Field Review: Leica X1 (Day 5)

If you’ve read any of the previous posts in this review of the Leica X1, you know that I’ve compared the X1 to my Panasonic GF-1 quite a few times. I did this because they are similar in many ways. They both have roughly 35mm equivalent lenses and larger than normal sensors, and they’re geared towards the avid photographer that wants an advanced camera in a compact body. There is, however, one VERY big difference between the two, price. So is the X1 worth the premium? Let’s find out.

The Stats

Leica X1 Panasonic GF-1
Sensor • 23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS sensor
• APS-C size
• 13 million total pixels
• 12.2 million effective pixels
• 4/3 type MOS (‘Live MOS sensor’)
• 13.06 million total pixels
• 12.11 million effective pixels
• RGB (Primary) color filter array
Lens • Leica Elmarit 24 mm F2.8
• 8 elements in 6 groups, 1 aspheric lens
• 35 mm equiv. FOV
• Non-removable
• Aperture range: F2.8 – F16
• Interchangeable
Foucs Modes • 1-point
• 1-point high speed
• 11-point
• 11-point high speed
• Spot
• Face detection
• Manual Focus
• Auto Focus
• Manual focus
• Face Detection
• AF Tracking
• 23-Area-Focusing/1 Area Focusing
• Single or Continuous AF
• AF detection range: EV 0-18 (F3.5 lens, ISO 100)
• Pre AF (Quick AF/Continuous AF), AF+MF, MF Assist(5x, 10x)
ISO • Auto ISO
• ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
• ISO 800
• ISO 1600
• ISO 3200
• Auto
• Intelligent ISO
• ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
• ISO 800
• ISO 1600
• ISO 3200
Shutter Speed Range • 30 – 1/2000 sec • 60 -1/4000 sec
• Bulb (up to 4 mins)
• Flash X-sync 1/160 sec
Continuous Shooting • 3 / 2 fps
• 6 images max (JPEG Fine + DNG)
• 7 RAW images
• Unlimited JPEG images with a fast card
LCD • 2.7″ TFT LCD
• 230,000 pixels
• 100% field of view
• 3.0″ Low temperature Polycrystalline TFT LCD
• 3:2 aspect ratio
• Wide viewing angle
• 460,000 dots
• 60 fps
• Approx 100% frame coverage
Dimensions 60 x 124 x 32 mm (2.4 x 4.9 x 1.3 in) 119 mm x 71 mm x 36.3 mm (4.69 x 2.8 x 1.43 inches)
Weight 286 g (10 oz) Approx. 448 g (15.8 oz) with 20mm lens, SD Card and Battery

Controls/Ergonomics

Both cameras feel great in your hands. They are actually very similar in both size and weight so using the X1 feels natural to me. Each camera provides easy access to the things photographers really need: ISO, shutter, and aperture values. The GF-1, however, takes it to the next level as it has: a dedicated AEL/AFL button, a programmable function button, and a quick menu which allows you to get to your most used functions with one button. The X1 goes for a more minimalistic approach. While the X1 is truly a beautiful camera, I’m pretty confident that Leica is more concerned with aesthetics than providing the best user experience possible. Personally, I’d rather sacrifice the looks of my gear if it means I get a better shooting experience in return.

I prefer the aperture and shutter dials on the X1 to the GF-1. Having direct physical access to these settings is refreshing.  At least, it brings me back to the good old days of film. The GF-1’s controls focus around a single control wheel on the back of the camera. Depending on the mode you use, the control wheel will cycle through aperture values, shutter values, or exposure compensation. I like the wheel but you have to wait to turn on the camera and check the screen before you know what your settings are. One way around this is by using the custom settings on the mode dial. Using these custom modes automatically set the GF-1 back to whatever you programed as the default for that custom mode. Custom modes are very helpful, but I’d still rather use physical buttons.

Features

The GF-1 has the X1 beat hands down when it comes to features. The X1 can take beautiful photographs, but that’s about it. The GF-1 can shoot HD video, swap lenses, it has an optional EVF, there are more art filters, and the list goes on. Although features aren’t everything, they are nice to have when you are spending a serious amount of money on a camera.

Speed

Again, this is another win by a mile for the GF-1. My number one complaint with the X1 has been its speed. Everything about this camera is slow and using it side by side with the GF-1 makes the X1 look ridiculous, especially with its current price tag. The GF-1 is faster in every way (AF, menus, buffer, on/off, etc.).

