Leica Vario X: Surprisingly slow lens, unsurprisingly expensive compact

June 11, 2013 10:26 AM PDT / Updated: June 11, 2013 11:13 AM PDT

Leica

You have to wonder at what point people will actually start balking at Leica's chutzpah. Yes, the company produces some really nice cameras. But it's not alone anymore, and there are a lot more almost-as-nice products available at more easily swallowed prices. Take the company's latest offering, the APS-C-sensor-based Leica X Vario. While the X Vario incorporates a 2.5x zoom lens -- its competitors only have fixed-focal-length lenses -- it's slower than most of the kit lenses you'll find on entry-level dSLRs. F6.4 at 70mm (or quite possibly lower). Seriously? Nor is the lens particularly compact, making the camera bigger than the rest. And it's priced the same as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 , a full-frame camera.

Yes, it has a Leica-worthy design, with physical aperture and shutter speed dials and a body constructed of magnesium and aluminum. And it ships with a full copy of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Here's how it compares with the RX1 and other APS-C compacts:

  Fujifilm X100s Leica X Vario Leica X2 Nikon Coolpix A Ricoh GR Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1
Sensor (effective resolution) 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS II
n/a
16.2MP CMOS 16.2MP CCD 16.2MP CMOS
14-bit
16.2MP CMOS 24.3MP Exmor CMOS
23.6 x 15.8mm 23.6 x 15.7mm 23.6 x 15.8mm 23.6 x 15.7mm 23.7 x 15.7mm
35.8 x 23.9mm
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 12500 ISO 100 - ISO 12500 ISO 100 - ISO 3200/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 50 (exp) / ISO 100 - ISO 51200 / ISO 102400 (exp, via multishot NR)
Lens
(35mm-equiv multiplier)
35mm
f2
1.5x
28 - 70mm
f3.5-6.4
1.5x
(2.5x zoom)
24mm
f2.8
1x
28mm
f2.8
28mm
f2.8
35mm
f2
1x
Closest focus (inches) 3.9 11.8 11.8 4 3.9 7.9
Continuous shooting 6fps
31 JPEG/n/a
5fps
7 frames
(raw + JPEG)
5fps
8 frames
(raw + JPEG)
4fps
n/a
4fps
4 raw/ unlimited JPEG
2.5fps
(5 fps with fixed exposure)
n/a
Viewfinder Hybrid
Reverse Galilean
90 percent coverage
EVF
0.48-inch/ 2,360,000 dots
100 percent coverage
Optional
EVF
1,400,000 dots
100 percent coverage
($499 est)
Optional
EVF
Tilting LCD
n/a
($449 est.)
Optional
Reverse Galilean
($449.96)
Optional
Reverse Galilean
(est $250)
Optional
Reverse Galilean
Zeiss
n/a
($599.99)
Optional
EVF
Tilting OLED
0.5-inch/ 2,359,000 dots
100 percent coverage
($404.99)
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
n/a
Contrast AF
11-area
Contrast AF
n/a
Contrast AF
190-point hybrid AF 25-area contrast AF
Metering 256 zones   n/a n/a n/a n/a
Shutter 20 - 1/4,000 sec; bulb to 60 minutes 30 - 1/2,000 sec 30 - 1/2,000 sec 30 - 1/2,000 sec; bulb 300 - 1/4,000 sec; bulb; time 30-1/2,000 sec; bulb
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
LCD 2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
920,000 dots
2.7-inch
230,000 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
Image stabilization None Electronic
(with caveats)
None None None Electronic (movie only)
Video
(best quality)
1080/60p/30p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
Stereo
1080/30p
MP4
None 1080/30p/ 25p/24p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
Stereo
1080/30p/ 25p/24p Motion JPEG AVI AVCHD: 1080/60p/50p @ 28Mbps; 1080/60i/50i @ 24, 17Mbps; 1080/24p/25p @ 24, 17Mbps
stereo
Manual iris and shutter in video n/a No n/a n/a Yes Yes
Optical zoom while recording n/a Yes n/a No n/a n/a
External mic support None Yes n/a Optional
(with WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter)
No Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 330 shots 350 shots 450 shots 230 shots 290 shots 270 shots
Size (WHD, inches) 5 x 2.9 x 2.1 5.2 x 2.9 x 3.7 4.9 x 2.7 x 2 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.6 4.6 x 2.4 x 1.4 4.5 x 2.6 x 2.8
Weight (ounces) 15.7 (est) 24 (est) 12.2 (est) 10.6 (est) 8.6 (est) 17.6
Mfr. price $1,299.95 $2,850 $1,995 (est) $1,099.95 $799.95 $2,799
Availability March 2013 June 2013 August 2012 March 2013 May 2013 November 2012

The camera incorporates an odd type of image stabilization -- at shutter speeds between 1/4 and 1/30 second and at ISO 1600 or lower, it can take two sequential shots and combine them for a lower-noise image. This is of limited usefulness, though. (You can download the manual for more information.)

Getting a zoom lens on a medium-size body with an APS-C sensor might have required feats of technological wizardry, but the lens is so slow it wasn't worth it. In fact, even at $1,000 less I don't think it would be worth it. Then again I tend not to develop fangirl affinities for brands. Am I missing something here?

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Where to Buy

Leica X Vario

Part Number: 18430

MSRP: $2,850.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Digital camera type Digital Compact Camera
  • Optical Zoom 2.5 x
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 16.2 Megapixel
  • Optical Sensor Size 15.7 x 23.6mm
About The Author

Lori Grunin is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering cameras, camcorders, and related accessories. She's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 1988.