Home Cameras/Lenses Leica 2017: A Year with the wonderful Leica X Typ 113

2017: A Year with the wonderful Leica X Typ 113

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  Black Nab at  Saltwick Bay , North Yorkshire
Black Nab at Saltwick Bay , North Yorkshire

Summer of 2016 and I was holidaying in North Yorkshire. I began to ponder the perennial question of whether I should think of carrying less camera kit with me. I had to some degree fallen out of love with my backpack filled with Nikon D300s, lenses and the other associated paraphernalia. I wanted something that was lighter, manual, simple but which would consistently produce decent images. A fixed-lens camera wasn’t ruled out. 

My initial research took my around the Nikon J series, a variety of Fuji cameras, (mostly waxed lyrical about by Ken Rockwell [editor’s note: This is the first time in eight years Macfilos has mentioned the prolific Rockwell], the Olympus PEN F, and some other broadly similar models from Canon and Sony. I even stood in the Bluewater Mall branch of John Lewis with the PEN F in my hand.

Sadly I was put off by the artistic twiddly knobs, switchable lenses and the reality I would need to buy a new version of Lightroom to post process. At no point during this research did a Leica turn up in my thinking. At that stage I didn’t have a well-rounded view of Leica. While I knew it existed as a camera manufacturer, my memory comprised a hazy vision of kitsch film cameras from my youth in the 70s. 

One day I found and read about the Leica X in Jonathan Slack’s review (thanks, Jono) . The X (Typ 113) had just been announced and Jonathan had had the opportunity, as usual, to try out the prototype, code named Anna-Louise. This great article definitely got me thinking.

  A little festive cheer, one of my first shallow DoF shots with my new X shot in December 2016
A little festive cheer, one of my first shallow DoF shots with my new X shot in December 2016

I then found and read other X reviews. Steve Huff hated it for its lack of EVF, Ming Thein was indifferent, and when I engaged him in discussion about it, he suggested the Ricoh GR2. I accept this is a camera loved by many, but I couldn’t get my hands near one. 

I also came across the review on here, and started to follow John Shingleton’s Rolling Road blog, and his constant love for his elderly X1. I was now getting interested in all things Leica, more importantly in the fixed-lens Leica X series. I set out immersing myself in YouTube reviews, photographic online forums and other areas of (sometimes mis-) information.

I did some Flickr engagement and many members added to my knowledge about both Leica as a brand, and the X, or the X series as individual cameras. All were positive. Although some owned X2s or X1s, they were clear that Leica X-branded cameras were worthy of the purchase. I then set about hunting down an X2, as that seemed to be in my price range of around a £1,000. 

In the end my research led me to a lovely preowned Leica X model for sale at Red Dot Cameras in early December 2016. It had recently come to the market, and I engaged in discussions with both Francis and Ash at Red Dot, while I wrestling with the task of  understanding the camera, spending so much money, and also taking the plunge into owning a secondhand camera. I had never done this before and it required a certain leap of faith.

Fortunately, thanks to reports in Macfilos, I knew that Red Dot Cameras is a reliable dealer with a good reputation and wouldn’t sell anything not up to scratch. These thoughts helped me make the decision to buy the second hand example they had in stock. I have to say it was a nervous experience, pushing £950 on to my credit card for a camera of which I had little real-life knowledge. 

  My uke
My uke

The camera arrived several days later by courier. Out of the box it looked amazing, a little reminiscent of an old film camera. I loved its colour and the alloy top and bottom plates. The controls, set-up process and pure feeling in the hand were and still are unique to me. Leica where have you been hiding all of my photographic life? 

Having received my X in mid-December, it was handy to have around over the festive period and my early impressions where positive. The only thing I took time to get used to was the manual focus. The autofocus isn’t the best, and can be indifferent in use. But the focus method in manual mode is one of the best implementations I have ever seen on any camera. 

  The Rock
The Rock ‘n Roll Komboloi wrist strap turned out to be a perfect complement for the Leica X

So happy was I early on, and with my creative juices flooded with a new experiences that I entered on a period of photographic happiness. At that point, fortified by Christmas cheer, I decided I would attempt a whole year with just this one camera. No D300s and kit to lug around anywhere. All my holidays snaps where going to be done with just the X at my side.

Even with my credit card still feeling a little heavily laden, I splashed out on a Billingham Hadley Small, in grey, and I added a wrist strap, the Komboloi from Tie Her Up Straps. I only realised recently that it was Mike Evans of Macfilos who dreamed up that name for Evris Papanikols, father of the straps. I also received a Leica Sofort as a Christmas present from my beloved, which oddly fits in the Hadley Small alongside the X. Yes we went from being a no-Leica family to possessing two in the space of a fortnight. 

