Leica X Vario: Functional Issues

Image Rotation | Manual Focus Assist | Auto Review | Viewfinder Peculiarities | Auto ISO Settings | Auto ISO Display | Automatic White Balance? | Conclusions | Addendum: What Other Users Say... | References

While I like my Leica X Vario, it also has a number of functional issues or, in my opinion, deficits that need improvement. I list and discuss these on this and on related pages. Hopefully, most of the issues can be resolved in the future...

Note: I added comments with regard to firmware update version 1.1 (15 September, 2014). See page Firmware for details.

Overview

I discuss the following functional issues (or non-issues...):

Notes

 

Image Rotation

A number of posters in the Leica forums bemoaned that image rotation works somewhat erratically on the Leica X Vario. Typically, images are not rotated automatically that should be rotated. I do not know why this happens, but I have observed this issue myself often enough to wonder about it.

This issue is not a "deal breaker", but Leica should take a closer look at it.

 

Manual Focus Assist

There are two things with the manual focus assist that need, in my opinion improvement.

Firstly, the time interval (2-3 seconds according to my measurement; 5 seconds according to the manual), in which the magnified section is displayed, is too short for me - it is NEVER sufficient for me to set the focus properly. Usually, it is displayed whenever you change the focal length with the manual focus ring.

This is typically OK when the target object is farther away. For close-up shots, however, I change my focusing strategy: First, I set roughly the correct distance with the focus ring, and then I fine-tune the distance by moving the camera. This takes longer, also because I cannot hold the camera steadily, and typically the magnified section disappears before the target object is in focus. Usually, I have to press the DELETE/FOCUS button several times before I am done. As a result, and also because of the poor image quality of the magnified section (see below), I tend to focus without magnification, which is possible for me with the electronic viewfinder of the X Vario.

Suggestion for improvement: Why not display the magnified section as long as the DELETE/FOCUS button is being pressed? Alternatively one might set this button as a toggle so that a second button press would cancel the display of the magnified section.

Secondly, the image quality of the magnified section is poor. When I handed the camera over to a colleague, he immediately criticized screen magnification as unusable (that is, too fuzzy). I would not subscribe to this, but I also find that the magnified image is too fuzzy and therefore tend to do without magnification (or focus assist) when focusing manually.

Suggestion for improvement: From my Ricoh GXR, I know that when a section of the screen is magnified, there seems to be a difference between displaying the magnified section fullscreen or as a section within its context, as Leica does. In the second case, image quality is much poorer than in the first case on the Ricoh. Perhaps, this trade-off is also valid for Leica and Leica should consider displaying the magnified section fullscreen - or at least offer a choice between the two as Ricoh does.

 

Auto Review

I observed a bug and a few quirks related to automatic review (called "Auto Review" in the manual and menu).

Not that "Auto Review" has several options that you can select in the menu: Off, 1 Second, 3 Seconds, 5 Seconds, Hold, Zoom. These are not listed in the manual and therefore not explained there. Here is my short extension to the manual:

Note that you can cancel the review image by half-pressing the shutter button (this feature is not well known among X Vario users). Also note that in the "Zoom" setting, the magnified section is, in contrast to manual focus assist, displayed fullscreen.

This is, at least, what I expect "Auto Review" to do. Here is what it does in reality:

*) When I press the shutter release button before the review time has ended (or to end it when using the "HOLD" option), I see, after a brief delay, the live view again. However, when I release the shutter button, the image often freezes again for a short moment in the seconds range (longer for RAW files, shorter for JPEG-only files). Initially, I assumed that the freezes were related to insufficient processing power of the Leica X Vario's CPU. A poster in the l-camera-forum, however, pointed out that the freezes (he had none...) may be due to too slow SD cards. I therefore checked different cards that I own and did not find dramatic differences between the cards (these are actually are hard to tell).

More obvious was, however, that the duration of the freeze depended on how fast I cancelled the preview. When I cancelled it immediately (as possible...), the freeze took longer, when I waited a second or so, it was shorter, and when I waited about 5 seconds or so, there was just a very brief freeze of the display (there seems always to be a very brief freeze, when the shutter button is released after canceling the preview).

What does this tell us? I assume that the live view freeze is caused by the process of writing the image to the card. If the image has already been written to the card when the shutter button is released, the freeze is just a short blink, maybe caused by some camera-internal processes, for example, the view switching. All in all, the live view freezes cannot be regarded as a bug, but they might potentially be reduced or eliminated through better programming.

 

Viewfinder Peculiarities

Note: The following is valid for the electronic viewfinder (EVF) as well as for the LCD screen.

In the Ricoh GXR section, I write about Sean Reid's observation that the lens is not always set to maximum aperture during focusing, making particularly manual focusing difficult. Reid reported this issue also for the Leica X1, but I have not yet investigated this any further for the Leica X Vario.

Here, I would like to present another issue. On practically all digital cameras that I have owned, the electronic viewfinder was of great help for me in judging the correct exposure of a photo to be taken. In hindsight, I may have forgotten that this required some training, but overall, I had few issues in this respect. However, when I switched to DSLRs with optical viewfinders, my problems began... Here the viewfinder offers a bright image that is perfect for focusing, but there is no indication of whether a photo will be/was exposed properly. To find this out, you have to view the image afterwards on the LCD screen. This is cumbersome, and I have to admit that I regularly forgot to check exposure after I had taken a photo. As a result, there were a lot of incorrectly exposed photos - and there were no variants where I had tried to improve exposure, because I was not aware of an issue...

