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The Leica X1
My Photography with the Leica X1

Jim Radcliffe

March 10, 2010 - What a surprise!

A total stranger has offered me his X1 for a few days so that I might use it and personally evaluate it.  This was totally unexpected.  I had mentioned in a post on DPReview that only two Leica X1s had been shipped to the Dallas area and that both of them had been sold.  The owner of one of those cameras read my post and contacted me to see if I would like to borrow it for a little hands on with the X1.  Very gracious and much appreciated. 

I have been quite vocal in my criticism of the Leica X1.  It has been my feeling that Leica should have offered an entry level M rather than a $2,000 Point and Shoot.  I was hoping that Leica would produce something like the Digital CL but it was not to be; instead, we have the Leica X1.

A Little of my Leica History

I sold my Leica M8 because I found it to be too limiting due to the manual focus and fixed focal length lenses I was using.  It just seemed like an awful lot of money for a camera that was not quite delivering the goods for me.  But I must say that the M8 was and is a great camera in so many ways.  I expected too much from it.  It was, in many ways, the perfect camera for much of what I like to shoot... but not versatile enough for everything I like to shoot.  So, I decided to sell it and get a bit of my investment back.  Fortunately I was able to recoup almost all of what I paid for the M8.

Now for the X1..
Now all that remains is for me to use the camera over the next few days and see if it makes a believer out of me.  I'm still not crazy about the fixed focal length of the X1 but I will give it every opportunity I can.  I have publicly stated that I will be the first to admit I was wrong if the X1 delivers the goods.  

Some will say that three days use is not enough time to get to know the camera but I'm sure it will be enough for me to form an honest, hands on, opinion of the X1.  I've been using cameras all my life and it doesn't take long for me to know when a camera has the right stuff for me.  The fun begins tomorrow, March 11, 2010.

First An Apology
I really dislike shooting the same stuff over and over but in this case I really had no choice.  I only had the X1 at my disposal for Friday night through Sunday afternoon.  Not a lot going on in Dallas the weekend I had the camera so I had to revisit many places I have already shot.  Some of these photos may look familiar to those of you who have visited my other camera galleries.  I tried to pick locations that would push the ISO and also places (and things) that were colorful.

March 15, 2010  "The Ides of March"
I've used the camera all weekend...
So Let's Get Started

What follows are my opinions and my opinions only.  I do not attempt "technical" reviews of cameras.  All I give you here are my personal feelings about the Leica X1, not a GearHead technical review.  There are plenty of websites that can provide such reviews.  And with that........

First Impressions
First impression of the X1 as I held it in my hands for the first time was that it was very light.  I thought it would weigh more.  It looks like it should weigh more but it is quite a feather-weight compared to the M cameras.

Design and layout is pure Leica.  Looks like a Mini-M but of course, it is not.  The dials on top of the camera for shutter speed and aperture turn a little too easy but  I do like them and their layout on the X1.  I had to put my "readers" on a few times because the text on the dials is a bit small for my middle aged eyes. 

When I pulled the camera out of the bag I inadvertently pressed on the pop-up flash and it did what it was designed to do.  It popped-up.  Bothersome, that.  This only happened once.  I'm a fast learner.. don't grab it on that side.

The controls on the back of the camera are very easy to use and understand.  I violated my own rule and did NOT read the manual before I began shooting with the X1.  With some cameras this can be a real problem but with the X1 the camera operation was so clear that  I never did read the manual.  Leica got it right.

The Lens
The lens is a Leica Elmarit 24 mm f/2.8 ASPH.  Combined with the APS-C sensor this gives a 35mm equivalent field-of-view.  The lens is very sharp very much Leica in how it collects the light.  No doubt, it is a great little lens.

How About that AF?
Well, it is not as slow as the DP1 and it is not as fast as the D-Lux 4 or the GF1.  The good news is, it is accurate.  The only time it would not lock focus is when I was trying to take a photo of a subject and I was too close to the subject for the camera to focus.  My bad, not the camera's.  Never once did it hunt and fail.

AF on moving subjects is a slightly different story.  This is not a camera for shooting little Johnnie's soccer games, motor sports,  or  animals in flight or on the run.  The AF of the X1 does not seem to be fast enough to handle those subjects reliably.  I'm not saying it is impossible but it can be frustrating.  See the photo of the bull rider for an explanation of what I had to do to get that shot.

Dynamic Range and High ISO
The X1 has great dynamic range and high ISO performance.  I was truly amazed at how well it performed in venues and locations where the light was extremely dim and I was shooting at 1/125s.  ISO 1600 never looked so good to me from a compact camera.  Dynamic Range is good as well and noise is just not a problem.  This, to me, is the most outstanding feature of the X1.  That large sensor and the associated electronics really lets you work in low light without fear. 

The Metering System
The metering system of the X1 proved to be more than up to the job of producing well exposed images.  The spot meter is very welcome and worked extremely well.

Battery LIfe
Well, I don't leave the camera turned on when I am not shooting.  Maybe I will wear out my power switches and on/off buttons before others but if I am not about to shoot, the camera is turned off.   I only had one battery and it never indicated anything less than half a charge during my use of the X1.  I charged it every night before going out the next day.  I've heard the battery life is not that good.  I didn't have a problem.