  The painter — shot on Rochester High Street
The painter — shot on Rochester High Street

I am writing this in mid-December 2017, around the first anniversary of my purchase. How do I feel now? Oddly, I am still massively happy with my decision. I have been back to Whitby several times this year, and on each journey my X has been a constant companion, taking shots of a myriad of different things. I have taken it into the heart of the Lake District and found it a joy to use, and light enough for it to stored in a backpack fitted with the Hadley’s padded insert. The streets of Rochester are a constant in my life, and I have loved taking street shots, portraits and of the many historic buildings in the area. It even attended a family event in the run up to Christmas 2017. 

  The image that showed me manual focus can be better than auto with the versatile X
The image that showed me manual focus can be better than auto with the versatile X

The only time someone has pointed it out was while we were descending from Haystacks in the Lake District towards the Honister Slate Mine in October. A chap asked me what I thought of the Leica – I was honestly taken back as no one had ever mentioned it before. I gave him my honest view (it is in here), at which point he informed me he was a Leica software engineer. He told me that the camera stood out a mile, and he recognised it instantly.

  A shot at  Dungeness  showing the exceptional colours from the sensor
A shot at Dungeness showing the exceptional colours from the sensor

What do I like about the camera?

I shoot the most of my work in manual mode, it is one of the crowning reasons I bought the X in the first place. And this camera is like a dream to use in manual mode, even manually setting the ISO as I have done for years with my D300s. This camera is so simple when used like this. It has made me wonder why we need the plethora of automation that has appeared on other camera systems in recent years. Or is that a sad reflection on some of my fellow photographers, who need the automation to overcome a lack of understanding about the basic principles of photography? 

  Whitby reflection in the late afternoon glow
Whitby reflection in the late afternoon glow

I have learned to love the manual focus system deployed in the X by Leica. It is something that was new to me, but I have found it a joy to use. In fact in a similar vein to using the camera in full manual mode, it adds another layer of involvement in the images as you frame them. Using it for a portrait shot is one of the most satisfying experiences I have had with any camera. 

 My wife’s pride and joy, this is a canvas that hangs in our home
My wife’s pride and joy, this is a canvas that hangs in our home

The lens is a real beast. I have been using the 35mm f/1.8 DX on my Nikon D300s for years, and have really enjoyed it and have produced some excellent images with it. The lens on this Leica, though, is incredibly impressive. Some of the results from it are amazing when you consider the cost of the camera. It also has a really nice bokeh, nicer than the Nikon version in my humblest of opinions. 

The button and menu layout are absolute genius. Almost everything is either a single button press away, or a quick flick through the small number of menus. In fact in this area Leica is clearly putting, Nikon, Canon, Sony and one or two other camera manufacturers to shame. For me, Nikons are a bloated mess of features that I never or rarely use. It’s mainly for that reason I hung on to my D300s for so many years because of its simple button layout that allows easy adjustment without using the screen menus. 

  A Whitby sunset in late July, shot from the roof tops of The Crescent
A Whitby sunset in late July, shot from the roof tops of The Crescent

What would I like to see improved?

The future of the Leica X range is clearly shrouded in doubt at this moment, more so by the recent appearance of the CL. But if you happen to work for Leica, and you are reading this article, then I would consider the following to be key areas that would make the X a game changer.

An improved sensor, but more about the ISO range rather than necessarily about the number of megapixels. The results beyond around ISO 800, are in my view not really great. Occasionally you get a shot that is, but I grew to have little confidence in the consistency shot on shot. What is impressive is that this little camera does give my old D300s a run for its money up to ISO 800, and I hated shots above this level of sensitivity from the Nikon. 

  Towards Black Nab at  Saltwick Bay
Towards Black Nab at Saltwick Bay

Auto-focus speed is poor and focus tends to hunt. In some situations even in daylight I have automatically switched to manual focus. One street shot, that I tried to capture early on, was constantly out of focus with the auto switched on. Once I turned it off, my first image came out sharp, and in focus. The lighting was fine, but the shop background had a lot black, and I assume it was this that caused the focusing issues. In poor light, it’s easier to learn to use manual focus, as the camera will otherwise produce more misses than hits. 

  A colour shot of steampunk camper at Whitby Steampunk festival in July 2017
A colour shot of steampunk camper at Whitby Steampunk festival in July 2017

A change of rear screen for bright sunny days, as I found a small number of occasions in bright light that seeing the rear screen was a challenge. However I never really experience the same with my iPhone 7 Plus, as I just adjust the brightness to compensate. So this is fixable, and yes I accept the X is 2014 tech, and the iPhone 7 Plus 2016. 

If the screen doesn’t present as a realistically achievable deal, then adding the EVF currently on the CL would overcome the issue. It might even win over Steve Huff. Alternatively I am sure the Q’s EVF could be embedded in the current X body shape, with only the loss of the pop up flash (I have never used it, so no loss there). Let’s be honest, improve the sensor, EVF and Autofocus, and charge somewhere similar to the original price for the X, and this will literally fly off the shelves, possibly without harming either the Q, CL or M ranges.

