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Leica X1 and brief hands-on

By dpreview staff on Sep 9, 2009 at 13:14 GMT

Alongside the M9 Leica has also announced the X1, a compact camera with a large APS-C sensor and a fixed 35mm equivalent field-of-view F2.8 autofocus lens. Featuring a design reminiscent of M-series rangefinders, complete with analogue-style shutter speed and aperture dials, the camera offers a choice of fully automatic or manual control. A 2.7" LCD and 12Mp CMOS sensor with an ISO range of 100 to 3200 round off the specification. Registered owners will be able to download a copy of Adobe Lightroom to process the camera's DNG raw files. During our visit to Leica two weeks ago we were lucky enough to get our hands on a pre-production camera, click through for our initial impression and hands-on pictures.

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Leica X1 brief hands-on

It's hard to think of a recent product announcement less expected, yet in retrospect more logical than Leica's fixed lens, large sensor compact, the X1. With the company's long-standing cooperation with Panasonic, it seems everyone was expecting to see a Leica-branded version of the 'rangefinder-esque' GF1 Micro Four Thirds compact. But perhaps Leica felt that very design philosophy came too close to treading on the toes of its M series, and instead chose to pursue another of its historically strong product sectors with a fixed lens compact designed for the discerning photographer. The result is, therefore, not the 'digital CLE', but rather the 'digital CM', designed and built in Germany and sporting a non-interchangeable 35mm-equivalent F2.8 lens.

During our recent visit to the company's Solms Headquarters we were amongst the first group of people from outside the company to be introduced to the X1, and have to say it's a very attractive camera indeed. Shorn of the stylistically-challenged bolt-on grip that appeared on the inevitable internet-leaked picture, it resembles nothing so much as a miniaturized M with more curvaceous, even feminine styling (to the extent of sharing Leica's new 'steel gray' finish with the M9). It's an intriguing mix of the traditional and the modern; the top-plate plays host to analogue-style shutter speed and aperture dials, but at heart this is a bang up-to-date design that behaves much like a modern compact, just with a 12Mp APS-C sensor inside.

In the hand

With the X1, Leica becomes the first company to challenge Sigma in the large-sensor, fixed lens compact market. Yet while the camera is similar in size to the DP1 and DP2 twins, the design concept couldn't be more different, with the curves and dials of the X1 in stark contrast to the DPs' boxy utilitarianism and button-driven interface. Here an accessory optical finder is fitted to the hot shoe.

These two views give an idea of the comparatively petite dimensions of the X1.
On the left side of the body is this cutely-styled circular pop-up flash. The lens retracts into the body when the camera is turned off
The rear of the camera will be immediately familiar to M8 users, and sports a DP-like thumb wheel for manual focusing. The menu system is also distinctly reminiscent of the M8 (and M9).

Side-by-side

Here's the X1 showing off its distinct family resemblance to the M9. Everything's been slimmed down to minimize size, but the rounded sides, shutter speed dial, and top-plate power/drive mode switch that surrounds the shutter button are all present and correct.

Finally here's the X1 nestling in between the M9 and the D-Lux 4. The X1's sensor is almost 10x the area of that in the D-Lux 4, so inevitably the camera is a bit larger. But while the smaller camera also finds space for a fast wideangle zoom lens, the X1 promises much better handling and image quality.

Press Release:

LEICA X1: Photography as spontaneous as life itself

Leica Camera AG has announced the X1. Designed and made in Germany by Leica engineers, this camera is set to become a future classic. The desirable LEICA X1 achieves exceptionally high resolution and quality for a camera of such small dimensions, and will set new standards.

The LEICA X1 is equipped with a 12.2 megapixel CMOS sensor in APS-C format, as found in much larger DSLR cameras. This sensor, combined with the all-purpose LEICA ELMARIT 1:2.8/24 mm lens, offers outstanding picture quality comparable with professional cameras. Furthermore, the X1’s technical specifications and broad spectrum of setting options – from manual to automatic operation – makes it a perfect companion for creative photographers, while the compact size means it can be carried at all times – ideal for capturing those unique, spontaneous moments in life.

The large sensor area of the individual pixels on the CMOS sensor receive more light, guaranteeing low noise levels, high dynamic range and accurate colour differentiation. The crop factor of the sensor is 1.5 in comparison with 35mm film format, which means the fixed-mount LEICA ELMARIT 1:2.8/24 mm lens is transformed into a universal reportage lens with an effective (35mm equivalent) focal length of 36mm. This is a true classic amongst prime lenses and has captured innumerable iconic images in history.

Peter Kruschewski, product manager digital compact cameras at Leica Camera AG, commented, “The LEICA ELMARIT 1:2.8/24 ASPH is a true Leica lens with terrific optical performance. Its moderate wide-angle character creates sufficient distance when needed, but still allows photographers to get in close to pick out the details whenever the situation requires. This lens ensures that photographers won’t miss any shot, situation or detail, however fine.”

The straightforward design of the X1 is strongly reminiscent of the legendary Leica M cameras. This, in combination with its robust, all-metal construction and tactile, high-quality leather trim, makes the X1 typically ‘Leica’.

The LEICA X1 offers clearly laid-out, intuitive functions. For ‘uncomplicated’ photography, the X1 offers numerous automatic features ranging from precise autofocus to automatic exposure, guaranteeing photographers perfectly exposed, sharp images by simply pressing the shutter release. This allows the user to concentrate on the creative aspects of composition and framing.

