Leica X Vario review

Price as reviewed

£2,150.00

Scores

Overall Score
81%

With its 16.2-million-pixel, APS-C-sized sensor and fixed 18-46mm f/3.5-6.4 lens, is the Leica X Vario the camera Leica enthusiasts have been waiting for? Ian Farrell finds out. Read the Leica X Vario X review...

Leica X Vario front
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Leica X Vario at a glance:

  • 16.2-million-pixel, APS-C-sized, CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100-12,500
  • Leica Vario Elmar 18-46mm f/3.5-6.4 Asph zoom lens
  • 3in, 920,000-dot LCD screen
  • Street price £2,150
  • See Leica X Vario product shots

Leica X Vario review - Introduction

The launch of the Leica X Vario was a much-anticipated event. Prior to 2 June when the camera was announced, the rumour mills, message boards and tech websites were in overdrive with news and speculation of a ‘mini M' - a compact system camera with a cropped-frame sensor that would accept Leica M-mount lenses and cost less than an M-series rangefinder camera.

What actually arrived was not a smaller M, but a larger X-series camera. The X Vario is the third in the company's line-up of large-sensor compact cameras, and features a fixed 18-46mm f/3.5-6.4 zoom lens (covering the equivalent of 28-70mm on a full-frame camera) instead of the fixed 24mm of the X2 and 28mm of the X1. To those people expecting a mini M camera, this was a disappointment - but perhaps they should not put so much faith in rumours!

The Leica X Vario enters a rapidly growing and competitive market sector: that of the luxury, large-sensor compact camera. Fantastic products from the likes of Fujifilm, Ricoh and Sony give the X Vario some stiff competition, not to mention the many compact system cameras that are around
at the moment.

The X Vario is unusual in that it is one of the first large-sensor compact cameras to feature a zoom lens instead of a prime lens. Leica says this is in response to customer demand for a more versatile machine.

Leica X Vario - Features

At the heart of the camera is an APS-C sized, 16.2-megapixel, CMOS sensor that delivers images measuring 4928x3274 pixels. That's not the highest resolution by today's standards, but it is perfectly adequate for prints of up to A3+ size, and maybe even beyond.

At first glance the camera's lens seems a bit restricted, with a telephoto limit of 70mm and a maximum aperture of f/3.5-6.4. This means that when shooting with the long end of the zoom on a cloudy day you'll need an ISO of 400-800 to be able to avoid camera shake. However, Leica says the lens has been designed with image quality first in mind, and compromises to maximum aperture size have to be made in order to keep the size down to something portable.

A company spokesperson told AP: ‘When designing a new lens, our engineers focus on the interplay between performance, focal length, aperture and mechanical size.' In other words, you can have a fast, high-quality prime or a slower, high-quality zoom, but if image quality is to be maintained then sacrifices have to be made. So, as Scotty from Star Trek once said, ‘You cannae change the laws of physics.'

Shutter speeds run from 30-1/2000sec and ISO sensitivity can be set anywhere between ISO 100 and ISO 12,500. The camera shoots JPEG files with a choice of two quality settings (Fine and Super Fine) and five resolutions. As with other Leica products, raw files are captured in the DNG open standard, which is readable by virtually every raw-processing software package ever made, and is good for archive purposes. The X Vario can capture frames continuously at 5fps, for a burst of eight frames when shooting JPEG + DNG raw.

Being a camera for experienced enthusiast photographers, or professionals wanting a take-everywhere camera that delivers great-quality results, you won't find scene-type exposure modes. Instead, the aperture and shutter-speed dials have A settings that automate the selection of that setting for shutter-priority and aperture-priority modes, respectively. Set both to A and you have program mode, while set neither to A and you're working in manual. It's a simple,
no-nonsense and likable way of working.

A built-in flash is available, but with a guide number of only 5m @ ISO 100. External units can be attached via the hotshoe, which is also used for electronic viewfinders, such as the 1.4-million-pixel Leica EVF 2 Viso-Flex.

Close focusing is pretty good for a large-sensor camera - focus down towards the minimum limit of 0.3m and the camera will tell you to zoom out to 70mm for the best results.