First off a big thanks to Saul Frank and the nice people at Camera Electronic who very kindly awarded me a Leica D-Lux Type 109 in a recent in store competition.
For many years Leica aficionados have talked about the “Leica look”. They weren’t talking about the design of the camera, but the way Leica lenses render an image. Many would say that they can look at a photo and tell whether it was taken with a Leica or not. Non Leica users scoff at this and generally accuse Leica owners of being people with more money than sense and with no knowledge of photography. Roger Hicks, the noted English photographic author, once attributed the Leica look to older Leica lenses, film with no anti-halation layer, and over exposure. This allowed soft light to reflected from behind the film and cause bright edges in the image. So that brings us to modern digital Leicas and in the case of the D-Lux those that are built by Panasonic. Do they exhibit the “Leica look”? I think the answer is emphatically no! Modern lenses, even those made by Leica, are inherently more contrasty and digital sensors behave in a completely different way to film.
So lets talk about the D-Lux, or should I say the Panasonic Lumix LX100? It’s not the first time Leica have re-branded a Panasonic model. The Panasonic Lumix LX5, which I own and have sung the virtues of on this blog, was marketed by Leica as the D-Lux5 and there were many others before that. So what does paying the Leica tax get you over the Panasonic? Leica say they have had the firmware tweaked to their specification and that differentiates it from the LX 100. Both cameras have a Leica DC Vario-Summilux 10.9–34 mm f/1.7–2.8 ASPH zoom lens which gives a 35mm equivalent of a 24-75mm lens. I doubt very much that the lenses are made by Leica, it is more likely that Panasonic have licensed the Leica name in the same way that Sony have with Zeiss. The only thing that really differentiates them is the design of the outer shell. The Panasonic has a grip and a faux leatherette covering while the Leica is smooth with no grip. I’d have to say I prefer the look of the Leica, it is to my eye a very sexy looking beast. The only thing that lets it down to my mind is that the shell is plastic, and although the body has a very pleasing heft it feels disappointing not to have the cool feel of a metal shell. Technically the camera is a m4/3 camera with a 16Mp 17.3 mm × 13.0 mm sensor, but the reality is that the camera uses a smaller portion. This has enabled the manufacturer to provide a fast zoom lens in a small size and the image circle created by the lens is smaller than the sensor. The upshot is that you get a multi format camera (4:3, 3;2, 1:1 and 16:9) with a good fast lens. The down side is that you only get 12Mp out of a 16Mp sensor which means even at base ISO of 200 grain is apparent. Having said that thanks to the lens the image quality is good enough for an A3+ (13″ x 19″ or 329mm x 483mm) print which is great for a compact camera. The lens has some corrections applied in camera and is distortion free and suffers from minimal chromatic aberration. I only shoot RAW so can’t comment on the jpgs.
Video quality is very very good. The camera shoots 4K video at 25p 100Mbps and HD at 50p 28Mbps, but specs aren’t everything. For example my phone can shoot 4K video but it is horrible looking and very brittle when processing. The D-Lux gives you a good file that will stand some post processing. I’ve really enjoyed shooting movies and time-lapse sequences with the camera. This is where the DNA proves Panasonic’s paternity. There are only two things that lets it down. First is sound – there is no mic input. With this small feature added the camera would really rock as discrete video cam. Second some form of built in ND filter would really make the camera perfect enabling lovely wide open shots possible in bright sunlight. The wide shots in the video below were shot with the D-Lux.
So to sum up. This was a prize that I won, not a purchase. To be honest if it were my money I would have bought the Panasonic LX100 which is over $500 AUD cheaper. Leica try to talk you up by saying their version thanks to its Leica firmware produces better images and they throw in a copy of Adobe Lightroom. But honestly Lightroom is less than $200 and if you shoot RAW you can get the look you want easily enough. I found the body too smooth and sprung for the accessory grip which made life a lot better. The EVF ain’t crash hot – it is a field sequential LCD which means that it is subject to tearing with moving subjects or moving your eye around the viewfinder. This doesn’t bother some people as much as others, but it may be a deal killer. There’s no floppy touch screen and no mic input. On the plus side the camera is responsive produces good stills, very good video and is compact enough that it can be taken anywhere. When I got the camera I initially thought I’d use it for a few days and then sell it on Ebay. Instead I’ve had so much fun with it I’ve decided to keep it.
UPDATE Well I wrote this before Photokina, the big camera industry trade show in Cologne, Germany. I was hoping for a new updated model from either Leica or Panasonic to be announced with some of the changes I’ve talked about. Panasonic announced the launch of the LX10/LX15 (depending on which region you live in) camera. There are some worthy upgrades in the form of a tilt touch screen, an improved image stabilisation system, increase in MP to 20 and Panasonic’s very spiffy 4K photo mode which allows users to record video at 4K 30fps and extract stills from the clip. But the downsides are the loss of the viewfinder and the smaller sensor.