Home Accessories Leica X 36mm Viewfinder: Form and Function

Leica X 36mm Viewfinder: Form and Function

2288
47

It’s interesting to read about the Leica film cameras. Which ones have become very desirable? Which ones are on the truly collectable list? I’ve never owned a Leica film camera, but thinking about them leads on to the Leica digital cameras. Will any of them become truly collectable? Are there any that could achieve cult status? Or will sensor decay ultimately consign them to shelf specimens of special times that once was?

In that regard, I’ve decided that the one digital camera that I won’t part with is my Leica X1. In the X series, I’ve also owned an X Vario and an X2, but both are now gone, and I’ve not (yet) tried an X Typ 113 or an X-U.

The X1 is my bet for a potential classic in the Leica digital series. Now over a decade old and featuring a mere 12mp APS-C sensor, it is still a wonderfully compact little camera. And the large pixel size combined with that fixed 36mm-equivalent lens provides an image quality that many newer compact cameras could only wish for.

Above X1 images taken in Cambodia. Below, taken at Ulura, Australia

One irritation, one solution

The one shortcoming that is annoying with the X1 (and other X series cameras) is the lack of a viewfinder. They were made at a time when the camera world thought that all we would need or want was a functioning LCD screen. It soon became apparent that using an LCD in brightly lit situations is a problem (that we are now all aware of). Furthermore, the careful holding of a camera to the eye does provide increased stability in cameras which lack the latest image stabilisation technologies. So, the solution was to use an accessory hot shoe-mounted viewfinder.

After a very short experience with a Russian KMZ 35mm viewfinder (horrible at all levels, for me at least), the favoured product over the last couple of years has been a Voigtländer 35mm viewfinder. It has lovely retro styling and feel, is much smaller than the clunky KMZ, and seemed to be a solution to the requirement of an added viewfinder. The 35mm perimeter lines inside the overall view were well defined and crisp. Its metal body gives a feeling of craftsmanship and engineering. It seemed to do its job well.

The Leica alternative

I didn’t realise what I had been missing until I picked up a mint-condition, used Leica 36mm viewfinder last week. It is the viewfinder which was originally listed as an accessory for the X1. I hadn’t considered one as its price seemed to include the dreaded Leica tax. Beyond that, I thought that the Voigtländer was as good as it gets and naively didn’t believe that there would be an advantage in moving over to the Leica product.

How wrong I was. An excellent price on the ‘Bay led me to pull the trigger and it soon arrived in the post. The first view with it on the camera showed me how hobbled I had been with the Voigtländer. Yes, the Leica finder has a plastic body, not metal like the Voigtländer, but it is nicely finished and looks good. I do prefer its look and lightness when placed on the little X1. But way more important is that it far exceeds the Voigtländer in image brightness and magnification. It’s a huge difference. I had no idea what I had been missing.

Looking from the front, the two viewfinders have very similar dimensions: The Leica is 26mm in height and 29mm wide, very similar to the Voigtländer’s 27mm x 25mm. The few mm extra width of the Leica device isn’t really noticeable, given its rectangular presentation compared with the round Voigtländer.

The Leica is significantly longer at 37mm v 30mm, but I find that to be an advantage as those extra mm sit it back from the camera so it isn’t necessary to press so hard against the face when using. To my mind, however, the really important dimension is the 15mm-diameter eyepiece aperture of the Leica compared with the 10mm Voigtländer. It’s just so much easier to “see” and more dynamic.

So, dear readers, if you have persevered this far, here are some questions for you to ponder. Will the X1 ever be considered a digital classic? What about other members of the Leica X family? Has anyone else ever seen the major difference in image presentation between the Leica 36mm and the Voigtländer 35mm viewfinders? Which looks better on the camera? Which one would you choose? All opinions are right, there is no wrong answer.

For me, I know which one is the keeper, and which one goes on the ‘Bay soon. The future looks much brighter for me.

Read more from Wayne Gerlach

47 COMMENTS

  1. I’m so glad you’ve taken this theme up, Wayne. I have an X2 which also produces stunning images – when I get round to using it. I was also considering the Voigtländer VF, liking the contrast between its roundness and the camera’s squareness. But then I got an X-Vario and have limped along with the Olympus EVF on the X2 which also takes it. But it’s definitely out of character with the camera. I wouldn’t have known there was a difference between Leica and VL viewfinders unless you had said. Now I will order the Leica and maybe that will stop the X2 from being axed for a Fuji X100V ! I haven’t been a 35mm focal length person yet – despite John Shingleton’s encouragement and example with the X1, but who knows?

