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Leica Digilux 1 Review

by Josh Root, July 2002 (updated July 2011)


The Leica Digilux 1 is the most recent offering from that very traditional-minded camera company. It is a joint offering from Leica and Panasonic, with Panasonic dealing with the digital insides, and Leica providing the lens design, lens coating, and specifics on making a “digital reportage camera” which is what this camera is being touted as. The Digilux 1 is aimed at the same folks who would buy a Canon G2 or a Nikon 5000. In short, this is a digital camera for advanced photographers who would like a large degree of manual control over their camera. At the time of this review, July 2002, the Digilux 1 costs about $900US.

The main features of this camera are:

  • 4.0 mega pixel CCD
  • 33-100 (35mm equiv.) f/2-2.5 ASPH zoom lens
  • Large 2.5 inch LCD display
  • SD/MMC memory card storage medium
  • Fast startup and shot to shot times
  • Full range of manual controls

Storage

With the included 64 MB MMC card, you can shoot 35 JPEG’s or 5 TIFF’s at the full resolution. As a pro-photographer who used 98% digital, I always like to shoot in the highest quality file format. With the Digilux, as it has no RAW format, this would be the TIFF setting (the Digilux really suffers in the storage area because of the lack of a smaller file size RAW format). This was one of my main problems with this camera. I don’t like the SD/MMC card format. Five images on a card just isn’t cutting it for me. Even 10 with a 128 card wouldn’t be any better. And while I hear that they exist, I haven’t seen any of the 256 MB SD/MMC cards yet. Though I have to say that I wouldn’t be really happy with 20 TIFF’s per card either, though 120+ highest quality JPEG’s is getting up into the range that I could live with. With the prices of Compact Flash/microdrive and smart cards as low as they are, it’s hard to justify the smaller more expensive SD/MMC format in a camera that isn’t a mini-camera like the Pentax Optio series.

Power

The Digilux has a 1400mAh Lithium-ion battery, which Leica claims will last 2 hours. I didn’t do any specific timing tests, but I found that it easily allowed for a day of shooting with frequent LCD use. You can also get extra batteries and an external charger if you think you will need them. Leica supplies a charger/AC adapter that charges the battery in the camera.

Lens, autofocus and exposure

As it should on a $900 camera, the lens performs well, and the coating seems to be top notch in reducing flare. There have been some rumors that this lens is the same as the lenses on the Canon G2 and some of the Sony cameras. I have no idea if this is true or not, and frankly, I don’t care. I’m looking for functionality in my cameras, and a lens that works well is a lens that works well. The 33-100mm (35mm equiv.) lens is adequate for general people photography. But you aren’t going to get any wildlife shots or super wide angle shots. But to be fair, this is a limitation of many prosumer zoom cameras, digital or not. There is a “digital zoom” feature, but as a rule this type of “zoom” is crappy at best, so I wouldn’t suggest using it. The one thing that Leica could have and should have done was to provide for a wide-angle adapter. Virtually every other camera maker in this price range has provided the ability to get to at least 28mm, and some (Nikon) to 21mm or fisheye. Given the popularity of wide-angle lenses, this is a disappointing omission. I know that the possibility is there, since Leica does have an adapter ring to attach the Digilux to a Leica spotting scope. Something that I’m not sure many people will ever do.

While everyone always wants more and more resolution, 4 megapixels should be more than enough for the average user. The lens is sharp and the detail is there. I thought I saw some moire patterns in various places, but this was infrequent.

Far more annoying was the sheer amount of image noise that showed up in anything above the 100 ISO setting. The highest ISO available (400) was noisy even on the camera’s LCD. Now this is partially the effect of having a small CCD, but in my opinion, it’s good that the Digilux has a fast lens because I wouldn’t want to use the 400 ISO option that often. After playing around with the images in Photoshop, I noticed that a lot of the noise seemed to be in the red channel (common to many digital cameras). And I was able to remove the majority of it on some images when switching them to black and white. Keep in mind that the previous statement is not a very scientific test, just something that I noticed. The noise was fairly visible even on 4×6 prints (made on a Fuji Frontier), though they were perfectly acceptable as snapshots. The amount of low light noise in the 400 ISO 4×6 shots was about the same as a 4×6 print using one of the (usually 800/1600 ISO) “Max” or “all-in-one” types of color print film. Actually, I was also disappointed that, for a camera billed as a “digital reportage” camera, there was no 800 ISO setting. Though even if there were, it would have been completely useless given the amount of noise at 400 ISO. But I know very few working journalists who don’t like to have the 800 ISO option as a backup, even if it’s just black and white. Finally, I didn’t notice any of the “banding” problems that I have heard people talk about at any of the ISO settings.

The Digilux’s autofocus is above average. I rarely had any problems locking focus. It isn’t as fast as a SLR with USM lenses, but no fixed lens compact camera is going to be. Once or twice I found myself wishing that there was an IR AF-assist light option, but, to be truthful, it was in places like raves and rock concerts, which are hard for any AF camera.

