Jun 272013
 

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The Leica X Vario Real World Use Review: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

By Steve Huff

Buy or check out the X Vario at B&H Photo HERE  - You can also pick it up at Ken HansenPopFlash.com, or the Pro Shop

 

Hello to all and as always, I hope every single one of you is having a HAPPY and amazing day, I know I am! Right now I am on a plane from Seattle heading back home to Phoenix, AZ after the hugely successful Palouse Road Trip. I had a blast and took some great shots with a few cameras, including the Leica X Vario.

With quite a few images under my belt as well as opinions of others who also tried out the camera during the Palouse event, I have 100% come to my conclusion about this camera.  Is it a winner or a loser? Whatever I think may not matter though as this camera was judged out of the gate due to the specs, which on paper, look awful. In other words, there is a lot of hate, bitterness and negativity surrounding this release and not just from Leica users but also from users of other types of cameras. It’s as if they let the attack dogs loose.

I know why this is though, and understand why that there are so many X Vario haters. It is the fault of Leica for promoting it as a Mini M. End of story. The X Vario is far far far from a Mini M. But with all of that out of the way, just how good of a camera is the X Vario? I hope to shed some light on that question in this review that is filled with images from the camera, with many full size images from RAW, as well as my honest and truthful thoughts.

Click the image for full size – X Vario at 28mm and f/8

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The Leica X Vario is the APS-C sensor size camera from Leica that promises big IQ, super build and a great simplistic user experience. It has the style of the M 240 shrunk down but with a long and large and heavy slow aperture zoom lens mounted. All for a big whopping $2850.

I managed to get a review unit sent to me by B&H Photo and have been using it and putting it to the test in many situations. Below are my thoughts…

BUT! Before anyone comments on this review with attacks and hate, know these facts:

  • I use ALL cameras that are on the market. I try them all. I have no favoritism to any brand and I keep and use what I truly love. The cameras I own are from Leica, Sony and Olympus. All fantastic for me and what I use a camera for. I say it like it is and do not go out to please or offend anyone. I am just honest.
  • What I write here is from my own experience when shooting the camera and I will post the good with the bad, like it or not.

Disclaimer: COMMENTING

Basically, I am not interested in comments from those who just want to comment for negativity. It seems that the Leica X Vario is a camera that has polarized quite a few people and for some reason, this has brought out hate and anger, which is always nasty and no good in life. So keep comments civil and relevant. If you do not , they will be removed. Simple. If you start posting hateful comments that attack me or anyone else here you will be deleted, plain and simple. I have a low tolerance for hate, bitterness, jealousy or idiotic comments from people who have no clue what the facts are. So keep the commenting civil and on topic please. Again, no personal attacks or slurs, no anger and hatred towards anyone and keep it on topic. Oh, and NO spam. Thank you :)

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With that said, let us get started on the Leica X Vario Review!

Many of you know the massive negative press that has surrounded the Leica X Vario release and this is all mainly due to two reasons: 

1. The fact that Leica promoted and teased us with a “Mini M” when in fact they delivered a “Monster X”!

2. The fact that the Leica Vario is stuck with a slow aperture 28-70 Zoom starting at f/3.5 for the wide end and f/6.4 by the time you hit 70mm. At 50mm you are already at f/5.1! 

Add to this list that the camera is $2,850, more expensive that the ASTOUNDING Sony RX1 or new RX1R that not only has a full frame sensor, solid metal build and a 35 f/2 Zeiss lens without an AA filter! The Sony is a master of available light photography. That is its claim to fame in my opinion. Day or Night, Pub or Landscape..it is ready to roll. I can shoot the RX1 in B&W at  ISO 25,600 in a dim pub and get great moody results that I would use and print and I feel that Leica should be able to accomplish the same, but with the Vario that is a no go. The X Vario does not have this capability. Not even close. But it does have a talent that some of you may enjoy.

Since I titled this review: “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” I will go over each area starting with “THE GOOD” of the X Vario:

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A video overview of the Leica X Vario

Before I get to the Good let me answer this question: “So what is the X Vario”?  Basically, the camera is an X2 sensor camera (PS-C 16 Megapixels, older sensor) with a slow zoom for $2,850. In any case, B&H Photo asked if I wanted to review it and of course I had to. I could not really judge it without using it and even when I trash talked it, I had a disclaimer saying that these were just my thoughts on the release and they are subject to change with use.

So what do I think after shooting it extensively in The Palouse and in other situations?

 Ashwin Rao and his Finacee Jen – ISO 1600 with the X Vario inside a restaurant (dim lighting)

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It’s Built like a Leica – Made in Germany – It is NOT a Panasonic!

As I took the X Vario out to shoot during the Palouse road trip I was very happy with the build of the camera. It felt like it was built with a quality that is sorely lacking in todays mirrorless cameras. Most cameras like the Fuji X100, X-E1 and to some extent the Sony NEX series all feel more on the cheap side when you really look closely at the build quality. They work, and they take great photos and yes, they feel just fine but the build is on the cheaper end. If you have never held a real Leica then you would not understand and possibly would be in denial saying I am lying (it happens)!, but it is no lie. Leica cameras are built well and the X Vario is no exception. I love the feel of the Fuji X100 though, one of my fave camera designs in recent years.

BUILD QUALITY: This is not a rebadged Panasonic, this is a real German made Leica with a real German made Leica lens. When you hold it you know you are not holding a cheap camera. This is good but also causes an issue or two (which I will get to soon)

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So when you first open the X Vario you will appreciate what it is, what it feels like and the beautiful design. But what about using it? After charging the small battery you can clip it in at the bottom and start shooting. When I turned on the Vario I lifted it to my eye and then remembered..there is no EVF built in at all! This kind of camera should indeed have an EVF or VF of some sort built in but I had the external so attached it and started to shoot. I feel the same way with the RX1..it should have had an EVF built in. But somehow these companies would rather sell us an accessory for $500 than to include it in the design.

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Remember, this section is all about the GOOD of the Vario. I will get into cons down below.

The Auto Focus is Good, but not GREAT!

In real use the AF is “medium fast” in good light. What I mean by that is that if you take the X Vario out in the sunshine you will have decent to superb AF performance. If you shoot in good light you will also be rewarded with beautiful files out of your camera. The color, the detail and the sharpness is just about as good as it gets from APS-C. Second to none, and no the Fuji’s can not beat it or match it. The IQ has a crispness and acuity to it that is hard to describe in words, but it is there.

But, if you shoot indoors or in dim light, be prepared for frustration (more on that below).

FULL SIZE FILES FROM RAW FOR YOU TO LOOK AT with an X-E1/Zeiss vs Leica X Vario file!

Click on the images below to see the full size 16MP output. These are all from RAW with some slight enhancements to contrast. saturation and sharpness. I basically made them ready for print so they are sharper than normal. Feel free to print them if you like.

BUT YOU MUST CLICK THEM TO SEE THEM FULL SIZE. This is what the X Vario can do image quality wise.

Palouse Falls..gorgeous rendering. I also shot this with the M 240 and a 15 as well as the Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss 12mm Touit, which is beautiful as well and a $2000 combo. I will show both the X Vario and Fuji full size shots but the Vario was shot at 5.6 and Fuji at f/8. I thought they were both f/8 so take this as not a sicenticic comnparison but as a comparison showing what each combo would do with the scene and color, etc. The Zeiss is a 24mm equiv and the Leica a 28mm equiv.

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Now, the Fuji X-E1 with Zeiss 12mm Touit (which is a superb lens)

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If you download both of the files above you will see that the Leica looks great at 100%. The Fuji also looks great but it does still have that issue with Adobe conversions. Look closely at 100%. In any case, both are great and would print wonderfully. The Fuji combo comes in at about $2000 as the Zeiss is a $1250 lens. You could take that extra $800 you save over the Leica and buy the Fuji 18-55 Zoom and still have a couple of hundred left over. But if given those options, I would take the Leica. FACT: The Fuji is not made as well as the Leica and is not as simplistic nor is it as nice in the design, but it is a capable camera. It feels different though. While shooting it with the 12mm, which is a high quality wide angle I started to see what it could do, but again, for scenes like this, most cameras will do fantastic :)

In any case the Leica feels like a Leica. The Fuji, well..I will leave it at that.

Behind the Scenes: Here is an image of me taking the shot below this photo. Photo of me by Bob Towery  – (NOT with the X Vario)

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and the photo I was taking? This is it, click it for full size!

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Another full size image of Sarf from the X Vario who attended our Palouse Road Trip. Look at the detail in his face, which is where I focused. Amazing color here as well. DR looks good. No mush.

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So the camera delivers the goods when shooting in good light but so do many other cameras that cost much less!  I shot this trip with a variety of cameras including my M 240 (you can see those shots HERE), a Fuji X-E1 with Zeiss Touit lenses and even a few with Ashwin Rao’s Pentax 645D. ALL of the cameras, even my iPhone, did good in this light and scenery. Of course the phone did not match the others but when viewing on the phone, it looks really good :) The Vario sort of blew me away because the lens is A+ excellent. Those who have never seen it, held it, or tried it but trash it or call it a crap lens are delusional and have no clue about the reality of the lens. It’s solid, but slow but damn good.

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IQ is Top Notch in Good Light, Not bad in low light

The X Vario, for me, beat the Fuji X-E1 slightly for color and IQ. Again, I have no axe to grind nor am I showing favoritism. It is what it is and my own opinion. BUT…that is not the end of the story. The Fuji held its own and I would not be unhappy with the IQ coming from it, and I was not, not at all. In fact. the Fuji files looked quite nice. The question is this: Is the Leica worth $1000-$1500 more than the Fuji X-E1 and 18-55 Zoom Lens? Hmmmm. It is if you want a real Leica. If you could care less about that, then it probably is not. Not technically anyway.

Also, if you feel that corner to corner sharpness is worth that cost, the X Vario may be up your alley as the lens on this guy, while painfully slow, is very sharp and very Leica like. In fact, it does not get any sharper in APS-C. The Sony NEX-7 with a great lens is sort of there but with a different color flavor. The X Vario lens is Superb when it comes to sharpness, distortion, CA and color. Period.

High ISO

ISO performance was very good. Not Fuji Good, not Sony RX1 good, and not quite as good as most modern cameras, but it gets very close. At ISO 1600 it was usable and acceptable. ISO 1000 looked great. See below for proof:

ISO 1000 – this was taken indoors and there was some light coming in on his face, this is how I was able to nail the focus with AF. Without that light, the AF would have failed or taken 1-2 minutes to get a lock from having to constantly retry. The color I see from this camera is exactly like the color I had coming from the X1 and X2.

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This shot was taken at ISO 1600, 28mm, f/3.5. The IQ is there no question. 

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So with ISO performance like this, the slow zoom on the X can almost sort of be understood. While you will never get shallow DOF like you can get from an M with a fast lens, you can take pictures in lower light situations, sometimes..as long as the light is not too low because then the camera will not focus very well. This is where manual focus can work for you though, and the MF of the Vario is VERY good and nice to use. It will just be a slow process.

The greens look great from the X Vario – This is a resized JPEG

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So the Leica is a superb image quality camera. But is that all it has going for it? Build and IQ with superb sharpness? Is that not everything we need in a camera? Well, not exactly! What about other things such as lower light, depth of field control, shooting in less than perfect daylight, grip, battery life, etc? Well, that all falls under the “Bad and the Ugly” categories :)

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The X Vario while having superb Leica build and design as well as delivering gorgeous photo results in good light is not perfect, nor close to it. In fact, it is far from it. I have always said that no camera is perfect but the X Vario has a few things wrong with it. I will list them off below in this “BAD” section but keep in mind, I still have to get to the UGLY! Either way, the IQ rocks in good light. If you like the “look” of these files no other camera will give it to you besides the X1 or X2 but the X Vario is the fastest to AF of the three as well as being larger and with a better menu/software setup. But let us see what is wrong with the camera, at least in my use. Details after the pic!

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It’s Awkward to hold

The Leica X Vario while having that nice design and build looks awkward. It is large, almost M sized but thinner and slightly smaller. The lens is so heavy it makes the camera front heavy and because of this, it feels awkward in the hand when shooting. There is no grip and it needs one badly. For me, it feels odd shooting it as it does not have a built in VF and is front heavy. If a camera does not feel good in my hand then I will not use it, I will not bond with it and I will not be inspired by it. One reason I never bonded with X-Trans Fuji’s is due to the dodgy AF they had early on as well as the (what I feel are) flat files that come from them in some lighting. 

So the feel of the X Vario fails in my book. The lens is too large. You will need the Grip accessory which will set you back another $200+. 

It’s Awkward to Shoot

When shooting there is no EVF to look through unless you shell out $500 for the Leica EVF or $250 for the Olympus EVF-2. Even then, with the EVF attached the camera looks quite odd..and LARGE. When you start getting to this size you have to ask yourself..why don’t  I just go buy a Fuji X-E1 or X-Pro 1 and a 18-55 Zoom? Maybe a Sony NEX-7 with zoom or better yet, a Ricoh GR with the APS-C Zoom that will come in at less than $800 and deliver results just about on par with the Leica. Hmmm. Because there is no grip, it is uncomfortable holding the  camera out to frame. IMO, the EVF is mandatory so expect to add that extra cost if buying the camera.

So add another $250-$500 for the EVF depending on which one you get.

Battery Life

Battery life is short. I was able to manage a couple hundred shots but my M goes for 3 days. To be fair, the Sony RX1 batteries are puny in life as well so expect to buy 2 extra batteries with the Vario as battery life is below average. You may be able to get 300-320 if you do not chimp.

Buy two extra batteries, another $200 or so

It’s not for Moving Subjects

The camera is not meant for action. I tried shooting some kids walking or moving and it just was not having it. This was out in daylight. Missed the shots and the camera just can not focus on anything moving. This is a camera where you will need control over your subject. Same as the X1 and X2 really. You can capture those shots though of you use manual zone focusing and set your aperture to f/8 or so. Then the camera becomes an easy street shooter. But you can not do this with AF.

AF in low light is SLOW

Shooting in low light? If so, forget the X Vario. At a dinner I passed around the X and asked everyone to take some shots and let me know what they thought. Keep in mind, 90% of these guys are Leica shooters who love Leica. By the time the camera came back around the comments sounded something like this:

“If I owned this camera I would be throwing it against the wall”

“Is this for real or a joke”

“It wont focus”!

