Leica X1: Classic compact still cutting the mustard after nearly six years
John Shingleton of The Rolling Road blog has been out and about earlier today in the Blue Mountains in his classic Porsche. And to record the meeting of enthusiasts he chose his favourite camera, the Leica X1 that has been his constant companion for five years. Recently refurbished by Leica Australia, the venerable Shingleton X1 is still capable of some wonderful work. John prefers it to later cameras because of its lightness and great image quality. He has already written about it on MacFilos.
The little Leica X1, introduced in late 2009, is fast becoming a classic and it continues to hold its value well. Quite remarkable for a camera that is nearly six years old and suffers from well-known slow focus and, well, general slowness. But I have a number of friends who still swear by this fixed-lens 35mm compact, the forerunner of the Fuji X100s (where else did Fuji pinch the X from, I wonder) to the exclusion of the later X2 with its unsightly hotshoe hump to accommodate the afterthought EVF.
If you can live with a more leisurely style of photography, as can I, the X1 is a fascinating little street photography tool. I write as one who has the run of the latest Leica cameras, including the Q which has perhaps the fastest autofocus system known to man. Yet I still get a thrill when I pick up the tardy X1. It is light, almost pocketable and boy, does it perform. There is just something about it that brings out the want in me.
In contrast to the ever-so-slightly faster X2, the X1 is distilled purity. Of course it lacks an electronic viewfinder, but it loves an optical finder, either the pricy Leica accessory or the prettier round Voigtländer. I particularly like the way the green focus confirmation light can be spied out of the corner of the eye as I peer into the finder. This is a trick that Leica abandoned on the later X series cameras, much to my regret.
Although I owned an X1 years ago, when it was the dernier cri, I picked up another one at the Bièvres Camera Fair in June. It was a bargain, but in mint condition. All it lacked was a viewfinder. Just yesterday, however, I called in at Red Dot Cameras to find that Ivor Cooper had set aside one of the silver Voigtländer finders which perfectly complements my vintage Leica digital. It was slid onto the X1's hotshoe in a trice.
So why would you want a second-hand and leisurely X1 in preference to a blindingly fast Fuji X100 with all its bells and whistles? Precisely because the X1, which is a similar size, is bell-and-whistle-less. It is a simple camera with direct manual controls and lives up to Leica's motto: Das Wesentliche, the essential. It looks gorgeous, too. What's more, glacial as it is in focus and file management, it still produces great results. You can pick up an X1, boxed, with accessories for under £500. You'll have a lot of fun, you will definitely enjoy the Leica ownership experience, and you will lose nothing over the next few years. Look on it as an investment that you can enjoy along the way. You cannot say the same about any modern digital camera.