Will there ever be another X? It was one of the questions arising at the LHSA meeting in Wetzlar earlier this month. Many have been wondering why the X-range of fixed-lens cameras, epitomised for me in the X1/X2 and X Vario, were so brusquely erased from the product line. Now we’re left with just one X, and that a specialised underwater camera.
The answer, I think, came from Leica’s Stephan Schulz but it could have been Ruud Peters, I can’t remember: Another X has not been ruled out, but there is a strong argument that the new CL occupies the void created by the discontinuance of the X models. It is small and light and can be turned into a copy of any X camera by adding a suitable lens.
To an extent this is true. The CL is the spiritual descendant of the Barnack Leica — it has the same footprint as a 1935 Model III and, with the 18mm Elmarit pancake, it does the same job as the X1 or X2, albeit slightly wider in scope. Even with the 23mm Summicron, which mirrors the X1’s 35mm-equivalent lens, it is not much bigger than the X1 or X2. And with the 18-56mm Vario Elmarit, it matches the X Vario function for function. There is a strong argument that the CL, with just two lenses, is all the travel camera you need.
This said, and recognised, there is still something about the X cameras, with their fixed lenses and supremely simple control layout —everything you need to know is there in front of you on clearly marked dials — that sets them apart from the more technically advanced CL. They are just so convenient and always ready for action without having to check settings on a small screen or through the viewfinder.
Back in August, I added a used, black Leica X2 to the silver X1 I’ve owned for several years. I’ve been in and out of the X models — including the superb X-Vario — over the past six or seven years. But there is just something about them that keeps pulling me back.
Now I’m not short of the odd camera or two, but I’ve had tremendous fun with the X2 since I bought it. Unlike the X1, which has to make do with the screen or an optical finder, the X2 accommodates the VF2 electronic finder as used on the M240 and X Vario. These days, of course, it is pretty basic. But for some, access to an EVF is an essential factor, and it certainly makes the camera more comfortable to use (at the cost of extra bulk).
The X2 also has an improved sensor (16MP instead of 12 MP) and faster autofocus (although after five years, as with the EVF, that’s not something to get excited about), and makes a more rounded package than the X1. John Shingleton will disagree, however, since he is wedded-until-death-do-them-part with his X1, dodgy battery compartment or no.
But just what is it about the X cameras that continues to attract and, indeed, has raised them to cult status — particularly on the evangelical beaches of New South Wales.
Well, the attraction lies in the small size and functionality of these little gems. Nothing is there that isn’t necessary. And, as I’ve already said, having aperture and shutter speed dials visible on the top plate is nirvana. Both dials have an A for auto setting, enabling the user to juggle the three main modes — full auto, aperture priority and shutter priority. Is there anything else you need?
But it goes deeper than that. Somehow these cameras, whether X1 or X2, continue to amaze with the quality of their images. Against all the odds, and despite advances in sensor technology, ISO capability and processing engines, these cameras are still capable of excellent results. John Shingleton proves this regularly. And my efforts with the X2 have been more than adequate.
The very underrated X Vario is also a camera that continues to impress. I sold mine but would buy another if one fell into my lap at the right price. Slow the lens may be, but overall the results from this camera are outstanding.
Is there room for fixed-lens cameras of this nature in 2018? Well, the Leica Q continues to sell well — I imagine it has been one of the company’s most successful digital productions, if not the most successful. And Fuji remains devoted to the X100 series which came along after the X1 and rather took the wind out of its sales. Even the little Ricoh GR shows that there is a market for compact APS-C all-in-one cameras.
I have a feeling we could see another 35mm fixed-lens compact as a successor to the X models. I don’t think the clock will be turned back, though. Any such newcomer will more than likely look more like the CL than on any of the older X formats, attractive as they still are. That’s perhaps a pity because we would lose that comforting direct access to functions that is the hallmark of all the X line.
We can hope. In the meantime, do not under any circumstances, dismiss the X1, X2, X-Vario or X as used buys. All were superb cameras, ahead of their time in image quality, and all possess superb lenses that, if bought separately, would cost more than the camera and lens at today’s used prices.
My X2 might be all of six years old, but many would claim it is capable of giving more pleasure than an M10, CL or even, dare I say, the Q. It’s just so right.