“That laser light is bliding me”! (Speaking of the light that helps to aid AF)

No one liked it. Not one said they would buy one. Most of these guys were shooting M’s and were Leica’s core customer. They said NO GO just due to the fact that in dim light the AF was failing badly. This would not be so bad if we were speaking of a $500 NEX system but this is a $2850 camera and we also had a NEX-5R at the Table that focused super fast (though it did misfocus twice). The Vario was frustrating unlike shooting it at The Palouse in the daylight. In good light it was speedy, snappy and delivered consistent results with gorgeous colors, AWB, detail right out of the box. In low light it was frustrating to use.

When the camera DID focus, it did an OK job at these higher ISO’s though. Below is an ISO 12,500 shot direct from camera – JPEG B&W.

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So the bottom line for low light? It’s not a good REALLY low light camera unless you want to use Manual Focus, which works good actually, but it will slow you down. Also, usually in low ambient light I like to shoot images that portray fun, have some character to them, some glow. The X Vario files were fantastic as long as I got some light in the subject. So sometimes it will NAIL IT and look amazingly good. The lens is excellent on this guy as long as you have enough light to focus and give a nice lower ISO.

An X Vario shot of Bo Lorentzen (taken by Ashwin Rao) while having lunch. Love the light here and in this situation the X Vario rocked it. Click it for larger. EXIF embedded.

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As you can see above it worked well in a cafe with ambient light. So it is only when the light gets low or dark that you will need to put away the X. But landscape guys, this one is a lovely piece of kit.

For Example, our Guide in the Palouse, Ryan McGinty said he would buy one if he could as he was in love with what it could do. He shoots in The Palouse almost every day as he lives there. He got to see the output from the Leica Vario, the Fuji and other cameras and he said that no other camera files that he saw did it like the X. He has no bias either as he shoots with a Nikon and an old Film camera.

So if you are strictly a daylight shooter, it can and will work for you. If you shoot in ambient medium indoor light like the image above, it can work for you as long as you stay at 28mm and f/3.5. If you shoot street, action, or at night, go for an RX1 or Leica M or Fuji X100s because the Vario can not do those things well unless you only shoot in Manual Focus. If that is OK with you, the X Vario does indeed deliver the goods in most situations.

SO what about the “UGLY”. Are there things about the Vario that are so bad that I would deem them to be “UGLY”? Well, yes there are.

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That damn control dial on the back!

Everytime I went to shoot this camera and hold it in my right hand as I always do my palm would activate the flash menu on the control dial on the back, which is placed right where you hand goes. I thought it was only me but it happened to several others. You go to frame a shot, you look through the EVF and BAM! Your image is gone and replaced by the flash menu because the lack of a grip on this front heavy camera. I searched and searched and found no way to disable that dial, so that frustrated the hell out of me, big time. Made me not want to use it as it happened EVERY TIME. If I was on a pro shoot with it I would have put it back in my bag and used something else.

Nice detail, color and light here – click it for larger

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The Aperture of the Lens

This has been talked about to death on the forums and is one reason why there is so much hate for this camera. The big slow lens. When I say slow, I am not talking about slow to AF but slow Aperture. While the camera is no speed demon for Auto Focus, in good light it can get the job done easily as long as you are not trying to shoot anything moving. In other words STATIC is the name of the game with the Vario.

With such a slow aperture you may find yourself outside shooting at 70mm on a cloudy or gloomy day and having to bump up to ISO 800 because you have to be at f/6.4, which is wide open at 70mm. OUCH!

Even at 28mm you will get 3.5 which is OK, but far from fast. The only way you CAN really shoot indoors is at 28mm because once you zoom into 50 or 70mm you will NOT have enough light for a fast enough shutter speed and you will get a blurred image. There is a built in flash and some will be happy to use it.

But this lens is slow and therefore a one trick pony type of thing. It does that one trick extremely well though.

At 28mm you will be at f/3.5. By 50mm you will be at f/5.1 and by 70mm you will be at f/6.4. You will need light.

The lens is very sharp! I found myself always shooting at 28mm, well, 95% of the time. This way I could at least be at f/3.5

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Leica said they had to keep the lens aperture slow to keep the size down so they can make the camera compact. The only problem is, the camera is very large as it is and NOT compact. I feel if they did a faster f/2.8 28-50 it would have been a better choice. 28-35-50. Add a VF and bingo. Some people love to stop down though so if you are one of those shooters, the X Vario could be your cup of tea :)

No Real Image Stabilization

This camera is advertised as having Image Stabilization which would help with the slow lens. The problem is that it is the same I.S. that is in the Leica X2 and it just does not work well. It is software based. I did in fact test it and there is in fact a slight improvement but it is nothing like real I.S. But damn, sometimes you have to say SCREW IT. Once you look at the output and the colors coming out of this camera it makes you want to just forgive it for its little quirks. In some ways, the IQ beats the M – much more crisper, and better OOC colors and WB.

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Depth of Field

This camera will never give you the kind of images that many associate with a Leica M. Nope, this Mini M just cannot do it due to the lens being so slow in Aperture. To get those nice blurred background effects to isolate your subject you need a fast lens. Something like a 50 1.4. At 50mm, the Vario is at f/5.1 and does not really give you any isolation of anything. Again, some prefer this and in some situations it is the way to go.

In many cases, you WANT large DOF.

But even then…I was shooting a scene in The Palouse with some cattle. I had my M 240 and Voigtlander 15, the Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss 12mm and the Vario. I was shooting the M without any issue, getting some cool wide angle shots. I then slapped a 50 on it and took a portrait of a little girl at f/1.5. Gorgeous results with both (see those here). Then the Fuji and 12mm, which is a SUPERB lens, gave me wonderful results as well. The Fuji focused very fast with the 12mm and it is a combo I started to fall for  in the wide angle realm. The combo of the X-E1 and 12mm is a nice one, and very fast and sharp. I may not always prefer Fuji output but it gave me some beautiful images using that Zeiss 12mm Touit.

The Vario on the other hand was a pain. It would not focus fast enough so I missed three shots with it right from the get go. In the bag it went. I was able to get a couple of static shots though.

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The Price

Finally, the cost. At $2,850 there are other choices that I feel are better. Namely, the Sony RX1 or new RX1R without AA Filter. The Sony cameras are SUPERB in build, feel and have one of the best 35mm lenses attached. It is an f/2 35mm Zeiss lens that gives amazing detail, character and can be a low light monster. The Sony is one hell of a camera and would be my choice over the Vario if you want to spend $2850. BUT if you prefer the style, design and the images from the Leica and do not mind a slow zoom, this could be something you adore. It does give you pride of ownership due to the beauty and build of the camera. The IQ is in a league of its own and is much different than any other APS-C or Full Frame camera. Vibrant, Alive and Beautiful.

I buy cameras for my own use that perform. For me to buy a camera I have to love shooting it, feel confident in what it can do, it has to be versatile and it has to be made well and offer IQ that is at the top of the game. This is why I own and shoot a Leica M and a Sony RX1. For me, I could care less about name. In fact, my M is now all covered by clack dots to hide the red dot and M logo. I could care less about all of that as I am not a guy with loads of cash who buys Leica for that dot. In fact, I do not know of any people that do. Everyone I know who shoots Leica loves them for what they give back to their photography wether that is emotional, physical or in the quality of the images.

Everyone I have met from uber rich to well off to low end of the income pole all love their Leica M’s because it is a camera that has something about it that no other does. The ones who do not shoot with one hate it when I give props to it but I am tellilng it like it is. A camera is much more than output of the final print. It also has a ton to do with feel, emotion, bonding and getting to really know and enjoy your camera. The M and RX1 offer me this. The more I use the Vario, the more I start to feel that it could also do the same..but it is taking some time to bond with.

Truth be told, for $2,850 I would have expected a faster lens, an included hood or a camera that is much more versatile. If I were spending $2850 today it would be on the new Sony RX1 without the AA filter or it would go towards my Desert Island camera, the M 240 (which I already own, and is already wearing in well).

I can not fault it on the QUALITY of images or the QUALITY of the lens.

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Pros and Cons of the X Vario

Pros

  • The IQ is stunning
  • APS-C Sensor from the X2 But modified for better performace
  • Thinner AA filter than X2
  • The build and lens build is 100% Leica
  • This is NOT a rebadged Panasonic
  • Simplicity is nice
  • Dials on top are sturdy
  • ISO performance is much better than the X1 and X2
  • Packaging is very nice
  • HD Video included if you want to take a short movie
  • Comes with a nice charger and nice leather strap

Cons

  • Camera is too expensive at $2850 for most users 
  • Camera needs a grip as it is front heavy
  • Lens aperture is just too slow for anything but daylight use
  • AF is good in nice light but slow in low light
  • Control pad on back is in the worst place and disrupts shooting
  • No EVF built in but an optional $500 accessory
  • IS NOT a Mini M in any way, shape or form
  • Images lack character in some situations (not much different than other cameras)
  • Battery life is on the short side so you will need another

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My Final words on the Leica X Vario

This was a tough one. While using the camera I had days where I loved it and wanted to buy one due to the output in that perfect lighting at the Palouse yet on other days I was ready to pack it up and ship it back to B&H Photo. It is a camera that can please you one moment with its amazing colors and output and simplicity yet at the same time it can frustrate the hell out of you with its “kind of “limited capabilities.

At $2,850 this is on the high end of APS-C cameras. The X Vario is basically a high end large sensor point and shoot that does offer a different look than the Sony, Fuji and Olympus cameras but is that look worth that extra cash to you? It is a beautiful look indeed.

To those who shoot perfect lighting landscapes, this camera is quite amazing and astounding. Rich detail, nice dynamic range and great color delivers time after time in those situations. But in my use with the camera, as well as others who were with me, the camera failed on function. Holding it is a pain, the back control pad is placed in an awful spot where your palm will activate the flash menu as you try to shoot and the camera feels awkward to hold. Low light performance CAN be good if you can focus the thing but expect to shoot at high ISO. You will need to spend more on it to make it just right – The grip, extra batteries and the EVF. About $1000 extra which brings it to $3850.

High ISO is decent as the ISO 1600 shots I took showed me the detail sticks, just like a Leica should. I can not stress enough that the IQ from this thing is AMAZINGLY good.

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I have never seen a camera release gather so much hatred and anger though and to me this is concerning. Are we all really that miserable in life that we have to come to a website and personally attack others who like camera A or B and not C? Do we have to come here to fight and argue when in reality, there is nothing to argue about. We have an amazing life to live yet this thing is just a tangible object. A camera. There are many cameras and almost all of them can be used for whatever you like to shoot. Differences are there to be seen but in most cases they are small and really do not matter.

The X Vario is one of the best APS-C cameras I have used for daylight shooting but that does not mean others can not as good of a job or take the same shots. This Leica release is for those that want a well made, well built German camera that has a reputation for quality and those who want this camera could care less about shallow DOF or superfast focus or price. Those who want a Leica will buy a Leica.

As I look back at this review and the files I shot with the camera I am VERY pleased with what I see. But for me, the X Vario would not be a contender due to the fact that I can not get shallow DOF when needed, and I could not use it for anything moving quickly or even in dim light. I love cameras that have a light sucking ability :) Cameras like the M with a 50 1.4 or a Sony RX1 or a Fuji with a Leica lens attached. The Vario is just to limited for my daily use. For you it may be a dream.

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Yes, the X Vario is beautiful to look at and appreciate, and it will fill a need for some and I applaud anyone who buys a camera that THEY will personally enjoy and love to shoot. That is what it is all about. I get attacked because I do not use Fuji, because I could not bond with the X Bodies. Someone who buys an X Vario should not be attacked because they bought it for a reason and wether that reason is for  the build, IQ or even the Red Dot it does not and should not matter as they bought it for THEM with their own money.

I feel we should enjoy the images coming from all cameras, including this one. Let us worry about what to shoot, where to travel to get shots and what new and exciting things are around the corner. If something is not for you, then ignore it. If it is, go for it as we only live once.

With that said, I am afraid that the Vario may be a sales flop due to  the negativity surrounding it at launch. Sony is releasing amazing things and Fuji is hot on the heels of Leica. C’Mon Leica, step it up and deliver what we really want. A MINI M. This camera with an M mount or a new lens mount that can mount M lenses with an adapter while offering new lenses for a new X “system”. If this camera offered that it would have been a huge hit and it would have sold loads of lenses for Leica. They feel it would have eaten into M sales but that is not true as some will not settle for less than a full frame traditional M.

Overall a solid release with some flaws and a larger price tag, but hey, it’s a Leica!

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Where To Buy The X Vario!

Most of my site sponsors sell the Leica X Vario but B&H Photo was the only one who offered to send me one for review. They have the X Vario in stock at the link below:

Buy or check out the X Vario at B&H Photo HERE

You can also pick it up at Ken Hansen, PopFlash.com, or the Pro Shop

1st shot is ISO 1600, 28mm, f/3.5 – shot by Ryan McGinty at dinner while being passed around

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  196 Responses to “The Leica X Vario Real World Use Review: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”

  1. Sarf always has a very interesting look with his mustache and sunglasses! :D

    • Thanks for the review. It touches a lot of aspects of the camera that really matter in real world use.

      I was loaned an X-Vario during a Leica event in New York. Awesome company and they treated me very well. (I was just a walk-in!) I had the camera for about 3 hours and walked the streets of New York making some images, handheld only of course.

      Overall I did not like the camera. I will summarize why:

      1- Slow lens (f-stop). Even in decent light it makes you use high iso if you want a fast enough shutter speed. That is an issue because of #2.
      2- Sensor (Image) Quality. I shot only raw and I could not believe that what I was seeing was coming from an aps-c sized sensor. Honestly I felt the quality was worse than the nikon 1″ sensor in the Nikon V1 (which I own and really like). It was unacceptable in all areas, detail, dynamic range, etc. I did not like the color.
      3- Did not feel good to hold.
      4- Really needs an EVF. Even a small one like the one in the Nikon V1 would be VERY useful!
      5- I do not like the focusing ring on the rear of the lens with the zoom ring in front. Much prefer the zoom ring close to the body which on a mainly AF camera like this one is what one would mostly be using.

      Honestly I think the camera is a mistake for Leica. It does nothing for the brand. It does look good on the shelf and is built well and has a quality feel. But I felt that in use it was a disaster. Specially for what Leicas are know for, great cameras to use handheld for photographing street scenes and people.

      I am really judging it on it’s own and against a wide range of cameras I have used. I really had no expectations for the camera having read very little about it, if anything, before I got to hold and use it.

      On a side note. Once in the studio I got to handle the Leica S and a few lenses and WOW. It is the best medium format digital camera I have ever held and used and just a superb DSLR. Awesome viewfinder and focusing screen. Really good AF. The body has just a a very high quality feel to it. Same with the lenses. Keep in mind I own and regularly use a Hasselblad H1 system with a PhaseOne back.