Manual focus is one of the big features that the Digilux offers. There is an actual MF focus ring on the front of the camera. Though it feels a bit weird to use due to the fact that the focus is servo-driven rather than mechanically driven with the focus ring, it does work well enough. You have to use the LCD screen for manual focus because, although there is a green light you see in the corner of your eye that indicates focus when using the optical viewfinder, it really doesn’t work that well. It’s supposed to blink when you are out of focus and go solid green when you are in focus. I had a really hard time making this happen. But if you were using the camera on a tripod for landscape or still life work, I could see it being an advantage.

The Digilux has six exposure modes:

  • full manual,
  • shutter priority,
  • aperture priority,
  • program (with user adjustable ISO and white balance),
  • full auto (no manual overrides),
  • and movie mode.

All in all I was impressed with the Digilux’s exposure system. Sure, it got fooled by the normal dark/light background that fool most other in-camera meters, but it handled most situations quite well. White balance was above average also. It could get fooled by a few mixed lighting situations, but that’s what the manual overrides are for. And true to this cameras “prosumer” target, it has the useful addition of a manual set white balance setting. Manual white balance is a feature that I don’t use often, but when you need it, you really need it. While I didn’t use it often, one more feature that I like is that the movie length is only limited by the amount of space on the card.

Appearance and Handling

People seem to be sharply divided on their opinions of the Digilux’s “retro” styling. Half love it and think that it harks back to the early rangefinder era. The other half agrees, but thinks that what it is harking back to is something like the Argus C33 (a horrible brick shaped camera) and that it is very ugly. I myself have sort of become enamored with the looks, but that’s just my opinion.

The camera handles surprisingly well considering its chunky rectangular shape. All of the buttons are easily accessible. The “self timer” and “flash mode” buttons are a little small and might be annoying for some people, but I had no problems with them. Also, the AF/MF/Macro switch is in the same position as with my Canon/Nikon SLRs, so it wasn’t a pain to make that switch or to check to make sure it wasn’t on the wrong setting. The only switch that I found occasionally difficult was the on/off switch. You have to push a little button then rotate the switch up or down to turn the camera on or off. This might actually be a blessing as it keeps the camera from being turned on accidentally. As with most non-SLR digital cameras, you have to negotiate through various menus to change ISO, white balance, or any other setting. It is as easy to do this on the Digilux as on any other recent digital camera. If anything, it might be slightly easier because of the large LCD screen.

Speaking of the LCD, reviewing photos was a pleasure (again due to the large size). The zoom function is well done; you can scroll all around the image, and not just side to side as with some cameras. So checking focus was quick and easy. Two things bothered me though. The screen could have used a better anti-reflective coating, as there was a lot of glare in the sunlight. Leica has designed a nifty popup shading device for the LCD that works well, but I ended up taking it off to reduce the overall size of the camera. Given their mastery of coatings, coming up with an anti reflective coating shouldn’t be difficult for Leica. Secondly, I really wanted to turn off the display (to save batteries on a long shooting day) and still have the image preview show up right after taking a shot. Though the Leica folks have assured me that I can do this, I haven’t been able to make it happen.

Speed of Operation

Here is an area where the Digilux really shines. Startup time is approximately 2-3 seconds. And the shutter release has virtually no lag. This is usually a big deal with non-SLR type digital cameras, and it can cause many missed opportunities. But by using the pre-focus method of shooting with the Digilux, there seem to be only milliseconds of shutter lag. The lens zoom is of average speed, nothing fancy there, but I wasn’t particularly bothered by it.

The camera has a fairly fast “between shot” time compared to other cameras, but I did not find the sequence feature useful. The frames-per-second rate was fine, but having only 4 shots is limiting for the sports photography I like to do where a full sequence can be 15+ frames. But others may love this feature.

All other camera operations (reviewing, erasing, etc.) were sufficiently speedy. And some were better than average.

Flash photography

Like all cameras in its class, the Digilux has a small built-in flash. Built-in flashes, in my opinion, hardly ever contribute to good photos. But the Digilux has a few advantages that may help. One is the fact that you can dial in exposure compensation for the flash alone (not for the camera’s exposure), which can help you mix the ambient and flash ratio. This is crucial for good looking fill-flash photos. But probably the Digilux’s best feature is the fact that it has a hot shoe so you can add an external flash. External flashes give you the option of bounce or off-camera flash shots, which can dramatically improve the look of photos. Keep in mind that with an external flash, all flash exposure compensation will have to be done on the flash itself. The in-camera flash exposure compensation feature only adjusts the in-camera flash output.

The in-camera flash has all the normal flash modes: force on, force off, red-eye reduction, force on with red-eye reduction, slow sync with red-eye reduction, etc. And they all seem to work as well as you would expect them to.

Competition

In my mind, the main competition for this camera is from cameras like the Canon G2, Nikon 5000, Olympus 4040, and the Sony F707. They are all the same general shape (except for the Sony), have many of the same features, and are in the same general price range. And then there’s the Panasonic DCM-LC5 which is the exact same camera as the Digilux but without the Leica nameplate. I could offer my opinion on what the best choice would be, but that would just be the best choice for me, not for you.

