A Very Brief Review of the Leica Q2 & The Perils of LED Lighting

A Very Brief Review of the Leica Q2 & The Perils of LED Lighting

After using a Leica Q for 3.5 years, I decided to pre-order the eagerly anticipated Q2 in early March 2019. Despite owning a number of cameras over the years, the Leica Q had become my go to camera for its light weight, small size, and high image quality.

While I hope to do a full review of the unit in the future, I had two problems that caused me to send the unit to Leica’s service center within the first month.

DUST

My major complaint with the Leica Q was the lack dust sealing, which eventually caused me to tape up the microphone and speaker ports to avoid dust on the sensor. Since the Q employs a fixed lens, there’s no way to clean the sensor without sending the unit back to Leica’s notoriously slow service center.

I used black tape to cover up the microphone ports on top of the camera.

The Q2 addresses the problem with IP52 weather sealing which provides “Protection against solid bodies larger than 1mm” and “Protection against condensation.” The engineers reportedly went to great lengths to add weather sealing while maintaining essentially the same small body size.

But as others have noted, the EVF is prone to dust accumulation, and my unit had dust inside the EVF out of the box. A temporary remedy was to gently knock the side of the unit with my palm, which seemed to dislodge the dust temporarily. But the dust reappeared in a matter of a few days.

BANDING FROM LEDs?

I put the camera through the paces while photographing some dance rehearsals at my high school’s theater. Of the first 1,000 images that I shot with the Q2, thirteen of the images contained significant banding.

Here’s unretouched RAW from the DNG generated in Photoshop.

Leica Q2, ISO 3200, f/2.0, 1/3200s

Here are the individual RGB channels as seen in RAW Digger.

Red channel in RAW Digger
Green channel in RAW Digger
G2 channel in RAW Digger

The G (and G2) channels have no visible banding, while the red and blue channels have heavy banding.

Many years ago when I worked in the theater, it was outfitted with halogen-based lighting instruments. But while shooting in April, I noticed that many of the overhead wash lights were LED-based.

Flicker from various light sources is a well-known problem in video, and less known in still photography. But anyone who’s ever tried to photograph a television is familiar with refresh rates and how it can affect an image. Banding usually manifests itself as a black-and-white shadow, which made my colorized encounter a bit curious.

LEDs have become extremely popular for continuous lighting because of their low energy consumption and heat generation, making it ideal for use in theatrical lighting. But LEDs sometimes use a method called Pulse Width Modulation to dim the light, and this can cause “invisible” flicker that shows up in videography or photography.

As I looked over the metadata of the images with the banding, I noticed that it occurred reliably on the Q2 at 1/2500 and faster, and unpredictably at 1/2000s. And in another image, I saw that the ambient sunlight wasn’t causing the same banding issue.

Leica Q2, ISO 3200, f/1.7, 1/2000s. Banding is visible with subjects under LED wash lights.
But the detail of a section lit by sunlight doesn’t exhibit banding.

I didn’t see the problem on my Nikon Z7 at the same shutter speeds, but I also wasn’t shooting with the Nikon during the exact same scenes and lighting conditions.

Without more extensive testing under controlled lighting conditions, I can’t definitively determine whether the problem is 1) specific to the sensor design, 2) a manufacturing defect, or 3) a case of a specific, dimmed lighting condition that has nothing to do with the camera. The LEDs are undoubtedly part of the cause of the problem, and something that photographers should be aware of given the increasing ubiquity of LED technology. For sports and dance, higher shutter speeds are often needed to freeze hands and feet.

Leica has had my camera since the end of April, and has assured me that I will receive a replacement unit when it becomes available. No one will likely shed a tear for a Leica owner, but the frustration of not having the camera is real nevertheless.

Stay tuned for a full review.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 23 comments for this article
  1. John Armstrong-Millar at 11:15 am

    All electronic shutters do not really play well with rapidly oscillating light sources such as LED and of course florescent . Just don’t use the electronic shutter in these situations. The Q2 has one of the fastest leaf shutters I have ever seen. Previously 1/500th was the fastest available (actually slower in real world situations) but the Q2 is fast. But when shooting low light I’m rarely faster than 1/250th.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 11:47 am

      The issue right now is supply. It’s heavily back-ordered, so support is waiting to get an allocation.

  2. Gabe Palacio at 11:38 am

    Allen: I have been using a Fuji XT2 for a little over a year for performance work. I also tested the Nikon Z6. These mirrorless cameras are ideal for sound sensitive work such as photographing chamber music (you can see the work on my photo shelter site at https://www.gabeeventphotos.com/). Yet, I have had to work around the light banding issue. Not, possible with dance, but at speeds below 1/120th the banding goes away. That number is significant because our electrical currents cycle at 120 amps. I would love to see a more deep dive into this topic and ways to work around it. When I asked a Nikon rep about the issue, they brushed it off as a problem of the lights. Does the Sony a7 exhibit this issue? Thanks, Gabe

    • Erica at 3:52 pm

      Hi Gabe. I’m reading that the A7 does but not sure at what shutter speeds. The A9 is probably the top tier mirrorless for indoors sports/events but it’s also not immune from this issue, even in mechanical mode (electronic front shutter curtain needs to also be disabled and it is on by default). People say to just switch it into mechanical mode but that negates the major feature of the camera being silent for concert or on set.

    • Nathan Tsukroff at 6:51 pm

      The AC electricity in the United States is a 60-hertz cycle. In other words, it changes direction 60 times a second. Thus the term “alternating current”.

