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Cameras

Leica Q2 is the camera other compacts want to be when they grow up

I go hands-on with the successor to my favorite $5,000 4-year-old and its pumped-up 47-megapixel sensor.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Leica is nothing if not consistent. Despite its new 47-megapixel sensor and even more streamlined design, shooting with the Leica Q2 feels exactly like shooting with its predecessor from 2015, the Leica Q. It maintains the Q's performance and photo quality, simply writ larger. Given that the original Q was one of my favorite compact cameras ever, that puts it in the win column.

The Q2 is shipping now for $4,995 (£4,250; not yet available in Australia, but that directly converts to roughly AU$7,100).

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Most of the specs remain the same, including the ISO sensitivity range, autofocus system, continuous shooting speed, shutter, exposure system and so on. But it looks like Leica addressed one of my few complaints about the photo quality in the Q. The high-ISO sensitivity JPEGs look slightly more processed, with less noise, though the JPEGs are still a little too high contrast at the expense of dynamic range by default. 

I had the camera for less than two weeks, most of which suffered from typical cold or rainy, gray New York winter weather. But that did drive home how well Leica nails the white balance. Many cameras don't handle such cool light that well. (One caveat: I didn't shoot anything that might cause moire, so I don't know if Leica's introduced processing to compensate for it.) 

The company also bumped the Q2's video to 4K UHD 24p. It won't win any awards and lacks advanced features -- there's no log profile, for example -- but it's definitely a step up from the old HD.

Thanks to the higher resolution, Leica changed its in-camera cropping (for example, digital zoom) options to 50mm and 75mm angle-of-view equivalents from 35mm and 50mm in the previous model. 

On one hand, a fixed 28mm lens can feel pretty restrictive for some shooting styles, and the digital zoom gives you flexiblity you might not otherwise have without sacrificing the ultrasharp prime lens for what would necessarily be a less optimized and even more expensive zoom. 

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The ability to recrop raw photos shot using the in-camera digital zoom comes in very handy when you make boneheaded moves like framing the shot with one sliced down the middle as I did in the original for this one. (Resized in Photoshop.)

Lori Grunin/CNET

Since Leica uses Adobe DNG as its native raw format, the crops are nondestructively applied. In other words, if you open them in Photoshop or Lightroom, they're normal raw files with a crop overlay that you can resize and move.

But it's not quite the same as having a lens that long. The 50mm crop produces 14.7-megapixel JPEGs, which is smallish, but the 75mm crop shrinks the image down to 6.8 megapixels (3,136x2,096 pixels) which feels too small, especially when you're working on a 4K display where it doesn't fill the screen at 100 percent.

The standard angle of view with the Q2's 28mm lens. Pretty dreary shooting weather. The snow is not flat white in the original. (Resized in Photoshop.)

Lori Grunin/CNET

Most of the notable changes lie in the Q2's design. It has a similar minimalist back to the Leica CL, with just three buttons and a navigation D-pad with a button in the center. But the Q2 makes the diopter dial easier to adjust and lockable. The flat programmable button from the Q remains, but it's too flat and difficult to feel and push with cold fingers.

The minimalism has made its way to the top controls as well. There's no more dedicated movie-recording button. Instead, you enter movie mode by pressing the button in the center of the d-pad and use the shutter button to start and stop recording. 

The single or continuous AF mode switch is gone as well, with the choice moved into the menu system -- not a great location if you tend to jump from one to the other a lot. At least there's a new custom menu so you can load up all your faves into the first screen.

Leica now uses the same battery as its Leica SL mirrorless camera. While the battery itself could stand a little more juice -- battery life for the Q2 remains underwhelming, and it's especially bad in the cold weather -- I love the doorless compartment design. 

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Because of the new battery design, the SD card has gained its own slot on the bottom with a robust-feeling new cover. It slides out and up to open, back and down to close. While it's great that the card slot doesn't have to share the battery compartment, it's still in an awkward location too close to the tripod mount. That's less than ideal if you like to work on a tripod or use a sling strap like I do.

Guess what else is gone? Connectors. Like the CL, Leica's dropped the USB and HDMI connections. I didn't even realize the change until I started writing, to be honest, so you may consider it a reasonable tradeoff for the somewhat improved dust and drip resistance, which is now up to IP52. It's also added Bluetooth in addition to Wi-Fi.

The OLED EVF is still great and Leica says the switching between LCD and EVF is faster. Still irksome, though: You have to buy an optional thumb grip if you insist on a decent hold on the camera. The Q2 retains the carved-out thumb rest in the back that makes it just comfortable enough to shoot single handed. But I'm not a fan of flat fronts, pretty as they may be, because you have to clutch the camera more tightly. That gets fatiguing after a while. On the other hand, the ring on the lens that switches between macro and normal focus distances got a little thicker, which is a nice improvement.

While it's tempting to say the Leica Q2 is in a class by itself, it really isn't. In fact Sony's RX1R II is also about four years old, and still looks competitive in comparison with the Q2: Its 35mm f2 lens is a hair slower, but it has a tilting touchscreen, is a bit smaller and still costs about $1,700 less. Perhaps more important, rumor has it that Sony will be shipping a new model this year, potentially with a 60MP sensor that supports 8K video. But I doubt Sony will be able -- or even really try -- to match Leica for style.

Originally published 6 a.m. PT, March 7.
Update, 9:45 a.m. PT:
Fixes incorrect price information.

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