Many years ago I owned an older D-Lux camera and loved it, since then my ambitions and overdraft have grown somewhat and I now own a decent collection of Leica kit, mainly the M and a plethora of lenses.
Sometimes though, even a professional photographer like myself needs a camera that they can grab and go with. I like to call this a ‘waiter cam’. One that I can hand to a waiter in a restaurant and they will get a semi-decent photo of the group, in full automatic mode. I also would like to be able to flick it back to manual when I’m ready for some more hands-on control.
I’m not going to write a huge technical review of the camera and it’s features because the camera has been out long enough for the web to be full of them. This is intended to be a more of a ‘real world’ user experience and how it fairs from when I bought the camera to now, with a few images thrown in for good measure.
The camera is indeed largely based on the Panasonic LX100, an equally very capable camera. There are cosmetic differences and also differences in the firmware, but there’s a school of thought that will say there’s no difference. There is a price difference however, the Leica coming in a little more expensive. There’s a few benefits of the Leica version. It comes with a copy of Adobe Lightroom which is now pretty much widely accepted as the de-facto platform for editing and sorting images and of course hooks in very nicely to the rest of the Adobe suite of software. Coupled with a longer warranty the Leica D-Lux seems like a pretty balanced offering compared to the Panasonic. Plus, in my opinion it looks lovely too.
I was an avid Apple Aperture power user, but when Apple canned the development I was pretty much pushed to Lightroom. Almost a year on I am very happy and settled and can honestly say that Lightroom is pretty good. Even for the amateur it’s streets ahead of the stock photo apps on Mac and Windows computers. Apples new ‘Photos’ app is quite basic, and although it has tight integration with iCloud I think it’s still lacking in features and power. This could of course change in time as it becomes more developed but if you’re wanting some longevity then I’d plump for Lightroom. Chances are it will be still be in use a lot long after the current range of native photo apps are gone.
So back to the camera.
I was a massive fan of the Sony RX100 range (I’ve reviewed it in my blog) and currently they have yet another new model and the specs are impressive, but over my years with it I found it a little ‘fiddly’ to operate. Whilst a truly pocketable camera it was just a bit to menu driven for my liking. The D-Lux though, whilst not truly 'pocketable', it does go into a jacket pocket but you can’t cram it into your jeans. The trade off though in my opinion is you are getting a much better lens and sensor than the RX range. For me I’d rather have the more manual-friendly settings than the ability to carry the camera in my pocket.
There are some days where I just want to take a light, compact camera out with me and not worry about lenses and so on. It’s always a difficult choice for any photographer though. Do we take the better quality camera out with us, or one which will enable us to snap some decent shots and not concern ourselves with changing lenses and so on.
The D-Lux really comes close to my other cameras in terms of image quality. Sure it’s not full frame (it’s actually micro 4/3) so you’re getting a superb sensor but with a fixed lens, and a lens that is tuned to the body perfectly. After 6 months I’m confident to leave my other kit at home and only take the d-lux out with me. Not always, but sometimes.
I also purchased the leather case. I did try using others but they just didn’t quite look as nice or fit as well. I feel this is now a complete system. Grab and go, knowing you’re going to get very very good quality images.
I do like the way you flick between modes. It’s a little odd at first but it’s actually quite logical. If you want it all automatic you can either push the ‘A’ button, or use ‘P’ (program) mode by turning the lens ring to A and the top dial to A. For Aperture priority leave the top dial on A and just adjust the aperture. For Shutter speed priority, leave the aperture ring on A and then twiddle the top dial around to whatever shutter speed you like.
The exposure compensation dial is very useful too - I do have a tendency to knock it though so perhaps it could be a tad stiffer BUT it’s very handy and even with video shooting works well.
The ability to actually use an aperture ring is a big selling point for me. I’m not a fan of ‘fly by wire’ systems, I like to feel the physical controls when I’m shooting.
The EVF is wonderful too. I use this way more than the equally nice rear LCD. The refresh rate is amazing, very little lag and it most useful for shooting in sunshine or when you don't want people to see the shot appear on the screen.
The battery seems to run and run. I’ve never managed to get through a full battery in a full day shooting. Using the screen and shooting video will eat more power but grab a spare battery and I think you’ll be safe for a long weekend of shooting without taking the charger.
