Review – Leica D-Lux3 – Updated
I just spent the weekend on the road – 4 days away on business and I took a point and shoot camera this time. My carry-everywhere camera is a Leica D-Lux 3 and this was the first chance I’ve had time to really shoot with it and offer an opinion on it.
First Impressions. Like all Leicas the build and design is gorgeous. Trim, sleek, and black on the outside it feels solid and well crafted. The dials and buttons feel right and solid, and the screen is big and bright. There’s a trade-off involved in a small camera you own to take wherever you go – you want something small and in so getting you end up with a camera that feels a little, well, small in the hands. Being used to a Canon 5D with grip, and pro lenses, I am accustomed to carrying about 6 pounds. This little guy feels tiny in comparison, but after a long walk this weekend it began to feel “just right”
The screen is large and bright and while it takes some time getting used to shooting without a viewfinder, the screen does it’s job well and there’s a Power LCD setting that cranks the brightness up several notches for use outside. There are several options in terms of what kind of information gets displayed in the viewfinder – from nothing to everything, and my favourite – a grid which divides the screen into thirds, creating a rule-of-thirds composition aid.
The settings and options are all readily accesible through an easily intuited menu and while I suspect I won’t use half of them, I like that I never have to guess about where to find something as was the case with my Canon Powershot. On the subject of features, I was thrilled to find that the D-Lux3 allows you to set a Home time/date and a Travel Time/Date, along with the option of setting when that travel will occur so it automatically switches time and date for you if you’ve put a little forethought into it. Your time/date metadata may never require translating and second-guessing again.
Where this camera really shines for me is in the manual settings. They are fast and simple (if not completely intuitive at first) and accompanied by a real-time histogram and exposure preview (possible because of the electronic screen) it allows me to get bang on exposures the first time. It’s no M-series Leica but it still feels wonderful to be able to be able to shoot fully manually (exposure only – focus can be racked manually but it’s a little harder with the screen and the way that’s accomplished feels a little contrived and clumbsy)
The optics are great – typical Leica – though to be honest I’ve yet to really look at the images with the kind of detail I’d need to really speak with authority on that.
The D-Lux 3 is a 10 megapixel camera, but only when shooting at the 16:9 ratio. 4:3 or 3:2 ratios are proportionately smaller. It must also be remembered that this is still a point and shoot and the sensor is small, so it’s noisier than DSLRs at higher ISOs. And by higher I mean past 200. This has been the sticking point of several reviews which I think unfairly expect this little Leica’s sensor to do the same job as that of a 5D; hardly a realistic expectation.
I also love the colour modes which allow you to shoot in B/W or Sepia, Colour:Neutral, Colour:Warm, or Colour:Cool. If you’re shooting in RAW then you get a full colour RAW file with a JPG file that uses the chosen colour effect. Being able to compose in B/W is something I love as it allows me to focus on elements other than colour. And I don’t think well in B/W.
Overall this is a great little portable camera. After playing with it on a few flights and a quick read-through of the manual I felt really good about just wandering with this camera and experimenting. After shooting with it for a weekend I am thrilled. The Leica is almost the same as the Panasonic LX2 – but with subtle differences including the way it processes the images (different logorhytms) and the warranty – which is 2 years and not one. It also looks nicer and bears the Leica logo which is only important if you’ve wanted a Leica since you were 14 but knew realistically you’d never be able to afford one. For all that you pay abotu $150 more than the Panasonic.
If I could do it differently? I’d love non-proprietary batteries – but that would undoubtedly add to weight and bulk. I’d love a sensor that performs like my 5D. And more realistically I would love it if it used CF cards instead of SD cards, mainly because I have plenty of the former and none of the latter. Also, my workflow is set-up for CF cards so I have the highspeed readers. But these are small things. This camera never leaves my pocket and goes where I do – and as that can hardly be said of my 5D or any DSLR for that matter, this is a great asset to my photographic life.
Update – February 2008.
Alot of people read this review, seems like there are alot of you out there drawn to this sexy little P&S camera. In the interest of being a resource to you I thought I’d update you.
I’ve been using this camera for a while now and I still love it – BUT – if I were buying a new P&S camera, and I might be this year as my wife killed hers – I would buy a Canon G9. My biggest complaint on the Leica D-Lux3 is the sensor. It’s just plain noisy at anything over 200ISO. As a result I find myself less inclined to use it for anything with the potential for professional use.
The Canons I’ve used – dSLR and P&S models – have all been much, much better looking files. In short – nice camera, heck – it’s a gorgeous camera – but the files I get out of it don’t look the way I wish they did. They’re fine, they’re OK. But I want image files that are better than just ok. So I’ll likely give this one to my wife and get a G9. Not nearly as sexy, and it doesn’t have nearly the same cachet as Leica, but at the end of the day the images are more important to me than the image.