The Leica X2 is still a very popular APSC digital camera, in order to have a good grasp on it, I invited 3 users of the cameras for a discussion: Alex Coghe, Alan Pang & Chris Leskovsek. Both Alex & Chris are in this issue of Inspired Eye, Alan will be featured later in the year.
This is not really a Leica X2 review, more of a conversation between 3 photographers that used the Leica X2. There are some thoughts about the Leica X2 vs Fujifilm X100 & more, jump in for more.
Here are the participants of this conversation. The Leica X2 photo samples are copyright to their respective owners. Click on the images below for each photographer's website.
Graphic Designer-Photographer based in New Zealand.
Olivier Duong: Guys, please tell us a bit more about yourselves
Alex Coghe: I am Alex Coghe, an Italian Photojournalist currently based in Mexico. As a commercial Photographer my work ranges from editorial to fashion and erotic photography. I worked on assignment for Leica Camera AG.
Alan Pang: My name is Alan. I'm a photoblogger who's based in Hong Kong. I did my study and worked in IL, USA for 8 years and now settling in Hong Kong. Photography was never in my life until I actually realized how much Hong Kong had changed over the years.
Due to the lack of land and city development, anything that has no significant amount of historic value has to be demolished and turn into a ‘money-making’ property. It was this desire that urged me to raise awareness around me and eventually pursued street photography 2 years ago. My day job has nothing to do with photography; it’s only me and my blog that keeps me going.
Chris Leskovsek: My name is Chris Leskovsek, I'm originally from Santiago, Chile, but I'm currently living and working in Auckland, New Zealand. Photography is been with me for many years, but it was really in the last 1 and a half that i really got serious about it, and been practicing since then. I'm an Art Director/Designer during the day, snapshooter during the night… and day, and everything in between when I'm not in front of a computer.
On the Leica X2
Let's now jump to the X2, what made you settle with this camera?
Alex: I worked on assignment for Leica Camera AG. You can check out the work made for them by clicking here.
As you can see the images of the photo story have been used for the Leica X brochure, distributed worldwide. For this work I used a Leica X2, sent from Germany. I decided to keep the camera after the assignment because I think is perfect to me and my photographic approach.
Currently I am using X2 for street photography and for my commercial work. As a commercial photographer I work with models, making erotic and fashion photography, and for my approach I need to make environmental portraits or getting very close to my subjects. It is also important for me to prevent the camera from becoming a barrier with my models. This is the reason why I choose Leica X2.
For Street Shooting it is a fantastic tool, not a camera for all, and not without compromises (no video, no cool filters) but to be able to return to the magical feeling of an analog camera! I know many photographers prefer the Fujifilm X100, but the X2 is something different. It is a Leica in an absolute sense but at the same time it is discrete and not as flashy as the rival Fuji. I can use it in one hand without problems, secured with a wrist strap. When I am using the camera for street shooting I prefer the optical viewfinder, when I am working with models I prefer the EVF.
It has a super sharp lens and a great sensor for a camera without compromises directed to real photographers. I love the conservativism of Leica also for a compact camera (a special compact camera) like this. The X2 is a nice camera for street photography and photojournalism, that assures great image quality without denying anything to the advantage of its compactness and lightness.
Alan Pang: The X2 was a replacement to my FujiX100 mainly due to the responsiveness issue. I wanted a camera of the same class with better controls and the option for an optical viewfinder. I focus manually when I shoot and wanted a camera that can be operated with one hand. X2 came to my head despite the hefty price tag.
It was the simple design, size, control arrangements and responsiveness that helped me made the decision. I know image sensor and lens bearing the Leica label should be some quality stuff as well. It’s a very solid camera after all. It makes a lot of sense.
Chris Leskovsek: As for the X2, my experience is a bit different from Alan, as I got the camera as a loan from Leica NZ for me to try and to join the ‘Me & my Leica X' competition. So I dont own it. While I had the camera, it was impossible not to compare it with both the Ricoh GR and the Fuji X100/s. I know the Ricoh has a different focal length but I believe it competes with the Leica, for both, size, and “spirit” while the Fuji is more of a “normal camera” instead of a pocket compact, even though it shares the same lens, etc.
I gotta admit that I didn´t like the design of the camera (by the design i don't mean the “look” or aesthetics of the camera, but the handling and how everything is laid out), and like Alan, I also wanted to use it as a “one hand operation” camera, like my Ricoh, but I found it slippery and needed some sort of a grip.
I do like the physical size of the camera and I wish the Fuji was similar in size. But I think theres two different approaches into their design. The IQ of the camera is great, and specially the colors are nothing but spectacular. I really don't know what Leica does to their chips but i do like how they process their colors. Still, I find the Ricoh GR a way faster, and smoother camera to work with compared to the X2.
What genre of photography are you mostly working in and how does the camera enable you to do it? What settings do you use?
Alex: As I said previously, I use the camera for street photography and for sets with models. I use the camera the most of the time in manual exposure. In this way I find reliable also the AF. I love X2 because is a camera based on dial and not menu. When I go out for street shooting I set the camera in black and white. This helps a little bit my vision.
