. . . With this review I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try something completely different, both for the Street Photography Blog and (possibly) for camera reviews in general. So in documenting my experiences with the Leica X, I’ve split it into two distinct parts.
Part One consists of this review, which is a hands-on look at how the camera performed when recently taking it round the UK Photography Show.
Part Two is an accompanying (and FREE) eBook in PDF format. The eBook “Not Of The Street” features (as well as writing) the main ‘body’ of photographs taken during the time spent shooting with the Leica X and which are themselves a first for my photography, a series of 15 portraits. Enjoy . . .
. . . If you were to see me out and about taking photographs, it’s a fair bet the camera I’d be carrying would be the Leica M-E. Indeed at the photography show, a Twitter follower spotted, photographed and tweeted to that effect (a first for me and it has to be said, an all together not unpleasant experience 😉 ).
In just a short space of time, the ‘dream’ camera has become my only camera (save for the M2 which now only comes out with the urge to ‘shoot a couple’). Anytime the opportunity arises, the M-E will be ready by my side.
So when Leica kindly sent one of their X (Type 113) cameras to try out, it was with not only a great sense of gratitude and excitement, but also one of apprehension and even worry.
Here I am, an avid digital Leica M user – its incredible (film-like) full-frame sensor, the simple and unobtrusive control system, the legendary rangefinder focusing method, an almost over-the-top build quality and of course, that viewfinder – providing an unparalleled view of the world .
The X on the other hand, whilst a fine piece of photographic equipment in its own right, represented a completely different way of shooting to that which I was accustomed to.
For example, the method of framing and composing the shot was completely at odds with the familiar, welcoming and quite frankly comforting viewfinder of the M. With the X, I would now be holding the camera out in front and at arms length (well, arms bent).
The lens as it transpires, offers imaging quality on a par with anything the Voigtlander 50 f/1.5 mounted to the M-E can offer. However the focal length is a rather wide (for me) 35mm in full-frame terms. This caused the greatest concern, as it meant I would be forced to move even closer to my subjects, in order to achieve the same style of framing and composition I was used to. Additionally I’ve become practiced at ‘seeing’ and framing potential pictures in my mind from the perspective of a 50mm.
Fortunately however, the X offers several key features that provide much comforting familiarity for the M user, these being the manual shutter and aperture dials, reassuring build quality and manual focus.
With regards the manual focusing, this is where the X scores extremely highly, helped in no small part by one of the sharpest and clearest 3-inch displays I’ve used and easily on a par with that of the Fuji X-E1 I owned previously. Factor in the focusing ring of the Summilux lens, being both a useful size, falling readily to hand and buttery smooth to adjust, even by the smallest degree. These two ingredients result in a superbly quick and accurate means of manual focusing – the exact moment the image becomes crystal sharp, easily visible and without any form of ‘Focus Peaking’ assistance required.
The X’s build quality is admirable. For sure the camera is lighter than an M of course – its most essential ‘innards’ consisting mainly of printed circuit boards, silicon chips, a battery and other ‘stuff’ much like any modern digital camera – technical wizardry I don’t even profess to understand. What sets the X apart is that this is all encased inside an expertly designed and manufactured magnesium and aluminium alloy body. This results in a package that whilst light, feels very solid – no rattles or clonks. At no point during the test did I feel as though I had to ‘baby’ the Leica, except for the fact I was carrying a review camera and thus solely responsible for any ‘mishaps’, gulp.
Now it’s normal for me whilst testing a camera to have it (or attempt to have it) set up for full manual operation. However on this occasion and whilst walking around the Photography Show with the X, a question popped into my head, “Why fight it?”
Of course there are the shutter and aperture dials on the top, both of which provide instantaneous access and adjustment. The problem I had on the day was the environment of the Photography Show itself – for it was ‘extremely’ busy. Due to the layout and the endless amount of ‘eye candy’ on offer, pedestrians were appearing and disappearing and changing direction just feet in front of me, as though I was stood in the middle of a time-lapse movie. As an added hindrance, the lighting in various areas of the incredibly huge exhibition hall varied wildly. For me to be walking around and photographing ‘in a blink’ whatever caught my eye, and with a camera I had barely begun to use, started to look more than a little daunting.
I was indeed ‘Out of my comfort zone’.
This caused me to have a moment not unlike Luke Skywalker in Star Wars – flying down the trench of the Death Star, with Obi-Wan Kenobi whispering “Use the force Luke”.
Thus (and with the voice of ‘Old Ben’ still ringing in my ears) I turned the shutter and aperture dials to ‘A’ for Auto, selected Auto ISO with a minimum shutter speed of 125th, and switched off the manual focusing ‘enlarged image’ in the middle of the screen. With manual focus still selected, I set to work – which resulted in the images of the accompanying eBook.
What became apparent as I acclimatised myself to this new (for me) way of shooting, was that I had in fact left one ‘Comfort Zone’, and entered another. The X for want of a better phrase, simply disappeared in my hand due in no small part to the relative light weight, the rather intuitive manual focusing and the instantaneous way in which it would take a shot as soon as the shutter was pressed – much like the M-E. That it managed all of this whilst assessing and metering the chosen scene and no matter how complex the lighting, was reassuring.
Which brings me to what is probably the 10 Million Dollar Question, would I swap my M-E for the X ?
The simple answer would be no – the M and the X are two utterly different types of camera.
If however (and due to unforeseen reasons) I had to replace the M-E with a more economical model, the X is more than likely the camera I would choose – especially with an auxiliary Electronic Viewfinder.
It’s incredibly adept at making pictures, the image quality in terms of pure resolution and clarity probably ‘out punch’ the CCD sensor-equipped M’s such as the M9/M-E. As an added bonus, in low light and high resolution, the images from the X provide the much admired ‘film grain’ quality you get from the CCD sensors and especially when converted to black & white.
The X would also make a fine companion to the M-E, or for that matter any other Leica. The images produced fit well together in the workflow – as it happens and whilst compiling the pictures for this review, I had to check the EXIF data on some of them just to make sure it was the X.
A very important fact to keep in mind as well, is that the X (in taking me away from the familiar), did force me to look at taking photographs from a whole new perspective (quite literally). I truly believe that if I hadn’t been using the X, it wouldn’t have even entered my mind to think about shooting the portraits of the accompanying eBook. One contributing factor was to do with minimum focusing distance. The X will focus down to 20cm (8″), whereas the M-E will only focus to 70cm (28″), or 90cm (36″) with the Voigtlander 50 f/1.5 mounted. Achieving the same results as the X by using the M-E, would have required some considerable cropping.
One final and unexpected revelation whilst carrying the X was experienced whilst I walked around the show. As visitors wandered along the corridors and alleyways between the various exhibits, many could be seen to look and then mutter to their companions, “Uhmm, Leica” . . .
. . . Thus ends part One of this review. May I now ask you to move to the eBooks section (by clicking the link, or on the image below), where you will find both your own copy of “Not Of The Street“, as well as refreshments etc . . .
If you are looking to buy a new or used Leica X, eBay UK always has a good selection here.