Walking and shooting with a lightweight super kit. And thoughts about exercise...

When I recently joined a gym my overriding, long term goal was to be able to easily lift and carry any combination of camera and lens I desired, for hours at a time, until the end of my life. You know, fighting off sarcopenia and maintaining critical balance. I've always thought of myself as being pretty fit already but my newly acquired trainer suggested I keep a log of my actual exercise for a week. Seven days of book keeping. A spreadsheet of anti-sloth. We decided not to count everyday steps like walking to coffee or shopping. But I included everything in which my primary objective was....moving around with intention. 

After today's weight workout at the gym we went over my "take" for the week. I swam five masters swim workouts this week with an average of 3200 yards per day giving me a total of 16,000 yards of combined fast and moderate speeds, spread across all four strokes. A bit less than ten miles of swimming.  I did four different days of long, intentional walking averaging four miles per day for a total of 16 miles which translates to something like 10,000 steps per day. I did three hour long episodes of weight training using machines as opposed to free weights. When sprinting in the pool I try not to exceed a max heart rate of 155 beats per minute.That's just safe cardio training. When I do the weight machines at the gym I'm opting for low to medium weight loads but higher reps. I watch people try to lift their maximums but with three to five reps and I'm wondering how they plan to use the excess muscle mass. My theory, shared by the kinesiologists at UT swimming, is that you want good strength and preservation of muscle mass but that adding too much extra mass inhibits needed flexibility and adds weight that you have to then drag through the water. High reps and low to moderate weights are optimal for swimmers. 

A good health target for me is to keep my resting pulse rate under 60 (for sure) and under 55 if I can. I got on the scale today at the gym. With clothes and shoes I tipped the scales at 158 pounds. I rewarded myself later by having an extra helping of fresh blueberries on my Greek Yogurt and muesli. I'm about five pounds over my weight from when I started swimming in college in 1974. My best gauge for keeping weight balancing on track is to never buy pants with a bigger waist size. The pants will tell you, uncomfortably, if you need to drop some weight....  Being in good shape is fun. And a life long pursuit; not a hobby to be picked up and put down like seasonal decorations. Sure, it's easy for me since I'm still young. But that's what I said in my 50's and my 40's as well. As to specific diets....I've done research that shows changing a diet a 60+ might help you drop weight, reduce blood sugar etc. but there's only so much you can do for your health with diet alone. And an occasional piece of dark chocolate --- or a nice glass of red wine --- seems to make life even more worth living. 

Part of enjoying my walks is taking along fun cameras and lenses. I walked on Saturday after B. left again to help out with family stuff in SA. For some reason I decided that it was a "smaller/lighter" day. Maybe it was because the temperatures were in the high 80's that day. The Leica CL called out to me as did the charming, sharp and happy little Sigma 18-55mm f2.8 lens for the L mount. It's really small and light but even at f2.8 it's very sharp and capable. I shot around 300 frames and edited brutally when I got back home. I sure like the look of the camera's color and the lens's sharpness. The pair work well together. 

Every year Porsche comes to SXSW, rents a big vacant lot right on Congress Ave., just down the street from the state Capitol, and does a big ass dog and pony show for the week. At this point they were less than a week away from completion. In two and a half weeks it will all be gone. 

I was frankly a bit shocked when I opened this file up really big on my iMac Pro Retina screen. The detail is just amazing and that Monochrome HC setting in camera seems to know exactly what to do with the sky. There are no "color filter" options in the CL menu. It just comes perfectly equipped for B&W.

Linen shirt for Spring. Hat for Summer and Trail Smith pants for year round.

Divers watches taking a well needed break so I can wear my tiny little Seiko automatic. 
No extra wrist stress on that day...

My take on the depressing collapse of American taste and culture.

Just out and out charmed by the rendering of the CL and the Sigma lens on these black and whites. Fun.

So, if I add anything more to the exercise and walking with a camera schedule I might never have time to schedule any actual work. Tempting. So tempting. 

A long time reader asked for my final, definitive opinion of the Leica Q2. Here you go:

HRC. UT Austin Campus.

I bought a Leica Q2 late last year with no real intention or project in mind. I'd just heard and read so many good things about the handling, the image quality and the build quality of the camera that I wanted to see for myself if I could use it to more easily make great photos while out and around. I thought it would make an especially good camera for travel. We're still waiting to see on that last point but there is no reason it should not work well. The Q2 was not my first Leica digital camera investment. I had previously purchased and used six other Leicas and of the six five exceeded my expectations. The one outlier was the APS-C format TL2 which was....difficult. 

I call the TL2 difficult not because the files from the camera lacked any of the Leica color science and not because the build quality of the camera was lacking but it was obvious to me that the interface design; the menus and the way a user interacted with them, were absolutely foreign to all my previous Leica experiences. And since I did not have the opportunity to learn smart phone interfaces in the crib I found the way the settings worked trendy, murky and confusing. That camera was expelled from the fold with extreme prejudice. 

