I've been following the Leica X1 since its introduction a year ago this week (hard to believe 9/9/09* was only a year ago!) and have been quite intrigued by it.
Contrary to one TOP commenter's remarks, people have been "breaking down the doors" for X1's. In fact, it's only in the past couple of weeks—after almost a year on the market—that X1's have started selling on eBay for less than the official $1995 list price. As of today, both Amazon and B&H Photo show the X1 as still being unavailable or selling above list, and whenever they get a few in at list price they go out of stock again within hours.
You may have heard that the X1 is the first compact camera that Getty has approved for submitted images (for whatever that's worth). I've seen some great images from the X1 for example from German photographer Peter Lueck, and reviewers have extolled the camera's image quality in glowing terms.
The X1 has largely gone under the radar in a lot of online forums as many photographers choose the lower cost and lens interchangeability of the Micro 4/3 cameras (and, more recently, the Samsung NX and Sony NEX). But to me the one-lens "constraint" is part of the appeal of the X1, and part of why I may buy one.
Few people have commented on the X1's design heritage, but if the M9 form-factor is derivative of the M3–MP, as Mike insinuated in the "Cool Sh*t Quiz" post, the X1's shape and size goes back much further, almost to the beginnings of 35mm photography:
Photo by adrianzg. Used with permission.
Of course, the M9's viewfinder system is much closer to the film M's finders than the X1's screen is to the Barnack camera viewfinders. But with a clip on optical viewfinder the X1 wouldn't be that alien to LTM Leica users. I think adrianzg's comparison shot above is a neat photo.
It is in fact such a simple camera, with that one lens and elegantly basic controls on top, that forums dedicated to the X1 have a hard time finding new things to say about it. I've always thought that the reason there are so many "Leicaweenies" (as Ralph Gibson called them on p. 6 of Anthony Lane's New Yorker article on Leica) is that a lot of photographers love these incredibly simple cameras from Leica and want to talk about them but find there really isn't much to say. Picture a forum dedicated to discussing the M3, and then picture if the M3 only came with a fixed lens, and you get an idea for how the X1 forums sound. Wrist straps, lens caps, cases and viewfinders are about all that's left to discuss after the advantages and disadvantages of the camera have been rehashed ad nauseum.
The agreed-upon flaws of the X1 have been well aired:
- Some consider the lens (ƒ/2.8) too slow;
- Many consider the fixed lens a deal-breaker;
- There's no doubt the X1 is noticeably slower to focus than a Micro 4/3 camera (there are different theories as to why this might be necessary)
- The manual focusing is coarse and cumbersome
- Some say the top dials turn too easily.
A couple of these can be fixed in firmware updates (maybe); others will have to wait for the X2 or X3.
If I get an X1, it'll be because of:
- Size (it is very small)
- One non-interchangeable lens (that's a plus for me with this kind of camera)
- Image quality (roughly equal to a D300, people say)
- Very quiet (I shoot a lot in museums and churches)
- Unlike Micro 4/3 cameras using AF lenses, the X1 does not use software to correct barrel distortion (my dislike for that solution is a personal idiosyncrasy of mine, but it's a buying consideration for me).
There's no question that the X1 is probably not the best camera for fulfilling the traditional Leica role of quick street shooting. But I think in all of the fuss about the M9 and even the S2, the X1—again, only because it's so simple and limited in how much it can be accessorized—has been overlooked.
"A Friend of the Site" prefers to remain anonymous.
*The date of the introduction of the Leica M9. —Ed.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Pak-Ming Wan: "I have quite a funny story about the X1 and the niche it fills and how much people want it. Just after the sales time in France (yes, even that is controlled by the government), I went to the Leica Paris store to purchase a second-hand collapsible Summicron.
"I turned up at 12:45 and the store was full. The poor salesman and assistant were working through the people diligently as they normally closed at 1:00 for lunch (I think!). At about 1:30 I got my turn. My transaction was quite simple as I had already tested the lens a couple of weeks earlier.
"The guy next to me wasn't so lucky. He was a tourist, in a t-shirt and flip-flops. So, the exchange went like this:
Customer: "I'm looking to buy an X1."
Salesman: "Oh, I can't do that, I need to close at 1:00 and it is 1:30!"
Customer: "But I'll pay for it right now! I don't even need to test it!"
Salesman: "No, no, please, please come back at 2:30! It's too busy right now!"
Customer: "But I have cash and I don't even want the tax-free papers!"
Salesman: "Please, come back at 2:30...I need to serve my other clients!"
"The customer stood there kind of shocked. He then left, and the salesman locked the door behind him and came back to serving me to settle my purchase. Which he did, meticulously (taking my address, talking about where I was from, my background, a little bit about the lens), and then let me out of the shop.
"After reading this post about the availability of this item, I suppose that customer did come back later...."
Featured Comment by Luis Cavaco: "Your article about the Leica X1 is exactly what i think and feel about this street compact and beautiful camera. I have mine since February and I'm doing street shots again with the same Leica feeling that I use to have with my father's Leica IIIf, the first camera I used in the '80s. I was waiting for this camera for so long! You can check some pics here."