Leica X Vario (Type 107) Review: Leica X Vario with APS-C sensor and zoom lens
A good time ago, Leica added a teaser to a new digital camera “Mini M” on its website. Now it is there and is simply called “Leica X Vario”. In contrast to the previous X1 and X2 digital cameras in the X series, the Leica X Vario offers a zoom lens that covers a focal length range of 28 to 70 millimeters, corresponding to 35 mm. Like the X2, the Leica X Vario also has an APS-C sized CMOS sensor with around 16-megapixel resolution and even comes up with a Full HD video function.
Leica Pros And Cons
- Adobe Lightroom included
- Balanced and good image quality
- Simple operation also manually
- High quality processed housing
- Low-light lens
- Low level of equipment
- Only short series possible due to the small buffer memory
- Slow autofocus
With the Leica X Vario, the X series from Leica has grown. The ingredients fixed lens, APS-C large sensor with a reasonable 16 million pixels and extremely solid housing have remained.
As the name suggests, however, Leica has given the Leica X Vario a zoom lens that covers the most frequently used focal length range of 28 to 70 millimeters compared to 35 mm. Since the lens is permanently installed, it is actually a compact camera, but the new Leica is anything but compact. We have thoroughly examined what it contains in practice and with the test software as we always do.
Although it seems so at first glance, the lens cannot be changed. Its 2.5x zoom range extends from 18-46 millimeters, which corresponds to a focal length of 28-70 millimeters due to the smaller picture angle of the APS-C sensor compared to the 35 mm format in 35 mm equivalent.
The lens scores less with its speed, which starts at F3.5 in the wide-angle and decreases to F6.4 at the end of the telephoto range, but according to Leica, it is supposed to deliver outstanding or typically Leica high image quality. The Vario Elmar consists of nine lenses arranged in eight groups. Two aspherical lenses are used to improve the image quality. The minimum focus distance is 30 centimeters, the smallest aperture is F16. The lens also has an autofocus.
The APS-C sensor in CMOS design has a resolution of 16.5 megapixels, which can be saved either as JPEG or DNG raw data. Leica offers the purchaser Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 for downloading as a raw data image processing tool after registration of the camera.
The Leica X Vario relies on the classic exposure programs P, A, S, and M, where time and aperture are controlled via control wheels on the top of the camera. The lens does not have an aperture ring, but a focus and focal length ring including labels.
Scene mode programs cannot be found on the Leica. The sensitivity setting ranges from ISO 100 to 12,500, with an automatic setting also available. Exposure can be corrected by up to 3 EV in 1/3 EV steps, and bracketing is also possible in this range. The Leica X Vario has a video recording function in full HD resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels including sound recording with wind noise filter. Storage is in the internet-friendly MP4 format.
On the back, the Leica X-Vario has a three-inch (about 7.5 centimeters) screen that resolves a fine 920,000 pixels. A 400 dollarso electronic viewfinder called the “EVF 2” can be optionally connected via the hot shoe.
It has a resolution of 1.4 million pixels and can be swiveled upwards by 90 degrees, thus also replacing an angle finder. Simultaneous operation with a TTL system flash is not possible, but the Leica X Vario also has a built-in miniature flash unit. Leica also offers a handle for 115 dollarsos with additional finger loops in three different sizes as well as an ever-ready bag for 200 dollarsos as accessories. The Li-Ion battery type BP-DC8 used is the same as in the Leica X2 and should be sufficient for about 350 exposures.
Ergonomics and Workmanship Of The Leica X Vario
The Leica X Vario is a real block for a compact camera. Even when you peel it out of the very solid packaging, the high weight and the considerable size are surprising. Several system cameras are more compact.
The very simple and unobtrusive exterior is strongly reminiscent of the design of the M-Leicas, except that the front is completely smooth without controls and of course without the rangefinder.
Due to its size, it offers enough gripping surface even for a strong man’s hand and on the backside, no switch is in danger of being accidentally pressed by the broad thumb.
