Film, Sony, Fuji to the Leica Q. Documenting Protests by Q Oliver

Film, Sony, Fuji to the Leica Q. Documenting Protests

by Q Oliver

Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts on my new favorite camera with all of your readers. Your blog has certainly helped me with gear decisions in the past. I, like many others out there, have been on the hunt for that perfect photographic companion. With 2016 being such a turning point in our social and political climates, one could argue that having the perfect camera to document such a profound time is equally as important as having the right car in a snow storm or gas crisis. The camera that you can pick up for just about ANY situation and be happy to trust your vision to.

Now, I’ve shot 35mm and medium format film for most of my short twenty-eight years in this world and maybe I’m a bit set in my ways but I can never seem to settle on the “right” digital camera. My little AE-1 seemed to be all that I needed throughout high school but after graduating, I threw myself into a certain “art” school which gave students a Canon 5D Mark II with 24-105 f/4 lens as a part of the tuition. Within just a few months of using the Canon, I traded it for a Leica M6 TTL and a couple of lenses and never looked back. My professors were anything but pleased with my decision as the school had moved completely away from film and required students to submit EXIF data with each assignment. Being the bullheaded young artist that I was, I left art school and started my career as a fashion photographer (or at least I thought I would end up in fashion). Though I knew that sooner or later, the digital age would catch up to me.

Fast forward to 2015 and I found myself flirting with the idea of taking digital cameras seriously. Despite my Instgram handle being @film_god and people calling me by that name on the street, I needed more modern workflow. Of course, we can argue film vs digital all day long but the truth is that now, as a professional, there really isn’t much of a choice in the matter. That year, I spent a bit of time in India with the Sony A7R II, which proved to be an absolutely remarkable little camera and travel companion. Not a hulking, clumsy mess like the DSLR’s many would have you believe are superior while still packing twice the punch in the resolution department and with quite respectable auto focus capabilities. The problem was that, for me, there was a very obvious “sterile” quality to the pictures. It was as if the Sony was TOO good! The pictures it produced were technically astounding but they just didn’t FEEL like anything to me. Also, of course, once you pair it with amazing lenses like the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 or current Zeiss 50mm f/1.4, it loses it’s size advantage. I needed a camera that was small and functional but more than just a tool that I shared no emotional connection with. Something that produced pictures that I didn’t feel needed to be heavily processed in order to get my point across.

(Sony-1) A7R II + Zeiss 55mm f/1.8


(Sony-3) A7R II + Zeiss 55mm f/1.8

(Sony-5) A7R II + Zeiss 55mm f/1.8


(Sony 2) A7R II + Sony 28mm f/2

After quickly losing interest in the beast that is the A7R II, I was faced with what seemed to be a life or death decision; What camera could I use definitively as my go-to camera to tell the stories I sought to share with the world? Well, I’m not a rich man by any means, so investing in a proper Leica M digital body was out of the question. There was, however, a “distant cousin” if you will. The Fuji XPro-2. A camera for those who can’t get enough of that iconic rangefinder street style but aren’t willing to sell the house, wife, and kids. I, of course was hesitant in selling my powerhouse full-frame partner in crime but I just couldn’t deal with the almost soulless and clinical rendering from the Sony. Based on everything I had read or watched, it was Fuji that could give me back that SOUL that I enjoyed while shooting film- or something close to it, anyway. The day it wen’t on sale, I got a call from my local camera store saying that a little Fuji had arrived. I rushed to the store like a kid running for an ice-cream truck.

It was a match made in heaven. Fujifilm’s lenses are fast and small, the ergonomics of the camera were something I was familiar with, and that 24mp x-trans sensor with it’s beautiful Acros processing… I couldn’t have asked for more. That is, until my city erupted with protests in response to this year’s consistent and tragic trend of police brutality against black people in the US.

(Fuji-1) XPro-2 + 16mm f/1.4

I’m a father, a husband, automotive enthusiast, and typical young black man in America- but above any of that, I am a photographer who has an affinity for photojournalism. When my city rose up to protest the way young black men have been treated by the justice system, I felt it was my duty to photograph the events regardless of any of my personal feelings and I was so glad to have the little Fuji by my side. I remember sitting on my couch in front of the TV with what was supposed to be my dinner one day when I got the phone call from a friend; “Hey! Get down here! There is a huge protest!” I left my dinner cold right where it sat, threw on my boots and darted out of my apartment with Fuji in hand

Fuji X-Pro 2

I feel that the photographs I made that night may be some of the most important that I’ve made thus far in my career but there was one problem. A big problem that hadn’t really bothered me until the sun went down and the protests continued into the night. You see, the little Fuji was great until the lights went off. The APS-C sensor just couldn’t hold up in low light. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the Fuji is by no means a slouch, but when it came to documenting and accurately depicting the events of those nights, I can honestly say that I had been spoiled by the full frame flexibility and clarity of the A7R II. Skin tones and shadows fell completely apart with the Fuji and I had to push those RAW files to the absolute limit to retain detail in shadows. I spent a great deal of time hating the pictures I made at night during those protests because of the diminished image quality at high ISO. I still hadn’t found “the one”.

