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.