Leica X1 Hands-On Review

The Leica X1 is a compact camera with a fixed lens and an APS-C sized sensor. The camera has the largest sensor in it’s class, dwarfing Micro Four Thirds and the Sigma Foveon. I received some personal hands-on time with the camera. While I wasn’t able to put a card in to take samples (I handled a prototype) the short experience with the camera was overall quite positive and, in fact, it may very well be a camera that will put more pressure on other companies to start really developing their technology to do just the same thing.

Tech Specs at a Glance

The lens is a Leica Elmarit 24mm F/2.8 with eight elements in six groups, one aspheric element. The camera has 11 autfocus points and comes with face detection as well. Complete with an APS class 15.7 x 23.6 mm CMOS sensor, it is 12MP and shoots DNG and JPEG files. ISO starts at 100 and goes up to 3200. Shutter speeds go from 30 seconds – 1/2,000th. The camera also features 3fps shooting for up to six shots. There is a pop-out flash that comes out with a simple push down on it. It takes SD and SDHC cards and also features a USB and HDMI port. The back LCD is 2.7″ with a 230,000 dot resolution. It weighs 10oz. and is 4.85 × 2.5 × 1.98 inches WHD.

First Impressions

The Leica X1 is quite possibly the simplest prosumer large-sensor compact I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. While it is much bigger than the S90, Micro Four Thirds cameras and the highly raved about Canon G11, it still feels like an old-time rangefinder and in truth it “feels like a Leica.”

I am smitten with the idea of the Aperture and Shutter Speed dials up at the top for easy access while shooting. Ditto for the horizontal focusing wheel at the back of the camera above on dial on the lower right. Leica obviously put a lot of care and thought into the design of this camera.

White balance, ISO, playback and other information are easily accessed via the buttons on the left-hand side of the back panel. This will feel very familiar to DSLR, interchangable lens and Leica camera users. To scroll through your images, simply turn the wheel dial on the back right. This is also where you can control flash output, manual/auto focusing, time delay shooting (although single and continuous are by the on/off switch by the shutter release), and exposure settings.

The F2.8 lens handles relatively well and allows for very minute focusing. When you try to focus (as seen in the photo above) a little rectangle appears that digitally zooms in on the center so that you can achieve the focus that you want (quite specifically and accurately) and then recompose your shot. I explained this process in how to shoot fireworks.

The images on camera appeared to be very nice with lovely depth of field, razor sharp focusing achieved by precise manual focusing with the wheel dial, and exposing the images correctly. My only gripe with the camera that I experienced during the short testing period was that the LCD was not a high enough resolution to my liking. That and the $2000 price tag.

Out of any camera I’ve tried meant to be a “back up” to a DSLR, the Leica X1 has come the closest to being that camera. This will suit the needs of a photographer very well. Enthusiasts will be very pleased as well as Leica fans everywhere.



  1. daniel says

    i agree, shooting at arms level with this camera does not make sense to me. also the screen seems to be low resolution for what other brands offer now. i think this market of small camera/large sensor will have many more options in the coming months. let’s wait to see what people from canon or nikon do in this segment.

  2. ossme says

    an expensive point and shoot…

    I wonder when canon will gump up wih the idea of Micro APS-C based camera.

  3. Scott Paris says

    No viewfinder?? Two thousand dollars??
    They can’t be serious…

    At $600 or $800, it would be fairly priced. $1200 or $1400 would be high, but believable, since you get the Leica sticker and all.

    $2000 is just arrogant.

  4. KQS says

    I think that the X1 is a fabulous concept. I see the world through a 35mm lens anyway, so the single focal length lens is not a limitation for me. The price is high by about $1K, but for a Leica the price is in the range expected. I have this one on my list, but I will have to have a hands-on trial before purchase because of the price.

  5. Hampher says

    Testing a camera without an actual test. Strange concept. What have you actually tested? No pictures taken at different ISO levels to judge how it performs. It’s like testing the new Lamborghini without the keys for it, saying: wow it looks good, I am convinced it goes like hell. That’d be very convincing for potential buyers. The main indicator of quality for even a hobby photographer is the quality of the picture it delivers and not the appearance of the body.