Alan: I do street photography with my X2. It's light and discreet. It does not draw any attention on yourself in the street at all. All the controls I need are at my finger tips. The design is neat a simple. And Alex did mention there's no cool filters which help focuses my work only, not the camera.
I shoot in manual mode. I think it's critical that the X2 encourages me first gave it a try. It's a genius design to have the aperture dial arranged on the top of the camera. It's very accessible. I thought it was odd, and it's not!
As for settings, I set my X2 to the quietest and most discreet state. There's the optical viewfinder mode allows me in doing so, which it basically turns off the LCD screen for you. The LCD temporarily shows up when I need to re-focus or switch between AF/MF. I love this very much. I use the Leica 36mm optical viewfinder to shoot with. Along with a Gordy wrist strap.
Chris: I usually reply to this as a ‘travel' or ‘stroll' photographer. That is because under those umbrellas i have the freedom to shoot both street and landscapes without ‘scaring the people' when i post anything different from a street shot. The Leica X2 is definitely a camera to do this.
With a 35mm equivalent lens, makes it a pleasure to shoot. Yet I wished it had either a faster lens (its ‘only' a f2.8) or a faster shutter speed (tops up at 1/2000s) so you can create some ‘bokeh' effects when you need it.
Other than that, the camera feels nice and doesn't use space on your daily bag. Also, one other thing I should point, and I absolutely love about the X2, is it's battery life. Since it doesn't have any ‘touch/tilting/high/resolution/lcd' bells and whistles things, battery last a lot more compared to other mirrorless cameras.
Do you guys shoot JPG or RAW? If you shoot JPG, is there a specific filter you use?
Alex: With Leica X2 I am used to work JPG + DNG. The choice for JPG depends on the things I am doing. When I am making street photography I prefer B&W contrasty.
When I am busy with work on assignment my choice is color and my preference is vivid. But I use the generated jpgs just for street shooting, and I love them. My choice right now is using just JPG for my street snapshots.
I don’t want and there is no need to make heavy editing when it comes to street photography, and I think the quality of jpg of Leica X2 is fantastic, very film-alike. Sometimes I work a little bit the jpg adding contrast, but that’s all.
Alan: JPG is the only way to go for me. I'd treat it like a digital film. Whatever it gives me, I take it. Plus, it goes easy on my hard drive too. I then run it with VSCO.
Chris: RAW, always RAW. The way I see it is: with this little cameras I always like to take the maximum juice out of their guts. Plus I like sitting down edit the photos and actually ‘develop' them. I also feel, why would I buy a couple of thousand dollar camera ‘just' to get a jpeg. I like to push the chip/sensor to its maximum.
When I edit, I use a ‘home-brewed' black and white preset, and vsco for my color shots through Lightroom. I don't really pay attention to any filters.
How do you find the Dynamic Range, and how do you find the files when Post Processing?
Alex: I am not a photographer so interested in dynamic range when it comes to street photography, this is the reason why I choose to propose my work straight from the camera with my snapshots on the road. Many times my photos become graphism, with burned parts…I am fine with jpg.
Another speech is the commercial work, of course…
Alan: The dynamic range is exactly what you'd expect from the Fujifilm X-series now. Highlights and shadows are both very well kept on the image files.
Chris: Dynamic range in pretty much all of this new generation of cameras is impressive and usually ‘more than enough' for me. Actually, some of these cameras do have more latitude than film. And I use that as my playground when I edit the shots, even though, I have more of a ‘purist' approach (if you will), and I prefer to do 98% of my shots in-camera, and the other 2% in post production as the icing of the cake.
How do you find the Low light capabilities? What's the highest ISO you feel comfortable at?
Alex: As I said I am using camera with models, often indoor, in low-light environments, also in a church, and I find Leica X2 doesn’t slow down much in low light situations. I am comfortable also with 3200 iso with this camera. For night shots, also camera shows great colors, so we can say the ISO range works well in low light.
Alan: I work 9 till 6 during the day. The only time available left is usually the evening. ISO3200 is as far as I could accept when doing colors. Thanks to the great depth of field given by the Elmarit lens I'm able to shoot at night in town. It's no surprised my shutter speed is usually set at 1/30, 1/60.
Chris: I think nowadays cameras, specially within the same market (apsc mirrorless, 28-35mm) are all good in low light capabilities, and the X2 is no different. The sensor in the camera is great. But I gotta be honest, when shooting color I don't go beyond ISO 1600, but when shooting black and white, I find particularly pleasant the noise pattern in both the X2 and the Ricoh GR, that I have not seen in other cameras.
In fact I like so much, that lately I find myself shooting on purpose in between 1600 and 3200. but don't go beyond that, and never needed to go beyond that anyway.
What do you think the internet miscommunicated about this camera? Things that were not said / omitted, good, bad surprises?
Alex: First of all: I consider this camera better than Fujifilm X100 or X100s, that can be considered the direct rival. The reason is easy: the lens is a Leica lens, if you know what I mean. And this is a real compact camera, without winking the big audience for a vintage body or trendy filters…it is an expensive camera, is true and not for all. You can love it or hate it.
