Leica X2 review

Is the Leica X2 the perfect street photography camera?

Reasons to buy
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    Top notch lens

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    Beautiful looks and build

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    Great photo quality

Reasons to avoid
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    Outdated screen

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    No video mode

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    Costs a pretty penny

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The Leica X2 is the company's second generation 35mm point-and-shoot, a high-end compact with a DSLR-sized sensor and distinctive retro styling

Update: We've updated the gallery above to include images of the new Leica X2 Paul Smith Edition which was recently announced at Photokina 2012. Available in limited numbers from October 2012, the Paul Smith-designed camera will set you back £2,000. The review below refers to the original Leica X2 model.

The Leica X2 is the replacement for 2010's Leica X1, and fulfils the same role in Leica's line-up: essentially, it's a luxury digital point-and-shoot with a nod to the 35mm film cameras of photography yore.

Announced alongside the Leica Ma Monochrom and the Leica V-Lux 40, the X2 sports a 16.1-megapixel sensor that's physically the same size as that of a DSLR, and the lens is fixed focal length but of very high quality design and build. In fact, the design and build of this camera is impressive throughout (its retro looks are backed up by extreme sturdiness).

Leica X2: Controls

The X2 has a control setup that should suit both the newcomer and the old hand. The former can simply set the two top dials to their 'A' auto setting to let the camera decide shutter speed and aperture, leaving them only needing to point and shoot.

Those who are more comfortable twiddling around can choose their own settings from the dials, the buttons to the left of the screen or the dial and buttons to the right of it. Adjusting shooting settings is a fairly swift and painless process.

Half-pressing the shutter button autofocuses the 24mm fixed focal length lens, and we're happy to report the autofocus is a lot faster than on the sluggish X1. It's not up to the lightning-quick reflexes of far cheaper cameras such as the Sony NEX-5, though, and can hunt a little before finding a lock.

Leica X2: Screen

The screen is functional but seems like a throwback to a few years ago: while most point-and-shoots have a 3-inch screen with at least 460,000 pixels, the X2's is 2.7-inch and 230,000 pixels, making it a lot blockier than we'd like, or expect, given the price tag. There are low budget snappers with better screens than this.

A higher resolution would make reviewing your photos on the screen a lot easier, but we can't really fault the LCD's colour reproduction. In a nutshell, this screen does the job but never goes above and beyond the basics.

Leica X2: Battery

If the screen hasn't been improved over the X1's, the battery certainly has. Leica estimates that a full charge should give you enough juice for around 450 shots, whereas the X1's battery would kick the bucket after around 250. While 450 isn't an astronomical figure, it's still more than respectable.

Leica X2: Picture quality

While some aspects of the X2 might disappoint, the picture quality reminds us exactly why Leica enjoys such a stellar reputation among photographers. The lens, which has a fixed focal length and maximum F2.8 aperture, is of exceptional quality and teamed up with the CMOS sensor produces incredibly sharp, punchy shots with excellent detail and pure, vibrant colour.

You can also flick it to other colour settings, including a very gritty high contrast black and white, or shoot in DNG format and do your own colour processing in Photoshop, Aperture or whatever program you use (Adobe Lightroom actually comes free with the X2, so possibly that…).

The lens' 24mm focal length translates to around 35mm in old school terms, so the X2 is a little too tight for landscapes and too wide for head-and-shoulders portraits. What it is perfect for is street or reportage photography: capturing everyday scenes quickly, reliably and (due to its compact size) discreetly.

You might be wondering why we haven't mentioned the video quality. Well, that's because there's no video capture option – like we say, this is a recreation of an old-fashioned type of camera. For better or for worse...

Leica X2: Verdict

The Leica X2 is a bit of curio, to be honest. When compared to the likes of the Sony NEX-7, Fujifilm X10 or Panasonic GF5, it comes across as slow, light on features, inflexible and expensive. And yes, it's all those things. But it's also a Leica, with the cachet, build quality and truly superb lens that that entails.

If you're looking for something a little different, a little quirkier, a little classier than the average point-and-shoot, the X2 fits the bill snugly.

Leica X2 availability: Available now

Leica X2 price: £1,575

Sam Kieldsen

Sam has been covering tech and culture for more than two decades, first in games journalism and later consumer electronics, streaming entertainment and photography. He has written for the likes of Wired, Stuff, CNET, GQ, Trusted Reviews and CVG, and now lives on the Kent coast – not a bad spot for a camera reviewer to reside.