Leica X Vario: Automatic White Balance

Automatic White Balance - Is It An Issue or Is It OK? | Side-Step: Half-Pressing the Shutter Release Button | Examples: Similar Sections, Same Focal Length | Examples: Different Sections, Same or Different Focal Length, Sun and Shade... | Examples: Photos that I Find too "Dull" | Examples: Automatic White Balance Versus "Cloudy Weather" and "Shade" White Balance

On this page, I would like to discuss some of the characteristics of the Leica X Vario's automatic white balance (AWB).

Note: The information given here is based on JPEG images and "film preset" (called "film style" in the manual) set to "Standard."

 

Automatic White Balance - Is It An Issue or Is It OK?

Recently, a poster in the dpreview Leica forum praised the Leica X Vario's automatic white balance (AWB), whereas in the same thread another poster admitted that it occasionally gets fooled... Anyway, rather rarely, I encounter AWB issues (or inconsistencies) as well... But I had and still have such issues with other cameras as well. So I am not too worried about these few inconsistencies...

Some Inconsistencies...

Admittedly, it is hard for me to judge in hindsight, whether the colors of a photo are "correct." But since I have the tendency to take two or more photos of a scene, I can, at least, see that photos of the same scene are rendered in noticeably different colors. Typically, I get more grayish (or dull) and more yellow (or warm) versions.

See the first set of examples for illustration.

Inconsistencies between photos increase, however, if the sections differ, be it at the same focal length or at a different one. Particularly, when I take photos of an object at different focal lengths, the colors may be rendered quite differently. I assume that to avoid such inconsistencies, one has to resort to manual white balance. Other cameras show such a behavior as well.

See the second set of examples for these cases.

Dull Colors...

Another characteristic of the Leica X Vario's AWB that worries me a little bit, is that colors get, to my taste, rather dull, as soon as the sun goes away (with some remains of sun or sun sports), or if the sky is overcast. In many cases, sun spots often look more or less white instead of yellow, as they should. Sometimes, the photos seem to consist just of gray and green, often yellow seems to be missing. On the other hand, I do not like the, for my taste, oversaturated photos by some X Vario posters, which are praised as beautiful colors by others.

See the third set of examples for these cases.

Manual White Balance

Because of these "isues," I briefly checked the WB settings for "cloudy weather" and "shade" against AWB to see whether these settings improve matters. I had tried such settings long ago with a DSLR - and got too yellowish photos. So I never used these settings again...

My informal tests revealed that the Leica X Vario has a similar trend, that is, adds a yellow tint to the photos. This is more pronounced for the "shade" setting. Personally, I am torn between the "cloudy weather" and the "automatic" WB settings...

By the way, the X Vario manual explains the "shade" WB setting as follows: for outdoor pictures with the main subject in shadow. Thus, I conclude that this setting is meant for shade on sunny days, which may have a bluer color temperature than an overcast sky.

See the fourth set of examples for these cases.

 

Side-Step: Half-Pressing the Shutter Release Button

Half-pressing the shutter release button fixes the settings for exposure and distance. I often use this technique to adapt exposure to my liking (mostly to underexpose images, but sometimes also to overexpose them compared with what automatic exposure would do). Sometimes, there may also be issues with setting exposure and distance at the same time. For example, when I use the sky to adapt exposure, autofocus may not be able to find a target and signals a red rectangle. For landscape shots, the easiest way to solve this problem is to switch to manual focus (MF) and set the distance to infinity.

Here, I would like to report on a related observation that involves automatic white balance. To make things short: While focus and exposure are fixed when you half-press the shutter release button, automatic white balance is not. I observed this behavior by accident when I was on a vacation in Sweden. I wanted to take a photo of a large tree, but the preview appeared too bright. I therefore raised the camera so that parts of the sky were included and exposure was reduced. I also observed that when I raised the camera the tone of the image appeared much warmer. I would have liked to keep this white balance setting, but when I lowered the camera with half-pressed shutter release button to take the actual shot, the colors became much duller again. I therefore concluded that automatic white balance cannot be stored this way and is set when the shot is actually taken.

The following photos can only illustrate a little bit what I did and hopefully the difference in white balance:

    
I used this section to fix exposure (and distance) - here the white balance is much warmer   This is the actual shot that I took - here the white balance is much duller

 

Examples: Similar Sections, Same Focal Length

Here are examples of AWB inconsistencies in my 2013 photos:

Colder

Warmer

 

Examples: Different Sections, Same or Different Focal Length, Sun and Shade...

Here are examples of AWB inconsistencies in my 2013 photos under the conditions mentioned in the title:

 
Here, the sun goes away, and the AWB selects fairly dull colors for the wheat in the shade - but this may be a matter of taste... (a slight change of the section is also involved)
 
The second photo was taken between the other two. It shows a different section and has a different AWB.
Two shots with different sections and AWB
The stones and trees in the background on the right side of the left photos have a different AWB than when taken from a closer distance (with a different section)
Very different AWB for two different sections of the same motif
What a difference a little more sun can make! There is a little bit of sun on the two upper photos, though...
Different sections indeed, but subjectively I did not see such a difference in color when I took the photos...

 

Examples: Photos that I Find too "Dull"

Of course, for each of the following photos it is a matter of personal taste whether you will find them too "dull" or not. But I just wanted to present the "overall tendency". Many photos look like they are just (gray, and maybe a little brown) and green). Also note that sun spots often look just more or less white instead of yellow, which does not represent what I saw in reality (see the photos at the end of this group, in particular).

 

 

Examples: Automatic White Balance Versus "Cloudy Weather" and "Shade" White Balance

Automatic White Balance - The Sun is Going Away...

 
Introduction: Here, the sun goes away, and the AWB selects fairly dull colors for the wheat in the shade - but this may be a matter of taste... (a slight change of the section is also involved)

Sample Shots AWB Versus "Shade" and "Cloudy Weather" WB

Shady scene, photos taken in the order: AWB (top left), shade WB (top right), cloudy weather WB (bottom left), AWB (bottom right); personally, I prefer cloudy weather WB in this set.
Shady scene II, photos taken in the order: AWB (top left), cloudy weather WB (top right), shade WB (bottom left), AWB (bottom right); personally, I prefer automatic WB, but cloudy weather WB comes closest to the original impression in this set.
Shady scene III, photos taken in the order: AWB (top left; taken earlier that day), shade WB (top right), cloudy weather WB (bottom left), AWB (bottom right); personally, I prefer automatic WB, but cloudy weather WB may be closer to the original impression in this set.

 

Conclusions

All in all, I found that the AWB of the Leica X Vario is very consistent with respect to nearly identical shots, but a little less so for similar sections and for different focal lengths (which also leads to different sections...).

To my taste, the X Vario's AWB renders colors a bit too dull, when the sun goes away. For me, the "shade" WB setting results in photos that look too yellowish. You may use the weaker "cloudy weather" WB setting to achieve warmer colors, but I still find it too warm.

 

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04.04.2015