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Review: Leica X2

by Chris Gampat on 05/31/2012

Not long ago, Leica announced their brand new X2 camera. As an update to the X1, it gives consumers an optional electronic viewfinder, a modest megapixel bump, higher ISO capabilities, and a newly designed pop-up flash. As is Leica’s mentality and corporate philosophy, all upgrades were very minimal and the entire package still emphasizes simplicity.

Holding true to Leica’s branding, this camera will also set your checking account back a bit.

Tech Specs

The specs have been taken from B&H Photo’s listing of the camera.

Imaging
Resolution Effective: 16.1 Megapixel, Actual Pixels: 16.5 Megapixel
Sensor APS-C (23.6 x 15.8mm) CMOS
File Formats Still Images: DNG, JPEG
Max Resolution 16MP: 4928 x 3264 @ 3:2
Aspect Ratio 3:2
Image Stabilization None
Optics
Lens Leica Elmarit, 8 elements in 6 groups
1 Aspheric
EFL: 24 mm (35mm equivalent: 35 mm)
Aperture: f/2.8 to f/16
Zoom None
Focus Range Normal: 0.98′ (30 cm) – Infinity
Exposure Control
ISO Sensitivity Auto, 100-12500
Shutter 30 – 1/2000 seconds
Exposure Metering Center-weighted, Multi, Spot
Exposure Modes Modes: Aperture Priority, Manual, Program, Shutter Priority
Compensation: -3 EV to +3 EV (in 0.33 EV steps)
White Balance Modes Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Flash, Halogen, Manual, Shade 1
Burst Rate Up to 5 fps
Up to 3 fps 2
Interval Recording No
Flash
Built-in Flash Yes: 1st Curtain Sync, Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Fill-in, Red-eye Reduction, Second-curtain Sync, Slow Sync
External Flash Connection Hot Shoe
Memory
Built-in Memory 110MB
Memory Card Type SD
SDHC
SDXC
Viewfinder/Display
Viewfinder Type None
Screen 2.7″ LCD Rear Screen (230000 pixels)
Connectivity/System Requirements
Connectivity USB 2.0
HDMI A (Full Size)
Power
Battery BP-DC8 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack
Physical
Dimensions (WxHxD) 4.88 x 2.72 x 2.03″ / 124 x 69 x 51.5 mm
Weight 11.15 oz / 316  g (Camera only)

Ergonomics

The Leica X2 stays true to the company philosophy of minimalism and it shows on the front of the camera. Almost nothing is there but the lens, a little Leica logo, and an AF assist lamp.

The Electronic viewfinder that you see in this review is the exact same as Olympus’s VF2. In fact, I have Olympus’s VF2 and was able to slap it on the camera with no trouble at all.

Going even further, this camera even mimics the Olympus EP2 with a 17mm f2.8 attached. Perhaps the X2 is the previously rumored Olympus fixed lens pen camera with an APS-C sensor?

The top of the camera takes design cues that harken back to their older days of the M3 and M2. It is characterized by a shutter dial, aperture dial, on/off switch which doubles as a drive mode and shutter release, hot shoe, and a pop-up flash.

The back of the X2 also emphasizes simplicity. The top right dial is meant for use with manual focus: which is enabled by pressing the according button on the directional dial. The dial controls exposure compensation, flash settings, timer settings, etc.

In between that and the left buttons is a decent LCD screen that seems to be a bit of an upgrade from the previous version.

The buttons on the left control your ISO, playback, deletion and more. To be honest, they also can be a bit tough to master.

Autofocus and Focusing

The autofocusing on the X2 is highly upgraded from the X1; but even so it is only on par with the Fujifilm X100 at best. Additionally, it isn’t very smart based on your composition of a scene and sometimes it is just best to manually focus instead. This will be an extreme pain when focusing on a subject that is very close to you. I can’t tell you just how frustrating it can be to see your subject go in and out of focus with the camera not knowing that you want said subject to be in focus.

Manually focusing is a breeze with the center area of the scene magnifying itself to ensure critical focus, but even then the display output could be much higher.

Metering

Leica’s X2 underexposes by 1/3rd of a stop according to a Sunny 16 metering test that we’ve done. That means that the sensor also probably came from Sony since their system does the same thing.

Battery Life

The Leica X2 only needed to be charged once during my two week testing period. This factors in heavy continuous use for at least two hours each day of the week. And even then, the battery never seemed to die; I only went to charge it because the battery indicator started to blink red.

Still though, there is some truly remarkable battery life to this camera and it only gets even better if the electronic viewfinder is not attached.

Ease of Use

ISO 6400

The Leica X2 is a point and shoot: and pointing and shooting should mean that it is simple to use, right?

Indeed, it is simple to use and can become complicated if the user so chooses to do so via the various control dial settings. But generally, I had no trouble at all with this camera except in extreme darkness where it really hit home that I had not memoriezed the location of every single button.

Image Quality

ISO 6400

Overall, I cannot complain about the image quality from this camera. It uses a 16MP sensor that is absolutely gorgeous and when combined with Leica optics is a total winner. Out of the camera, all images tend to be a bit muted but skin tones are almost on par with the Canon 5D Mk II’s. In practice, that means that your editing workflow will be a bit different. I often needed to selectively saturate channels so as not to affect the skin tones: which were once again very good.

The files also don’t need very much sharpening either.

The files also are quite versatile and follow very good logic in terms of how one with work with them based on the rules of color theory. The image above was shot by our News Editor, Felix Esser.

Just for the record, the lens on the camera doesn’t vignette like this at all, I actually added it for the extra affect: which once again I found to turn out very nicely.

If you’d like to get even better colors out of this camera, I suggest underexposing by at least a stop and then pushing your files in post if you need to. That is really how the colors can pop though.

The camera’s sensor is also capable of a very good amount of dynamic range. This image above and the image below were shot not too far apart from one another and one image needed to be fixed in post while the other needed far less fine tuning.

Here are some other image samples:

With a Monolight

One of the absolute awesome things about this camera is the fact that it contains a leaf shutter: and that means that a high speed flash sync is possible. Indeed, I hooked the Impact LiteTrek up to the X2 via the Powersync 16 system and was then able to shoot the above and below portraits.

High ISOs

ISO 6400

We’ve seen ISO 6400 already previously in the post, but check out 12,800 in these photos below:

Quirks

A major quirk of mine is that I wish the camera had a built-in viewfinder so that I can use the hot shoe with a flash or something. Otherwise, I had no major complaint except that I wish the dials allowed for tuning of 1/3rd of stops. It doesn’t do that unless you’re in program mode; which means that the camera is surely capable of doing it.

Conclusion

Despite the exorbitant price tag, the Leica X2 is a wonderful camera and I honestly wish I could justify the price of one to myself. It screams out to me in many different ways: the image quality the beautiful looks, the relatively simple ergonomics, the versatility of the raw files, etc. But this camera just isn’t worth what it costs. To be fair, it is only a couple hundred dollars more than a Fujifilm X100: its biggest competitor.

Can it outdo the X100? Yes and no. The build quality is very nice, but Fujifilm’s ergonomics are much better. The image quality from both cameras though are about on par with one another. However, I really wish Leica had made the lens a f2 instead of f2.8.

At the time of writing this posting, this camera is available in both Silver and Black for just under $2,000. If you can justify the purchase, spring for it because it is probably the best point and shoot you can get your hands on.

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