Leica X2 review

3.5 out of 5
£1575

For

Looks great, improved autofocus, much better battery life, manual dials (now firmer), sharp lens, good image quality, download copy of latest Adobe Lightroom included in the price

Against

Pricey, no close-up focus, small and low-resolution screen, no ND filter (built-in or lens-mountable), won’t suit the average consumer, image quality (although good) isn’t any better than a high-end compact system camera

The Leica X2 is a bit like the Ferrari of the camera world. It looks gorgeous, has some enviable features, but it’s also extortionately expensive. And it’s that last point that will price it out of most people's reach.

How expensive? Try £1575 for the standard kit, and that’s without the viewfinder, case, optional grip or other accessories. Pricey is more than a fair comment.

But there is demand for such kit. When we visited Leica for our initial X2 hands-on preview review, we could more than see the appeal. We walked away wanting one, and not just because we couldn’t afford one.

Can the Leica X2 knock the socks off not only its X1 predecessor, but also the demanding customer base considering taking a dip - well, more a dive - into their wallets?

Fixed Lens

The average compact comes with a zoom lens and a small sensor size that, while capable of delivering some degree of quality, leaves room for improvement. But the Leica X2 is no average compact.

There’s a large, APS-C size sensor - the same size as that found in most DSLR cameras - and the X2’s fixed lens means that there is no zoom. Instead the Leica Elmarit 24mm f/2.8 ASPH lens, which equates to a 36mm lens in a full-frame (or 35mm) equivalent, gives a medium-wide angle of view.

Such a view on the world is often touted as the perfect match for street photography, and it’s been the focal length of choice for a generation of big-name photographers. Those wanting to preserve the classic style and enjoy - though some may say suffer - the restrictions of a fixed lens have the perfect tool here.

It’s sharp too. Leica is world renowned for making among the very best lenses going, and the X2 doesn’t hold back in this department. That’s part of the reason it’s such a pricey bit of kit.

Our main moan regarding the lens is its inability to focus when close up to a subject. That may not be the most common use for this camera, but with a closest focus distance of around 30cms (that's one foot!) it certainly has its limitations.

And our other quibble is the inability to add a filter. Not only does the camera lack an inbuilt neutral density (ND) filter - which would have been very useful due to the f/2.8 max aperture - but nothing can be popped on the front of the lens either. A bit of a shame.

Design

As a whole we think the Leica X2 looks like a gorgeous slice of photo pie.

Design-wise it looks a lot like its predecessor. The body shape is the same, though the surrounding leather-like grip has a different texture to make the camera easier to handle.

Available in black or black and silver - Pocket-lint’s preferred model is the silver version that’s on test - we’re just glad that Leica’s stuck to its guns and continues to deliver elegant choices rather than any bonkers cherry red or aqua blue finishes.

A key design trait of Leica cameras is for traditional-style rotational dials, and the X2 doesn’t disappoint in this department. There’s a large dial to control the shutter speed up to 1/2000th sec, while a smaller f/2.8-f/16 aperture dial sits to the opposite side of the shutter release. Both are a whisker away from the rear of the camera, so a passing thumb can easily change the settings. However the X2’s dials are far, far stiffer than the ones found on the original X1 - a complaint that many had with the original camera.

There is one sizeable shortcoming, however: the 2.7-inch screen is small by current standards, and the 230k-dot resolution is the same as that found on a basic £100 compact, not one some 15 times pricier. But that’s typical of Leica: even its desirable M9 rangefinder has, when considering its price-to-feature ratio, probably the worst LCD screen of any modern digital camera.

What’s new: X1 vs X2

As well as the mentions in the previous paragraphs, the Leica X2 has some notable differences compared to its predecessor. In the near-to-three years since the original camera’s launch, the Leica X2 has had plenty of time to up its game.

The biggest change comes in the form of autofocus. The X1’s slow autofocus system has been given a firm kick up the backside, as the X2’s focus system is far quicker than its predecessor. It’s not mind-bogglingly fast, however, and won’t outperform the likes of the Olympus OM-D and similar, but it’s a much needed improvement.

