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Leica is a traditional ‘German’ and they don’t do anything without a very specific and detailed plan! The following is what I believe their X1 design plan was based on, at least originally.

 

When I read reviews, I’ve learned from experience, not to believe any subjective conclusions that any reviewer makes! They are inevitably wrong. I think that this is usually because the reviewer isn’t smart enough to grasp the intricacies of the newest design plan.

 

It is likely that nobody has even bothered to ask Leica or at least not asked the people that would know what their original working design goals for the X1 were! They work in small, tight teams of engineers and secrecy is a given.

 

Deciphering a camera’s design intent is like looking at the tracks left in the snow and using your knowledge to figure out what animal left them. This can be tricky and depends as much upon ones experience as it does upon your intuition.

 

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This is nothing less that the first, truly ‘old school’ digital Leica design that meets the criteria they set down in the early 20th century with their first film cameras! That philosophy was as radical then as it is now! They designed the smallest body design that used 35mm motion picture films. The original didn’t even have a viewfinder. When you see this camera next to other designs from it’s time, it was miniature by comparison.

 

This new X1 camera is designed for producing the ultimately, ‘BEST JPEGS’ automatically and as fine tuned by Leica to their lofty standards. From what I’ve seen, they’ve done just that! There appears to be no reason to edit these jpegs in post production.

 

Another BIG clue was that the anti-vibration on the X1 ONLY works on JPEGs and NOT DNG raw files! That can’t be an accident. It is intended to push you towards using their jpegs! Why else wouldn’t it work in raw in a $2,000 camera?

 

Another was the physical design and layout of the controls. These are very minimal and that wasn’t easy to do! This is as simple a physical design as it gets! Especially when you consider the size!

 

Also, there is that incredible prime lens! The identical removable prime lens design is sold by Leica for $3,995! Identical! It isn’t an exaggeration to say that this camera is sold for a bargain price!

 

Even the lens’s focal length goes along with the Leica tradition for their film cameras! They seem to have chosen the 35 mm lens focal length as ‘their own’ standard lens design when most others used the 50 mm focal length.

 

I’m sure that the advanced 29-menu system was added by committee that demanded more ‘features’ so that it could compare more equally with ‘other’ brands in the same space. As was the raw DNG file format. Too bad! I’m sure it started out much more spartan and usable but too radical for their marketing department!

 

The X1 was built to be small and compact enough to carry all the time with no penalty for shooting (no film to buy!) lots of photos.

 

With minimal experimentation, you’ll even figure out what the exposure ‘should be’ and you’ll then be able to set it manually! It just takes practice and you will ‘see’ exposures and know what will be needed to get the results that you are after. Old school!

 

I’d suggest you look into some antique books about using the oldest Leicas. The Life magazine photographers used to swear by the little Leicas … Henri-Cartier Bresson, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Ernst Haas, and even Philippe Halsman. I’m sure their same tips will directly apply to using  this X1 camera to it’s full advantage!

 

Eugene Smith was another Leica devote. I’ve read many of his books. He’d develop his films in coffee cans on pot bellied stoves when necessary! But the images his leica’s produced were still astonishing. Were he around, this would be a camera he’d love to use!

 

The size makes it possible for you to be nearly ‘invisible’ when you are shooting. Even close up, people won’t realize what you are doing with practice. Try it and see. Take it along everywhere you go! And use it, everywhere.

 

In a way, it’s like my iPhone (except it produces astonishingly beautiful images!) in size.

 

This is a camera that is all about the photograph! It’s not about the camera and not about the photographer. Truly THE radical old school design!

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Here are some traditional Japanese paintings found in a recent Google search.

 

Now look at some traditional European paintings, also found in a recent Google search.

 

A few of the most obvious categories where these traditions differ include flatness vs. depth and flat color vs. multi-tonal color.

 

I maintain that for their visual arts, these foundational differences have influenced the engineering designs of their photographic camera systems, as well.

 

Post WWII in both Japan and Germany, the camera and lens industries had to be rebuilt.

 

Because all lens design involves physical rules from nature, trade-offs must be made, sacrificing one quality to gain or improve another. It is the balance of these trade-offs that is the key to understanding lens designs.

 

Each group took pride in this work and each designed their lenses to more closely match their culture’s visual biases.

 

In europe, the German lens designers (Leica and Schneider) balanced their lens designs so that they’d produce subtle and smooth color tonal ramps throughout both the in focus and out of focus areas of the image. Also, barrel and pincushion distortions as well as chromatic aberrations in both the in-focus AND out of focus areas in the image were minimized. To accomplish all of this, the trade-off was some edge sharpness.

 

Even european films such as Agfa, mirrored their culture’s visual sensibilities with subtle, perhaps even a slightly muted color pallet.

 

In Japan, their top lens designers at Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, etc., concentrated on lens designs with the sharpest possible focus and bold colors. Out of focus distortion and aberrations were acceptable trade-offs as long as the in-focus plane was tack sharp and the color tonalities were vivid and bold.

 

And Japanese films such as Fuji, were similarly all about sharpness and bold colors!

 

Still today, this dichotomy of camera design persists! Even though Leica lenses are now manufactured in Japan, their designs are the same German designs that came out just after WWII.

 

As we have moved from analog film to digital cameras, these two very different visual/cultural sensibilities continue to influence the design of the cameras and lenses!

 

That so few photographers will ever notice this in our current visual society is unfortunate. Beyond techniques, the physical gear that they choose to capture their photos will have a tremendous impact on the look and feel of their images.

 

Those that do see and understand these two design philosophies will be able to select the one that best fits their own vision and color pallet.

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