Few camera companies can boast the pedigree and sheer brand muscle of Leica: the German firm has a reputation for stunning lenses and beautifully-made cameras that, in the hands of a skilled snapper, produce some of the very best images around.
The X1 feels like an attempt to bring a premium Leica camera to the masses. Leica already produces a range of compact digital snappers, but the X1 is clearly a class above: armed with a top-drawer F2.8 24mm lens and large 12.2MP APS-C sensor, it essentially delivers the shooting skills of a DSLR in a compact body.
X1 vs DSLR
It’s not as versatile as the average DSLR, mind you – and for the same price you could bag yourself a camera that can do a lot more. There’s no zoom here, no HD video, no built-in viewfinder, and the 3fps burst mode isn’t particularly swift.
But there’s a charm to the X1 that you won’t find in a DSLR. Its fixed lens, which equates to a focal length of 35mm in film camera terms, is sharp and bright, and the focal length and discreet size makes the camera ideal for street and ‘reportage’ style photography – walk around your local town snapping its more interesting inhabitants and sights and you’ll feel like a real life photojourno.
Photo quality is excellent, with accurate, clean colours and sharp detail. You can shoot in JPEG or RAW, and also apply a range of effects to shots in-camera, previewing them on the good (but not fantastically crisp or bright) 2.7in LCD screen.
You can also organise and postprocess your shots in style, thanks to the inclusion of Adobe’s excellent Lightroom editing software in the box.
Operation is simple. You can adjust a whole bunch of settings in the menus, but mostly you’ll just be using the two dials on the top plate to set shutter speed and aperture. Alternatively, leaving one or both set to ‘auto’ means all you have to do is point and shoot.
A decent pop up flash is included, but an accessory hotshoe on the top means you can add a more powerful one if required. The hotshoe can also accommodate a lovely, if expensive, optional optical viewfinder.
One thing that might frustrate off-the-cuff snappers is the sluggish autofocus, which really takes its sweet time to get a lock. You can manually focus, but this is done with the thumb dial rather than an on-lens focus ring, so doesn’t help speed things up.
Overall the Leica X1 successfully manages to merge vintage style with modern digital photography. We can’t say it’s the best digital camera Leica has ever made, and you can certainly buy a more versatile, more cost-effective performer for much less money. But it carries a winning retro charm and peerless style that makes any shortcomings almost irrelevant.