There are multiple focus options available: 1-point; 11-point; Face Detection; and a Spot mode which uses a smaller focal area for greater precision. If manual’s more your thing then the electronically controlled system, controlled via the rear thumbwheel, may not feel as satisfying as turning a lens focus ring (that’s not available here), but the inclusion of a focus distance measured in feet and metres is useful. The 100 per cent preview square that pops up on screen also assists in pinpoint focus, but the electronic nature of the system means there are slight "steps" in the focusing process.

The inclusion of a rear accessory port means the X2 can now accommodate either an electronic viewfinder (the EVF2, sold separately, priced £360) or the hotshoe-mounted optical viewfinder (sold separately, priced £269). We’ve had both on test and are rather fond of the EVF2, even if the 1.44m-dot resolution is nothing special - it’s the very same viewfinder display as you’ll find built into a £500 Panasonic G3, albeit dressed up with a Leica badge and mounted on a titling mechanism. But it’s that last part, the ability to shoot at up to 90 degrees for down-facing, less conspicuous shooting, however, that’s a real bonus.

The X2’s pop-up flash, activated by pressing the circular disc to the top left of the camera, now pops up on a stem, rather than the lower-mounted cylinder as per the X1’s design.

Battery life, as indicated by the bar on the rear screen, is also significantly improved. The X1 catered for a quoted 260 shots per charge. The X2, despite using the same DC8 li-ion battery, adds around an extra 200 shots to that, with a quoted 450 shots per charge. It kept us going for a full day at a time with no problems, and it’s features like this that will see X1 owners want to part with their cash for an upgrade.

There’s more resolution too. The X2’s 16-megapixel count is nearly 4-megapixels greater than what the original X1’s 12.2-megapixel sensor had on offer.

APS-C sensor: Image Quality

But what does this increase in resolution do for the X2’s resulting images?

The camera’s APS-C size sensor is large and this makes for sharp, detailed images, helped along by the quality lens and full aperture control right up to f/2.8.

The X2’s ISO 100-12,500 range is broad, and low-light shooting wasn’t a problem thanks to the built-in AF assist lamp.

As well as standard there’s in-camera vivid, black and white and high contrast options that can be selected to shoot JPEG only or in raw & JPEG mode (the raw file contains all colour information).

The X2’s lower ISO settings are the cleanest and clearest, but we were happy with detail right up to ISO 800. Above this there’s some obvious degrading of quality, but ISO 1600-3200 are still decent, ignoring a spattering of luminance noise. ISO 6400 is pushing it, as is the top-end ISO 12,500 setting, but both still look glorious in the in-camera black and white mode (which we used for almost all our shots!).

We’d definitely recommend shooting in raw as the JPEG shots are a little smeared higher up the ISO ranks. However the raw files do take a bit of work - not only do they have more noise, but the unaltered files often look over-saturated and overexposed, requiring a bit of adjustment to get them at their best.

Overall the X2’s images are much like the X1’s, albeit on a larger scale. That extra output size will be wanted by some, yet shrugged at by others.

A downloadable copy of Adobe’s latest Lightroom is also included in the box, so this does help add to the value proposition and is a great way to edit the DNG raw files from the word go.

Verdict

We love the Leica X2, but it’s a far cry from a mainstream camera and, therefore, won’t be suited to many of our readers. However, it’s this distinctiveness that makes it a desirable camera.

Not only does the X2 look delectable - that understated "for those in the know" kind of good - but its images are equally great too.

Compared to the X1 there’s a raft of improvements: higher resolution, quicker autofocus, stiffer control dials, a higher pop-up flash, significantly better battery life, and an accessory port to add an electronic viewfinder should you wish.

The X2 sits in a niche market that’s not got a huge amount of competition. Zoom-lens competitors would extend to the likes of the Sony RX100 and Canon G1 X, while the closest fixed-lens offering is Sigma’s DP2 Merrill, or Fujifilm's more feature-laden (and affordable) X100.

So why doesn’t the Leica X2 score higher? It’s that price. All £1575 of it. It’s unavoidable, but not unexpected. This Leica is part statement piece, part camera. It’s lovable, but most will head straight for a "normal" compact and pocket the change.