Leica X Vario: The last word

Posted on by Mike Evans


I have had a lot to say about the new Leica X Vario, the expensive fixed-lens camera with an ever-so-slow aperture range. I've handled the camera and admired its good looks and heft; I have even taken a few test shots outside Leica's store in downtown Washington DC.

Now Steve Huff has done some of his real-world tests and has very mixed views of the new camera. What it does, within its aperture range, it does well. IQ is superb, as one would expect from Leica. But it performs poorly in low light, not just in terms of light gathering but in autofocus speed and accuracy. Steve also has some well-reasoned criticisms of the handling and the ergonomics.

Some Leica dealers I have spoken to have sold out of their initial allocations, others have reported little interest in the camera. With so much superb competition out there (not least the similarly-priced Sony RX1) it is really hard to see the X Vario becoming a success.

Steve concludes:

I feel the Vario may be a sales flop due to the negativity surrounding it at launch. Sony is releasing amazing things and Fuji is hot on the heels of Leica. C’Mon Leica, step it up and deliver what we really want. A MINI M. This camera with an M mount or a new lens mount that can mount M lenses with an adapter while offering new lenses for a new X “system”. If this camera offered that it would have been a huge hit and it would have sold loads of lenses for Leica. They feel it would have eaten into M sales but that is not true as some will not settle for less than a full frame traditional M.

I entirely tend to agree with Steve. I do not think this camera will be a winner for Leica.

Ming Thein, another photographer whose views I respect, has a slightly more positive take on the X Vario. While he also admits to disappointment over that slow lens, he does believe that the camera has excellent IQ and will have a following among Leica fans, not just the "St.Tropez crowd". He can see a lot of street photographers going for it (most typical street photography is done at f/7 or f/8 because of the greater depth of field) and it would be a good all-in-one solution for travel photographers.

So really we have to wait and see what niche, if any, the X Vario can carve for itself. It is a well made camera, more Leica than Panasonic, and produces excellent results. It is the slow lens, perhaps nothing else (and certainly not the price, high as it is), that could hold it back from being sales success.