Leica Q wedding photography
The last 5 weddings I’ve shot have primarily been with the Leica Q. I’ve loved using it. This is a review of why and how I’m using it. No photos of the camera here (you’ve already drooled over those on other blogs), no detailed specs or technical jargon. Just my thoughts and experience using it in real life.
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*New post here > One year shooting weddings with the Q
The Q appears to be aimed at street photographers, I recently posted my initial impressions on the camera and shared some images of my street photography with it in Paris. The way I approach wedding photography is very similar to a street or documentary photographer. I let events flow naturally, get close and tell the story. I want a camera that enables me to do this as discreetly as possible without missing moments.
Most of my wedding photography has been with DSLR’s. I’ve shot hundreds of weddings with the Canon 5d Mk 3, and last year bought the Nikon D750 to replace my Canon system. I’ve also owned my fair share of mirrorless cameras, including the Fuji X100, X20, Xpro1, XT1, and the Olympus OMD Em5. Leica has always been on my wish list, but other than a film M6 for personal use, I have always considered them too expensive and lacking in technical features (AF/high ISO) to be my main wedding camera body.
I love the Fuji XT1, and used it alongside DSLR’s to capture certain parts of the day. I love the freedom this little camera gives me, and the files it produces. I’m not sure I can articulate why exactly, but I’ve never felt confident enough to use it for the “important parts” of the day (i.e. B&G walking down the aisle together). I’ve heard this from several other wedding photographers. In my opinion it misses focus too often on poorly lit moving subjects. When I read the initial reviews on the Leica Q, I was excited. It sounded like the bridge between mirrorless and DSLR that I’d been looking for. Full frame camera, amazing autofocus, decent high ISO and nice and discreet. After a couple of weeks deciding how I could shoehorn it into my wedding kit lineup (in the end I relegated the Nikon D750 to backup/high Dynamic range/high ISO work), I took the plunge and ordered from Leica Manchester.
Design + Features
The Q feels lovely in the hand, it makes my XT1 feel a bit cheap (no small feat). I use it with a gordy camera strap and the lens hood permanently attached. At my second wedding with the Leica, my camera strap worked loose from the thread fitting on the base, and £2900 smashed into the concrete below! A testament to the build that it continued to work perfectly – with no visible marks!
A very Leica-esk design, aperture and shutter speed are quick and simple to change and ISO has its own button on the back of the camera. However part of me misses the extra dials of the Fuji system, especially the dedicated ISO and viewfinder switcher buttons, that enable quick adjustments to be made. Some customisation of function buttons is available, but it would be great if this could be expanded in a firmware update (i/e adding EVF/LCD switching). A tilting screen would have been nice, and its a shame the Q does not have one. I can see ascetically why Leica has opted out of this feature, but it’s really useful for both street and wedding photography.
The Q has one SD memory card slot. As with all mirrorless cameras, this is one of the biggest issues for wedding photographers. We’ve heard lots of horror stories of memory card failures, and are used to the security of dual slots of pro level DSLRs. To counter the fact the Q (and XT1) only have 1 card slot, I ensure I capture all the key moments with two cameras, and only use 16GB memory cards – reducing the risk in the event of card failure.
The leaf shutter is a dream. It makes the XT1 sound like a gun (I don’t use the electronic shutter on the XT1 due to banding), and the Nikon D750 a bazooka! For my discreet style of photography this is a huge advantage, I can literally have the camera over a guests shoulder and grab a shot without them noticing.
I’m a prime lens shooter, over the years I’ve switched between favouring 24mm & 50mm vs 35mm & 85mm. I’m torn between the 24mm focal length and 35mm. I love to get close to the action and give a real human perspective via the field of view. The longest lens I own is 85mm – zoom with your feet! The 28mm of the Leica Q is perfect for how I shoot. I’ve heard lots of moaning about this focal length, but for me its allows an amazing storytelling view. However there are certain points in the day in which 28mm is just too wide (and sometimes not wide enough!) which is why I choose to shoot alongside the Fuji XT1, using the 56mm (85 mm full frame equivalent) and the 21mm + 50mm lenses (both 35mm equivalent).
The EVF (electronic viewfinder) is amazing. I never thought I’d prefer an electronic viewfinder over an optical one, but live preview, instant review and low light shooting are perfect. However in bright sunlight it can be difficult to see, this is because the eyecup is not very big – maybe an adapter can be created?