Nevertheless, the posture is a bit cramped because of the missing grip bead, because after all, 640 grams have to be clamped tightly. So the Leica X Vario wants to be tackled properly and you can do that without regrets. Nothing creaks or cracks, the leather is quite non-slip and feels good, and the rotary switches look solid and snap securely.
Nevertheless, there is a bit of criticism: The cross rocker on the right of the display is made of cheap-looking plastic and its microswitches also make an inferior impression. This is unworthy of a Leica.
The switches on the left side, on the other hand, are at least normal standard and the mechanics of the small pop-up flash can also convince. The trigger may have a slightly too long way to the first pressure point, but this proves to be unproblematic after a short period of getting used to it.
The video trigger is the exact opposite. It hides between the shutter release and the aperture wheel and has a very short release travel. But even that is only a question of getting used to it. The flaps are pleasantly solid, even if they do not provide much protection against dirt and spray water. The cover of the USB and HDMI socket on the right side is held closed by a spring, the battery or memory card cover is secured with a lever.
Unfortunately, the tripod thread is not in the optical axis and moreover, it is right at the hinge of the battery compartment, so that on the tripod, there is no access to the battery and the memory card possible. With this housing size, this is somewhat surprising. But the Leica X Vario’s housing and its workmanship are very convincing overall.
The main switch on the photo shutter release activates the single-frame mode in the first position and the continuous-advance mode in the second.
The whole thing is a bit smooth-running so that you accidentally often get into serial mode. Otherwise, the operation is very uncomplicated: F-stop and time are set with two rotary switches on the top.
Both switches have an automatic position. In this way, the photographer can either leave both or one parameter each to the camera or set both values himself. There is hardly a more logical, simple and self-explanatory combination of program, aperture, automatic timer and manual operation.
The distance setting also works in the same way: the sharpening ring starts at 30 centimeters and can be turned sensitively and smoothly to infinity. Turned a little “crack” further there is also an A-position that activates the autofocus. However, the principle of “either automatic or manual” has a big disadvantage here, because the photographer cannot intervene manually in the autofocus. Leica has thus missed a great opportunity, which is actually a matter of course for experienced photographers with cameras.
After all, the principle is consistent: All the wheels on A result in the fully automatic camera, which the photographer can use to regain control bit by bit, depending on his preferences and needs.
The shutter speed dial allows shutter speeds of a two-thousandth of a second to one second to be locked in full aperture increments.
For longer exposure times, the seconds’ position can also be extended in full aperture steps up to 30 seconds with the help of a small thumbwheel. Unfortunately, the camera forgets longer times both when adjusting the time wheel and when switching off, so that one always starts at one second. Doesn’t matter, because at these times you are anyway on the road with a tripod and with care.
The shutter sits as a central shutter in the lens and can, therefore, synchronize the flash at any time. On top of that, it is quiet and vibration-free and suitable for the theater. The aperture wheel clicks into place in one-third steps as it should. The five control buttons to the left of the display are quickly explained: Playback, Delete, White Balance, Sensitivity and Menu each have their own button, and the Delete button is used to adjust the focus area in recording mode.
The menu is quite clear, which is not least due to the restriction to the most important functions. All necessary settings can be made on a total of five screen pages with eight entries each.
There is no quick menu, but this is not absolutely necessary for the few functions. For this purpose, self-timer, exposure correction, and flash functions can be set directly via the cross rocker.
The fixed display does not appear overly large on Leica’s wide back, although with its diagonal of almost eight centimeters and over 900,000 pixels it belongs to the upscale segment. It is bright, brilliant and sharp, but not touch-sensitive (no touch display).
It shows the scene a little pale but it is still the same as it is saved in the file. A histogram, various grids and of course all-important exposure parameters can be displayed. For photographers who prefer to work with a viewfinder, an electronic viewfinder is available as an accessory, which resolves 1.4 million pixels at the proud price of around 400 dollarsos.
This is technically identical in construction to the Olympus clip-on video viewfinder, which is one of the best of its kind.
In practical use, the Leica X Vario proved to be somewhat sluggish. Although the camera is ready to shoot quickly, the autofocus takes much longer than usual in this camera class. It gets a bit annoying during playback: When scrolling between stored images, it takes almost a second until the photo is displayed.