Conclusion

Things I liked:

  • Fast startup
  • No shutter lag
  • Nice big LCD
  • Retro styling (looks less like a digital camera)
  • Hot shoe for external flash
  • Fast lens
  • Decent battery life
  • Smooth tonality in photos (100 ISO)

Things I didn’t like:

  • Excessive noise at high ISO
  • No 800 ISO
  • Small and expensive SD/MMC cards instead of cheaper smart/CF cards
  • No anti-reflective coating on the LCD (though using flip up hood solves this problem quite well)
  • Lack of smaller RAW file format
  • No wide-angle lens possibility

All in all, the Leica Digilux stacks up well against many of its competitors. There are things to like and dislike about any camera, including this one. I would have liked to see a bit more “focus group” type feedback in the creation of this camera, since some of the problems are no brainers. But if the things that bothered me about the Digilux don’t bother you, you’ll probably be very happy with it.

My Background

I’m the digital editor here on photo.net. Home is the Northwest corner of the USA (Washington state currently). I’m 26 and make my living as a photographer/filmer for the BMX industry. I have been shooting photos for close to 15 years now and have been shooting 98% digitally for the past 18 months. I currently shoot with a Canon D30 (soon to be an EOS 1D), Canon S110, Leica CL, Leica IIIf, and an Arca Swiss 4×5. I can also fly faster than the speed of sound and shoot flaming lasers out of my eyes.


Text and photos © 2002 Josh Root.

Article revised July 2011.

Readers' Comments


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Peter Bednar , July 23, 2002; 03:32 P.M.

I think this review is putting it nicely. From the pictures I've seen, and from some other reviews, Leica has created a very poor performer. I'm surprised they would even put their name on this camera. The noise is atrocious, it's still visible in the very downsized photographs on this page, and when there isnt noise, the camera over-agressively smooths detail, until the pictures end up looking like they had the photoshop watercolor filter applied.

In fact this isnt a real Leica, it's a Panasonic LC-5 digi-cam that was cladded up to look like an Argus C3 brick for some reason. The lens is actually Canon OEM, as supplied and used on the Sony DSC-S75,85 CD-300/400, and as well on the Canon G1 and G2, further on the Casio QV-4000, and Epson Photo-PC 3000 and 3100z. The CCD imager is made by Sony, and used on all of the aforementioned cameras.

Ironically with maybe the contestable exception of the Casio QV-4000, all of these cameras are more egronomic, and turn out much better pictures than the Leica/Panasonic.

Late to the game, and still very much the digicam neophytes, the Leica/Sonics looked rushed, with no refinement to their processing systems, which in many cases makes or breaks a digicam.

I'd reccomend taking a long hard look at the Canon G2 and Sony DSC-S85 cameras, if you're in the market for a compact range-finder esque digital camera.

Or just get a real film using 35mm rangefinder, a Voightlander Bessa R2 with a decent lens for about as much.

richard travis , July 24, 2002; 01:20 A.M.

As to the above comment, actually I believe the ccd sensor is made by Panasonic and not Sony

Joo Chung , July 24, 2002; 10:06 A.M.

Actually, the CCD is not made by Sony. Its supposed to be a custom CCD designed and made by Panasonic. As such, it is slightly larger than Sony's 4MP CCD.

Philip Leeson , July 24, 2002; 07:41 P.M.

I have had one of these for about a month, I've been quite pleased with the camera. Earlier I posted a few test-type shots in original large file sizes; see the digilux test folder under my name for these. There are shots at the different ISO's, compressions, etc. I think the overall ease of use and lack of shutter delay are notable, as well as the available manual options.

Daniel Castro , July 25, 2002; 12:19 P.M.

Regarding the missing wide-angle conversion lens option, the twin brother (or the clone) LUMIX LC5 from Panasonic do have one (among other accessories). Check this link for more info: http://www.panasonic.com/consumer_electronics/digital_cameras/lumix.asp#morefeatures

Derek Stanton , July 29, 2002; 02:36 P.M.

All of Peter's comments are accurate. George, on the other hand, would be advised to ask someone to show him what "posterization" is. He speaks of the "blind leading the sightless." He, apparently, hasn't a discerning enough eye to notice the information that is missing from his Digilux images. Ignorance truly must be bliss....

The photo.net review was, at best, superficial. There is little content relative to image quality, which should be the overriding factor when choosing an imaging device. Yes, the Leica is a quick, responsive, nice-performing camera at all points - until the actual image is seen on anything larger than its LCD. Noise and posterization / the "watercolour effect" are inherent problems.

There appear to be a number of LC5/Digilux users out there who are happy with this camera. That's great. But, please don't confuse their satisfaction and positive comments with evidence that the camera is capable of performing as well as its competition. It can't, whether your eyes or output device reveals that or not.

As for the comment that those critical of the camera(s) are merely repeating the mantras of other, uninformed authors - well, that's just denial. It's a lie. Yes, i've owned the Digilux, contrary to George's conspiracy theory. Also owned the LC5. Currently own the G2 (and D60). I owned the Leica and Panasonic only long enough to prove to myself that the image quality is problematic, and to be able to return them for refunds.

There are, of course, valid alternate perspectives. If you don't understand the concept of Posterization, or only want to print 4x6 snapshots, or you wish every camera had a built-in, automatic Seurat Filter, these cameras may suit you perfectly.

