Leica Q2: do you really need a system camera?

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Everybody is excited with the Leica Q2, and rightly so. Among other features, the Q2 with its 47 MP resolution allows you to simulate different focal lengths by digitally cropping to 35mm, 50mm and 75mm, with the respective outputs of 30 MP, 15 MP and 6.6 MP. This is powerful and Leica is highlighting it in its marketing material.

Just as with the original Q, there is a dedicated button for the digital zoom, making it fast, easy and convenient. Press the button and rangefinder style frame lines for the corresponding focal length will come up on your screen – a classy touch reminiscent of Leica’s heritage.

While 75mm @ 6.6 MP may sound a bit of a stretch, we need to take into account this digital crop comes out of a 47 MP sensor. I was skeptical at the beginning, but having seen a full size image with the 75mm digital crop and verified the level of detail at pixel level, I’m quite positive about this now.

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In any case, the shorter focal lengths are perfectly usable for sure. To put things in perspective, at 35mm the Q2 will give you 30 MP: this is still higher than the 24 MP from the original Q at 28mm. Or, as a benchmark, higher than the native resolutions of my most used system cameras: 18 MP (Leica M-E) and 24 MP (Fuji X-E3).

If this is the case… Then why do we need system cameras with interchangeable lenses?..

I. The camera body + lenses formula

For many serious photographers, the system camera is the obvious way forward. It has been like this since the film days and this trend continued in the digital age, with the DSLR being the natural successor of the SLR which was the most popular system for decades.

Meanwhile, the mirrorless revolution took off. Mirror or no-mirror, full-frame or not, these are just a few variables that added a new dimension to the whole picture. So now we have a very decent portfolio of systems to choose from.

However, whatever the system, the formula is still the same: get an interchangeable lens camera body. And a bunch of lenses.

II. Fixed-lens Camera vs System Camera

Everything is debatable and I could write dozens of pages on this subject, with valid arguments and counter-arguments from both sides of the wall.

However, this is really not my point.

What I’m trying to say is that you don’t necessarily need to go down the route of the system camera, especially when you have fixed-lens pocket-rockets like the Leica Q2 or the Sony RX1R ii.

Excellent optics, superb image quality and full-frame sensors with gargantuan megapixel count. Press a button and voilá, you are changing focal lengths.

III. Do you really need all those lenses?

How many focal lengths do you really need for your type of photography?

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I have many cameras and lenses with me, but 90% of the time I’m either shooting with 35mm or 50mm. The remaining 10% I’m probably shooting 28mm.

Using myself as a case study, what if I ditched all my system cameras and lenses and kept my Sony RX1R ii only? With its native 35mm f/2 lens and full frame 42 MP sensor with crazy detail, I can digitally crop my images to 50mm and 75mm and still get 20.5 MP and 9.1 MP images.

How about 28mm, you ask? Well, I would cover that with a Leica Q2.

IV. Seriously?

Yes and no. Without invalidating everything that’s written above, photography is surely not only about MP count or focal length.

Moreover, a digital crop will not change other parameters you get by changing lenses. Just to name a few, you have to take into account depth-of-field, compression or expansion distortions, and so on.

But let’s get this out of the way for now.

I’m not ditching my system cameras – yet – because I have fun shooting with all my cameras. They are my toys and I like to play with my toys.

But still, I can see the future leaning towards this direction.

We can only expect sensor technology to keep improving, megapixel count to climb even higher with every new product. 

With computational photography evolving and stepping in as well, we may be looking at a future where the old formula of “system camera + lenses” becomes effectively obsolete.

Depth-of-field? Compression or distortion? Trust me, the in-camera image processor will take care of this  – and much more.

Let’s wait and see.

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