Equipment And Features Of The Leica X Vario
The Vario-Leica is a photographic machine for purists. You will, therefore, search in vain for scene mode programs or even effects. Program, aperture or aperture priority and manual setting are possible – nothing more. The aperture-time combination suggested by the program automatic can be moved with the small thumbwheel and of course, you can intervene in the exposure at any time.
One press on the exposure correction of the cross rocker and a turn of the thumbwheel and corrections of up to 3 apertures in both directions can be set, which is also immediately visible on the display. Repeated presses toggle between exposure compensation, bracketing, and flash compensation.
Exposure series are possible in third steps with also +/- 3 light values. This should be enough even for most HDRs. However, these have to be assembled on the computer afterward, because the Leica does not offer HDR automatic.
You will also look in vain for an automatic panorama function, just like the WiFi and GPS functionality that is unavoidable with new cameras. No problem, because whoever buys this camera has nothing in mind with such gimmicks anyway. After all, the image result can be influenced in sharpness, contrast and color saturation according to personal preferences and can be stored in four user profiles together with further recording parameters
This allows the photographer to easily recall his frequently used settings. Unfortunately, it is not possible to edit photos afterward in the camera, the Leica X Vario offers nothing except deleting and locking of images.
The ISO automatically controls the sensitivity according to an exposure time limit, which the photographer can select between 1/8 and 1/30 seconds.
The automatic sensitivity reaches up to ISO 6,400, while the manual sensitivity can be raised to ISO 12,500. If the light is still not sufficient, the built-in flash can be folded out manually. It allows all common modes like automatic, fill flash, both with and without pre-flash, fill flash with long exposure and a pompously called “studio” function, which allows to fire slave flashes of a photo studio wirelessly.
However, this should not be confused with a real remote control that other cameras offer for their system flashes. The on-board flash is a little weak on the chest, Leica gives guide number 5 at ISO 100. At least the illumination is quite decent up to the corners. If that is not enough, you can, of course, connect an external speed camera via the accessory shoe.
The autofocus of the Leica X Vario is not among the fastest. In our measurement with the test software, almost 0.7 seconds passed at the long end before the shot was fired. In practice, the autofocus was also noticed by frequent pumping. Especially in slightly poorer light conditions, focusing failed, which the camera acknowledged with an audio signal and a red focus field.
A manual readjustment would quickly make this deficiency forgotten. Unfortunately, as already described in the section “Ergonomics And Workmanship”, the automatic position must be left for readjustment. This means that focusing always starts at infinity, which is very annoying, especially for close-ups.
A total of 11 focus fields can automatically find an object to focus on in groups of up to nine fields. Unfortunately, they concentrate too much on the center of the picture. If objects at the edge of the image are to be focused, it is better to switch to single AF.
After a long press on the focus button, the field can be moved almost to the edge with the help of the cross rocker. When a small object needs to be focused accurately, the spot AF function is helpful, which provides a very small field of focus. If desired, face recognition can also be activated, which works best frontally. In low light conditions, an orange auxiliary light helps the AF to focus.
But the Leica photographer probably prefers manual focusing anyway, and that’s where the Leica X Vario has undeniable advantages: The sharpener ring runs very smoothly and transmits the control data as if it were mechanical. If desired, an electronic magnifying glass that magnifies a section of the viewfinder image about six times can help. This way you never lose the overview and still have sharpness under control. The enlarged section can also be moved freely with the arrow keys, which is exemplary!
In video mode, the autofocus works quite well. The sharpness is a little delayed but accurately adjusted, pumps were not observed.
Also, the noise of the focus drive is only audible very subtly, although the microphone is very sensitive and picks up the stereo sound in good quality.
All focus and exposure metering methods are possible, but regardless of the setting, the exposure is controlled exclusively by aperture priority. The exposure time is set to 1/50 or 1/60 seconds depending on the video format, which allows for shots with smooth movements. Recording is in FullHD with 30 frames per second.
As already mentioned, the Vario is not very fast. This also applies to the continuous shooting speed. She holds out the maximum of five frames per second for just five shots, then falls into a leisurely continuous run with one frame every one and a half seconds. Apparently the buffer storage is not very large. The sharpness is frozen to the value of the first photo.