    • Hello John. We are quite aligned. I too had both the X2 and X Vario at one stage, along with the Olympus VF2.pmwhich I used on both of them. Travelled with them in Asia and the Australian outback. But tended to find the Oly evf to be out of proportion when travelling. I never felt really comfortable using it – a very personal view, I realize that many folks find it to be fine and enjoy the Leica/Oly evf, and having the info in the evf is a real advantage.

      And I too am still on the 35mm comfort quest, but I’m getting there. Maybe I need to use the X2 more, but I do like the laziness of my favourite, the PanyLeica D Lux 109.

      • I have the D-lux7 (my latest) which to all intents and purposes is the same as your 109. I use it a lot in the square format – a whole new way of seeing. Quite different from seeing in 4:3 or 3:2 and deciding to crop in pp. But I haven’t bonded with any of the others like I did (do still!) with the DLux4.

  2. Wayne, the little black sack is intended for mild protection when the camera is carried in a larger bag. There is also a grey leather erc for the X1. The small leather case for the Leica optical viewfinder can be attached to a neck or bag strap.
    I find the detachable finder less useful indoors and is secured in one of these Leica containers.
    Yes, I have long argued that the Leica X1 is a classic camera. I find it very disappointing that it was not developed further. I attribute that to the lack of continuity within Leica top management and its overworked design teams. There seems to be precious little feed back from user experience into future derivatives of compact Leica cameras..

    • Thanks for your interest DavidA. Given that I have only recently picked up the Leica viewfinder I found it strange when it arrived in the cloth bag contained within the original box. But it was clear that the accompanying grey leather case was never a part of that original pack. We’re they sold separately? But that grey case sure is cute, almost as cute as the viewfinder itself.

  3. Thanks Wayne for this enlightening article about the Leica viewfinder I use the Leica EVF with my X2 and love the tiltable ability but still looking for the OVF. Hope I can find a decent used one when I’m no longer confined. Thanks for sharing

    • Hello Jean. I used than Olympus VF2 on the X2. It did the job really well, but I must admit that I always thought it a bit oversized for purpose. I do realize that’s a rather shallow reason for not being happy with it. I plead guilty.

  4. The X2 was my first “real” digital Leica after the Panasonic remakes-which were and still are (D-Lux6for example) extraordinary. I still have them all but when I go out socially (if and when again…) the X2 has and is my pick up as I leave the house. As a travel camera I prefer it to the CL and TL2 and with its handy little charger that just plugs straight in it can’t be beat! Not to say anything if it’s image quality which is as good as any APS-C on the market now. X1 and X2 are classics! I use both the Leica 36 and the EVF – which tilts – but the non digital one is a pleasure to look through.

    • Thank you for further insight Tony. I had the X2 and the X1 simultaneously at one stage. It really was a toss of the coin regarding which one I kept. I chose the X1. I know that t’Editor Michael went in the direction of the X2. Like I said, there is no wrong answer. Continue to enjoy the X2, it does have certain advantages over the earlier X1.

      • As you say, I have both the X1 and X2. The X2 with the EVF does offer some advantages although it strays from the Barnack formula because of that step under the hot-shoe. I’ve always thought that a Heath Robinson solution to enable the EVF’s plug (which was designed for Olympus cameras and the M240, of course) was too low to avoid the screen on the X2. The X2 is thus the ugly duckling of the duo, although probably a more satisfying tool. But for simplicity, especially without the optical viewfinder, the original X1 is the one that feels more like classic material.

    • Hello Rick. I must admit that I wasn’t familiar with the Ricoh GV-2, so I had to look it up. It seems to have a similar design style to the Leica, but I see that it is listed at B&H as a 28mm. Maybe I’ve got that wrong. Interesting alternative nevertheless, and worth a look.