But my experiences with the CL, the SL and the SL2 models were, where the menus are involved, like coming home. In almost all paid work situations I like nothing better than using the SL and SL2 cameras. While they are very sturdy they are also a bit heavy for other casual uses. Carrying around a couple of these full frame cameras and a complement of lenses for a day is a chore. In the commercial photography workplace they are just another bit of gear on the cart, chasing around after cases of lights, stands, sandbags, tripods and cables. But walking the streets of Austin the bigger cameras and lenses are noticeable and, after a time, weighty. Especially if you would try doing a full day of street shooting with the SL2 and the enormously dense 24-90mm f2.8-4.0 zoom lens. The combination will give you pause. 

I added the Leica CLs to the mix pretty much as an alternative to the burden of the bigger cameras. I figured they would accept the same lens mount, fit better into a street shooting modality and they very much reminded me of my very first foray into Leica-dom, the camera was a Red Dial Leica IIIf that I bought for a song, along with a clean 50mm f4.0 collapsible Elmar lens, from the Camera Exchange in San Antonio, Texas. 

And, by most logical measures I should have stopped and been happy with the combination of small and large Leica digital cameras but this is not the way of the ancient photographer (been watching too many episodes of The Mandalorian...). Kaizen pushes me to constantly experiment with new ways of doing stuff with the goal of somehow improving my photography --- even though I know the improvements really need to come from me and not my gear.

But the lure (and the marketing) of the Q2 is compelling. The Force is currently strong with Leica. 

But enough about my Leica origin story. How do I like the camera now that I've had the chance to use it for a few months and shoot thousands of frames with it? It's an easy answer if you don't bring economics into the discussion. The camera itself is mostly well designed but I have a few niggles about its hand-hold-ability and I'll get to that below. When it comes to image quality I have no reservations whatsoever. 

When I use the camera in either the raw format or the Jpeg format I get clean, sharp files that match up well (or slightly better) than the lovely files I can get from the Leica SL2. The files are well corrected for vignetting and geometric distortions added by the lens. This all happens under the hood so we never see evidence of any compromise where the lens is concerned. I wasn't sure I'd get along well with the "crop" mode as Leica has implemented it but I find it very transparent to use now. I mostly frame and shoot at 28mm but I don't hesitate to use the crop mode for 35mm and 50mm images, I'm a bit leery about going all the way out to 75mm but I have done it, posted images from that crop and don't notice, at web res, any telltale loss of quality vis-a-vis the full frame images. 

I should explain the crop mode. If you shoot in Jpeg you can shoot at the native 28mm and crop on your own in post. But you have the option to push a button near the top of the camera (on the back) that will show you bright, solid frame lines for 35mm. Push the button again to see the same kind of frame lines for 50mm. Push the button a third time to see those frame lines for 75mm. If you select, say the 35mm frame crop in Jpeg and trip the shutter the file is captured at that crop and the review instantly shows the cropped image. When you open the Jpeg file in post it opens in that crop and you don't have an option to revert back to a full frame image. 

When you are shooting in the raw file (DNG) format and you push the crop button to engage 35mm you'll see the frameline for the crop you've selected overlayed on your fill frame 28mm image but once you take the shot the post shot review will still only show you the full 28mm frame with the 35mm crop marks overlayed. If you open that file in Adobe Lightroom you will see only the 35mm crop. But here's the real difference, if you click the cropping tool from the menu you can see the full 28mm frame residing in a darker window with the 35mm frame in the center. Should you decide you'd like to "uncrop" the image you can do so with the crop tools and get back all the way to the full 28mm frame. So, with raw, as usual, nothing is permanently baked in. You can revert to the default. 

This leads to the question I pondered most before melting down a credit card as a sacrifice to Leica for their work on the Q2. To wit, just how good do the files look when they've been cropped? 

First you have to know that Leica uses a sensor that's perfectly paired with the built-in lens. The edges and the center are extremely sharp and the resolution of the integrated system of lens and sensor is outstanding. So you are starting out with 47+ megapixel images unmarred by aggressive anti-aliasing filters in the mix. And with a lens that's perfectly matched to the sensor. The crop to 35mms gets you a bit over 30 megapixels of detail. Switching to 50mms gets you about 15 megapixels of detail. And it's sharp detail. If I know I'll want to print an image large I try to stick to 28mm and 35mm but I have no real fears of reaching all the way to 50mm to get the image I want. All my experiments with the cropping in camera have been very successful with the caveat that I've steered away from relying on the 75mm crop just out of years of training that pokes me in the ribs and tells me "it just can't be good enough at 7 megapixels!!!" But we all know that for web work it would be fine. Just fine. 

So, in addition, the camera is weather sealed to an IP 52 rating which means I don't mind getting it out in mellow rain. Hours of hard, driving rain would be a different story. I'm not a believer that any camera can hold out against eventual intrusion of water forever. I did have worries about dust intrusion. I'd read that this could be a problem, over time, with the original Q camera. Dust could settle on the sensor or in the lens. Presumed to be fixed in the Q2.