  2. The problem is this: no matter how good the IQ is in good light, the slow lens, average low light IQ, and astronomical price tag will always afflict this camera. There are simply far more capable cameras for far less money. As you say, they may not be built quite as nicely, but this camera in no way carries on the tradition of Leica coupling top notch IQ with it’s top end prices.

    This camera may sell, but it’s clear that Leica has decided that it is now primarily a manufacturer of Veblen goods. Its lenses are above reproach, of course, but the camera universe is a different place now than it was in 2009, or even 1989. There are plenty of manufacturers producing cameras that are small, capable, and can work with any number of top-notch lenses (including Leica’s), and are available for far, far less money.

    And I say all this as a hard-core (film) Leica fan. There is nothing to match an MP, for example, in the film world. The same absolutely cannot be said of the new M, let alone this ridiculously over-priced, under-spec’ed X Vario.

    • Yes, you pay all that money and get a camera with things that don’t work as well as they should do.And built in limitations. Not good enough.
      Leica, stop mucking around and make a digital CL.

      • The digital CL was here, and nobody bought it: The Ricoh GXR with M mount !
        It has a great LCD on back, same 920K resolution as the Leica M, and also has the same focussing assistance as the Leica M, and even a second assist mode…

        Best thing: now discontinued, you get the Ricoh at 50% off, if you hurry !

        • The GXR is, as well as any NEX or FUJI with an M-adapter, NOT a digital CL. Manual focusing is a pain compared to a real range finder. In practice, the original CL/CLE had the same focusing speed than the M, even with a little less accuracy (shorter RF base).
          So, I am still waiting (or better: dreaming) of a real digital CL.

  3. Thanks Steve, great review as usual. Seems like the ooc jpegs are very impressive. I especially like the shot of Ryan with the Yashica. Thanks for posting. I wish I had the money to buy an M.

  4. Although you listed many cons as well as pros, I am noticing how great the outputs are from the camera. I guess the most important factor in the end is the beholder of the camera. Nonetheless, I have no money to spend too but a camera like this!

  5. Thanks for the review. This definetely was a tough one.

    I guess I could cope with a lot of the “bad” things – but there is one thing you mentioned that really stands out: You didn’t like the feel of it in your hands. I can relate to that – so I will try to find a shop to get a feel of the X-Vario. A one trick pony it may be – thus it could make a great addition to what people already use.

    A few days ago a stranger asked me to take a picture of him and handed me his camera (I won’t tell which one, for the sake of non-discussion.). I instantly felt that this was going to be one of my favourite cameras ever.

  6. I will get it started. With far less drama and negatively you have come to the same conclusion of many who read the specs when Leica announced this camera. The biggest differentiator with today’s cameras are there ability in low light since almost any camera shots well when lighting is not in issue. Thanks for the review.

  7. Dear Steve,

    Sorry, but LR is really not the best tool available when it comes to the X-trans RAW conversion. I’ve done several tests and Apple Aperture, that I use already for many years, is truly a lot better. Nicer colours, quite a bit more sharpness and most of all, showing almost no artifacts that LR still has. Compared to the Aperture pictures, LR is ‘soft’. I think this might change your opinion about the X-trans entirely, it did for me, even comparing the X-trans camera’s to Leica. Unfortunately, it’s not only the glass in these days that give you a better rendering and sharpness. For the rest, this X-vario is a product from which I cannot understand the marketing background. If this camera would have fitted a lens with F2.8 over the full range, it would be a ‘maybe’. Now it’s not even interesting for a would-be Leica buyer. Precisely this kind of marketing may kill Leica one day.

    • Agreed about LR & X-trans RAW conversion. Capture One is also another tool that way out punches LR with RAW conversion with Fuji files too. Funnily enough back a few years ago C1 was also way superior handling Leica M8 files too when I used it.

      Some tools like LR might be great all-rounders but there will always be files that it doesn’t quite master when compared to other lesser known software out there. But be sure nice if LR was all we needed that’s for sure.

    • Iridient Developer 2.11 (MAC only) now natively supports Fuji X-Trans.

      Most definately better than Lightroom, ACR, and probaby Capture One.

    • I, too, agree on the LR vs. Aperture thing, and I’d be interested in seeing the Fuji comparison shot as processed in Aperture (or C1, or even better if Steve provided the raw file for download :D )

      Can’t say I agree on the constant f/2.8 aperture idea, though – that’t really make the lens huge, I reckon, and would probably introduce compromises in other areas like sharpness, vignetting etc. You can’t have it all – there are valid reasons why Leica made the lens the speed it is.

  8. Enjoyable and detailed write-up, Steve. The images from the Vario (in good light) really do look special.

    I think what’s most disappointing about the Vario is that it demonstrates such great potential. Leica clearly knows how to make all of the right pieces of a good camera–lens, body, sensor, controls, etc. Yet however well done these pieces are in the Vario, they don’t seem to fit together into a package that makes sense. If anything, I think the hate that this release has generated is linked to people’s disappointment and confusion–how could a company with these manufacturing capabilities choose to use them to make the Vario (and not a digital CL, or something else that makes more sense).

    Oddly, there is a gap here in the market that could/should be filled. Where is the small-bodied, full frame, interchangeable lens camera for less than the cost of the M? Or what about an APS-C camera that plays great with leica lenses? For those who want #2, the options are basically limited to fuji and sony, right?

    Looking forward to your impression of the XE-1 and 12mm.

  9. Sadly this camera is a step backward from the x2 and even x1 (which are now selling for £500-£700 on eBay). Quality review though Steve, I think you have patiently given a balanced and fair assessment.

  10. Steve, The problem with your reviews, or at least the pictures in the reviews, is they are terrible for judging cameras.. I mean that in a good way. They make all cameras seem pretty awesome.

  11. Nice review. Personally I like the colours in the Fuji file better than the Leica in your comparison above. I think the Vario would be a pretty cool little camera if it had say a f2.8-f4 lens on it…..

  12. Thanks for the review Steve, it managed to sum up what I suspected about the Vario X, namely that it is capable of excellent image quality but is hampered by poor autofocus in low light, that it isn’t good above ISO 1600 and that the accessories needed for basic operation like the electronic viewfinder and hand strap take away from it’s elegant design.

    What surprised me was the poor handling. Also despite it’s excellent lens, I simply could not justify spending the eye-watering amount of money being asked for a camera that essentially only achieves good all round performance during good daylight.

    Well it is a shame that Leica wasn’t able to live up to their hype of a ‘Mini M’. Well at least your excellent review has inspired me to dig out my Yashica Lynx 14.

    Looking forward to your next review.

    Alan

  13. I fail to understand why Leica chose to develop this camera instead of a real mini M. I know nothing about camera development, but the basic elements seem to be there: take the M, remove the rangefinder and replace with an EVF, replace full frame sensor by APS-C sensor, scale down build quality to X-Vario standards and shrink size and price accordingly. It seems that, at the same price as the X-Vario, that camera would have a bigger audience, plus it would create a bigger market for M lenses and accessories. Anybody has any insights?

    • It appears to me Leica doesn’t want to make a true mini M. When I think of Leica, I think of high end equipment with absurd (to me) prices. If they begin to make something that isn’t so out of reach it dilutes that image which could be more costly in the long run. Whether or not this was a good move for Leica, only time will tell.

  14. Hi Steve

    Thank you for rushing your thoughts to us regarding the Vario! I really appreciate the timeliness, given your workload and travels!

    I agree with your thoughts. I am one who, as a Digilux 2 fan, has written several times on the Leica forum in favor of a D2.X update of some sort. In summary, I love large lenses, fast glass (for low light street shots), zooms, and old-fashioned manual controls, and I demand an integrated VF.

    Somehow, in Leica’s latest market size/opportunity analysis, and given their time frames and resources, they decided upon the X Vario. At $2800 no less!

    I really want to love this camera, and I still plan to get my hands on one and put it through the paces. But as of this time, I really doubt I will buy it. Leica appears to have traded off lens characteristics (relatively short zoom, and SLOW) to use their X family APS-C sensor and keep size/weight down. They also failed to build in a VF. I would have liked them to possibly drop the AA filter, but no. No image stabilization either.

    I wish Leica all the best and remain a big fan. Yet, despite the protest of some knowledgeable Leica photographers, I do not regard the Vario as a D2 replacement, because the D2 was all about 1) the fast zoom, and 2) the all manual, traditional controls (3 rings on the lens). The vario has a different set of design goals. I wish Leica the best, but still want a true D2.X some day, even if it must use a smaller sensor, like the Sony RX100 1″ sensor, due to lens/size considerations. But I doubt that will ever happen.

    • Very late replying, so you probably won’t see this. But I agree with you entirely about the Digilux 2 which I have acquired recently in virtually mint condition. I never knew a camera could be such a joy to hold and to operate. And the results, wow! So I guess that’s what I’m looking for with a larger sensor and some more megapixels to give more room for cropping. That said, the Vario – judging by Steve’s images and other sites – can deliver in low light with a very pleasing grain. It can also do really good close-up with room for cropping. So if it sits right in my hands, one day over the rainbow……. I’m prepared to take it for what it is rather than what it isn’t. (And the RX100 II can’thold a candle to it image-wise.)

  15. Good review. I’m not surprised about the cameras price and misgivings. Leica has really never made a 2nd camera as an alternative to their top m camera since the Minolta CL, and they quickly axed that camera because it was eating into their M. Leica’s customer base is so small that they have limited customers and any camera that directly competes with their top m camera will invariably eat into that market. It’s obvious Leica purposely left out things or made the Vario so that it won’t eat the M’s market share. If Leica wants to make such a camera, they seriously need to swallow more pride and get Panasonic or someone else to do their AF electronics systems for them, cause the Varios Af in low light is so piss poor, it may make the maxxum 7000′s AF look speedy. the lens is also a bit heavy and long for its focal length, Leica should have made a 20-50 compact zoom like Samsung’s nx20-50, that thing is a stellar kit lens…so it can be done, a short kit lens with exceptional performance. I think Steve hit it on the nail, the Vario is for Leica fans only, if they are willing to get it, but unfortunately for Leica, there is a lot of competition out there.

  16. Great review Steve, as always and another interesting article from the the “Huff” stable. There is no way that I could possibly afford the X Vario. I am a Fuji X100 user and its fine for me. Purchased a brand new limited edition for £500 from the UK. It produces wonderful, crisp and colour perfect files. For those who can afford it , follow your dreams and purchase the Leica.

    I know several professional photographers and each one will tell you that any decent APC sized sensor camera combined with a decent optic, whether it costs £500 or £5000, can produce award winning images. It’s the user that counts , not the equipment.

    • “I know several professional photographers and each one will tell you that any decent APC sized sensor camera combined with a decent optic, whether it costs £500 or £5000, can produce award winning images.”

      …Or a lot less! David Allen Harvey published many of his recent Rio shots with a Panasonic GF1.

  17. When the teaser came out I was convinced it would be this camera but with an M mount. And as you said if it was it would have been a success. I would love to own a M but its hard to justify the cost of a body and lenses in one hit. This body with a 35 (cropped near 50) or 28 then a 50 combo (40-75ish) now and then with the lenses in place its a smaller (relatively) step to buy a M9 or 240 (I dream) body later. And for existing owners an alternative focal length with their lenses or a video option (for none M240) owners. Perhaps they have seen the forums and it will come. On the Fuji Front, its strength is its JPEG and I personally think its Astia files are less flat then RAW converted in LR. Finally I love your site, which I have followed for a few years now, I trust your opinion and have enjoyed seeing your field trip photo’s. I also try and remember to click links through the site. Many thanks Steve.

  18. This review is why I love your site Steve. You call it like you see it and your passion for photography is ultimately the quality that shines through on every review. Thank you for what you do.

  19. So básically this is a Panasonic camera made by, Leica !!! I dont think this is a smart idea from Leica them are looking focus !! And i dont hate them, i really dont understand why they want to produce It !!

    Greg

    • How on earth did you come up with the Panasonic part based in Steve’s review? He goes out of his way to say it is a Leica.

  20. Hi Steve, very honest review as usual. I agree 99%. There’s exactly one thing that leaves me a bit puzzled: you’re reporting that the camera was unable to get focus in low light. I just took out the X-Vario, dimmed down the lights in my hotel room and focused on different parts of it. It has no problems whatsoever to snap focus without (!) AF light (always have it turned off). Exposure parameters are 1/8th of a second at f 5.3 at ISO 6400, well beyond hand holdable conditions. In the last two weeks of usage I never (!) experienced a situation where it didn’t focus under lighting conditions where I can hand hold a shot (i.e. down to 1/30 sec at f 3.5 ISO 6400). I’m using the 11 point AF. Of course I believe you and your pals so I’m wondering what’s going on. I turned the AF light on to double check if this makes the AF behave worse for whatever reason but it doesn’t. So it seems your model behaves worse in that respect than mine. The assumption that there may be such a thing like a bad copy is a bit discomforting. I hope you believe me, I have no intentions to tell fairy tales about this camera. I bought it in full awareness of it’s obvious drawbacks and see no reason to let it look better than it is.. I’m using firmware 1.0.

    Didn’t dare to use ISO 12800 yet but based on your example I may give it a try.

    Best regards,
    Wolfgang

  21. I liked this review. Very complete (positive and negative). Please don’t think I’m complaining or attacking… however, it seems that the (frequent) comparison to the Sony RX1 is a little off. While the price is similar, the X Vario and RX1 are vastly different cameras (apart from price). In fact most (all?) fixed lens cameras could be thought of as a one-trick pony. You either love it or leave it home. I like to do a lot of landscape and cityscape/architecture shooting and my little X2 is very good at that (and which I mostly shoot at f11 so the f6.4 of the X Vario is not a big deal). This camera appears to be good at my shooting interest as well. Maybe the Sony RX1 is also good at landscape and cityscape/architecture (I have no idea where I’d even find one to test out). But comparing a 35mm f2 lens and a 28-70 f6.4 lens is basically apples to oranges. Anyway, you put a lot of work into your reviews and I appreciate the effort. Thanks.

  22. For the same amount of money, leica could iinclude build in evf and leave out the zoom lens and sell it body only with M mount. It might look like expensive sony nex but i mightnget it instead of the slow zoom package

    • If Leica did that you’ll be looking at a 6000 dollar camera. They don’t have any wiggle room left. They have only one type of customer and that’s it. And Leica is never going to make another top m camera to compete with each other at the same time. It would be like making two cameras in the same line to get the same amount of annual profit.

  23. Great review, Steve. We are finding that both of our new point-and-shoots (RX1 and X Vario) feel solid in-hand, are easy to use, and deliver brilliant images. They really seem to complement each other perfectly.

