Leica X Vario camera first impressions

Leica X Vario camera first impressions

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.


Leica M 240


Leica X Vario

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.

Leica X Vario camera AF

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):

Leica X Vario at ISO 6400, 70mm, f/6.4

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:

Leica X Vario at ISO 6400, 70mm, f/6.4

Close-up sample at ISO 800, 43mm, f/5.6:

Leica X Vario 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:

Leica X Vario at ISO 100, 70mm, f/8 Leica X Vario at ISO 100, 70mm, f/8
Leica X Vario at ISO 100 Leica X Vario sample ISO 100, 70mm, f/8
Leica X Vario at ISO 100, 28mm, f/8 Leica X Vario at ISO 100
Leica X Vario at ISO 100, 28mm, f/5.6  Leica X Vario at ISO 100, 70mm, f/8
Leica X Vario at ISO 100, 70mm, f/6.4  Leica X Vario at ISO 100, 70mm, f/8

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:


The Leica X Vario camera is currently in stock at B&H, Adorama, Leica store in Palm Beach and pretty much every other Leica dealer.

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  • Daryl

    Admin, I would be interested to hear about ergonomics. It appears Leica made this camera for photographers with important controls easily accessed with dials and rings rather than menus.

    • I think the ergonomics are better than the X2 – the camera is larger and it fits perfectly in my hands. If you are M 240 user, the menu and controls will be familiar to you. The only issue is that the lens is very heavy – I can imagine that if you attach the X Vario to a shoulder strap, the lens will pull the camera down.

      • Daryl

        Thanks Admin. This camera is looking better, too bad they set expectations high with the Mini M teaser.
        The M’s are front heavy with their faster lenses, a good compression strap that has good width solves this.

        • “The M’s are front heavy with their faster lenses, a good compression strap that has good width solves this.”

          What a delicate flower you are…

          • Roscoe Tanner

            Stop quoting everyone and every second post you read here…it’s nauseating.

          • JakeB

            Finally someone had guts to say it…this geno guy’s self-righteous posting style borders on arrogant.

          • Finn


          • Daryl

            Thank you Geno! When I hike with a camera that is front heavy, it might be 10-12 hours, a thin strap is not ideal, better to have a thicker strap for this. Your welcome to join me and we’ll see who the delicate one is, I am sure we could have some fun talking about camera equipment.

          • See that’s my issue… why bother going all the way up there only to take pictures with a compromised camera like a 35mm rangefinder?

            If you know your cameras there are far better choices that can do a whole lot more for not much more weight.

          • Daryl

            I would agree with you but then we would both be wrong 🙂
            The Leica 24mm f3.8 on an M9 leaves nothing to be desired. A joy to use, lightweight, manual controls and the pictures are bitingly sharp with gorgeous color. What do you have in mind?

          • “A joy to use, lightweight, manual controls and the pictures are bitingly sharp with gorgeous color. ”

            I would describe it as “easy to use” rather than a joy to use because the combo is basically a point and shoot. Lightweight… yeah but how light is light? Manual controls? Only phone cameras don’t come with manual controls nowadays. And you’re saying it’s “bitingly sharp with gorgeous color” because you don’t know what’s better.

            As for what I have in mind… I think it’s a bit of a hike for you 🙂 For starters, google “better than 35mm cameras” and follow things up from there.

          • Finn

            When’s the last time, or rather, have you ever…. ….”gone all the way up a mountain with a compromised camera like a 35mm rangefinder?” Maybe, just maybe, a photographer actually wants to go ‘up a mountain’ with a simple camera and lens, with a simple goal in mind, to force themself to see and adapt with what they have.

          • 35mm rangefinders to me are are like Holgas to 35mm rangefinder users. Why would I bother with one when I can take a better camera?

          • Finn

            So geno, you haven’t owned a Leica RF or other Leicas? Is that correct? Have you ever used one? What is it that you can say about a product that you haven’t used that should be taken seriously?

          • If you know how to use a web-browser, scroll to the middle of the following page to see what I have used:

            What have _you_ used, Finn?

          • Daryl

            I looked at your list and have used many of the items. If you said I shot an Alpa with a recently upgraded IQ280 Phase One back I would have been impressed. Perhaps the Fuji 690, and certainly if you had mentioned Horseman 612 or Linhoff 617, still impressed but not so much. My offer stands to shot with me sometime.

