Home Features Vive la Difference: Leica X1 and X2 compacts compared

Vive la Difference: Leica X1 and X2 compacts compared

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 Leica X1 and X2. Their major deficiency today is the lack of an in-built viewfinder. Users have to make do with the lcd screen, but they can attach viewfinders to the hot shoe. The X2 has the Olympus VF2 attached, a cheaper alternative to the identical Leica VF-2; it provides full EVF capability. The X1 has the lovely metal Voigtländer 35mm OVF attached; old school but it works well, and the green focus lock light on the camera is still visible in the periphery of vision when using it. Leica X1 and X2. Their major deficiency today is the lack of an in-built viewfinder. Users have to make do with the lcd screen, but they can attach viewfinders to the hot shoe. The X2 has the Olympus VF2 attached, a cheaper alternative to the identical Leica VF-2; it provides full EVF capability. The X1 has the lovely metal Voigtländer 35mm OVF attached; old school but it works well, and the green focus lock light on the camera is still visible in the periphery of vision when using it.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same”
(loose translation from the 1849 French of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr).

After years of seeing photographers wanting to downsize and go to smaller and lighter kit, we ended 2018 with a burst of full-frame mania. Larger and heavier cameras, the marketing gurus deserve their end-of-year bonuses.

But many avid readers and correspondents of Macfilos still acknowledge that there is a place for the smaller compact cameras. They are simply a part of an undercurrent that just won’t go away. Indeed, there has been significant rediscovery of the superb Leica X series cameras which will soon be a decade on from their introduction.

It was with this in mind that I recently took a Leica X1 and an X2 on a short vacation stay at a beach-house way south of Sydney. There was actually more fishing than photography (yes, we did catch fish, and had a couple of great evening meals). But on the last day I did make a point of getting the cameras out with the aim of making some real-world, real-time direct comparisons. And doing so in low light at the start and end of day.

Morning light

Well, I got that one wrong. My colleague and your friend John Shingleton, aka Mr X1, continually tells me to get out and catch the morning light. So I rose bright and early and went down to the river mouth just as the sun rose. Damn, I could have stayed in bed, the sun rose directly across the river where I intended to find subject material. If I had shot those photos I would have fried the sensors (probably not, but hey, do forgive dramatic effect). So I looked off to the side, 90 degrees from the sun, and saw some rock formations that could suit my purpose.

Above: Beach rocks in the morning – X1 (left) and X2 (right) – Click to enlarge. Below: Closer up, the shade rendered quite differently. X1 (left) and X2 (right)

So, what else to do? Looking behind me and to the side there were some old boat sheds. Photographs taken within the same minute with each of the X1 and X2 provided a further basis for comparison. And a group of early morning dog walkers provided another opportunity. Actually, aside from concentrating on photography, I was really intrigued by one member of the group who was out in the water swimming with his dog. Sharks have been caught in that estuary, and early morning and late afternoon are feeding times. But maybe the early morning swimmer was smarter than I thought; his dog might have been his decoy.

Above: Early morning boatsheds, X1 (left), then X2 (right). Click to enlarge

Dogs and their Masters, early morning low light. X1 then X2. Click to enlarge

Camera settings and outputs

For each of the cameras the settings were the same. Images are jpegs. Major settings were AWB with grid neutral, jpeg super fine, standard film preset with medium high sharpening, sRGB colour space. And centre weighted focus and auto exposure. The X1 did have the firmware 2.0 upgrade. Otherwise all other settings as per factory default, and the same for each camera.

I decided to undertake the exercise solely as a jpeg comparison. For readers who prefer to shoot RAW, the outcomes and conclusions from this sort of comparison could be quite different.

The autofocus of the X1 with its version 2.0 firmware was only slightly slower than the X2. Not enough to be meaningful, and although neither of them are fast at focussing by today‘s standards they are quite adequate for stills photography. It was only in switch-on and wake-from-sleep routines where the X1 was markedly slower. But again, not enough to be deal breaker if choosing between the two cameras.

It was in the image outputs that I saw most difference. To my eye the jpeg engine of the X1 rendered images with a cooler, slightly bluer colour, especially in shadows, compared with a slightly warmer yellower hue from the X2. Now I don’t know whether this would be a general finding for X1/X2 comparisons and whether it is a general property of firmware processing of jpegs from these cameras. I simply present those observations based on the individual examples that I determined that day.

Later the same day

Towards evening I again took the cameras out for a walk. But once again the light wasn’t cooperating. Clouds were rolling in as a change in weather approached. However, I did get the opportunity to catch comparisons as breaks in the clouds allowed some sunshine through.

Above: Evening, looking across the river mouth to where the sun rose in the morning. X1 then X2 less than a minute apart. Below: Also evening, looking back along the ocean beach. X1 then X2. The two cameras do render colour differently in this light. Click to enlarge images.

