Leica X2 review

The Leica X2 is a large-sensor compact camera with a sharp lens and a classic control interface, but it doesn't excel in low light.
Photo of Leica X2

The excellent optics and solid build quality of the Leica X2 ($1,995 list) match its luxury price point, but the camera lacks features you’d expect from one that costs this much. It does have a sharp 24mm f/2.8 Elmarit lens, which delivers roughly the field of view of a 35mm on a full-frame camera, and an accessory port that can accommodate an external optical or electronic viewfinder. If you’re the right type of shooter the X2 might be right up your alley, but the compact Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 , our Editors’ Choice for high-end point-and-shoot cameras, offers a more broad appeal—and it’s priced at a comparatively modest $650.

Design and Features
The X2 draws its design inspiration from the classic screwmount rangefinders that predated the more modern Leica M series. Rounded edges and a body that is noticeably wider than it is tall evoke memories of the Leica III. The X2 measures 2.7 by 4.9 by 2.0 (HWD) inches with its lens collapsed, and weighs about 11.2 ounces. It’s wider, but shorter, than the 3.0-by-4.2-by-1.6-inch Canon PowerShot G15. The G15 is only slightly heavier at 12.4 ounces. The X2 is available in black or chrome finishes.

As far as features and overall design go, the most obvious competitor to the X2 is the Fujifilm X100. It also features an APS-C image sensor—the same size that’s found in most D-SLRs—but its 23mm lens has a maximum aperture of f/2, which captures twice the light as X2 at its widest aperture. The Fuji camera also squeezes a hybrid viewfinder into its body—it can act as an optical finder, or switched to electronic mode for true through-the-lens viewing. The X2 takes a different approach—instead of putting a viewfinder in the camera, it has a hot shoe with accessory port that can be used to house an add-on EVF or a fixed optical finder.  The optical finder is priced at $300, although you can scour used camera stores and find any number of vintage optical finders that approximate the 35mm field of view of the X2 for less. The EVF is more expensive at $500, although shooters who don’t mind buying a third-party accessory can use the $250 Olympus VF-2 without issue. Aside from the branding, the two EVFs are exactly the same.

The X2′s shooting controls are, in a word, classic. There are two dials on the top plate—one controls the shutter speed, the other the aperture. ISO is controlled via a button on the rear of the camera. You can leave everything in Auto mode and use the camera just like a point-and-shoot, adjust only one of three for Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or ISO Priority shooting, or adjust two of the three settings manually. It’s an extremely versatile way to take control of exposure, although a dedicated dial for Exposure Compensation would be a welcome addition—it has to be adjusted via a rear button.

At its heart, the X2 is an autofocus camera. Manual focus is possible, but you must do so by adjusting the rear control dial left or right. This isn’t the most elegant method, especially when compared with classic manual focus Leica M cameras. And the relatively low resolution of the rear LCD doesn’t help. The 3-inch screen has a disappointing 230k-dot resolution, which makes it difficult to confirm critical focus. The display suffers from glare in bright sunlight, making the EVF a necessary add-on for outdoor shooting.

Performance and Conclusions
The Leica X1 was criticized for slower performance, including sluggish autofocus. The X2 offers improved performance—it starts and shoots in 2.5 seconds, fires off a shot every 0.2 second in continuous drive mode for up to eight photos, and records a 0.2-second shutter lag. It starts with the same speed as the Canon PowerShot G1 X , but that large-sensor point-and-shoot lags behind with a 0.4-second shutter lag and a 0.6-second wait between photos. The G1 X suffers from slow autofocus and a shutter that will fire before focus is locked, but the X2 can lock on and fire a shot in less than 0.4-second.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the X2′s lens. It does much better than the 1,800 lines per picture height required for a sharp image—at f/2.8 the lens records 2,089 lines, a figure that increases to 2,318 by f/5.6. The X2 is able to control noise through ISO 1600, but images get very noisy at ISO 3200 through the top ISO of 12500. The Sony RX100 is a better choice for shooting at high ISOs—its zoom lens is extremely sharp and noise is controlled through ISO 6400. Like the X2, the RX100 supports Raw shooting.

The X2 doesn’t support video capture, but it does have a mini HDMI port so you can review photos on an HDTV. There’s a mini USB port for computer connectivity, and a standard SD card slot that also supports SDHC and SDXC cards.

Despite the lack of video and a rear LCD that is a few years out of date, the Leica X2 managed to impress me with its image quality at ISO 1600 and below. Having dedicated control dials for aperture and shutter speed is a boon to photographers who prefer a classic control interface, and the camera performs better than its predecessor and the large-sensor Canon PowerShot G1 X.

Regardless of image quality, the camera’s nearly $2,000 price tag induces some sticker shock. That you are paying some extra money for the Leica logo is not a question, as the similar Fujifilm X100 is priced at around $1,200. If you have the money to spare, and some patience, it will be worth your time to wait and see if Sony’s full-frame RX1 lives up to its $2,800 price tag. If you’re interested in a fixed-lens digital camera with a big sensor and video isn’t a concern, the X2 is a good option—just be sure to budget for an optical or electronic viewfinder to get the most out of the camera on sunny days. If you’re just looking for a small camera that delivers excellent images, but also offers modern conveniences like zoom and video capture, our Editors’ Choice Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is a much better choice. Its image sensor is only 1-inch in size, smaller than APS-C, but its price is smaller as well—it can be yours for around $650.

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Specifications
Dimensions 2.7 x 4.9 x 2 inches
Interface Ports mini USB, mini HDMI
Megapixels 16 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.2 seconds
LCD dots 230000
LCD size 2.7 inches
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 12500
Type Compact
GPS No
Boot time 2.5 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 36 mm
Weight 11.2 lb
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
Sensor Type CMOS
Lines Per Picture Height 2089
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Image Stabilization None
Shutter Lag 0.2 seconds
Sensor Size 24 x 16 (APS-C) mm
Viewfinder Type None

Verdict
The Leica X2 is a large-sensor compact camera with a sharp lens and a classic control interface, but it doesn't excel in low light.
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