Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tokyo-X-VARIO: Final Look @ Leica X-Vario

X-VARIO @ 31mm.   1/15th sec F/4.1 @ ISO 400.  JR Yamanote Line, Tokyo.

Playing with a test camera in a city like Tokyo is a lot of fun... but all good things come to an end. I'm finally back home and now starting the daunting task of going through all my pictures. When you're gone for a month you tend to take a lot of pictures... thousands in fact (2583 to be exact, minus film rolls and iPhone pics). To get a good idea of a camera's characteristics of capturing an image, you need to do more than chimping (a sneak peak at back LCD screen). You need to open up the files and take a good look, trying to find specific qualities (not just resolution and colour accuracy) and image distinctiveness that make the pictures stand out. I did so with the Leica X-VARIO and I've come to appreciate the camera and the images I was able to create...

X-VARIO at 70mm. 1/125th sec F/6.4 @ ISO 1600. Cropped. It's impolite to eat in public so she was hiding in corner and eating something discreetly... so cute! JR Akihabara Sta.
One of things I appreciate about the Leica is its weaknesses. That may sound weird, but this is really what helped me get most of my great shots. Like I mentioned on my original review back in the summer, it's limits are its strengths. If you want the fasted autofocusing camera, buy a DSLR. If you want a big zoom, buy an all-in-one super-zoom from one of the big box stores. If you want a camera that has the best balance of everything, invest in one of the new micro 4/3's cameras (everything but sensor size). Why buy the X-VARIO, or why buy any Leica product? Mijonju said it best when he was asking why shoot film or why shoot instant peel-apart film cameras: it's more romantic. If you connect with a camera, or connect with the ideology or theme of a brand or it's core products, then go for it. Don't worry about autofocus speeds or absolute resolution or the corners of lenses wide open (although the lens and files on the X-VARIO are amazing). Once you pick a camera or brand, stick to it, don't jump ship every time brand-X comes out with something better every 6 months. 

X-VARIO @ 28mm. 1/60th sec F/3.5 @ ISO 400. Ginza

You buy a Leica because you agree with their brand philosophy: keep it simple, keep it elegant, keep it quality. This is why you buy an X-VARIO. Did I find faults with it? Yes, lots of faults! But I also found many things I love about it too. Without repeating my original review, I love the build quality (simply amazing), the lens quality (perfect range too), the manual focus dampening, non-telescoping (okay, maybe 1/2) zoom lens, and external dials. Oh ya, and the Leica-like image files. Yes, the images definitely have that look. I know, since I've recently reviewed the M240 and M MonochromeWhat did I hate? Slow OS operation, weird button configurations, slow AF (I don't even care if this was manual only camera to be honest), useless waste of space pop-up flash (put ISO dial instead!).

X-VARIO @ 50mm. 1/30th sec F/5 @ ISO 400. Ginza

But don't buy or not buy the X-VARIO based on other people's pros and cons. Research and think about the Leica ideology of camera design and execution, and see if you agree with it. If you don't, then I would not recommend the camera. If you already own some Leica gear (not the Panasonic built Leica's, but real Leica cameras... sorry Panasonic...), then you will understand the X-VARIO and will enjoy shooting with it. 

X-VARIO @ 28mm. 1/60th sec F/3.5 @ ISO 1600. Sugamo.

I actually shot with the X-VARIO in ways that most would never think of using it for, and I didn't even try to do so with my previous reviews. Most of my previous pictures were street photography shots of people, and the camera is great for that.  I decided to use the camera for action (shooting bikeriders) and shooting at night. Because the autofocus on this camera was never designed for either, I turned it off and I scale focused instead. Once you get use to shooting things at a predetermined distance, you don't need to worry about autofocus. And because the lens has a distance scale on it (I wish it showed on screen too), it was easy to do without too much trouble. 

