One of the curious facts about digital Leicas is that they seem to retain their allure when the products of most other brands have fallen off the perch. How else could you explain the 11-year-old and now outclassed Leica X1 still being in demand and still fetching upwards of £500 on the used market? You can get a lot of modern camera for that, but then it wouldn’t be an old Leica and you’d probably lose your money in no time.
Firing on all cylinders
In digital camera terms, ten years is like several generations of human endeavour. It took 50 years to get from the M3 to the M7, but in the last decade, we have seen staggering advances. As a result, starting in 2010 gives us lots to work on. Fortunately, you’ll find that most of the Leica digitals sold in the decade are still firing on all cylinders and certainly haven’t made it to the charity shops. What’s more, Leica’s service is always there if anything goes wrong – even though it can be pricey unless it’s a simple fix.
Buying an old Leica digital is definitely not a daft idea. You get the Leica Geist, whichever way you value that; you get a camera that handles well, looks the part and still produces great pictures.
Long in tooth but still sharp
Some of these cameras may be a bit long in the tooth, but you can buy with some confidence that the depreciation will be less than it would be for a modern camera, even a Leica. You need to go back only a little further – 16 years to be precise – and you’ll find the 2004 Leica Digilux 2 still with its fans. One of these could cost as much as the more recent X1 and this bodes well for the retained value of the cameras in this list.
So what is my pick for the five top buys in used digital Leicas? I’ve owned all these cameras with the exception of the TL2 (although I did own the T). So I choose with feeling. You probably won’t agree with my choice, but let’s discuss.
1The Leica X1: Macfilos has probably devoted more space to the little X1 than to any other camera – thanks largely to the enthusiasm of John “Mr X1” Shingleton in New South Wales. He’s been using this camera for the whole of the decade and still swears by it. In fact, he’s probably the world’s leading proponent for the little Eks-one. So it would be churlish not to include it in the list.
But it does deserve its place, even without John’s prompting. It was the first of the APS-C fixed-lens digital compacts when it was introduced in September 2009. It came ahead of Fuji’s X100 (was the X designation a coincidence, I sometimes wonder, or a nod to Leica’s pioneering concept). I really wish Leica had continued to develop this camera over the years. I suspect that, brought up to date, it would still sell well.
The X1 has always been one of the prettiest real Leicas – that is, a Leica made in Europe – and its appearance and feel take us right back to the earliest Barnack Leica of the late nineteen-twenties. It has very simple controls, with bold shutter speed and aperture dials in full view on the top plate. The extending 35mm f/2.8 Elmarit lens is sharp and very competent. It produces great results, even with the original 12MP sensor.
Buy a Leica X1 for around £450 and you won’t regret it
Some will say that the lack of an electronic viewfinder is the biggest failing of the X1. Yet it is a failure shared with all Leica’s APS-C cameras right up to the latest model, the CL. Adding a viewfinder would have increased the body size and the compact dimensions are one of the X1’s greatest assets. The external 36mm Leica viewfinder does a great job, however, despite its bulk. It provides a large, corrected image which is ideal for composition; and the little green focus confirmation light just below the hot-shoe is always in peripheral vision. A curiosity of the X1 and some other early Leica digitals was that you couldn’t shoot DNG only, you couldn’t turn off JPEG processing.
I’ve been using an X1 off and on for most of the past ten years and the camera is generally reliable. It has one fault, though – the spring on the battery-retaining catch can pop out and get lost. It’s happened to me twice, once on the X1 and once on the X2, and John Shingleton has also had a failure. It’s a small repair job, either at Leica or at a specialised repairer.
If the lack of an EVF is a deal-breaker, look at the later X2 with its 16MP sensor, faster autofocus and the ability to use the tilting VF-2 finder.
2The Leica M9 Monochrom: It is hard to imagine the excitement in Berlin in 2012 when a monochrome version of the M9 was announced to a bemused photographic press. Why would anyone want to make a black-and-white-only camera? And charge more for it than its colour sibling? Yet, over the past eight years, Leica has done very-nicely-thank-you out of this exceeding niche design. We’re now on the third iteration, the M10M, and sandwiched between was the B&W take on the M240.
The classic, though, is likely to remain the first model, based on the M9 and with its no-live-view CCD sensor. Later models have all sported the more modern CMOS sensor. I’ve listened to cogent arguments (from people who should know) who claim that the architecture of the CCD sensor is better suited to monochrome. Indeed, and any comparison between the two at a meeting of Leica enthusiasts is likely to be very lively.
Despite the attractions of the bigger sensor and better everything, this original Monochrom is still in demand even by people with enough money to go out and buy an M10M. They don’t even seem to mind that the screen (similar to that on the X1) is low-def and belongs definitely in 2009.
