I have loved Leica cameras since I was in my teens, when it was possible to pick up a 1930s model for a song. That song was specifically £22 in a camera shop in Leeds, where they didn’t seem to know exactly what the slightly worn 3a model in the window was. I used it for years and bought a second-hand car with the proceeds when I sold it. Leicas had already become sought-after by photographers looking not so much for fancy features as for superlative image quality and a modest, refined functionality to help emulate the simple reportage photography of the ultimate Leica user, Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Leica has been making digital models for some years now, but its cameras – both the cheaper versions created in Japan and the ones still produced in Germany – continue to take recognisably Leica pictures. By this, I mean photos that are extraordinarily sharp but not harsh. It’s a look even people who don’t know what a Leica is can appreciate.
In 2009 the brand brought out the X1, a digital that looks a lot like the 1925 Leica 1 and was designed to bring Leica values to travel photographs, street shots and even family pictures. The X1 and its successor, the still current X2, were state-of-the-art but low on modern features such as a zoom lens or video. I like a fixed-focal-length lens, but I only realised the X1 had no video when I was in India and a sight worthy of filming cropped up. I spent a frustrating few minutes cursing the entire German nation for “hiding” the video menu, when in fact the X1 didn’t have one.
This, the utterly sublime and gorgeous new X Vario, addresses both these issues, and is my top choice this year for a Christmas gift. It will delight any Leica fan and swiftly convert anyone who is unfamiliar with the brand. The X Vario has a suitably modest 28mm-70mm zoom and a simple red button you touch to shoot 30-frame-per-second video, which is not only in the most convenient format going (MP4) but also manages to achieve Leica picture quality. It is simply beautiful to watch. The X Vario is a fantastic machine for anyone who appreciates quality. I would recommend buying the electronic viewfinder, though; it spoils the perfection of the camera’s aesthetic a little, but makes using it even more of a pleasure.