    Sure we’d like both the RX1 and XV to autofocus better in low light, as well as have built-in EVF as it makes both cameras much larger. Glad the XV came with a battery charger, wish the RX1 had.

    Happy with both as our point-and-shoots. New to Leica altogether as we are not into rangefinders.

  24. So if I am reading your comments correctly, you shot mainly at 28mm. So really a X2 would be just as good and give you that Leica feel?

  25. I know this is off topic, but that guy has an amazing Panama Hat! And in the meantime, I’ll stick with my Fuji EX-1. But seriously, where did he get that hat?

    Thanks for your review Steve. Always great info.

  26. Thanks for this review! While I do not consider myself a candidate for acquiring the X Vario, I enjoyed the photos and article. The comparisons with other cameras, alone, made the narrative well worth reading. It is still the RX1 that has my attention!

  27. I’ll stick with the Fuji xm1 with the 18-55 f4 lens and still have money left over for a vacation with the camera. smile

  28. Okay, you’re just checking to see if we’re paying attention, right?

    “I have no favoritism to any brand”?

    Yes, that cracked me up. If you look up “Leica Guy” in the dictionary I’m afraid your name would come up :-) I say this jokingly but I see absolutely nothing wrong with favoring one brand over others if that favoritism is due to experience. You like what works and has worked in the past. Nothing at all wrong with that.

    It’s very telling that the Vario has drawn the level of wrath that it has despite having the quality build of an actual Leica yet the G-Star Raw D-Lux 6 has made it through relatively unscathed. The Vario may be a one trick pony but it’s a pretty darn impressive trick. I would not be embarrased to own one or be seen with one (although there would be many other cameras I’d buy first). The G-Star Raw on the other hand…

    Like you said–I think Leica blew this one with their marketing campaign. Good honest review. Thanks!

  29. Thanks for the HONEST Review. Leica’s marketing duds should be fired. With the obvious image quality wouldn’t we have been overwhelmed with an f2.8-4.0 zoom (standard for the industry for 25-30 years)? Or, with the same basic X2 camera with an “M” mount and the “M” EVF (a real “mini-M”?). That would justify the price, but NOT what was delivered. I know that Leica get a lot of advice from M users, but just WHO were they listening to?

  30. Lets celebrate! Leica made this camera to decrease sales and get bankrupt. And if they continue selling senseless cameras, everyone can afford a Leica as soon as a big time thinking company buys them out for their name and tech. Ye hey! I can finally buy a 240.

  31. Steve,

    Thanks for the review Steve. Would you say the auto focus is comparable to the X2 or maybe slightly faster?

  32. Excellent review. I feel like I have had a chance to work with the camera. You answered all my questions. Please take more vacations like this one.

  33. I think all the criticism for saying it was a mini M is unfair. The ad also showed an X2 as a micro M and a D Lux 6 as a nano M. The obvious concluson should have been that whatever a mini M was, it wasn’t an M!

    • True true…the whole marketing campaign should have been nixed as none are M’s )

      • But Leica wants to pretend that it’s Apple. So it used the iPod nomenclature. Thinking that would bring it customers. But Leica doesn’t put its shops where the Apple Stores are. It hides away on Brienner Strasse in Munich, where it has a smart address, but no pedestrian footfall. Ditto in Paris. Ditto in London. Only the committed go there, and they get no “passing trade” because their stores are invisible.

        Do they heed any advice? None. Really daft.

  34. Good review Steve. That photo of Victor, Todd and you was taken by me. It took several tries to get the camera to focus on you guys. Depending on which focal length chosen the lens would focus better in low light. When I tried 50mm it locked focus a little quicker but at 28mm it took forever to lock. Also what was very frustrating was not being able to move the focus point or being able to recognize a face for focus. For the Vario’s size it was a little awkward holding it at arms length to take a photo. Another confusing detail for me was changing the zoom. I kept rotating the camera out of auto focus instead of zooming. Both the zoom ring and focus ring were large and felt the same. If one had a slightly different pattern or size it might help to tell them apart.

    I liked the image quality from the camera. Less time needed at the computer because the color and detail were nailed during exposure.

    If I were to use a Vario I would keep it on a tripod because of the slower operating speed. Definitely not for quick grab shots.

    Ry

    • Q for Steve or Ryan – Curious to know which of the focus modes were you having the difficulty with (1-point, 11-point, spot, or Face Detection?). Wife and I just returned from Ladlow’s Furniture, she took 35 shots in their furniture showroom and in their very dimly lit upstairs warehouse with 100% focus lock at all focal lengths using the default 1-point focus mode. Same results during dinner at Cartwright’s, very dimly lit, but 100% focus lock using 1-point focus mode.

      Focus speed using 1-point mode seemed faster than was our X-E1/18-55mm . . . not breaking any records indoors but it seems to be working just fine on the XV.

      • We used 1 point. Worked great in full sun and some dim lighting but low lighting, no go. You CAN get it to eventually focus but it takes a few tries in low light, but most cameras like this have the same issue. The X Vario has issues because you have to pump up the ISO in low light due to the lens speed being so slow.

  35. I do like his hat

  36. Steve, you really do write interesting and compelling reviews.

    As for the X Vario; what does this camera do significantly better than other cameras in its price range? I don’t see anything special at all. I guess Steve is right: people who want a Leica just because it’s a Leica might buy this. But people who want the best camera for the money probably will not.

  37. Okay, so for $2850 you get a solidly made APS-C camera with stunning IQ under the right conditions (sunny eight rule mostly), poor battery performance, just okay CDAF, a woefully imbalanced lens to body ratio, no VF (but with an available EVF for $500 if you want it), good top controls but miserably placed rear controls and a thinner AA filter than the X2 a lens that’s f2.8 ONLY at 28mm (equiv.) setting but quickly drops to f5.1 at 50mm and dropping to a pinhole tiny f6.5 by 70mm (equiv.).

    On the other hand, for the same money you could get ALL THREE of Sigma’s well-balanced, single focal length DP Merrill compacts covering the 28mm, 50mm and 75mm (equiv.) focal lengths at a CONSTANT f2.8 at EACH focal length, pretty much the same okay CDAF, equally miserable battery life, a far less expensive optional OVF ($149 at B&H), NO AA filter (and because of the Foveon sensor architecture zilch moire) and stunning IQ with much sharper and richer color IQ (not to mention the legendary Foveon 3D pop that’s up there with the Noctilux) that rivals MF cams.

    Yes, the downside is the DP Merrills have absolutely HORRIBLE IQ when you shoot anything at ISO 800 or higher in color (an unfortunate side effect of the stacked nature of the Foveon sensor). But, they have surprisingly fantastic IQ when converting their proprietary X3F files to BW with their infamously slow SPP software at ISO’s as high as 4000!

    Oh, the packaging is fairly plain but they do have a nice strap and battery charger.

  38. The usual high quality review. Camera output is as expected, it’s just that there will be a very small target group being enthusiastic about this camera.

  39. I think Leica knows exactly who they are selling the X Vario to. And they are not photographers.

    Those who call themselves photographers – both professional and amateur – will never admit it at the risk of sounding shallow, but Leicas have some serious style. I know nobody will deny this. There are people who want to get a Leica camera but don’t want to use a range finder or a non-zoomable lens. To these folks, the X Vario will be a god send, and I’m sure Leica will sell alot more of these than the X2.

    The price to performance ratio is important to anyone serious about anything. But we can never deny the existence of a market where people will spend anything for style, and in such a market, the X Vario will be a very good camera regardless of its performance or price. This is a market where the D-Lux 6 makes sense because it produces images as good as the Panasonic with added style.

    I gave my mother my old X1 as I moved up to an M-E (damn you/thank you Mr Huff!) and she absolutely loves that camera except for the fact that there’s no zoom. She complained to me over the phone that she gets tired walking around the crowded streets of Rome trying to compose. So I told her there’s something like a newer X1 with zoom and her eye lit up. I’m considering buying one for Christmas and sell off her old X1.

    So really, Leica is cashing in on their sex appeal. I don’t think thats a problem as long as they continue on with their range finders.

  40. Hi Steve. It really puts it in perspective when you say it cost more or as much as an RX1 (or RX1r). I am a bit underwhelmed by the images really. The output looks natural but a bit lacking in punch or interest. This would have been completely different with an interchangeable lens or full frame, handling issues (that back wheel) aside.

  41. Think of the new Leica as a Canon Rebel for doctors and lawyers. Same slow lens. Almost the same low ISO performance. Add in the superb build quality, superb lens and Leica brand appeal, and the camera seems reasonable. I won’t buy one, but I did get the opportunity to shoot a bit with the X Vario yesterday. It made the best APS-C quality files I’ve ever seen. Period. I’ll forgive it the slow lens and focus. This old man cut his teeth on zone focusing and slow ASA film, so sees the Leica’s shortcomings are no stumbling block to the well heeled.

  42. YourVario review is interesting but rather lenghy and repetitive. On the “bad/ugly” side I would definitely mention very irritating “freezing” of the EVF/LCD after each shot – if you shoot both DNG and Jpegs (which you must if you want to have DNG – really stupid!). This freezing lasts 3-4 seconds! Ridiculous!
    “Silver” rear dial looks like having been taken from Another Planet. Ugly!!!!! Why not elegant black, as on X1/X2. The text is hardly visible too. Thanks God IQ is great (in good light) otherwise it would be (and almost is..) the most expensive German-made Point-n-Shoot Disaster.

  43. Steve, you mentioned shooting at 28mm 95% of the time…
    This is my plans with using the Leica X Vario.

    Compared to $7645 + Tax to purchase Leica M-E with Leica Elmar 28mm f/2.8 lens, the X Vario is more affordable.

    There is something to be said of someone who appreciate the feel of a quality camera as well as the intricate colour reproduction of the Leica.

    I also considered that DNG files is better to work with.

    Maybe optional hand grip would help with not touching silver control pad all the time?

    Dan

    • Dan, two things that have helped us. Our X-E1/18-55mm was also front-heavy, unbalanced, and hard to hold comfortably UNTIL we added the Fuji-branded tan leather half-case. Balance and hold comfort problem instantly solved! I expect the same result when Leica ships the XV half-case.

      We have re-used our Olympus VF-2 EVF on the XV, but have added the Olympus EP-9 eyecup to it which improves (for us) the balance of the camera, too. This eyecup is deeper and wider like the standard eyecup is on the EVF for a Sony RX1. The extra depth keeps your nose off the back of the camera and gives you more hand and finger room, too. With this setup, we find we do not “palm” the silver controller on the back plate any more.

      Hope this helps! Awesome OOC images and easy handling made the wife’s decision (it’s hers) easy.

    • If you plan at shooting at 28mm all the time surely you’d be better off with a Ricoh GR?? f/2.8, same sensor as the Leica (I think), uses DNG format for RAW, fantastic handling & ease of use and fits in a shirt pocket and all for a mere £599.

      I don’t even bother to carry a wide with me any more and simply just use the GR from a shirt/coat pocket plus the super 35mm crop mode is an added bonus for extra versatility.

  44. All the bad and ugly parts Steve mentioned, there are Leica solutions. Some of them Steve had mentioned in the review. Some of them didn’t.

    “It’s Awkward to hold”: there are hand grip and finger loop accessories available(pictured in review, very handsome).
    “It’s Awkward to Shoot”: equip with above accessories plus EVF. Then all problems solved.
    “Battery life too short”: have some spares.
    “It’s not for Moving Subjects”: buy a DSLR instead, like S, or D4,etc.
    “AF in low light is SLOW”: there is a flash on it . Why not use it? Or shoot it in manual focus like the M.
    “That damn control dial on the back!”: once you have hand grip and finger loop installed. The problem will go away. Not matter how big/small your hand is.
    “The Aperture of the Lens”: some people prefer “all in focus” shooting style. Some don’t like that. Very weird(including me).
    “No Real Image Stabilization”: there is a tripod mount. Use a tripod if necessary.
    “Depth of Field”: For such a great camera, you want to get the most out of it. So see more not less.
    “The Price”: you need to prepare more money to enjoy shooting in “Leica Style”. Same as M, S.

    • It all comes down to what one wants and/or needs and what they are willing to spend to get it. Me, I would not spend close to or more than $4000 for the setup with all accessories just to make it comfy to shoot but I am sure a few will. Thanks for reading.

      • Me neither. I am waiting for the next big thing to arrive. If nothing attractive, then I’ll keep on shooting with my Sony NEX 5N + Metabones Speed Booster + Leica R lenses.

  45. My first thought about the camera is: okay, now that the camera is in production release another model with the equivalent of a full frame 35mm f2.0 fixed lens on it. Follow the Sigma scheme of the same camera with a different fixed lens. Wouldn’t it cost less than the current 3-zoom lens? It would compete directly with the Sony full frame fixed 35mm camera. Which one would have the best image quality? Be easier to use?

  46. I don’t doubt about IQ, but my days with MF is over and I wish for a AF system camera from Leica, and believe that the release of this will make a similar sized/priced AF system camera less likely.

    Am I negative? Maybe, but there are so much negativity around here towards those using dslrs anyway…

  47. Its a Leica for red dot enthusiasts who can afford it, it looks like they compromised on speed of the lens for sharpness and zoom range.
    I don’t think the cost of this comes into it really, its a Leica, and you pay for something which is less measurable than a maximum aperture setting, Your paying for beauty and what having something beautiful makes you feel, the emotional connection with the object. Its why people buy expensive swiss watches when a €10 Casio works as well.

    Based on the review, and the look of it it just about scrapes under the wire, or maybe a little behind, if you like Leica designs and you have the money, pick one up your hands will tell you yes or no,

    I think what is pissing people off is it looked for a while that they would introduce a crop sensor M series camera, something to tempt you into Sumicron land proper. or something like the Fuji X series, completely new and modern.

    You cant argue with the Leica M series, even the communists commenting in the forums have some grudging respect, it has taken some of the best photographs that have ever been taken by the best photographers who have ever walked the planet.

