Yesterday I received an email from a friend asking about the the new Leica X2. He said that he liked my images (amazingly no, this was not a relative) and wanted to buy his first digital Leica and what did I think of the new X2. What did I think? Hmmm…
In 2009 Leica introduced the revolutionary M9 full frame digital camera, but alongside it was an entirely new series of camera, the X1. Hailed three years ago for it’s ability to shoehorn an APC-C sized sensor in a svelte body it harkened back to the days of the Leica screw mount cameras. It was often referred to as a digital “Barnack”, the name lovingly given to first generation Leica cameras in honor of their inventor, Oskar Barnack. It was small, sexy and produced stunning images, but at a price. Along with the X1′s amazing image quality came dreadfully slow autofocus, a pop up flash prone to failure, controls that were easily bumped, so-so high ISO performance, no ability to shoot DNG files without JPEGs (slowing the processor even more), an LCD screen of such low quality that manual focus was all but impossible, and so on.
In the past year and a half, when Leica stores and dealers have been sold out of virtually every camera and lens in the lineup, the X1s have been on the shelf and available for immediate sale in every market. It has always been an expensive camera at $1995, not including the optical viewfinder which is needed for shooting in anything remotely resembling daylight. A complete X1 kit was very close to $2500.
On May 10th Leica introduced the newest member of the X series to the world, the Leica X2!!!..but..oh wait, it looks just like the old one. Well, yes and no.
The new X2 does look like it’s older brother, but it’s got some improvements under the hood. First, the APS-C sensor is 16mp as opposed to 12.2mp. Ok, megapixels are good. And according to the first hands-on reviews (like this one from Steve Huff) the autofocus speed is greatly improved. Well, it really couldn’t have been worse. OK, what else. Body…same. Lens…same. Crappy LCD screen…same. Pop-up flash…not same, even more complicated.
One thing that is NOT the same is the addition of an electronic view finder (EVF). Apparently Leica have phoned this one in, as the X2′s EVF is exactly the same as one offered by Olympus. Well, not exactly the same as the Olympus EVF costs $200 and the Leica branded version costs $575. And yes, the Olympus version works with the X2…no difference except $375 and a logo change. Whoever thought it was a good idea to put an EVF the size of a shoebox on top of the slender X2 should be designing bikinis for Oprah Winfrey.
Because the LCD screen is still the horrible little version from the X1 the use of an EVF is practically mandatory. If you are shooting in a cave then the crappy LCD is OK for framing, but for outside, in the sunshine, hell, in the smog, you might as well forget it’s there. With that added expense this “new” X1…I mean X1.2…I mean X2 fits into the same $2500 price range as it’s predecessor. Well, what did you expect, a lower price from Leica? (insert evil laughing mad scientist sound here).
And so I have to ask myself, what else could someone get for $2500?
- An used X1, while saving around $1500.
- A new Fuji X-Pro1 with 35/1.4 lens while saving around $500.
- A used Leica M8 with 35/1.4 lens from Voigtlander for about the same money.
I believe that any one of these three options is better than buying a “new” X2. Leica has been an amazing company lately, and the M9 is a truly marvelous camera that I can wholeheartedly recommend. But whereas the M9 has been a hit the X2 is firmly in the “miss” column. I’m not sure if Leica decided to release the X2 before the Photokina trade show in September in the hope that it would beat out new product announcements from their competitors, but here’s a new flash for Solms; the competition’s offerings are already available, cost less, and offer superior performance. It’s too bad that Leica’s defacto answer to an entry level prosumer camera is to buy a used M8.
A used M8 will cost about the same as a new X2 while providing vastly improved image quality and user experience over the X2. My old M8.2 shown here is slightly more expensive.