Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leica X1: Classic compact still cutting the mustard after nearly six years

Leica X1: Classic compact still cutting the mustard after nearly six years

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 Photo: John Shingleton, taken in the Blue Mountains, north of Sydney, this morning
Photo: John Shingleton, taken in the Blue Mountains, north of Sydney, this morning

John Shingleton of The Rolling Road blog has been out and about earlier today in the Blue Mountains in his classic Porsche. And to record the meeting of enthusiasts he chose his favourite camera, the Leica X1 that has been his constant companion for five years. Recently refurbished by Leica Australia, the venerable Shingleton X1 is still capable of some wonderful work. John prefers it to later cameras because of its lightness and great image quality. He has already written about it on MacFilos.

The little Leica X1, introduced in late 2009, is fast becoming a classic and it continues to hold its value well. Quite remarkable for a camera that is nearly six years old and suffers from well-known slow focus and, well, general slowness. But I have a number of friends who still swear by this fixed-lens 35mm compact, the forerunner of the Fuji X100s (where else did Fuji pinch the X from, I wonder) to the exclusion of the later X2 with its unsightly hotshoe hump to accommodate the afterthought EVF.

If you can live with a more leisurely style of photography, as can I, the X1 is a fascinating little street photography tool. I write as one who has the run of the latest Leica cameras, including the Q which has perhaps the fastest autofocus system known to man. Yet I still get a thrill when I pick up the tardy X1. It is light, almost pocketable and boy, does it perform. There is just something about it that brings out the want in me.

 The X1 is an object of beauty and the Voigtländer 35mm finder is its perfect complement. Forget the fussy X2 with its unsightly hump and grab yourself a future classic
The X1 is an object of beauty and the Voigtländer 35mm finder is its perfect complement. Forget the fussy X2 with its unsightly hump and grab yourself a future classic

In contrast to the ever-so-slightly faster X2, the X1 is distilled purity. Of course it lacks an electronic viewfinder, but it loves an optical finder, either the pricy Leica accessory or the prettier round Voigtländer. I particularly like the way the green focus confirmation light can be spied out of the corner of the eye as I peer into the finder. This is a trick that Leica abandoned on the later X series cameras, much to my regret.

Although I owned an X1 years ago, when it was the dernier cri, I picked up another one at the Bièvres Camera Fair in June. It was a bargain, but in mint condition. All it lacked was a viewfinder. Just yesterday, however, I called in at Red Dot Cameras to find that Ivor Cooper had set aside one of the silver Voigtländer finders which perfectly complements my vintage Leica digital. It was slid onto the X1’s hotshoe in a trice.

So why would you want a second-hand and leisurely X1 in preference to a blindingly fast Fuji X100 with all its bells and whistles? Precisely because the X1, which is a similar size, is bell-and-whistle-less. It is a simple camera with direct manual controls and lives up to Leica’s motto: Das Wesentliche, the essential.  It looks gorgeous, too. What’s more, glacial as it is in focus and file management, it still produces great results. You can pick up an X1, boxed, with accessories for under £500. You’ll have a lot of fun, you will definitely enjoy the Leica ownership experience, and you will lose nothing over the next few years. Look on it as an investment that you can enjoy along the way. You cannot say the same about any modern digital camera.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Oh dear Mike, first you mention classic Porsche, then Leica X1…….have a heart, I’m busy saving for a ‘Q’ !

    Geoff

    • At least it isn’t MY classic Porsche. All I can muster in the automotive department is a miserly Nissan Leaf! Cheap as chips.

  2. Mike,you have very neatly summarised why I love my X1 and why I think that it is the best camera in the world.Many will dismiss that comment as nonsense but in fifty plus years of photography I have taken more photos I like with my X1 in five years than with all the other cameras I have owned.And I really do believe that cameras are for taking photos not for testing or pixel peeping.
    And you have chosen by chance the photo which includes my 2.7 Porsche- the yellow car.

    • I was wondering which was your car, so I’m glad I chose that picture. I will consider my wrist slapped on the testing and pixel peeping bit!

  3. Mike , oh no my pixel peeping and testing comment was not aimed at you.You do always try and test your cameras by taking interesting photos-incl nude bike cyclists and Swiss trains.That’s why Macfilos is interesting and worth reading-well usually interesting except when you write about that damn watch.No I was thinking of all those other "testers" who photograph their back gardens,bookcases and even a row of laundry pegs I saw recently.

  4. Hi Mike.
    I
    ‘ve picked up a nice X1 for myself this week, while I wait patiently in the queue for a Q. I don’t have it in my hands yet – it’s in the post. It’s had a new lens and sensor fitted by Leica Mayfair this year, so all should be well. I intend to use it almost solely in full manual mode with zone focus – should be perfect for the streets of London.

    I’m interested in how you’re getting on with the Voigtlander viewfinder. Can you see any space around the framelines when you’re wearing glasses?

    • Congratulations, I’m sure the X1 will serve you well. I haven’t had much chance to play with the Voigtländer viewfinder. I do find I need to position my eye correctly or I cannot see the whole screen. It probably works better without glasses, though, but I am gradually getting used to it. I will be better able to answer this when I’ve used the viewfinder more.

      Mike

  5. The X1 is my ‘tool camera’. Slow it might be in daylight but I use it in absolute pitch black darkness with a Leica SF 24D flashgun – with four sheets of red cellophane over the flash head. Thus equipped, and with the camera set to B&W jpg at ISO 800 and at full apertture, I photograph astronomers in action whilst they observe the night skies through their telescopes … but, by virtue of the red filtered flash, without compromising / upsetting their night vision. And it works a treat … as long as there is a bit of ‘white’ or ‘silver’ astro tripod for the focus assist beam to lock onto.

    Best wishes

    dunk

    dunk

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