Leica X Vario review: Luxury compact zoom exceeds its limits with super-sharp lens and stunning images


posted Friday, November 8, 2013 at 11:54 AM EST


This may not have been the Leica you were looking for. However, the Leica X Vario still pleasantly surprised us, especially after all the naysayers panned the camera for what it wasn't (even before they got their hands on one!). So what is the X Vario exactly, and who is it for?

First off, the Leica X Vario is a precision-engineered piece of photographic machinery geared for purists. It's beautiful to behold, and a pleasure to hold, with well laid-out physical controls that marry form and function. The centerpiece of the camera's design is the 28-70mm equivalent Vario-Elmar lens, which bore the brunt of the camera's bad rap at launch. Yes, it's relatively slow and dim, with an f/3.5 max aperture wide open and f/6.4 at full tele that may limit your quest for bokeh and low-light flexibility. But it's also an incredible feat of optical design, delivering very sharp images corner-to-corner with very little distortion (especially in JPEGs).

The X Vario's image quality starts with the lens, but builds with an excellent 16.2-megapixel APS-C sensor. Our eyes boggled at the camera's ability to produce photos with uncanny color accuracy and saturation, and we were pleased by how well it performed at higher ISOs, displaying an attractive film-like grain in the upper reaches. Images may look soft at first glance -- mainly because they're relatively unsharpened by the X Vario's JPEG processor -- but they hold a ton of detail. A bit of Unsharp Mask in Photoshop, and you can achieve truly striking results.

Read our Leica X Vario review for more of our analysis, including our final verdict, on this intriguing fixed-lens compact camera. The X Vario may be expensive and not entirely practical -- even an underperformer in some aspects -- but there's no doubting the quality of its craftsmanship, nor its awe-inspiring capabilities.