Leica X: Two fresh takes on the fixed-lens compact from Wetzlar

Posted on by Mike Evans

Since the launch of the Leica X at Photokina last Septmber, I haven't had the chance to borrow a camera for review. They must be in short supply or something. I was therefore interested to see that Dpreview has been able to send out two experienced photographers to provide a second take on the X. It isn't all positive news.  

Sam Spencer, who writes about photography and is a keen amateur, provides a couple of ineresting insights. First, on the positive side, he highlights one of the big attractions of this camera for the Leica fan, the limited movement of the focus ring: 

When compared to other focus-by-wire systems, this camera does things well. The focus ring has hard stops at minimum focus and infinity within less than one 360-degree revolution (something Olympus has also got right on a handful of its Micro Four Thirds lenses). This solves two major problems with focus-by-wire systems. First, it means minimum and infinity are always where you left them. There aren’t any sort of algorithms calculating how fast the focus mechanism should move based on how quickly the ring was turned, and it means that infinity isn’t going to be anywhere from 1 to 16 turns away: it will always be within one turn of the wrist. Plus, this system enables Leica to paint on a pretty distance scale instead of forcing you to stare at a screen to estimate focus distance. Combine this easy to use manual focusing with focus peaking and finally there is a compact camera with fast, simple manual focusing.

I entirely agree with Sam on this. Fly-by-wire focus on most modern lenses is anathema to anyone brought up on the precise, short-throw of a manual lens.

On a less positive note, Sam echoes other reviews in criticising the way in which the X refuses to allow close-up shots at maximum aperture. Instead, the camera automatically stops down to achieve maximum clarity, irrespective of the manual settings: does seem a bit blasphemous to put the revered ‘Summilux’ name on a lens that isn’t an f/1.4, and sometimes is closer to the brightness of an Elmarit than anything else. Fewer pitchforks would have been raised if Leica used one of their other classic, but slightly more appropriate names, such as Summarit, or Elmar.

Both Sam and his fellow tester, David Wentworth, had some reservations about ultimate picture quality. As David says: 

With the X, I had trouble with some too easily blown highlights in high-contrast scenarios, especially in the red channel, and found deep shadows turned a bit grainy at ISO 400 when pushed more than a stop or two in post. The Auto-white balance was overly magenta for my taste, and needed a good amount of post adjustments as well to get tones close to where I wanted them.

But in  other respects he liked the camera: 

I did like the low-profile appearance of the camera, the near silent shutter, and found the menu system intuitive and easy to navigate. Having to compose through the LCD screen could be somewhat awkward (Call me old-fashion, but I still prefer a viewfinder) but there were times it was a benefit, too: it was nice to use the LCD screen to compose from above eye level and low to the ground without the usual side-effect of getting my clothes dirty.