Fuji X-E1 and Leica X Vario Comparisons - Whole thing in one post

PART 1 - Out of Camera jpgs. and high ISO performance

This is the first part of some comparison tests between the Fuji X-E1, fitted with the 18-55mm and Leica X Vario cameras, with the fixed 18-46mm, looking specifically at image Quality. This first post deals with the difference between out of camera jpgs. with particular regard to high ISO quality.

This was the test subject - tripod mounted, f/8 selected on both lenses.

Below are some comparison enlargements.

There are obviously two different philosophies working here. The Fuji files are clearly less noisy while the Leica files are clearly sharper.

Out of interest I compared the ISO 3200 files again and this time added some significant noise reduction to the Leica file. This is what I got.

Its therefore a case of what works best for you. I shoot very little at high ISO's but I prefer the Leica rendition, as I like to decide what amount of noise reduction to apply and its easier to noise reduce an OOC jpg. than sharpen it. 

The two original ISO 3200 files are available for download HERE from Google Drive.

Part 2 - Sharpness at base ISO 

This is a comparison test between the Fuji X-E1 + 18-55mm and Leica X Vario (We don't seem to be getting away from X being used in camera names anytime soon!) + 18-46mm. Both shot at the respective cameras base ISO, Fuji = ISO 200, Leica = ISO 100. Since the Leica lens has come in for some criticism (and thats being polite!) for its 'slowness', I deliberately chose the Leicas wide open apertures. f/3.5 for 18mm and the dreadful, awful, sending Leica into bankrupcy any moment, unbelievably, appallingly slow aperture of f/6.4. Incidentally only 1/3 stop slower than f/5.6, the normal widest aperture at the end of a kit zoom, but there you go. f/3.5 to f/5.6, sound familiar? f/3.5 to f/6.4 shock!! horror!! how could they!! Its the end of civilisation as we know it!!

So here are the comparison enlargements. Identical settings as ever, plus I've taken the opportunity to add some of the amazing new Smart Sharpen in Photoshop. 

Firstly at 18mm.

Now at 70mm. BE WARNED - f/6.4 alert!!!

So 'Fuji is the new Leica' is it? Not yet I fear. Close but no cigar.

Part 3 - Upsizing and the 'mush' issue.
Since its now possible to upsize files dramatically in Photoshop CC, I decided to see how both camera lens combinations files looked when enlarged to the equivalent of a 36MP file.

As you can see, pretty impressive results from both.

However the 'mush' 'watercolour effect' with the Fuji X Trans sensors, though greatly improved, is still an issue in Photoshop, which obviously has to be used if any upsizing of this kind is required.

Here is how that looked.

These are enlargements from the two combinations at their normal size - 16MP

And below, both upsized to 36MP.

The Leica is slightly better at sorting out the diiferent shades of green and leaf detail in what is a very complex image. However it is only visible at these huge magnifications, but it is worth pointing out that the more sharpening is applied to a Fuji X file the worse it gets. The differences between the cameras will be impossible to spot in any 'real world' publication, either print or electronic.
Overall I think Its probably more important to state yet again just what this new Photoshop feature is capable of. In all these enlargements, the usual noise and artefacts just aren't there.

Part 4 - What does this all mean - Conclusion.

These tests were undertaken to check on the image quality that both cameras can produce and nothing else. Operational ease, handling, functions, specifications etc. and especially price, are something else, and since that is very much a personal issue and dependent on what you photograph, and of course how much money you have in your bank account, I'm not really going to go into that in any depth. 

It seems, from the tests I shot, that the Leica has slightly better IQ overall than the Fuji, though it is very close. The OOC jpgs. are obviously approached in a different way, but from my comparisons it seems that adding some noise reduction to the Leica files means that high ISO performance is virtually identical, and in both cases, top class. As I said in that post, I prefer to do it the Leica way, but thats my personal choice. The Fuji has more NR applied as a matter of course and the Leica pretty much 'Lets it all hang out'. So different strokes etc. 

One thing I haven't mentioned before, but has been obvious throughout, is that the Leica produces much punchier images, both jpg. and raw, in terms of contrast and colour saturation. The Fuji has a reputation for eye-popping images, but next to the Leica its almost dull by comparison. 

Both are fine cameras, but then I wouldn't buy a lousy one would I? Both work very well in any photographic situation that doesn't require fast operation and picture gathering. Both will produce images capable of the most demanding of reproduction needs and like all cameras over a certain price these days, image quality variations are minimal.

However, the Leica is the real thing to me, whereas the Fuji is still a wannabee and the boys and girls at Solms have their noses in front fo image quality as far as the ultimate rangefinder mirrorless copy clone is concerned, though it has to be said, not by much.

So having consistently described the Fuji X-Trans sensor as the best image quality, taking everything into consideration (raw, jpgs, high ISO, sharpness, colour etc.) that I've ever used, it seems I'm now going to have to change that. The Leica X Vario now officially, here at Planet Soundimageplus at least, is the producer of the best IQ overall, that I have ever seen in a camera I own. Its taken me pretty much all day to come to that conclusion, but its been an enjoyable and informative process.

Time for tea.