Category Archives: Education

Leica Akademie Street Photography Weekend

It has finally arrived!  I am in D.C. at Leica’s Street Photography Weekend.  We shot for a couple of hours tonight, after some class time, and will shoot tomorrow for the entire day. I am using the X Vario and really putting it through its paces. I will have an update after tomorrow and will be writing a review of the weekend next week. The weather is perfect so tomorrow should be a blast.

Enjoy your weekend.  I will! 😃

The Leica X Vario 2

It is very possible that Leica will eventually come out with a followup to the X Vario camera just as they did to the X1.  There were definite improvements made with the X2 and I am hoping the same will be true with the followup to the X Vario.

Other than the obvious things I have addressed in previous posts I would really love to see Leica get rid of the pop up flash. I never use it as I prefer to use off camera flash using the Pocket Wizard Flex system.  Occasionally I will put a Nikon SB-700 on the hotshoe and use it on manual.  I have no need for a pop up flash but could sure use a built-in EVF!

I have seen pictures of the new Panansonic GX-7 and it has a really innovative EVF that is built into the body of the camera and sits to the left of the hot shoe.  It also has the ability to tilt up to 90 degrees.  I would love to see Leica add something like this to the “X Vario 2.”  It would truly be an upgrade and make it a much better camera.  I have the external Olympus VF-2, but frankly it is a hassle to constantly be taking it on and off.  More than once I have left my truck and walked away all the while forgetting to put it on.  Bummer!  It also sticks up and completely ruins the way the camera looks.  On the GX-7 the EVF is built-in and is truly part of the camera.  Wouldn’t it be great to have something similar on the next X Vario?

As long as I am dreaming could I also request a full frame sensor without the AA filter?  If Leica could do this as well as the other things I have suggested, in my two previous posts, this would be a great camera!  I would also like to see the lens be a 24-120 2.8.  Hey, a person can dream can’t they?

Finally, can we have all of this for less than $3000?  Leica, if you can do this sign me up right now!  Thanks for listening.

Six Weeks Later

I wanted to post a quick update as some may be wondering if the way I feel about the X Vario has changed now that I have owned it for six weeks.

Definitely not. I don’t want to go over what I wrote in my initial review but I feel the same. It is a great camera that produces outstanding files. It isn’t perfect but no camera is.

I would suggest, as I did in the review, that a few accessories really make using the Leica X Vario more pleasurable. They are:

The Olympus Electronic Viewfinder (VF-2)
The Leica handgrip
The Leica lens hood

The reason I recommend the Olympus EVF is that it is about half the price of the Leica model. Otherwise buy Leica. The handgrip and hood fit perfectly and do their job because they are designed by Leica for their camera. Don’t buy a cheap grip or hood. If you are going to shoot with Leica cameras you might as well accept the fact that it is going to cost money. It is money well spent but money nonetheless.

Soon, I will be posting what I would like to see Leica change when they come out with the next X Vario camera- maybe X Vario 2? Catchy isn’t it? 🙂

Stay tuned!

Leica X Vario Updates- My Second List

When I wrote a few days ago, with my first list of updates to the X Vario I would like to see, I listed three:

1.  Higher shutter speed settings when using Auto ISO.

2.  The ability to set a longer period of time in the menu for Auto LCD off.

3.  Somehow make the silver pad on the back of the camera harder to activate.

Now I have three more things to add.  The great thing is that all of these can be addressed in a firmware update.  I am not asking Leica for another camera, although in the near future I will probably be writing about what I think the next X Vario should be like.

Until then here are my next three suggestions to Leica:

First, give the ability to shoot DNG’s without having to get a Jpeg too.  The reason I didn’t mention this in my first list is that I happen to like this.  I usually shoot the DNG with a super fine B&W Jpeg.  Currently the menu only includes a Jpeg by itself.  It would be nice to have the option to shoot a DNG by itself without an accompanying Jpeg.

Second, I love that there are four user profiles.  As far as I know, there is not a way to name them.  I tend to forget what I have set to each one so some the ability to name them would be very helpful.

Third, currently after taking a picture the screen freezes.  To unfreeze it you have to slightly press the shutter button.  It would be nice if I could move from shot to shot without the screen freezing.

I have been reading a lot on the L-Camera Forum about issues that people have with the X Vario.  One statement said that good DOF is not possible with it.  I disagree and have posted a pic below to show what I consider some really nice DOF.

It was shot with the following settings: ISO 400, f/6.4, 1/640 sec, 46 mm.


Enjoy your weekend,


Leica X Vario Updates- My First List

I wrote earlier that I was going to do an Addendum to my X Vario review so here is the first one.  More may follow as I continue to use my Leica X Vario.  One thing I haven’t used yet is the video part of it.  As I do I will be writing an addendum to share my thoughts about its video capabilities.

After a month of using it I can honest say I really like this camera.  The reactions to the pictures I have taken with it have been incredible.  It does produce some great files that include the “Leica look.”

