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Performance

The X1 may be a compact, and unlikely ever to keep pace with an SLR, but its performance must necessarily be measured up against the compact Micro Four Thirds cameras that it's competing against in the current market. The Panasonic GF1 in particular sets a very high bar in this regard, and unfortunately the X1 just can't keep up. In every aspect of operation it's just that bit slower than the likes of the GF1 or indeed the Olympus E-P1/E-P2, although it is at least faster than the Sigma DP2.

Timings

Timing Notes: All times calculated as an average of three operations. Unless otherwise stated all timings were made on a 4272 x 2856 JPEG Super Fine (approx. 4.8 MB per image). Firmware v1.0.

The media used for these tests was:

  • 4 GB SanDisk Extreme III 30MB/s SDHC card
Action
Details
Time, secs
(4 GB SanDisk)
Power Off to On *1 Lens extends, Live View display appears 1.7
Power Off to Shot Manual focus 2.4
Shot to shot time (JPEG) Manual Focus 1.9
Shot to shot time (JPEG) *2 AF (1 point H mode); flash off 2.9
Shot to shot time (RAW) *2 AF (1 point H mode); flash off 3.0 - 5.0
Power On to Off Lens retracted and all activity ceased 3.2

*1 This is the time from turning the switch to the 'On' position to the live view display appearing on the LCD monitor.
*2 Single AF point, focus distance for this test was 0.5m - obviously exact timings will depend on the time taken to focus.

The little Leica certainly isn't a speed demon in normal operation, although to be fair it's generally fast enough for the kind of things you might want to shoot with a 35mm-equivalent lens. Startup is reasonably fast considering the extending lens design, but power off is a unexpectedly slow. Shot-to-shot times are very slow compared to the GF1, with the camera taking up to 5 seconds between shots in raw depending on the state of the buffer.

Continuous Drive mode

To test continuous mode the camera had the following settings: Manual Focus, Manual Exposure (1/250 sec, F2.8), ISO 400, Continuous High shooting mode (specified speed 3 fps).

The tests carried out below measured the following results for JPEG and RAW:

  • Frame rate - Initial frame rate, this was consistently 3.3 fps
  • Number of frames - Number of frames in a burst, this was always 6 frames
  • Delay - Time from initial burst to taking another shot
  • Buffer full rate - Frame rate if shutter release held down after burst (buffer full)
  • Write complete - How long after the last shot before the card lamp goes out

Burst of JPEG Large/Super Fine images

Timing
4 GB SanDisk
Frame rate 3.3 fps
Number of frames 6
Delay ~4.2 sec
Buffer full rate 3.3 fps, 2 frames, 2.1 sec intervals
Write complete ~3 sec

In JPEG mode the X1 can shoot at a very respectable 3.3 frames per second (slightly faster even than Leica's advertised 3 fps spec) for 6 frames. If you continue to hold down the shutter button, then after a delay of about 4 seconds the camera will start shooting pairs of frames at the same rate and with intervals of around 2 seconds between pairs, which it appears to be able to keep doing indefinitely. Once you release the shutter button, the camera will lock up until it's finished writing to the card.

Burst of DNG + JPEG S. Fine images

Timing
4 GB SanDisk
Frame rate 3.3 fps
Number of frames 6
Buffer full rate 0
Write complete ~12 sec

In RAW + JPEG the X1 will again shoot a burst of 6 frames at 3.3 fps, but then it locks up completely (with a 'Data Transfer!' message on the screen) for about 12 seconds until the buffer is cleared. If you're in the habit of shooting bursts of raw frames, this kind of behavior could easily become pretty frustrating. Turn the JPEG file size down to the smallest (1.8 Mp Fine) and the card write time can be reduced by a couple of seconds - however we'd have liked to see a DNG-only option for faster operation.

