Monday, September 28, 2009

Leica X1 - a (real) Leica for the masses?

Leica has recently announced a new compact digital camera, the Leica X1, which should be out later this year. There are a few reasons why some (me included) have been paying close attention to this model:
  • It has an APS-C sized 12.2 Mp sensor in a compact body. Only the Sigma DP2 presents such a large sensor on a small body. The Olympus EP-1, and now the Panasonic GF1, both have a smaller micro 4/3 sensor. Larger sensor area should imply higher signal to noise ratio and higher dynamic range (look here for a nice discussion on this issue).
  • It is equipped with a Leica Elmarit 24 mm f/2,8 aspherical lens (equivalent to a 35mm focal length in 35mm film). The "M" version of this lens is supposedely very good.
  • It is able to operate on fully manual mode, having individual speed and aperture dials on the top plate.
  • It has a beautiful, sober, Leica-ish design.
  • It is not a Panasonic compact clone, but a model entirely conceived by Leica and made in Germany (ok, the sensor is by Sony and the electronics must be made in Japan also, but everything else is Leica).
  • It "only" costs 1500 € ($2000). Hey, it's a Leica!...
There a few things that make me skeptical, though:
  • This is not a rangefinder (see M9), it's a compact. Will the performance (autofocus, writing times, etc) be typical of a compact?...
  • The lens is collapsible, which looks plain ugly on this classic looking camera. It is also a fixed lens. Since Panasonic and Olympus introduced compacts with interchangeable lens, the X1 seems to fall behind. But it's a 35mm equivalent, which I find is the most versatile focal length. And I want a camera that is easy to carry, not a new set of lens to take on a bag. Not to mention the cost of a set of Leica lenses!
  • It has no integrated view-finder. There is an external one (optional), with a field of view corresponding to the 24mm lens.
  • It costs 1500 € ($2000). Hey, it's a point and shoot!...
For a while that I long for a small, discrete, highly portable digital camera with high image quality. This would replace my dear Minox 35ML as a carry around camera. Both the Sigma DP2 and the Olly EP-1, mentioned above, have some performance issues that have kept me away.

Concerning cost, some are saying that the 1500 € price tag is not too high, considering that the X1 has a half frame sensor, a nice lens and a Leica logo... Could this actually be a "real" Leica with a reasonable cost/quality ratio? Well, for paying this kind of money for a compact one has to expect flawless performance and irreprehensible image quality. Unfortunately, I've already seen too many reviews on Leica digital cameras ending with the sentence: " this kind of performance worth the cost?"

For 1500 € I could by the new Pentax K-7 plus a grip and there would be some change left for a few SDHC cards. The K-7 has been getting excellent reviews. It is a very nice camera, packed with neat features, but I don't think that its image quality is significantly better than my K10D's. In addition, I can live without those trendy new features. As long as my camera goes on working, I don't think I need a new DSLR.

The X1 will be out only in a few months and there isn't much information out yet. The most complete hands-on preview I've seen so far can be found here (in Spanish)*. I'll wait for the reviews to come out. In the mean time, do you know which is the best "carry around" digital camera in the whole world? That's my Pentax K10D with a Zeiss Distagon 25mm f2.8.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Distagon 25/2.8

* A few days after this post, DPReview presented an interesting Leica X1 preview (see here).


Frank M. said...

After posting, I realized that I didn't even discuss the fact the X1 has a fixed focal length lens. Many would probably expect a zoom on a (supposedly) high quality compact. But I believe that many photographers, me included, that are using prime lenses with their DSLRs may actually appreciate having a high quality, reasonably wide-angle, fixed focal instead of a not-so-good zoom.

fRANK d said...

i like the k10 myself beenthinking of getting one for the image quality.