Fuji X-Pro 2

Some months went by and I continued to grit my teeth and attempt fall back in love with the Fuji. I felt that I had truly been let down by what seemed like a great camera on paper. The love never really came back and just when I had given up hope on finding true love with a digital camera, a friend of mine calls me up with a few magical words. “Hey Q! I’ve got a Leica Q and it literally has your name on it. Come by and check it out!”. Well I know when not to say “no” to a good thing so I immediately headed to Wings Camera in Atlanta to drool over the little red dotted point and shoot.

The very first picture I made with the Q while driving home from the camera store

The owner, Mike, agreed to let me test it out for a while as I was not too keen on selling ANOTHER camera just to be disappointed by what I hoped was an upgrade. Ironically enough, only a few days had gone by before Donald Trump was announced as president and Atlanta erupted with protests once again. What a fitting occasion to put the Q through it’s paces. I mean, it’s a $4,000 point and shoot. Even if it is full-frame, there’s no way it could be any better than the Fuji, right?

Leica Q: 

Boy, was I wrong!

You really do get what you pay for with that camera! Pretentious piece of jewelry or not, the Leica Q was everything I needed and more. If you’re not aware, shooting protests at night can be difficult. With all of the different temperatures of light- fires burning, street lamps, police lights, and vehicle headlamps the Q’s auto white balance handled everything beautifully. On top of that, ISO 6400 was as smooth as butter next to the Fuji’s messy, smudged files at ISO 1600 and up. Even in the darkest areas of the city, the autofocus was spot on every time and I never missed a picture. On top of that, the files required little, if any, post processing work to really translate the drama and tension we all felt during those nights. I was holding my dream camera in my hands and with a fixed 28mm lens at that! A focal length that I had never seriously entertained, let alone considered permanently living with. I felt truly at home with the Q and would be willing to go into just about any situation with that camera by my side.

Leica Q

At this point, you may be thinking “he’s just a Leica fanboy” and the truth is, maybe I am (and I’m not ashamed of that) but I will always call it like I see it. I’ve used the Leica M240 I can’t justify spending $6k on a body and another $6k on a 28mm Summilux lens, despite available cheaper used options. $4,000 for the equivalent in the Q doesn’t seem too bad, though. Is it something that I would be willing to get rid of every other camera I own for? No.

Actually, I ended up selling the Fuji setup and going back to Sony for versatility’s sake but I have to be honest and say that after using the Q, nothing is really the same. The Sony collects dust on my shelf for weeks at a time between uses while my old trust Leica M7 has been my daily carry… at least until another Q finds its way into my bag. Now, if only I could get Leica to sponsor my photographic endeavors. -cough cough- but seriously, it’s pretty clear to me that Leica isn’t just about gimmicks. There really is some magic in there somewhere and it shows.

37 Comments

  1. Nice work. I love the film images of all of these the most.

    I agree with you on the XPro 2. I had a similar experience. I do street photography after work some evenings and found that the files did not seem to render very well at 1600 or above. I’ve no doubt im partly to blame for that as street photography by nature can be fast shooting so I may have got a few things wrong along the way. Anyway returned it and did not buy.

    Yet when using my D750 it handles higher iso beautifully. In fact probably the best sensor at 24MP I’ve seen handle low light high iso rendering. It has a very nice grain coming from the files at high ISO. If they put this sensor in a mirrorless camera it would be a fantastic start.

    The Q is a nice camera as well. Not sure I’d want to be limited to 28mm though all the time.

