Leica has been leading the world in small, simple cameras with basic features, ideal for travel, family snaps and reportage, for nigh on a century. In fact, it celebrated its centenary last year, as 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the prototype Leica 1. But it was 1925, a time when most quality cameras still needed a photographer and a strong assistant to operate them, when this pocketable model went into mass production. The simplicity and small size of the early Leicas enabled informal, inconspicuous photography that democratised the craft – a zeitgeist thing to do in Weimar Germany – and also made street photography possible, exemplified by the most celebrated Leica user, Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Today even the smallest German-made Leicas (leaving aside the Panasonic-built mass sub-£1,000 models) are on the hefty side by current compact-camera standards. Yet while its digital offerings (it still makes film models) have a lot of sophisticated controls, most have simple, point-and-shoot modes that make it possible for even novice photographers to take breathtakingly fine photos.
This sensationally good new Leica Q stands, in both form and function, between the just-about-pocket-sized Leica X and T cameras and the big M series. The fat-bodied, chunky Leica M-ness of the Q was the first thing that attracted me. It looks and feels like a simplified M, and that’s what it is – the major simplification being a fixed 28mm lens, with digital zoom to replicate 35mm and 50mm lenses. The fact you can’t buy extra lenses for the Q is fine by me; I believe most photos worth taking are covered by the Q’s 28/35/50mm options.
The Leica Q’s 24-megapixel sensor is the size of a 35mm film negative, which is the biggest factor in providing stellar sharpness, detail and richness, and the photos its Summilux lens produces should impress even those not dazzled by refined photography stuff. The Q also shoots in crazily low light. Setting the camera to an ISO of 50,000 and opening the lens to its full f1.7, I went on a night walk around Santa Monica taking photos as if it were daytime – and good they were too. The Q also shoots superb video and has a great macro mode.
It’s a ludicrously beautiful camera and puts the onus on you to be a photographer, not an appliance operator. What a Christmas gift it would be.