Angela Nicholson gives her thoughts on the Leica X1 after getting her hands on one of the first models to reach the UK…
From the very first touch it is clear that the 12.2-million-pixel APS-C-format X1 is a compact camera aimed at enthusiast and professional photographers.
Its fixed focal length Leica Elmarit 24mm f/2.8 ASPH lens (equivalent to 35mm), for instance, is far more likely to appeal to someone who understands a bit about photography than someone looking for a family camera.
It also takes someone who is serious about photography to pay £1,395 for a compact camera, and these users demand a solid, and well-crafted body, which is just what the X1 delivers.
Unlike the vast majority of compact cameras on the market today, the X1 doesn?t have an exposure mode dial with a multitude of scene-specific options. Instead, the top-plate has two dials to allow control over shutter speed (30-1/2000sec) and aperture (from f/2.8-16 in 1/3EV steps).
The user may set the exposure values manually, or by switching one or both dials to the A option set the camera to shoot in aperture priority, shutter priority or program mode.
The rear of the camera has a fairly minimalist appearance, but all the important buttons are present and there is direct access to aspects such as the white balance, sensitivity, flash, focus, self-timer and exposure compensation options. Dials around the navigation controls and above the thumbrest provide quick and convenient means of adjusting the settings.
A fixed focal length lens is fairly unusual on a compact camera these days, but it frees the manufacturer from the compromises made with a zoom lens. Consequently the Elmarit 24mm f/2.8 ASPH doesn?t produce much distortion and chromatic aberration is limited.
I genuinely enjoy shooting with a fixed focal length as it encourages me to explore a scene more and spend less time experimenting with different focal lengths.
A maximum aperture of f/2.8 combined with an APS-C-format sensor is a recipe for a level of control over depth of field not normally possible with a compact camera. I find a wide aperture especially useful when photographing everyday objects and activities in the street as it helps focus attention on the subject and give the image a sense of depth.
The X1 is well suited to street photography as when the beep is turned off it is quiet and discreet to use. Being a compact camera, it has no mirror to clack and notify a subject that an image is being taken.
LCD SCREEN, IMAGE QUALITY AND SAMPLES
While I like the build and controls of the X1, I have reservations about a couple of other points.
With a list price of £1,395 for a compact camera, albeit with a 12.2-million-pixel APS-C sized sensor, you expect to get the best technology available.
However, the X1 has noticeable shutter lag and the 2.7in LCD screen isn?t the highest resolution device around – it has just 230,000 dots. I plan to experiment with this a lot more when we have a test sample available, but I found it difficult to be confident I?d found the right point when focusing manually, despite activating the enlarged view option.
Fortunately, the optional viewfinder (£250) is bright and clear, but being optical it doesn?t display any camera data. With a bit of practice, however, it is possible to see the AF confirmation light on the camera body while looking through the finder.
As it has a larger sensor than just about every other compact camera currently available (apart from the Sigma DP1 and DP2) and a Leica lens the odds are stacked in favour of the X1 producing high-quality images.
The DNG raw files I took during this initial trial have plenty of detail, even those taken at the highest sensitivity setting, ISO 3200. The noise in these images has a very fine texture and the chroma noise isn?t obtrusive.
In the two hours I had to play with the X1 I only really got to scratch the surface of what it can do.
When we get a sample in for our full test I want to experiment with the image parameters (saturation, sharpness and contrast) as well as the colour modes to investigate the JPEG output. I am particularly interested in looking at its monochrome results while simultaneously capturing full-colour raw images.
Photographers have high expectations of any camera with a list price of £1,395, but when that camera is a compact model with the Leica badge on it the level of expectation is significantly elevated. I look forward to investigating if those expectations are met in the very near future.