Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to see comparative boxes inside each patch.
Generally speaking there's very little difference in the color response (hue) of modern DSLRs - the visual difference is down to different default saturation and tone curve. The X1's Standard setting combines slightly lower-than-usual saturation with extremely low contrast into the shadows (its black really isn't very black at all), and this gives a rather flat look - we'd recommend turning contrast up a notch. The other two colour modes aren't to our taste at all; Vivid is over-saturated to the extent that it makes comic books look dull, whereas Natural is so lacking in punch it is positively pacifist. Mono shooters will probably prefer the B&W High Contrast setting to the somewhat drab B&W Natural.
|Leica X1||Compare to:|
|B&W High Contrast|
Artificial light White Balance
The X1's pared-down approach to operation is reflected in its white balance options. There's just one preset available for artificial light, which is labeled as 'Halogen', and nothing at all for fluorescent lights. The X1 hasn't done too well in this test - auto white balance gives an unpleasant reddish tint under incandescent light, and a very strong orange cast under fluorescent; the Halogen preset doesn't match either of our artificial light sources either.
So if you don't happen to spend much time in an environment lit by halogen lights, you'll probably need to familiarize yourself with the two custom white balance settings (which are easy enough to set and access). The X1 also allows direct setting of the color temperature in Kelvin, coupled with fine tuning across both the Amber/Blue and Green/Magenta axes, so there's plenty of scope for manual tweaking too.
|Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 5.9%, Blue: -5.8%, Average
|Incandescent - Halogen preset WB
Red: 3.3%, Blue: -8.1%, Average
|Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 6.3%, Blue: -13.8%, Poor
|Fluorescent - Halogen preset WB
Red: -5.3%, Blue: 1.3%, Average
The X1's little built-in pop-up flash may have a modest guide number of just 5, but when you're using it as the main source of illumination the camera's reasonably fast F2.8 lens and broad usable ISO range means its effective working distance is actually quite respectable (about 3.6m at ISO 400). It's also got just about enough power for daylight fill - and because the X1 uses a leaf shutter in the lens, the flash can sync at all shutter speeds.
Flash exposure is generally pretty good, and color perfectly acceptable. Certainly for social snaps or a little fill-in for shadowed faces, it's far more useful than having no flash at all.
|Skin Tone - slightly warm||Color chart - good color, slightly underexposed|
The X1 has a form of electronic image stabilization, which functions by taking two images in quick succession, one correctly exposed and one three stops underexposed. It then combines color information from the first with luminance data from the second to reconstruct the final image. This has a couple of limitations compared to either lens- or body-based mechanical alternatives:
- Only works in JPEG mode (can be enabled in the menu when shooting raw, but does nothing)
- Activated only at shutter speeds between 1/30 sec and 1/4 sec
Leica also advises that IS should only be used with stationery subjects, as subject movement will result in blurring. While this is the case with any form of IS, the interval between the two exposures used by the X1 increases the probability of movement-related artifacts.
This type of electronic IS works by combining an underexposed-then-boosted luminance channel with a colour channel that's probably somewhat blurred, so it's no surprise that it can give some slightly ropey results. In the example below we're comparing crops from our usual studio scene, one shot taken at ISO 100 with IS (this is the best of 5 attempts), the other at ISO 400.
ISO 100, IS on
ISO 400, IS off
The IS does a good job with the bolder details of the scene such as the playing card crop, but once we start looking at fine, low contrast detail such as the fabrics and fur, it's just smeared away. Overall, we'd suggest that you're probably better off most of the time simply increasing the ISO to keep your shutter speeds up, and only turning IS on once you're running out of options in this respect (you can then at least continue to record DNGs).
Overall Image Quality / Specifics
The image quality you get out of the X1 depends substantially on how you plan to use it, with the raw data playing Dr Jekyll to the JPEGs' Mr Hyde. The Standard out-of-camera JPEGs are a little desaturated and low in contrast, and distinctly over-sharpened, which makes for unappealing prints - and the alternative 'Preset Films' (Natural and Vivid) veer to the extremes of under- and over-saturation. You can tweak the image parameters to get punchier, more attractive files, and for normal shooting we settled for Contrast and Saturation set to Medium High, and Sharpness to Medium Low. For mono shooters the 'B & W High Contrast' mode is well worth exploring, but overall the camera never gets close to delivering its best results in JPEG.
In contrast, if you shoot in raw the X1 provides files which have technical quality beyond any other camera of a similar size, and on a par with the best APS-C DSLRs. Raw resolution is very impressive, and high ISO performance is excellent. There's little excuse not to shoot raw either, as the inclusion of Lightroom in the package makes working with your files a pleasure.
The X1's metering is generally very reliable and tends to protect highlights, but the slightly limited dynamic range at the top end means that in high contrast situations it's often advisable to underexpose a little to prevent too much of your image clipping to white. As always it's worth keeping an eye on the image review histogram in high contrast situations, especially as the live histogram is highly unreliable. Auto white balance is a different story - it's fine under natural light, but often struggles with artificial light sources, giving another good reason to shoot raw.
Autofocus is on the whole extremely accurate, especially when using spot mode, which is a good thing as precise manual focus is essentially impossible (although scale focusing is quite practical). However we did find that in low light, the camera can occasionally confirm focus even when it's clearly missed; but this is normally pretty obvious on the screen, and therefore easily rectified.
Overall, then, with a little care and attention, the X1 can provide image quality which surpasses any other camera of a similar size, and equals most DSLRs.