Also evening, looking back along the ocean beach. X1 then X2. The two cameras do render colour differently in this light (click to enlarge)

Overall results looked the same as in the morning. The X1 provided jpegs with a cooler look than the warmer hues from the X2. Enough difference to be noticeable, but either camera on its own is pretty darn good. And certainly the ever-changing light had a bigger bearing on the output than the inherent jpeg processing in the cameras.

Lessons learned (for me at least)

  • For image output, the light is more important than the camera. We all know that anyway.

  • In processing their jpegs the X1 and the X2 do render slightly differently, based on a comparison sample size of one. Especially with regard to shade and lower light on subject material. But I’m sure that they could be tweaked to be indistinguishable with some fine adjustments of the AWB grid.

  • Image quality from each of X1 and X2 is very good, and satisfying. Unless there’s a need to print big or crop heavily the 12mp X1 is every bit as good as the 16mp X2. Some might suggest it is actually better given the larger individual pixel size of the X1.

Just as enjoyable as the image outputs is the simple and straightforward pleasure of using the X1 and X2 cameras, and others in the X series. I do ask myself why did I sell my little brick, the X Vario? The X1, with version 2.0 software, is quite useable for stills photography, as Mr X1 has been showing us for years, and with version 2.0 firmware actually quite similar in speed to the X2.

If you are considering getting a used X1 or X2 to enjoy their lightweight compact APS-C sensor technology and retro style, then either will suit you well. Just get a good one and and enjoy. Keep it and treasure it.

Make sure to get priorities right. If the light is good, then that’s the time for photography. I learned that the hard way last week. But if the fishing is good, then that’s the time for fishing.

And do swim upstream against the Zeitgeist. Continue to maintain that there is a place for great little compact cameras as the herd frenzy turns to heavier, bulkier full-frame (and larger) mirrorless monsters. Just remember …..

……The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Note: if deciding between these two cameras as a sensible used buy, do bear in mind that the X1 has no electronic viewfinder. You can use an optical viewfinder which works very well. John Shingleton, Mike Evans and I all enjoy using the X1 with the OVF. There is a useful little green light near the hot-shoe which blinks and then steadies to signify a focus hit, so it’s easy to use.

The X2, on the other hand, is built to accept the Leica VF-2 EVF (or the cheaper Olympus version). For some users, this makes focusing much easier. The only downsides are the cost of buying the accessory finder (which is going to be a bit more than a 35mm optical finder) and the fact that it sits on a little hump, introduced under the hot-shoe as a spacer for the electrical connection, and it therefore a little unsightly. It is also similar vintage to the camera, so not too exciting. But whichever you choose, X1 or X2, you will have a lot of fun.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, on my x1’s One has original s/w other upgraded, to my eye the same difference exists as with your comparison, and my X2 is closer to the upgraded version. Never tried comparison to XE, will give me something to do this week when the snow stops this week here in NYS Adirondacks.

    • Hi John, It would be nice to see some snow covered Adirondacks Mountain images from this time of year – I bet that is an amazing sight to behold. Dave

      • Hello, John W. I’m with Dave on this. Would love to see some images.
        – And interested in your comment that you also feel that you see the same image properties comparing X series cameras (jpegs I assume). I did wonder whether the slightly cooler look produced by the X1 (sometimes but not always) could be a property of my example, or more general across X1 cameras. I haven’t yet tuned my AWB on the X1 to a slightly more red-yellow bias, but I’m guessing that some fine tuning could get the X1 looking a bit warmer, similar to my X2. That’s another playtime for another day. Cheers, W.

  2. Excellent piece Wayne, thanks.

    I have owned and sold both, although I had the XE and the X1. On balance I preferred the XE, I liked the ability to look down through the Olympus EVF. I liked the output from both equally, and I loved the simplicity of the menu systems on both cameras. I thought the X1 was a little more elegant.

    But when it comes down to it, for sheer practicality, the Fuji X100 walks over both of them, and it doesn’t have an "inny-outy" either.

    • I’ve owned three X100s in various iterations over the years. While I can accept that they better the X1/2 in many ways — if additional features are an improvement — I never gelled with them as I have done with the Leicas. On one point I do agree, though, I prefer a static lens to one that retracts. Apart from the inconvenience of the extending process, there’s always the risk of dust — a problem that I’m told was particularly prevalent on the D-Lux

      • Thanks StephenJ and Michael (and John N above) for your comments relating the X1/X2 world with the Fuji X100 series. I did own an original X100 for a couple of years. It was a great camera technically in its time, but I do agree with Michael that the X1/X2 and other cameras of the Leica X series are for the heart.
        My most interesting experience with the X100 was photographing a retired General wearing all his medals, and his family at a Military parade in Mongolia in 2014. His family rolled with laughter at me using "such an old camera !!" But it did provide aq wonderful image of the soldier and his daughter, which they appreciated a lot.

