Yesterday’s News: The Leica X1 Review by Adam Grayson

A classic! A Leica X1 review article

By Adam Grayson



As long time follower of your site, I am excited at my first opportunity to contribute. I have written an article about the Leica X1, titled “Yesterday’s News: The Leica X1 Review”. Below is the review for your, um, review.  Yesterday’s news: The Leica X1 review!

Released 09/09/09, the Leica X1 is certainly not today’s hot topic (the T is the current title holder now) and has likely been forgotten about as yesterday’s news by most of the photographic community. Heralding in a new era of the digital camera world with its fixed focal length, APS-C sensor in a small body, retro look and manual controls, it was considered to be the first of its kind that started a trend continuing through today. As the Leica T system ushers in a new kind of interface to the photographic world, I thought it would be relevant to share my experiences with this quirky but still very capable camera that was the talk of the town in 2009.

My experience with the X1 started in late 2010, well after its initial release. Not being able to financially justify the hefty price tag of a new X1, I patiently waited until the price in the used market came down to what I considered to be reasonable enough to make the jump. At that time, the camera brought me mixed feelings. The image quality was outstanding when everything came together, but most other times it was maddeningly frustrating. Maybe because I expected it to be as quick and versatile as my trusty old DLUX 4, or as reliable as my M8, but my initial experience left me wanting. After a few months of dedicated use, I decided to sell the X1 and chase photographic glory elsewhere.

So began my search for the ultimate APS-C fixed focal length camera. This journey took me through almost every form of the genre released on the market; from the retro-rific Fuji X100, to the uber-compact powerhouse Ricoh GR. Even the X1’s replacement model the Leica X2 passed through my hands at one point. All of the cameras had their strengths and weaknesses, but none of them really grabbed me, not even the X2 (a whole other story).

The closest camera that came close to staying in my stable was the Ricoh GR; what an amazing camera! It bests the X1 in many ways but it still did not have that feeling; the tactility in my hands, the manual controls, the desire to go out and take pictures with it. Something was always missing with the other cameras. You know, that elusive feeling that comes every so often when you really connect with a camera.

So what brought me back to the X1? It took an epiphany while shooting with the venerable Contax T2 (a fixed lens compact film camera) to see what I have been missing all along; stop trying to use the camera like a modern digital and shoot it like a film camera. Use a slower, more deliberate style of shooting. After coming to this realization, I had only one camera in mind to test my theory out. The X1.

Fast forward to February 2014. Found a great deal on a black X1 and went into the experience with a new mindset; don’t treat the camera like an automatic small-sensor point and shoot, treat it as a film camera like the Contax T2. Guess what? Yep, things went much better. Where blood pressure raising frustration used to kick in, now the zen calm of measured photography took place. Is the camera perfect? No. Will it hit the 100% “keeper” zone, especially with my ever-moving two-year-old? Certainly not. That being said, I find my keeper ratio close to that of my film cameras, even with the toddler in questionable light. I only use a 2 or 4GB card to ensure that I do not get in the digital “shoot, chimp, dump and repeat” mindset.

For those that may want to look at the X1, here are a few tips to get you on your way. First, keep your shutter speed above 1/60. Although you may think that 1/30 would work (as it does for me with Leica rangefinders), it tends to let the image get blurry quick, especially if the light is less than optimal.

Second, shot in DNG, all the time. No, really, all the time. Unfortunately the camera only takes DNG+JPG, and not just DNG (something about the camera’s software that cannot preview DNG files, so it grabs a stinky JPG). Delete the JPG and keep the DNG, even for black and white conversions. The latitude that the X1 DNG files give is pretty amazing. I have taken some photos in the unforgiving Florida sun and have been able to recover most of the blown highlights or deep shadows from most areas. The X1 can be frustrating, and a lot of shots can be missed if the camera is not understood. Used properly the X1 will reward you with some amazing photographs. My first time with the X1 stands testament to that, which is a good part of the reason why I came back.

The hype and fervor surrounding the Leica T is reminiscent of what the X1 went through in 2009. As a photographer, I look for cameras that create a connection with me. While the Leica T will one day end up in my hands, the X1 will still be in my bag bringing me exceptional photos that will last a lifetime for me and my family.

my photo blog can be found at











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  1. Fast forward to 2016 if you, Adam, or anyone is still reading. I got enthused by the 36mm images people were showing from a variety of cameras, and then a superb second-hand X1 (really like new) turned up for a third of the new price, so I gave in. If you have a zoom, you end up zooming, however determined you may be to stay with one focal length. Only one thing I disagree with you about – shooting raw. I’ve never had such good OOC jpegs before (except from the X-Vario) requiring virtually no PP.