Peter Bednar , July 30, 2002; 09:41 P.M.

*Chuckle* Seurat filter, that is the best term I've heard describing this camera's mechanisms.

I'll concede that I was apparently wrong on the CCD maker. Other theories regarding the Auto-Pointilism filter, and observations, is that the Digilux is cramming, and posterizing smoother color areas down to very low K sizes, in order to get them through the bus to the MMC/SD card, and out of the buffer quickly. Handling these reduced information files allows the camera to feel much faster, as it is doing so much less math intensive processing, by dropping what it feels is 'non essential data.

Nice examples of the Seurat Auto Filter, from two different cameras. "Stipple/Pointilistic" posterization predominates in the out of focus areas of these images.
http://freepages.books.rootsweb.com/~elblocher/Althea.html

http://www.pbase.com/image/3307597

In areas of high contrast, the LC-5 / Digilux seem to do quite a capable job of recording detail, it's just that below a certain level of contrast it just drops data like mad.

Eric Boe , July 31, 2002; 11:24 P.M.

I agree with the review, especially the comments about high ISO noise. I purchased mine the week of July 4th, shot for one day, and found the noise at ISO 400 to be totally unacceptible. I returned the camera on the 5th for a full refund.

Bottom line, at ISO 100, nice camera. Low light, better buy a big flash & use it.

George Sekely , August 07, 2002; 11:23 A.M.

The Review is fair and impartial. The comments above by Mr Bednar appear outright malicious.

This camera performs very well for a large number of people. It is easy to operate, creates great images and is quality built.

The negative comments you see seem to come from people who do not own it. And they keep on quoting each other. The blind leading the sightless. Ugh.

I am very happy with mine. And I have tried the competition.

>>>The following are added after a response:

Specifically, I have tried the N and the C products. They are fine cameras. The C brand produced a bit too garish pictures for my taste, the controls were not as logical as the Leica and the entire camera is feels and handles too plasticky for me. Reports of cracks were not encouraging either. But I like other Canon products. Have their s900 printer which while much slower than adverised, produces super 8.5 x 11 images from my Digilux.

As to posterization - maybe it is your eyes. I have looked at 100% and larger displays of images and evaluated their colour composition with Photoshop. Surprise! While the pixels look close, there are very few identicals even in "mushy" areas. That would prove the opposite.

As to people who buy and sell cameras within days; the photo stores must love them!

>>>The above were added 2002.08.07

Derek Stanton , August 09, 2002; 12:36 P.M.

Regarding the (revised) comments in the last post: "As to posterization - maybe it is your eyes."

Yes, indeed, it is my eyes. If i close them, no, i don't see posterization. Posterization is, indeed, an unfortunate component of LC5/Digilux1 images. It is sometimes obscured a bit by various subject matter, exposure, lighting conditions, etc., but it is almost always there, at some degree of severity.

There have been no posted, production series samples from either of these cameras that don't show posterization. If you're not seeing it, it's either because you were lucky and got one of the few properly functioning cameras, or you don't recognize the issues being discussed. If you care to see an extreme example of posterization, go to steves-digicams.com and compare the review samples from the Panasonic LC5 to the Canon G2.

The LC5 is unable to resolve subtle tonal gradations. Instead, it gives you blocky, pixelated transitions, or artificial, contrived benday dot patterns which are meant to indicate tone, shadow, contour. Look, specifically, at the still life set-up with the "M&M Man." Look at the matte frames, which should be white, but with tonal representation of shading. In the LC5 pix, you get random dot noise (called "granularity by the Panasonic people), which are supposed to represent tone. In the G2 images, you get what you see in real life - actual tonal gradation, without "steps" between the shades. Look at all the other areas of shadow, and you'll see the same things. The LC5/digilux pictures look like they're shot from behind a frosted/stippled shower stall glass.

There is no "surprise!" when "evaluating their colour composition with Photoshop." This is either an attempt to deceive, or an indication that the user doesn't understand the concepts involved and how to use PS to evaluate an image.

Again, the writer hasn't comprehended what was written: "As to people who buy and sell cameras within days...." I bought both the LC5 and Digilux 1. I tested them, to confirm what i had seen in the sample images (from both the manufacturers and consumers). I found that all of the undesirable image properties that were so obvious in the samples also occurred in my own test pictures. The store provides only one week for returns, and i complied with their policy. If it takes you more time than that to understand how to use a simple digital camera.... I, however, was able to perform my 'tests' rather quickly, and didn't require further experience. As for the photo store loving me - yah, i imagine they do, with the volume of business i do there. But, it also speaks to the quality of these cameras that the largest professional photo store, in the largest pro photo market in the world barely stocks either of these cameras, and the few salespersons who are familiar with it are also familiar with the reasons why it is so frequently returned.

As well, the Digilux colour is not accurate. Some have praised it's "vivid" colour, but one should be aware that it's not "true-to-life."

The Digilux 1 is a great camera, IF, and ONLY IF you understand it's limitations. It's quick, responsive, and the huge LCD is fantastic. But, if you intend to print larger than 'snapshot' size, you may be disappointed. The camera simply does not have the image Quality of its competition.

ron purdy , August 11, 2002; 08:42 P.M.