          • ROFL… 6×12? 6×17? Guess you completely missed the large and ultra large format stuff I use. Or maybe you don’t know that there are things better than medium format. Before you talk about IQ280 you need to get your own IQ checked out.

            Also 80MP is nothing special:

          • Daryl

            I see your large format items and it is quite an impressive list…if lists are impressive. Don’t misconstrue people’s use of smaller formats as ignorance. The impractical aspects of large format is the reason very few use it, even among those who have embraced it for many years.

          • Practical aspect is definitely something but with passion for what you do you can overcome a lot of that. Then there’s a thing called skill that’s required to shoot large format too. I wouldn’t expect a guy shooting a 24mm f/3.whatever on a Leica thinking an IQ280 is the greatest thing out there to understand this.

          • Daryl

            I hope you enjoy shooting your cameras, I applaud your enthusiasm and accomplishments.

          • Thanks. Whenever I feel a camera is not portable, I get a bigger and better one… then immediately the other one becomes the portable option.

          • Daryl

            In addition, you’re more than welcome to bring whatever large format you would like on our journey but you will quickly realize that I can shoot more and be less hindered by equipment. Your large format will be burdensome and you will lose interest in photographing quickly…..then you might, depending on your stubbornness, realize you had made a huge mistake in choice of equipment. But don’t worry, in the time we are chatting I will provide you with many PRACTICAL tips on camera/equipment and their use for the future, perhaps I will lend you my Holga so you may preserve some memories.

          • Finn

            Wow, you’ve owned a bunch of cameras, I’m impressed. Who hasn’t.

          • Yeah so what have you used? Anything interesting?

  • Kissov

    Why not use the lens from the Digilux 2 very fast and the same focal range

    • It will not cover the APS-C sensor inside the X Vario – the Digilux 2 had a smaller sensor.

    • ahkai

      I was asking the same question as well until I saw the reply from Leica Rumors.

      After owing a Digilux 2 for 8 years, I decided to get a good new point and shoot Leica camera and saw this X Vario. I had a look at the camera at my local dealer and the feeling is just excellent. The camera is beautifully made, not too large and not too small. The weight is just right for me. I was so looking forward to buy this camera until I realised that it has a rather slow lens. After all the unhappy comments posted on the net, perhaps Leica will come up with a X Vario ll version later with a faster zoom lens, and I will look forward to that day. In the meantime, it’s back to my half breed Digilux 2 with 5 million pixels…..

      I wonder how the sales is going world wide for this camera?

  • sperdynamite

    So you discovered that it’s built well, and is reasonably competent… Great, it damn well should be for 3 grand. It’s still out performed by a Fuji camera which you can get for under $1k. I think the conversation should still be, when is Leica going to start making cameras again, and stop making little niceties? You’d still have to qualify to be a X Vario buyer to even consider this camera. The qualifications include:
    1. Serious brand identity issues.
    2. More money than sense.
    3. Not interested in the fact that other cameras do it better, for less.

    Seriously there is a reverse backlash happening and I don’t understand it. The Fuji X-E1 exists, the Sony RX1 exists! Hell if it MUST be Leica the M8 exists! The fact that this camera feels nice, and can take a decent picture are secondary to the fact that it’s $3 grand for no view finder and a 35mm ƒ4.5. Wake up!

    • I think by now we should all know that everything Leica makes will be very expensive and nothing will change that as long as people are willing to wait 12 months in orderto pay $7k for a new M camera.

      • sperdynamite

        Sure, but when they do it should be worth buying. This isn’t. The M is probably worth the money, finally, the M9 was for like a year. The X2 and X Vario just under deliver so hard.

        • Leica actually was the first to offer a compact fixed lens APS-C camera I believe and I was considering it, but then all other manufacturers started releasing similar/better models.

          • “Leica actually was the first to offer a compact fixed lens APS-C camera”

            The 2005 Sony R1 wasn’t compact but the Sigma DP1 came out in 2008 September, exactly 1 year before Leica X1.

          • I stay corrected, Sigma was first.

          • a4

            Closely and neatly packed together; dense.