    This thing though doesn’t have the technology inside of a rebadged Panasonic or the time proven cast iron gold standard ergonomics and components of an M.
    Its not really going to do it for Leica is it

    • The best photographs ever taken were taken by certain people who happened to have used Leica, not the other way around. Willy Ronis used to use a Foca rangefinder and switched over to the Pentax ME super and never looked back. it’s always the photographer, never the camera. We go to galleries to admire ” someones” photos, not Brand X photos. We all like our cameras, but that’s just a personal preference and what kind of technique fits and suits that persons way of working. To be fair to all the past photographers, it’s all credit to them. Leica has been riding that coat tail for too long and now it’s the only thing they have left. It would be ignorant of us to think that just because the greatest photographer happened to have used Leica, that somehow Leica cameras take better photos than anyone else. The old pics from classic vintage Leicas and film aren’t even as sharp as the crummiest slr lens from the 70′s, so it’s not even a question about sharpness either. When i look at a great photo from a book i say to myself, wow, what photo this person took. I don;t think, wow, what a photo taken by a Leica camera. Some folks have left slr’s because the way they work, maybe a rangefinder suits them. Some have used rangefinders and went back to slr’s because the rangefinder does not suit their work. The work will dictate the type of camera, not the other way around. For instance, if we are honest with ourselves, shooting a rock and trees does not require a rangefinder at all, but many ignore this and think that because they have a rangefinder, they can shoot better rocks and trees. It’s like carrying around a 1d to shoot a childs birthday party and a Leica to shoot pro sports. But hey, everyone likes to be different I guess.

  48. yikes, a ‘stinker’. oh well, at least it’s a Leica from Germany that is easy to get at your local dealer. wonder if they will drop the price to move them. maybe a promo is coming soon. i better get mine on the buy sell asap…what do think $1500??

  49. Sony hurry up and release already RXi (interchangeable) FF phase detect hybrid with tilt touch lcd & EVF @ $2000

    • oooops this should be in the RXr Rx100mk2

      ps. lets say Xvario lens is worth approx $1000, thus XV body $1800
      future interhcangeable apsc XV with built in evf $2000
      5 AF lenses manufactured by panasonic: equivalent 24mm f2.8, 35mm f2, 50mm f1.4, 90mm f1.8, 135mm f2.4

  50. dont mean to be Negative, but this will go against the just announced Fuji X-M1 with the zoom at 800$…unless bragging about the red dot is your thing…

  51. Interesting read, and it integrates well with what Sean Reid has written about the camera, especially with regards to the hype before announcement; I think that’s where Leica really went wrong, leading people to expect something entirely different, and moreover to expect something that is probably more in demand than the X Vario.

    Personally I don’t have any hatred or whatever towards the camera or those who buy it; mostly it’s just indifference. No doubt there are people for whom it’s ideal, and as long as buyers know what they’re spending their money on, great for them, I hope the camera serves them well :)

    I went for the X-E1 and 18-55mm combo, myself, and I couldn’t be happier (well, I could if I had the 32mm Touit, but one thing at a time ;) ). I’m an Aperture user, too, and that program does a really nice job with X-Trans raw files, so, at least for now, I guess I’m more interested in what people think of the X Vario than I am in the camera itself :D

  52. Leica and Leica M had inferior image quality compared to the large and medium format competition at the time, but made Photography faster, cheaper and everywhere. Even later, under competition from 35mm and DSLRs with more features, the Leica M’s merits made it to survive. Contax, later Nikon and Canon copied and improved the Leica. The Nikon A copied the Leica X2. But the Leica X Vario copied the Sony NEX and Fuji X, removing lens interchangeability, viewfinder and image stabilizer.

    The Leica X Vario is just another point-an-shoot, just with better image quality. It meets expectations from Non-Leica users upgrading from smartphone or other point-an-shoot camera. The 46mm end can frame and crop without walking, but is not very helpful under poor lighting or to isolate subject from background. Leica shooters tend to use it at 18mm most of the time, making its zoom functionality redundant. To them it reduces aperture at 18mm, increases bulk and weight.

    Body, lens and dials on top will last for decades, as on any Leica and Leica M before. LCD, controls on the back, sensor and processor will become outdated and die as soon as on any other digital camera.

  53. @Peter: “frame and crop without walking”. That certainly defines the target group (Btw; I’m not a fan of zoom lenses).

  54. Thanks for this really clear review, Steve. It helps me see why this is not the camera for me, though I was geared up to buy it on IQ showings. A Digilux 2 just fell in my lap, so that will give plenty of enjoyment for a good while!

  55. Steve, a great Review as always – but….the Adobe ACR Engine doesn’t really know howto handle
    the Fujifilm X-Trans Sensor yet, so comparing the X-E1 with the Leica Vario is some kinda Apple vs. Oranges thing, don’t get me wrong. And the build quality of the Fuji X100(s), X-E1, X-Pro1 is very good,
    check out the dp(review)s….sadly, i don’t own a X Fuji by myself yet, but i was trying the X100 into a Photostore, and the X100 was very nice…it really makes you want to take pictures…

    I understand the Leica Vario lens is stellar, but either way on the (way) slow side, at the long end
    even slower than the usual kitlenses with F5.6 at the end…

    greetings from germany,
    marc

  56. Yes, actually impressive image quality.. I hope Leica will learn from their mistakes and release an X-Vario 2 with a faster 35-50mm equivalent and built-in VF instead of the -useless- flash. Now that would be a winner.

  57. A great review Steve………well balanced with “personal opinion” made very clear. Can’t ask more than that can we?

  58. Dear Steve , I realise that this is off topic , sorry. May I ask however. Have your photography exploits ever taken you to the U.K, and if so, which areas did you enjoy photographing. Adam.

  59. Hi Steve,
    thanks for the review. I also agree with most of your findings, except 2:
    - For my taste I find the camera feels quite balanced and is good to hold; but hands are different
    - I have not experienced such bad focusing in low light as you describe
    Some positive aspects I would like to mention:
    - user interface. I can see my selected exp time and/or f-stop without having to dig into any menues; same is valid for focal length and distance; So I believe the user interface is really different; it is a matter of taste what you prefer, but I love the simple user interface
    -spot AF: great function in the Leica X; I really would like to have such an option in my OMD as well;

    The camera would be perfect for me if a) it had an integrated viewfinder and b) if I could exchange the lens with a fast 50mm equivalent lens for low light.
    Without these to options I still enjoy this camera a lot and feel much less limited by the lens than one might think when just reading the numbers.

    My dream would be the following camera:
    -Simple user interface like the Leica
    -Viewfinder from the x-pro 1
    -exchangeable lenses like Fuji but in the optical quality of the Leica
    -sensor from the Leica
    -price of the Fuji
    -AF of the Canon 1dx

    Is this too much I am asking?

  60. As a “one-trick pony” (that does the trick EXCEPTIONALLY well, I concour!), with a price in line as the X2, it would sell boatloads. Me myself, had contemplated to buy a Sigma DP Merrill 2 for that reason. But the Sigma costs just around 1000€, not around the triple…

  61. Steve, you have put up an excellent well-balanced review of a much maligned camera release from Leica. I was one of those people that questioned Leica’s sanity with the release of the X-Vario, and to try and connect it to the Leica M Type 240. Well, that just reminded me of when Diamler-Benz bought Chrysler and tried to connect Chrysler with Mercedes-Benz – not only did it not raise brand awareness for Chrysler, it damaged the MB brand.

    This past weekend, I got to hold, shoot, and play with the X-Vario. Your comment sums it up very well, “camera users are not willing to shell out the big bucks for something that really only does one thing exceptionally well.” That was exactly my thought – it’s a one-trick pony for a Leica premium attached.

    As I returned the X-Vario, I was saddened again by this very poor release from Leica, but then I remembered the camera that I had in my bag … the Leica M Type 240!!! Anyone who wants to shoot Leica glass on the M platform has plenty of options: The M Type 240, the ME (re-badged M9), and the stellar MM (not to mention used M9s, M8s, and the film Leicas). I cheered up because this was never meant for me. It was just rather unfortunate that Leica didn’t make that clear in its marketing by calling it a Mini M. So good luck to those that care to buy/use this camera and while I do not, that’s the reason there are choices available.

    If this release of the X-Vario is as disastrous as the camera pundits bemoan on web forums, then Leica will pay for it economically although I doubt they spent too much R&D on this release. What they did was essentially tune-up and re-package the X2, and that is probably due to the fact they had leftover raw materials, so why not try and sell those materials in another package? Sort of makes sense now.

  62. Want APSC digital camera with a excellent quality lens, built in EVF, flipping screen, good battery life and would prefer to pay around $2,500 less then the X-Vario. Consider the Sony R-1. I picked one up for a trip to Africa for $250AU. I don’t know if the Leica X-Vario would give me anything better then these
    http://adamjasonmoore.com/africa/
    I have been a Leica fanboy for some years, but my recent dealings with Leica have annoyed and disappointed me. I am left with the feeling that they currently don’t care for photographers who want to use one of their cameras for more than a fashion accessory.

  63. Hi Steve, great balanced review , cheers.

    Not sure if Leica have been brave or stupid with this model ,time will tell I guess. The best camera in the review imho is the Yashica Lynx :)) It is odd as to what cameras do well and where, I have a Pentax Q system, one of the most fun and amazing set-ups you could ever own but in terms of pure IQ it can not compete with many other current offerings, sales struggled here in the UK ( I just bought a spare new one for £69 from a main Pentax dealer) BUT in Japan the Q is massive, it’s the biggest selling CSC camera by a huge margin – hence the Q10 and recently Q7 releases.

    Thus I guess Leica might find a market with some users, somewhere for this interesting but it appears deeply flawed model.I also fear the 2nd hand values will be trash, as they are with the X1, X2 and the M8! Although I buy what I want when I want and do not overly concern myself in re-sale value many buyers do and this will be a concern with this model.

  64. I believe that a Leica Mini M should be an XV sized body + M Mount + built-in EVF + APS-C sensor which is optimized for all Leica lenses with 39mm filter size, especially the older versions but it could include the new 50 mm APO Summicron. Leica M Mini really should be a “compact digital body” that is to revitalize Oakar Barnack tradition. Many people will buy this body from B&H then buy lenses from eBay. The body price should be no more than $1250. Existing lens such as Summicron 35 or Elmar 90 will fit into the body size so nicely. Such a Mini M body will attract many new Leica users, and will make core Leica users with Noticlux etc modern lenses so nostalgic, and lure DSLR users into the Leica kingdom. Leica might also introduce a new line of compact lens (filter thread 39mm): top quality optic with aperture 3.4 or slower, modern looking design with no finger tab nor square fonts etc., priced similar to Zeiss ZM. No autofocus, no zoom neither, since its never Leica’s strength and fun!

    • I think Leica targets new and different customers rather than those owning old M glass, but unwilling to buy “full frame/priced” M9 or M240 digital body. And in some (emerging) markets there are no owners old old M glass.

  65. Steve its great review! Thank you very much. You saved my time and money! :) Now I will not harry to buy X Vario. Yes in daylight it has amazing colours and brilliant images but low light, for children its not that good.

    What you would say, does it worth to save up little more and buy M9 with Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5 lens? I think it will be far better decision. Sorry to asking, just your opinion will be very important for me. :)

    I hope new Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 will works fine with Leica M9.

  66. It seems again Leica is over rated and over priced. Leica leadership must not be knowledge of market place competition, or they would change and improve their products. Technically (screen, focus/autofocus, menu, stabilization) Leica products have been behind. And now their sensors are not the best either. Lens are rated well for character, but Olympus lens are better in distortion, edge to edge sharpness (http://www.imaging-resource.com/camera-reviews). So now what does Leica have? Just character and a high price.

    • Olympus lenses better for distortion? Really?
      Have you checked the untouched RAW image before electronic correction?
      http://www.photozone.de/m43

      Technically the Leica M system has been behind the latest 50 years. Nothing new about that.
      I would add Leica also has build, feel and look.

  67. Electronic viewfinders are overrated. Do you want to view .7 inch with 1 eye? Or do you watch with 2 eyes on a 70 inch screen? Second is the answer. Composition, stabilization, sunlight? Not real factors. Electronic viewfinders is an old-school requirement, not related to framing.

    • “Do you want to view .7 inch with 1 eye? Or do you watch with 2 eyes on a 70 inch screen? Second is the answer.”
      I don’t see how this is related to photography. In this fashion, you must discard even a RF.
      “Composition, stabilization, sunlight? Not real factors.”
      So tell me what are the factors.
      “Electronic viewfinders is an old-school requirement, not related to framing.”
      I don’t know in what Happy Land of Photography do you live, clearly you have found there a nice place to live.
      Me, I prefer to live in the Real World.
      ;)

  68. Steve,
    How refreshing,a dose of truth in a world of every thing is beautiful camera
    reviews,keep telling it like it is,thats how you earn the respect of those
    who know.your time and effort are much appreciated.

  69. Lucky me! I have a Vario X this weekend on loan – will it beat my Sigma DP2? They are both cameras for sunny days, I guess :-)

  70. Steve, any lens at those apertures is great and as excellent corner to corner sharpness.

    It´s hard to understand you say it as great lens, for me a great lens must have f2.8 and at that aperture be great, otherwise any f2.8 lens or f1.4 is great compared to Leica X at the same aperture…

  71. The files are beautiful (of course this could just be the photographer). But the negatives you’ve pointed out are just too much. Others have mentioned the exceptionally difficult to use Sigma DP Merrills, which would seem to me a better investment for a single-purpose shooter. If the Leica was more like $1500, that might change.

  72. Steve, Nice objective review.

    Like you stated, it doesn’t seem to be the camera for me as I want the fast lens but it seems to produce very high IQ photos. Guess it would depend on the photographer. I’m sure this X Vario will make many people happy but I think I will save my money for real M. hehe.

  73. A very interesting review. Thanks, Steve.

    This camera seems to be suited for countries with a fair degree of sunshine. That rules out the UK….

  74. The X2 would in almost all case here match, or better the IQ(Bokeh etc) and same sensor, smaller size, better f stop range, and cheaper price, and that`s still too expensive
    Leica is overpriced, I have three Leica`s, but two of them ar eflim cameras, and the other well … M9, which I still prefer over the M240, and from what I read on Loyd Chambers site, not a camera without issues either

  75. Do the Nikon Coolpix A and Ricoh GR, which appear to use same Sony 16mp sensor as the X Vario, but with excellent fixed 28mm f2.8 leness, have similar autofocus performance? Ming Thein reported

    Coolpix A: “AF speed is this camera’s achilles’ heel; it’s acceptable, but not fast.”
    Ricoh GR: “Focus is blazing fast in good light, glacial in low light or low contrast.”

    Wonder if the Sony sensor is the common denominator here? Maybe not as it is also used in the Nikon D7000 and D7100.

  76. O.o

  77. Finally i can make a comment

    I think this picture will be a classic . He looks like Huckleberry Hound . :D

    varioL1050141s.jpg

  78. Steve, as I said earlier great review. I really enjoyed and it helped me to think more time for final decision. I am just thinking if I save money and go for Leica X2 instead X Vario, how much downgrade that be or save up more and buy used M9 with Voigtlander 50mm 1.5 new lens. Whats your advice? Sorry to asking again and again. :D

  79. Hi Steve,

    Just want to say I love that barn shot with the sun behind it. Lovely.