By rights, this old dodderer should have been snoozing quietly in a rocking chair at the Dun-Snappin Old Camera Home, boring everyone with its images in 50 shades grey. But no, the 2012 Monochrom is still spritely and very desirable. It’s still the lust object of many a discerning photographer and it’s a delight to use.
One word of warning if you are seeking one of these cameras. Both the M9 and M9 Monochrom suffered from corrosion on the sensor. Leica tackled this problem head-on and most second-hand cameras should have had their sensors changed. However, up to the end of 2015, the cameras received new versions of the old sensor, something which clearly raises the possibility of repeat corrosion. From the beginning of 2016, however, returned cameras were fitted with a completely new sensor which is apparently immune from corrosion.
Price guide: £2,300 (with sensor from January 2016 onwards)
So, if buying an early Monochrom make sure that you get evidence of sensor replacement and, just as important, the date the work was carried out by Leica. If you have any doubts, Leica can tell you the precise status of any camera simply by checking the serial number.
3The Leica X Vario: Despite the naysayers, the X Vario is one of the outstanding Leica products of the past ten years. If anything is destined to become a classic digital, this is it. It was never the most successful of cameras and was almost strangled at birth by the ill-advised “Mini M” publicity campaign.
Forget all that, and the X Vario stands on its own merits. On paper, the f/3.5-6.4 aperture range of the X Vario is slow and unappealing. It’s firmly in “kit zoom” territory when everyone is lusting after fixed f/2.8 zooms and super fast primes. As a result, back in 2013, the X Vario was a controversial little camera which suffered from a great deal of negativity. All unjust, we can now say.
Price guide: Around £750
What commentators failed to realise, and which brave new buyers soon found out, is that that slow lens was designed with a purpose. As with the TL zooms (which are only marginally faster at the long end), the X Vario’s in-built zoom was designed to maximise image quality while minimising size. And it is a superb lens as owners will attest. The zoom range is modest, at best – 28-70mm – but it makes a good general-purpose, go-anywhere camera. If you can find one, it’s another of those cameras that will serve for years without much cost.
4The Leica TL2: This is the one camera I have never owned, although I did buy and enjoy T. The TL2, with its 24MP sensor and faster autofocus is definitely the one to go for if you want a future classic digital. But, really, any T model will delight and will probably now hold on to much of its value. The T-line is unique, with the hewn-from-solid aluminium body and intuitive tiled touch interface.
Price guide: Around £1,000
It was a bold step by Leica, perhaps an attempt to attract new buyers weaned on modern smartphones. It is definitely not the traditional type of Leica and, for that reason, you either love it or hate it.
If you buy one of these you get a great camera that will produce results equal to the CL and you will grow to love it. You will also come to appreciate the quirky but well-thought-out tiled on-screen control system. By comparison, the later CL is perhaps a little soulless although it did address one of the major criticisms of the T, the absence of a viewfinder.
For some, though, this is an opportunity. I know several T/L/2 owners who prefer the hinged accessory Visoflex because of its versatility. If your bones are creaking, the TL2 will laugh off those low-angle shots when the CL would have you contorted.
5The Leica Q: Not only is the Q the most successful Leica digital camera produced to date, but it is also one of the best. Introduced in 2015, the Q was a surprise hit.
At launch, there was some doubt about the need for such a fixed-lens full-frame shooter and, certainly, the choice of the wide 28mm focal lengths caused lengthy discussion.
I had faith from the day it was introduced and I got my hands on one of the first examples imported into the UK. It went on to become my favourite camera of 2015 and 2016 and I’ve written a great deal about the Q on Macfilos.
Price guide: Around £2,200
I now own the second version, the Q2, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with the original Q. It makes a sound buy at this time when Q2s are gradually emerging from back-order and more of the original Qs are being part-exchanged or sold direct.
The above cameras are purely my own choice and you could well have wildly differing views. I discussed my choice with one or two friends and one suggested that the 35mm fixed-lens X should be included, perhaps in preference to the X1. It’s a good point and, if I’d selected six rather than five I might well have included it.
On the same basis, perhaps the CL deserves a place but it’s not a bad idea to pick up one of these when the prices of used examples have fallen a little further. I’ve excluded the M10 on the grounds of current cost; in the future, it will certainly join the list, as will the quirky M10-D which is a camera that will stand the test of time even better than the M10.
If, as a result of this article, you are tempted dust off your Visa or Mastercard, please remember the abiding motto of the Macfilos website: Vade retro, Satana!
Join the discussion and let us know what you think. Do you prefer a later Monochrom to the original? Is the X a better bet than the X1? Should the X2, with its ability to mount an EVF, take over from the X1? The one camera in this list which should be beyond dispute is the Q. This has been Leica’s most successful digital camera and the one which even Leica haters accord grudging respect.