Autofocus speed / accuracy

The X1's autofocus speed is not, to be honest, particularly on the fast side at the best of times, and it slows down considerably in very low light such as dimly-lit interiors (especially if you turn off the bright orange AF illuminator for the sake of discretion). On the plus side, for the vast majority of the time it's extremely accurate, although in very low light conditions it occasionally gives spurious focus confirmation, with the green rectangle lighting up on the screen even when the subject is visibly misfocused.

There are a couple of tricks you can use to optimize the AF - using single point 'H' mode speeds things up a bit in good light (it uses a faster sensor readout mode for focusing, at the expense of a momentary viewfinder 'freeze'), and limiting the minimum focus distance by selecting 'AF' rather than 'AF macro' can reduce hunting. But even set up like this the X1 struggles to match a modern compact such as the G11, let alone Panasonic's state-of-the-art GF1 (in fact even my 3-year old Fuji F30 is considerably faster, tested side-by-side).

To demonstrate the difference in the X1's AF speed compared to other CDAF cameras we ran some basic tests, using a high contrast AF target at 1m from the camera (which should be easy to focus on), at a light level of around 11 EV. The X1 was set to single point, high speed mode with macro disabled - in principle the best it can do.

Camera
Approx AF time
Leica X1 1.4 sec
Panasonic DMC-GF1 + 20mm F1.7 ASPH 0.4 sec
Olympus E-P2 + 20mm F1.7 ASPH 0.6 sec
Canon Powershot G11 0.7 sec

The X1 takes twice as long to focus as the G11 in this test, and is a whole second slower than the fastest in this group (the GF1). It's also worth pointing out, for the benefit of those more used to the phase-detect focus systems of DSLRs, that refocusing on the same subject for a second shot can easily take exactly as long again, as the camera will often choose to run through its complete focusing routine each time. Unfortunately the X1 also has no way to assign AF to any button other than a half-press of the shutter, so you can't speed things up by separating focus and exposure (as you can on the Micro Four Thirds cameras) - the only workaround is to continually switch in and out of MF mode (which isn't really a fluid way of working).

USB transfer speed

To test the X1's USB speed we transferred approximately 1 GB of images (mixed RAW and JPEG) from a SanDisk Extreme III 30MB/s SDHC card (the same card used in the other tests). When you connect the camera via a USB cable, it appears on your computer as a USB mass storage device - there's no PTP option available. In this mode the camera acts just like a card reader, although its transfer rate is a fair bit slower than our dedicated USB card reader.

Method
Transfer rate
Leica X1 USB 2.0 10.7 MB/sec
SanDisk Extreme III in USB 2.0 reader 17.1 MB/sec

Playback mode

The Leica is rather sluggish in play mode - in the table below we're listing the operations which are sufficiently slow that you notice.

Action
Details
Time, secs
(4 GB SanDisk)
Enter play mode Time from pressing 'play' to image appearing 3.0
Move between images Time for next image to appear 1.3 - 1.6 sec
Magnified to normal view Zoom out from magnified to normal view 1.5 sec

The camera takes a full three seconds to display the first image after you've pressed the 'Play' button (which feels like an age, considering that most cameras are now practically instantaneous at this), and is also slow at browsing through shots; it even takes a fraction longer to display an image that's in portrait rather than landscape format. Other operations - zooming into images and scrolling around, for example - are fast enough though.

Battery life

The X1 uses a new 3.7V, 1600 mAh (6.0 Wh) lithium ion battery pack. According to Leica's figures, it should provide around 230 shots on a charge (according to the standard CIPA testing methodology, which doesn't necessarily reflect real-world figures but does allow comparisons between cameras). This is pretty comparable to the Sigma DP2, but some way behind the E-P1 (300 shots per charge) and even further off the 350 or so shots that the GF1 can stretch to on a single battery.

In real-world use we found it pretty easy to exhaust the X1's battery during even an afternoon's shooting, generally getting maybe 150 - 200 shots per charge. So we'd certainly recommend buying a spare and carrying it at all times.

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