But, like anything else, it is not perfect. I would like to touch on three things that in my mind need to be changed right away, hopefully with a firmware update.

First is the Auto ISO.  The options for the ISO settings are fine but the options for the shutter speed are too limited: 1/8, 1/15, and 1/30th of a second.  I would at least like to see 1/60th sec added.

Second is the Auto LCD off.  This one is really irritating.  As of now it can be set to 30 seconds or one minute.  That means if you are walking around looking for a shot and don’t take a pic within 60 seconds, which mine is set on, then the LCD or EVF are blank.  This is too short of a time and needs to be expanded to at least five minutes.  I don’t “run and gun” anymore.  I take time to think about, compose and take a shot and many times there is more than 60 seconds between frames.  Leica, please change this!

Third is the silver pad on the back.  I mentioned this in my initial review of the X Vario and it is still an issue.  Even with the grip my palm will barely touch the pad, on occasion, which puts a menu on the LCD or EVF.  When I raise the camera to my eye to look through the EVF I see a menu that I quickly have to get rid of hoping my shot is still there.  I am sure something can be done about this as I know I am not the first one to bring it up.

There are many things I really enjoy using in my life.  My iPad is one of them along with my iPhone and MacBook pro.  They are great inventions but because humans are involved they are not perfect.  The same goes for the X Vario.  A great camera but improvements can be made, hopefully.

I will have more to say in the future.  Stay tuned!

The Leica X Vario- Big Brother or More?

Leica’s newest camera, as of today, is the Leica X Vario.  It was officially introduced on June 11, 2013.  The media campaign for the month before had labeled it as a “Mini M.”  I think even Leica realizes now that was a mistake.  It is not an “M”, it is more like a bigger, better and more versatile “X.”

I don’t think I have seen a more polarizing camera hit the market in the last three years.  On the Leica Forum there have been 2272 comments about this camera, many before it was even released.  After it was released the incredibly adverse reactions to the camera flowed in like water as Leica had promised a “Mini M” but they didn’t deliver.  Honestly, at the time, I had no inclination to purchase this camera as I was more than happy with my current stable of Leica cameras, but I was curious about it.  Why was everyone so upset about the Leica X Vario?

Then the reviews began to surface about “Paula,” which was the codename for this camera.  Reviewers had been using it for months.  As they posted their reviews and pics I became more interested.  The files coming out of this camera were great.  The color was superb and the B&W Jpeg’s were to my liking.  I kept reading and wondering if this was a camera I would use as much as my other Leicas.  A month later I decided to visit my local camera store to check about availability.  They had some still left as it was selling well.  Again, as I posted in my last mini review of the X2, they do not demo new Leica’s.  They want the experience of opening the box and handling the camera to be for the new owner.  I appreciate that but again, as with the X2, I was taking a leap of faith in spending $3000 with the grip for this camera.  Quite a gamble!

I took it home for the unveiling and frankly fell in love.  This camera is more than an X but not quite an M.  Maybe an “X-M?”

When I picked up this camera the first word that came into my mind was, “Quality.”  Leica quality.  This is not a camera that was thrown together in a rush to meet some kind of market demand. This is a camera that is designed and manufactured by Leica and it feels like it.

The body is larger than an X1/2, but not quite the size or weight of my M8.  When you hold it the first thing that stands out is the size of the lens.  Instead of being a fixed lens that opens and closes as the X1/2 it is  a non-interchangeable zoom.  It is large but I like it as it is easier to cradle in my hand than the smaller X’s.  It also happens to be the most talked about thing concerning this camera.

The zoom range is 18-46mm, with the APS-C crop sensor, which works out great for me.  The full frame equivalent is 28-70mm. It is the lack of speed, if you will, that people are complaining about.  It is a 3.5-6.4 lens.  It is not a “fast” lens by any means.  Would I rather it would have been 2.8-5.6 or faster?  Yes, but to  do that Leica may have had to make it larger and certainly the camera would have cost more than the already expensive $2850 MSRP.

The lens itself is very high quality and zooms smoothly.  The image quality is outstanding and is sharp edge to edge.  I am able to compensate for its “slowness” because the high ISO of this camera is much better than the X1/2.  I can easily shoot at ISO 1600 and have pushed it to 6400.  I prefer to keep it at or below ISO 3200 for the most part.

I must mention the outstanding LCD screen.  It is literally night and day compared to the X1/2.  I can actually see what it says in broad daylight.  With the X1/2 I don’t even bother looking as I know I won’t be able to see anything.

The controls on the X Vario are similar to the X1/2 so the learning curve is non-existent.  The knobs on top for shutter speed and aperture feel like those on the X2, meaning they will not turn easily like the knobs on the X1.  I do wish that the shutter release button was metal and threaded for a cable release/soft release.  I use soft releases on all my cameras and was “stuck :-)” using an adhesive Gariz soft release as I do with my other X cameras.

