The Leica X (Typ 113) sports the fastest prime lens on any large-sensor compact, but is this enough to justify its premium price? Andy Westlake investigates in our Leica X (Typ 113) review
Leica X (Typ 113) Review – performance
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and what we really want to know is whether the camera offers image quality to match the price. At this point it’s all too easy to jump in and analyse sensor performance alone, but in this type of camera, the optics are at least as important.
Leica is famed as a lens maker, and in general the 23mm f/1.7 Asph Summilux doesn’t disappoint. It’s pretty sharp wide open, and is at its best around f/4-f/8, before diffraction softening becomes visible. Chromatic aberration is very low, and distortion is completely invisible in the camera’s JPEG output. A little digging into the DNG raw files shows that this is because Leica is following current best practice of allowing residual barrel distortion so as to minimise aberrations towards the corners, then correcting it in software. Most of the time this is completely transparent, and modern raw converters will take it all in their stride.
There is a catch though – at closer focus distances the lens almost inevitably becomes a little softer, which is common with fast primes due to spherical aberration. Leica’s solution is to automatically stop the lens down as you focus closer, to maintain image quality. So at 1m it only allows a maximum aperture of f/2, reducing to f/2.5 at 0.7m and f/2.8 at 0.45m or closer. On one level this is very clever, guaranteeing a certain level of sharpness, but personally I’d prefer to be able to make my own choice, and trade-off sharpness against background blur. As it is, these aperture restrictions rather negate the X’s main advantage compared to the Fujifilm X100 – that is, its faster lens, for subjects like portraiture.
The sensor performs much as we’d expect from a recent APS-C design, but I can’t say I’m a fan of Leica’s JPEG processing. The default colour mode is a little bland and uninspiring, not helped by the auto white balance’s tendency to overneutralise, and while the vivid colour mode is more punchy, it goes too far for my taste. Sharpening is heavy-handed, giving obvious haloes, and high ISO noise reduction is rather conservative (that is, ineffective). It’s possible to tweak output settings in the menu, but personally I’d shoot raw for colour. Here the X has the advantage of recording widely readable DNG-format raw files, and the camera ships with Adobe Lightroom in the box.
I actually spent most of the time shooting in B&W high contrast mode, simply because it worked better in the dull grey winter weather I encountered during my time with the camera. I like the tonality it delivers, and think it’s rather well suited to the classic Leica reportage aesthetic. Of course. you can get better results shooting raw and post-processing, but it’s always nice to see good-looking files out of the box.