            Actually, Sony R1 was :), even though it was far from being small (i.e. “compact” in common understanding)…
            Either way, this camera is a joke. A really bad one (but it will find its proud owners anyway I guess).

        • Daryl

          When I am at the Leica counter the cameras that fly off the shelves are the D-Lux and X1/X2. Slower moving is M and lenses and occasionally I see an S purchase. Leica must feel there is a niche that this camera will appeal to.

    • CalmDown

      “Do it better” is completely arbitrary. I shot with my X1 and XPro1 the other day side by side on the same shoot. The XPro had a few different lenses from the 35mm 1.4 Fujinon to an adapted 75 Summarit M.

      The X1 crushed the Xpro in terms of IQ. Now of course it’s more fun to shoot with the Fuji but they are not supposed to be in the same class. If gladly post comparisons but not sure if I’m allowed to show nudity (tasteful) on here.

      My point being that if you want stellar image quality then the Leicas X sensor/lens quality is pretty much unmatched by most in the category. If all you care about is the fact that you have a fast lens then yeah there are plenty of other cameras that will fit the bill.

      • sperdynamite

        You are the only person who actually claims the X1 crushes anything when it comes to image quality. Please provide proof if you can, but you probably can’t.

      • joe

        in terms of IQ the x series is quite stupid 😉

  • Finn

    I think it’s quite reasonable to expect this X vario to perform well and have a quality feel – a ‘sperdynamite’ mentioned already – it should for $3K. Really, it should, and I’m sure it does all it’s supposed to do. I’m just wondering when it will really, really, truly be understood that Leica is asking everyone to pay $140.00 for a lens hood for what should be INCLUDED with a camera they want to sell as and call a ‘mini-M’.
    That is the real joke here, not whether it’s good or not, and Leica will laugh all the way to the bank.

    • Finn

      Oh – I almost forgot – as also mentioned – NO detachable EVF is included either – what’s that I hear??? Laughter??? What does that cost again – around $450.00 ???

      • Les

        We get it, it’s out of your price range.

        That being said, even you have to admit that very few customers will use a screw-on shade or an auxiliary video VF on a point and shoot camera. Those two accessories are for collectors and impulse buyers, not for users.

        • Finn

          Ah, no, it’s not out of my price range. It’s out of my sanity range to join hands with a Leica product that is more marketing that takes advantage of a marketing program that is AWAY from it’s tradition. Yes, most people that don’t understand the importance of a lens hood in enhancing the ultimate results of the lens, won’t bother. Oh, I have Leica’s from screw-mount, M and R. And yes, the camera/accessories are over-priced. As long as Leica continues to aim for the nose-bleed jewelry hangers they’ll make money.

          • Les

            Your Leicas were much more expensive (when new) than this one. Are you upset because this Leica is not expensive enough? Is that why you think that they are moving away from tradition?

            I can see why you are upset, but this is just a point and shoot. It’s not meant to be as expensive as an M or R.

          • Finn

            Oh boy. No, this is not a comparison in any way to M or R. It’s about Leica asking people by design to pay for a product that is overpriced – build quality aside – for what it does. As you said, it’s POINT AND SHOOT – that costs $3K, sells itself as a ‘mini-M’, makes those that know the difference have to pay for the importance of the lens-hood for $140.00. Now excuse me, but Leica used to give a crap about who bought it’s products, they made mistakes, sure, but they always at least, gave the impression that they gave a rats arse’. That’s the point. Oh, those older Leicas which are still usable decades later, really were built by hand and mechanical in nature with arguably better components. Oh, those M and R’s weren’t point and shoots. As an example my SL2mot body was $1200.00 new, a fair price – the motor was over-priced but high quality, though I actually liked the design of the Nikon motors better…

  • “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. ”

    Unbelievable… Leica can teach Industrial Light & Magic how to suspend disbelief.

    The Sony E 18-55 has 11 elements and 4 aspherical elements. The Canon EF-M 18-55 has 13 elements and 3 aspherical elements. Guess what the X Vario 18-46 has? 9 elements and 2 aspherical elements.

    If this was a premium lens, as you suggest, they would use more aspherical elements. The theory that they’re using heavy high refractive index glass in place of the aspherical elements makes it difficult to explain how the lens has 9 elements when the other two have 11 or 13 (take 1 out from each for stabilisation’s sake). It should have more elements then.