  2. Thanks for the great photos and write up. I agree with a lot of your assessment. I recently switched from an RX1 to fuji xt2 and the low light files are not as smooth. I also don’t particularly like how the fuji deals with artificial light. However, I absolutely love using the fuji. The dials make me more thoughtful and I’ve also noticed that I’m much more likely to nail the exposure from the start (partly the evf). Also, the lenses are fantastic and I believe a good value. There is a consistency and soul to the rendering throughout the lens range. The bokeh also has a nice creamy quality to it in the 1.4’s, though not as shallow as ff.
    Though I mostly agree about the low light, I think taking a different approach with image processing could help a lot. Rather than boosting the shadows, I think pulling them in a little and boosting the mids could make the images look less crunchy. The color balance could use some work too, although like I said, I’ve had some issues as well with the fuji white balance. IMO, canon white balance beats fuji and sony, but I still like fuji the best of the 3. Thanks for showing up and documenting this important moments!

  3. Very interesting and lovely photographs. Thanks.

    Just one suggestion: dump the 55/1.8. If you like the Sony but find it sterile, look no further than the lens. It was designed to look sharp and has gain tremendous admiration for it. But it’s one of the less engaging and pleasant lenses available for the Sony platform.

    Want to be really happy? Dig out a Leica-R 50/2. Those are sharper than the 55/8 and sooo much more loveable (not to mention cheaper). The Zeiss 50/1.5 C-Sonnar is another stunner. The Zeiss Milvus 50/1.4 is a dream, but significantly larger. Not sure what to recommend if you really want AF, but anything will be less sterile than that 55/1.8, guaranteed. Your Sony won’t be gathering dust much longer 😉

  4. How interesting, the relationship between person and camera. It isn’t unlike person and companion. I have or have had (considering digital) Olympus, Canon, Sony, and Fuji. The files that put a grin on my face and the camera that I best resonate with is my huge clunky old brick like Canon 5D II. Go figure. I like your passion. I’m sure you will keep it pointed toward something meaningful.

  5. Thanks for the interesting photographic journey, the photos as well as the gear. I liked the photos from India he most, nothing to do with the gear but they have a nice quality.

    I’m interested in the gear aspect of your journey as there seem to be so many great cameras out there that I think many of us second guess our choices. I have A7ii with just the 55mm lens. I absolutely love it and am sure there is so much more that I can get out of it before I think about investing in another lens, never mind jumping ship to another camera.

    I love the look of some of the Leica images I see on this site and elsewhere, I am always interested when Fuji shooters enthuse about the soul, spirit and passion that they find in their camera. I sometimes wonder if for all the money that I will eventually spend if I should have just got a D810 with the amount of lenses that Nikon have.

    But no, I will stick with what I have and continue shooting. It seems like you went full circle and have enjoyed the experience, but it costs a lot to switch and keep switching systems. The grass may be a different shade, but it’s not always greener.

    Thanks for your submission

  6. In all honesty (Fuji fan boy here:). I think it’s the ergonomics that shout “Magic!” here for the Q. It’s a superbly comfortable and intuitive camera to use alongside great output quality. But come on, ask yourself, would we really not have been able to produce meaningful and dramatic shots even 20, 30 years ago using film for instance? And if yes, why not give Acros a try for drama and meaning. And for all things colour Fuji raw files (coming from canon here) are unbelievably versatile. I’m surprised with the comparison. On another note: I like the Sony shots best from the above article!:) A camera is a tool to create “love”, not “love itself”. At least my 2 pence:)

  7. you have some very good shots
    congratulations and thanks for sharing

    on the technical side… what did you expect, of course more expensive camera with bigger sensor will be better in low light 🙂
    no doubts Q is a jewel

    seems to me you are searching for excuses to upgrade and soon we will see post with an M as main actor 😉

    (this all from Fuji X100T and T1 owner, but that really should not be important)

    • Yes – this has been validated with a number of reviewers, generally speaking the latest APSC Sony and Fuji sensors are performing at least as well as an A7ii in terms of noise and certainly better than a Q. It’s also worth mentioning that the performance delta or Xtrans is highly dependent on the raw developer that is used.
      That being said, I never found the noise from the Q or any of these cameras objectionable – sometimes choosing to add grain in post as it gives texture to the image.
      All images were highly enjoyable in this post.

      • Completely agree with what you’re saying, just commenting on the writer calling Fuji files “messy at 1600 and up” while Q files are clean at 6400, the link I posted clearly shows both are simply not true.

        Any large sensor camera can produce a nice image these days, its all about content.