Sample taken at 100 ASA, TIFF, macro mode, 21mm, F 2.5, daylight.

First, some observations:

big and boxy crap rangefinder large, great 2.5" LCD use of levers and knobs easy to remember; now I can change some settings without looking (unheard of on my G2, which I had for much longer than this one.)

The levers are a pleasant change from the all buttons on so many digital point and shoot.

  Comparing images from my Canon G2: the G2 shows less noise at 50 ASA setting than the Leica does at 100 - thought they are in fact effectively the same speed/light sensitivity.

  I have found the Leica to be unusable at anything greater than 100 ASA (tons of noise) and anything but TIF (bad JPEG artifacts). I am someone who really only uses the lowest ASA on any camera. I think I only used other than 50 ASA on the G2 once or twice total. I always try to squeeze the most quality out of digital as possible.  

The largest size TIFF takes AGES to save  to the card (30 seconds??) This is excruciating when shooting people, and most anything else. Shooting JPEGs, the camera feels very fast.

Zoom settings are much easier to set than on the G2: While the G2 and some others that I have used jumps around settings, the Leica zooms in and out smoothly, without taking forever to rack in and out. Perfect.  

Focusing is much more reliable than that of the G2(!) which is a major concern of mine (and why I sold my G2). With the Digilux I get a much higher percentage of in-focus images.  

  The 2.5" LCD is large enough and good enough that you can actually see what is in and out of focus! Also, you can see what is happening when using manual focus! Anyone who has used digital cameras probably knows that this can not be taken for granted. Also, TIFFs can be enlarged for review on the LCD. The camera shoots a TIFF and makes a JPG of each image for in-camera reviewing purposes.  

The flash meter is not great, but ambient light meter is great, and seems to be somewhat better than the G2 was in the dark. I got lots of underexposed images from the G2. Not so from the Leica.

  The fact that the Leica is larger makes it easier for me to hold steady than smaller bodies. It handles better to me than any of the other digital P and S camera that I have ever tried.

  BOTTOM LINE: I have made an 11x14 on an Epson 1280 (Epson Premium Lustre paper) which, from a foot away, could be mistaken for a medium format C-print. It looks that good!   Although I'd love a swiveling LCD screen, the ultra smooth look of the G2 images at 50 ASA, and the ability to use MicroDrives, the superior AF on the Digilux alone makes the Leica a far better camera for me. I missed too many shots with the G2.

George Sekely , August 16, 2002; 05:53 P.M.

Sorry Derek, your comments are way too personal and it is clear you have your own axle to grind.

Go ahead, have fun.

Derek Stanton , August 16, 2002; 09:51 P.M.

George, You seem to forget that you began the personal, petty ridiculousness with your comment about the "blind leading the sightless," or somesuch. Ring a bell?

No, there's nothing personal in my mind. I came to the forum to discuss a CAMERA. You were more interested in talking about the PEOPLE talking about the camera. Your rabid defense of this piece of EQUIPMENT made it personal, and your resulting comments were offensive and without foundation. Anything you perceive as a 'personal assault' by me was entirely defensive.

My only issue here is with the people who try to squelch opposing voices. You disagree with one man's opinion - fine. But, his comments, perceptions, and experiences were not unique to him, and so they are valid, regardless of how protective you are of your 'baby.'

And, furthermore, one grinds an AXE, and not an axle, unless one is a truly clueless driver.

Let's get back to rationally discussing GEAR, shall we?

*stanton

Steve Koppelman , August 18, 2002; 06:42 P.M.

I appreciate the review, but as with too many equipment reviews here, I would like to have seen some lossless samples of images to give me a a way to gague the noise and posterization problems cited. Mr. Root's samples are reduced in size--the only thing I see demonstrated in these images is the ISO 400 noise problem--the red flecks on that dusk image of a kid peering into a window are just awful on something like that, if that's what they are. My 2-plus-year-old Olympus 3030 isn't nearly that bad and for all of its well-known weaknesses (barrel distortion at full wide angle, marked chromatic aberrations).

But on the basis of these tiny JPEGs and Phil Leeson's own samples (thanks, Phil), nothing else can be gleaned re: image quality. Shrunken-down full-size images (in the reviewer's case) and low-quality 400K JPEGs (Phil's) don't tell us anything (okay, Phil's water tower image did show an awful moire problem that's gone unmentioned). Want to show how blotchy the super-quality JPEGs and TIFFS are? We really need to see a full-size, straight-from-the-camera image in that high quality mode, or at least a full-size, uncompressed crop taken from those images. Of course there's an awful lack of detail and a blotchiness to a low-quality-mode JPEG. That's normal. The loss of detail should be much more subtle in high-quality (1.5+ MB) JPEG mode or TIFF mode. I'd love to see it for myself.

Please, let's have some meaningful sample images so we can judge the quality vis-a-vis comparable cameras, eh?

Steve Hovland , August 19, 2002; 05:24 P.M.

After reading all this I think my credit card will be on "snooze" awhile longer before I get my first digital. It seems that digital users are struggling with things like image quality and focusing that have been well-solved in film cameras for a long time. I think I'm surprised that after years of making these things some very basic problems haven't been solved.

