Thursday, December 8, 2016

Leica Watch: the Q Titanium, More Qs than As

Let’s talk about the Leica Q Titanium.

I remember earlier this year when Leica announced their at the time new, full frame pocket camera, the Leica Q. The big selling point at the time was that this was a “hand crafted camera” for your intimate, fun, personal moments, manufactured in Germany. No more of this joint-venturing with Panasonic that's been going on. No more reliance on the efficient, digital-experienced corporations from the far east. I've nothing against Japanese cameras or Japanese manufacturing (it’s some of the best in the world and I’ll buy Japanese whenever I can), but when you buy a Leica, it should be made in GERMANY, right? (or maybe Canada or Portugal?) You don’t buy a Leica because you want to own something manufactured in Japan or, heaven forbid, China



Leica, having invented the entire world of both street and candid photography according to their PR and marketing people, has built much of their reputation on crafting cameras that are discreet, simple, incredibly sturdy, accurate, and unobtrusive. Oh and don’t forget the meticulously engineered lenses and, I can imagine, unrealistically high standards of quality control they probably adhere to. 

Basically what they’re known to do is build, many would say, the perfect tool for the street photographer and perhaps also the most balanced tool for most travel photographers. It’s tough to not get excited at the prospect of that level of quality, design, engineering and precision being condensed into a full frame digital compact camera, i.e. the Leica Q. 

The Leica Q looked, on paper at least, like it had EVERYTHING the casual photography aficionado, the backpack-travel photographer or maybe even the digital street photographer could want in 2016.


Metal body?

28mm, wide aperture f1.7 ASPH lens?

ISO 100-50,000?
No problem, YES.

10fps continuous shooting?
Of course, YES!

High resolution 3 inch touch screen?

Four and a quarter-grand price?

    Yes, like many, I had been happily salivating over the details of this new addition to the Leica family. Knowing Leica’s tendency to appeal to both the luxury market segment while simultaneously targeting the “serious” photographer segment, of course I had expected that the Leica Q would not come cheap. But at $4,250 US, even I was surprised. And now the Leica Q Titanium now comes in at $4,495 US. 

    I can imagine that a marketing guru in Germany had a field day over this, delighting in being able to say “It’s not even $4,500 US!” in ad copy.

    What does a consumer get for their extra 245 bucks? To quote a Leica promotional email which I received the other week,
    "New look: the enormously versatile Leica Q is now also available in a titanium lacquer finish and comes complete with a matching carrying strap made from durable climbing rope. The Q is Leica’s first full-frame compact with a fixed, high-speed prime lens with fast and precise autofocus. Its handling: simple and intuitive. The pictures: simply brilliant."

    That’s it? Correct me if I’m wrong, but $245 dollars apparently buys you a new strap made from climbing rope? Plus you get titanium-colored paint? Not to be mistaken with actual titanium, the metal?(which incidentally is not a precious metal, as is falsely stated in Leica's full press release) 

    To quote Bill Gates when he was asked about Steve Jobs’ innovative approach to design, “If you want black, I’ll get you a can of paint.” 
    I’ve been to the mountaineering store - for 245 dollars I’ll happily craft you or anyone a very nice camera strap made from “climbing rope”. (I’ll even let you select the color, a la carte!) 

    The paint, I’ll throw in for free.
    Leica Q, now with titanium colored paint!

    For me, it can be extremely disheartening to see Leica release products which, let’s be honest, are not particularly better than the competition or are in some ways significantly below the standards that competitors are setting, yet still cost an outrageous sum that, while a decent enough number of us could technically afford, only the very rich or the very insane could actually justify purchasing.

    Leica has, for all practical purposes, done quite well at transitioning from a company that produces expensive, high quality cameras, to a luxury brand that produces desirable goods of different sorts, many of them high quality, and some of them just happening to be cameras.



    Friends, family, colleagues, business partners and others in my circles know that I have an affinity for Leica cameras and lenses, particularly well maintained antique lenses. These are timeless artifacts out of history, and if one ever has the chance to use them, it’s like stepping back in time and then literally gazing through the lens into a future world.

    And I regularly get asked by people I come into contact with if they should consider buying a Leica. In every case, I’ve responded with a firm “No”, and I stand by this anti-reccomendation. 

