Hands on with the Leica X Vario

hands on Jun 12, 2013

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.Leica X Vario front

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.

Leica X Vario back
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.
Leica X Vario (Typ 107) with EVF
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.
Indoor Lighting
This is an indoor lighting situation typically encountered by the target audience for this camera. White balance is pretty close to what I saw.
Mixed Light Sources
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.
Highlight/Shadow Recovery
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.
Close Up Shooting
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.

PRESS RELEASE

Solms, Germany (June 12, 2013) – Leica Camera announces the expansion of the X product line with the new Leica X Vario, a product that once again epitomizes the brand’s trademark Made-in-Germany excellence. A compact digital camera featuring a zoom lens, this latest addition to Leica’s diverse product portfolio offers even greater versatility and creative freedom as well as brilliant image quality.

“When I first picked up the X Vario I was impressed by how solid it felt in my hands. The camera itself is substantial,” said Justin Stailey, Leica product specialist. “This outstanding build quality is unlike any other product in the compact camera market. Once I started shooting with it, I was even more impressed by how easy it was to handle and how phenomenal the image results were.”

The Leica X-System is defined by its high-performance, APS-C format, CMOS image sensor with over 16.5 megapixels (effective 16.2 MP), unusually large compared to other cameras in this class. The Leica X Vario is the first compact camera to combine this professional sensor with a high-performance zoom lens, the Leica Vario Elmar 18-46 mm f/3.5-6.4 ASHP, which covers a range of focal lengths from 28 to 70 mm (35 mm equivalent). This combination is a world’s first and sets completely new standards for imaging quality in its class. The size and quality of the sensor result in low image noise, high dynamic range, and accurate color reproduction.

The Leica X Vario’s versatility is further expanded by a new, full-HD video recording function that, for the first time, allows photographers capture the fascination of life’s special moments with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels at a frame rate of 30 full frames per second. The video data can be saved in internet-compatible MP4 format and can be uploaded directly to social media or mobile devices without any need for conversion. Crystal-clear sound recording is guaranteed by an integrated wind-noise filter that reduces undesirable noise. A wide range of camera setting options and fast, precise autofocus further enhance the functionality of the Leica X Vario, creating a performance profile that allows even the most demanding photographers maximum creative freedom for spontaneous shots as well as for carefully arranged compositions.

The Leica X Vario is distinguished by tightly focused clarity of design that reflects the characteristic features of the Leica M. These include not only the compact and handy body but also the use of premium materials in its construction. The top deck is machined from solid aluminium in the same process as employed for the Leica M. The combination of robust metal construction and superior quality leather trim with outstanding grip characteristics, ensures that the X Vario is a true Leica in both visual aesthetic and feel.

Its handling features clearly laid out functions and a simple operating concept. At the same time, the Leica X Vario offers an impressive range of automatic and versatile manual setting options. Switching between manual and automatic control is incredibly easy, allowing photographers to concentrate completely on composing their subjects and enabling them to be prepared to shoot the decisive moment in any situation. The dials on the top deck provide grip when setting the shutter speed and aperture. Moreover, changing the plane of focus, the white balance, and other imaging parameters allows photographers to consciously influence the look or mood of their images. In Live View mode, the generously-dimensioned, high-contrast, 3-inch monitor offers photographers complete control and a bright, detailed view at all times, even in extremely bright surroundings.

A multitude of optional accessories, such as the Leica EVF 2 Viso-Flex electronic accessory viewfinder with 1.4 megapixels and 90° swivel function, allows photographers to adapt the Leica X Vario to their particular needs. A handgrip that perfectly balances the weight of the camera in the photographer’s hands is also available. As in the case of the Leica M, finger loops in three different sizes are available for attachment to the handgrip. These guarantee fatigue-free camera use for long periods of time and provide an even surer grip for safer handling. The Leica X Vario is always safe and steady in the photographer’s hands, even when shooting single-handed. An optional lens hood ensures the minimization of glare and reflections, and the Leica SF 24 D flash unit offers greater freedom for subject lighting.

The new range of accessories also includes a selection of particularly high quality and superbly finished bags, cases and straps: the ergonomically-designed camera protector, the ever-ready case, the hand strap and shoulder straps are available in untreated natural leather in a choice of two different colors (black and cognac). Whenever the Leica X Vario is used with numerous accessories, photographers can take advantage of the roomy system bags from the Leica portfolio.

Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom®, a professional digital workflow solution for Apple Mac® OS X and Microsoft Windows®, is included in the Leica X Vario package. This digital image processing software offers a wide range of functions for the management, processing and presentation of digital images. Leica customers can download the software free from the Leica website upon registering their camera.

The Leica X Vario in black finish and the entire range of optional accessories is now available from authorized Leica dealers.

Technical data LEICA X VARIO

Lens: Leica Vario Elmar 18 - 46 mm f/3.5 - 6.4 ASPH. (35 mm equivalent. 28 - 70 mm)
 9 Elements in 8 groups
 2 aspherical lens elements
Aperture settings: 3.5 / 6.4 to 16 (1/3-EV increments)
Focusing range: 30 cm–infinity
AF focusing: 1-point, 11-point, spot, face detection
Image sensor: APS-C CMOS image sensor with 16.5 MP (effective 16.2 MP)
Resolution: JPEG in 3:2 format: 4928 × 3264 pixels (16.1 MP), 4288 × 2856 pixels (12.2 MP), 3264 × 2160 pixels (7.1 MP), 2144 × 1424 pixels (3.1 MP), 1632 × 1080 pixels (1.8 MP)
DNG in 3:2 format: 4944 × 3272 pixels (16.2 MP)
Image quality: JPEG super fine, JPEG fine, DNG + JPEG super fine, DNG + JPEG fine
Exposure control
Exposure modes: Automatic programme (P), automatic aperture priority (A), manual setting (M)
Exposure compensation: Increments: 1/3 to 3 EV increments, 3 exposures
Automatic exposure bracketing: 1/3 to 3 EV increments, 3 exposures
Metering modes: Smart multi-segment metering, centre-weighted metering, selective (spot) metering
White balance: Auto, halogen, daylight, flash, cloudy, shade, electronic flash, 2 manual settings, manual colour temperature setting with fine tuning
Sensitivity: Auto, ISO 100, ISO 200, ISO 400, ISO 800, ISO 1600, ISO 3200, ISO 6400, ISO 12500
Shutter speeds: 30 s–1/2000 s
Continuous shooting: 3 fps or 5 fps, max. 7 consecutive exposures with constant shooting speed in DNG + JPEG fine quality
Film modes: Standard, dynamic, natural, b/w natural, b/w high contrast
Flash
Flash modes: Auto, flash exposure correction, red-eye correction, fill-in flash, slow sync, studio, 1st/2nd curtain sync
Hot shoe: Compatible with Leica SF 24D, Leica SF 58 flash units
Monitor: 3" TFT LCD with 921,600 pixels, wide-angle field of view: 100%
Review modes: 16-thumbnail display, zoom review (16× max.), image rotation, deletion protection
Storage media
Internal memory: None
Memory cards: SD, SDHC, SDXC
Interfaces: HDMI out, USB (USB 2.0 high speed)
Battery (rechargeable lithium-ion): Capacity: ~ 360 exposures
Dimensions (L × H × D): ~ 133 x 73 x 95 mm
Weight: ~ 650/679 g (without/with battery)
Package includes: Battery (Leica BP-DC8), battery charger (Leica BC-DC8), battery case, leather carrying strap, USB cable, lens cap, user manual
Software: Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® (free download option after product registration)
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