Let’s be completely honest – other than style, leather half-cases for mirrorless cameras serve just about no purpose. It really is all about style – not protection, not ergonomic improvement, none of that. Any change in those areas is, more often than not, unintentional. A side effect. So, when talking about such an accessory, what matters most is design and quality of the product. One is only ever going to pay good money for an accessory that’s not actually that practical or sensible to own if it looks great and is made with utmost precision. Gariz, a small Korean camera accessory manufacturer few have even heard of, has its hands full, so to speak.
The usual disclaimer: this leather half-case by Gariz was sent to me free of charge specifically for reviewing purposes. However, neither the manufacturer nor the retailer, LoveCases.co.uk, has any effect on my impressions. As ever, my words are my own. It is also worth noting that this particular leather half-case by Gariz was originally designed for Fujifilm X-E1. While it does fit X-E2 just about as well unless you know to look for minor imperfections, there is a separate and slightly different model intended for the X-E2. It has different colours, slightly different design and leather treatment. This review represent this specific case and some of the manufacturer’s core goals (hopefully), not all of Gariz products.
The saying may be a cliché, but looks truly are in the eye of the beholder. I could rave about this brown leather Gariz half-case for three paragraphs, but if it does not click for you, it does not click for you. Likewise, I could criticize the hell out of it, and it would mean absolutely nothing if you liked it. In this particular case, it’s not even the question of one’s sophistication (speaking of, I am not too bright about design, though I do wish I was), since the case is in no way offensively ugly. It really is a matter of taste. Bear that in mind while reading what I have to say next.
My version of the case is brown, or what Gariz perceives as brown. It’s not that classic tan leather so reminiscent of the 35mm rangefinder cameras of old, mind you. It is dark and actually has a little bit or red shade to it in certain light. In a poorly lit environment, it appears to be even darker. It does look brilliant with both black and silver version of the camera, though. Classy and sophisticated, it certainly does not ruin the look of the camera.
The leather itself is quite reflective, somewhere between matte and polished. This is part of the reason why it looks so classy. On the other hand, any scratches will instantly be visible should you manage to damage the otherwise thick and strong leather. I have a feeling this case might not age too well. While that remains to be seen (I may be very wrong, I’ve only used it for a few months and with plenty of care), I don’t think it would ever be a real issue, though. Digital cameras in general are quite temporary, so the case only has to last as long as the camera. Now, whether you would prefer such leather treatment over a more organic look is very personal. I do like that it has not been aged on purpose, it’s more honest that way and gels well with the also sterile and “polished” digital photography.
The design of the case itself is fairly simple, at least at first glance. Lots of very easy-on-the-eye lines that not only compliment and mirror those of the camera itself, but are also slightly emphasized by the contrast stitching. Unfortunately, the stitching is not as even as the glossy-ish, neat leather demands – slightly more matte, less sterile finish permits some characterful sloppiness suggesting the product is hand-made, imperfect and all the better for it. Current choice of leather does demand perfection, though. Don’t get me wrong, it is by no means poorly done. Just not quite perfect. That reflective leather is a bit too neat and turns slight characterful sloppiness into slight just-sloppiness. I feel I should mention I am being very picky here, but such behavior on my part should be understood as a compliment to Gariz. Overall, see, I was very pleasantly surprised by the design. It looks better “in the metal” than it does in these product shots, too, and even the logo does not ruin the overall positive impression.
Having said that, there are a couple of aspects that raised a question mark or two for me. With one caveat, more on which later, Gariz was obviously going for a very simple look. There is not that much to catch the eye on the case, no weird angles or lines, and that simplicity is what makes the case gorgeous. And yet they compromised in one particular area for pretty much no reason – left a small cutaway where the USB port cover is, presumably to make it more accessible. So they broke what would have otherwise been a straight line in order to give your fingers access to the hinge… which you still can’t actually open with the case on, unless you start man-handling it. In other words – that little “chicane” is perhaps unnecessary from design standpoint, and useless from a practical one. On the other hand, you might argue it adds a certain kink, a place for the eye to linger.
Now, about that caveat. The base of the case – the bit with the tripod socket – is all covered in metal. It is not immediately apparent from the product shots that I took, but it’s polished metal. So much so, in fact, that in case of a makeup emergency, my better half could just about use it as a mirror. It’s really, really flashy if it happens to catch some light. I am fairly confident no one has ever said this sentence before, but this is a leather half-case with bling. It also happens to actually work, and that I am absolutely staggered by. I really, really like it, and that is with me not being someone who is into chrome details. That contrast between organic leather and cold, reflective surface of the metal is, in my opinion, spot on. The fact I did not expect to see such a duo makes it even more intriguing. This is the real kink and, in my opinion, works better than if the base was covered with leather. Makes me think how a wooden base would look like… Or am I that thick when it comes to design? It might just be, for I would not at all be surprised if you thought it was a brash choice by Gariz, and one that does not go with the stylish, classic look of the camera. Either way, it is a bold choice and one I admire.