Peter Shawhan , September 03, 2002; 01:20 A.M.

The discussion of the merits of the Leica Digilux 1 and Canon G2 on this site is interesting, but it raises as many questions as it answers. Even an amateur photographer shoots under a variety of conditions -- informal family portraits, family events, concerts, recreational activities, vacation trips and so on. Doing so over a period of years leads one to appreciate a variety of qualities in equipment. I own both Leitz and Canon cameras, though neither the Digilux nor the G2, and have some idea of how their equipment stands up over time.

It is unusual to see a Leica criticized on grounds of poor image quality. While Panasonic makes the body and sensor of the Digilux, Leica?s web site indicates that its aspherical optics have been designed specifically for the camera. This photo.net review suggests that the Digilux is a Panasonic LC5 with no Leica content but the nameplate, and one comment suggests that the Digilux uses a Canon-manufactured generic lens also used on the Canon G2 and Casio, Epson and Sony digital cameras, but the grounds for these statements are not indicated. It would be helpful to know the basis for the suggestions that the Digilux is just an exercise in badge engineering, and that Leica is using a Canon lens rather than Leitz optics for this camera. It would also be helpful to know which control settings were used in producing specific results before offering a categorical conclusion that the Digilux is incapable of producing satisfactory images.

Image quality is also not the only criterion for selecting equipment. Just as automotive engineers may design luxury sedans for highway cruising but also design utility vehicles for off-road operation, so camera designers may have somewhat different operating conditions and performance objectives in mind. Durability, reliability, responsiveness, controllability, and predictability are as important as high resolution and contrast in order to obtain good results under demanding conditions. A simple and direct camera sufficiently flexible to be versatile can help to grab a fleeting shot, while complex controls sometimes lead to fumbling and lost pictures.

A comparison of reviews on this and other web sites suggests that the Digilux and the Canon G2 may have been designed using somewhat different assumptions about operating conditions, about which characteristics are most important to producing optimum results, and about what tradeoffs between competing design considerations will produce such results most consistently. The Digilux, although styled as starkly as a Kodak Ektra, has been built with durability, reliability, and speed of operation in mind. The body is built on a strong but light frame of die-cast magnesium, and the Lithium ion battery appears to last long enough for a full day?s use. The shutter and manual focus mechanisms are reportedly straightforward, controllable and predictable, and reviewers describe the camera as very quick to operate, especially when using manual focus and JPEG mode. The G2 offers excellent image quality and has a sleeker design, but achieves this at the cost of some other trade-offs. It may not be as durable, it has more shutter delay, and its manual focusing mechanism may not be as easy to locate, use, or control precisely.

These differing characteristics suggest that it might be easier to obtain consistently good results under rapidly changing field conditions with the Digilux, but easier to obtain high image quality under more relaxed conditions with the G2. One may prefer a particular set of camera design choices over another, just as one may prefer luxury sedans to SUVs, but that does not mean that a camera designed for durability and fast operation under adverse conditions is a poor performer incapable of delivering excellent images. It just emphasizes different capabilities.

-- Peter Shawhan

Mike Oersigh , October 16, 2002; 06:29 P.M.

It is unlikely Leica would use an original design to front a Panasonic sensor and capture device. Most likely they have copied the optical design and done the calculations for the lens, enabling them to call it a Leica lens. Where did the original design come from? I don't know, Leica refuses to tell me and I can't say for sure it comes from Canon. That could mean that the G2 lens is not an original Canon design either.

As for the DCam, the leica I tested seemed like a great camera to have, but I personally would not compare the G2 to it (images look too digital, given its age), maybe the forthcoming G3. I think Leica adopting SD/MMC is a good idea, after all, outside digital cameras, compact flash/microdrives are not common. At the end of the day, I am not sure I would have changed from CP5000, had the Leica been available at the same time... but I can't be sure of that.

Randall Shafer , October 30, 2002; 10:59 A.M.

I recently looked at this camera at a Leica show at a local dealer. I found it interesting that the camera was being pushed as a "reportage" camera but found it to be fairly useless for such a purpose. Why? Because the fixed LCD screen can't be used when shooting low to the ground or high angles. I do this constantly with my old digital (Nikon Coolpix 950) and the one I selected instead of the Leica. (Sony FD707)

I've had a lot of trouble with the Nikon misfocusing or failing to focus, especially in low light conditions, and the Leica seemed to suffer from the same problems when testing it in the dark corners of the store. The Sony 707, on the other hand, has been the most reliable autofocus I've ever used, and the laser focus assist really works well. The Leica autofocus worked well under normal lighting conditions and was quite fast.

I also have grown a dislike for the optical finders. The LCD finder on the Sony has been a real godsend, especially in high light conditions, and I find it is much easier to use than an optical finder. Best feature is being able to see the camera displays in the LCD finder, so you can monitor for over and under exposure, which is a constant problem with digitals. I almost always shoot in aperture preferred mode and I can make my settings quickly and easily without taking the camera down from eye level. Not so with the Leica. The sony also shares batteries with my DV camcorder, another bonus. The Leica didn't provide an outboard charger, so batteries have to be charged in camera. Sony doesn't either, but sharing batteries made it economical to buy a separate quick charger.

