Leica X1: Reprieve from death row
Thought for the month
Since I wrote that I was finally pensioning off my classic Leica X1 I’ve received a barrage of emails and comments (or, at least what passes for a barrage at MacFilos) telling me I am foolish, disloyal and shallow. After years of extolling the little Leica, I was selling it for no good reason other than a desire to have a bit of a clear out.
Matters came to a head early this week as I reviewed the comments on the centre-spot focus locking issue on the latest CL. Quite by chance John Shingleton and Wayne Gerlach in Australia happened to mention that the focus point on the X1 is locked to the centre until the delete button is pressed and held for two seconds. This is something I had not realised in all my years of X1 usage because, simply put, I never needed to move that centre spot focus so I never went looking for the solution. Wouldn't it be nice if Leica could have done something similar with the CL and its wayward D pad? It seems they once thought a fixed spot focus point was the default requirement. Now it has been abandoned in the interests of progress.
Then Wayne gave a broad hint that if my X1 hadn’t been sold I should take it off death row. Which I did yesterday. I called on Red Dot Cameras and found my old X1 still for sale. I left with it in my bag and I now have it set up (since it is such a simple camera that didn’t take long) and sitting in front of me on my desk.
Now I am not saying that the X1 can compete with the CL. It is far slower, has a sensor of only 12 MP and a back screen to die for (literally). It is, after all, a ten-year-old design. Hell’s bells, it is quite the antique by digital camera standards. Yet it contrives to produce great images as John Shingleton and other Macfilos readers continue to prove.
Above all, though, The X1 has the overriding redeeming feature of simplicity, not just in respect of that centre-spot focus point but in its general design. This, in my view, makes it a classic and something of a benchmark for the Leica fan. With its simple and clear manual controls, emphasis on aperture priority and focus/recompose, it is just like an M in its essence. In fact, the X1 was designed as a companion to the M9, a light, compact APS-C camera intended to duplicate, as far as possible, the M experience in a more convenient package.
Much as I like the new CL — and I am the last one to decry progress — I can’t help feeling that M rangefinder fans would have preferred a simpler approach. A system-camera version of the X, the X Vario or the X1 (or even the Q), for instance. While Leica has adhered as much as possible to the goal of simplicity with the CL (in comparison with its main competitors) the camera is still relatively complicated and over-reliant on soft controls. While it ticks many of the opposition’s check boxes, it falls short in some crucial issues such as lack of stabilisation, either in body or in lens, and weather proofing — features which are now de rigueur for the box tickers.
Now most Leica owners don’t mind the lack of stabilisation — they are used to the basic nature of the M and have learned to compensate for camera shake — but its absence is a significant negative factor in the eyes of photographers used to these features. I only have to cite the new Panasonic G9 which, when its stabilisation complements stabilised lenses, offers up to a 6.5-stop advantage over the likes of the CL.
In some respects, therefore, the CL falls between the two stools — not as fully equipped as the Fuji or Sony owner would wish, yet not as simple as the M owner demands. It risks turning off traditionalists while, at the same time, failing to turn on the potential buyer who is accustomed to loaded designs from other manufacturers.
Is it time, I wonder, for Leica to take another look at the ethos of the X1 and make a virtue out of simplicity. I think a simpler, stripped-down CL would draw customers.
The X1, now it is back on my desk, serves to emphasis this point. It reminds me of the sort of simplicity that many Leica owners value as an antidote to the bloated menus and prolific controls that appear to be essential these days. Welcome home, little X1, I shall take you out for walkies soon.
- Leica X1 — Is it time for a no-frills compact
- Leica X1 — Auf wiedersehen, pet
- Leica X1 - Classic compact still cutting the mustard
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