Let me not waste your time and just say this – overall, the quality of the case is very. The first time I put it on the camera – it screws right into the tripod socket – I remember admiring how snug it was. Nothing moves, as soon as you tighten it up, it feels almost as if the case is part of the camera. The leather is sufficiently soft yet also seems to be quite hard-wearing, unless you try and damage it with something sharp. I also noticed how well the two parts – the leather half-case and the metal base – are matched together. No significant gaps, nothing. Still, I would prefer the metal sheet to be somewhat thicker. Also, the plastic that the metal is glued to is actually visible and not of the highest quality. For a truly premium product, the whole base ought to be comprised of a thick sheet of brass or aluminium, but corners have been cut here. There is also one other issue. Take a look at the following product shot, right where the tripod socket is:
See the gap? That slight defect is really the only issue with my particular copy of the case. It has no effect on the ruggedness of the tripod socket, everything feels tight and secure, but there is no arguing the defect is there. When I contacted LoveCases about this, I was told that, generally, Gariz products are of very high quality and they did not stumble upon issues such as this one before. I really hope that’s true, because everything else is just that well executed. I can only assume Gariz has not perfected the manufacturing process. Objectively, I can’t make any judgement, though. This is the only Gariz case I’ve ever held in my hands, and one sample is not really good enough to make any sort of definite conclusions.
Other than that, you might argue that the polished metal plate is prone to scratches, which is true to an extent. Mine remains largely scratch-free, but then I handle that Fujifilm with considerable care in general. Oh, and the one giveaway that the case was originally designed for X-E1 and not X-E2 is where the case makes its way around the bottom of the LCD screen and “climbs” on top of it ever so slightly – the screen of the X-E1 is smaller than the one on my camera.
So, Are There Ergonomic Improvements?
At the beginning of the article, I mentioned that any ergonomic changes are more of a side effect than an intention by the designer. So let me talk about the side effects a little bit. First of all, the case ads around half a centimeter to the height of the camera. Those with larger hands will appreciate it since, all of a sudden, there’s more of the surface to hold onto securely. The same goes for the added thickness, too. It is not a huge improvement, but holding the camera with the case attached is a bit more comfortable. There is a downside to the increased height, though. Because the case is quite lightweight and that bottom plate thin, attaching it to the camera means the weight center shifts upwards. Not a problem if you put a small prime lens on the camera, but with my XF 23mm f/1.4R, the camera leans forwards where without the case the bottom of the lens was pretty level with the bottom of the camera. Placing the camera on a flat, hard surface requires a little bit of care now. If the bottom plate was from thicker, heavier brass, the center of weight would be lower. Minor issue, but still there.
There are only a couple more niggles. As I mentioned, the port cover can not be opened with the case attached. If you tend to connect your camera to the computer using a USB cord rather than just take out the memory card to transfer images, you will need to detach the half-case each time. If, however, you prefer to just plug the SD card into a reader, Gariz has left a neat access to the memory card/battery door. However, I still need to unscrew the case by a quarter of a turn in order to be able to open the battery cover since otherwise, the screw handle blocks it. More than that, taking the memory card out is not an easy task with the case attached, it’s just that cramped. Oh, and speaking of the screw handle, it is actually a hook that can be used with “gunshot” straps.
It does not matter what a design-led company does – electronics, cars, clothes or accessories. It’s a competitive market that does not easily accept newcomers. We all know Bowers & Wilkins, Braun, Audi, Apple, Zagato. Zeiss has always been good with design, too, as is Leica and Hasselblad. But I can think of rather few new companies, regardless of what they do. SOL Republic springs to mind with those distinctively simplistic headphones. Côte&Ciel is also one of those few who managed to crack both style and quality whilst finding their own, distinctive language. Other than that… My lack of education and research in the area shows here, of course, but even with that in mind, newcomers don’t have it easy.
Gariz is such a newcomer, but it’s not that pretentious. Stylish camera accessories is not the same as cars or clothes. There aren’t all that many companies that focus on such things, and of those that do, most think about the practical side of things rather than looks. And so Gariz finds itself in a rather comfortable spot so far. There’s not much competition here – the most obvious alternative to this particular leather half-case, for example, is one produced by Fujifilm, and while there are other manufacturer that do stylish cases – such as Black Label Bag or Artisan & Artist – they don’t have models for the Fujifilm X-E1/X-E2. That does not mean Gariz will have it easy, though. For at £55 (around $83, available in brown and black at LoveCases.co.uk), it is fractionally more expensive than Fujifilm’s own half-case which also comes with a strap. So it better be good…
And it is. Not only is it well made and feels suitably premium down to the packaging (a good indication of how quality- and design-obsessed the manufacturer is), but it is also very good looking. In fact, I like it more than Fujifilm’s brand case. The leather is great, the lines well sorted, the colour complimenting and the reflective metal base adds some unexpected intrigue. Well done, Gariz.
As often is the case with small camera accessory manufacturers, you can’t actually find their products on B&H, for example. The only option you will find there for this Fujifilm model is the brand case, there are no alternatives. And so smaller retailers are the ones to hold such surprising products. Not that it’s a bad thing in any way. In fact, the big guys are very much missing out.
My Gariz leather half-case came from LoveCases.co.uk, as I have already mentioned. You can order yourself a copy by clicking here. There is also a black leather version which I don’t like quite as much, but you might. Lastly, if you are interested by the manufacturer but own a different camera, take a look at this page and see if Gariz has a case for your equipment.
Gariz Leather Half-Case for Fujifilm X-E1/X-E2
- Build Quality
- Size and Weight
- Packaging and Manual
- Ease of Use
Photography Life Overall Rating