• Kaisern Chen

The Way Forward

Updated: Jan 16

The luxury compact camera sector was once very popular back in the film days and entering into digital age such kind of range and competition has not seen until SONY introduced the original RX1 back in September 2012 and followed up with RX1R in June 2013. The RX1 & RX1R camera featured a razor-sharp Zeiss Sonnar 35/2 lens and SONY's 24mp sensor that to this date still a competent camera except it requires an external EVF which makes the compact camera less compact and convenient, but it is still capable of producing beautiful images even by today's standard.

Taken the note from RX1/RX1R, in June 2015 Leica introduced its own Leica Q (Type 116) featured a beautiful Summilux 28/1.7 ASPH lens with a CMOSIS designed MAX 24MP CMOS sensor with beautiful built-in EVF and more responsive AF system, 10 fps burst. Albeit not inexpensive, at USD 4,495 - it is still considered a bargain Leica, particularly an M mount Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH will set one back at USD 6,595 - lens only. It is not the same lens, of course, the M mount Summilux-M 28/1.4 certainly worth its asking price, IMHO, and retains its value very well and indeed an excellent lens, without doubt, the Summilux 28/1.7 ASPH on Q is also quite good, capable of producing spectacular images.

Price aside, Leica Q seemed to have upper hand against SONY RX1/RX1R camera until a few months later, in October 2015, SONY released a fantastic upgrade model RX1RII featured a more precisely paired Zeiss Sonnar 35/2 with the new SONY BSI 42MP sensor and improved AF performance. EVF is now a pop-up option; although still not as brilliant as the one on Leica Q, it is enough and much better than the shoe-mount external EVF of the previous generation.

Now, in January 2019, both Leica Q and SONY RX1RII are well over three years and I personally owned and used both of them since introduction till now, so perhaps a brief wrap up will be good personal journal before the eventual replacement.

The debate of megapixel race got heated up since the larger sensor (larger than 1") digital camera eclipsed 6 million pixels and many articles declared it had matched the resolution of scanned 135mm film, but the scientists and engineers continued to push forward, partially by the market demand as well as driven by the nature of human curiosity, for scientist and engineer especially. Just similar to the automobile industry to equip the car with the more powerful engine a better braking system, the camera industry gives sets of solutions both to hardware and software to the image quality while the pixels count rises. That for me, the SONY RX1RII is a more favorable camera to use over Leica Q because it produces sharper and larger print when all other things equal which they seldom are, besides my style of shoot benefitted more from 35mm than 28mm. And that is why I use both cameras on choices.

It's a simple pick on 42.4MP over 24MP which many may disagree but I buy my camera, and others buy their camera or to own and shoot both to have a fair conversation.

The choice of camera is one of the essential tools in the social media age when people connected mostly by pictures, and many users branded together with the camera or the equipment they use and some social groups formed following such alliance, like clubs. By that, some heated debate between social groups over patronage and loyalty on their investment surfaced and showing no sign of an end.

Realistically, all current cameras are relatively good cameras! What we have today, even a bargain camera, is something most people did not even dream of decades ago and of course, not those masters whose work introduced to us photography as serious art. And photography is about the photographer and his artworks, not about his camera. But the commercial mechanism gets into everywhere, making everyone part of the campaign, and very much so on just about anything today.

Back on the Leica Q and SONY RX1RII - as an industrial designer the Leica Q is more pleasant to look at, modern and stylish, handling is a subjective matter. Many may argue over ergonomics issues, yet it is an issue to many, not a problem to others. The ergonomic concern to me is a combination of geometry, scale, texture, ready-to-use-weight and how will the camera be used. SONY RX1RII is the typical Japanese engineer-driven design that tries to put as many functions as possible onto smallest space possible, and we can't fault them, they are Japanese and Japanese consumer figure those things out more naturally than people outside Japan. My take - get used to the tool if I decided to master it, then learn it and make it work for me. The battery life on RX1RII is not great but still enough to give about 300 exposures with one charge, and the rest is management. It does produce image quality compares comfortably to the very best of today, up to the realm of cameras with 33x44mm sensor, as of January 2019.

Leica Q, as heavy rumors pointed a coming upgrade in 2019, is likely to gain a big boost in sensor resolution will undoubtedly change the equation here. People who swear that 24MP is sufficient for them should stay with what they have that already satisfied them, and I am looking for what the brilliant minds of scientists and engineers capable of delivering what is next.

Note: In March 2019, I finally get the delivery of the highly anticipated Leica Q2, which is an elevation of all aspects from the original Q. Further information "The Q2 Factor"