I have been a Nikon user for 20 years. I was deeply addicted to the sharpness of Nikkor lenses, as well as the loud and solid shutter sound of Nikon body. However, the passion for photography diminished in the last few years. Especially in the last two two years, I used my iPhone more than the Nikon D800E. 99.9% of the time, the Nikon equipments were locked in the camera cabinet.
In June 2016, my family planned a trip to England in summer holiday. Since I have hurt my back in early 2016, bringing the heavy Nikon D800E combo to England was not desirable. Therefore I started to have an idea of buying a high quality DC for the trip. For high quality DC, the obvious choice to me was the Fujifilm X100 seies. I was a fan of Fujifilm since film era. And used S2pro, S3pro and S5pro in my early digital years. Going back to buy Fuji product at this moment seems like a good idea. While researching which Fujifilm model to go for, I notice the Leica X Vario.
What? a true Leica under HK$15k? Not made by panasonic?
Leica was never a target for me, not that I don't like their camera, its because of the high price. In the recent years, Leica partnered panasonic to make some Leica badged DC, which was a lot cheaper than the real deal. But i was never interested. Because it is only a panasonic camera under the skin.
X Vario is different. It was true in-house Leica design, and manufactured in factory of Leica in Germany. It is NOT a panasonic. The zoom lens, despite being criticised having laughable small aperture at the long end (f/6.4!), is in fact extremely sharp and detailed. The body is almost as well built as a M, and the control interface is simple and direct, similar to the control on the flagship M Type 240. The APS-C sensor is super sharp and the color rendition is second to none! In any standard, its a true Leica marvelous.
However, It was not popular when it was introduced to the market in 2013. Leica advertised the X Vario as "Mini M"before launch. People had great expectation: a small version of Type 240, with all the goodies but only a APS-C sensor. When the Leica fans (and anti-Leica fans) find out "mini M" was merely a X2 with an "undetachable ordinary zoom lens" and a price tag of USD2850 (HK$25700 in HK), they felt insulted and just ignored the camera. Actually, they didn't really ignore the camera, they kept attacking the Vario whenever they find opportunity :)
In the past few years, the X Vario was just the invisible kid in the family, nobody (except a few true users in the internet) care about the camera. The sales figure must be very very bad, therefore Leica keep lowering the price. In June 2016, I found the price for a grey import brand new Silver X Vario was only HK$13xxx. That's a whopping HK$10000+ discount! Without hesitation, I bought one for my England trip.
The build quality is professional grade! The size is not big, I would say its perfect size to hold.
I added a thumb rest for the Vario
And metal hood, leather half case
Picture quality is what matters
I was surprised by the quality of the camera! The camera performs flawlessly as a DC, I have no complaint at all! It made some very colorful hoilday photos, we love so much and immediately made a apple photo book when we returned to HK!
To describe, the color is extremely vivid. The image is like poping out from the background! Pictures always show a kind of special dynamic, very attractive. I rarely find this dynamic in the picture made by my Nikon system, so it is a totally new and exciting experience to me. Here are some sample I took from the England trip:
At ISO1600, almost no noise
Is it THAT good?
Can you use it as a pro camera? Yes (to a certain extent to certain people) and No.
If you are a landscape photographer, it is almost perfect! If the zoom is a bit wider, it will score 100%.
If you are a street photographer, you will find it serves you well in 90% of the time, by its extremely good optical and high quality sensor. Sometime you may wish you have a better high ISO performance when beyond ISO1600 (perfect until 1600), especially when the zoom lens only provide 3.5-6.4 max. aperture. And in some occasions, you may wish you have a larger aperture to create a more dramatic picture, f/3.5 just won't do it.
If you are an event/action/sport photographer, no, it's not for you. It has serious lag, it has limited shutter speed, it has DC grade AF capability and it has no optical finder. To conclude, it is a camera for slow subject only.
But if you are a amatuer like me, and if you use it correctly, you will be rewarded with the best picture quality you could find in any camera, at any price. The lens, trust me, is great!!!! And the APS-C sensor, no matter where its from (some said Sony), it is just awesome! The image processing engine of X-Vario is so great that I rarely required to shot in RAW for post procesing. Just JPEG. This is how good it is.
The Vario is my most happy finding in year 2016.
And this lead to my journey to seek the ultimate leica lens. To be continued.
A trip to GUAM
More samples: a recent trip to Cheung Chau:
Amazing details and super sharp
I bought the original Leica half case to replace the cheap one I bought in UK