Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leica X1 and X2: A monochrome duo

Leica X1 and X2: A monochrome duo

An early morning experiment with the Leica X1 and X2 set to black-and-white to capture the soul of the occasion.

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“When you photograph people in colour you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph in black and white you photograph their souls.” — Ted Grant, Canadian Photographer (also known as the Father of Canadian Photojournalism).

Interesting words. I’d never thought about black and white that way. In fact, I’ve never thought much about black and white. In film days I did do a darkroom course and dabbled in the darkroom, but it was always easier to get images on colour slides, or colour prints processed by a commercial lab. And with digital I’ve generally stayed with colour.

Sometimes life’s messages are just right there in front of you

In a recent Macfilos article I made some simple comparisons of colour image outputs from two future digital classics, the Leica X1 of 2009 and the Leica X2 of 2012. What I didn’t expect was some comment asking how the black and white images from these cameras compared.

This prompted me to catch some black and white images, and what better time to do so than on my way to an early morning coffee appointment with Mr X1, John Shingleton.

Settings were the same for each camera. Images are jpegs. Major settings were auto white balance with grid neutral, jpeg super fine, medium high sharpening, auto exposure, auto ISO and auto shutter speed. The X1 did have the firmware 2.0 upgrade.

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

Leica X1 and X2. Two compact cameras. Older generation than the latest whizz bang
offerings, but future classics. And fun to use. Click to enlarge

Buildings and Machines.

Now, I’m aware that many B&W shooters tend towards architecture and engineering. Or should that be the other way around i.e Architecture and Engineering photographers often tend towards B&W. So what better subjects than a hotel and a pair of motor motor cycles on the way to the coffee shop.

Too early for anyone to be awake. X1
X2 – click to enlarge
Modern tributes to classic design – X1
X2 – Click to enlarge

What was interesting in heading into the B&W realm with these cameras is that they each have two different B&W settings in their menu. They are “B&W natural” and “B&W high contrast”. In playing with the cameras it was instructive to see the degree and nature of difference between the two settings for each camera.

Leica X1 B&W natural (above) and High Contrast (below)
Leica X2, B&W Natural (above) and High Contrast (below)

Yes, there’s a difference in contrast in those comparisons, but not as much as I expected. Overall, I think I prefer to slightly bolder look of the high contrast setting, so if ever I got serious about B&W with these cameras I’d likely default to this setting.

People Shots

It was at the coffee shop that I was able to get a brief comparison of the two cameras for informal portraits. Sitting opposite was Mr X1. What better time to try some close focus B&W. And also test the Ted Grant quote at the start of this writeup, and see whether B&W does manifest the soul of a person more than we see in a comparable colour image.

Above: John at the coffee shop X2 colour, then X2 B&W high contrast default setting, then X1 high contrast. The X2 has maybe just missed focus compared with the X1, the luck of the draw when shooting handheld at 1/30 second at close focus. But the b&W rendering is still there to be seen. Click to enlarge.

Bottom line for me was instructive:

  • I should use B&W more often.
  • I do prefer the high-contrast setting more than the natural setting on these Leica compacts.
  • And, harking back to the quote at the top of the page, maybe B&W does show the soul of a person more than colour. At the weekly coffee meet, John can be variously serious and light-hearted, happy or a bit grumpy (rarely, thankfully), but always interesting and very willing to share an opinion. Black and white probably catches these aspects better.

So, where to from here? I guess I don’t need to keep both cameras, but I will certainly hold one as a classic Leica digital compact. How to decide? Actually, the two cameras are not very different. The lenses are the same, and the dimensions and weight quite similar.

The X2 has a 16MP sensor compared with the 12MP of the X1, but individual pixels of the X1 are larger. The X2 has the silver/black “look”, but I do quite like the grey/black of the X1. The X2 might have faster autofocus, but not markedly faster compared with the X1 with its firmware upgrade. And both these cameras are slow compared with modern competitors.

The bump on top of the X2 accommodates the tilting electronic viewfinder with realtime information, but the X1 looks quite cool and is very usable with a classic Voigtländer metal viewfinder attached. They are both wonderful little future classics.

Which one to keep? A quality problem.

Above: Oh, OK, something for the colour types. A great spot for coffee. And then the hotel in colour for those who want to compare with the B&W. In both cases X1 first, then X2. Click to enlarge.

23 COMMENTS

  1. As a solution as to which camera to keep Wayne, may I suggest the following.

    Keep the X1 as a future classic, it is the real classic of the two, there is no top wart.

    Because you want your future classic to be a working camera, best not to overexercise it, keep the X2 as a classic user.

    Job done.

      • Thank you StephenJ and Michael. What you say is what I’ve been thinking all along.
        But the problem for me is that I’m not a collector. So the X1 probably should go to a better home, while I use the technically slightly better X2…..but gee that X1 is nice, and truly enjoyable….. There I go, spinning my wheels again.

  2. Buy more of them, ha! As an aside when photography was young and here in the states, photographers first approached the American Indians, they were reluctant to have photo taken because they were sure it captured their soul. thanks for article you have given me idea for small project I want to do with x’s.

    • Good one John. I certainly hadn’t thought in that direction. I’ll have to keep an eye out for a 113 and a replacement for the long gone XV.
      Seriously tho, will be interested to see results of your “small project (you) want to do with the x’s”.

