Few days ago my local Leica store received their first X Vario shipment and I had the chance to play with the camera for few minutes. After I took the X Vario in my hands, I realized how heavy the lens is. Even with the slow aperture of 3.5-6.4, Leica must have included some serious glass inside. The X Vario camera is almost twice as heavy as the X2 and almost has the same weight as the M 240: 628g/24oz for the Vario vs. 345g/12.17oz for the X2 and 680g/23.9oz for the M. Size wise the X Vario felt much better in my hands than the X2. The build quality of the latest Leica camera is excellent - it really feels more like M rather than X model. This may explain why Leica decided to go for the "Mini M" teaser.
The camera's controls, design and menu also look much more like the latest M model. The dials were firm, the buttons are even larger than those on the M. The X Vario does give you the "build like a tank" feeling that is usually associated with Leica M cameras and is hard to come across in any other brand.
The focusing ring of the X Vario has an AF position - once you switch to manual focus, live view with a magnifying patch is automatically displayed on the screen. The auto focus speed is acceptable - maybe not the fastest AF available today, but definitely usable. I did not have a chance to try AF in low light environment.
The biggest drawback (at least for me) is obviously the slow f/3.5-6.4 aperture. Here is an example of ISO 6400 at 70mm where you will have to use f/6.4 (all sample JPG images are taken straight from the camera, no post processing):
Here is another sample at ISO 6400, 70mm, f/6.4 - high ISO performance in my opinion is on par with similar cameras from other manufacturers:
Close-up sample at ISO 800, 43mm, f/5.6:
The Vario Elmar 18-46mm f/3.5-6.4 ASPH lens can definitely deliver sharp, contrasty images with vivid colors - here are few more random samples taken with the Leica X Vario camera:
The DNG files of the above images can be downloaded here.
The bottom line: I like the idea of a compact fixed zoom lens camera. The camera's finish, design, handling and craftsmanship are excellent. If Leica could make the lens a variable f/2.8-4 (just like the Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R lens) or at least a constant f/4, this would be a perfect all around camera or even alternative/backup solution for M users or people who prefer auto focus. It wasn't that long ago when Leica produced the Minilux Zoom film camera with a full frame 35-70mm f/3.5-6.5 lens that was probably half the size of the Vario Elmar on the new X: