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The Leica Digilux 2 - a review

by Andy Piper, 2004


INTRODUCTION

“There was a little girl, and she had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was VERY VERY good - and when she was bad, she was HORRID.” - Nursery rhyme

The Leica Digilux 2, and its Panasonic twin, the DMC-LC1, are an interesting exercise in digital camera design and ergonomics - in essence, a throwback to the shape and handling and analog controls of mechanical 35mm cameras from the last half of the 1900s. As an operating tool in the hand, the Digilux 2 is very successful. There are many shooting situations where being able to scale-focus the lens, or set the shutter speed on a dial - even before the camera has been turned on - greatly simplify and speed up operation, compared to the push-here-while-twirling-that-and-watching-the-LCD controls common on most non-SLR digicams. The Leica-designed lens is almost supernatural in its ability to define details and separate tones and colors, and pushes right to the limits of what 5 megapixels can record - a bonus I wasn’t even expecting.

So ideally, I’d start this review with the controls and handling and lens, because they are so distinctive.

But as a reviewer, I have an obligation to point out the worst features of the Digilux first - the HORRIDS. If you get past these and are still interested, then we can have fun with the camera’s good side - which is occasionally amazing.

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THE HORRID

No RAW buffer

The Digilux 2 can save pictures in a RAW format. And it does have built-in memory of about 11 megabytes or so. Enough to handle a burst of three “finest” Jpegs (3.4 Mb each) in a little over a second before it has to pause and write to the memory card. But a Digilux RAW file is 9.6 megabytes, so it fills that memory with one picture, requiring a pause after every exposure. The “hang time” varies according to the capacity and speed of the memory card in use: 5 seconds or so for a fast type II 512Mb SD card, up to as long as 13 seconds on the 64Mb SD card that comes with the camera. Six seconds on my “regular” 256Mb Lexars. So - you can shoot fast, or you can shoot RAW. Not both.

As a photojournalist, I’d rather shoot jpegs anyway, as much for the time savings at the computer after the fact as those during shooting. A RAW workflow is like the Zone system - a brilliant tool for some kinds of photography, just not mine. But combined with the next issue, the lack of a fast RAW buffer has been a “deal-killer” for many photographers who might really like to work with the camera otherwise.

Excessive noise reduction in ISO 200/400 JPEGS

When shooting JPEGS at ISO 200/400, the Digilux 2 employs a rather heavy-handed noise reduction routine. In Photo.net’s review of the Digilux 1 people spoke of a “Seurat filter”. Well, this is more of a “Cezanne filter” - as though a palette knife had been scraped over the light tones in the image. Does a great job at removing noise. Unfortunately, it removes a lot of fine detail as well. And it mostly affects the lighter tones, whereas the strongest noise is in the shadows. Ooops! You end up with smeared highlights, noisy shadows, and a weird transition area between the two.

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I queried Leica about what was going on here: Intentional noise reduction? Accidental JPEG artifacts? If it seems odd to ask for a manufacturer’s comment in a review, I guess it’s just my journalistic background - you ALWAYS try to get both sides. Here are the key points of their response, edited for space:

Some noise at ISO 400 is not unusual for digital cameras. We tried to get a perfect colour management, sharpness and contrast but it is impossible to avoid completely noise....Image quality depends from the adjustments (colour, contrast, noise, sharpness). If you change the colour-management than you change automatically other settings or if you reduce the noise it could be that the images will not have the typical Leica sharpness. You can compare the effect with a 400 or 800 ISO film at the 35mm format. At 400 ISO there is a higher sensitivity. It is not a effect of jpeg compression. We are aware that noise is an issue so that we try more than our best to    improve the technological and optical performance in future.”

Reading between the lines, I get the impression that Leica (or Panasonic, or both) was overly concerned with noise. They sort of ignored the fact that I was asking about the noise REDUCTION, not noise per se. Perhaps they were panicked by the hits the Sony 828 has taken on the subject - and overdid the noise suppression as a result. As a photojournalist, I’d prefer “sharp and noisy” to “blurry and noiseless”. Or at least the option to choose for myself. There are workarounds, which I’ll get into later. The most obvious one is to shoot RAW files, which bypass all “in-camera” firmware processing, and thus the noise supression. But get you back to the long delays between exposures.

