Leica X Vario Monochrom: Why it makes a great tool for black-and-white photography
Over a year ago I reviewed the remarkable Leica X Vario, an under-rated gem of a camera. On introduction, in mid-2013, it had a hard ride from the fast-aperture brigade, but I found this camera to be a delightful and very versatile travel and street companion. Yes, the lens is slow (f/3.5-f/6.4), but the overall excellence of the Peter Karbe-designed optics and the impressive ISO performance turn the XV into something of a magical camera, if one with limitations.
Since then I have read countless positive reviews of the X Vario and this camera has become recognised for its undoubted qualities rather than for its perceived on-paper shortcomings. In the real world it performs outstandlingly well and produces some wonderful results. Yet it remains a connoisseur's camera. Unfortunately for Leica, most people have been seduced by the specification of competitors.
David, you see, also owns a Leica Monochrom and, while totally sold on the qualities of this odd-baller from Wetzlar, he see special monochrome virtues in the relatively humble XV. As he says:
I love my Leica M Monochrom. I think it’s the best full-frame camera for black-and-white digital photography. I also have a Leica X Vario, which I purchased for color photography as a supplement to my M Monochrom. Turns out, the X Vario is also a great little camera for black-and-white photography. Surprisingly, I use it more for black-and-white than for color. And the main reason for that is the outstanding zoom lens that’s attached to the X Vario.
I can only endorse his sentiments. The X Vario remains a very undervalued quality camera. When introduced it was billed as a "mini M". That turned out to be a marketing mistake because it raised too many expectations, resulting inevitably in disappointment. Mistake or not, the X Vario certainly looks like a mini M and in this aspect Leica was right.
With hindsight, the X Vario really is a chip off the old block. It offers Leica simplicity in controls and operation backed by superb image quality, just like a Leica M, but with the advantage of a superb-quality zoom ranging from 27 to 70mm.
Prices have softened and, particularly on the second-hand market, the Leica X Vario is now a great buy. It exudes quality, it looks like a real Leica and it produces stunning results. About the only bad thing I can say is that to get full value out of it you have to add a barnacle of an electronic viewfinder to the hot-shoe. Now if Lieca could redesign the X Vario with a built-in viewfinder (perhaps instead of the flash) it could get a new lease of life.