The Leica Q represents a new age for the German brand. This 24-megapixel full-frame compact, complete with 28mm f/1.7 fixed lens and built-in electronic viewfinder, is not only a rare breed of camera, it's a luxury and well-considered response to the likes of the Sony Cyber-shot RX1. And, having handled one ahead of the announcement, it's an astounding bit of kit.
The craftsmanship in Leica cameras typically comes with a giant price tag that's enough to make many people wince. And although the Leica Q's £2,900 asking price isn't small, it's actually less cash than the Sony RX1 plus viewfinder accessory would have cost at launch. Leica is seemingly gunning for competition with its new creation, rather than targeting the altogether smaller rangefinder-loving customer base it's well known for.
With this new, techier customer base in mind, the Q comes with a variety of interesting features: there's built-in Wi-Fi for sharing images to smart devices (and remote control, should you want it), super-fast autofocus, 1080p video, while the 3-inch touchscreen even responds to swiping and (the first time we've seen it in a camera) pinch-and-zoom gesture.
But let's not lose sight of what the Leica Q is about. This is the real-deal photographic tool, with little compromise. You get all the usual Leica staples: a milled aluminium top and base plate, with accompanying magnesium body; lens construction most makers can only dream of, with silky smooth manual focus control and a dedicated aperture ring.
With a fixed lens camera Leica has previously fallen into some traps with, for example, the X2's macro mode being frustratingly limited. Not so the Leica Q: there's a macro ring that can be rotated to put a close-focus (17cm minimum) mode into play. This is actioned via a physical ring - which feels sublime, by the way - because the depth of field markings and hyperfocal information physically changes on the lens barrel by sliding a display within an interior barrel into position. That's the kind of Leica craftsmanship we're talking about.
There's more too. The lens can be used in full auto - and the 49-area autofocus is as fast as many compact system cameras, such as the Panasonic G-series - but the thumb rest on the lens' manual focus ring has a lock button which can be pressed to release into full manual. As you'd expect from a Leica the silky smooth rotation is particularly precise in its motion.
Having to rely on an electronic viewfinder for precise focus, however, is a little trickier. Leica has combatted this issue with a 3x and 6x magnification option, coupled with focus peaking, to aid with focus. It might not be a rangefinder, but we prefer this more modern approach. And with a 3.86m-dot LCOS (that's liquid crystal on silicone, acronym fans) display there's plenty of resolution to negate such digital magnification and ensure it's still useful.
The 28mm lens is relatively wide-angle, but that will be spot-on for street photographers. Interestingly there's a 35mm and 50mm crop accessed by pressing the Set button (it's on the rear just behind the shutter speed dial) to activate crop marks on the electronic viewfinder display. We like that the display remains a full 100 per cent so you can see what's incoming from outside of the frame (there's no option to magnify to the defined crop within the finder), in a similar fashion to Leica M and even the Fujifilm X100. When shooting raw (14-bit) and JPEG the raw file remains full size 24-megapixel, whereas the JPEG is 15MP or 8MP respective to crop selection.
The lens uses a leaf shutter, which means some fun effects ought to be possible via flash should you want to sync at a faster shutter speed. The maximum shutter speed of 2,000th second can be increased to 16,000th second should you negate the mechanical shutter movement and opt for the electronic shutter option instead - which ought to be useful for shooting at f/1.7 in daylight without the need for an ND filter (there's a 49mm filter thread though should you wish to pop a physical filter on the front), while optical image stabilisation is also on board.
If you prefer to shoot using a rear LCD screen that's no issue either, although the touch controls are deactivated by default they can be activated for touch-to-focus shooting. The 1,040k-dot display is about as high-end as many cameras offer, for decent quality playback.
Leica is well established in other market areas and has deployed the same Maestro II engine as found in its medium-format S-series camera in the Leica Q. That means super-fast processing, with a 10 frames per second maximum burst. With raw and JPEG selected we snapped 12 frames consecutively before the buffer filled, at the full 24-megapixel resolution, which is a top effort.
Image quality isn't something we've been able to assess in great depth, but the samples we've seen thus far look great. The sensor isn't the same as found in any other Leica M-series, meaning the Q will be in among its own when it comes to image quality.
We've been racking our brains as to any concerns we have with the Leica Q and it's only battery life that we're not entirely sure about. Within a short hour of menu digging and snapping the sample model we saw dipped from a full three-bar battery down to just one-bar, which isn't particularly encouraging. Still, batteries can be swapped with ease, so grabbing a spare BP-DC12 makes sense.
When it comes to full-frame fixed-lens compact cameras there's not a great deal of choice out there in this specialist segment, but what Leica has produced in the Q is clearly top-of-the-class super-luxe stuff. We think it's a fantastic camera at a considered price point that will have high appeal for a specific audience.
Sound good? The Leica Q will go on sale from Thursday 11 June, priced £2,900, available in Leica stores and associated dealers worldwide.