tells me that portability and quality have a significant effect on the number of photos I take.

Portability is not a factor, though, when I’m taking studio portraits. Instead, quality and the type of camera is what matters. Although I haven’t been taking many studio portraits in the past couple of years, I like having that option. I can’t use a FujiFilm X100F camera to take studio portraits. Well, I can, but a full-frame Leica digital camera would be better suited. Plus, models won’t be impressed if I use a compact camera to take their pictures. It’s not very professional. This tells me something else about what I want: a camera with a full-frame sensor which may be used for studio portraits and impress would-be models as professional.

Leica Q

The Right Camera

Remembering last year when I was looking to buy a portable camera with a larger sensor, I had considered two other cameras: the Sony RX1R-II and the Leica Q. I passed on those two, although I liked them very much, because they were too big and cost too much. By selling all of my Leica cameras and lenses, I would easily have the money for either one—and I wouldn’t even have to wait until I sold everything. So I reconsidered buying one of these compact cameras—actually, I reconsidered buying just the Leica Q.

If I am to have only one camera and one lens, based on my usage assessment and influencing factors above, the combination should be portable for use when traveling and in daily life, and have a full-frame sensor and be professional for use in the studio, and above all it should be high quality. The camera should be compact with manual controls for exposure settings, and with a wide-angle lens—preferably a 28mm lens. This describes well the Leica Q.

The Decision

With the Leica Q, I will have a camera that I can take with me wherever I go. Sure it’s not as portable as the FujiFilm X100F, but it’s smaller than the Leica M-mount cameras and lenses, and much smaller and lighter than typical digital SLR cameras and their obnoxious size lenses.

As for using the camera semi-professionally in a studio setting, it will do just fine and it’ll impress most people. Plus, it has automatic focusing, something the Leica M-mount cameras do not.

I will buy a Leica Q. I’ll empty my bank account in buying one, but I’ll survive—and soon will have more one when my old equipment is sold. Once everything is sold, I will have a spectacular camera for all my uses and I will have a few thousand euros to spare. It’s a good decision for me.