Leica Leica D-Lux (typ 109) 4/3 Camera - my personal review.



Video review:

Photo: findresults.site

This review covers my use of the new Leica D-Lux (typ 109; 'D-Lux' hereafter) camera for general-purpose photography, shooting JPEG format images only. This is a personal, non-commercial review, so for full details of all of the camera's options and operations, check the major photo websites, including Leica Place, Photographers' Lounge (formerly Serious Compacts), and the Red Dot Forum. Note that a large part of the approximately $1200** USD price for this camera is for the Lightroom software included with the purchase (and free to use perpetually), downloadable from the Leica D-Lux registration site. The D-Lux isn't directly comparable to many other premium pocket-size cameras, primarily because of the combination of features (built-in high-res EVF, large 4/3 sensor, Summicron f1.7 zoom lens etc.) in the tiny camera body, as well as the advanced photographer options using the control rings and switches around the lens barrel.

**The Panasonic LX-100 sells for $900. This is the Leica version of that camera.

The D-Lux lens has a maximum aperture of f1.7 when the zoom is at minimum, and f2.8 when the lens is at maximum zoom. The immediate ancestor of this camera (the Leica D-Lux6) has a slightly brighter lens (f1.4-f2.3) with a slightly longer reach (90 mm compared to the D-Lux's 75 mm 135-equivalent focal length). The D-Lux is 2.875 inches thick compared to only 2.125 inches for the D-Lux6. Since these cameras are the same height and nearly the same width, the D-Lux is bulkier in thickness only, making it less pocketable but no worse for carrying in a protective case. The D-Lux sensor is the 4/3 type while the D-Lux6 sensor is a "1/1.7" size, or about 5 times smaller than the D-Lux sensor. The recent Leica C (typ 112) camera (same as Panasonic LF1) included a very unusual feature for a tiny pocket camera - an electronic viewfinder, although that EVF is very primitive compared to the D-Lux's 2.8 mp EVF.

Manufacturing of the D-Lux is done mainly (or entirely) by Panasonic under a long-time partnership that allows Panasonic to use Leica lens technology (and possibly other technologies), while Leica takes advantage of Panasonic's high-volume manufacturing capacity for small cameras like the D-Lux. Those cameras that are created jointly by Leica and Panasonic are priced much higher than the typical consumer Panasonic camera, and when comparing not just the internal features but the appearance, build quality, and external controls of these premium pocket cameras, the reason for the price differences is apparent. Note also that the higher price of the D-Lux as compared to Panasonic's own version of this camera is due at least partly to the inclusion of the Lightroom software with the D-Lux, which would have to be purchased separately for the Panasonic camera.

I've been posting images from the D-Lux camera to my dalethorn website, and there are currently about 15 photos posted there. I think these images will speak for themselves, but bear in mind that these were shot as JPEG's only, so if you're willing to work with the RAW-format images that the D-Lux produces when the RAW option is selected on the camera menu, you should get even better results than I have posted there. My experience with the D-Lux so far says that the image quality is comparable to the best of the previous pocket-sized cameras I've owned, including the Leica X1, Panasonic GM1, and Nikon Coolpix A, and very nearly as good as the Leica 'T' and X Vario cameras. The D-Lux has a better lineup of physical controls than what I've had on previous small cameras, notably the Aperture, Shutter Speed, and Exposure Compensation dials, but I'll leave those details to the commercial reviews while I describe a few of the anomalies I've found.

The number one problem I have is with the lens extension when the camera is switched on - unlike the D-Lux6, the lens extends even when the lens cap is on, so when you're using the lens cap string as I do (I'm not interested in the auto-lens-cap device) to keep from losing the lens cap, it can hinder the lens extension, especially if you're using the 'Zoom Resume' feature where the camera is returning to the maximum zoom extension. The number 2 problem is the lack of a decent compact carry case - the Leica 18821 hasn't been available until now, and the horrible Panasonic case is a fright compared to the beautifully functional case they made for the GM1, albeit the GM1 case was available *only* in Britain. Other than that there's very little to complain about - Leica supplies an external battery charger as they do with the D-Lux6 (which they DON'T do with the Leica 'C' typ 112 camera), so when charging one battery you can actually use the camera.

The Leica D-Lux comes with a neck strap but no wrist strap, which I consider to be the opposite of what's appropriate for a compact camera. On the plus side, the battery capacity seems much better than what I'm accustomed to with the other small cameras I've owned. A backup Leica battery was not available when I got the D-Lux, so I ordered the Panasonic LX-100 battery instead, and it's been working good just like the Leica battery. As with most digital cameras, the D-Lux does not come with a memory card, which is needed to record photos and video. Although the modern 'Class 6' or 'Class 10' SD cards may be satisfactory for still photos, a 'UHS' (presumably Ultra High Speed) card is required for recording 4k videos. The 4k videos I've taken are very sharp and clear when the focus works, but most indoor videos, even in very good light, have the focus hunting constantly when Continuous Autofocus is 'On'.