  80. I had a Vario on loan the last couple of days and compared it to my RX-1. Used both cameras today during a bright and sunny day in Munich, Germany. Colors and rendering (did only JPEGs) of the Vario beat the RX-1 clearly in my eyes. Even the resolution seems to be better from the Vario. Wondering because it’s FF against APS-C and 24MP against 16MP. Caused by the weaker AA-Filter?
    Thanks for your comments!
    Stephan

    P.S. Steve, thanks for your effort and the helpful informations coming from your site again and again!

  81. Thanks for a great review! Almost all my cameras were bought after you recommended them, some have since been given away, to new happy owners. The best buy was the Nikon V1, but that C-E1 seems to be a winner, as seem the Touit 12 for my NEX-5N be (just need some more money).

    The dark horse is still my D600, a lovely camera, but maybe not for me!

  82. Commenting the Cons!:

    1. Leica, whatever, is too expensive for most users! Just compare the price of a Leica M-E (or M 240) and their cheapest lens, the Summarit 50/2.5 with a Nikon D600 and the 50/1.8G.
    The Nikon-combination surely has much better specs like the competition for the X-Vario. It is even debatable if the Leica lens is any better. Just as the Fujinon 18-55 lens and even the new STM-lenses for Canon EF-S and EF-M have tested very well and in practical terms should be about equal in IQ produced compared to the X-Vario lens.
    But the Leica M/M-E and lens has so much better build and feel! Yeah, just like the X-Vario.
    Leica for various reasons (like not made in Asia, low production volume and more expensive build) is about 2-4 times more expensive than comparable competition. The X-Vario is no more overpriced than the (real!) Leica M system.

    2.There is a grip and fingerholder available as an option! In my opinion all Leica cameras, except the V-Lux cameras already having it built-in, need the optional grip (or half-case with built-in grip) to be comfortable to hold.
    If I was considering buying the camera I would ignore comments on the ergonomics of the camera used without a grip until I myself tried it with the grip. Also the hands of people are such different that ergonomics someone think is great another find awful.

    3. Lens aperature is close to standard for a kit-lens. The difference between 5.6 and 6.4 is just 1/3 of a stop, which in practical terms is not significant.
    Considering digital has a several stop ISO advantage over film one wonder how anything before the digital era could be photographed in anything but daylight? Except with the Noctilux 50/1.0 of course! ;)

    4. Seem be conflicting opinions about AF in low light, se comments. Other cameras also have problem in low light. The price for buying the best AF tech may be too high for such a low volume camera as the X-Vario.

    5. The control pad construction clearly seem be a flaw. But using the optional grip could improve things.

    6. No built-in EVF in such an expensive camera sucks. Agree to that. But the Sony RX-1 and many other cameras doesn’t have one either. So Leica is not the only offender in this area. Surely Leica as with the grip want to sell more accessories to make some more money. But also one must realise an EVF would have come at the expense of a smaller display size or bigger camera. Compromises Leica was not willing to make.

    7. Don’t quite agree to that. While I think the “M” marketing for the camera, as proven, could be seriously misunderstood as many dreamed about an affordable digital CL for their old, used M-lenses, I dont think calling the X-Vario a mini-M is completely out of order. While it certainly has no M-mount or rangefinder (Messucher!) it is close in look and operation to a Leica M. Take away the rangefinder from the M 240 and the body is almost a twin to the X-Vario. A few buttons and dials is the main difference. That I think is the reason for the M-campaign.

    8. How images look is a personal preference. I really think it is too much too ask that every photo should have an unique X-Vario look. Therefore not a con in my eyes.

    9. Poor battery life on a small advanced camera. Did I not read that before sometime! Bringing an extra battery or two is always a good idea.

    Will I buy the new X-Vario? No, not new. But maybe some day when I can get a used camera, grip and EVF in good condition for less than $ 1,000,-. The X-Vario is a sweet little camera and I wouldn’t discourage those who like it and can afford buying one today.

    • Referring to your comment #1. “It is even debatable if the Leica lens is any better [than Nikkor].” I take it you’ve NEVER shot Leica glass but you’d like to leave such a blanket comment? Coming from Nikkor glass (top of the line old and new), when I first saw my photos open up from the old M9 way back on the 50cron, I went out and sold everything from Nikon. This doesn’t even consider the other lenses, say the 50lux or god forbid you compare Nikon to the Noctilux 0.95, or the plain ole’ feedback you get from the Leica kit, or the reduction in weight from a D800e and 85 1.4G.

      • Wohoo! :D
        Don’t assume too much about things you have not much support for!

        First I only compare the lenses in my comment, not all lenses in both systems. It’s a Leica M with one (budget 50) lens versus DSLR with one (AF-S budget 50 or even the old 50/1.8D) lens comparision to give a perspective to the X-Vario with one lens versus the competition.
        I definitely am not doing a comparision between the systems of Leica and Nikon with all its variables.

        Claiming all (current) Leica glass is better than Nikkor glass, old or new would however really be a blanket comment.

        About the Summarit 50/2.5, just take a look att Steve’s review here:
        http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2011/01/26/the-leica-50-summarit-lens-review-m8-and-m9-tested/
        I find the review a bit lukewarm. Not a bad lens of course despite the soft corners wide open. But clearly this is the Leica budget alternative and there are so many more interesting lenses like Leica Summicron 50/2, Zeiss 50/2 Planar, Zeiss 50/1.5 Sonnar or Voigtländer Nokton 50/1.5. What I read Steve would prefer any of these lenses before the Summarit 50.

        I admit I haven’t tried the Leica 50/2.5 myself but have a humble, manual Nikon Series E 50/1.8 that is really very sharp. One must also remember there is a minimum cost for the Leica build and name for, even if good, a quite ordinary lens construction. That’s why Leica charged several times more for their R-lenses with Minolta lens construction than the optically same Minolta lenses!

        As to the Nikkor versus leica lens debate the photograper Tim Ashley on his blog writes:
        ” …have ascertained that the legendary M lenses are not, technically at least, a ‘magic bullet’ compared to the glass available for the Nikon system.”
        About Leica Summicron 28 Asph he says:
        “The 28mm F2 ‘cron is boring on the M240 and the optical design is starting to show its age”
        “Great lens, great value, great weight.” is the conclusion about Nikkor AF-S 28/1.8 G.

        And no he is not a Leica-hater. He actually prefers shooting with Leica as it is a more portable system and has some great lenses. But he is very critical to his instruments as he is aiming for perfection. Reading his reviews can be an eye-opener as they explain a lot of things. I propose start reading his conlusion about the M 240 and explore more of his writings from there on:
        http://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/6/leica-m240—executive-summary-final-thoughts-conclusion-is-it-a-keeper

        As to my experience with Leica I bought my first, used M4 in 1985 with a near mint Summilux 35/1.4 (the classical non asph.) and a new Summicron-M 90/2. Still have them and a few other Leica, Zeiss ZM and Voigtländer lenses as well. While very nice rendering stopped down the Summilux 35 is awfully soft wide open while the manual Nikkor 35/1.4 is at least usable, if not good, and very sharp where it matters already at f2. Same for the manual Nikkor 85/1.4 Ai-S. Fantastic already at f2. But of course, at that time all these lenses were costing about the same as Nikkor lenses had very solid build. Now Nikkor lenses while still great optically have much cheaper build and in relative terms got cheaper while Leica prices increased even more.

        There is no denying a M-system is more portable, smaller and lighter in general. But the difference, except the size of the lenses, is not such great. The difference in weight between the M 240 (used in this comparision because it has 24MP as the D600) and 50 Summicron lens and handgrip versus D600 and 50/1.8 is just about 100 gram. Now if we instead compare a typical reportage outfit with 28, 50 and 85/90mm lenses, Summicron for Leica and the Nikkor AF-S 1.8 G trio for Nikon the difference is reduced to more or less 0 gram! But the price for the Leica M + 50 Summarit and handgrip (which I think is essential for ergonomics) is more than $7.000,- more expensive than a Nikon D600 and AF-S 50/1.8 G! Comparing the the trio lens systems doubles the difference in price to the astronomical sum of $14.000,-!!

        Sure Leica has some special lenses. But claiming that as an argument when there are so many more lenses Nikon have that Leica are missing, especially since they stopped producing the R-system is just plain silly. And why bring up the D800(E) and 85/1.4G when Leica clearly have neither a 36MP camera nor a short 1.4 tele lens (The Summilux 75/1.4 is discontinued.) that can compare to that combination? Just underlines how many more choices Nikon offers!

    • You can’t compare the D600 and 50mm 1.8 to the XV
      It is a large, heavy and noisy camera. Let alone the limitations of the single FL 50mm f1.8.
      Apples and oranges. Like comparing a BMW 3 series to a Mitsubishi grandeis. Both great cars but totally different.

      • Try read again. I compare Nikon D600 with Leica M 240/M-E saying the multiplied difference in price between them is about the same (or greater) as between Leica X-Vario and its closest competitors like NEX-cameras with 16-50 or other kit-lens or Fujifilm X-camera with 18-55 or new 16-50 zoom.

        This because of all the cries about the high price of the X-Vario. Strangely the shocking high prices for Leica M and lenses seem be more accepted.

  83. Love the review Steve, some great pictures for sure!

  84. The lens is the real killer for me. You can buy a EVF for it, I would. The Fuji 18-55mm is F2.8-4, has OIS and is just has good as Leica. Put that on what ever and you got the same basic camera. Fuji is none for there JPEGS, there skin tones are second to none. And the lens are interchangable. It is Fuji for me.

  85. Hi Steve,

    don’t know if anyone already remarked or asked this: you wrote that the Zeiss lens with 12mm is equivalent to 24mm full frame. How does this work? Doesn’t the X-E1 have an APS-C sensor with crop factor 1.5?

    kind regards,
    Chris

  86. Hey Steve,

    Nice review and photos here. I went to one of the leica shops in singapore yesterday, and kinda tested out the camera in the store. I was a hater at when the camera released. However, upon testing it, i saw that the camera did really had some decent IQ and wasnt as bad as it would be (doubt leica would make crap). But tbh, i am not too sure if anyone will pay 2850usd for such a big camera (due to the lens, although it was surprisingly light weighted), where u can just pay much more less for Ricoh GR, RX1, or even a 2nd hand m8 + a decent lens / film m + decent lens.

    Regards,
    Larry

  87. Guys,

    I asking everyone who knows well Leica and used M9 and if someone even had tested X Vario. I have to options. 1) Buy X Vario with EVF and 2) Buy second hand M9 with new Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Nokton lens. Both cost almost same, M9 little bit higher. I know M9 has old sensor, since 2005 and the lens Voigtlander is not from Leica.

    Any opinions?

  88. Steve, where did you get the black dots that are on your Leica M?

    They are just what I am looking for.
    Thanks

  89. Great review but awfull camera, and I do not agree with your statement that IQ is amazing. Because it simply is not that good, and detail is degrading FAST at higher ISO’s.

    AF is just too slow to shoot anything moving, and when light drops it starts to hunt like crazy.

    Obviously I do not know how to use this simple piece of gear, but I returned mine after a week of outdoor as well as studio testing. This is a $400 dollar camera that is being sold for $3000! I got an RX1 now instead (and even had almost 200 dollars left!) which also has a rather horrible AF system for the price. However at least the image quality is there.

    Thats my mini review, people can agree or disagree with it which is fine but thats just my opinion. And for my needs this camera did not ring my bells. And I was very dissapointed with both the experience and image quality. I simply expected to get much more out of it :(. For the coming year or two the RX1 will have to do it for me since I blasted all my camera gear budget on it :).

  90. Fantastic review Steve! It does take fantastic shots in daylight, no denying that.
    Your honesty & calling it like it is will no doubt upset a few X vario owners/potential buyers/Leica faithfuls- but it’s that honesty that removes any doubt that your a fair & credible reviewer and not just some Leica fanatic blinded by the red dot.
    Part of my bitterness for this camera is because I was hoping to see a true mini-M: either a digital minilux with FF sensor & fixed 40/2.4 summarit or a true mini M with an aps-c sensor. Either would seduce me into purchasing.
    Lets all hope Leica has learned it’s lesson from this release, listen to the feedback given and bring us what we want: a small camera with great build quality, fast glass and a built in viewfinder.

    Keep up the goo work dude!

    • Why Leica announced an “MINI M” and showed an LEICA X ZOOM!

      LEICA MINI M : body of the X vario with an INCORPORADED EVF 1.4 .

      NEW MINI M BAYONET FOR NEW MINI M LENS:

      ( 35 MM EQUIVALENTS)

      24MM 2.0
      50 MM 2.0
      75 MM 2.0
      VARIO 24-90 2 – 4.5

      SENSOR APS-C 18 OR 20 MP OR FULL-FRAME (SONY RX1)

      I think LEICA people should create a true MINI M …

      MFO

  91. X vario vs Sigma DP2… http://sigmasharpshooter.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/leker-med-leica-x-vario/
    Straight out of the camera jpeg, ISO 200, all auto… Not science – just for fun. I think the X Vario is not such a rotten camera, and would love to have one. But the Sigma DP2 jpegs are just as sharp I think :-) As of yet I have not looked at the raw files. I bet they both will be a lot better. Where Leica really went wrong, is the command wheel at the back…

  92. Thanks Steve for this great site, and for another excellent review.

    I guess I’m the target X Vario customer, in that (a) I currently shoot the Leica X1, but sometimes get frustrated about the lack of a zoom, and (b) there’s no way I could justify spending well over $10,000 on an M body and a couple of lenses.

    From your review, I guess the XV won’t be for me, as it loses two of the X1′s big pluses; its small size and ease of use.

    Your report was interesting in that most of the examples you gave were (unless I missed something) shot at 28 mm, which rather negates the point of the XV. If you’re going to keep it at 28 mm you might as well just stick with an X1 / X2. I think your review would be improved by showing us more images shot at 70 mm zoom. Are these images significantly better than the same subject shot at 28 mm and then cropped?

  93. Thank you Steve for another fine review. You are one of the very few reviewers that bases conclusions on real world shooting. It is appreciated.

    I know in good weather I would love to shoot with the X Vario. The great “if only” will always remain…if only the lens was faster. The shots taken in good lighting certainly have that mojo magic.

    With the prices being so similar I think I lean towards the RX1. I like walks at night when we travel and would think the RX1 is perfect for such shooting. For now I use the X1 (still a great camera) for those walks and I would think the RX1 would take it to the next level.

    Thanks again for these reviews.

    • Hello,

      Why people make comparaisons with the Sony RX1 ?