X-VARIO @ 50mm. 1/320th sec F/5.1 @ ISO 100. Otsuka

Another thing I enjoyed about the lens (other than the fact this thing is super sharp and even from edge to edge) is that it has markings at all the major prime lens focal lengths, most notably 35 and 50mm. Yes these are equivalent focal lengths, but that's good enough for me. A few times I would force myself to shoot at 50mm all day and wouldn't change the focal length just to accommodate what I was shooting. If I was too close, I would either back up or decide not to take the shot (or switch to a different camera). A few times I really wanted to isolate the subject by zooming all the way to 70mm, but since i promised myself to stick to 50mm, I would take the shot as is. By doing this (limiting myself), it forced me to be more creative and this often produced better pictures. Zooms are great, but use it, not as an easy way to crop, but imagine you have 4 prime lenses with you (28, 35, 50, 70). 

X-VARIO @ 50mm. 1/320th sec F/5.1 @ ISO 1600. Shibuya.

Moreover, I'm happy the X-VARIO has a zoom (unlike the X1 and X2), making it a nice travel camera for the Leica camera fan. If you are tired of carrying around multiple bodies and lenses, but you don't want a point and shoot, I think the X-VARIO is a nice compromise. It's compact enough to carry around all day (about the same size as the Fujifilm X-E2 with 18-55 zoom lens), but with enough German genes to pull off the unique Leica look . Having the X-VARIO as my main heavy-weight camera, my film camera (Minolta CLE), and a small point and shoot for quick snap shots (Ricoh GR-D IV), I didn't feel overburdened with weight or space. Everything fit inside a medium sized shoulder bag, with enough room for a thermos, notebook, and other personal items. I felt I had the right amount of equipment for the job at hand, with the X-VARIO being at the top of my equipment list. 

X-VARIO @ 50mm. 1/6th sec F/5.1 @ ISO 100. Shot against pole. South Shinjuku
Even if I had the money to own an M240, a 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 75mm, I don't think I'd want to carry that around for a month while on vacation and shopping and eating and everything else in between. The X-VARIO was perfect for me, and I think it will be for anyone who shoots Leica and enjoys those beautiful Leica image won't get that with the Fuji X series cameras, and you won't get that look from any micro 4/3 camera. Sorry.

X-VARIO @ 35mm. 1/1000th sec F/7.1 @ ISO 1600. Shibuya Crossing intersection

I thank Eric Kerwin of Leica Canada for loaning me the camera for this project. I really got comfortable shooting with the X-VARIO and learned to depend on it. I hope Leica continues to update the firmware on the camera (faster OS please) and perhaps there's an X-VARIO II coming soon, with a built-in EVF or OVF? Maybe a wider 24-70mm zoom range? Slightly faster lens? How about no built in flash and an ISO dial instead? Either way, when it comes out, I'll be sure to test it and report on it as soon as possible.

X-VARIO @ 28mm. 1/30th sec F/3.5 @ ISO 1600. Sugamo

Thanks for following me with my Tokyo-X-VARIO project for the past month. I had a great time doing it, and I encourage everyone to get to know the Leica brand and philosophy if time and money permits. It's a slower and more deliberate approach to photography, but I believe you'll take better pictures because of it...happy shooting.

Here's a listing and link to all my Tokyo-X-VARIO posts for the past month:

1. Shooting at Night Handheld
2. Street Photography at 70mm
3. Shooting at Night in Ginza
4. For Serious Shooting Days
5. More Night Shots with Leica
6. Shooting Motion and B&W
7. Shooting with a 50mm Lens
8. Sitting and Waiting at 50mm
9. Portrait of a Photographer
0. Shooting Bikes in Shibuya
1. Shooting Light in the Dark




  1. Take

    Enjoyed this posting great photos and commentary. When you back in YVR?

    1. Thanks, I appreciate the comment. Keeps me motivated!

  2. Hi Angus,

    I'm already back and relaxing in rainy, cloudy, and dark Vancouver!! I have a ton of pictures to edit through, and I have 2 cameras I'm trying to review ( Ricoh GR Limited Edition and Fujifilm XE-2) and another on its way (Leica M240 with 50mm... I don't know which one), and I might have to fly back to Tokyo in the next few weeks...hopefully the timing will work out that I take the M240 with me to Tokyo. I just finished a photo shoot today and I have another in two weeks. I'm also working on getting a Sony A7R to test and review as well...pretty busy for January.


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