Video too is quite wonderful. I set the camera to shoot in 4k (but I edit in HD) just so it gives me more pixels to play with. For a compact camera the quality is lovely. I do dial down all the settings to make the image as ‘flat’ as possible so I can then tweak it more in edit, but then I’m doing this for al living. For most users the default settings are perfect. Shooting video is a breeze, point the camera and press the record button. The codec seems pretty robust and some say it’s on a par with the legendary Panasonic GH4 which isn’t surprising seeing as the innards are very similar.
i’d be happy to use this camera instead of a Go-Pro mounted somewhere to capture as a second or third camera on a video shoot.
As with all modern kit, the camera has NFC which I can’t test because I own an iPhone. It also has wifi and this seems pretty good and the free app works well with it. You can see the live feed from the camera, as well as control various settings and recall images and save to the camera roll.
The only downside with this is with RAW files, they can’t be saved or viewed on your smartphone. You can thought shoot as RAW+JPEG and then the JPEG image will be the one you can play with on your mobile device. The app and connectivity isn’t a deal breaker for me but a nice addition. it’s good for those who want to seed to social media and want to use a much, much better camera than your smartphone.
My first big trip with the D-lux was to Thailand. I’d barely had the camera a week, so it was all new. the Learning curve is pretty small. There are a LOT of settings on there but you can pretty much ignore most of them if you want manual control. Even for those who hate reading manuals you wont have too much trouble getting your head around it.
I have to confess that on many days I did leave my M kit behind and just took the D-Lux. It felt ‘wrong’ at first but then soon I realised that when I was back in my hotel and looked at the images they just looked great. It’s a great camera for stealthy shots too, totally silent (if you want it to be) and you can shoot from the hip too. An articulating screen would have been nice for this purpose but I think it would add to the bulk. I had a flip out screen on my last Sony and it drove me mad when I took it out of it’s case it would flip up somehow.
I do tend to edit most of my photos, not massively but I tweak the basics. Occasionally I will apply a film type of preset to the shot. I am still amazed about how much detail i can pull from these images. The RAW files are very robust.
Although you get a little clip on flash in the package I didn’t really use it. I’d say you can get away with shooting at ISO 6400 but things tend to get a little mushy after that. The flash is handy as a ‘fill’ but with the decent ISO and fast lens it’s actually not really needed. I have considered getting a beefier flash for it but then I think it would take away the portability of the camera. I invested in the automatic lens cap, so I don't have to worry about losing the cap that comes with the camera.
At it’s widest the lens is a fabulous f1.7, but even zoomed it’s f2.8 so you’re not losing much. This is really impressive for a camera this small. The equivalent focal range is 24mm-70mm which is the same as the lens I have on my DSLR bodies 90% of the time. It can also focus down as low as 3cm giving you the option for getting some nice detailed shots very close up.
If you like the background blur and lots of booked then it’s rather nice with this camera. Wide open and 1.7 and putting the subject nice and close will give you decent results.
On some of the trips I made in Thailand I actually used the D-lux alongside my M rangefinder. There wasn’t always time to change lenses, so I tended to keep a wide on the M and then used the D-Lux tog get closer, and get some macro shots. Overall I felt it was a good combo and my shots sit perfectly well together in my library.
Recently I was working in Milan for 24 hours. I debated heavily if I should take my full rangefinder kit. I had booked myself on a later flight to get around Milan for a few hours and shoot some stuff. I had my roller bag crammed with my DSLR bodies and lenses, and had planned on taking my M240 and 3 or 4 lenses but the night before I decided take the D-Lux in the leather case. Of course there were moments where I wished I’d have had my M with me but I had one camera, on my shoulder and that was all I took out with me. After spending the night before dragging my DSLR’s around with me this felt so good, freedom!
Also, with Leica you are getting access to their support and customer service which I have found to be fantastic. I had some dust on the sensor, not a common issue but I'd used it extensively. The unit was cleaned and ready within 24 hours. In London this can be done In-house in Mayfair, so if you're local you can drop it in and hopefully they will be able to do it quickly for you. I'm sure it's a similar setup in other countries too.
To conclude, I’m delighted with this camera. It's great on a trip to the seaside, or an adventure somewhere else.I would confidently take this with me and leave my other kit back at home if I wanted to take a weekend trip or a day out or was limited to space. Sure there are new cameras every few months, but this one is great, and I intend to use it for a long time to come.