  The  Admiral von Tromp  at Black Nab, Saltwick Bay   — shot during a sunset
The Admiral von Tromp at Black Nab, Saltwick Bay — shot during a sunset

Oh, yes, get rid of the video button, in fact Leica go one better, get rid of video all together. If I want to make videos of my day-to-day life, my iPhone covers me adequately for that. I use my Leica to take still images only, and that is all I have ever done with my cameras. 

The final area that could be improved to make this a game changer is a quicker shutter. Even raising it to 1/4000 would be good for those really sunny days. I wouldn’t necessarily want the even higher speeds, unless of course it’s easy to engineer a quicker than 1/4000 shutter while in development. If the CL’s shutter was used, then that would be another outstanding inclusion. 

  A long exposure night shot at  Whitby Abbey  during the  Goth Week  illuminations for Halloween in October 2017
A long exposure night shot at Whitby Abbey during the Goth Week illuminations for Halloween in October 2017

I have to say that my year with the Leica X has been really enjoyable. For the first time in a few years I am looking forward to year two with the same camera. I just enjoy the results this small film looking camera can produce. I admit I have encountered a small number of occasions where I wished for the Nikon and my bag of bits and bobs – shooting Whitby Abbey in the dark last month being one of them. Yet on the majority of days out I have welcomed the lighter kit and the corresponding absence of discomfort. I have just engaged with the world around me, and taken the images as they have appeared. 

Reading through this article, I have to accept that I have effectively compared the X to my ageing D300s, a DSLR that was considered Pro in its day. But when the D300s is coupled to the 35mm f/1.8 lens, other than weight and size, in the right circumstances the Leica produces significantly better images that are more pleasing to the eye. 

  “Alas poor Alex, I knew him well!” A shot of Alex, taken in monochrome
“Alas poor Alex, I knew him well!” A shot of Alex, taken in monochrome

If Leica ever want someone to test a potential future X, with a similar lens style, then I would be happy to do it. If my suggested improvements above are adopted in an X body, with the same lens it would interest me. For now though, I have started a Q fund, and in a few years’ time I will see if I can save enough to buy a Q, although it might take a while.A Q2 or even a Q3 might be the current model when I get there. Until then I will enjoy the X. 

Find more from Dave Seargeant here

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23 COMMENTS

    • Hi John, Thank you. I just want to see a new updated version, until then I will see what a second year of using it turns out like. If I get excited, I might report back how I get on. Dave

      • Dave, nice photos and I am glad that my blog helped your X decision making but don’t lust after an updated version of the X. Just go and shoot pictures with what you have and really love it. HCB did not worry about whether Leica were going to introduce a Leica 3B or whatever and look what he turned out.
        My X1 is into its 8th year and it is still my favourite camera.The lack of an EVF has never worried me -in fact the OVF gives me a very clear view . Set both dials of your X to A and go find some more photos.

        • Hi John,
          I hope this finds you fit and well, and recovering from your medical episode earlier in the year.

          Thank you for your kind word, I am glad you enjoyed the photo’s, these represent what I think is the strengths of the X in my hands, although I could have provided a few more of people.

          I enjoy your blog for the whole just get out and shoot with the bloomin camera in your hand. The matter of factness about it, oh and the pictures of those lovely Porsche’s that appear from time to time. Just don’t tell my wife I look at cars other than Vitara’s.

          I will continue my current photographic journey with my X in hand.

          Dave

  1. Your enthusiasm shines through your narrative, justifiably, Dave. Like you, I hope that Leica does upgrade the highly performing X – line.. Meanwhile, my X1 and X-Vario will continue to serve me well.

  2. Great write up, Dave.

    Ive always struggled to get my head around all the various X models! Its still possible to find new X’s , X2’s, X vario’s and X-E’s for sale in Australia, but I’ve never quite found the enthusiasm to buy one at the prices wanted without a built in EVF. Your story has them in my thinking again, though! I’d probably go an XE , accept the slower lens and save the extra 1k.

    Thanks for the 1 year review.

    • Hi Jason, It took me a little while to figure out the chronology of X models, and the typ 113 which I have came after the X2 (around a similar time to the X Vario) in fact the Vario and mine are the same chasis, with a different lens on the front. The X-U is the same sensor and lens as mine, but wrapped in the waterproof layer and then the price has been bumped accordingly. The X-E is the X2 in terms of sensor, lens etc, but wrapped in a new out cloth.

      I think I have that correct, but sure someone can correct me if I am wrong.

      My advice would be hunt for an X typ 113, which is the model I have, and the one I have used here – I know other readers have X1’s and X2’s and like me, are happy with them.