I tend to shoot in EVF only mode. This is to conserve battery (more on battery life in a moment), and the slight lag when using EVF/LCD switcher mode is annoying so I don’t bother with it. Reviewing images also has a slight lag, only milliseconds in which a fuzzy image turns to a clear one, but I expect a sharp image to review instantly. Crazily, reviewing images when in EVF mode requires you to look through the viewfinder – this can make you look a bit weird at a wedding when you appear to be taking photos of the floor! Again a quick firmware update to allow users to review on the LCD when shooting in EVF mode would be good.
I capture the majority of the day in Aperture priority, with auto ISO (set to 64,00 as standard, expanded to 12,500 in very low light) and a minimum shutter speed of 1/250th (reduced to 1/125th in low light). You see a real time preview of the exposure in the EVF, and can quickly alter this using the exposure compensation wheel on the back (as you can with Fuji/Olympus). Its a very quick way of changing your exposure on a wedding day, especially when the lighting conditions can change in a second. Unfortunately the compensation only goes to -3/+3, and this occasionally is not enough.
If I want to manually choose my exposure (how I always work with my fuji) – the EVF/LCD does not show the exposure that will be obtained with the current settings, but rather always shows a bright image (even if you are underexposed). The single greatest benefit of an EVF over OVF is that you can see exactly what you are about to shoot, so I hope they provide a setting for this in a firmware update.
In line with the other reviewers, I’ve been very impressed with the Autofocus. It nails focus as well as my Nikon D750, although I want to put continuous focusing through its paces a little more. Even in low light it rarely hunts or misses focus. Shooting f/1.7 on a moving subject at 12,500 is always going to be difficult, but the Q doesn’t seem to struggle. In strongly backlit situations where contrast can be reduced on faces I’ve had a couple of issues, but no more than any other camera.
I usually back button focus, and the Leica Q allows this via customisation of the rear thumb button. However I find the button placement uncomfortable, so focus using the standard shutter release approach. I set the rear thumb button to exposure lock.
One little quirk of the camera…. At one wedding the back thumb button (which I had set to back button focus) would not work. I tried removing the battery and many other things, but still no joy. The next day I discovered the centre button of the control wheel switches the camera between video mode and camera mode. The only difference is the display at the bottom of the EVF (you can still take photos in video mode)…..however if you mistakenly press this centre button, then the rear thumb button does not work, disabling back button focus on the camera!
Switching between autofocus and manual focus is via a small tab on the lens. After a couple of days use, it becomes quick and natural. Manually focusing on this camera is the best I have experienced. The smoothness of a typical Leica lens, but with automatic zoom and focus peaking. In difficult lighting, or stationary subjects during a wedding, manual focusing is the perfect option. For street shooters, zone focusing is ideal with the lens distance scale.
As expected, the lens is super duper sharp, the image files are beautiful, and the dynamic range of the .dng files is very good (not quite as good as the Nikon D750). High ISO is very good, and I have not hesitated to use it at 12,500 when required.
On the downside, the battery life is poor. I require 5 batteries for a wedding. I’m using the cheaper panasonic alternatives, which seem to last as long as the one Leica provided. The Q has also crashed a couple of times during operation. Removing the battery and putting it back in seemed to fix the problem, but this is not good news. It also appears when reviewing images, the camera processor struggles to keep up with quick scrolling, and if you try to take a shot midway through, the camera freezes.
Below are some examples of performance, so make up your own mind. But it copes extremely well with difficult lighting conditions.
I’ve heard rumours a new autofocus camera is on the horizon from Leica. A Q type interchangeable camera, with a selection of awesome Leica glass would be a fine prospect indeed. However I fear such a system would be out of my, and many other wedding photographers, financial reach, which is a shame – I’d love to shoot purely Leica Q weddings, and I’m sure many other photographers would also.
I have no doubt that the future of wedding photography is in mirrorless cameras, and this Leica is the best I’ve ever used. The difference between the top cameras by of the likes of Nikon/Canon/Fuji/Sony are negligible in many respects, but I always want to be using the best tool to get the images that I want to obtain. Weddings are generally fast paced and often poorly lit so extra ISO, or superior AF may enable that 1 killer shot.
Is this camera worth an extra 1k over the alternatives, all of which have an interchangeable system? Maybe not. But I love the experience of using the Leica Q for weddings, and enjoying shooting is as important as anything else!
Real wedding examples
Sarah and Tom have been kind enough to allow me to share some images of their recent wedding at West Tower. All of these images are taken with the Leica Q, and shows how it can be used throughout the day to produce storytelling images. The .dng files have been processed in Lightroom with a basic curve adjustment, some highlight/shadow recovery, slight sharpening and the odd bit of grain addition. No noise reduction has been used.