The digital camera market traditionally ran from high-end, professional models down to amateur snappers in a simple linear model. But advances in technology and changes in consumer behaviour have disrupted this line.
We now see the mid-range market getting smaller, largely because smartphones have replaced the need for an independent camera for many users. The DSLR market is getting cheaper and more accessible to consumer-level markets too, but DSLR cameras are still typically bulky and complicated to use. So what does this all boil down to?
This means that premium camera manufacturers such as Leica are shining through the twisting and turning digital camera market with quality releases to fill the void in the middle market. This year, Leica tested the market by releasing the M-Monochrom with huge fanfare and a price tag to match (377,000 baht and up), pitching it to its most loyal followers. It is a purely black-and-white camera, incapable of capturing colour images, and is destined to be a niche product. But another recent release with broader appeal is the X2.
Can the manufacturer continue to justify its substantial price tags in a shifting market? Let's take a look at the X2, the more consumer-oriented of the two models, to check the prognosis for Leica.
When Leica released the X1 in 2009, it was a revolution. No other camera had managed to squeeze a full-size sensor into a compact chassis. Since then, other manufacturers have taken up the large-sensor compact-body challenge, most notably Fujifilm with its retro-styled X100 that garnered much praise from reviewers and particularly among users with its more modest price tag and better handling in some areas. Leica has responded with the X2, which addresses many of the shortcomings of the X1.
The X2 continues the clean retro detailing of its younger sibling, no doubt much to the delight of Leica devotees. The body shape is very similar, while the grips have been improved. The iconic Leica rotational-style dials (for shutter speed and aperture) appear on the top, but require a little strength to rotate. The back plate houses a 2.7in screen with 230,000 pixels, which has garnered criticism for being under-spec, particularly in this class.
The fixed lens format continues on the X2 with a Leica Elmarit-M 24mm f/2.8 ASPH lens. To amateurs this seems particularly limited, given most compacts offer a zoom lens. But professionals know that fixed lenses better optimise the optics of a sensor. It's equivalent to a fixed 35mm full-frame lens on a normal DSLR, which is the focal length of choice for shooting street scenes. But it is also wide enough for landscapes, just not macro shooting of anything too close. You will need to get close to subjects too, if you want them to fill the frame, countering the laziness of zoom photography.
To capture the light, inside is the same APS-C size sensor of the X1, similar to those found in many DSLRs. On the X2, the megapixel count gets a bump to 16 million, up from 12.2 million on the X1. The ISO range is also increased to 12,500, where it is predictably a little grainy, and better kept under 6,400. Another needed area of improvement from the X1 is the AF (autofocus), which is now faster and has various metering settings to choose from. Battery life is also increased to almost double, which is very welcome. A digital port for an EVF (electronic viewfinder) and other accessories is another welcome inclusion.
Picture quality continues the signature soft colours and light that Leica is famous for, and that purists spend thousands of dollars chasing or hours in Photoshop recreating. Shooting is in either RAW or JPEG modes.
A downloadable version of Adobe Lightroom is included in the box, which helps justify the cost.
Leica has uncompromisingly delivered another premium compact camera in the X2, once again climbing above competitors, namely the Canon Powershot G1 X and Fujifilm X100. The X2 is a statement of quality with its retro design, improved AF and battery life, and continuing image capture excellence.
However, the price will be a hindrance for most, placing it on a shelf out of reach for most consumers and continuing the off-beat style that Leica seems happy to perpetuate.
While the X2 won't reach most consumers' hands, the market will benefit with the release of such quality and considered craftsmanship, which can hopefully continue, however niche.
The Leica X2 is available for 73,400 baht from official Leica dealers, the closest of which is in Kuala Lumpur, with outlets also in Singapore and Hong Kong. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any gadget thoughts.