  6. Leo says

    Quote “it may very well be a camera that will put more pressure on other companies to start really developing their technology to do just the same thing”. I think that the honour of beeing the first quality little camera goes to Sigma, the size of the Leica sensor just beeing a fraction bigger. But never the less, it is a development that fills me with joy. There must be a market for the bigger manufacturers like Canon( my favorite by far). Where are the times for a cheap good camera like the Canonet for example?
    The Leica is nice to see, but I never know what they put in the camera. Wich brand makes the sensor? Nikon, Sony, I really do not know. For a camera announces at the same time as his bigger brother, I find it stranges there is so little information. But then again, I like the concept and love the lookes of the camera.
    The future will hold much nice camera’s for us, the really compact camera’s with vingernale size sensors will never dissapear, it is simply not possible to make a larger sensor camera that small. Every camera with a bigger sensor, the microthirds, are much bigger. Again Sigma did a very good job here, but much smaller then the Sigma DP is in my Opinion not possible. So you will have the chose next to your (big) DSLR, a nice high quality fixed lens little camera aside and a even smaller camera for having with you al the time, like the Canon S90. Or use your phone instead :)

  7. says

    I recently played with the X1 at a Leica products night demo. The camera is exactly what you’d expect, heavy, well finished and basic. It’s also overpriced by $1000.00 and the software still needs to be tweaked. The optional rangefinder is awkward and ridiculously overpriced and the add-on
    handle is a tremendous ergonomic boost for the camera and economic boost for leica – at only $160.00. The oversize sensor may make a difference, but not
    necessarily in quality pictures. Perhaps the X2 will make more sense down the road.

  8. ponyman says

    Isn’t the point of a compact camera that it should be er compact? For me the point of a point and shoot camera is that I can carry it with me at any time without it being intrusive.

    What is all this talk about ‘proper’ viewfinders? Never missed it on my old Mamiya 645. Personally I like to be able to see the image with both eyes rather than squinting through a little box. However Leica’s decision to use such a cheap low resolution screen seems absurd.

    Will be interested to see sample images, but at present, I can’t envisage the occasion when it would replace either a DSLR or a proper compact and the price is just ridiculous. I get the impression this is just a camera that will be bought for show rather than go.

  9. hank says

    i think half the people miss the point of such a tool… as is the norm when the word Leica is mentioned. The sensor ( a rumour, but a pretty solid one ) is the same as the D300.

    so when you wish to consider the D300 has already excellent capabilities based on that sensor, add a Leica Elmarit and a rather reasonable pocket-able size…. why are people complaining?

    But as mentioned by someone, the X2 may well define the ultimate target of all those little engineers designing cheap cameras. The X1 is the notification to pay attention. Still rather ground breaking by a company whom most give up on.

  10. Frank says

    At this price point, this camera should have an f/2 lens, a usable ISO 6400, a weathertight sealed body, and a built-in wireless/satellite file transmitter. A high resolution LCD should have been a given. Hell, the highly acclaimed Canon 7D is $300 less than this pocket rocket.

  11. Dawn says

    Yes, a higher resolution LCD should have definitely been incorporated, especially at this price point. But why couldn’t they have also put in a super fast AF system to make this camera more responsive overall? Leica lenses are great, but the digital end needs a lot of work. The Leica name is only going to carry just so much weight. At some point, performance actually does matter.

  12. says

    nice review but you appear to have started on the wrong foot – The Foveon sensor in a DP1 is vitually the same size as that in the Leica, so I am unsure as to how it can be dwarfed – being a Foveon type, it works differently to the sensor in the X1, thats all.
    The X1 looks like a lovely wee camera – but I shall sick with my DP1 for now – superb image quality and a whole lot cheaper.
    Leica have missed an opportunity by not supplying a viewfinder – a great camera that just needs developing a little more, a better screen, a viewfinder and a few software tweaks and it could be my perfect pocketable camera.

  13. says

    The X1 is without a doubt the most beautiful camera you can buy. Totally gorgeous – even the case!
    Silly price, but hey I’ve also got a D-Lux 4!
    I couldn’t bring myself to pay AU$500 for the viewfinder so I got a Voigtlander one for $200 which actually looks better than the Leica one – essential the screen is rubbish in bright light.
    And it does take pretty good pictures too.
    Now want to sell my Canon 5D MkII and get an M9