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ePHOTOzine's Will Cheung gets hands-on with Leica's latest arrival, the 12.2-megapixel X1
The Leica X1 was announced at the same time as the company's full-frame M9 rangefinder camera last September. Consequently, its arrival was probably over-shadowed by its bigger brother, but it is never the less a very significant product. It is a high-end, fixed focal length compact camera housing an APS-C sized sensor.
With the millions of pixels packed into the tiny sensors of the typical compact camera, digital noise is usually a problem at higher ISOs, typically at 400, 800 and above. The X1 with its 23.6x15.7mm CMOS sensor promises noise performance way beyond its more popular - and cheaper - brethren.
Stocks of the X1 are due to arrive in the shops any day and Leica UK recently had a press gathering at its store in London's Mayfair where we were all allowed to get 'hands-on' this upmarket camera. It has a guide price of £1395.
Features: Leica X1
First impressions are good. The body's rounded corners are very Leica M and its parentage is plain for all to see. The body is metal, reassuringly robust and fits the hands nicely. An optional £90 handgrip is available and screws onto the camera's tripod bush and that makes the camera easier to hold. The grip is a nice luxury but is not essential and holding the X1 one-handed is still straightforward enough. The wrist strap, though, is advised – just in case.
Design is classically simple and most photographers will find it easy enough to navigate their way around. On the far left of the top-plate, there is spring-loaded flashgun and this pops up on gentle pressure. With a GN of 5 (ISO 100/metres), its output is low and not much use once the subject is beyond two metres. but it is a nice point of design.
|The Leica X1 has a retro look that drew admiring glances from passers-by when we previewed it on the streets of London's Mayfair. It is a classy compact with excellent noise performance among its many attributes.|
The two control dials on the top-plate – controlling aperture and shutter speed – have a lovely, refined action but personally, they need a stiffer action or simple locks because that are moved off the A setting far too easily. I found that annoying and missed a couple of shots because of it. Mind you, I soon learnt to double check what the dials were set to before snapping away.
The menu system is simple enough and it probably helps that X1 is not too heavily laden with features and custom functions. What is available is plenty enough for most users. One menu item I would like is to shoot Adobe DNG Raw only. Currently, it is JPEGs or Raw with JPEGs but not Raw on its own.
The 24mm f/2.8 Elmarit lens is a moderate wide-angle with a view similar to that of the human eye making it perfect for people photography. It is has an angle of view of 36mm in the 35mm full-frame format.
The camera's AF system has the option of focusing using a single sensor or 11 sensors. Face detection and spot AF are also available. Minimum focus is 60cm in normal operation and down to 30cm in macro mode. Manual focusing is an option and the monitor image shows a magnified section of the scene to help achieve sharp focus. This is a useful tool but there is distance scale too so both options are covered.
The focusing system is mostly accurate, and was rarely fooled. The biggest issue is that the camera will let you let shots even if the image is out of focus. For example, try shooting closer than 60cm in normal operation and you end up with blurred images if you are not careful. Focusing is quite quick but it is not so good with moving subjects, but it excels with static subjects.
There is a slight but noticeable shutter lag so you have to time your shots carefully. The shutter release is not as responsive as a typical DLSR but there is less delay than you would find on a typical digital compact camera.
Because quality performance at higher ISO settings is one of the X1's selling points, I was keen to try the ISO 800, 1600 and 3200 settings.
At this early stage, I can say that the level of noise is impressive at the higher ISO settings. At ISO 3200 digital noise is noticeable but it is not horrible. In fact, the noise looks very filmic and perfectly acceptable. I converted several Adobe DNG files to black & white and they look great, bestowing images with a gritty, reportage feel.
|During our preview, we found the X1 was excellent in terms of exposure accuracy and consistency. Focusing was swift but shutter lag meant timing of shots was critical and some shots were missed because of it. White-balance performance also proved sound. One great thing about the X1 is that its shutter goes off with barely a whisper, making it perfect for candid shooting.|
Summary: Leica X1
The Leica X1 is a lovely camera. It has a reassuringly solid feel and its retro design is head-turning. It is a camera that will break the ice at parties. At £1395 for the X1 is very expensive so its appeal is limited to those with deep pockets and a penchant for stylish products. It is a camera capable of very high quality prints.
Specifications: Leica X1
|Focusing system||Contrast-based using image sensor|
|Focusing modes||1-point, 11-point, spot AF, face detection|
|File types||Adobe DNG, JPEG - two levels|
|ISO sensitivity||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|Metering system||Multi-field, centre-weighted, spot|
|Exposure modes||Program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, manual|
|Exposure compensation||+/-3EV in 1/3 steps|
|Shutter speed range||30secs to 1/2000sec|
|Frames-per-second||Two or three fps, max six pictures|
|Image stabilisation||Yes, electronic system - takes two shots|
|Monitor||2.7in TFT LCD, 230,000 pixels|
|Media type||SD/SDHC, MultiMedia cards|
|Interface||USB 2.0, HDMI|
|Power||Lithium Ion battery, capacity 260 shots approx|
|Weight||330g with battery|