Leica uses a mini-series for a kind of image stabilization: At certain exposure times, the Leica X Vario shoots two images in a row and calculates an image with better sharpness. In practice, however, no particularly noticeable differences could be found with and without this technique.
It is just as inconspicuous in video mode, where electronic stabilization is apparently used. The stabilization is just enough to alleviate the slight tremor of a hands-free shot.
On the focal length scale, the zoom lens proudly bears the values that would correspond to a lens calculated for a 35 mm format. This is understandable for a Leica, whose predecessors once established this format. The zoom range thus extends from 28 mm wide-angle to 70 mm telephoto, covering the most commonly used focal lengths.
Unfortunately, it is not very bright. The open aperture 3.5 at the short end drops to F6.4 at maximum focal length, which is not a masterpiece.
The somewhat narrow configuration of the Leica X models is traditionally compensated for by the fact that a full version of Adobe’s Lightroom is included with the camera. However, you must first register on the Leica homepage and then you can download the software. Finally, it is worth mentioning that Leica includes a good, printed manual with the camera.
Leica X Vario Image Quality
Of course, you expect a camera of this brand and price, to have a particularly high image quality. As always, we have therefore based this section on thorough software testing and have incorporated practical experience beyond the pure numbers.
The first thing you notice is the somewhat pale colors produced by the Leica X Vario compared to other cameras. In laboratory measurements, however, this impression reveals itself to be an illusion, as the Leica reproduces colors quite unadulterated and neutral. Most of the other cameras, on the other hand, would rather be blamed for being too colorful. However, this “more colorful” is often perceived as pleasant by the viewer.
If the correct color display of the Varioio is too pale for you, you should increase the saturation in the menu.
The Leica can also score points for noise behavior. Up to ISO 800, there is no trace of noise, above that the grain size increases gently, the brightness noise is stronger. It only becomes noticeable from ISO 1.600, really disturbing above 3.200.
More problematic is the signal-to-noise ratio, which already reaches the critical 35 dB mark from ISO 800. Nevertheless, the texture sharpness remains surprisingly high, even in the highest ISO regions.
This raises the suspicion of software support, but sharpening artifacts have hardly any negative effects. Color noise is never an issue, Leica has this wonderfully under control. There’s nothing to complain about in terms of input dynamics either: about ten f-stops up to ISO 1,600 throughout, a narrow step less at ISO 3,200 and only above that does the image drop steeply.
From the practical experience confirmed by the laboratory test, it can be said in summary that the Leica X Vario up to ISO 1,600 delivers good images without any problems, but with some concessions, you can also risk a step higher.
The tonal curves show a rather flat gradient that produces images with smooth transitions, especially in dark areas. Friends of crisp pictures, therefore, need to lend a hand. However, one advantage of this soft reproduction is that more tonal gradations are retained in dark areas of the image and, if necessary, there is better editing potential.
The lens also cuts a good figure overall: color fringes, edge dimming, and distortion are not an issue and the resolution is uniform right into the corners. Only the level of resolution remains below expectations. Only at aperture 8 does it reach about 40 line pairs per millimeter over the entire range. This has a visual effect in a somewhat soft reproduction of fine details.
Leica X Vario: Is It Worth It?
The Leica X Vario is a compact camera that is not compact, but for its price of 2,450 dollars you can also find it in the upper league of system and SLR cameras, although it deliberately offers only the absolute minimum in terms of features.
So it is certainly not a camera for the masses, but Leica enthusiasts and people who want to enjoy exquisite technology. On the credit side, there is a camera that is excellently manufactured (except for a few details), a very balanced and all-round good image quality, the Adobe Lightroom license and last but not least, the red dot promises a good piece of exclusivity.
But that’s not all, because in the restriction to the essential, photography becomes an experience again. The Leica X Vario is particularly suitable for those who can and want to set everything manually with care and plenty of time.
Of course, you can do this with much cheaper equipment and even without compromising on quality, but far from being as classy.