  3. I raise my hand and admit I was the one who first raised the question about the B&W JPEG output. Thanks Wayne for satisfying my curiosity. My only comment is that both cameras make beautiful B&W images.

    • Yes, and I do thank you Kevin for suggesting it. As I said, I rarely enter the B&W realm, but I did find it fun, and I think I understand what Ted Grant meant.

  4. I came to the conclusion that I preferred the tonal gradations of the normal settings on both cameras. Given the choice, I couldn’t not go for the X2 (which in fact I did), but given that I more often use 50 or 70mm, the X-Vario (also normal B&W) is my “Leica monochrome”. But I found your comparisons and reflections really interesting.
    John.

    • Thanks John. As I prepared the write-up there were other images as well, and I also thought that sometimes the normal settings presented well compared with the slightly bolder look of the high contrast setting. But overall I think I preferred the stronger white thru black tones of the latter. Individual tastes rightly vary.

  5. Thanks Wayne for the enlightening comparison.

    If I were you I’d keep both cameras. Both have their own quality and you might end up missing one. I’ve always ended up missing the leica gear I sold to finance other cameras or other projects.
    I don’t have the x1 but the rendering is really good. I like the photo of the motorbike with the x1, to my eye in between the B&W X2 high contrast and the natural one. There’s a nice palette of grey and black that you may miss with the X2. The X2 with B&W high contrats is more like the way I process B&W. In my exerience of B&W you really focus more on composition as colours can be distracting sometimes and I think the viewer focuses more on what is at the heart of the image. Thanks again
    Jean

    • Cheers Jean. Deep down I know you’re right, Just as I did when I read StephenJ and Michael providing the same commentary above.
      “Never sell your toys” – Maybe I will have to adhere to that, and smile.

  6. For me I am so glad you pushed the boat out and give this a go. The images in monochrome are worthy of both cameras. However like you suggest, I prefer the slightly more higher contrast versions, as they are nice to my eye.

    I am curious to the time lapse in the three images of John. Not because John took his glassed off in the process, but because the two ladies chatting in the background hardly moved, must have been a better conversation point than the old guys with their film cameras on the table next to them. lol.

    Happy to see more B&W work Wayne out of both these lovely bits of kit.

    • Gday Dave.
      Correction: “…old guys with their film cameras” should be “….ancient guys with their heritage digital cameras”. And yes, I’m sure the ladies were talking about something more interesting than old digital cameras, but they sure weren’t as animated as John and I are when we really get going in coffee discussions
      Hoping you also use your 113 to shoot mono straight out of camera sometimes, and then wave your arms excitedly as you consider them.

        • Well called Kevin. I could have used that in the article if I had thought of it.
          In actual fact, I’m the flat white or cappuccino guy. John starts with a macchiato – it kick starts him into whatever is the first discussion topic.

      • Okay – you win, if I get a chance in the coming weeks I will do a SOOC mono jpg episodic with my x typ 113. Just for you. Well and Mike as it will give him another article. I will see what the weekend brings as I have a few days off for a change.

        Shame you camera arm didn’t capture the Zebra mentioned below. Such disappointments occur sometimes in photography, but surely being arrested wouldn’t have been so bad, would it? 🙂

  7. Wayne, a marginally interesting story- albeit it strictly for the gearheads.
    What does mystify me is why such a dreary choice of subjects-motorbikes- they are not even Harleys for heaven’s sake-the hotel and worst of all-me.
    With an almost continuous procession of objects of outstanding natural beauty parading along the esplanade every morning you could easily have taken some more engaging photos for the story and also guaranteed Mike a big lift in readership.
    Only this week if you recollect there was an ideal subject for a black and white and bronze photo
    towelling down just a few metres away from us.

      • Well, John, Dave and Michael, I must admit that the wonderfully proportioned Zebra print swimsuit would have provided an excellent B&W wildlife image.
        But I felt that it was more important to consider these cameras for informal B&W portraiture, given the quote at the top of the article.
        Besides, if John or I had pulled out a camera and photographed the zebra we would have been arrested. That’s if it was real, at the time I told John that it wasn’t a zebra, that I was sure he was hallucinating.

        More seriously, to John I have to say that it isn’t an article for gearheads. It’s for those of us who are lucky enough to have wonderful little pieces of classic retro digital kit, and are interested to see how they will present B&W images. Note that: it’s ultimately about the images they produce (I will accept further commentary from you in writing at coffee next week 🙂

  8. A great article. I loved my X2, the first Leica camera that I bought. What a great idea to have it set up as a Monochrome camera. I think I would use it more, it has been sidelined in recent years in favour of M series cameras. My M10 is wonderful. I’m glad I kept the X2 though!

  9. Thanks John.
    Yes, there is something cute about the little X1 and X2 cameras. They hold their heads high as the feeding frenzy of full frame and larger continues.
    I do like your idea of dedicating one to monochrome. Hhhmmm. I might do it with the X1 mono and the X2 colour. Could be a fun way of keeping them both.

    • I just happened to see a used X1 with OVF at Red Dot Cameras in London for £499. They don’t up up often because most of us just keep them, but when they do appear the price is remarkable. This is an eight or nine year old digital camera that cost about £1,100 new (from memory, don’t quote me). The X2 fetches more of course, but offers a lot for the money.

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