Leica X Compacts: Sinking fast, but is there a future for the X factor?
Whatever happened to the Leica X line-up? One by one — the X2, X-E, X, X Vario — they have come and gone. One example remains, but the X-U is made for use under water. It’s a specialist camera and we can’t be sure how long it is going to last now that the rest of the Xes have got the big X treatment.
All this is a pity. All the X cameras, starting with the wonderful X1 (which led the pack, even before Fuji thought of using an X as a model designator) have been great in their own way. The X Vario, condemned from birth as a disappointing mini M, confounded critics and became a classic in its own right. Its zoom lens turned out to be a triumph, if a slow triumph. I suspect the X1 and X Vario will have a wonderful afterlife on the used camera market. It is a mystery to me that development of these cameras hasn't continued.
The pity is that Leica is now more or less out of the fixed-lens compact market — if we exclude the X-U and the two Panasonic-made rebrands, the V Lux and the D Lux. Yet there is still a place for fixed-lens compacts and I would be surprised if Leica isn’t working on something. The big problem with all the Xes, as with the Ts, was the lack of a built-in viewfinder. They would have sold in far greater numbers and would probably still be on sale if it weren’t for that seemingly innocuous omission. On a camera of this type, a viewfinder is essential to sales success. I don’t think there is now any disagreement on that.
Perhaps the new CL could be the basis for a fixed-lens compact to succeed the X range? The CL with the 18-56mm is now more than a match for the old X Vario, but the 35mm focal length fixed-lens slot is still vacant. You could argue that the CL and the 18mm Elmarit or the 23mm Summicron is the modern answer to the X and the X1, but this somewhat misses the point.
If you don’t want a system camera and you appreciate the smallest possible package, then a fixed lens is the answer. As with all similar cameras, the lens can be partly concealed within the body, thus allowing the overall size to be as small as possible. Perhaps more important, though, is that the lens can camera can be tuned to a fine degree without any of the compromises that attend an interchangeable lens system. The Leica Q benefits from being a fixed-lens camera and it has been a huge success.
I have written about my love of the original X1 many times. My battered old model still works perfectly. It is small and light and has the simplest imaginable controls. It doesn’t have the option of an electronic viewfinder (unlike the successor X2) but it works a treat with a 35mm optical finder. It looks so cute, too.
For canny buyers, used versions of the X1, X2, X and X Vario are still in demand and prices are holding up. Any one of them makes a superb buy at the moment.
One of my objectives with the new Leica CL is to compare it with the X1 as a street photography tool. The X1 is the camera I pick used to up when I wanted to travel without a big camera — it is so light that it fits in a corner of a bag but provides excellent quality images. I found myself using it more than the even smaller Ricoh GR. The GR in many ways is more competent, but the controls are fiddly where the X1’s layout is bold and simple. Will the CL + 18mm pancake serve the same purpose and the X1/2? Could it be the X1, the X Vario and all things to all people? I suspect it could. And it does have a viewfinder, in case I haven’t mentioned it already.
Next week I shall be considering how the new CL can replace a whole raft of cameras
Read more about the CL system
- Reflections on the CL by Mike Evans
- Full test of the new CL by Jonathan Slack
- Breakfast at Leica’s, the new CL
- Introduction of the 18mm f/2.8 Elmarit-L
- Introduction of the CL (with full specification)
And more about the Leica X and T cameras
- Leica X test
- Leica X Vario test
- Leica X1 review
- Leica X1 — time for new no-frills Leica
- Leica T test
- Leica TL2 test
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