After I sold my DSLR gear and bought the Ricoh GXR, I regained the feature of being able to judge exposure, including the short preview after I had taken a photo. In addition, when I compensate exposure, the viewfinder provides a reliable impression of the compensation effect.

To make a long story short, with my X Vario, this has changed. For me, the image in the viewfinder is no longer a reliable basis for judging exposure. Typically, it is too bright under low light conditions, such as in a dark church. The automatic review image also seems to be too bright.

Sometimes, I set the camera to underexposure, only to learn that it did indeed expose the image perfectly (or at least better than expected) with normal exposure. When I took photos in a Swedish church, I was so confused by this phenomenon that I decided to use exposure bracketing - resulting in having three images to choose from, instead of one...

When I set the camera to underexposure, the image in the viewfinder gets considerably darker than I would expect for 1/3 or 2/3 of an f-stop. I played around with exposure compensation and found out that even a slight overexposure leads to too dark images in the viewfinder. The brightness difference between EV0 and EV -0.3 is striking and grows with stronger underexposure. In the direction of overexposure, the behavior is different. At first the viewfinder image is indeed brighter, but within a second is dims again. Only an overexposure of about an f-stop (EV +1.0 or EV +1.3) leads to the same brightness as the viewfinder shows with no exposure compensation. All this behavior may have a reason, but for me it is definitely confusing...

 

Auto ISO Settings

In the menu, there is the option "Auto ISO Settings" which offers two submenus with the following, undocumented options:

Many users were unsatisfied with the slowest shutter speed and wanted that it can be extended to shorter speeds (I was told by user barjohn that the Leica T allows a range from 1 sec to 1/4000 sec). Thus, while I would not call this item an issue, there is a demand for shorter slowest shutter speed with Auto ISO, which could easily be satisfied in a forthcoming firmware update.

Update

With firmware update 1.1 (15 September, 2014), the following options are available:

The "Auto" setting for the slowest shutter speed is not documented by Leica. I assumed that, for this setting, the slowest shutter speed depends on the focal length that has been set for the camera and was able to confirm this (28 mm: 1/30 s, 35 mm: 1/40 s, 50 mm: 1/50 s, 70 mm: 1/80 s; in the middle between 50 mm and 70 mm, I got 1/60 s).

 

Auto ISO Display

As mentioned by barjohn in several posts in the l-camera-forum, when using Auto ISO it would be desirable that the ISO value, which the camera is going to select, is displayed*. Of course, this is only possible after you half-pressed the shutter button or a measurement has been taken otherwise. The automatically selected ISO value is useful information. If it is too high, you may want to set a lower ISO value manually.

Should I mention the following? Of course, my Ricoh GXR and GR can do this...

*) When you set Auto ISO, no ISO value is displayed ("full" information display mode). The automatically selected value can therefore be displayed in the position where the manually set ISO value is displayed:

    

Figure: The automatically selected ISO value could be displayed in the position where the manually selected ISO value is displayed (left). A different color, such as yellow, could indicate that this is an Auto ISO value (right).

 

Automatic White Balance?

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. So, opinions seem to be divided.

From time to time, I encounter AWB inconsistencies. But I had and still have such issues with other cameras as well. So I am not too worried about these few inconsistencies and do not list them under the topic of "issues."

What worries me a little bit, however, is the fact that under certain conditions (shade, little sun, some sun spots), AWB delivers photos that appear rather "dull" to me. Sometimes, they 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.

Sun spots are often rendered more or less white
White balance can change dramatically when whe sun goes away

I also observed that the X Vario's JPG output is much "duller" than its DNG output (with default processing). Since I rarely use the DNG format, I cannot tell much about this phenomenon, which has also mentioned by posters in the forums.

You can see examples that demonstrate some AWB characteristics and inconsistencies on page Automatic White Balance.

 

Conclusions

There are definitely a number of issues with the Leica X Vario, which has been on the market since about May 2013, and these should have been addressed with firmware updates. Such an update has been rumored (for example, by XVarior) at least since the beginning of 2014. Eventually, a firmware update version 1.1 appeared on 15 September, 2014, but internal data suggest that it originates from February 2014 and was withheld for severl months.

In my opinion, this update improved only a few items, with the use of the INFO button for confirming settings being the most important one for me. I supply information about this and forthcoming(?) firmware updates on page Firmware.

Since not much has happened with respect to camera issues, here is still my original list of things that should be done and things that were nice to have in firmware updates for the Leica X Vario (and also regarding design/hardware changes). In the list below, I indicate which things were already addressed with firmware update 1.1.

Must

Should

Nice to Have

Nice To Have Hardware (Design) Changes

 

Addendum: What Other Users Say...

I am not the only Leica X Vario user who believes that there is room for improvement on the functional (that is, firmware) side. Typical complaints and/or suggestions for improvement refer to:

In the following, I would like to present as an example what barjohn posted in the l-camera-forum. He had the following gripes with his Leica X Vario:

So, some of his complaints are already on my and other users' list, while others aren't...

P. S.: If I should stumble over the respective references in the future, I will add these here.

 

References

 

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25.07.2015