And if a camera has a bug that requires workarounds - it’s still a bug.

The electronic viewfinder

Despite the Digilux 2’s vague resemblance to a classic rangefinder camera, it is not a rangefinder. The viewfinder is electronic - a TV set behind an eyepiece. It’s jittery and grainy. Not any uglier than other EVF cameras (except the new Konica/Minolta A2 - which is a big leap forward). Better than a videophone broadcast from Baghdad. But if you’re used to the crisp texture of an SLR screen or the brilliant clarity of a good window viewfinder, it’s unlovely.

In addition to its general ugliness, the EVF also has three specific operational issues.

First: Even at “90mm”, precise manual focusing is essentially impossible on the unmagnified screen. The camera can be set to magnify the center of the image 4x or 8x for manual focus (the magnification turns on when the focus ring is touched, and turns off a couple of seconds later), but even using this focus-assist, focusing at “28mm” is still troublesome.

Second: In really bright light the camera stops down the aperture to help control screen brightness. Usually - it opens back up for focusing (AF or MF). But on rare occasions (twice in 6 weeks) it has “forgotten” to do this. Using ISO 100 and a high shutter speed, this left me shooting at f/2.4 while trying to focus at f/5.6 (the reverse of an SLR, where you focus at f/1.4 and shoot at f/5.6). Even at “90mm” and with the magnification turned on, the DOF was so wide that an “infinity” subject still looked sharp with the lens set as close as 4 feet - a recipe for fuzzy pictures. Pointing the camera at something dark and trying again cleared the problem each time.

Third: the viewfinder lags behind reality by about 1/12th second (80 milliseconds +/-). The shutter lag on the Digilux 2 is pretty minimal, but the viewfinder lag has cost me ‘moments’.

That’s the bad news.

THE VERY, VERY GOOD (and the merely nice)

On the flip side, at ISO 100 the Digilux 2 produces jpeg images at the rate of 1 per second-and-a-half even in single-shot mode that are not just very, very good - they are astonishing. And when the final pictures are this clear and detailed, the fact that the viewfinder image is grainy becomes a minor issue.

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THE LENS

The lens is a non-interchangeable 7mm-22.5mm f/2.0-2.4 Vario-Summicron zoom, equivalent to a 28mm-90mm zoom for 35mm film. The widest apertures at the marked focal lengths: 28mm f/2; 35mm f/2; 50mm f/2.1; 70mm f/2.2; 90mm f/2.4. Focusing and zooming are internal - so the lens never changes shape or size. Since the zooming is mechanical, it does not have to extend or retract during startup/shutdown, saving seconds. Closest focus is about 1 foot (.3 meters) - which covers an area of about 4.5 x 6 inches (11cm x 16cm) at 90mm - hardly macro, but tighter than most non-macro lenses, and much tighter than almost any rangefinder lens.

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The Vario-Summicron “shoots” wider than its “28-90mm” rating. The focal lengths are accurate if you crop the Digilux’s 4:3 “ideal” format to the shape of a 35mm frame. But if you use the entire Digilux image, the results look more like 8x10’s (A4s) cropped from a 24-75mm zoom.

Personally, I love wide (my main film lens is a 21mm) - so I found this a pleasant surprise. The downside: at the long end, the V-S is barely a portrait lens - a “long” normal. Of course, many rangefinder photographers don’t shoot longer than 50mm or 75mm anyway - so it fits into the “rangefinder” ethos.

Leica’s film lenses have a slight bias towards cyan-green - or more accurately, away from magenta/red. The Vario-Summicron shares this tendency. It strips away magenta casts from sky and clouds. And water reflecting sky, or sky-lit shadows/shade, are rendered as cyan-blue, not purple-blue. Caucasian skin tones in sunset light tend towards golden, not ruddy. Darker skin tones are rendered in browns instead of purples. Evergreen trees are green, not brown or gray.

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The lens is very sharp, has crisp edge definition, and does a superb job of separating and defining colors and tones. In most of my comparison images with film it has held its own alongside one of Leica’s “signature” film lenses: the 35 f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH. At its peak apertures (f/4-5.6) it is projecting details so fine that they start interacting with the Bayer pattern on the image sensor, producing moires - witness the clothing textures and ebony tooling in the bagpiper picture - and dropping out fine details against the sky - see the tail-less bird below.