That LCD
I did not like it.   The refresh rate is very slow resulting in choppy movement when moving the camera around.  It's not a deal killer but it should be improved.  Viewing photos taken with the X1 was not as bad as some have reported.  I would say it  is slower than the D-Lux 4 but all things considered it's not really bad.  I think both the refresh rate and the resolution of the LCD could be improved for a much more enjoyable experience.

Movie Mode
I just threw that in to see if you were paying attention.

Manual Focus
I tried it but do not care to use manual focus due to the fact that my eyes are just not what they used to be and I'm not wearing reading glasses to focus a camera.  Had the X1 had an EVF with a diopter it would have been a different story.

Response Time
The camera comes alive fairly quickly when you power it on.  It seems to take a much longer period of time to power down and retract the lens.  A half press of the shutter release activates the AF and depending on the lighting conditions the camera is fairly fast to a bit slow.  The write time, when shooting RAW, is also a bit slow.  You may have a different impression.

Shutter Lag
The X1 does suffer from a bit of shutter lag.  If you are one of those photographers who waits for the decisive moment the shutter lag could be a bit disturbing.  It's not terrible but it exists.

JPG vs DNG
I'm not sure why you can't shoot RAW only with the X1.  Instead, you must shoot RAW + JPG.  This is not a big deal as memory cards are cheap these days. 

The DNG files are very good and allow a lot of tweaking.  I use Adobe Camera Raw with Photoshop CS3 and had no problems with the DNG files.  The JPGs looked good to me but the DNG files, as might be expected, are the better way to go.

Using the X1 Almost Got Me Killed
The X1's fixed focal length is the single most bothersome thing about the camera to me.  Sometimes you just can't zoom with your feet and the result is you don't get the shot at all or you don't get the shot you wanted.

While trying to frame a shot by zooming with my feet I ended up in the path of an oncoming car.  The driver of said vehicle did not appreciate my presence in the middle of the road and decided to slow down and allow me to make a less than graceful exit from his lane.  I'm sure he was just a moment away from giving me a one finger salute.

What Is My Opinion of The X1 After Using it?
I think Leica did an excellent job with the camera they designed.  Leica wanted to offer a genuine, made in Solms, Point and Shoot camera.  They did that and the images it produces are very good. 

I think the X1 will make many people happy.   In fact, for many people the X1 will be perfect for their photographic needs.

Will I Buy An X1?
No, I will not.  There are just two reasons why I will not buy the X1.  The first reason is the fixed focal length.  The second reason is the price. 

I like using a camera that is versatile.  The fixed focal length of the X1 does not work for me.  Let me give you a real example from this weekend.  Look at the two photos below.  The one on the left is from the X1.  The one on the right is from my GF1 using the 45-200mm lens. My real subject in  that X1 shot was the Pelican but because I could not zoom with my feet and I could not zoom with the X1 I ended up with a shot of the Pelican on a boat .  I really wanted a close up of the Pelican.  Click on each thumbnail to see the difference having the ability to use interchangeable lenses can make when you just have to get the shot.

Leica X1 Shot Panasonic GF1 Shot

You may think this an unfair comparison, that I am comparing a 45-200mm (effective 90-400mm on the GF1) lens to a 35mm lens. But that is not my point.  The point is that if the X1 had the ability to use interchangeable lenses I would buy one in a New York minute.    The X1 is better than the GF1 in a number of ways.  The X1 sensor is larger, the high ISO results are better and the lack of noise at high ISO settings is truly amazing.  If only the X1 had a system of interchangeable lenses like the GF1.  It would be a killer camera and only then worth the asking price of $2,000 to me. 

It is the versatility of a camera that I look for.  The X1 is a great compact camera, what it lacks is the versatility that I desire in a camera.  Having the ability to use interchangeable lenses would seal the deal for me.   I hope that Leica will one day produce such a camera.  When and if they do, I will be one of the first in line to buy it.

In closing
I enjoyed using the X1 very much.  It produces great images and it will be THE perfect camera for many.  It's not that I don't like the X1, I do.  It's just not versatile enough for me. 

If you decide the X1 is the camera for you I am sure you will enjoy it and the rich Leica heritage that will accompany it, including that special pride of ownership so many Leica owners feel.

My thanks to Lang Reid for the generous loan of his X1 for a very enjoyable weekend of shooting with it.  I owe him for the loan of the camera and a very delicious lunch he refused to allow me to pay for.  Thanks, Lang.


Related Interest: 
Click here for my Panasonic GF1 gallery
Click here for my Leica D-Lux 3 gallery
Click here for my Leica D-Lux 4 gallery

Click here for my Sigma DP1 gallery

Click here for my Leica M8 gallery



To View The Images
Click on any thumbnail image on this page to view a larger image.   Return to this page by clicking on the larger image.

A Note About The Images
I post process all images in Photoshop CS3.  I tweak contrast and saturation.  I dodge and burn.  I adjust curves and I do BW conversions. I correct for lens distortion and more.  In short, I use a digital darkroom.  I am not one of those who believes that  what comes out of the camera is the final product.  There is nothing you can do in-camera that can not be done better and with greater control in Photoshop. The digital darkroom let's me do everything I used to do in the wet darkroom but without the chemistry, paper safes, print dryers, and working under safe lights.  The bottom line is that every image you see here came from the Leica X1 and was post-processed in PS CS3.

I may add more images in the future but these are enough to begin with.   It was a very rushed three days and the images below are not as varied as I would have liked.