Leica X Vario In Silver
Until now, the Leica X Vario was only available in black, but now the German camera manufacturer is offering the APS-C compact camera with a fixed 28-70mm zoom (KB equivalent) in a silver-black design variant.
The Leica X Vario has a CMOS sensor with an effective 16.2-megapixel resolution and an F3.5-6.4 18-46 mm lens. It not only records photos on SD memory cards but also Full HD video at 30 frames per second.
On the back, it has a 7.6 cm screen with a resolution of 920,000 pixels. Thanks to the TTL hot shoe and accessory connection, the Leica X Vario can be expanded with the 90 degree folding electronic viewfinder Leica EVF 2 with 1.44 million pixels resolution or the system flash unit Leica SF 24 D.
Both the black and the silver-black versions of the Leica X Vario are available from Leica photo retailers at a price of 2,450 dollarsos.
- Adobe Lightroom included
- Balanced and good image quality
- Simple operation also manually
- High quality processed housing
- Low-light lens
- Low level of equipment
- Only short series possible due to the small buffer memory
- Slow autofocus
Firmware update 1.2 for the Leica T and 1.1 for the Leica X Vario: Extended functionality
Leica provides new firmware for both the T (Type 701) and the Leica X Vario (Type 107). Version 1.2 for the T now allows locking the function wheels, switching to video mode via wipe gesture and offers a touch trigger.
In addition, the EVF is now capable of playback and the auto playback function can be turned off. In addition, zooming in playback is now even easier to use and the automatic brightness adjustment of the display is now smoother.
Leica X Vario (Type 107) Datasheet
|CMOS sensor APS-C 23.6 x 15.8 mm (crop factor 1.5
)16.5 megapixels (physical), 16.2 megapixels (effective)
|28 to 70 mm (35mm equivalent
to 46 mm (physical)
|F3.5 to F16 (wide angle) F6.4 to F16 (telephoto)
|Contrast autofocus with 11 measuring fields
|Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual, AFL function
Viewfinder and monitor
|3.0″ (7.5 cm) TFT LCD monitor with 920,000 pixels, non-reflective
|Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement, spot measurement
|1/2,000 to 30 s (automatic)
|Fully Automatic, Program Automatic, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual
|Exposure bracketing function
|Exposure bracketing function with a maximum of 3 shots, step size from 1/3 to 3 EV
|-3.0 to +3.0 EV with step size of 1/3 EV
|ISO 100 to ISO 12,500 (manual)
|No scene mode programs are available
|dynamic, natural, b/w high contrast, b/w natural, standard
|Automatic, Clouds, Sun, Shadow, Flash, Tungsten light, Kelvin Input, Manual 2 memories
|Continuous shooting function max. 5 fps at highest resolution and max. 7 stored photos
|Self-timer with interval of 2 s, special features: or 12 seconds
|AEL function, AFL function
Flashgun For The Leica X Vario
: Leica (M and X series), standard center contact
|Guide number 5 (ISO 100)
|Auto, fill-flash, flash on, flash off, slow sync, red-eye reduction, flash compensation from 3.0 EV to +-3.0 EV
Equipment And Features
|no optical image stabilizer
SD (SDHC, SDXC)
|1 x Leica BP-DC8 (Lithium-ion (Li-Ion))350 images according to CIPA standard
|Playback histogram, playback magnifier, image index
|Orientation sensor, Live View
|Data interfaces: USBUSB type: USB 2.0 High SpeedAudio output
: noAudio input
: noVideo output
: yes (HDMI output Micro (Type D))
Size and weight
|628 g (ready for operation)
|Dimensions W x H x D
|133 x 73 x 95 mm
|Leica BC-DC8 Special Battery ChargerLeica
BP-DC8 Special Battery PackUSB Connection CableLens CapStrapBeltImage processing software Adobe Lightroom 5 for Windows or higher or higher and for Macintosh system or higher or higher
|Leica BP-DC8 Special Battery Leica
SF 24D Small auxiliary flash unitLeica
SF 58 Slip-on flash with swivel reflector Changeable memory card Electronicviewfinder EVF 2Handle-operatedReady to use bag