      The Leica is an APC-C 16 MP camera with a slow zoom lens…

      The day where Sony is capable to create an RX2Z … ( Z for zoom ) with full-frame sensor and
      24-90 (35 mm equiv.) with 2.0–4.5 aperture

      The Leica XV will be dead

      Have a prehistorical Leica CL with 40 and 700 lens… and still continue to use with the D-lux 6

      My dream: A Leica “MINI M ” based on the CL …. concept

      mfo

  94. I believe this camera only has a problem in that it’s a Leica, and that problem is for most of us of a certain age or older, Leicas were once aspirational, but attainable. They are now beyond the reach of a lot of us who would like to use them, but as my friend who came by with his new Monokrom and 50 ASPH indirectly reminded me, I’m just not able to buy a TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLAR CAMERA. Leica, while still being an Everest of optical quality, and fine camera bodies with a few quibbles, is now a ‘lifestyle’ brand, if you Summer in The Hamptons. I don’t want to buy a film body or an M8, and I’m effectively shut out, unless I want to buy a re-badged Panasonic. No thanks. I have no problem in them charging what they do, but I dearly regret I’ll never be able to justify that kind of $$$. I think they are worth it, but they’re just utterly beyond my price range. A pity to see them as fashion accessories for clueless rich people.

    I have no doubt that this camera will sell to the faithful, kind of an X20 for Leica-philes. Sure, the lens could be a bit faster, but ostensibly this is supposed to remind you of a Tri-Elmar rig. OK . . . .

    My only real complaint is common to any camera with this planform, certainly not just the Vario: So you don’t have an EVF, that’s OK, but for me the problem is I can either have an EVF or a shoe-mount flash, but not both at the same time. IF you’re going to do this, manufacturers, please include PC connections on the camera and flash, a dedicated TTL cable (maybe a HDMI plug-in from the body to the flash, maybe a trick flash bracket that could incorporate TTL flash). Maybe they feel for hobbyists this isn’t necessary, I think it is.

    The Vario utterly convinces me of one thing: IF there were a way for Fuji to make an equivalent of the X10/20 with that zoom lens and speed on an X100 body in APS-C, lots of cameras would become doorstops overnight.

  95. Hi Steve,
    Thanks for another interesting review
    I am looking for a portable camera to compliment my DSLR which I use for events and thin DOF/arty work.
    I am stuck between the X100S and X-Vario. The X100s gives me two stops of light more and I love 35mm but the Vario gives a zoom range that is nice. Both seem to be very sharp cameras and roughly the same size.
    Whats your view here in terms of colours vs sharpness vs handling ?
    best rgds

    • Color and sharpness goes to the Vario no question. Build goes to the Vario. Low light goes to the Fuji. if you want “Bokeh” and shallow DOF the Fuji will give you a little more of that. Fuji focuses closer BUT for me, the files from the Vario are much nicer looking in color, wb and tonality.

  96. Thank you for the effort and patience to do this test and review. It’s very important for me to hear opinions of photographers that have real experience with a camera in hand. I’m from Bulgaria and the price that they gave me from the store that I’ve acquired was 4750 leva = 3660$ but more funny is that the Sony RX1 is 6499 leva = 4332$, so for me the choice is the Leica. But now I have more informed approach to the X Vario. I don’t have any Leica’s and I shoot mostly in studio, but lately I’m in love with the street photography. Your review gives me the information I needed to be sure what I’m going to buy. Thank you once again!
    Momchil

    P.S. I have Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, Canon 550D, Mamiya 645D with Leaf Valeo 22WI and Panasonic LUMX LX7

    • I have purchased the recent LEICA XV and made some pictures overnight…
      shorly : good in landscape with lot of sun..
      my d-lux 6 give me more satisfaction..

      stay with your lx7 and wait the future or improuvement of the actual Leica XV..

      mfo

      • Thank you for the comment and advice. This was my plan “B – to wait”. Anyway I’m not in a hurry so I’ll see what’s going on and make final decision later. Thank you mfo!

  97. Gentlemen get your hands on one Leica X vario for real and then we talk again. I got mine at the second day after it’s launch betting on the fact that those Leica engineers know very well what they are doing and the match of the superbly built camera with the zoom lens is really great. After shooting my first 150 pictures with the Leica X vario I have to say that I am very pleased with the results, way more pleased for example as with the FujiX100 which never worked for me. Maybe it is my style of shooting that the camera is pleasing me so much? Looking for the right subject, taking time with the composition, zooming in on a detail, or sometimes snapping “blind” on 28mm without the need to manually adjust the focus. It all works nicely with this camera. The different focusing methods [particularly spot] allow for some very creative shots as well, just like if you would use manual focusing.
    I went through 4 different cameras in the past 3 years, taking nice pictures on the way, but friends I say: I have reached my destination. Thanks Leica for a great camera!
    Klaus, Manila, Philippines

  98. Steve, for the same (or around) price, I could get a preowned M8 and two preowned Zeiss lenses, or Voightlander lenses. Have you thought of making that kind of comparison? Because I personally still can’t make any sense of the usage of this camera… I would use one sure, but only if I was given one. If I had to buy one, I would buy a different camera (or brand) altogether.

    • M8′s are going for around $2k, sometimes $1800 if you look around. That and two cheap lenses will not give you the overall perfection you get from the Vario in good light but you will have much more character. You still wont have low light abilities and you will need IR filters for your lenses AND no warranty (many M8′s have been having shutter faults lately) but overall, I would take an M8 and a 50 Nokton and 21 or 24 Voigtlander over the Vario.

  99. I am not sure about more character.
    I am sure about rubbish low light (320 is bad enough, nothing above).no AF and having to change lenses to get different FL.
    Its all personal preference. I hear Steve, but I have a 6D and Canon’s best primes, and when I want the best in low light and the ability to change lens, in a pretty light pacakge (6D is only 765g) this is what i would use.
    I used to have 2 M8s. i would prefer the x-Vario in any shape or form over the M8.
    Actually I would prefer it over a M9.
    If I didn’t have a 6D, I would probably prefer only a M240 over it but would still want a smaller zoom for certain things.

    • Well I am 100% sure about more character. Thrown on even a Voigtlander 35 1.4 or 1.2 and you will get shots not possible with the Vario. The M8 is razor sharp. The M9 is gorgeous and produces files that easily surpass the Vario. The thing is, if you like a P&S look with large DOF the Vario is the best looking file you will get in this style. If you like the traditional Leica Look, the M8 or M9 or M is the only way to get it digitally.

  100. The X Vario lens reminds me of the Minilux Zoom (35-70, f3.5-6.5), which took great pictures in bright light or on a tripod, great pictures in low light of subjects that didn’t move. Indoors and people, not good. I like my X2 and will pass on the X Vario.

  101. completely wrong
    things have moved on
    the X-Vario takes great pictures at 3200
    Remember that the GR, Coolpix-A and X2 have f2.8 only. The X-Vario is f3.5 at 28mm, therefore only 0.75 stops slower, but it has one more stop of ISO performance then the X2.
    So not only are you getting better performance but also have the rest of the zoom range thrown in!

  102. Can I ask why your D-Lux6 gices you more satisfaction ? the IQ and build are not comparable so perhaps you just like the smaller camera ?

  103. Leica misread their opportunity and blew it. “Mini M” should have been to M240 what Fuji’s X100S is to the X-Pro1. Imagine a smaller than M240 fully featured APS-C Leica body with a diminutive and pocketable 35mm Summicron f/2 on it (@52.5), or, better still, an RX1R-killing mini M, with full sensor and a 50mm Summicron f/2 on it!! Leica could command even better money for that set up, and even some current M users might buy it as a 2nd rig. At this level (several thousand dollars), Leica’s DNA is in its unbeatable prime lenses. Leica can only command its prices by being best in class – the M 240 is, and so are its lenses. The X-Vario isn’t. At all.

    • John, I don’t really understand your argument.
      The X-Vario is a compact APS-C camera with a very sharp zoom. See my shots on:
      http://harold.co.il

      An APS-C camera with 35mm f2 is effectively just the X2 with one more stop. Good for Leica to produce.
      A full frame Leica with a 50mm fixed would be at least £3,500. For this many would prefer the RX1 or a second hand M9.

      At £2,150 the XV is only 30% more then the X2 with a lot more range versatility, build quality, better LCD and very good video.

      f3.5 is only 0.6 stops slower then f2.8 but the extra range of the XV makes it more then worthwhile.

      Of course, comparing Leica prices directly with competitors is never fruitful. There is a build quality, design and “joy of ownership” factor.

      I urge you to hold one in your hands and have a play in a shop sometime. You will see what I mean.

      • Hello,

        Your pictures are very sharp and some with a good composition.
        All have been done with the LEICA XV ?

        Wich type of LVF are you using ? Olympus type ?

        best regards

        mfo

      • Dear harold1968,

        Yes, to be fair, the X2 comes close, and to be clear, when judging Leica, one can only measure against an ideal – not the current competition. The Leica must be best in class, or those price comparisons do fairly come in.

        I own and love Leica gear – but none digital yet. I use the M3 and the M6, would love an MP in lieu of the M6 I think. I also use a Zeiss Ikon ZM, which in some ways is more user friendly, but the form, simplicity, and quality of the Leica film Ms is terrific.

        Leica’s “X” level offerings were relevant to me then I suppose as a potential customer. The decision would be whether to buy the M240 (unavailable for months it seems for those looking now, and still fully priced. Too expensive); and M-E (also out of stock, but a potential option).

        Unlike the film Leicas, I do see the digital Leicas as something that will depreciate most of their value over time. The M8 and M9 have proven that Leica digital depreciation is much much slower than other brands, which is comforting, but essentially I see digital cameras along the lines of: “will I get enough value out of using this camera over its useful lifetime?”

        Then it is a sort of internal economy. We are then looking at writing off – over say five years – $8400 for the M240, $6500 for the M-E, $3300 for the X-Vario, $2300 for the X2.

        For me the X2′s specs aren’t there. It compares too unfavourably to the X100S. Take the X-Vario body (with the ergonomics fixed), and a 35/2 Summicron on it, and sell it for an X-Vario price, and – to me at least – the proposition makes good sense. Put the same lens, or a 50/2 Summicron on it, but with a full frame sensor, and sell it for say $4500, I think there would be a market for that too – provided it remained a compact form.

        But in one important respect, I cannot argue hardol1968 – you have used the camera, and I have not. And your Flickr set demonstrates both your skill, and the capability of the X-Vario.

        But I would maintain that if Leica want to charge Leica prices, they need to produce category leading cameras. The lens on the X-Vario is too slow. It should be at least a stop – if not 2 – faster across the range. We are allowed to be very very fussy with Leica, because they charge accordingly.

        I’m glad you are enjoying your camera, and yes, I will have a look “with one hand” next time I’m in a Leica shop. I’m sure it has that reassuring “Leica feel” to it – as I have learned to appreciate with the Leica film gear I use.

      • “I urge you to hold one in your hands and have a play in a shop sometime. You will see what I mean”.
        Been there, done that. Sorry that I haven’t “seen the light”. Totally diffent from that time that holding a Leica M5 I fell so in love with it that I bought and used one for many happy months even if it was without working lightmeter… I had to sell it with a broken heart for economical reasons…

  104. yes thanks.
    Olympus EVF

  105. sure
    good points
    for me the fact that it had a zoom was a key factor.
    I already have a RX1.
    the fuji X100s is also very nice for anyone wanting a fixed lens at a more reasonable price.

  106. Great review as always Steve.

    For the people who wanted a faster lens for night shooting, carry a d-lux 6 in the pocket with the amazing 24-90mm, f1.4 – 2.3.

    For people who want faster longer zooms buy a V-lux 4, 24-600mm constant f2.8.

    For the wealthy target audience who want a day trip camera for the wife, kids, auntie, grandparents to avoid trusting $20,000 worth of mint M 240 & 24, 35, 50 & 75mm lenses into less skilled hands, this is ideal.
    Still made in Germany!

    I would not be lending or gifting an M 240 with assorted lenses for the kids to bash, scratch, drop or the parents or grandparents to lose.

    I have photographed keenly for for nearly 50 years & have printed over 8×10″ only once on b&w and only once in colour.

    I miss the massive projections of slides!
    The d-lux & v-lux have more than I will ever need for printing.

    As a day trip camera the X Vario fills a sizeable market niche hole in Leica’s coverage! Projections over coffee onto a wall sized screen by the kids etc for the whole family!

    • Yes , the D-LUX 6 with the 24-90 mm is very nice for all subjects…
      but this camera cannot be compared to the X Vario because the XV is a full 100% _leica product.

      mfo

      Simple question to lEICA Optic specialists: Which SIZE OF A LENS( external dimensions) is necessary for an (APS-C OR FULL FRAME SENSOR ) with 24-90 mm (35mm equiv.) and 1.4 or 2.0 max aperture?

      • I almost always used a tripod, cable release & half the time used transparency film.

        Digital has stolen what I grew up with. Family & friends slide evenings projected large on a glass beaded screen.

        Now the best projections today are 2Mp PC screens or big TVs of similar resolution.

        I have to treat digital as an overpriced convenience that delivers fb pics or smallish prints.

        My joy in viewing my shots via very large projections is gone!

        To me digital has eaten quality &; spat out the bones!

        • Digital needn’t replace chrome, nor your slide nights. They might be seen as an eccentric anachronism today but Fuji is still supplying slide film (for now!).

          • Thanks John LW.

            There is no develop & mount service available in Sydney these days. Only develop & scan.
            I have transparency in the fridge.
            I can get development still. It is all DIY now.
            Source the mounts. Cut the roll. Mount.
            Can you recommend a good source of hinged or other mounts?

            Digital satisfies the old happy snapper with a 6×4 max print requirements.
            All now replaced by phone pics, low res PC pics etc for facebook.
            Digital has killed the economies of scale which made transparencies easy & fun.

            Sony has a 4k high res TV with about 8Mp res which might be good for showing digital slides.
            The big one is a mere £25,000.
            One day digital will have an affordable alternative to transparencies.
            Then the 10Mp cameras will look good projected!
            The comparatively cheap Leica X Vario will likely find a home in wealthy households which already have the big £25,000 Sony 4k TV.
            Intellectual thumb suckers complain about the price of Leica.
            I hear awed admiration for the vastly more expensive TV!

          • “this 65-inch flatscreen is the first 4KUltra HDformat TV that genuinely has an eye on your living space.Sony’s opening 4K gambit, the 84-inch KD-84X9005 may have been first out of the gate, but priced at £25,000 it was never anything other than a rich man’s plaything. This new model, priced at £6,000″

            £6,000 is no longer considered a rich man’s plaything!

            Camera reviewers wake up. $2800 is peanuts for the modern middle classes!