      Dave

    • Hi John, Thank you, I have more on my Flickr site, with the entire of the last year being taken on the X. I can provide the link if anyone would like it. Yes with hindsight I should have included with the article. Dave

      • .
        Dave!
        Splutter-splutter! ..”The Dutch Barge”?! (on your Flickr page) ..th-th-that’s the ‘Kitty’, and it’s a Thames Sailing Barge! (Dutch!?!)

        Dutchmen have a wide, flared bow (front end) which rises up in a big, wide curve. This has a straight stem (front bit going down into the water) and is English built, to trade between the Thames and (mainly) the east coast ..so that’s Kent and up to Ipswich and beyond. Aaarrrghh! You’ve put a spike through my heart!

        – David.

        • Hi David,

          Thank you for letting me know, most of the locals refer to it as the Dutch Barge, as I suspect none of us are any the wiser about its true origins. It is here at every festival during the summer months, and sometimes at the Christmas ones too.

          I will adjust the title with this new information. 🙂

          Hopefully that will cure the ache where the spike has departed. 🙂

          Dave

  3. I doubt if I can add anything to others’ praise of your article and pictures – both are a real enjoyment. Where some reviewers have talked about the "crippled" lens because of its inability to use f1.7 close to, I think this was a brilliant way of handling the size versus apperture issue (just as in the case of the so-called "slow" lens of the X-Vario). Having an XV made me less interested in going for another X of the same body size, so I settled for an X2 when I picked up a mint example with 6 months’ guarantee here in Denmark for a very reasonable price. Those of us in X-country all have our particular sagas!

    • Hi John, Thank you, I am truly humbled by the response to my review. I love getting out there and taking the images I catch. Up until I did this, I had never considered publishing an article, nor beyond Flickr truly showing my images to a wider audience. I do not consider the lens crippled by Leica’s software decision to occasionally override the choice of the camera holder. I suspect, they should have been a shade more honest about this being a possibility, or something built in. Those of us who understand this, work with the camera for the results we get.

      Kind Regards

      Dave

  4. Hi Dave,
    Just won a used 113 on Ebay for $900 (flash not functional). I doubt I will miss the flash. I was searching for posts about the Leica X on the web, and came across yours. I was not thrilled at the idea of having to actually READ an article vs watching youtube video ha ha , but saw your Wonderful Uke photo, and got thrilled. My goal is to travel the world spreading the joy of the Uke, but also taking photos. My question is did you use the jpeg setting much, and do you have any tips for daytime shooting settings of the Film style, or contrast, or sharpness? I like to post photos on a daily basis when on a trip, and sometimes i don’t have the energy to edit my photos before I post them.
    Thanks for the insight, and the great Photos,
    Brett

    • Hi Brett,
      Welcome to the X club. You will not miss the flash, I have used mine once to see what it looked like when it popped up. After that I pushed it down and jogged it on.
      My Uke was a humorous gift from my wife around my 45th birthday – I am not musical, but I learnt to play it and nine months later did a very old typical Uke song before family and friends for my youngest 21st.
      I use the DNG and Fine JPG settings in the menu, oddly the screen will show the jpg tuned to whatever your preference is – I tend to use vivid colour. All of my published work is a product of my workflow, which is DNG into Lightroom 5 and then process to suit what I was thinking at the time of the shot – so sometimes colour and others to B&W. In having said that I accidentally shot part of one holiday in total fine jpg’s in monochrome – they did looked good. So if you want to post them direct to social media you can, and I have discovered many X users who do just that.
      Daytime settings for shooting, I tend to do most street work with aperture set to F8, use manual focus, and adjust the shutter speed to the world around me – depending on what I want – the motion street shots are 1/60 shutter speed. The built in light meter is reasonable, and I often set the camera light meter to underexpose by a small amount, this improves the end product – In my experience.
      Enjoy your purchase – they are a cracking bit of kit, and in my opinion very underrated.
      Dave

  5. Hi Dave,

    (Very) late to the party. I have just bought a second hand X and I am loving it! It is already my second X. Two years ago I bought one, but sold it (almost without loss) for reasons I even can’t remember anymore. With todays cameras being computers with too many whistles and bells for my liking, I returned to this basic camera. It is so relaxing and satisfying. Even if the picture is not what you hoped for, it is YOU who made the picture, and you can really track back what could have been a better setting. Why am I writing this?
    To thank you for your well written review an to ask if you still use the X today.

    Greetings from The Netherlands,
    Jan-Marten Bosma

    • Hi Jan,

      Congratulations on repurchasing another X, a brilliant camera and excellent purchase by any standards.

      I am still using mine, I have been in Yorkshire with it the last few days and have some wonderful stuff that will be shown on my Flickr site in the next week or so.

      I look forward to hearing about your X use, and seeing the images it produces.

      Best wishes

      Dave

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