Yesterday’s news: The Leica X1 review

Leica X1

{Originally this article was written for stevehuffphoto.com since I enjoy the site and wanted to contribute. Figured it should be on here as well in case readers of this blog wanted to have more information on this great camera. If you want to see photos taken with the X1, click on the Leica X1 tag on the right and they should pop up for your viewing pleasure.}

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 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 it’s 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 reminisciant 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.

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On parenting…..

The past few weeks have been tough. I would say the toughest yet as a parent. The {not so} simple task of moving Emily from a crib to a toddler bed has turned our world upside down with less than four hours of sleep per night, a lot of trying to convince her that sleeping in good, and some not-so-happy moments of despair that this will never end (usually happens around 2:30am). While pondering if she might be one of the Keifer Sutherland’s vampiric Lost Boys from the days of my youth, this photo popped up  and made me smile. Reminds me that the dark moments are overshadowed by the light, even if we cannot see it at times. This too shall pass.As free as only a two-year-old can be

A night out

A much needed night out with a good friend in downtown West Palm Beach. Here are some photos of the night…. 

In other words don't leave the goods where thieving eyes may see them. Always good advice!
In other words don’t leave the goods where thieving eyes may see them. Always good advice!
Dogfish 90
What better way to start a night than with a Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA!
The chairs are so anxious they huddle in excited anticipation of the oncoming crowd of raucous party-goers!
The chairs are so anxious they huddle in excited anticipation of the oncoming crowd of raucous party-goers!
Even Facebook needs protection (while it still shamelessly advertises and tracks your every move, even right now).
Even Facebook needs protection (while it still shamelessly advertises and tracks your every move, even right now).
This man hates Leica. I guess it may have turned into a violent encounter if he saw me shooting him the with X1!
This man hates Leica. I guess it may have turned into a violent encounter if he saw me shooting him the with X1!
Regardless of how many beers one has had, it is still a long walk.
Regardless of how many beers one has had, it is still a long walk.
Even baristas need to take a moment to see the newest wave of Ice Bucket Challenges.
Even baristas need to take a moment to see the newest wave of Ice Bucket Challenges.

L1001712

He must still be angry at Leica..
He must still be angry at Leica..
From the shadows comes a photo of a guy on his scooter.
From the shadows comes a photo of a guy on his scooter.
Should we stumble across this dark alley or avoid trouble and go straight to the vehicle? My sense of adventure had waned by this point, but I managed to grab this shot regardless.
Should we stumble across this dark alley or avoid trouble and go straight to the vehicle? My sense of adventure had waned by this point, but I managed to grab this shot regardless.