  2. Have just read this a second time and really found it very stimulating. Certainly corresponds to my way of photographing. With an X vario and a C covering my needs, I’m into gear shedding, but you tempt me………

  3. I bought a second-hand X1 three years ago, and now wouldn’t change it for anything. I love its image quality, but also the simplicity of its controls. Like you said, use it like a film camera and it will teach you how to be a better photographer.

    For the record, I only use spot AF, if I use AF at all, and I find it fast and reliable.

    I hear what you say about DNG being better. Of course it gives you more flexibility, but I actually find the JPG files the X1 produces to be incredibly accurate, to my eyes at least, and requiring little or no post-processing.

    Great photos, by the way. I particularly like the one of the lady in the sunhat. Thanks for sharing, and also for banging the drum for this great little camera.

  4. It really surprised me reading your story – as I went through EXACTLY THE SAME journey, and I have long decided that I will never sell the X1 again.

  5. “Spot AF” – do you mean single point AF? That is what I use most of the time on my V1.

    Single point AF can easily be set on Nikon V1 and you can move the point around.

    You set it in the “AF-area mode” menu and you can select: “Auto-area”, “Single-point” or “Subject tracking”.

  6. I owned a x1 for about one Year and sold it. It was an awesome camera, even with it drawbacks.
    I sometimes regret that i sold it, but i am a “one man one camera guy” and bought an M9 for replacement.
    But the great image quality and great build and feel of the X1 made my become interested in Leica.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. I too recently bought a used X1, mostly out of curiosity. I was expecting something as frustratingly slow as my old Sigma DP1, the camera that initiated my compact cameras frenzy, leading me to having now complete Leica M9 and Nikon V1 kits next to my D700, after having tested Sony NEX, Ricoh GXR and Panasonig m43 cameras!

    I was pleasantly surprised to find that the X1 was nowhere near as slow as I feared: in good light, AF is reasonably fast. The problem is in low light: AF quickly gives up completely, which is a shame given the otherwise competent low light capabilities of the sensor.

    One thing to remember is that the combination of a largish sensor and moderately fast lens results in shallow depth of focus by compact standards: use it like a point and shoot with multiple AF sensors enabled and you’re likely to have the focus all over the place. I try to use spot AF as much as possible, a feature I sorely miss on the Nikon V1 by the way.

  8. Very nice photos and thanks for sharing! Had an X1 and sold it when I bought my X2. While I very much like the images off the X2, I have to agree with a poster who felt the images from the X2 were not as nice as from the X1. X1 images are a little more film-like. However, B&W from the X2 is superb and maybe a little better than B&W from the X1. Anyway… Enjoy!

  9. Thanks for your post Adam! Really good advice about treating the X1 like a film camera. I still shoot with mine every day, and I’m finally learning how to zone focus to catch my 3 year old in motion.

  10. Great article & pictures…I loved my X1 and it started me on a Leica journey to X2 and now M9.

  11. It still takes great pictures…and it’s nice to see old gears given some reviews for those who yearn to go back to basics. Right now however the GR is my main take everywhere camera. I can’t believe the journey I had to go to to finally feel that it’s a compact that is all I need. How if it has a viewfinder, I would say it’s perfect for me. But in some bright light situations, the GR has its frustrations. The RX100M3 however is fast creeping up to me and in my google search bar. Thanks for sharing, wonderful pictures, nice colour and that baby-running naked photo brings back a lot of memories…

  12. The X1 is a great little street shooter. I go out and shoot B&W, 1600 ISO, f5.6 and zone focus. Compact, fast, perfect.

  13. I too have a X1 and I agree with your comments. It’s certainly got its faults, but I would not sell it. I also use a 2Gb card. Get it right and it takes a great photo, as yours prove.

  14. I still love the X2. I keep it in snapshot mode pre focused so the slow auto focusing doesn’t get in the way. The image file is fantastic.

  15. Super review. Good cameras don’t become bad cameras just because something “better” comes along. And your approach – and the resulting images – is quietly inspiring. I also think the pleasure of handling a camera is important: I can understand you wanting to stay with it.

  16. I still love and use my X1 almost daily. It’s a go everywhere capable companion. Nice results btw!

  17. Only complaint with mine is Slow AF making it challenging with kids, but man this camera has the “it”. I have the X2 and I can’t get same images from it as I do the X1. Excellent camera, breath taking images under the right conditions. Great pics of your kids…perfect memories! Thanks for reviewing.

    • I am looking to get a Leica X camera as well and am back and forth over the X1 and X2 and even the X-E. Based on what you have said you are saying the X1 has the better images of the two (or three considering the XE is a renamed X2) So if I want image quality the X1 is the one to get? Correct?

  18. I really enjoyed your photos. The skin tones are excellent.

    That’s great advice about treating your camera as if it was a film camera. I think Sigma Dp users have had to learn the same lesson.

  19. Thanks for the great, and really well-written post. The photo of the owl is just wonderful.

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