    On a positive note, looking at the DNGs, the lens seems rather good but all photos given as DNGs are shot stopped down. So it’s sort of expected. The 18-55-type lenses for most systems are pretty good, optically. People loathe them because of their bad specs.

    “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.”

    And what do you think is the reason for the D-Lux being called the “Nano M” in the same teaser?

    “this would be a perfect all around camera or even alternative/backup solution for M users or people who prefer auto focus.”

    Why would it be perfect backup for anyone when there are APS-C interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras out there with better, _stabilised_ and more flexible lens options?

    • garygraphy

      I do not know much about glass and lenses but looking at this makes me think not all glass are equal even if you try to define them as refractive or aspherical – http://reviews.photographyreview.com/leica-m9-dream-date/_a051462

      • But the subject here was weight. Glass density correlates with other important properties such a refractive index and dispersion. Again, there’s no way of knowing without taking the lens apart and checking individual elements but a higher quality lens would have more aspherical elements. Period.

        • Finn

          oh geno, you do understand that there are rare earth minerals, etc., that go into lens glass because you know, you sound like a real cut and dry expert on optics, ….”but a higher quality lens would have more aspherical elements. Period.” You’re sure about that? Oh, you do have or have owned Leica’s, yes?

          • “rare earth minerals”

            Glass can be exotic for lens design in two main ways: (1) low dispersion and (2) high refractive index. The latter is useful when designing wide-angle lenses and it’s not always a must for others. Low dispersion elements are always good for any photographic lens because they bring all colours to focus without dispersing them out. But they don’t correct spherical aberrations like aspherical surfaces can.

            Here’s an exercise: Design the best biconvex spherical lens you can make with one of the best glass out there like Schott N-FK51A and compare it against the best biconvex aspherical lens you can make for the same focal length with one of the worst glass out there like Schott N-SF66 and see which one has less focus error. Have you ever tried anything like that before coming here?

            You must think there are some Leica geologists camping out and digging holes and cooking rare Earth element glass in the middle of nowhere. FYI, rare Earth glass like Lanthanum are not used anymore because they’re radioactive. You’ve been Erwin Putsturbating a bit more than what’s healthy.

            And yes… I have lenses made with these sorts of things that emit alpha, beta, gamma and even x-ray particles.

            “Oh, you do have or have owned Leica’s, yes?”

            Firstly, I have better lenses that produce better image quality than anything Leica has ever produced since its birth. Secondly, do you mean to say that if I go and buy a Leica lens, I suddenly gain some special powers like when Popeye eats spinach?

          • Finn

            So, now we all know you haven’t owned or used a Leica product. Which makes you a troller and a poser.
            Truth comes out with time – thanks for taking the bait. Have a nice day poser-boy.

          • I know it must be difficult for you to click on a link but if you saw my gear collection and if you have any knowledge about the subject, you wouldn’t be asking why I don’t buy Leicas. Actually I wanted to find a worthwhile Leica lens to buy but Leica users couldn’t come up with a single one that’s better than what I already have:

            Yeah… why bother wish a push bicycle (Leica) when one already knows how to fly a jet?

    • regular

      That’s stupid. A good design is not just the number of elements, or the type of lens.
      Some molded multi-aspherical lenses are awful compared to others made with high-index exotic glass elements.

      • There are no clear cut rules. Hence the “makes it difficult to explain”… learn to read 🙂

    • Finn

      Lens designs and the resultant success optically is not dependent on the amount of glass/type/elements. A finished lens can be both simple or complex. Of course, economics get involved, manufacturing capabilities and cost, as well as close performance, minimum acceptable image quality, etc. The lens of the vario could have fewer elements but thicker, and or the lens barrel itself could be heavier because of materials, thickness etc. As ‘regular’ states below, it also combines the type of chemistry in the glass and how they pass light into the desired spectral quality at the image plane/sensor. IF Leica has ANY excuse (other than they can) to justify the price of this X vario it could be the lens/glass. I’ll defend Leica glass all day long – though ultimate sharpness is not as strong an argument any longer in the digital age.
      I’ve owned three R 21-35 zooms, each was returned for machining issues that resulted from the thin lens barrels used in trying to keep the lens size and weight down. It was by far the poorest quality Leica lens I’ve ever owned. Yet if they made the barrels heavier it more than likely would have met the Leica lens build quality one expects and be a beast.

