Leica unveiled the mysterious “Mini M” it had been hinting at on its Facebook page. Rumor sites pegged it as larger version of the X 2 with a non-removable zoom lens. The funny thing was that when the specs were leaked no one believed them.
I was told that all Leica dealers would have the camera on hand on announcement day, so I gave Peter Dooling of Leica Store Miami a call and set up an appointment to give the new Leica a “once over”. I decided to not read up on the camera first, to see what kind of an impression it made on me.
In its native state (sans accessories), the X Vario sits between the M and X2 in size, being as tall as the M but thinner body-wise. It feels pretty solid, but not as solid as the all metal M. The lens protrudes from the body at all times. This precludes its storage in a jacket pocket (unless you happen to be The Doctor) but it can hang around your neck/shoulder easily enough.
The lens is well constructed with very smooth controls. It is not the fastest thing on wheels though (f/3.5-6.4), which is odd coming from Leica. With a sticker price of $2850 USD, you’d think they would not have skimped on the lens. Interestingly enough, the lens is an 18-46mm zoom, but the barrel reads the 35mm eFL of 28-70mm. It’s a nice touch.
The rear display is very crisp with a very fast refresh rate – the video is unnaturally smooth.
The X Vario sports a complete set of manual controls, however the aperture control is next to the shutter speed dial instead of on the lens barrel. This means that exposure compensation is handled via menus.
The shutter on this camera is extremely quiet. Quieter than the M7, I’d venture to say. Especially if you turn off the audio cues. Quieter than my X-E1 and that is saying a lot.
Autofocus speed is acceptable. Not OM-D fast, but not dead slow either. The lens is nice and contrasty and that helps with the autofocus. ISO performance looks OK: ISO 12,500 shots looked grainy but anything below that was usable. There is in-body image stabilization (IBIS) for stills and video. Definitely a plus considering the lens speed.
The X Vario supports the same EVF used by the M & X 2, once you add this (and possibly the body grip for the ham-handed, like me) the camera transforms from a pricey point-and-shoot into a very capable street shooter.
As this was a production camera, I was allowed (nay, encouraged) to take shots on my own memory card. While I did not leave the premises, I was able to get some shots for analysis.
This is an indoor lighting situation typically encountered by the target audience for this camera. White balance is pretty close to what I saw.
However, in mixed lighting conditions, the X Vario favors the brighter light source. In this case, the sunlight from outside made the wall look beige under their tungsten lights. If I white balanced off of the walls, then the outdoor light becomes very blue.
In this shot I exposed for the outside and used the highlight/shadow sliders in Lightroom 5 to expand the dynamic range of the shot. The files held up well under such treatment.
Lastly, I tried some closeup shots of my trusty X-E1 (a very capable street shooter as well). Details held up well (the moire on the lens barrel is a JPEG compression artifact from Flickr – it does not appear in larger versions of the image).
All of the files I shot with the X Vario were DNG (+ JPG, just in case) and processed in Lightroom 5 on a Mac Pro.
All in all, I like the camera and the Leica faithful will find this a worthy addition to their collections. As for attracting new customers, the $2850 price tag can be a little off-putting. Plus, when you add accessories like the optional Handgrip and the EVF (both I feel are really needed for street work), you get to about triple what I paid for my Fuji. Still it is a nice camera, despite the quirks.
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