      • The GV-2 resides in the Macfilos cellar, sadly unused since the Richo GR gave up the ghost. It is indeed 28mm and therefore not ideal (but not impossible) for use on the X1. I must try it. My recollection, though, is that it is no better than the Voigtländer. Ricoh also offer the GV-1 for the GR. It is bigger, indeed similar in size to the Leica models. It has two frames, the standard GR 28mm and 21mm for use with the wide-angle accessory lens.

  5. Interesting article, I totally agree that the X1 is, or certainly should be, a future classic, as I love shooting with mine and as you say, the image quality is superb in the right circumstances. I have been using the Olympus detachable viewfinder which works pretty well, but I would be fascinated to see the difference between that and the Leica version, as they look very similar in shape and design.

  6. You dont need me to answer the question truly you already know what I would say, of course the X1 will make classic status. For me it was the camera that brought about my truly loved, and never to let go X typ 113, which produces stunning images. I have considered finding an eye piece to see if that improves my love of the camera – or improves its versatility and widens it use.

    The image quality out of my X, is always a thing to behold, and I only prefer using my Df when light is challenging, or I am indoors, in those circumstances the Df is king.

    I am now wondering if I can find a decent eye piece option for my x 113. It would at least give me something to tinker with when being outdoors with a camera returns.

    Keep safe folks.

    • Gday Dave. I think there will always be folks who respect the X series cameras. I’ve looked at the X 113 but haven’t gone there….yet. Never say never.

    • Hi Dave,
      I’m looking at picking up a used X Typ 113 as my first Leica camera. I currently shoot with a Fujifilm X-T3 and Ricoh GRII. Would you say the X-Typ 113 is worth it used? (around £650). A lot of the reviews I’ve read aren’t too favourable for this camera but then I came across your images online and like the look of what the camera can produce. Or maybe I should look for an X1 as a walkaround camera and sell the Ricoh (I find 28mm equivalent a little too wide for my taste).

      • I can step in here but won’t pre-empt Dave’s view. I tested the 113 when it first came out and it is definitely a worthwhile buy at around £600. You’d pay £400-£450 for an X2 but I think the Typ 113 would hold its value well. In this respect, older Leicas are different from equivalent cameras from other manufacturers. The X1 is a case in point – now 10 or 11 years old and still fetching some 35% of the original cost. If you can also buy the tilting viewfinder I think you would have a sensible buy. But let’s see what Dave has to say.

        • Thanks for the reply Mike. Yes the old Leicas seem to hold their value well. I’ve just had a quick look on eBay for an X1 after watching a YouTube video Mattias Burling put out a couple of years ago. He said it could be found for as little as $200…. The ones I saw on eBay were all £400+!
          The test shots from the X Typ113 received a lot of negative comments on DPReview and the reviews I’ve read online have been so-so, that’s why I’d be interested to hear what Dave has to say as someone who’s had the camera for a while and put it through real world use.

          • I wouldn’t worry about these comments. You can read similar about the X1 and X2 and, frankly, any Leica over the past ten years. If you like the results then nit-picking by reviewers is of little concern. I find all the X cameras, from the X1 to the X Vario, produce excellent images. I wish I had kept my X Vario and I really enjoyed the X 113 even though I didn’t own one.

      • Hi Nick,

        I love my little X typ, its a really useful camera. I remember reading all of the negativity when I researched buying mine. And was a little apprehensive about doing so, but one or two, who knew what they could do, convinced me it was a worthy purchase. I wrote an article about it on here, and my flickr page has many images new and old on there, as i still use the camera almost daily.

        Image quality is amazing out of it, once you get the hang of it. I post process the raw files, which look a little soft on first glance, but are easily resolved.

        I also used it as my sole photographic outlet for nearly two years, and then added a Df to the kit bag.

        I will be adding the EVF to mine once the shops reopen, just to enhance my use of it.

        Hope this helps, feel free to ask more questions, and the price you are quoting on here looks healthy.

        Dave

        • Thanks for the reply Dave. I came across your 2017 article and that’s what got me interested in the X Typ 113. I’ve read the various reviews online (Steve Huff, Ming Thein etc) and started to question whether the camera was worth buying but I love the photos you’ve taken and posted on here. I’ll be sure to check out your Flickr too.
          To further complicate the decision I’ve been offered a barely used Sony RX1R for £650. Now I’ve always liked the look of this camera, full frame in such a small camera with a wonderful Zeiss lens attached. I have read though that it can be frustrating and not very enjoyable to use. I’m sure the Leica would have much better usability and it looks gorgeous too in brown and silver. Decisions decisions!

