This tiny tank of a camera sports a not-so-tiny APS-C sensor
In the Field
Despite its diminutive size, the Leica X1 has more heft to it than your typical compact camera, due to its magnesium-alloy and aluminum construction. The body is covered with a synthetic textured-leather surface that is (unsurprisingly) reminiscent of Leica MP rangefinders.
Two dials atop the camera control shutter speed and aperture. While apertures can be set in 1/3-stop increments, shutter speeds can be selected only in whole stops. Set either dial to A, and the camera will choose that variable for you. Set both to A and you’re shooting in program. Set ISO to Auto too, and you’re in point-and-shoot land. It’s convenient and easy to understand.
The 11-point AF system in the X1 performs well in bright light, but it slows down significantly in dim light. This is typical of contrast-detection systems, but despite the fact that Leica recently upgraded the X1’s firmware to help this issue, it’s still on the slow side compared with some compacts, and noticeably slower than the Fujifilm X100 and most ILCs we’ve tested.
If you plan to use the X1’s autofocus, you might want to set it to H for whichever AF mode you choose. On this setting, the camera tries to focus before you press the shutter, so it will be partly or even mostly focused when you press the button. In very dim environments, though, you may still find the X1 slow or unable to autofocus.
The manual focusing experience is quite nice with the X1. While it doesn’t evoke the classic rangefinder feel as much as the Fujifilm’s focusing ring does, the wheel on the back of the X1 lets you focus faster. In the same firmware update mentioned earlier, Leica made the wheel respond to the speed you turn it. So, if you turn the wheel quickly, it will move the manual focus faster. Flick it really fast a couple of times, and you can move from one end of the focusing-distance scale to the other in a jiffy. Moreover, the distance scale on the X1, like that on the Fujifilm, shows a bar representing your depth of field, so you know how much you have in focus.
The menu on the X1 is simple and straightforward (aside from image stabilization being buried eight items down the list). The thing we liked most is that we rarely had to use the menu—dedicated buttons and dials provide almost all the control you need.
Not surprising to us given Leica’s traditional commitment to still imagery, but strange given the state of the camera market in general, the Leica X1 doesn’t shoot video at all.
If you enjoy shooting with manual focus and selecting aperture and shutter speed yourself, then you’ll likely enjoy the Leica X1. It is able to produce very pleasing images and, unless you plan to print very large, its resolving power should be enough for most photographers.
It might be hard to justify a $2,000 price tag, especially when there are less-expensive cameras that can outperform the X1. Still, if you want a comfortable entry point into this luxury photo brand, the X1 certainly delivers. Plus, when you consider that it comes with Adobe’s Lightroom, you end up with a package that includes everything you’ll need to enjoy photography—except a printer and a computer.
IMAGING: 12.2MP effective APS–C sized CMOS sensor captures images at 4272x2856 pixels each, with 12 bits/color in RAW capture.
STORAGE: SD or SDHC stores JPEG, DNG RAW, or RAW + JPEG files.
BURST RATE: Full-sized JPEGs up to 6 shots at 3 fps with focus, white balance, and metering locked.
AF SYSTEM: TTL contrast detection with 11-point Multi-AF, 1-point selectable AF, or center spot AF; face detection; high-speed mode; no AF between shots during bursts.
SHUTTER SPEEDS: 1/2000 to 30 sec, plus B (1-EV increments).
METERING: TTL metering for Multi-field (evaluative), centerweighted, and spot (percentage of frame not available). lens: 24mm f/2.8 Leica Elmarit Aspherical lens; 8 elements in 6 groups; one aspherical lens element.
ISO RANGE: ISO 100–3200 (in 1/3-EV increments).
FLASH: Built-in pop-up; GN17 (feet, ISO 100); hot-shoe compatible with optional SF24D and SD58 flashes.
OUTPUT: Hi-Speed USB 2.0; mini-HDMI video.
BATTERY: Rechargeable BP-DC8 Li-ion, CIPA rating 260 shots.
SIZE/WEIGHT: 4.9x2.4x1.3 in., 0.8 lb with an SD card and battery.
STREET PRICE: $2,000