I'm not able to tell what Aperture the camera was using with my most recent 4k video, although I can see that the ISO was 1600. Playing the video with iMovie on the Macbook Pro Retina, many frames have the foreground sharp and background acceptably sharp as well, yet the person in the foreground goes slightly out of focus and back into focus every other second, as though the camera can't make a determination of what to focus on. I've been using Center-Weighted Metering and One-Area Autofocus, so when holding the camera steady on a central foreground subject, I'd think the focus would hold steady. It seems that for indoor videos in less than very bright light, I'll need to turn Continuous Autofocus off and keep the subject a constant distant from the lens, or "manually" refocus by half-pressing the shutter button whenever necessary.

Some of the features I see on the D-Lux that I haven't seen on other cameras include the Highlight-Shadow exposure options, which apparently are a more precise means of doing what the 'HDR' setting was designed for. I've already made use of this option, and it does seem to produce better results than the 'HDR' setting - shooting JPEG's anyway. Some reviews of the D-Lux may attempt to explain all of these options, but from my experience the totality of options are too many and too confusing with all of the overlaps, so the only practical way for me to have made use of the best options the D-Lux offers is in actual practice, with the camera manual handy - in my case the PDF version running on my cellphone.

Camera forums are rife with complaints about the price of replacement batteries, and I always recommend carrying at least a second battery so shooting can continue if the first battery runs down. Contrary to what many people suggest - saving money with third-party batteries, I consider the price difference and if it's huge, I need to know why. Before I could even consider a very cheap battery, I would need several independent reviews that affirm the quality of that particular battery as well as the reliability of the manufacturer of that battery. On top of that, I would need to know that if their battery damaged my camera, they would pay to replace my camera promptly. Lithium-ion batteries can be very dangerous. If the price difference were less than my expenses in replacing a defective battery (packaging, shipping, time wasted, loss of battery for a period of time), I would certainly get the camera manufacturer's battery.

The tripod socket is centered, which is good, but it's right next to the battery compartment, so it's unlikely you'd be able to change the battery with a tripod attached. Leica and Panasonic both warn about attempting to use a tripod mount with a thread that's greater than or equal to 5.5 mm long. Checking my own tripods, none of their threads exceed 4.5 mm in length, so anything longer than that must be uncommon. Summarizing, the D-Lux should be a great camera for a person who wants high image quality, simple but flexible design and operation, and a minimum set of high-performance features that most semi-pro or pro users require for their work.
Hi Dale,

Thanks for your review - I am seriously considering the new D-Lux to replace my M4/3 kit and your review is really helpful.

My main hesitation is this; I suspect the M4/3 sensor is a bit of a red herring if not a downright con. The lens seems to have an effective circle that only covers 12 to of the 16 megapixels on the sensor. 12 out of 16 is 3/4. 3/4 of a 4/3rds chip is 1 inch. So in effect this camera has the equivalent of a 12MP 1" sensor, does it not? And that's way behind the curve these days.

You do get the superior/ lower pixel density of the larger sensor but overall, apart from ready availability, I don't get why they bothered to build around the M4/3 format with an apparent 1" design lens. If someone can explain that, I'll go out and buy one.

If you check the specs you'll note that the width in pixels is greater going from 4x3 to 3x2, and from 3x2 to 16x9. It's a multi-aspect design that they've also done with previous cameras, so they are using less of the sensor, but maintaining the same angle of view. My first memory of this was the Pana LX3 (same as D-Lux4?), and that camera's images were not only good in average light, but amazingly good in low light at ISO 800. Of course the D-Lux is generations ahead of the D-Lux4 etc., and lots of things got better along the way. I guess I can say that I've learned to have faith in this design because of the results. BTW, the D-Lux even has a bracketing option that captures all 4 aspects per shot.
4K video, 1 to 1 sampling. That is why Sony produced 12MP A7 FF sensor. FX1000 1" sensor crops in 4K video eg 25mm becomes 35mm (1.4x) on the wide side... To do the same with m43 sensor, the camera would have a wider/bigger and maybe slower lens then what the camera has...

You do get the superior/ lower pixel density of the larger sensor but overall, apart from ready availability, I don't get why they bothered to build around the M4/3 format with an apparent 1" design lens. If someone can explain that, I'll go out and buy one.