In the Field with the Leica Q3
By David Butow –
My first immersive experience with the Q3 was using it to cover the scenes in downtown Miami on June 13 when former president Donald Trump appeared in federal court for his arraignment on federal charges for mishandling classified documents. Although this was the first time in U.S. history something like this had happened, the general scenes were not unfamiliar to me. In 2017, I moved to Washington, D.C. to cover the chaos around his presidency which culminated in the attempted insurrection on January 6, 2021. My pictures from Capitol Hill, the White House and various scenes out in America during those years were published in my book Brink.
After a hiatus from this subject since those years, I looked forward to getting back in the middle of it and was eager to try out the Q3, particularly how its high speed synch capabilities would work in the bright Miami sun. Only high speed synch will allow you to see the effects of the flash beyond a few feet in front of you in that kind of light.
Miami was hot and muggy that Tuesday and in addition to a couple bottles of water, I carried my M11 with a 50mm and an SL2-S with a 100-400mm. For most of the day, I used mainly the Q3 with the SF-60 flash off-camera with the CF-1 remote. Digital sensors have such great dynamic range these days, you don’t really need fill flash for much these days, but it does give you a different look, and one that I wanted to try.
For the most part, it all worked great. The flash exposures were right on, dialed up or down a bit depending on lighting and background.
From my perspective, one of the advantages to using the Q3 this way is that it’s very small and light, because you end up holding the camera with your right hand and the flash with your left and not really changing any camera settings while you’re in the middle of shooting. If, like me you’re not really used to working that way, it feels like a relinquish of control and kind of awkward , but that’s offset somewhat by the camera’s responsive autofocus, allowing you to keep moving around and concentrate on the subject and how you’re lighting it.
I’m still experimenting with the camera’s various AF options but generally I was pleased. Quickness is not really the issue, it’s really a question of “is the camera focusing in the part of the frame I want it to?” As I mentioned in the Q3 overview I’m disappointed Leica has left out true back button focus option. You have to rely on the camera to choose the zone or field depending on how you set it up, and in a dynamic environment you don’t want to be changing that all the time, you want to stick with one or two settings. I’d say 95% of the time that worked, but a few times the camera focused somewhere I didn’t want it to, and in a jossel-y situation that can be hard to spot in the moment in part because of the camera’s form factor.
Camera types are real give and take. In my opinion the SLR, or DSLR’s chief advantage over mirrorless is that in bright light you can really see the subject well. No EVF has as good dynamic range as the human eye. But mirrorless is better in low light and there are other advantages as well. The Q3 is a small camera, and the viewfinder does not have the large presence of a top-notch full frame mirrorless camera. It’s very good, and very sharp, but not quite the same, so in bright light in that dynamic scene I can’t say using that finder was as good as the larger options. Thus, seeing exactly how the camera is focusing can be a little tricky.
For the size and features of the Q3 you have to make a couple of tradeoffs. Overall, to me the camera doesn’t exactly replace the experience of using a larger pro-level DSLR or mirrorless when working in a newsy situation. But it’s pretty close, and the image quality is great.
For a more thorough discussion of the camera’s features and operation please see the overview here.
Photograph above from downtown Miami June 13, 2023 ©David Butow