By Steve Huff
Buy or check out the X Vario at B&H Photo HERE – You can also pick it up at Ken Hansen, chúng tôi 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.
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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.
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…
- 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.
With that said, let us get started on the Leica X Vario Review!
Many of you know the massive negative pss 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 chúng tôi 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:
So what do I think after shooting it extensively in The Palouse and in other situations?
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.
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 ppared 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!
BUT YOU MUST CLICK THEM TO SEE THEM FULL SIZE. This is what the X Vario can do image quality wise.
In any case the Leica feels like a Leica. The Fuji, well..I will leave it at that.
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.
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. chúng tôi 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.
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:
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!
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+.
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 chúng tôi LARGE. When you start getting to this size you have to ask chúng tôi 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 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.
“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.
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.
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.
No Real Image Stabilization
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 pfer 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.
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 chúng tôi 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.
- 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
- 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
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.
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.
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.
Overall a solid release with some flaws and a larger price tag, but hey, it’s a Leica!
Buy or check out the X Vario at B&H Photo HERE
You can also pick it up at Ken Hansen, chúng tôi or the Pro Shop