Say what you will about Leica's ultra-niche marketing, stratospheric prices and romantic insistence on keeping 50-year-old product designs—their cameras have always been beautiful, and felt like tanks. In this respect, the M9 and X1 don't disappoint.
What's always been striking about the M-series Leicas is just how substantial they are. In photos, they looks quaint and compact, and you expected them to be small—the kind of comically dinky camera you'd see perched on the face of a German tourist in the 70s, clicking away at nothing. This is not that camera—the $7000 M9 is a monster. Granted it is a full-frame camera, so some heft can be forgiven, but once you've mounted a lens, this thing's not going to be much more totable than your average DSLR. True to form, the mechanisms are satisfyingly mechanical and hark back to the design's origins in film. It's as much a piece of art as it is a camera, which I suppose is part of the whole Leica appeal.
The X1 is in a similar situation: Its body is large for what it is—a compact camera—but so is its sensor. The end result is a moderately compact point-and-shoot that is bigger than all but the bulkiest fixed-lens compacts, but definitely smaller than any DSLR on the market. The pop-up flash, that little circle on the top left of the camera, is a nice design touch.
We'll have to trust that the 12-megapixel APS-C sensor and f2.8, 24mm lens combo returns results that could possibly warrant the camera's $2000 price, but the fact remains that this is a fixed-lens camera, meaning that you're stuck with what you see here. As great as the photos are or aren't, you still can't bolt a new zoom lens or sexy 50mm prime on it. Leica does call this a beginner's camera, so the simplicity could be seen as a plus. At that price, this beginner would probably opt for a killer DSLR with video recording capabilities, but that's neither here nor there.
Anyway, if you're a Leica freak with a wad of cash on hand, the M9 represents a great day for you: The day that your M-mount Leica lenses can be used as they were supposed to be, on a full-frame camera. Likewise, if you're a Leica freak with a wad of cash on hand and a spouse, friend or child you have yet to infect with your fervent enthusiasm for the brand, the X1 is probably going to pique your interest. The rest of us plebs? Well, we'll keep toiling in our frothing sea of Nikons and Canons, or worse. I'll say—I've never gotten so many looks of pity for carrying a Sony DSLR as I did at the press event today. No one looked down on me; they just looked...sad.
Oh, and here's a bonus shot of Seal with Leica's previously-announced medium format S2 DSLR, because, uh, he was here. Hey Seal!