      Amps are a measure of how much power the device requires for operation. The amperage has no bearing on the cycling or flickering of the electricity.

      The flicker is 60-times per second, whether at 120 amps or 1 amp.

      • Gabe Palacio at 10:08 am

        I stand corrected, it is the 60-hertz cycle, not amps as I incorrectly stated. I still am under the impression that some multiple or fraction of 60 in shutter speed helps the issue. Unfortunately reading through all the comments here shows that it is not consistent from camera brand to camera brand, so shutter design seems to also be a factor.

  3. Daniel Frank at 11:43 am

    At least you got one! I’ve been waiting since March. Sorry you had problems with yours; hope you get a replacement soon so I can read more about your experience with it.

    • T0m at 2:28 pm

      Having worked in photo retail for over forty years, dealing with all major suppliers of cameras and equipment, puts me in a position to say that of all the companies I deal with, Leica is in a very small group of the most responsive to any real [and sometimes just imagined] user complaints. In my lengthy experience, they have never once let a client with a problem go unaddressed. The very fact that Leica has already consented to replace Allen’s Q2 in light of the fact that there’s not 100% certainty that ‘the defect’ was the camera’s fault says all that is needed about Leica ’s concern for its users and one of the many solid reasons why many of the most committed photographers users choose Leica cameras.

      Leica is an easy target for those who are not familiar with the inner workings of the biz. Those deeply engaged in photography know that Leica ’s reputation is earned by their creation of timeless products where form follow function and the ultimate luxury is simplicity. Leica lenses from the 1930’s work beautifully on a 2019 M, SL or CL! The products are beautiful, well made, stand the test of time and produce stellar results in the hands of the many skilled users deeply involved in photography ‘s craft.

  4. Mark at 12:18 pm

    I have experienced this issue with the Canon EOS-R as well while shooting on sets. On one set for a dance company it was primarily LED based lighting. Supposedly Canon’s newest update for the Canon EOS-R fixed this issue. I have yet to see any more banding but I’m testing the camera now under different situations. Please let us know if the problem is solved once you get the camera back Allen. This is a big concern of mine and other photographers and I’m very curious how each major camera company deals with it.

  5. Tom Hyde at 1:08 pm

    I dearly love my Q. It’s the best camera (for me) that I’ve ever owned. Ultimately, I don’t care that it’s ridiculously overpriced. Along with a Mamiya 7ii and occasionally a 4×5, I’ve finally settled on my kit. But both the 7ii and Q are somewhat fragile creatures. The lack of weather seals on the Q is a significant issue and it sounds like the Q2 has big issues with dust. Why are some of the best cameras, with undeniably some of the best glass, and commanding a premium price, produced with such basic flaws?

  6. Scott at 2:23 pm

    The LED thing is not a camera issue but a lighting issue and people shooting production photos professionally for theatres (like me) come across it all the time, whether Nikon or Canon.

    It becomes acute with dimly-lit dance (very common) because the lights dim by pulsing over longer periods of time — think having to shoot 1/125 and hoping to freeze motion.

    LED stage lights simply don’t look very nice without a lot of work on this and other things (e.g. the colour saturation levels about four times those of tungsten; so far, the lack of any LED design that produces a pleasing light falloff or that is acceptable on skin, regardless of the lamp’s lens; and white light that includes blues that make white clothes fluoresce).

    I’ve never tried with a camera that has flicker detection.

  7. Bryon Johnson at 10:00 pm

    I was experiencing the same issue with LED lighting in a city council chamber a month ago, using silent shutter on a Canon EOS-R. When I went to look at the images afterwards, I noticed that there was obvious banding on the images. I had done the same thing a couple of months before in a different city council chamber, and never saw any banding. The lighting system was newer in the meeting room that had no banding issues.

    My colleague who’s been using a Nikon Z6 has been having the same issues.

    My conclusion – it all depends on the LED lights the facility chooses – which in city government cases, is usually the lowest bidder. Next time I’m in the council chamber, I won’t use silent shutter and see how that works out.

  8. Bettina at 2:59 am

    I was testing Nikon Z7 during a concert and had the same issue with LED lightning. Unfortunately nobody in the store told it to me before. After my complain, the sales people told me: Yes, we know this banding problem with all digital sensors. It comes up mostly when you use 1/200-1/300. Sometimes you are lucky and the banding does not appear when you take the image with more than 1/350.

  9. ray allen at 6:39 pm

    I have used a monopod for community theatre photography so that I could use slower shutter speeds for increased depth of field. I’ll have to dig the monopod out of the closet to see if it helps me choose a shutter speed/aperture combination that avoids the banding from either PCM LED lighting or fluorescent lighting.

  10. Matt Roth at 4:51 pm

    I shoot along side video crews often. So, I use silent mode on my D850 & Z7, and the cheaper LED lights just wreck my stills with vertical lines. So, when I’m dealing with those lights & when I have to go silent, I keep the shutter speed low.

    Here’s the interesting thing, I also use the Sony RX1r II — which is *practically* silent all the time. I can jack the shutter speed all the way up and I never get banding. I assume it has to do with it’s equally quiet leaf shutter.

    Allen, it looks like Leica redesigned the Q2’s leaf shutter for faster flash sync. I’m wondering if that’s the problem?

  11. Andres at 1:10 pm

    I had this issue when I tested the Eos R on silent mode (shooting on set). On researching it banding is going to happen on a rolling shutter at any speed above the frequency of the light pulse. Its just the nature of the design. I’d love to know if the update fixed it if anyone has any info.

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