      • “Lens designs and the resultant success optically is not dependent on the amount of glass/type/elements.”

        I didn’t read beyond that line. If you can’t learn the subject at least use common sense… but I sense you’re a Leica user so even that’s a tall order.

        • Finn

          geno, by your answer, …”but I sense you’re a Leica user so even that’s a tall order.” makes it sound that you are not a Leica owner? IF you understand optical design, you would understand that the amount or number of elements does not make a lens good – it’s the TOTAL sum of all ingredients that make a good or fine optic. Oh, and here’s an idea you may or may not understand. Lens designers have the opportunity to give a lens a certain ‘signature’ as many of the early Mandler designed Leica lenses had. But hey, I’m sorry if I dizzied it up a bit for you. Oh, so you do have or use Leica’s correct? I should also state my understanding of optics is more than adequate.

          • Finn… just listen to what you said: “amount or the number … does not make … – it’s the TOTAL sum”. That’s some very interesting phrasing right there 🙂

            I also don’t understand why you think reading Erwin Puts is going to make you understand a subject. Let’s take apart what you said:

            “the amount or number of elements does not make a lens good – it’s the TOTAL sum of all ingredients that make a good or fine optic.”

            Optics 101 homework for you:

            1) Have you heard of doublets and triplets? Why do people use a triplet with 3 elements, instead of 1 element simple/singlet or a doublet?

            2) Why do people use aspherical surfaces? Before aspherical surfaces were possible, what alternatives did lens designers have to achieve the same effect?

            Come back after you’ve found the answers to those.

          • Finn

            geno, it’s really hard to hold-back after reading your USUAL QUOTES (as has been pointed out by others here) and the way a superior attitude seems to ooze out of your simple responses. For your thought that I read Erwin Puts – you couldn’t be further from the truth. By the way, I was reading and studying optical designs, glass formulas, etc., before you were even a glimmer in your parents eyes. Oh, so here, knowledge boy – answer the simple question – you do own a Leica interchangeable lens camera or not?
            Thought so.

  • Benjamin Moritz

    I poo-poo’ed the camera a bit before the release, after it came out I thought “Hm, well, seems like good ergonomic and a sharp lens at a high price” but I can see how the feel and quality of the built would be attractive…. however it seems like for $2,850 its proving a tough sell even to Leicaphiles as it is actually IN STOCK almost anywhere! Unless Leica magically churned out a gazillions of these before the release, which I doubt, it would suggest they are not selling. Then again, their M production seems to have come to a near halt, maybe they really were making X Varios instead 🙁

  • hendrik

    almost no one mention how fast the x-sync on this camera. if it can do 1/2000 sec x-sync, it is awesome for strobist fans 🙂

  • Great boat anchor. What right-minded photographer would put up with that horrendously slow aperture? And don’t tell me it does high ISO. That’s not what good photo equipment forces on users who know a thing or two about making photos.

    Leica is truly a nameplate with no substance any more if they think this is an acceptable way to do business.

  • Eyedoc

    Leica made the Digilux 2 at least 9 years ago and technically they have put quite some new cameras on the market since, but the Digilux Vario Summicron 1:2,0 – 2,4 and the “soft and silent” shutter makes almost everything possible even at ISO 100 handheld ! The software? You don’t even need raw files. Leica x. The specifications might be more “modern” but will your pictures be better? Convince me!

  • iER

    Did some tests with a shop owner on a demo unit, it does sync with strobes up to 1/2000… intentionally or unintentionally, Leica just made a bunch of strobists happy

  • Karim Ghantous

    From the two or three same images, it seems at first glance that the image quality could be superior to any other similar camera-lens combinations. I would like to see comparisons of distortion (barrel) and corner sharpness, however. Perhaps the camera – if not its price – is justified.

  • Shinraitensei

    hmm, so many haters, nobody is forcing anybody to buy this camera. If you dont want it then don’t buy it. it is also strange people who never owned a Leica is on this website.

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