Leica X2 love and first impressions

Started Nov 9, 2012 | Discussions thread
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harold1968
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Leica X2 love and first impressions
Nov 9, 2012

I took delivery of my new X2 this week. For some reason I have not been so excited about a camera for sometime.
I guess there was a hole in my life.
There are situations where its just not subtle to pull an M9 to my eye. There are also some other situations where a camera needs to be concealed in the pocket.
My Sony Nex-5N did not fit the bill, due to lens size and the shutter noise. That camera will remain for long zoom work (I use the excellent, if somewhat slow to focus, Sony 50-210mm).
The M9 is of course, the king of travel, people, landscape and architecture.

Why the X2 ?
I tried extensively the X100 and its a nice camera, but frankly its a little big, quite soft below f4 (actually the IQ was a bit of let-down, particularly after using the Fuji X-Pro1, which is stunning) and I am so passed 12mp now ... I think the X100 is nice if its your main camera, but the size means that there is not alot of traveling or portability advantage over the M9 to be honest.
I thought about the Sony RX100. But the sensor size, colours and handling put me off. Great for a pocket camera, just not as nice to hold as the X2
I thought about the Canon G1X. This came second to the X2 for my needs, but the bulk and slow focusing put me off.
Ultimately owning a Elmarit 24mm with a Sony 16mp sensor (the best APS-C sensor ever made IMHO - derivations in the excellent Pentax K5, Nikon D7000, Sony Nex-5N/R, etc.) with the size of the X2 seemed perfect.
Oh, and please take into account that I am extremely amateur when viewing the pictures included here ....

First impressions
The X2 is packaged in a really nice box. Irrelevant I know, but Leica at least think about the smallest detail. I also didn't expect the Leica passport (accidental damage) or 2 year guarantee, so that was nice.
The camera is very very nice. It is weightly enough to give confidence and a quality feel, but still very light (I would say it would be even nicer with a tiny bit more weight, say 50g).
The hand holding is close to perfect for me (medium size mens hand) and the feel of the artificial leather is much nicer then the clean metal or plastic of other cameras.
The buttons are in good positions and all elevated nicely. Very easy to press, particularly the four ones in the control wheel.
The camera starts fast and shoots fast. The starting delay is basically just for the lens extension. The focus seems as fast as the Nex5N with a wide angle lens.
The camera has a lovely, typically, Leica like feel. And one can't wait to pick it up, infact I am carrying it in my jacket pocket all the time now.

Development points
Lets get over first some of the improvement points that Leica can think about.
It would be nice to see some kind of lens hood accessory. Flare is well controlled, but still contrast is reduced when the sun bleeds into the periphery and full sun in the viewfinder at the wrong angle can produce a refraction party.
This is an example where reflected flare has destroyed some of the detail in the lower middle part of the building:

The lens protector, which exudes from the front, would be much nicer in metal thanks!
Why is the Leica EVF 2.5x the price of the Olympus one ? I could afford one, but on principal I bought the Olympus VF-2. I am now looking for a Leica sticker for the front ....
Can there be an optional AEL button in a future software update ? I like to lock focus and exposure separately, even though you can side-step this with exposure compensation (and BTW exposure lock for matrix metering would also be great).
Lastly, the 1st stage detent of the shutter release button could be a bit more pronounced.
I would say that I am being very critical here, as its really very hard to fault this camera and the above are minor faults, but in case a Leica rep. is reading

Shooting with the X2
Firstly, I only shoot in DNG, so please look elsewhere for JPG information.
In terms of handling, the ISO and EV change are fast to get to. I am particularly pleased with the buttons for, and therefore ease of, changing focus and exposure mode. the buttons are really nice to press, not too stiff, not too easy.
This camera is pretty much silent when taking a picture. Essential for my requirements.
At first I thought the noise was a bit higher then on other applications of this 16mp sensor, then I realised that this is just typical Leica style to do less processing in DNG and leave up to the user. Yes, thats right, both Sony and Nikon do alot of processing on chip even for a RAW file. Sony is a bigger culprit here, and you can clearly see loss of detail in higher ISOs which is unrecoverable.
I would say that there is a step change in ISO. ISO 100-400 is pretty much noise free. ISO 800-3200 has increasing noise but not massively so. Therefore typically I am shooting on either ISO 100 or 1600. The ones inbetween I use less frequently, although ISO 400 can be a good compromise for an overcast day.
The solution is careful use of noise reduction and sharpening. Lightroom is great here, Noise ninga is always better if you can afford it.
The same thought covers sharpening. Leica leave this up to you. due to the sheer detail quality of the lens and sensor you can sharpen much more before destroying detail then, say, with the NEx-5N. Note that you will need to sharpen most pictures due to this fact.
When processed taking this into account, you really do get M9 3D quality:

The colours are deep and great. I really think this is as good as the Xpro-1, which I previously placed at the top of the APS-C heap.
After using the Nikon D800E, which quite frankly has the best FF sensor and processing ever made (as Ming Thein commented, what I would give to mount a Leica 50mm or 35mm f1.4 on this camera ....) and is really a benchmark for DR, I would say the X2 is really quite good. Shadows and highlights can be increased almost to the end of Adobe scale for most photos without destroying detail or noise. I would say 20% less or so (in terms of the Lightroom slider) then the D800E, which is really not bad. I personally find it slightly better then the Nex-5N but thats just me.
Here is the maintainence of colours with direct sunlight which pre-processing blacked out half the detail.
Its not a showpiece photo, but just again to demonstrate how the X2 can salvage a picture:

Conclusion
The X2 is close to the perfect pocketable camera for me. Users however should take into account the post processing required, straight conversion of DNGs is not an option, athough once you know what you need to do, its extremely quick. I flirted briefly with JPGs, and set to vivid colour, standard contrast and the sharpening level above average, the pictures look good but still I recommend DNG.
I am genuinely excited to take it out of my pockets and snap, and then excited again to get back and process it. I am looking forward to sneaking it into my niece's wedding ceremony next week to see what it can go (I am sitting at the front as my daughters are bridesmaids ...)

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