Leica X Vario.
So, what photographer in their right mind pays $2850 for a compact camera with no viewfinder? Probably the same type of person who buys a Sony RX1 (also with no viewfinder...). This is the kind of camera offering that will drive the rank and file camera buyers nuts because it's hard to quantify within the various niches of the photo gear world.
I'm going to give Leica the benefit of the doubt on three fronts. I'm going to presume that they've created a simplified and straightforward menu system for the camera just as they've done for the full fledged M cameras. I'll presume that they've sourced a really good 16+ megapixel sensor that's perfectly optimized for the lens system and I'll assume that the lens system (while afflicted with very pedestrian maximum apertures) is sharp and contrasty and wonderfully embue'd with luscious micro contrast over it's entire range.
But since it's a contrast detect AF system I'll have to guess that the focusing speed is less than stellar and that continuous auto focus is nearly non-existent, no matter what the comical brochure they've produced says.
If I decided to buy this camera I'm sure all of you would know that my very next purchase would be an EVF (plug is there for the accessory) finder but before I plunked hard for the Leica version of the Olympus version of the Epson technology I would want to test the new Olympus VF-4 to see if it worked with the camera at half the price. If that was a "no-go" I'd pick up a VF-2 for around $200 and work with that.
The Leica brochure of this model shows lots of studio shots with studio lighting being used. There is one particularly campy image that shows a photographer straddling a model, who is lying on the ground, and the photographer is pointing the camera at the model's face. Tacky shades of the movie, "Blow Up." I can't imagine that this camera would be the first choice of a studio fashion or portrait photographer. The lens' maximum focal length isn't long enough and the handling, without an EVF would be atrocious for studio work illuminated by modeling lights. I'm sure that the camera would produce the same kind of image a Nikon or Canon would make with a similar lens attached because the positive effects of the studio lighting would mask most quality differences and, if we compared them all at the Leica's maximum telephoto aperture of f6.3, they'd all be operating in the sweet spot of their designs.
I still believe in the West German fairy tale of the last 2% of production perfection so something inside me says that if all three brands were shot side by side and all the images were blown up large and printed that the Leica would out art the other two. More micro contrast? Maybe. Maybe just better color. But that's my prejudice from the times in the past when the differences were demonstrable.
So, if the Leica X Vario isn't for commercial studio photographers then who is it really for? I'd wager to say that there are some artists/photographs who routinely work in good light and in the provided focal range who will buy the camera because, in the category is may provide the ultimate image quality. Think of a small camera version of Andreas Gursky for whom more depth of field is nearly always better and who has a slow and deliberate working methodology. This might be a good camera for the diminished "Gursky" effect.
If I never needed to sell an image and I wanted a beautifully designed and relatively burden-less camera to carry everywhere, and if I had unlimited funds for eccentric gear acquisitions I would probably pre-order one right now.
But suppose I'm not being kind enough to the camera. imagine if the lens is the "second coming" of zoom lenses and every image is special and marvelous. I mean really marvelous in the same way that the 90mm Apo Summicron was when compared to just about any lens on the market when it was first launched. What if the lens is as good as the Leica R 28-90mm lens that is currently fetching $6000+ from photographers in the know who are converting for use on Canon 5Dmk3's and other cameras whose optics don't quite reach the same stellar heights? Nikon, Canon and Sony Alpha users are currently tossing down $2,000+ for big, fat zooms in the same range and Canon is pushing the price up into the $2500 arena. If the performance of the Leica is demonstrably better...or just as good...but you also get a body for just a couple hundred dollars more, is that a convincing argument?
I guess the target buyer is someone who wants a small camera with very high imaging performance, has no interest in conventional sports photography (and I'm in that particular camp) and doesn't mind paying a higher price for better performance from a camera with a simpler interface but fewer bells and whistles. Just like the purchaser of a Sony RX1 with the exception being that the Leica buyer understands the value of additional focal lengths.
I personally think that Leica blew one part of this camera. I think people would be more motivated to buy it if the camera had a built in EVF. Or, if the accessory EVF was included in the purchase price. Most savvy buyers understand that the slow max. aperture is part of a size and weight trade off and I'm sure many are okay with that.
The real question is would you rather have this combination of features and compromises or, for less than half the price, the same basic camera in a Fuji EX1? I haven't held the X Vario but I'm thinking the EX1 might be the front runner. It has the one missing feature that the Leica does not: It's a high IQ camera but with a price that most of us can afford...