Also, where reportage is concerned, the Sony outshines the Leica with HAD technology that gives excellent low light results and Nightshot gives you the ability to shoot in pitch darkess-- not a bad feature for a reportage camera to have. You can set up a conventional flash shot in total darkness with Night Framing, which uses Night Shot to set up and compose but fires a conventional flash exposure. The Leica has none of these features.

I did think the Leica was faster with less time lag when focusing and firing, but not enough to make it any more useful for reportage work.

I was impressed with the image quality and the fit and finish on the Leica. However, at 5MP, the images are even better with the Sony and the Sony has a very high quality Zeiss lens. The prices have started dropping on the Sony and it now costs less that the Leica, and in my opinion, is a clearly superior product. Sorry to say that, since I am a long-time Leica user and shoot film with reflex and rangefinder Leica equipment, but I can't see any reason to pay more for a Panasonic with Leica's name on it and get less than competitive models.

Darrell Jennings , November 10, 2002; 08:05 P.M.

Love this camera. Best digital camera (non-SLR) I ever had although the ISO 200 and 400 have noise artifacts... hopefully they can stick a Foveon X3 chip and a faster lens and we would be set! :)

Matt Bigwood , November 14, 2002; 02:01 P.M.

How fast a lens do you want?

I own the Panasonic Lumix version, and whilst I concur with comments about noise and artefacts I'm impressed by the camera's exposure and lack of shutter lag.

Vic Dively , November 23, 2002; 06:41 P.M.

I'm pretty surprised at some of the negative comments I've read... I've got a large pile of 8X10's that are very sharp with accurate color. Absolutely no complaints with the photos at that size. I find the JPEG at the high definition to be usually indistinguishable from TIFF. I agree that there is unacceptable noise over ISO100. So I keep it at 100. I found the review to be fair.

T T , November 24, 2002; 11:21 A.M.

My complaint is that this camera uses SD memory cards instead of the industry standard CompactFlash cards. This doesn't seem to make sense for a camera being tauted as the ultimate "reportage" digital camera.

Anh Le , December 30, 2002; 03:39 P.M.

I have had this camera for over 5 months and I must say I am truly sad that Leica would put their name on this ugly block of plastic. I bought this camera because of Leica's reputation on image and build quality. I got neither! Autofocus is almost impossible in dim lighting. Viewing the screen outdoors is also impossible without the hood. My girlfriend's $300 digital elph has both an autofocus assist light and an anti-relective screen, why not my expensive Leica? :-(( Images are noisey. Button and dials seems like they might fall off at any moment. I hate the feel of cheap plastic! My film camera is a Nikon F3HP, I miss it...

Jorge Diaz , January 14, 2003; 04:52 P.M.

Succintly...I own one.I also owned the Fuji joint venture Leica digilux zoom and a Fuji facsimile.I also own a Fuji S2 pro.Frankly I have not made excursions into many areas of complaint like the other ISO settings.I do like the camera.Its lens performance is excellent,satisfying and rewarding.I have taken pictures that I have printed in a Lexmark Z42 to very respectable if not awesome performance.Seurat filter?Posterizing?Again,not tried to verify but so far seems farfetched.Leica is a company with increasing enemies.The result of leaving other glassworks in the dust?I believe the Leica to be a very competitive reportage type camera.Compact,totable,light and rugged.At a price that no photojournalist should obviate if not for prime equipment then as trusted backup.

Ben L. , January 16, 2003; 02:13 P.M.

I'd like to just add my experience which reinforces some of the things I have read. I bought one of the first Pana LC5's in the UK, in May of 2002. Yes, I think that the Panasonic LC5 and Leica Digilux 1 are the same camera, up to case and styling (I don't think that Leica has the chips-and-technology expertise to improve on the design of this type of camera!) Also I think that the lens is just not an issue with digital cameras since the lines of resolution available from the stock Japanese lenses are way beyond what 4Mpixels can show.

When the camera arrived, I was very excited about it. I really liked the controls, especially the manual focus, and the large LCD. However, after shooting the first batch of images, my wife and I noticed terrible low-light digital noise in shot after shot. It was a totally unexpected shock to me, as I assumed that a collaboration between Panasonic and Leica would focus first on the imaging issue. At that point I still had an Olympus C2000 and I could compare and see that the Olympus was doing far better in low-light situations. After keeping the camera for a week, we returned it and bought a Canon G2. I am not overjoyed with the G2 in terms of controls and styling. The G2 has a useless manual focus system. And the little Olympus was a bit better at reading light, I think. But the G2 is a reliable performer. It does well in point and go settings and really well when you spend the time to get everything correct. If Panasonic-Leica had taken the care to get the imaging algorithm correct, this one would have been a fantastic camera. I guess the next one might be the one to watch for. At 4 Mpixels you are around the limits when you blow up to 5x7 at 300 dpi. An 8Mpixel with the Digilux 1's controls, LCD and build quality, and an improved imaging algorithm would be a dream combination, allowing you to print sharp images at around 8x10.

Gilbert Renaut , January 19, 2003; 11:25 A.M.

