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The Complete Leica X1 Review

by Mike Pouliot on 05/29/2011

My time with the Leica X1 has come to an end. After spending a week with this premium compact camera, I’m pretty torn as to how I feel about it. Like the Sony NEX, the X1 is an impressive piece of engineering and it is a truly beautiful camera, but the price and some other less than desirable characteristics make the Leica X1 a tough camera to love. So, is the X1 worth it’s premium price? Let’s find out.

Testing

Instead of droning on and on, I figured it would be easier to make a quick list of my personal likes and dislikes. To get the full picture, you should really read all of the posts.

Likes

  • Image quality is very good and RAW files are surprisingly flexible. The RAW images straight out of camera are not mind blowing, but with a few minutes in Lightroom, you can end up with photos that would rival most consumer level DSLRs.
  • The looks. There is no doubt about it. This is a pretty camera. I don’t really take looks into consideration when purchasing camera equipment, but when something looks this good, it makes buying it even easier. One thing to note is that you will get some attention if you use this camera, but not to worry, it’s the good kind of attention. I had several people comment on the camera and how they had or knew someone that had a film camera that looked just like the X1.
  • The shutter. I’ve never used a camera with a shutter as quiet as the X1. If you are looking to be as stealthy as possible, the X1 is the camera for you. You look like you are using a regular point and shoot and the shutter is so quiet no one will ever know if you actually took a photo. It’s a street photographer’s dream.
  • Controls and physical dials. I really love the large external controls on the X1. Being able to see the shutter and aperture values on a physical dial instead of a screen is something I wish my GF-1 offered. I think this is more of a personal preference, but it is one thing I really enjoyed when using the X1.

Dislikes

  • The price. This one is pretty obvious. If the X1 were the only option for a small camera with an APS-C sized sensor, then I would have no problem with Leica’s asking price. The problem is, there are several other small body large sensor options (Sony NEX and Fujifilm X100 are two of the more popular choices) to choose from and they are all drastically cheaper than the X1.
  • Speed, this is what completely kills the X1 for me. Even with the latest firmware, the focus speed and general operating speed of the camera is just too slow to make the X1 a versatile camera. I have a real problem dropping this kind of cash for a camera that can only shoot still life. Unfortunately, life doesn’t move at a snail’s pace, so I need something faster than what the X1 can offer.
  • Lack of features. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you probably know that I usually shoot with a Canon 5D (original) which is a pretty old camera. I like simple cameras that have excellent image quality. I really don’t care about things like in body HDR or art filters, but the X1 feels like it is missing a few key features. For a relatively new camera, I think it’s insane that the X1 doesn’t shoot video of any kind. I’m not asking for 1080p at 60fps with full control of aperture and shutter setting, but the X1 should at least offer 720p.

What I’d Like to See in the X2…if there Ever is One

With my likes and dislikes aside, I respect Leica for creating the X1. They managed to stuff an APS-C sized sensor into a a beautiful camera which produces excellent images. With that being said, Leica needs to kick things up a notch if they plan on staying competitive in this segment. Below are a few things I’d like to see in the X2 or whatever the successor to the X1 will be:

  • Faster everything, specifically the AF and buffer
  • A faster lens, at least F/2 or faster
  • More buttons and at least a one user defined/programmable button
  • HD Video capabilities
  • A more competitive price. I understand Leica’s offering always carry a premium (e.g. Panasonic LX-5 vs. Leica D-Lux 5) but I think the Fujifilm X100 is going to murder the X1 until Leica comes out with a successor to the X1 that is comparable or better than the X100 and is right around the same price point as the current X1.

Conclusion

This has been the toughest product for me to review in my short time with The Phoblographer. I was so excited to get the X1 and I was hoping I could write about how much I loved using the camera. To be honest, however, I was a bit dissapointed. While I genuinely enjoyed using the X1 and I was impressed with the images, I don’t think the X1 is worth Leica’s current asking price. The X1 has several competitors that cost drastically less and can output images very close to what the X1 produces. On top of that, many of these other cameras have more functionality and flexibility when compared to the X1. The X1 is no doubt a beautiful camera and it does have a certain allure to it, but in the end its slow performance and limited ability coupled with its high price tag make the X1 a tough camera to recommend. If you are a die-hard Leica fan and you need something to complement your M9, then you probably have the coin to pick up an X1. If you are simply hell bent on getting something with that red dot and you are considering an X1, save your money and pick up a Leica D-Lux 5. If you’re just in the market for an advanced compact with a big sensor, I would strongly consider testing some of the X1’s competitors before pulling the trigger on an X1. Below are just a few of my suggestions to research before buying an X1:

 

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