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Seems as though Leica/Panasonic have subdued or left out the “low-pass” filter in order to maximize sharpness, even at the risk of the occasional “eel”. (Moire, moray - hmmmm....never mind). Although the lens has a minimum aperture of f/11, diffraction begins to soften the image visibly below f/8.

At 28mm - barrel distortion is obvious, about 3-4% at the corners, and there is a moderate amount of purple/green color fringing (3 pixels-worth at the corners) in many pictures, Light fall-off is about 1.5 f/stops at the corners and is rather abrupt. (A note on barrel distortion - obviously a bad thing in many pictures. It does slightly reduce the stretching of faces and heads into football shapes (American football - rugby-ball elsewhere) near the corners, so it’s a mild plus in “people” pictures.)

At 90mm - no distortion I could measure, occasional purple fringing in dark objects against the sky, very low vignetting (looks like about 1/2 stop at its worst).

Since the true focal-length range is 7mm-22.5mm, depth of field is extensive. BUT - it isn’t infinite. It is very easy to get less-than-sharp pictures even at the “28mm” setting if you don’t focus carefully. At 4 feet and f/2 there is clear softening of the image from peak performance within 4 inches either side of correct focus. At “90mm”-f/2.4 the image starts to degrade visibly within 1.5 inches either side of correct focus. There’s a big difference between ‘apparently sharp” and really sharp. If you want to get the best this lens can produce - you won’t count too much on DOF.

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The Vario-Summicron will blur backgrounds and foregrounds when used near its minimum focus at maximum aperture. When it does, the “bokeh” is about the prettiest I’ve ever seen - the image just melts away from “sharp” with a soft and delicate contrast, and no hint of bright rings or double images. But “bokeh” is obviously a non-factor in most Digilux 2 pictures.

In addition to the 3.2x mechanical zoom range, the Digilux 2 offers a 2x/3x “digital” zoom which transforms the lens into a “56-180mm” or “85-270mm”. As with all digital zooms, it simply magnifies the image from the middle of the sensor, without gathering any more detail. Essentially useless for anything other than 4x6 prints or video, IMHO - and at 3x, don’t expect to use the resulting images to prove you actually saw “Bigfoot” or “Nessie”.

THE BODY

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The Digilux 2 body is a basic Bauhaus “form-follows-function” box, with a lens on one side and a light-sensitive surface on the other. Even Louis Daguerre would recognize it as a camera. I’ve seen comments that it is “styled” to look like a Leica rangefinder. But with its squared-off ends and large (69mm diameter) lens - it reminds me more of a Canon 7 wearing the legendary 50mm f/0.95, or perhaps a Nikon SP with a Nikkor 50 f/1.1 mounted, especially if the Nikkor and the Vario-Summicron have their massive lens shades attached.

All of the “photographic” controls (exposure, focus, focal length, metering pattern, etc.) are analog dials, rings and levers. They all have a mechanical feel - though most obviously connect to electronics beneath the surface. The focusing ring is slightly “light” in touch, but allows one-finger focusing. The shutter dial rotation is oriented to match a Leica M6ttl or M7, rather than the ‘opposite’ design of older Leicas or the MP.

After you have used the on-screen menu lists to set up your major shooting preferences (RAW or Jpeg, image size/compression, saturation/contrast/sharpness, etc.) and minor shooting preferences (color or B&W, ISO speed), it is possible to take pictures for hours, or even days, in all the automatic or manual modes, without ever again looking at a menu or LCD read-out, or touching a push-button - except, of course, the shutter release.

Anyone who has ever used a Nikon F2 or Canon F1 or Pentax Spotmatic (or - yes, a Leica rangefinder) already knows where everything is and what it does.

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The ergonomics of the Digilux are superb. With its centered lens, it is easier to hold, and much easier to hold steady, than the “L” shape used for most other top-end digicams, because the left palm has a corner to provide mutual support, instead of thin air.Since people vary, there is no perfect size and weight for a camera. The Digilux is heavier than a Leica rangefinder wearing a tiny 35mm Summicron, and lighter than the same Leica with a 35 Summilux ASPH. My shoulder loves it - my hands might wish for an ounce or two more heft at slow shutter speeds. The bulk is just inside the large end of my comfort zone - about the same as a small motor-incorporated film SLR (Nikon N/F80, Contax Aria).