Thanks to its numerous automatic functions, the X1 is always quick and versatile whenever the need arises. Photographers can also achieve creative freedom with the camera’s manual control options. Both aperture and shutter speed can be selected manually with the easy-to-use dials on the top plate of the camera. Even the plane of focus can be set manually, along with white balance and various other image capture parameters. Consequently, the X1 offers photographers complete manual control of the creative process while also guaranteeing rapid reaction ability with its automatic functions, when required.

The large size of the sensor, a maximum sensitivity of ISO 3200 and large aperture make the LEICA X1 an ideal choice for ‘available light’ photography. Whether in adverse lighting conditions, or for conscious manipulation of depth of focus, the X1 offers numerous options for individual and creative composition.

The bright 2.7” display of the X1 almost fills the entire back of the camera and reveals the finest details, even in bright surroundings. The live-view function replaces an optical viewfinder and shows an accurate preview with all essential image information. The Live Mode also makes the X1 particularly versatile for shots taken from unusual perspectives.

Accessories and software

The LEICA X1 offers a comprehensive range of accessories that expand the abilities of the camera and adapt it to the photographer’s personal photographic style: A 36-mm bright-line accessory, for instance, can be inserted in the camera’s accessory shoe and ensures a clear view without unnecessary power drain. If required, the camera display can be switched off when an accessory finder is used. In this case, a prominently placed LED indicates successful automatic focusing. In addition to this, there is an accessory handgrip that aids the safe and secure handling of the camera. A comprehensive range of camera cases is also available: the ever-ready case offers sufficient room for the camera with an attached handgrip and includes a small case attached to the carrying strap to hold the accessory finder. The high-quality transport case offers perfect protection for the camera, while the attractively designed system case has space for the camera and all its accessories.

The LEICA X1 features a retractable flash that can do much more than simply replace other sources of light. It also serves as a fill-in flash and can even be synchronised to the second shutter curtain. If more power and flexibility is required, the Leica SF 24D and SF 58 system flash units are also compatible with the X1.

The LEICA X1 is supplied with a battery charger and a high-performance battery, and also includes a comprehensive software package. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, a professional digital workflow solution for Apple Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows, is available as an online download for all registered LEICA X1 customers. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom offers a vast range of functions for the management, processing and presentation of digital images, whether in JPEG or DNG format. If the images from the X1 are saved as raw data in Adobe Digital Negative format (DNG), Adobe Photoshop Lightroom guarantees direct and extremely high-quality image processing.

Pricing and availability

The LEICA X1 will be available in the UK from January 2010. Pricing will be available nearer to date of launch. For further details and a list of authorised dealers including the new Leica Store Mayfair, please visit www.leica-camera.co.uk.

Leica X1 specifications

Sensor • 23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS sensor
• APS-C size
• 13 million total pixels
• 12.2 million effective pixels
Lens • Leica Elmarit 24 mm F2.8
• 8 elements in 6 groups, 1 aspheric lens
• 35 mm equiv. FOV
• Non-removable
Focusing distance • Normal: 60 cm - Infinity
• Macro / Manual: 30 cm - Infinity
AF type • Contrast detect
AF modes • 1-point
• 1-point high speed
• 11-point
• 11-point high speed
• Spot
• Face detection
AF assist lamp Yes
Exposure modes • Program automatic
• Aperture priority
• Shutter priority
• Manual
Exposure compensation • +/- 3.0 EV
• 1/3 EV steps
Exposure bracketing • 3 frames
• +/- 3.0 EV
• 1/3 EV steps
Metering • Intelligent multiple
• Center weighted
• Spot
Sensitivity • Auto ISO
• ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
• ISO 800
• ISO 1600
• ISO 3200
Shutter speed range 30 - 1/2000 sec
Aperture range F2.8 - F16
White balance • Auto
• Halogen
• Daylight
• Flash
• Cloudy
• Shadow
• Manual 1
• Manual 2
White balance fine tuning Two axis
File formats • JPEG
• DNG
Image sizes • 4272 x 2856 (12.2 MP)
• 3264 x 2160 (7.0 MP)
• 2144 x 1424 (3.0 MP)
• 1632 x 1080 (1.8 MP)
Image modes • JPEG Super fine
• JPEG Fine
• DNG + JPEG Super fine
• DNG + JPEG Fine
Self timer • 2 sec
• 12 sec
Continuous shooting • 3 / 2 fps
• 6 images max (JPEG Fine + DNG)
Auto review • 1 sec
• 3 sec
• 5 sec
• Hold
Film modes • Standard
• Vivid
• Natural
• B&W Natural
• B&W High contrast
Built-in flash modes • Auto
• Auto / Red-eye reduction
• Forced on
• Forced on / Red-eye reduction
• Slow sync
• Slow sync / Red-eye reduction
• Studio
• Option: First curtain / Second curtain
Hot shoe • Yes
• Compatible with SF58, SF24D
LCD monitor • 2.7" TFT LCD
• 230,000 pixels
• 100% field of view
Playback • Standard
• 16 image thumbnail
• Zoomed (up to 16x)
• Image rotation
• Protection
• Deletion
Storage media • SD / SDHC
Connectivity • USB 2.0 (Mass storage device)
• HDMI
Power • Lithium-ion battery pack
• 260 exposures est. life
• 200 min charge
Dimensions 60 x 124 x 32 mm (2.4 x 4.9 x 1.3 in)
Weight 286 g (10 oz)
Supplied accessories

• LEICA BP-DC8 rechargeable battery
• Battery charger (LEICA BC-DC8)
• Protective battery cover
• Leather carrying strap
• USB cable
• Lens cap
• Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (download option after product registration)

Additional images

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