Image Tests

Because these cameras have slightly different focal lengths, it was difficult to get framing exact between the two. With that said, I did take a few comparison shots using the Panasonic 14mm F/2.5 pancake lens on the GF-1 as this is the closest lens I have to 35mm. Honestly, I thought the lens on the X1 would murder the 14mm but this was not the case. I think the Panasonic lens may actually be sharper than the Leica but the sensor on the X1 can resolve MUCH more information which makes the results from the two fairly similar.

The images below are straight out of camera and again we see the X1 overexposing its RAW files. This gives the perception that the X1 does not capture fine details but that is not the case at all. With minimal tweaking, you can pull a ton of information out of the X1‘s RAW files. The GF-1‘s colors are much more accurate and the RAW files look better straight out of camera. The GF-1‘s sensor and lens combo work nicely together but they are not able to keep up with the dynamic range of the X1. This is very evident when you start to make adjustments in post processing.

Panasonic GF-1 @ ISO 400, F/5

Leica X1 @ ISO 400, F/5

 

As you can see from the images below, the colors between the two are drastically different (both images are unedited RAW files). It may be hard to determine which one is more accurate not having been there when the photo was taken, but let me assure you, the GF-1 blows the X1 out of the water when it comes to accurately representing colors. I believe this is due to the GF-1 having a better auto white balance system coupled with the fact that the X1 tends to overexpose RAW files which can make colors look dull and washed out. Again, this can be fixed in post processing but the less you have to do in post processing, the better. I rarely have to make edits to my RAW files with the GF-1 and if I do, the changes are usually “artistic” changes.

Leica X1 @ ISO 200, F/2.8

Panasonic GF-1 @ ISO 200, F/2.8

The images below are simply to show the amount of distortion produced by each lens. Distortion is minimal with both lenses but the GF-1 will correct for distortion in body. There was no mention of distortion compensation in the X1‘s manual although the X1‘s manual was, let’s say, less than helpful.

Leica X1 - Minimal Lens Distortion

Panasonic GF-1 - Minimal Lens Distortion

 

Bokeh

This is a tough one to compare as bokeh is really tied to focus distance, the lens and the sensor. The GF-1 can swap out a lens for a faster one with more aperture blades which should, in theory, create nicer bokeh. Also, the X1‘s large minimum focus distance does not help in the bokeh department; if you could get closer to your subjects, the bokeh would be much better. The X1 has to deal with its fixed lens, but the results are still good. Below are images from both cameras and both were shot at F/2.8, the X1‘s max aperture. As you can see, the X1 clearly has nicer bokeh a F/2.8 but the Panasonic 14mm F/2.5 is not being shot wide open. Open it up to it’s max aperture and the results get closer. If I had the awesome Panasonic 20mm F/1.7, I think the results would have been completely different.

Leica X1 @ F/2.8

Panasonic GF-1 @ F/2.8

 

ISO Comparison

Below are ISO sample images from both the Leica X1 and Panasonic GF-1. Images range from ISO 100 to ISO 3200 at full stop increments. Click on an image below for a larger version of the image.

Leica X1

[nggallery id=2]

 

Panasonic GF-1

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As you would imagine, this is where the X1 really shines.  The X1‘s ISO results are very good through ISO 1600. While very noisy, I would still use ISO 3200 with the X1 but I would mostly likely opt for a black and white image. While manageable, noise really starts to be come noticeable in the GF-1 around ISO 800. I would use the GF-1 at ISO 1600 but only if I absolutely had to. ISO 3200 with the GF-1 is unusable for me. So all in all, the X1 has about one full stop difference when it comes to ISO performance.

The thing to keep in mind is that the GF-1 was not being shot wide open AND the GF-1 can be equipped with faster glass. Using faster glass, like the Panasonic 20mm F/1.7, means you can keep the GF-1 at lower ISOs.

Take a look at the images below. Again, you can see that the colors are very different between the two; the GF-1 is more accurate, but the X1 is miles ahead of the GF-1 when it comes to high ISO performance and bokeh. On the other hand, the GF-1 is sharper and shows more detail. Both cameras were focused on the grey mark shown in the center of the cropped images.

Leica X1 @ ISO 1600, F/2.8

Crop of Leica X1 Image Shown Above

Panasonic GF-1 @ ISO 1600, F/2.8

Crop of Panasonic GF-1 Image Shown Above

Price

The GF-1 (now replaced by the GF-2) can be had for around $500-600 used and a brand new GF-2 with 14mm F/2.5 is $700. This is almost three times less than the X1’s asking price of $1,995.00. You could buy a GF-2 AND a Fujufilm X100 for the same price as an X1! Personally, I find the price of the X1 hard to swallow. I know that the X1 is “cheap” compared to Leica’s M range, but this is not even close to an M camera in any way.

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