          • I owned an RX1 for time (the original version) and it was ok, but somehow rather uninvolving. The fact that you can buy it so cheaply is perhaps something to consider. The Leica Q, which is a far better camera, is considerably more expensive. However, it would be a good idea to try an RX1 before you buy. It is no bigger than the Leica X113 but has the big attraction of the larger sensor.

          • Hi Nick,

            While I cannot comment on the RX1R, I found the A7Riii to be an anaemic experience next to the X. The Sony has no soul, it doesnt give you decent feedback, and yes the images are decent and it has bell, whistles and what not on it. But I find when you capture decent shots with the X, I remember the moment, it almost speaks to you.

            Once you learn to work the Raw files out of it, you will grow a different processing style suited to the X.

            If you buy one, you wont regret it from my experience of mine. And you can see on here how well loved the X 113’s predecessors still are.

            Dave

  7. Hey Wayne they both paid for why sell? Enjoy them for what they are and do for your pleasure, and that gives me idea to keep Sir Michael mind and hands busy during this tribulation, why not have him list your equip for sale to Macfilos peeps with a percentage of sale going to maintain this site. Say you list it , I send Mike an Email, he gives me your contact info I get you an international money order, plus what 5/8/10% which you send money order to Mike. Or will he kick my A.. for even suggesting this., I plead cabin fever.

    • Hello John. I haven’t hurried to sell the Voigtlander. But I simply can’t see myself using it now that the Leica Bright Line 36 is on that shelf.
      And I’m fairly sure that Sir Michael (as you refer to him) doesn’t need to have a used photography business to keep himself occupied, altho he might have his own items to stock the shop 😎.

  8. For a while there, when Andreas Kaufmann arrived, they didn’t know where they were going ..should they make pretend Barnack Leicas – such as the X series – but (stupidly) without interchangeable lenses? ..or should they concentrate on digital Ms? ..or should they make the silly hewn-from-alumin(i)um can’t-find-a-customer T cameras? ..or should they make the Q (also without interchangeable lenses)..?

    Leicas (apart from the film compacts) have had interchangeable lenses since 1930 – except for their first few toe-in-the-water digital experiments – so why would they abandon interchangeable lenses with these X cameras?

    Leica tried to remedy that with the X zoom ..but that line of cameras then hit a dead end, and Leica concentrated on the digital Ms, the mirrorless SLRs ..oh, and the massive S line.

    Sadly, I don’t think the X cameras, or specifically the X1, will be a ‘classic’, except in terms of looks.

    “..Will any of them become truly collectable?..” ..no, I don’t think so ..not the X1. To me – and this is just my own opinion, of course – they were rushed-out-the-door nostalgic throw-backs ..Leica couldn’t hang on long enough to make them with swap-over lenses (nor any electronic – or even a glass – finder ..now THAT would have been nostalgia!), so they compromised, and produced a Japanese-design, hold-at-arm’s-length, non-interchangeable, finder-less, APS (non-standard depth-of-field), pop-up-flash mongrel hybrid ..not one thing nor the other.

    (Would you buy a smart compact car with a big windscreen ..but no rear-view nor wing mirrors?)

    If there’d been a pop-up viewfinder where the flash sits, then it might have had a bit more credibility.

    The RAW pictures are great (..but with slowish focus..) and, er, that’s all I can say for it.

    Pretty, but – for me – it’s all in the appearance; because ..as with all fixed-lens cameras.. in the long run, all the photos begin to look alike. Sorry, Wayne.

    • Hey David, good to see your counterpoint view. So certainly don’t be sorry. For me this piece was like trout fishing I.e. cast the fly out there and see whether a big brown trout rises.

      You make some good points. Yes the X1 is slow. It requires deliberate photography, but then it doesn’t disappoint. Yes, I agree that there should have been a viewfinder in the location of the unused pop up flash. It took the Sony Rx100 series a number of generations for that penny to drop. And a compact car with a large windscreen? The NSU Ro80, destined to be a classic according to the motoring scribes, but where are they now?

