It appears as though Leica’s Q series of cameras has always used a leaf shutter, but that went basically unnoticed until now or, at the very least, totally un-promoted.
Leica’s newly announced Q3 has several performance leaps over its predecessor, but one advancement that the company has not said much about is the use of a leaf shutter which allows the camera to sync with strobes at up to 1/2000 second.
In materials provided to PetaPixel and in conversations with the Germany-based company, the use of a leaf shutter in the new Q3 never came up. It was only after perusing the company’s official specifications page that the full capabilities of the camera came to light. Compared to the Q2, which has a stated flash sync speed of up to 1/500 second, the Q3 offers the ability to sync at up to 1/2000 second, which is the fastest the shutter can physically fire. Only a leaf shutter is capable of those kinds of numbers.
When PetaPixel reached out about the huge leap in performance here, Leica confirmed the Q3 uses a leaf shutter. But perhaps more interesting, the company also said that nothing in the lens system changed between the Q2 and Q3, meaning that for some reason, Leica’s official specifications are inaccurate in this regard. In fact, DPReview actually tested the Q2 sync speed and confirmed it could sync up to 1/2000 second, a specification that is in contrast with Leica’s own materials.
PetaPixel has also confirmed with Leica that the original Q uses a leaf shutter, too. While the company wasn’t able to provide an explanation as to why the shutter sync numbers don’t reflect the capabilities of a leaf shutter for that camera, it expects to provide more clarity on that next week. PetaPixel will update this story accordingly.
It’s pretty strange that the Q2’s full capabilities went un-promoted (and have existed incorrectly on Leica’s own website for three years) but leaf shutters have some major advantages over focal plane shutters and makes the Q3 a highly capable capture device, even if it has a fixed lens — more so than it already is. It is absolutely a feature that should have been highlighted.
Why Leaf Shutters Matter
Leaf shutters tend to be more compact, are quieter, and they don’t result in any kind of “rolling shutter” issue because they open from the center outward which prevents distortion in moving objects.
One other major benefit is the aforementioned sync speed: studio photographers have preferred medium format cameras not only because of the image quality gains from using a much larger sensor, but also because medium format cameras from Phase One and Hasselblad have used leaf shutters which give them more power in studio settings and when mixing natural light with strobes. Basically, leaf shutters give photographers all the benefits of high-speed sync but without having to rely on multiple flash bursts which reduce overall flash output.
Take, for example, the photo below that was shot by advertising photographer Blair Bunting.
In a story published to The Photographer’s Tribune, Bunting explains that he was only able to capture this photo because of the leaf shutter allowed him to sync at 1/2000 second. In 2021, Bunting praised Sony’s Alpha 1 for pushing its shutter flash sync to 1/400 for similar reasons — it’s fast, but a far cry from what is possible with a leaf shutter.
Rare, But Not Unheard Of
While leaf shutters are relatively uncommon, their use on compact fixed-lens cameras is not unheard of. That said, the mention of a leaf shutter in camera marketing materials is, strangely, rarely emphasized. It’s certainly weird that the actual specifications of the Q2 haven’t been right, but not praising the benefits of a leaf shutter or even mentioning that it is in use is, sadly, the norm. PetaPixel had to dig pretty hard to find cases where one was employed and in those cases, it was usually not a feature that was highly touted. In many cases, it’s not even mentioned.
That said, leaf shutter use on full-frame cameras is much rarer. The only other example of a leaf shutter paired with a full-frame camera that PetaPixel could find is the Sony RX1R Mark II.
Leaf shutters tend to be less common than traditional focal plane shutters because they can’t fire as fast — 1/2000 second is the fastest available on larger sensors (smaller sensor cameras like the LX100 Mark II can push this a bit faster). Leaf shutters are also more expensive and more complicated to design, especially since the shutter mechanism lives in the lens and not on the camera body.
These factors are why leaf shutters are not used very often, but also why when they are available, it should be noted by manufacturers. It’s quite bizarre that the Q series went this long without the feature being either promoted or, seemingly, even noticed.
Image credits: Header image via Leica