To prevent this dust issue knowledgeable Q users pointed to the top mounted microphone ports as potential problem areas for dust and routinely cover those with tape. I rarely use "protection" filters on my lenses but added a B+W filter to the Q2 just as an overprotective move meant to enhance internal systems protections from the elements. Probably nothing but paranoia on my part. With these small mods in place I am confident in using the camera almost anywhere and under any conditions. 

One plus for users who are currently using the SL cameras is the fact that the Q2 shares the same battery model as those bigger cameras. It also has the same easy insertion protocol as those cameras. It's cool that there is no battery door to break off in the heat of a fast battery change out.  That cross camera battery use is a decided plus when you consider that replacement/back up batteries are currently USD $285 each and are sometimes annoyingly out of stock. I am always just a bit frustrated when I look at current Panasonic batteries for the S5 and the S5II and see that the shape and contact configuration of those batteries is so, so similar to the Leica SL batteries. And I can pick up generics of the Panasonic batteries all day long for as little as $25 or $30 each. $65 for Panasonic branded ones. It would be nice to have five or ten inexpensive batteries for the Q2. Not that it goes through batteries quickly (it actually is much more power efficient than your average SL2) but that one could go on an extended vacation without needing to nurse batteries every night...

At this point in my "review" I have to say that the camera is nicely sized and has great, great image quality. Plus you get an extra boost if 28mm is one of your most preferred focal lengths to use. The low light performance is on par with high resolution competitors and the DNG files are actually almost thrilling to edit. They look good and respond well to post production manipulation. Added to this is the quiet, stealthy shutter and one feature that doesn't get enough oxygen.... A leaf shutter that can sync with flash all the way up to 1/2,000th of a second. It's a wonderful plus if you just need a "puff" of light to fill in quick portraits in chancy light. 

Now. Here are my two gripes: First, the area on which your right hand thumb is supposed to sit isn't well positioned for my average sized hands. Consider that I am "only" five feet eight inches tall and weigh "only" 155 pounds. If you are one of the new generations of Americans raised on hormone laden beef, chicken and pork, as well as bountiful and regular doses of sugar you may have mutated to some enormous size of six and a half or seven feet tall. Your hands may totally eclipse the camera. And your thumb will end up somewhere different than mine on the back of the camera. For either of us, whether your reach needs to be truncated or mine extended, the surface area of the spot intended to constitute the back part of your overall right hand grip is smoothly painted and doesn't give enough assured purchase to inspire "one-handed handling" confidence. You will want a Leica or an aftermarket thumb grip that fits into the hot shoe and provides a secure place to rest your thumb. I'm cheap. I'm using a JJC thumb grip and it works fine. It's five or ten times cheaper than the Leica thumb grip...

In the same vein, the front of the camera is rounded and the leatherette covering there is also fine grained which means that unless you are differently configured, hand-wise, than me and countless others, you will have trouble adequately gripping the camera with your right hand. I added a Hoage front grip to the camera (attaches to the bottom via tripod mount socket) which neatly solves the problem. Whether you get the cheap Hoage branded grip or the luxe Leica front grip you will still have to remove the grip to access the memory card. Both allow for ready access to the battery while they are on the camera. Those two issues are my only real complaints with the Q2. If you want to use the camera in its rawest form, meaning no added grips on the front or the back I would counsel you to use a hand strap or make secure use of the included neck strap to prevent an unwanted disconnection of the camera and your hand at an inopportune moment ---- which would be just about any moment. 

With the grips in place the camera handles very well. And the only other consideration is the value for the price. And that depends so much on what else you have on hand already. I like the Q2 and won't get rid of it now. It's perfect as a carry everywhere camera and the files outclass and out deliver compared to the files from my CLs. And nearly every other camera I've owned. It's good compromise on most fronts when compared to the bigger cameras. 

But if I was just entering the market for modern digital Leicas fresh and clean of all encumberances and wanted a more "all around" pro and hobbyist camera I'd probably choose an SL2-S and the Leica/Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 as a better starter camera into the system. I obviously was already both feet in and when I had some extra cash rolling around it was an easy choice to make. 

Mr. Biro, I hope this is a useful review for you. I presume you know all the specs and features from investigating the Q2 on the Leica site and from reviews. Here's my final assessment: If I decided to retire entirely from the field of commercial photography I would divest every scrape of gear from every cabinet and closet and keep only the Q2 and the SL2, along with the big zoom and one more convenient and much smaller 50mm lens for the SL2. I'd sell off all the other cameras but would sell them sans batteries (making that very, very clear to the buyers....) and I'd be set for a long while until Leica came out with something new and even more tantalizing. 

All the photos here were taken yesterday afternoon during a walk around the UT Austin campus with the Q2. I spent many years there as a student and then on the faculty as a "Specialist Lecturer" in the College of Fine Arts. To my knowledge, at age 24, I was the youngest faculty hire at the time at UT. Fun, nostalgic walk around old stomping grounds. Lots of memories. UT also has better swimming pools now... Maybe I should go back... pursue a degree in something practical....like  philosophy or art history.

Last image is from off campus. Right across the street.