  3. i really loved my X1. I loved the size. I loved the form factor. I loved the images it gave me.

    For me the only drawback was that there was no EVF. I tried the OVF and i never liked using the OVF (i sold it way before i traded in my X1) .

    I ultimately traded the X1 in for a partial payment towards my Q. I love my Q but there will always be a place for the X1 in my memories.

    • Cheers, Paul. I continue to wait for a Q 35mm or even better 40mm.
      I realize that the Q can crop ok to 50mm equivalent, and that the next Q will likely crop to 75mm but I’d really like one that I could crop out to 90mm or maybe a bit further.
      In the meantime the X1/X2 provide good images at the 35mm FOV that I am beginning to like.

  4. Thanks Wayne, very interesting. As a ‘Part 2’ I’d be interested to read your thoughts on the OOC black and white JPEGS from both cameras as those from the X1 are said to have a particularly nice look. The X1 was my first Leica and the XVario my second and I continue to enjoy both of them, accepting the benefits and limitations of the APSC sensors. As an aside I’ve printed large (that is IKEA’s largest frame) photos in B&W from the X1 and they have come out very well. Kevin

  5. Very illuminating article, thank you, Wayne with very telling comparisons. It’s extraordinarily interesting what leads one to go with a camera – and even more to stay with it. I had an X100S and sold it. I have an X-T20 and all points in the direction of selling it. By contrast the X2 is staying for the time being, though I’m not really a fixed 35mm person, and the X-Vario, though its difficult without the handgrip and clumsy with, does much better! I think it’s the menus and the controls that win out for me on the X2 and XV, but I keep telling myself I "ought" to be able to like the X100F with its additional possibility of going to 50mm with the add-on lens when I’m tired of 35mm and generally find 50mm more to my taste. For sheer pleasure of holding and using, the Sony a6000 with the Zeiss 14-70mm (27-105) f4 wins hands down, but I prefer leica OOC colour. So here we go round the mulberry bush……

  6. Thank you for this article Wayne. My love of my X typ 113 is well enough known. However having looked closely at these images tonight on my Mac, I do have a preference for the X2 images, they seem to have a similar colour profile to my X.

    I reckon some of those images would look epic with a small amount of processing too – sorry I like to polish my work with a little Lightroom love, and always use Raw files.

    I do wonder (as Kevin has below) what the monochrome settings would give out side by side – Mike, might be another angle for another article by Wayne. 🙂 Sorry Wayne – that would interest me, as I love my Leica monochrome output.

    Looking forward to reading more comparison work now.

    Dave S

    • Hello Dave and Kevin (below). Monochrome, hhhmmm. I very rarely shoot mono. But I do like seeing mono images of architecture, technology, and interesting people. So, where to do the A-B comparison? My choice will be the railway station at late afternoon rush hour. Could be interesting. Thanks for prompting.

      • Okay – You have wet my appetite to see the results, I would look for a local carnival, festival or event that would allow you to get in amongst the people in unusual circumstances.

        Roll on your next X1 vs X2 article. 🙂

  7. Thanks for your interesting article Wayne. From your comparison I prefer the X2 but I may be biased because I love my X2 for many reasons: IQ, the quality of the little elmarit which really shines whatever the situation and the size of course. Even with the handgrip, it’s small enough to take it anywhere.

    Haven’t tried monochrome yet. Anyway I’d rather shoot colour and then convert the images I want to black and white with lightroom. I only shoot B&W with the ricoh gr high contrast mode. It needs some adjustments before finding the nice balance with grain but once it’s fixed, the output is really nice.

    However I’m really looking forward to your black and white comparison.

    Jean

    • Thank you for your message Jean. I do sometimes wonder which of the two I would consolidate back to if I was to keep only one of them.
      I’d crystallise it down to form vs function. Regarding form, I really like the grey/black look of the X1 more than the classic silver/black of the X2 (as in header pic of the article above). But for function I do like the evf and in-camera jpeg engine of the X2.
      It’s a really close call. They are both examples of compact elegant excellence.

  8. Very interesting comparison, Wayne.

    There’s certainly a difference in the two outputs. The X2 looks a bit warmer, more contrasty and more saturated in the yellows/reds. I actually wonder if the difference is mainly in the auto-white-balance of the two camera’s rather than the colour profiles. As you note, the X1 seems a bit cooler in general, with more saturation in most of the blue skies. But interestingly not as evident in the boatshed blue.

    Thanks for sharing. I have an X100 but if i came across a cheap(ish) X1 i’d still be tempted, just to see why you guys all rave about the X series!

    All the best

    Jason

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