Build quality is average. I wouldn’t swear to any part of the body being metal, although some controls probably are. The lens barrel and rings are aluminum or some other light metal, not brass. And there’s a rather tacky seam down the middle of the bottom plate. But my Digilux took a 3-foot fall out of my camera bag onto carpeted concrete the first night I had it, and survived with no marks or damage.

As with most rangefinder cameras, the viewfinder eyepiece is in the top left corner. This has great benefits for right-eyed photographers: you don’t have to balance the camera on the tip of your nose (firmer support), people can see your face while you’re shooting (a good way to establish and maintain trust), and, in the case of the Digilux, you aren’t constantly planting nose-grease on the rear LCD. Left-eyed shooters end up the same place they do with most camera designs - out in the cold. (Has anyone ever built a camera that favors left-eyed photography? - seems unfair).

The analog controls, with each control handling one function, are very fast and very transparent. Not only can you set them with the power off, you can set two or three things simultaneously: left hand setting focus or aperture or focal length while the right hand is thumbing on the power and setting the shutter or meter pattern. All of which gets you to the important thing - pushing the shutter release - in the shortest time possible.

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Turn-on lag time

Let’s turn on the camera and set the lens to 6 feet for a quick “scale-focused” street photography grab shot. We’ll use the Digilux 2, and a couple of other popular digicams, the Canon G5 and the Sony 828, which I tested at the local electronics-appliance store.

  • On the Digilux: Total time to “ready to shoot” - turn on the camera and set 6 feet on the lens’s analog scale - 2.7 seconds
  • On the 828: Total time to turn on the camera, turn on “manual focus” and set 6 feet on the LCD readout - 5 seconds
  • On the G5: Total time to turn on the camera, turn on “manual focus” and set 6 feet on the LCD’s “thermometer” focus scale - 6-7 seconds

Not to pick on the Canon and Sony, which do pretty well as digicams go. But a manual-focus “feature” buried somewhere in the electronics is simply not in the same league as a focus ring on the lens that can be set with a flick of the finger even before the camera is powered up.

The viewfinders and focusing

I’ve already touched on the major flaws of the EVF. Every viewfinder ever conceived has been a Faustian bargain - there is always a trade-off between things it does well and things it does poorly. Rangefinder cameras can’t frame accurately, can’t focus closer than a couple of feet, have trouble aligning near and far parts of the subject precisely (parallax), and won’t work with zoom lenses - but are very quiet and smooth. SLRs solve the problems of the rangefinder - at the cost of noise, shake and bulk. Both can be very fast to focus and provide clear (if different) views of the world.

The EVF combines rangefinder quiet and smoothness with SLR-like framing, focus range, and zoom capability - at the cost of an unpleasant view and slow (if eventually accurate) visual focusing. And while rangefinders and even SLR screens can get out of alignment, with the EVF you are focusing using the actual pixels that will make up the final picture - the image sensor can’t ever get out of alignment with itself. It’s still ugly - especially when sitting on the sofa and “fondling” the little beast. But it’s funny - once I start shooting and paying attention to the world and the moments around me - how quickly the ugliness fades into the background. I’m too busy seeing pictures to notice.

Some people have experimented with using accessory viewfinders, rangefinder-style, to avoid the EVF. I tried it myself - and went back to just using the built-in finder. Didn’t like being limited to one or two focal lengths; didn’t like the parallax error; didn’t like the big lens protuding into the viewfinder corner; didn’t like the extra bulk on top. Very strange - since I use the same finders, with the same limitations, all the time for film photography.

I use all the camera’s focusing modes, depending on the situation.

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At focal lengths above “50mm”, autofocus is usually fastest (the AF lock time is about 1 second). But I use manual focus when I don’t want the focus point to shift between shots, or when I’m using “trap-focus” for action - or simply to avoid the AF lag when the “moment” finally happens.

At 35mm and 28mm, I use scale-focusing for most fast work. For slower, critical manual-focus at f/2, I use the old film-maker’s trick of zooming in to focus and zooming out to frame.