      • Hello Steve,

        You certainly know the answer:

        Simple question to Opticians : Which SIZE OF A LENS( external dimensions) is necessary for an (APS-C OR FULL FRAME SENSOR ) with 24-90 mm (35mm equiv.) and 1.4 or 2.0 max aperture?

        My Dream: Leica X2 Vario with full-frame sensor , integrated lvf, and fixed 24-120mm (35 equiv.) 2-4.0 aperture.

        Maybe the Lumix GFX7 will be the base of this Leica (erzatz) product.

        News about the LX9 of PAN?A

        mfo

        • Hello Steve,

          As you are an expert on .. ,. I have difficulty to understand if my questions dated 18 july 2013 are silly questions?

          mfo

  107. Hi,

    How’s the low light AF performance compared to fuji X100?

    btw, love the behind-the-scene image

  108. Hi Steve,

    I love your site, I love the “daily inspirations” and of course your gear reviews. I bought my Oly OMD based on your review here and i am SUPER happy with it!

    now there’s no denying – you’re a positive guy :)
    the reviews for the cameras you truly love sound like a review of a new Justin Bieber album by a 14 year old psyched fan. On speed :D
    the reviews for cameras you enjoy are usually like “WOW! A is amazing! B is great! Look at the performance on C! D could use some improvement”
    the reviews for camera you appreciate, but have limitations are “A is great!! B is fantastic!! BUT bear in mind you wont get any C out of this one! D is decent”
    even the reviews of your less favorable cameras are still pretty positive (and who can blame you? most of the cameras you review are pretty darn good)
    so despite all of your reviews being pretty positive, it’s rather easy to tell which camera you liked and which you didn’t.
    so bearing that in mind – that is the most negative review I’ve ever read on this site. I know thrashing and bitching isn’t your thing, but when you compare this review to others written by you, the gap is obvious.
    I mean – you even had a section called “ugly” ! an entire section with several aspects listed there!
    sounds like this camera isn’t worth a fraction of it’s price.

    Different people have different needs. Some would truly benefit from a Leica M, some would enjoy an OMD, some would love the Fuji X100, and for some the Nikon V1 would be just what they need. Its a matter of needs, budget, and personal preference. The limitation of one camera (like a fixed lens, or a monochrome) can be of huge benefit for some users – but this one seems like it’s not offering anything added value.

    • Lea makes interesting observations but misses the Leica market niche values which Steve addressed well.

      1) Longevity. Solid build. Appears to deliver.
      Impossible to review MTBF. (Mean Time Between Failures). Both my Canon G10 & G12 locked up the lens mechanism in <3 years. Common failure. Sent to Singapore for complete lens unit replacement. Fast turn around but longevity is poor!

      2) Crystal colours without post processing. Well reviewed Steve!
      Most people do not want to be forced to RAW just to get acceptable colours. This camera delivers.

      3) Wide open lens performance. Objective reviews with MTF graphs are difficult with fixed lenses. Subjectively this is an optically good quality zoom wide open. This camera delivers.

      4) Pride of ownership. This is allowed for cars, watches, yachts etc. Why not cameras? This camera delivers.

      5) Impresses the girl & lets him show her flattering naturally coloured great posed photos of their day out when they get hme & makes her want another day out! This camera delivers! Makes her face glow!

      This kind of niche client could care less about low light street photography or about fixing cold jpeg colours in RAW that we read about with the "better" cameras.

  109. Steve,

    I usually agree with you but having gone out and shot in near darkness and darkness with just street lighting with the camera I was surprised to see it AF very well missing only 2 shots out of 69. I also shot several hundred shots at a wedding reception in very dim light and only had problems with AF in near dark conditions. I found it to be about the same or even better than the RX-1.

    • I had the X Vario here for 3 months and guess what? A few days after I was done with the review I boxed it up and it sat for 2 months before I sent it back. I had no desire to shoot with it. I enjoyed shooting my Nikon V1 MUCH more, Leica should have made this with a lens mount not a limited slow zoom. I tested it against the RX1 and for me, it was no contest. RX1 had better AF, better files and much better low light as well as shallow DOF possibilities and more comfy to hold and shoot. I would not trade my RX1 for two X Varios. :) I would not trade my V1 with 10, 18.5 and 32 1.2 lenses for an X Vario either.

      But there are some who love it and that is what it is all about. You have to enjoy what you shoot. Has to inspire. I am happy you enjoy it!

      Steve

      • Compare apples with apples.

        Fixed lens cameras with similar, interchangeable lens cameras with similar, fixed zoom with similar.

        Failing to do so begs the question of “Why not?”

        Every person has the right to like what suits their needs today.

        Keep the comparisons to the real competitors, not just anything for sale.

  110. That’s the question: BE OR NOT TO BE…. LEICA VARIO X OR NOT LEICA VARIO X.

    solution: LEICA X2 VARIO EVF LIKE (GX7 PANA) WITH 24-105-2.0-5.6 ( 35 MM EQUIV.)

    mfo

  111. You’re better off with several iPhones for that price tag.

  112. Has any one used the cheap Nikon SB-400 flash on the Leica X Vario yet? Is this possible and how? Thanks

  113. Hi Steve
    I have bought the X Vario, after reading your complete review.
    I have been in India for holidays and I have taken a lot of pictures with my new camera.
    Splendid pictures, with the atractive Leica color and very, very sharp from the center to the corners.
    I am very happy with the X Vario.
    Thank you for your useful advice
    Santiago

  114. I would love to see a double blind test between output from the X Vario and Fuji X-E1 with 18-55mm zoom.

    My bet is that neither Steve nor anyone else could reliably tell the difference.

    A reviewer saying he likes the output from one camera over another when he knows which photo came from which camera is meaningless because conscious or unconscious bias will always play a part.

    Does anyone know if such tests have ever been performed? It would be fascinating to see the results, especially from those who claim to be able to identify the “Leica look.”

  115. hi,thank you for this review. i bought my vario x a week ago and took already some pictures. i agree with you that camera performance is not very good in low light conditions and it´s not made for sport- or childrenphotography, but for me photography is not only taking pictures, it´s a matter of heart, you have to feel comfortable with your camera and that´s what i´m doing with the vario x. i love to keep it in my hands and i see things different through it. i don´t really care about lab tests and numbers.
    a few years ago i owned the digilux 1 which i really loved, and the reviews were very similar, too expensive, medium performance etc. i sold it because i bought a “better” camera, but i never got so close to it than i was with the digilux 1. now i returned and it feels good.

  116. Hi. Great review, very honest as with all your writing. The zies lens is an 18mm equivilent, not 24mm as stated in the text. Im not sure if anyone else noted this, too many coments to read!! :)

  117. Thanks, Steve! I thoroughly enjoyed your unbiassed report on the Leica X Vario. Although I cannot afford to purchase Leica cameras anymore, what you’ve shared here makes me still hold on to my great love for the Leica camera. In years past, I’ve had around 5 Leica R systems and 3 M systems with an assortment of fine lenses. But that was years ago. Perhaps some day I may try to get back into the Leica M system. The M9 is my dream camera presently.

    Keep up your great camera reports. They are so valuable for anyone wishing to purchase any camera.

    Thanks again,

    Pete

  118. Many years ago in film days I heard of the Nikon 25-50mm f4 zoom.

    Odd focal range, heavier than a LXV & “slow”. Tracked one down & bought it. It had been too expensive to make, sold badly, production ceased & it was discounted to clear stock.

    The most stunning rendition of colour I have ever seen, & I have Leica R 19, 28, 50, 90 & 180 Apo lenses.

    I learned an important lesson. Chromatic abberations removed are not as sexy to market or as easy to communicate to the ignorant as lp/mm but they meant everything to me.

    I am a busy person so hours spent fixing crap photo colours in LR is time wasted.

    I grew up with a 50mm lens, estimating distance & would rather grey card an environment than meter off a subject.

    I never use 11 fps nor do I video much.

    My belt mounted 298 gm D-lux 6 emerges for dark or fast action photography, permanently set on aspect ratio bracketing to increase my chances of catching & framing fast moving action. 0.01s shutter lag if pre-focused.

    I never use an evf.

    I don’t want to carry extra lenses.

    I have only once enlarged ~ 12×18.

    I rarely isolate a subject using wide apertures.

    When Erwin Puts assures us in his Tao of Leica, LXV Part 1, that at 50mm the Leica X Vario lens surpasses the $AUD8600 Leica M Apo 50mm Summicron, by paying the price of loss wide aperture, my antenna start to twitch.

    A killer 50mm with 28, 35 & 70mm thrown in with a body for $2850?

    The LXV lens has distortion & vignetting fixed in camera jpegs so the lens design concentrates on fixing chromatic abberations.

    Echos of my Nikon 25-50 f4 zoom.

    No time wasted on raw in LR.

    60 lp/mm delivered in APSC.

    Manual focus, manual Aperture & Shutter speed settings!

    I bought the LXV yesterday.

    More comments after extensive use.

  119. Great article as usual. The price comparison withe the 240 is misleading. The 240 is $7k without the lens. To me the x vario is preferable to the x100 and rx1 due to the lens variability. The arguments for and against follow the same patterns as Apple vs PC. Why pay more for Apple? I’m a Leica fanboy now. Don’t regret it but it’s difficult to defend.

    • Sorry but, for me, the end quality of X-Vario photos simply aren’t in the same league of X100 ones. And that trumps any “lens variability” – it would be like preferring an old cheap Prakticar 70-210mm to an Olympus OM 135mm because the former covers more focal lenghts…

      • I can’t disagree with your logic but at the end of the day I found more x-vario images that I liked than the others. I could swear I saw something more compelling about most of the x-vario images. I had been using a 24-70 on my Canon 5d and so that became my goto range. Value for money? Have to give that to the x100s. Yes, I don’t think “lens variability” will make it into the lexicon anytime soon.

        • Ok, the nice thing with all this camera makers is that today anyone can find the perfect thing for its needs!

          • Good point.

            As someone given a compact non-SLR Agfa in an ever ready case with crystal sharp f2.8, 50mm coated fixed lens as a reward for excellent year 10 results I grew up manually judging distance but having a needle match non-TTL light meter.

            Film was 25, 50, 100, & even 400 ISO slides by 1970.

            I took a very high % of well lit, well focused slides & B&W.

            WHY? Firstly I learned essential skills & understood the limits.

            The leaf shutter in the fixed lens gave no vibration, so hand held or flimsy brass extension tripod were fine.

            The camera weight steadied every shot. I even had a magnesium bulb flah gun with folding reflector.

            Leica X Vario is far better.

            Fixed zoom lens.
            Manual focus assist.
            Autofocus.
            Auto or manual exposure.
            Scorcher of a Leica lens.
            Built in flash.
            ISO range I only dreamed of as a boy.
            Good steady body weight.
            No gadgets to carry except spare batteries.
            LEAF SHUTTER IN LENS means flash synch up to the max 1/2000th sec exposure limit.

            I understand that the market needs better specs for 99% of buyers.

            A) Those who have extreme needs (working pro reviewers) or
            B) Those who know nothing about photography.

            Those clods presuming to be in category A who failed to mention the LEAF SHUTTER benefits, like near zero vibration compared to a focal plane shutter & 1/2000th second flash synch, fall into category B automatically.

            Leica designers are cunning old timers who used every trick in the old book to deliver delicately shaded sharp shots.

            The camera returns me to my natural skill sets of school & uni days but better.

            Hand held shots of Movie World’s White Christmas. No problem. Portraits are beautifully painted.

            A familiar pair of comfortable shoes but even better is worth the price for me as an M 240 cannot justify its price for a casual amateur like me.

            I can settle for the Mini M.

            • PS The Movie World White Christmas was a night time event. Sharp shots every time.

              Of course my boyhood photographic skills were prepared for & supplemented by breathing control & steady positioning shooting an air rifle and refreshed throughout my life.

              I understand the general lack of such skills. In 1977 I took a 4 sec hand held exposure at night from a train window in Milan Railway station. Elbows locked into window corners.

              Technology can compensate for lack of physical coordination & general incompetence, so buy the technology if you need it. I use a Leica D-Lux 6 for the night snapshots or all day every day carry camera!

            • “I understand that the market needs better specs for 99% of buyers.
              A) Those who have extreme needs (working pro reviewers) or
              B) Those who know nothing about photography.”

              If you think that all the market is shared between this two extremes, you have really a poor understanding of the photographers world… :)

              • Real stats on Japanese camera sales.

                CIPA Global numbers Production

                Total cameras 29.6 million

                Built-in Lens 22.4 million

                Interchangeable Lens 7.2 million

                DSLR 6 million

                Mirrorless 1.2 million

                Professionals + People (hobbyists) with professional level knowledge & skills?

                My estimate of 296,000 might be too high for one year’s purchases.

                People being child minded by a computer with motors?

                29.3 million might be too low an estimate for one year.

                Most years 70-80% sales are fixed lens compacts & most SLRs serve a similar purpose with kit lenses.

                Perhaps you have more precise estimates?

              • I see, you are inferring the high number of people that knows nothing of photography from the high percentage of fixed lens cameras sold. That means that in your opinion the Leica X, a fixed lens camera, is bought by people that knows nothing of photography. On this, I totally agree.

              • Andrea Costa. If you manage to read past the first stats on fixed lens cameras you will see that I combined point & shoot with SLRs sold with kit lenses.

                Removing the excellent Sony ff fixed lens & the Leica X Vario as well as the 3 foveon sensored fixed lens cameras won’t change the stats in the significant digits quoted.

                It emerges that you are just one of the better disguised Internet trolls who enjoy sneering at the Leica X Vario & those who buy it.

                Exuprey wrote that perfection is reached not when there is nothing more to add (blue tooth, GPS, email, stabilization, bigger aperture, program icons etc) but when there is nothing more to take away.

                A certain subset in the market likes minimalist cameras like the Sony RX1 & Leica M & X Vario.

                As a 298gm, on me all day every day camera, I use a Leica D-lux 6. 11 frames per second, aspect ratio bracketing, lens stabilization. Fixed lens, but what a lens! 24-90mm lens with f1.4 to 2.3.

                Someone should calculate the dimensions, weight & price if this were translated to APS-C for the Leica X Vario.

                The vast sales of easy to use SLR s & point &:shoots is wonderful for photography.

                People who needed no greater challenge than disposable film cameras can now take a large % of successful family & travel shots using icon driven program settings. Fabulous for everybody.

                Please share your first hand experiences shooting with the Leica X Vario!

                Trolling contempt of X Vario users wastes this excellent site for review & the comparison of genuine user experiences.

          • How silly. I forgot to mention how utterly silent this camera is.

            Am horrified by the sound of focal plane shutters on the Sony A7 etc.

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