The Leica Q3 was the most fun I had with any gear in 2023.

Photo: Shaminder Dulai

No camera stood out to me more this year than Leica's Q3. But it's not for the reasons you may imagine.

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It's expensive, and the fixed 28mm lens limits how far you can go with it, literally and figuratively. The 3-second boot-up time can feel like an eternity when you come across the perfect photographic moment. And yes, as I pointed out upon its release, I find it a little offensive that a thumb rest is a $225 accessory on a $6000 camera. It's not every day you're looking at your budget and asking yourself if you should spend it on a camera or a used car (or health insurance if you're American).

But it's also the most fun I've had with any gear this year. Using the Leica Q3 took me back to the joy I first felt with 35mm film and 120 TLR cameras. It's a camera that is as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, and if you choose to, you can limit time in menus to an initial setup and then stick to the on-body buttons and dials. It's a welcome departure from cameras with custom function menus that bring up half a dozen or more options to pick from on a touch screen.

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This focus on image-making rather than pixel-peeping appealed to me and took me back to why I fell in love with photography. It feels ridiculous to praise a $6000 camera for making things simple and not mapping all the bells and whistles to buttons and custom menus. Perhaps it stems from a nagging thought I've had the last couple of years that most cameras are pretty good these days, and the small differences aren't in the pixel peeping but in the usability and just flat out: is this fun to use? And thumb rest aside, I found the Q3 very nice to work with and, yes, 'fun.'

The Q3 stands apart from the crowd, a premium camera that emphasizes a slower pace for photography than our modern approach of the decisive moment motor drive.

Leica Q3 | 28mm | ISO 100 | 1/1000 sec | F3.5
Out-of-camera JPEG

Photo: Shaminder Dulai

There's also another reason I loved the Q3 this year, and like Richard, it also came to me at a time when I was preciously digging deeper into the cameras I was assigned and triple-checking every detail. During my time evaluating the camera, we were a team adrift, unsure if we'd find a safe port or be swallowed by the shifting waves below us. It's hard to separate what was happening to our team from what I was doing in my job to evaluate the Q3 for our initial review.

That uncertainty, a force more powerful than I, was at play. I told myself to make the most of it and own what I could. This helped me focus, my sight fixed on the five feet in front of me, the only clear vision I had amid a horizon that wouldn't make itself known. When the Leica Q3 arrived, it came just as many of the staff were taking planned time off. Anticipating a potential vacancy in our respective agendas, some wisely had planned vacations, family trips and long overdue visits home. I had no such plans, and I stayed behind when the call was made to “keep going a little longer.”

It was a vague call, but we control what we can. The Q3 was an opportunity to do it one more time, saddle up; let’s have some fun. Control what you can, and I dove in with gusto.

He was practicing goal kicks when I approached him. A kind smile from him and my questions about his jersey were all we needed to spark a conversation about living in America, our love of sports and family, and how culture is funny in the ways it pulls and pushes us through life.

Leica Q3 | 28mm | ISO 100 | 1/1000 sec | F4
Straight from camera JPEG

Photo: Shaminder Dulai

I still thought this might be my last DPReview camera review, and doing it right became my only focus. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this actually took the pressure off and was freeing. When nothing else matters, this is all that matters. Looking back, it was the experience of using the Q3 coupled with the headspace I was in that has given me fond memories.

I didn't go into the Q3 thinking I would like the camera; I was fearful it would feel like an overpriced status symbol, an accessory like a fancy handbag you carried to signal to others what means and taste you could afford. I was ruthless; if this was going to be my last byline, by golly, I was going to get it right. I questioned every claim, checked and rechecked performance, got my hands on a Q2 for comparison, asked colleagues what they thought of the older cameras in the series, and asked myself if I would advise a friend to buy it.

In the end, the Q3 won me over.

I'm sure there was also a part of me that was using this potential final initial review as a means to process saying goodbye, and that forced me to try to be present and intentional in every moment, one last time. I put the camera through its paces, but I also told myself to get out of the office and get back to my roots of seeking images, talking to people, gathering stories and having some fun.

Heading out for a few days to make pictures, I was talking to people on the street and remembering my days working on stories for newspapers and magazines, where the joy was as much in learning about others as it was in making photos and videos to share stories.

I happened upon this same group of Pickleball players on two different days at two different fields. It was my first exposure to the game, and while the Q3 is not meant to be a sports camera, I figured I'd give it a shot anyway. As expected, the fixed 28mm lens is fast, but it's a bit too distant if you don't choose to engage the lens crop modes.

Leica Q3 | 28mm | ISO 250 | 1/250 sec | F11 | -3EV
Straight from camera JPEG

Photo: Shaminder Dulai

On one of my walks, I came across a Pickleball match. The game was new to me, and the quartet of players was kind enough to show me how the game is played. I proceeded to do the ridiculous thing of trying to make the Q3 a sports camera. I can confirm it's not a sports camera unless that sport is chess, where you can get close enough with the 28mm lens.

Seeking low light, another walk took me into a bar to tinker with shadows, neon and rim light wrapping around patrons along the counter. There, I'd meet a 20-something fresh off work, stopping in for a pint, who, upon noticing my camera, would inquire what I was doing.

"I'm working on a story for a camera website," I'd say, adding on when questioned further, "for DPReview." His eyes lit up as he asked me about cameras he was considering as a present for his dad. You can't have moments like these behind a desk.

The Q3 wasn't always the best at everything (sports), but it was the most fun I've had with a camera this year and the closest I've come to recapturing the feeling of pure mechanical (invisible tech) photography in recent memory.

In moments like these, with a camera by my side, I'm reminded of how lucky I am to work at DPReview. My previous staff positions have always issued me a camera to use for a few years and told me to learn it inside and out, but I never had to compare multiple models and features to this level of detail.

I don't consider myself a gearhead, but I love tinkering and learning. One of my great joys working here has been the impromptu discussions that bubble up, often stemming from a simple question about base ISO or dynamic range and expanding into multiple whiteboards and a healthy smattering of charts and historical data.

This has informed how I approach cameras now. I'm looking to see if a camera can meet the promise of what it says it'll do, how useable it is, if the performance meets the needs of its price point compared to other options, and most of all, if it's actually enjoyable to use.

Working on the Q3 also meant I harassed my cat for days. Thankfully, he forgave me.

Leica Q3 | 28mm | ISO 100 | 1/125 sec | F1.7 | -3EV
Straight from camera JPEG

Photo: Shaminder Dulai

The Q3 is still out of my budget; I won't be buying one, but boy did it exceed my expectations. I enjoyed how it leaned into tactile picture-making by allowing me to stay out of menus if I wanted. If I could afford it, it would be my go-to camera of 2023. Yes, the Z8 is the perfect all-around camera, that's why I voted to award it as our product of the year, but the Q3 captures a 'joy' I haven't had in other recent cameras.

Incidentally, the initial review also led to one of the nicest e-mails I’ve ever gotten from a reader: someone sharing that they’ve been reading my bylines since I joined DPReview and how they've enjoyed the fresh perspective I bring. It’s rare to get a kind word in journalism. That not only made me proud of my work but also sad that it may all be ending. Thankfully, we know now that wasn't the ending that was being written. And with that, I get to say I can't wait for the next camera, the chance to do it again and spend some more time with you.

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