Leica’s stately X Typ 113 might be the dream compact you’ve been waiting for

At Photokina 2014 in Cologne, Germany, Leica introduced a slew of new products including a digital Leica M that comes without a display, an analog Leica M that comes without a light meter, as well as two new compact cameras that are essentially rebadged Panasonic models. There was, however, one announcement that caught our particular attention: the new Leica X.

Leica first introduced its X-series of fixed-lens, large-sensor compact cameras back in 2009, when the company launched the original X1. The camera featured a relatively slow 23mm f/2.8 lens, a low-resolving display, and an incredibly sluggish autofocus. In 2012, the X2 improved the autofocus situation and included the option to mount a higher resolving electronic viewfinder.

The Leica X-E and X 113 side-by-side. The new lens is noticeably larger.
The Leica X-E and X 113 side-by-side. The new lens is noticeably larger.

This year, the X-series finally saw the camera that enthusiasts have been waiting for: the new X Typ 113. And it seems that Leica has learned its lesson, as the new camera comes with pretty much everything that you could ask for. Most notably, the new X sports a significantly faster lens, with an initial f/1.7 aperture and the legendary Summilux branding. The 3-inch display on the rear is now resolving 920,000 dots, which makes it much nicer to use, and unlike the X2 – which is now available at a discount and labelled the X-E – the X 113 uses the new (and beautiful) Visoflex viewfinder which was introduced with the mirrorless Leica T.

The new Leica X comes in two flavors, an all-black body and a silver/brown variant. Both styles will find their fans, with the silver/brown design have a more classic and elegant look, while the all-black X is less obtrusive and might be preferred by street photographers. The top plate of the camera is styled similar to that of the X Vario, which means that it is slightly raised from the hot shoe/viewfinder mount onward and up to where the flash is hidden. As with previous X models, the new Typ 113 sports dials for shutter speed and aperture on the right-hand side of the top plate, with a new addition being the movie-recording button.

The 23mm f/1.7 Summilux-lens sports a manual focusing ring with distance scale.
The 23mm f/1.7 Summilux-lens has a manual focusing ring with distance scale.

The lens, which is substantially larger than that of the X1, X2 and X-E, sports a manual focusing ring that works the same way as that of the X Vario. Putting it to the AF position just behind the infinity setting will activate autofocus, and twisting it to any position on the distance scale will instantly set the lens to the desired focusing distance. Together with the aperture and shutter-speed dials, this allows the user to go either fully manual or fully automatic in an instant, without having to fiddle with any mode dials or dig through settings menus. (Interestingly, that’s how Fujifilm does it with some of its similarly named X-series cameras.)

Even at its widest setting of f/1.7 the lens is tack sharp in the center.

During the short time we were able to spend with the new X at this year’s Photokina, we had the impression that the camera was focusing rather quickly, with the AF locking onto subjects accurately and without a lot of hunting. That was a pleasant surprise, considering that in previous Leica cameras that weren’t rebranded Panasonic products, the autofocusing has always been a weak point.

Metering seemed to be spot-on in the Leica X 113, and the image quality is as good as that of the X Vario – which is no surprise considering that the two cameras use the same sensor. The lens produces stellar results, which was to be expected, and even at its widest setting of f/1.7 it is tack sharp in the center, with the corners being sharp enough for most purposes. Now before you get all excited about subject separation, there’s a downside to the new lens. In order to keep the size down, Leica had to limit close-focusing to apertures f/2.8 and smaller, and only as you’re focusing further away, the aperture gradually widens.

At close focusing distances, the Leica X 113 is limited to narrower apertures, f/2.8 in this case.
At close focusing distances, the Leica X 113 is limited to narrower apertures, f/2.8 in this case.

So while it’s possible to achieve nice background blur even at f/2.8 when focusing on a subject that is close-up, you won’t be able to use f/1.7 for a head-and-shoulders portrait. That’s a bit disappointing, as it somewhat limits the use of the widest aperture to low-light shooting scenarios. When light gets sparse, however, the X 113 has a huge advantage over the X2 and X-E with its faster lens, allowing for faster shutter speeds and lower ISOs.

If you’re interested in the Leica X Typ 113, be prepared to make your wallet cry. The camera itself is $2,300, and that doesn’t include the Visoflex viewfinder or one of those nice half cases yet. So while the Leica X definitively isn’t for everyone, those who don’t mind spending a little more can be sure to enjoy a high-quality product that takes great images and has significantly improved over its predecessors.

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