      So I can only latch on to one of your points regarding “a classic, except in terms of looks”. Exactly, looks and design are an important part of classics, not simply technical prowess or bulletproof engineering. I hinted that in the first paragraph when I wondered whether digital rot will likely consign them to being shelf specimens of special times that once was – looks and design will be important parameters when that happens, and the entire world has moved on to smartphones or smart devices with their emphasis on computational photography. That day will come sooner than we realize.

  9. As you probably know I have both the X1 and the X Vario and am very pleased with them. Both are beautiful tools from their time but Fuji now owns the APSC space in the market.

    X1 as a digital classic? Looking for a dictionary definition I see classic defined as ‘judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind’. So yes because the output and haptics are of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind. I would say the same for the X Vario and the X2.

    As to the optical viewfinder I’ve tried one but have not been convinced of the benefits. Does it get in the way of flexibly and quickly changing the exposure parameters, which is one of the great benefits of the X1, if one has to compose with the OVF then go back and forth between it and the screen to check exposure?

    On another subject it was around Easter last year that you reflected in a Macfilos posting about your long departed X Vario. Is this article evidence that you still yearn for one? A sort of annual reminder? May I suggest you will only be able to truly scratch the itch when you buy another? It’s a classic after all – what better reason to purchase one. You know you want one. You won’t regret it.

      • Kevin, get thee behind me Satan.
        If I didn’t know it was you writing that I would have thought it was a John Shingleton – he delights in needling me about selling the X Vario….
        …..and I’ve just now noticed that allergic rash developing on my forearm again. I’m confident it isn’t covid-19, instead it’s that damn reminder that I sold the XV. At least I know my immune system is functioning 😎

        • Sorry Kevin, on a more sensible note I should have mentioned that I agree with you about the optical viewfinder being a bit of a hindrance if changing camera settings. I very rarely change from auto-everything, trusting that the camera makes wise decisions, which it most often does. All that I need to see is that green light (ready to fire) in the periphery of my eyesight. But I acknowledge that easy, or maybe even lazy, default methodology isn’t for everyone.

          • It makes sense that it works if you are using automatic mode so you can work with the green light. But as I rarely use the camera in automatic mode I expect having an OVF won’t make difference to me.

  10. As regular readers of Macfilos will know I have benen an enthusiastic user of the X1 since 2011. when I purchased my X1 here in Australia the camera was priced at A$1950 and the Leica viewfinder was A$550-28% of the price of the camera. The metal Voigtlander viewfinder was priced at A$170 and this made the choice of Voigtlander viewfinder a no brainer. Indeed if the Voigtlander viewfinder had not been available I probably would not have bought the X1 as the Fuji100 was a tempting alternative at the same price point -and that had a viewfinder.
    I have used my X1 with the metal Voigtlander viewfinder to take thousands of photos and was very happy with the combination until Wayne showed me the Leica viewfinder he had just acquired. It was a revelation and I had to have one. By coincidence an Australian seller had a mint one on ebay and I mananged to snap it up for A$150.
    The Leica viewfinder probably cost A$50 to manufacture-and I am likely being generous there. If Leica had been sensible and strategic with the pricing of the viewfinder back in 2010 they probably could have sold it included in the price of the X1 for a small increment and sold hundreds ,if not thousands, more X1s around the world . Or they could have sold the viewfinder for say A$250 and sold thousands more of them. The pricing they adopted was not smart but I am sure that Voigtlander thanked them for it.

    • I must say that I’ve used the Voigtländer for years and never doubted its effectiveness. Now I’d read Wayne’s and John’s comments, I’m interested in acquiring the 36mm. Sadly, after a rummage through the Macfilos cellar, all I’ve come up with is a 21mm Leica and a 28mm Leica, both of which confirm Wayne’s findings but wouldn’t do at all on the X1. I can’t even ask Ivor Cooper at Red Dot to find one for me at this stage of the game. Anyone want to swap a 36mm Leica viewfinder for six toilet rolls?

  11. Well, I just finished the reply to a Kevin above and Now arrive at this next message from Mr X1. Nothing much to add except to say that it only took John five days to catch his Leica Bright Line 36 viewfinder after seeing the example last week, and even that was after he determined on day two that our local Leica didn’t have stock at their advertised special price.
    But Kevin’s message now means that I will be getting another X Vario booster shot when John and I have safe-distance takeaway coffee next week. Unless total lockdown prevents it that is.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.