        Cheers

  8. Great photos settle on the camera that you love and go for it .
    Post more when you get the chance.

  9. Very interesting read & good photos as well. Having been on a similar path (DSLR to Fuji to Leica M), I came to the Q due to some aging eyesight problems with RF focusing. For over a year it has done everything I have asked of it. But after wanting to go a bit wider at times & not wanting to crop beyond 35mm, I just added the X-Pro2 with its new 35mm f2 lens, & a Zeiss Touit 12mm f2.8 lens to allow this. But the FF files of the Q, particularly at higher ISO’s, are very special indeed. It is really a fixed lens version of the Leica SL, & feels better in my hand than anything I have ever used. Keep up the good work with yours & hope to see & read more of what you are doing with it.

  10. I was loaned a Q for three days earlier this year, and I totally empathize with this tale! I can’t justify the cost either, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. A very special camera indeed.

  11. An interesting read – thanks for posting. I handled the Q at a photo show and really liked it. If it weren’t so damned expensive, I’d buy one. Mind you, the non-tilting screen would probably frustrate me.

    Anyhow – to what really matters … your shots! Some fantastic photography there, whatever the camera.

  12. Very exciting images of real world events. Enjoyed your story of seeking THE one camera for you (maybe the one of several). As a style, I like photo journalism where art, the decisive moment, and events of interest/importance can blend. For me, this can include family events as well as things like street protests. Generally more interesting to me than static posed shots.

  13. There are some terrific shots here. Thank you for sharing. The Q is a brilliantly designed camera. Not that it matters too much, but its output is sharper than pretty much any DSLR. Pretty good considering you’re comparing 24Mpx with 36Mpx.

    BTW I’m glad to know you left that art school. As far as photography goes, they’re a hindrance.

  14. Glad to hear you find what works for you.

    IMHO, your pictures with the most “soul” are the ones taken with the Sony, without regard to context and event.

  15. I’m actually quite relaxed about image quality when you are working at this level and with subject matter as important as that which you tackle. I think you really grab the events and the people and the energy. Really enjoyed your write-up. Check out: indigenousrising.org/allan-lissner I think you might be interested in his style and his goals.

  16. We’ve all been spoiled by the ability to pixel peep our digital images and lament their grainy quality at 12,800 ISO, but did you print any of these images? I’d be really interested to see how big of a difference there is between these shots as prints.

    Full dislosure: I’m a Fuji fanboy, currently switching over from Canon. Yes, the image quality is slightly lower than my full frame Canon, but the weight savings and the Xpro2 form factor makes the shooting experience so much more enjoyable that I’m willing to sacrifice a stop of noise at the high end.

  17. Good images, but why not use Acros at night for the fuji? You mentioned it’s beautiful processing but then don’t show any images with it. I honestly like the a7rii images the best, followed by the fuji. But perhaps it’s just the content that I prefer.

    • Thanks for your thoughts.

      I love the Acros processing but it made more sense, to me, to document those moment in color. I shot many pictures using acros but mostly fashion, dance, and nude work that wouldn’t have fit this review.

  18. The first 2 pics w the xpro 2 are AWESOME!

    I find myself thinking that the camera doesn’t matter….much. The images are great and would have been with most of today’s cams.

  19. I have shot with X pro 2 and even at 25.000 ISO the noise level is very managable. I’d double check my camera settings if I had super noisy shots just passed 1600 iso on xpro 2

    On the leica Q photos you posted here, I see them less sharp. Did you have any issues with speed/accuracy of focus?

    Honest opinions. And we can’t really compare to 100% unless they are on a tripod and shot with exactly same settings but thank you for putting out your real world experience. Good read, really nice angles and shots. (maybe little less post production and less heavy hand on the “clarity” slider would even take them to the next level IMO.
    Again, thank you for sharing your view. Great post overall.

    G

    • Thanks for your thoughts!

      Maybe I had a “bad” copy of the XPro-2 because I’ve read a lot of reviews that stated the files were amazing at high ISO but who knows. As for post processing, I’ve done quite a bit to the Fuji and Sony files to get them to “feel” right. The Q photos, however, were barely processed at all. That’s part of why I loved it. The Q also focused more quickly and accurately than the other two cameras.

  20. I would think that a Voightlander Nokton 40 or 50 on your A7 would do the trick…. give you some of that Leica look and the sony sensor…. I’ve been real happy with my A7(classic) and MF lenses, with focus peaking, it’s a dream.

  21. Good post.
    And most of them very good.
    Xpro 2 ones are really quite noisy. Q ones are far better but colors seem quite artificial, too many blue’s for instance.

    • Thanks!

      The noise in the Fuji photos was way too much for me. The blues in the Q photos may be from the police lights around everyone clashing with the tungsten street lamps. But then again I’m colorblind so there’s that lol

Comments are closed.