I bought one of these things about two months ago, my first digital still camera, and I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to use it, including serious picture quality problems. I believe that all of my problems were caused by unfamiliarity, but one: its pictures do seem to come out much too dark in automatic mode most of the time, although they can be fixed fairly easily with the PhotoShop Elements provided.

Other than that, most of my problems seemed to be caused by not understanding the different adjustments that affect picture quality and the unintended effects of changing picture size. The default position on the camera apparently makes a picture designed to be about two feet by three feet, and if you make it smaller without being very careful how you do it, you lose resolution rather than gain it.

Anyway, this discussion is very useful, but it is amazing how much difference there is in opinion on this camera. Nobody is happy admitting that he spent $600-900 on something labelled "Leica" and now thinks he made a mistake, but it certainly would be better if we avoided personal attacks, even in retaliation.

Lou Korell , January 21, 2003; 02:29 P.M.

I'm not surprised at the heated discussion around Leica. The Leica name (in my opinion) has been resting on its laurels for many years. The older and much praised M-Series cameras have been beloved by many as cult classics. The optics and reliability are legendary. In "modern" times, many companies (including Leica) are caught up in the marketing vs. quality battle that most certainly has cheapened the quality of many of our top name favorites. I have been a Nikon/Hasselblad manual camera user for years and have not found anything that equals the quality of this equipment (manual), but the technology has everyone excited and people want to jump on the digital bandwagon to get a piece of the pie - at the users expense, just like the computer market. I have been testing and researching digital cameras to make my own choice since they came onto the scene, but have made no decision as yet. I can't find anything that gives me the joy of creating an image equal to my current manual cameras. For me, that's the bottom line - does it satisfy the desired experience of being a photographer? If not, why plunk down hard earned cash for something that compromises your artistic fulfillment? I know many pros are spending $2K - $10K on digital bodies and seem satisfied with their images. Some are more interested in the process of getting there. It's all about your motivation to make pictures. My $.02 Thanks for your indulgence!

Andrew Bamji , May 26, 2003; 03:55 P.M.


Hellebores, Hadlow gardens

As a Leica collector (IIIf, M2, R5) there was little reason not to buy a Digilux. I have not had any major problems with red channel noise, or anything else come to that except the occasional problem with autofocus in low light. It is sometimes difficult to line up straight, and there is some barrelling at high zoom; admittedly some images with high contrast come out with high contrast, and some colours, particularly in bright sun, are oversaturated, but I have not found anything that cannot be controlled with software manipulation and to be honest I have had less trouble than with scanned images from my R5. Certainly they print brilliantly at A4 (I use medium res Jpegs only) and these will even blow up just satisfactorily to A3. Nowadays you can obtain 256Mb SD cards for less than £70($100) so even using big file sizes is not really a problem.

I note the comment about whether anyone is likely to use a spotting scope; I shall! It takes the telephoto up to about 1000mm and my shop demo was impressive. I have also pointed it down a microscope, without an adapter, and got usable images.

I suppose many digital cameras are much of a muchness, but in the medical field my ability to photograph X-rays is amazing.

Ken Rexach , October 22, 2003; 08:15 P.M.

I do work for a film production house and a photo studio. Recently one of the photogs there got a Leica Digilux 1 and has been doing some of the jobs with it. Needless to say we were disapointed and I needed to fix in photoshop a LOT of photographs due to high noise (even at lower ISO, at high ISO its downright unusable for anything larger than 4x6") for 8x10" printing (to be filmed later for a 30ss) Resolution isnt so hot either and there are problems with chromatic aberations. Color is very good as long as one is in good light. Handling of the camera is good but its clunky and oversized for what it is. It does take good video clips! I wouldnt use the camera for any pro. quality work but for most 4x6" printing its excellent and for online work its overkill. BUT For $900 its just a terrible value. Much better product are made by canon/nikon/sony at similar or even lower prices. Its a shame it has the leica nameplate.

Bottom line: AVOID this camera unless you dont care about value (or if you can get it used at a much lower price), Get a Canon G5 (s50 if u want something smaller) or Nikon 5000 series instead.

Orville Clisby , December 25, 2003; 08:47 P.M.

I think Leica would of been better off partnering in with Canon of Sony who have the expertise and financial clout to pull off a winner and do their name some justice.

Yuri Gindin , August 01, 2008; 04:42 P.M.

I found that the same lens was used in the following cameras:
Casio QV-3000EX (as Canon) - first camera to feature that lens, even before Canon.
Casio QV-3500EX (as Canon)
Casio QV-4000 (as Canon)
Casio QV-5700 (as Canon)
Canon G1 (as Canon)
Canon G2 (as Canon)
Epson PhotoPC 3000 (as Epson)
Epson PhotoPC 3100 (as Epson)
HP Photosmart 715 (unbranded)
Sony DCS-S70 (as Carl Zeiss)
Sony DCS-S75 (as Carl Zeiss)
Sony DCS-S85 (as Carl Zeiss)
Sharp VE-CG30U (as Canon)
Sharp VE-CG40U (as Canon)
Toshiba PDR-M70 (unbranded)

Maybe I missed some of them, but it's actually a pretty good lens, and I suppose it's a Canon design.


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