Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leica X1: Reprieve from death row

Leica X1: Reprieve from death row

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It’s a classic right enough. The little Leica X1 has the appeal of a classic Porsche. It’s an acquired taste and doesn’t have all the latest electronic gizmos, but it delights every time you take it for a run. Image: John Shingleton, Leica X1

Thought for the month

Since I wrote that I was finally pensioning off my classic Leica X1 I’ve received a barrage of emails and comments (or, at least what passes for a barrage at MacFilos) telling me I am foolish, disloyal and shallow. After years of extolling the little Leica, I was selling it for no good reason other than a desire to have a bit of a clear out. 

Matters came to a head early this week as I reviewed the comments on the centre-spot focus locking issue on the latest CL. Quite by chance John Shingleton and Wayne Gerlach in Australia happened to mention that the focus point on the X1 is locked to the centre until the delete button is pressed and held for two seconds. This is something I had not realised in all my years of X1 usage because, simply put, I never needed to move that centre spot focus so I never went looking for the solution. Wouldn’t it be nice if Leica could have done something similar with the CL and its wayward D pad? It seems they once thought a fixed spot focus point was the default requirement. Now it has been abandoned in the interests of progress.

Then Wayne gave a broad hint that if my X1 hadn’t been sold I should take it off death row. Which I did yesterday. I called on Red Dot Cameras and found my old X1 still for sale. I left with it in my bag and I now have it set up (since it is such a simple camera that didn’t take long) and sitting in front of me on my desk.

  Come home to daddy, little X, with your cheapo eBay
Come home to daddy, little X, with your cheapo eBay “automatic” lens cap and your classic simplicity. All is forgiven.

Now I am not saying that the X1 can compete with the CL. It is far slower, has a sensor of only 12 MP and a back screen to die for (literally). It is, after all, a ten-year-old design. Hell’s bells, it is quite the antique by digital camera standards. Yet it contrives to produce great images as John Shingleton and other Macfilos readers continue to prove.

Above all, though, The X1 has the overriding redeeming feature of simplicity, not just in respect of that centre-spot focus point but in its general design. This, in my view, makes it a classic and something of a benchmark for the Leica fan. With its simple and clear manual controls, emphasis on aperture priority and focus/recompose, it is just like an M in its essence. In fact, the X1 was designed as a companion to the M9, a light, compact APS-C camera intended to duplicate, as far as possible, the M experience in a more convenient package.

Simpler approach

Much as I like the new CL — and I am the last one to decry progress — I can’t help feeling that M rangefinder fans would have preferred a simpler approach. A system-camera version of the X, the X Vario or the X1 (or even the Q), for instance. While Leica has adhered as much as possible to the goal of simplicity with the CL (in comparison with its main competitors) the camera is still relatively complicated and over-reliant on soft controls. While it ticks many of the opposition’s check boxes, it falls short in some crucial issues such as lack of stabilisation, either in body or in lens, and weather proofing — features which are now de rigueur for the box tickers.

Now most Leica owners don’t mind the lack of stabilisation — they are used to the basic nature of the M and have learned to compensate for camera shake — but its absence is a significant negative factor in the eyes of photographers used to these features. I only have to cite the new Panasonic G9 which, when its stabilisation complements stabilised lenses, offers up to a 6.5-stop advantage over the likes of the CL.

In some respects, therefore, the CL falls between the two stools — not as fully equipped as the Fuji or Sony owner would wish, yet not as simple as the M owner demands. It risks turning off traditionalists while, at the same time, failing to turn on the potential buyer who is accustomed to loaded designs from other manufacturers.

Is it time, I wonder, for Leica to take another look at the ethos of the X1 and make a virtue out of simplicity. I think a simpler, stripped-down CL would draw customers.

The X1, now it is back on my desk, serves to emphasis this point. It reminds me of the sort of simplicity that many Leica owners value as an antidote to the bloated menus and prolific controls that appear to be essential these days. Welcome home, little X1, I shall take you out for walkies soon. 

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9 COMMENTS

  1. If Leica had listened to the users… You know, real folk.

    The X2 would have had a viewfinder and doodly squat else…

    That would have been the killer.

    And unlike the cyclists that maintain that for the modern motorist, "twenty is plenty", which is garbage.

    For a simple digital camera, twelve is just fine.

    And when it comes to MP’s… None is even better.

    Stephen

  2. What a sensitive story; a story with a moral, Mike. A well-designed, simple, high-yielding camera always remains an asset provided the user recognises its true worth. I am delighted that you have liberated your little X1 from its enforced detention. Please don’t make the same mistake again.

    It is interesting that a wandering focusing point on the CL should have highlighted the earlier method used by Leica on its X-cameras which many of us take for granted. It is a pity that design teams disperse, often because of career progression, to the detriment of proven design philosophy. I often wonder what happened to the designer who inspired the birth the X1. Just imagine if Oscar Barnack had been moved on before his dream had evolved. It is possible Leica would not be where it is today.

    • I agree, David. Sometimes Leica has this urge to be all modern and compete on a level field with all the digital computers out there. Then they cry simplicity and say that they are being true to their heritage. As a result they fall between the two stools. There is a market for a simple APS-C system camera with M-style controls and no frills for those who want to use touch screen or floating focus points. It could well be a sister to the CL, but brought back to basics (as was the M-D, for instance). My big regret with the CL/TL system is that the prime lenses do not have a manual aperture ring. When other manufacturers (including Leica themselves with their m4/3 lenses) can offer this, the absence on the T lenses is pure negligence. Again, the design team thought their knew better. Unfortunately, Leica again falls between two stools. Ah…. Having written this I can feel a new article coming on.

  3. Interesting reading, Mike.

    From the moment it was released I thought the CL was a bit off-beam. It wasnt manual enough, "retro" if you will, and needed aperture ring lenses and a shutter speed dial. Otherwise, its just another modern ilc with a crazy high price tag imo.

  4. First I want to say congratualtions on your good decision, Mike. Second, hurrah for the connection to Red Dot Cameras. I notice from your picture that you are content with the elegant Voigtländer(?) OVF, parallax and all. I was beginning to enjoy my X1, helped by a collapsible "Clear View" screen viewer, But I knew I needed something vari-angle, so that was why I changed to the X2 and now have the best of both worlds (for my needs). I’m probably tub-thumping, but I’m sorry Leica listened to those calling for in-built, fixed EVFs when they produced the CL. They could have gone more compact without.

    • Thanks, John. It is indeed the Voigtländer OVF and it does its job. I didn’t choose it specifically, it’s just that I happened to have it in the drawer. I have no idea if it is better or worse than the Leica OVF. The X2 with the EVF does offer a better focusing and framing experience and I have often thought about getting an X2. In fact, Ivor had one in when I collected my X2 and I mentioned that I might be interested. He suggested that since I have the X1 (which is the classic) I should be satisfied with the CL. He has a point. Perhaps perversely, I never really liked the appearance of the X2 with the EVF because of that unsightly hump on top of the camera. It is there solely because Leica had the viewfinder and there wasn’t enough space to fit the socket on the back of the camera. So they moved the socket up and added the unsightly spacer. It’s a bit Heath Robinson in my view and that’s probably why I still prefer the X1. As Ivor says, I can always use the CL.

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