The Gods of Photography must be smiling down, as not only have I secured a Press Pass for the upcoming Photography Show at the N.E.C. Birmingham on 21st – 24th March, Leica have very kindly provided me with one of their latest cameras for review, a Leica X. Thank you Leica UK . . .
. . . I’m quickly discovering that in the world of camera reviewing, it’s easy to fall into a ‘standard’ frame of mind. Take one camera, compare it to similar models from other manufacturers, ‘peep’ at the images on a pixel level, examine the spec’s and from that, offer an opinion as to whether it’s better or worse than the others. Simple really?
There’s of course a problem with this much favored style of appraising a cameras’ strengths and weaknesses – it tells the reader nothing about what it’s actually like to use in the real world.
Therefore you won’t find any of that ‘stuff’ in my reviews. Yes I may make passing comparisons to another model or two, but this is always from a usability point of view – which leads me to this rather smart offering from Leica, the ‘X’.
Of course there will be a full ‘street’ review of the camera in the very near future when I put it through its paces in Birmingham, but for now I’ll concentrate on offering my immediate thoughts upon receiving the Leica.
On opening the box and unraveling it from the bubble wrap (this is a review camera after all) my first thought was that it was cold to the touch (like the M9). Now believe it or not, this is a good thing as it is a sign of good quality, rugged materials and solid construction.
The Leica X is all metal, the body itself being cast magnesium alloy and the top and bottom plates made of solid aluminium – no cheap-to-produce castings here, just good old fashioned and very high quality CNC machining.
On the top of the camera, the control layout pays homage to the Leica M’s that are clearly its design inspiration. Simplicity is the word here. Aluminium Shutter and Aperture dials along with the chromed Shutter release occupy the ‘business’ side of the top plate, as well as a smaller Movie Mode button (more on that later) and the On/Off Switch which also doubles as the Single or Continuous Shooting Mode selector ala digital Leica M’s.
Additional features to be found (though ordinarily not of concern to most street photographers), are a hotshoe and built in popup flash. The hotshoe however serves another purpose other than attaching a flash and which would be of interest – that being the mount for an optional Electronic Viewfinder. Sadly this particular example didn’t come with one which I would have especially found useful, seeing as I’m a staunch Leica M user.
This brings us to the rear of the camera, which is dominated by the large (by M9 standards) 3″ TFT LCD screen and which significantly is the camera’s only means of framing shots (without the EVF). However as I only received the camera this morning (and it’s now dark), I’m yet to take any pictures of substance with it, so am unable to fully appreciate the display quality of the screen, or truly assess the modern day ‘shooting-at-arms-length’ style of photography.
I did manage to ‘fire off’ a couple of frames indoors however in a quick ‘getting to know you’ kind of fashion and despite these all to brief first steps, the results look very promising.
Staying briefly with the rear of the camera, it was a pleasant surprise to see the addition of a small ‘thumb grip’ next to the selector dial in the top right, and similar in design to that on the latest Leica ‘M’.
Quickly turning to the bottom of the ‘X’, we find the combined battery and SD card door, this being opened by moving a (slightly fiddly) catch. The door is then free to spring open of its own freewill, though luckily the designers saw fit to add a latch that prevents the battery from falling out at its leisure. An aluminium tripod mount finishes off the underside, which leaves what is perhaps the most impressive component of the camera and probably it’s biggest selling point – that Summilux 23mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.7 Aspherical lens.
As further reassurance this also feels ‘cold’ as it too is made from solid aluminium (as well as the lens cap). It is also ‘big’, especially in relation to the body size, though in the short time of my initial exploration, it felt quite comforting to use, providing a secure handhold (like an M) and because of this, able to offer a sizable focusing ring. Additionally, the ‘travel’ from 0.2m to infinity is both feathery smooth but with a perfect helping of drag, which gives both precision of focusing, but also means it won’t be inadvertently knocked out of position.
Additional points of note so far are the side door which gives access to the USB & HDMI ports. This is held open and closed by a tiny but eager spring, ‘slamming’ the door shut in a style reminiscent of Arkwrights ‘Till’ in Open All Hours. Still, better to be safe than sorry.
The ‘X’ also comes with a rather fine quality leather neck strap as standard. This feels soft and supple to the touch and easily wraps around the wrist ‘street style’.
The battery charger is a simple one-piece affair (with interchangeable plugs for different countries). However one omission that I would find problematic if using this camera full-time, is the lack of any means to charge the battery via a 12-volt socket in your vehicle (as per M9), or via USB etc. Obviously an extra battery or two would be top of any photographers shopping list?
Two minor ‘problems’ so far are that despite setting Auto Preview to OFF, the screen still showed the image just taken for several seconds afterwards. Hopefully this could be just me suffering from late night brain fade, though more probably a firmware fault?
The other possible issue may be the previously mentioned Movie Mode button. On at least two occasions during my 20 minute familiarization and when reaching for the shutter release with my finger, I ended up shooting a short film instead. Hopefully as I familiarize myself with the camera over the next two weeks, I can habitualize my right ‘pinky’ into avoiding it.
These are of course insignificant in the larger scheme of things and both of which could easily be sorted with a firmware fix. What matters most is how the ‘X’ performs as a street camera in its own right and especially when shooting in fully manual, i.e. Manual focus, shutter speed, aperture and ISO.
Roll on Birmingham.
You can now read my full review of the Leica X here.
If you are looking to buy a new or used Leica X, eBay UK always has a good selection here.