    The reasons I cite are first and foremost the price, then the relatively poor cost performance compared to alternatives, and then I usually mention the fact that flagship Leica Ms are in fact not especially easy for most people to use let alone get a clear picture out of, and that cheaper digital “pocket” Leicas all suffer from moderate to extreme UX and functionality issues of which the closest Canon, Nikon or Sony counterparts excel at with gusto. 

    However on more than one occasion, my strong advice to avoid Leica goes unheeded. I guess there’s just something about the Leica prestige that drives people to make questionable decisions. The Leica Q Titanium, a beautiful camera by any measure, is in my opinion an extreme form of this senseless pursuit of status. And in my opinion, Leica’s management must think we're all fools if they actually have significant sales goals in mind for the Leica Q or Q Titanium.

    All of that being said, what do I actually think about the Leica Q Titanium, just looking at it from afar?

    I think it looks like a beautiful camera, and I would love to see it in person in the Leica store without being told “Sir, we’d like you to leave.” 

    It also looks as though it takes perfectly fine photos, too. Having never seen it person and knowing nobody personally who has, I know of no technical or design flaw with it that would prevent it from being highly versatile. For all I know, they may have actually even designed it with a functional UX on the software side of things. 
    Meet the Leica Q Titanium. It might be a great camera.
    Who knows? It's not like photographers can afford it.

    Back to that one little issue though. 
    The price. 
    A quick look through the list of competing cameras (not competing luxury brands) yields some interesting options from Sony, and also Canon at the time of this writing.
    • Leica Q - Made in Germany - $4,250
    • Leica Q Titanium - Made in Germany - $4,495
    • Canon EOS M5 - Made in Japan - $979
    • Sony Alpha A7R II - Made in Thailand(??) - $3,198
    • Sony RX1R II - Made in …???  - $3,898

    The Sonys are interesting because, while not as expensive as Leica’s offerings, they come the closest in terms of price. But what do you get for your money? Not to get into the fine details here(Google it if you really care), but you basically get in each case considerably more bang for your buck than you do with the Leica Q. 

    Almost the only thing you don’t get is the Made in Germany, the prestige, or the little red logo which everyone seems to want. The Canon, being the clear winner in terms of price, continues to give you incredible value for your money. About the only thing you don’t get is a lens(Canon has excellent, affordable lenses though) or a full frame sensor. The camera’s even made in Japan which, in 2016, is becoming something of a rarity! But again, you still don’t get the BRAND of Leica. 

    Just how much is a brand worth to you?

    It’s hard to imagine that the public interest in Leica will die off in my lifetime or even in yours, but it’s increasingly hard to justify the steady encroachment of luxury into the Leica product line if your aim is to have a camera you use, as opposed to a camera that you keep on a shelf behind glass. But, maybe you say, you still want to own a Leica, no matter what. 

    Should you consider a Leica Q Titanium? 

    My advice is to stop thinking of the Q as a camera. Seriously, knock it off.

    It’s really more of a status symbol. An expensive, beautiful status symbol that, oh by the way, can also take nice little pictures. And if you ARE looking for status and can afford the Q, then by all means knock yourself out. But if what you really love about Leica is the history, the cultural significance, you appreciate how they were instrumental in enabling many of history’s defining photographers? Then I say this: 

    Buy a used, antique Leica lens. If it’s maintained well enough, it will be just as good today as it was when it was new in terms of the picture you get out of it. 

    And furthermore if you take care of it, it could potentially appreciate in value as opposed to inevitably depreciate the way a new camera drops in value as soon as you take it out of the box for the first time. 

    With just a Leica lens, you can do anything you want. Just about any mirrorless camera with removable lenses will allow you to get an adaptor to use Leica M mount lenses. If that’s however not what you want and you’re going for the full experience, save a little more and buy a used Leica film body such as the all mechanical M6 (or 5, 4, 3 or 2). You'll LOVE it. 

    It’s not hard to find used Leica film bodies in shockingly good condition going for less than the price of even the Canon EOS M5. Film is still readily available, and it’s easier than ever to have it scanned at the lab so you can integrate it into your digital world, as most of us want to do. 

    The Leica M6. A camera for photography, not for status.

    The world of Leica is still a thing of beauty. But it doesn’t have to be about status and luxury, like with the Leica Q or the Leica Q Titanium. If you’re so inspired, Leica can still mean photography in 2016, and out beyond into the future. It just might not be something you can find by visiting a Leica boutique.

    Happy snapping, photographers. Thanks for reading.