If you have read any other reviews you have heard about the silver pad on the back of the camera being too easy to activate.  Amen to that!  Even with the grip I find my palm pushing against it.  No settings are changed but it is irritating to bring the EVF to my eye and see a menu instead of the scene I am attempting to frame.  Hopefully Leica can do something about this in a firmware update.  It is an irritant.

I have referred to the IQ (image quality) in my previous mini reviews of the X1 and X2.  This camera has that in spades.  I have my camera set to take DNG and B&W Super Fine Jpegs.  Personally, I find the DNG’s to be softer than the ones I get out of my Nikons, but after processing and sharpening in LR5 they look great.  The Jpegs are fantastic, especially the B&W Jpegs.  I use them out of camera for the most part and since buying it haven’t converted one color DNG to B&W.  There is no need to!

So to sum up this user review here are the things that I really like about the Leica X Vario: Build, Image Quality and Ergonomics.

Here is what I would like to see improved: Speed.  I wish it did everything from auto focus to formatting faster.  It is pretty decent but could be better.

I would suggest the following as must have accessories: Grip, EVF (Olympus is cheaper that the Leica) and Lens Hood.

Major irritant: The silver pad on the back.  As much as I try not to press against it, my palm does many times a day.

Of course we must address value: I guess this is subjective.  Real Leica’s are going to cost more money.  That is the way it is.  If you want a Leica, then you have to pay the cost.  I have and don’t regret it at all.  Do I wish it was less expensive?  Of course!

Would I recommend this camera?  YES!  In fact I was in Ace Photo talking to a customer who was thinking about getting one.  After I talked to him he did.  I own five Leica cameras (X1, X2, M6 and M8) plus the X Vario.  I haven’t touched the other four since I purchased the X Vario a month ago.  One of the reasons for that is because I can shoot much closer now with the “macro” setting on the lens.  It is not a true 1 to 1 ratio but it has allowed me to enjoy shooting nature up close more than I can with my other Leica’s.

I did get the opportunity yesterday to use the X Vario for some street photography.  The auto focus worked great and I got some really nice pics.

Hope this review has helped.  If you want to read more in-depth reviews I would suggest Peta Pixel or Steve Huff.  Both do a great job reviewing cameras and lenses.

Below are just a few pics from my new Leica X Vario.  Enjoy!










The Leica X Vario’s Middle Brother- The X2

After owning the Leica X1 for a couple of months my local camera store, Ace Photo, was having their semi-annual sale. I loved the X1’s IQ but was looking for more speed and wondered if the X2, which was introduced in May 2012, could provide that. I had read many reviews about the X2 which indicated that would be the case but hadn’t had an opportunity to demo one. Ace Photo doesn’t demo new Leica cameras as they know Leica customers are particular about opening the Leica box for the first time. They keep them sealed, which I personally appreciate. If I am going to spend money on a Leica, I want to be the first person to open the box and hold the camera.

I sold some equipment I wasn’t using and went to the sale. Yes, they had a black one in stock and I was able to get a discount because of the store wide sale. This was somewhat of a leap of faith as I was looking for a faster camera that was a little more versatile. Did the gamble pay off?

In a word- yes!  The X2 is a faster camera that still has the signature Leica image quality.  It auto-focuses faster and seems to process quicker. It is faster than the X1 but not as fast as an Olympus OM-D. It does have a redesigned flash, which I like better, and the big advantage is that I can use my Olympus VF-2 electronic viewfinder with the X2. On the X1 you can us only an optical viewfinder. This makes a big difference as I no longer have to hold the X2 at arm’s length. I can hold it up to my face like a normal camera. The EVF is sharper and easier to see than the LCD on the back of the camera, which is a disappointment to say the least. I wish, as many others do, that the X2 had a built-in viewfinder but that is not something Leica has chosen to do. As a quick preview, the X Vario doesn’t have one either. 😦

Right after I purchased the X2 I took it to a local street fair held in the downtown area where I live . I wanted to test the auto focus to see if it was fast enough to use instead of the zone focusing I was forced to use on the X1 because its auto focus is so slow. To my delight it worked great and I got some really nice images. The X2 is indeed faster, more versatile and you are still able to purchase one new. It will cost you $2000 unless you can find one on sale. The X1, as I said in my previous review, is no longer available new.

There are faster cameras for less money. I knew about them and still chose to purchase the X2 as I like the way Leicas feel and are laid out. I talked about that in my previous review of the X1. I love the pictures that I get out of my Leica’s too. For me that is the most important thing. If you like the X1 you will love the X2 and there is no learning curve as they are basically laid out the same.

The X2 has the same excellent fixed lens as the X1. I find this more of a challenge when composing my pics. I had to learn to zoom with my feet. If that is not your cup of tea, the next review may be. Up next- the new Leica X Vario.