It is presented as an excellent device for street photography, and I would say is great also to make environmental portraits.
I think a great misunderstanding is the AF rumours, that would be exasperatingly slow: I was a victim of this myth. Indeed AF is not so slow, for sure is not the fastest you can find in the camera market, but knowing the camera you will have another kind of experience. I think the X2 has a higher learning curve.
Alan: I know the reviewers on various photography web are always not passionate photographers. My unbiased review actually came from those who own X1. The proud owner of such camera that shoots with it can tell you what's good or bad, how they use it or how am I going to use it. I think this is the purpose of this discussion.
What don't you like about the camera? Any problems? Do you feel that there are things you can't do with it?
Alex: Yeah. It is not the camera to make fast close ups when you are on the street. In this sense I think Ricoh GRD IV responds better. I would say X2 in the streets is for a thoughtful approach, less instintive.
Alan: Not sure if Alex remembers how the ‘Auto LCD Off' was bothering me, I actually dropped a message on his blog and wrote an email to Leica in Germany. The camera actually goes on idle every 30 seconds or 1 min, without any other options (such as 3 min, 5 min or even Off). It takes more than the On/Off startup time to wake it back on. It causes missed shots. Chris had mentioned about the amazing battery life.
I tend to agree and I believe this is where the camera is actually saving power on. I do not know if the Leica M has this similar firmware configuration, it was bothering me for the first 6 or 7 months of ownership. I guess either Leica does not know this or they stand really firm on their principle. I have adapted eventually by waking up my X2 before stepping into a scene.
I do prefer the the non-retractable lens. The new Ricoh GR has a much shorter retractable lens which is what I look forward to on any enthusiast type cameras. Somehow if they could come up with designs with one that's fixed but not retractable, it'd be sweet.
Alex: Great points from Alan about the cons of this camera. I agree with him. Overall with the missed shots provoked by the stand by.
I don't use continous shooting, but as a reviewer I tested this feature and Leica X2 is not reliable using this option: after the shots too much time occupied to register the files. For other photographers this can be a serious issue.
As said, X2 in the perfect tradition Leica, is not for all. Because Leica is another world: take it or leave it. Some things are more difficult, other things are easy. What I love most with this camera is the fact I can focus on photography, more than with other cameras, full of options, almost computers with a lens. The X2 is a digital camera that seems much more a film camera than others that would be, but they are just for their vintage design.
Let me say I love this camera also for the good sensations I receive holding it in my hand: massive, solid but still light like a mini Leica M.
Chris: I think Alan gave the best answer to the cons of the camera, and I agree with him.
Do you feel that there is any alternatives to the X2 or it's in own class?
Alex: you will have always alternatives: I think fujifilm x series is the first alternative. But in my opinion I would never change my Leica for a Fuji…
Alan: In terms of specs, Fuji is out there competing, Sony is putting out their full frames, M4/3 is making their AF so fast. I guess it goes downs to the point how I enjoy the camera. The more fancy, shiny the camera is, the less I'd consider. You see how many models those brands are releasing each year.
They want you to buy their cameras and technologies. Versus, Leica is there saying: If you enjoy photography, come to our family. It's how I feel.
Chris: Yes, I believe there are other alternatives, I dont think the X2 is unique in any sense, the again I believe, the Fuji X100, Ricoh GR, Nikon A even the Sony RX1 are strong competitors to the X2. I do think and I love, really love the approach of the X2 as being a photo camera and not a hybrid-video-photo-touchy-filter-wifi-tilting-whatever of a camera, and I see how its pointed toward to serious photographes, but so are the others cameras I just mentioned.
But what really bothers me, is that at its price point the LCD screen (being the main and principal way of shooting with this camera) its absolutely horrendous. Its simply useless even to check focus. So i used it to compose only and checked the images in my computer afterwards. You need a VF with this camera in my experience and I didn't had one when I used it.
At the end of the day, how much would you rate the camera?
Alex: I consider myself an enthusiast of this camera, but is always possible to improve. So:
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Alan: Here's my rating:
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Chris: I think it would be a 5. I think its too expensive for what it is. but everything Leica has been expensive. And I just think that there is “better” options in its class:
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Any closing comments?
Alex: The X2 is a great compact camera. Sometimes critics forget we are talking about a compact camera, maybe for the price, maybe because is a Leica. I took pictures in barrios ( popular neighborhoods sometimes not so safe to bring and using a camera) here in Mexico, is not that flashy…thanks to the choice of the focal range of the lens I have a camera for several situations.
I am using this camera with models for erotic or fashion photography, the proof that is a camera that can also be used for commercial photography. Thanks for the opportunity!
Alan: This is a good learning camera, it strips away all the toy factor for you. I only see the fundamentals, my view through the finder, aperture and shutter speed. Thanks!
Chris: I would only like to add, that after trying and testing several cameras, I do agree (the now cliché, if you want) that gear is absolute not important and pretty much all this cameras are more than enough for pretty much anyone needs. And I see cameras as pencils for you to write your story, the only difference I see, is just pick the one it fits your hand best. After all its about the photos and the stories, not the camera. for me at least. Thanks!