The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High-Tech Inside

The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High-Tech Inside

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For much of the early and mid 20th century Leica was the world’s most stylish and sophisticated camera manufacturer.

The father of modern photojournalism, Henri Cartier-Bresson, used a Leica camera for his work. While covering World War II he was found himself on the verge of being captured by the enemy. Not only did Cartier-Bresson bury his Leica to prevent it from falling into Nazi hands but made the dangerous mid-war journey to retrieve it after escaping from a POW camp!

In 1954 Leica introduced the M series, which almost single-handedly gave birth to the class of “professional amateur” photographer. Leica’s M cameras allowed for serious photographers (including the grandfather of Spot Cool Stuff) to purchase equipment very much like what high-end photographers were using but at a fraction of the price.

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech InsideToday, Leica is still respected for the clarity of their lenses and the quality of their build. In their X1 compact digital camera, Leica also incorporated some of the style of their classic cameras (like the 1950s rangefinder pictured to the right). But don’t be fooled by the retro design—on the inside the X1 is all modern and high tech.

So is the Leica X1 worth buying? The pros, the cons and Spot Cool Stuff’s assessment:


digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

The Pros

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside The quality of the photos. Wow! Clear and stunning, with very little noise even at 1600 ISO. The Leica X1‘s excellent results come from two key factors:

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside The large sensor. The X1 sports a CMOS sensor in a APS-C size that’s nearly identical to that found in a high-end SLR.

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside An outstanding lens. The ELMARIT 1:2.8/24 mm has an effective focal length of 36mm when paired with the sensor’s 1.5 crop factor. That’s in essence the same lens Cartier-Bresson used, the same lens that captured many of history’s famous photographs.

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside The build quality of the X1 is excellent. The camera has some of the sturdiness of a classic Leica rangefinder.

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside Included with the X1 is a copy of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom—perhaps the best photo editing and management software on the market (that costs $250 when purchased separately).

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside Well-placed dials on the X1 makes setting the shutter speed and aperture easy—no screen menus to sort through. Another huge plus: the dedicated ISO and white balance buttons on the back.

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside Partly because of those well-placed dials, and partly because of it’s smart internal electronics, the Leica X1 is one of the easiest cameras of any class to use and get great photos out of.

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

The Cons

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside Sadly, so sadly, the Leica X1 is expensive. Really expensive. For the nearly $2,000 price tag you can get an excellent SLR with lots of extras—a Canon 7D kit, for instance.

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside Another huge negative: the X1 is not at all versatile. It has no zoom, doesn’t take video and doesn’t allow of interchangeable lenses.

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside The X1 doesn’t output in RAW, only JPEG and DNG files. The quality of the JPEGs is superb—the best we’ve seen. Still, even the best JPEGs won’t allow for the photo editing possibilities that RAW will.

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside The X1 takes more than 3 second to power up—that’s frustratingly slow. Less frustrating, though still somewhat so, is the X1′s sluggish autofocus speed.

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

Sample Images

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside


digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside
digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside
digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside
digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

Compared to the Competition

The Leica X1 is too distinctive to have any direct competitors. Two (much cheaper!) options to consider are the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 and the Sony Alpha NEX-5.

Camera Features: Leica X1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Sony Alpha NEX-5
  Approx price (US$ with Amazon discount)   $1,990   $600-990 (depending on lens kit)   $549-699 (depending on lens kit)
  Megapixels   12.2   12.11   14.2
  Sensor   23.6 x 15.8mm CMOS (APS-C size)
  4/3 type MOS   23.4 x 15.6 mm CMOS (APS-C size)
  Display size / quality   2.7-inch / superlative   3-inch / very good   tiltable 3-inch / excellent
  Build quality   Excellent   Good   Very good
  Weight with battery   11.6 oz (330g)   15.8 oz (448g) with 20mm lens   17.7 (502g) with standard lens kit
  Zoom   None   Yes – depends on lens   Yes – depends on lens
  Focusing points   11   23   25
  Lens   Leica Elmarit 24 mm f2.8   Micro four thirds lens mount allows interchangeable lenses   Sony E-mount allows interchangeable lenses
  Video   None   1280 x 720 HD quality at 30 frames per second   1280 x 720 HD quality at 60 frames per second
  File save formats   JPEG, DNG   JPEG, RAW   JPEG, RAW
  ISO Range   100 – 3200   100 – 3200   100 – 12800
  Battery life   ~260 still photos   ~350 still photos   ~330 still photos
  Power-on time   3.2 seconds   1.4 seconds   1 second
Camera Features: Leica X1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Sony Alpha NEX
digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

Our Verdict

No ultra-compact digital camera takes better photos than the The Leica X1. The camera is truly a delight to use. Spend an afternoon walking around with an X1 capturing scenes and it is hard not to feel like a photojournalist à la Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The problem is that the Leica X1′s lack of versatility (eg. no zoom) makes it unwise to select as your primary camera. And the relatively huge price tag makes it difficult to choose the X1 as a secondary (or even tertiary) camera. However, if you can afford it, the X1 makes for an absolutely wonderful compliment to an SLR. The easy-of-use and small form factor also makes the X1 ideal for instilling a love of photography in a young photographer-to-be.

So what should you choose as a primary camera if you are looking for a compact capable of taking SLR-quality photographs? Spot Cool Stuff suggests the Sony Alpha NEX-5. The Alpha NEX—the world’s smallest, lightest consumer interchangeable lens digital camera—has the same large sensor that the X1 has. And with the money you’ll save choosing an Alpha NEX over a Leica X1 you can send yourself vacation and try out your new camera there.

published: 21 Feb 2011
digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

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digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside


digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside
digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside
digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

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digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside

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digital camera reviews  The Leica X1: Retro Outside, High Tech Inside


Responses

  1. fimkap says:

    March 15th, 2011at 11:38 am(#)

    Hi,
    you wrote – Leica X1 doesn’t support RAW but DNG.
    DNG is a RAW! It is like NEF for Nikon or X3F for Sigma etc.
    You can edit DNG (RAW) in Lightroom. All serious Leica digital cameras shot in DNG.

    [Reply to this comment]

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