We’re several years into the trend of advanced compact cameras blending large image sensors with fast, fixed focal-length lenses and a nostalgic affection for analogue-era knobs and dials. The Leica X (Typ 113)—an update to the Leica X2—checks off all these boxes, but unlike other popular cameras in the category, the $2,295 X carries a much steeper premium. Is it warranted? We teamed up with our frequent co-tester, photographer and director David Patiño to find out.
The X packs a 16.5-megapixel APS-C-sized CMOS image sensor and a 23mm Summilux lens, equivalent to 35mm on a full-frame sensor. The lens has an aperture range of f/1.7–16, and a minimum focusing distance of 7.87 inches. You’ll enjoy both manual focusing and 11-point autofocus, plus spot AF and face-detection options.
The camera has a native sensitivity range of ISO 100–12,500 and shutter speeds ranging from 30–1/2000 sec. Unlike its predecessor, the X does have HD video recording—you can choose between 1920x1080p or 1280x720p at 30 fps. The X uses Adobe’s DNG format for RAW files and includes a free copy of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom with each purchase.
The X forgoes any hint of ergonomic contours or grips in favor of a box-like body. At 17.1 ounces (with battery), it’s not terribly heavy, but with its stout 23mm lens, it isn’t pocketable, either. It’s mostly comfortable to shoot with, but we found the metal hooks for the camera straps to be awkwardly placed. They’re exactly where your hands will be when you shoot, and we found our fingers were constantly colliding with them.
There’s a small built-in pop-up flash, but no viewfinder—you’ll have to buy one separately. Aperture and shutter speed are set using a pair of dials at the top of the camera while exposure compensation can be adjusted via a scroll wheel on the back of the camera.
As you’d expect, the build quality on the X is first rate. It’s a sturdy, well-built camera.
We could begin and end our discussion of the X’s image quality with a single word: superb.
Patiño brought the camera to the beach where he was roped into an impromptu wedding portrait session that was unfolding on the sand. He shot from bright daylight well into the night, relying mostly on natural light, and he was extremely pleased with the results. The colors were richly saturated and details, like the crystal beads on a bride’s gown, popped off his monitor. The X held up well in low light, with images that were still useable up to ISO 1600. “The skin tones hold up nice, even at ISO 3200,” Patiño told us. “The image quality on this camera is stellar.”
The X is well-served by its lens, which produced very little flare despite the abundance of angled sunlight on the shore. Patiño took photos of a cloud-free sky to see if the lens showed any fringing, but found none.
Video quality was similarly impressive. In fact, it was just good enough to make us wish Leica had put just a bit more effort into the X’s video capabilities. You do get a dedicated record button to initiate video recording, and you can manually focus while filming, but that’s about the extent of your control. Like Henry Ford’s auto paint options, the X offers your choice of frame rates, so long as it’s 30 fps. Cameras retailing for a fraction of the X’s sticker price provide a wider selection of frame rates, greater control over exposure during video recording and even 4K resolution.
What really struck Patiño was not just the quality of the moving picture but the sound. He used the X to record a woman singing over an acoustic guitar. When we played it back on his Yamaha HS8 studio monitors, we were struck with how rich the sound was. Given how modest the video feature set is on the X, such sound quality seemed discordant. But we’ll take it.
The X starts quickly and offers brisk shot-to-shot performance when you disable the auto-review function. As far as continuous shooting goes, the X isn’t much of a speed demon, clocking in at between 3–5 fps for up to seven frames when shooting in RAW+JPEG mode. The camera offers a countdown for bursts that tips you off to how many new frames it’s able to capture. It takes about a second per frame to completely clear the buffer. The wait isn’t intolerable, and this won’t really be your camera of choice at a sporting event.
Patiño found the autofocus to be sluggish at times as it hunted for focus. You can manually focus the lens and there’s a helpful focus preview function that magnifies a portion of the frame to help you dial in your subject. But there’s no manual-focus override when you’re in autofocus mode.
Leica rates the battery as good for 350 shots, and we enjoyed two full days of shooting (without flash) before needing a recharge.
The Leica X takes beautiful photographs. We wish there were more video features, that the autofocus was a bit more responsive and the pesky strap handles were relocated, but these vices don’t overwhelm the X’s virtues. Price is another matter. As is usually the case, Leica is asking its devotees to dig deep into their wallets for a camera that, despite its impressive image quality, isn’t as versatile as others on the market. Those that take the plunge should be more than satisfied with the quality of their images, but we can’t fault those who choose to invest their compact-camera dollars into something more versatile.
PROS: Outstanding image quality; surprisingly good audio; excellent build quality; terrific lens.
CONS: Expensive relative to other large-sensor compacts; limited video feature set; occasionally sluggish autofocus.