Leica X1 first impressions

Leica X1

Its "grossly overpriced", its a "rich persons toy", "its bought by people with more money than sense", "its a rip-off", "its got a fixed lens", its "only 12MP", "its got slow AF".

At a price for which you could buy a pretty decent DSLR + lenses and suffering some luke-warm reviews to say the least, how come Leica can't make enough to satisfy demand? My dealer said he could sell 200 a week! He also said he could add a few hundred pounds to the price & still sell them. How come after having the camera for less than 24 hours I could quite happily sell all my other cameras & use this exclusively?

Leica X1

A very personal first impressions review of the Leica X1.

Opening up the box, which is designed like a jewel case!, the first impression you get is just how small it is. Its nothing like an M-series Leica, nor is comparable with m4/3. Its also very light.

It must also be said that pictures don't do it justice. Its VERY sexy. Not that this should matter, but somehow it does.

I can say unequivocally that this is the best handling and most comfortable camera I have ever used. Fitted with the grip, it feels like it was made for me. Its light without being flimsy, everything falls to hand easily. I had to use the manual to look up one thing, but apart from that everything is obvious & needs little explanation. Its smaller than any of the micro four thirds cameras I've used but much more comfortable to use. It has dials rather than buttons for many functions & its obviously designed BY photographers FOR photographers. A m4/3 camera is a box of electronics that takes pictures by comparison. This is a camera. It looks like a camera, it feels like a camera.

Leica X1

Fitting the grip and the viewfinder I noticed that everything fits perfectly. Not too tight, not too loose - just right. The grip does make a lot of difference to the handling however. Without it the camera is difficult to handle, with it its a dream. I'm certainly going to be getting one for my M9 after my experience with this.

Pressing the shutter gives a positive feel. The shutter can also be set up to be silent. Not just quiet, but completely inaudible. Also despite reviews talking about the slowness of the AF, it was better than I was expecting. Its not fast by any stretch of the imagination but its positive and accurate. I've had DSLR's that were slower than this so its not as slow as some might suggest. I also found no problems in low light as has also been mentioned.

Leica X1

Image quality. Well its as expected. Its very good. The lens is superb. Sharp, a touch of CA in those areas where it always turns up, backlit branches etc. The colour is simply wonderful. Beautifully rich yet natural looking. The sensor is allegedly the same as the Nikon D300. If this is true then its a Sony sensor. However having used a Nikon D300 this doesn't perform in the same way. To my eyes it gives sharper, punchier results and better colour than anything that I achieved with the Nikon. The raw .DNG files need very little levels adjustment. The jpgs look fine but I'll need more time to check them out.















Leica X1 test shots

Leica X1 test shots

parish church

Leica X1 test shots

Leica X1 test shots

What I wasn't prepared for was the high ISO performance. This is just amazing. I tried some shots at ISO 3200 and couldn't really believe how good they were. Leica could have easily added 6400 and even 12800 & nobody would have complained. Combined with the inaudible shutter this gives all sorts of low light possibilities.

Leica X1 test shots 3200 ISO

Leica X1 test shots 3200 ISO

Leica X1 test shots 3200 ISO

When time permits I'll do some serious testing and post some raw files for you to have a look at.

My overall first impressions are VERY positive. Its certainly not going to be everybody's dream camera, but its close to being mine. Finally I've found a light, small high quality camera with beautiful handling and exceptional low light performance. I've had to pay a huge price for this, but this camera is going to get used an awful lot.

NO DUST SPOTS. I'll say that again NO DUST SPOTS.

Many of the criticisms of the camera do miss the point. This is not a substitute for a DSLR. Nor do I believe it was ever meant as such. Leica obviously wanted to make a small, light, easy to use camera capable of producing top quality images under most circumstances. I believe this explains the fixed lens, and the slowish (yet reasonable) AF and buffer. Also 12MP on an APS-C sensor may seem somewhat conservative, but this certainly pays dividends in terms of dynamic range, which is excellent, and overall image quality. I blew up some of the images I took to 48MB, to see how they would fare for picture library use. There were no problems with this at all. Indeed some of the files looked comparable to Leica M9 images and thats the highest praise I can give.

As far as I am concerned if you're going to make it a fixed lens then a 35mm equivalent is fine with me. I can quite happily work with this. Others however may want more choice.

Leica X1

Leica X1

Leica X1

This really is the camera I have been wanting to see for a long time. However under no circumstances would I recommend it to anybody else unless I was sure that they were looking for the same thing.

If you want:-
Silent operation
Light weight, small size, yet wonderful handling
Simplicity of operation
Full manual control
HIgh quality fixed lens
Great high ISO performance
Excellent dynamic range

then this might be for you - if you can put up with:-
Non-DSLR speed
Very limited options
Incredibly high price

Finally, a short section on how it compares to Micro Four Thirds.

I use a lot of fixed lenses on m4/3. Indeed I use the 20mm f1.7 most of the time. So zoom lenses are not something I use a lot. I even use primes for the majority of my wedding, commercial and video work.
Therefore the fixed lens on the X1 is not something that causes me a problem. I could quite happily work with this lens exclusively for all my personal and stock work and not miss other focal lengths. However that is personal and should be stated first off.

From even my limited use with the X1 its clear that the larger sensor gives advantages in terms of dynamic range. One of my great gripes about m4/3 is the problem with burning out highlight areas. The X1 is much better at this.
In terms of IQ however there is far less of a difference. Under the right circumstances m4/3 with good lenses will be right up there with the X1.
However the X1's performance at ISO 3200 is really very very good. Substantially better than many DSLR's.

The great difference for me is in terms of handling. The X1 is simpler, better laid out and much more intuitive. All of us here have cursed Panasonic and Olympus designers for the way they lay out the controls and menus on their m4/3 cameras. We've also cursed them for the number of options they provide, many we feel added just for the sake of it.

Picking up an X1 was for me a welcoming reassuring experience. I'd pretty much worked it all out in 10 minutes and using it "in the field" I found it really simple to use. It was also an incredibly pleasurable experience. I do realise that not everyone is seduced by the Leica/Retro look. I was pretty much under its spell the moment I picked it up, but thats just me. My head may be in 2010 but my heart is very much still stuck around 1966! So make of that what you will.

Time will tell whether this is infatuation or true love. But I'm going to really enjoy myself finding out.

Words - D
Images - D & A