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Again, the logic of the analog controls comes into play. With two rings side-by-side on the lens, it is simple and fast to change focal lengths and click between manual and autofocus without taking my hand off the lens or the camera away from my eye.

The Digilux has a single AF point in the middle of the frame. The size of the focus area has two settings - a “spot” area smaller than 1% of the image, and a larger “box” about 1/5th the height and width of the screen. When using manual focus, the viewfinder can be set to magnify the center of the image when the focus ring is touched. At 4x, the magnified view appears in a box within the full-frame image, which supposedly allows one to keep track of the overall picture while focusing. At 8x, the magnified area fills the screen. I’ve discovered that: 1) 4x really isn’t enough enlargement for most critical focusing, and 2) holding the shutter button down lightly will turn off the magnification temporarily to allow a quick check of overall framing anyway (a nice “undocumented” feature). So I always use the 8x setting.

The internal viewfinder and rear LCD show identical views. Only one or the other is on at any time, and a button on the back toggles between them. The rear finder is almost as large as a 645 film frame, but is not hinged for low/high-angle shots. One very smart feature is that the viewfinder of choice can be set separately for shooting or reviewing pictures. So that flipping the shoot/review lever automatically switches you to your preferred viewfinder with one motion.

In shooting mode, four levels of information can be shown in the viewfinder.

The most basic shows you nothing but the image and the AF ‘box’ - until you touch the shutter button, at which point the aperture and shutter speed appear, along with a “match-needle” scale if you’re setting exposure manually. There is one bug using manual exposure in this view: the needle and numerical readouts won’t change in real time as you change apertures or shutter speeds. You must lift your finger and touch the shutter again to get an update on the “new” actual settings and metering.

A touch of the ‘display’ button overlays a “rule of thirds” grid on the basic image.

Another touch, and you get information overload: Exposure info, battery status, focus/flash/ISO/white-balance mode icons, remaining exposures, etc. etc. Las Vegas in a camera. But in this view, touching the shutter does turn on a “live” scale and readouts for manual metering that stay on for 10 seconds, or as long as you keep moving the aperture/shutter controls. Finally, you can add a live histogram (brightness only, not colors) to the “Las Vegas” view.

It is possible to see an "auto review" of each picture in the viewfinder after every shot, for 1 or 3 seconds. I immediately turned this off, since I am far more interested in the next picture than the one I've already taken. In which case there is simply a viewfinder black-out of 1 second while the camera starts to save the image.

In picture review mode, the camera can show your collected images as a 3x3 array of thumbnails, for fast navigation, or one image full-screen, or a zoomed view into that single image up to 16x.

Three levels of picture information can be displayed in the single picture/1x view: nothing but the image; basic picture info (frame number, date/time of exposure, file size/type); and the basics plus detailed exposure info (histogram, aperture/shutter speed, metering mode, etc.). It’s also possible to resize and crop images, set up DPOF info for requesting prints from a mini-lab, play slide shows and video, and some other stuff - none of which I use.

Neither viewfinder is especially good for critical evaluation of exposure, color, or sharpness. You can tell if you missed the moment, or if the exposure or focus were really off. Otherwise I save my editing for the computer monitor, where the images are generally sharper, warmer, and darker than the camera displays them.

I won’t go into all the possible menus that can be brought up on the screens - every possible control from setting the internal clock/calendar to choosing how many prints to order. I’ll just mention two other nice touches. You can select your 4 most often-used controls - perhaps ISO, contrast, white balance and auto-focus area - and assign them to a “quick function” list that can be accessed via the 4-way toggle button, saving a lot of scrolling through menus. And in most cases, simply touching the shutter button will “clear” all menus/functions and take you directly back to shooting. A fast “escape” key.

Shutter lag

I compared the shutter lag of the Digilux 2 to a Leica M6.

I found an intersection where a building blocked my view of oncoming cross-traffic, so that I couldn’t anticipate when a car would enter the scene. Then I shot a series of pictures with each camera, pressing the shutter as soon as I saw a car bumper appear from behind the building. Focus was set manually. With the Digilux, I shot two series, one using the internal viewfinder, and one where I watched the scene directly, to see if the EVF had any additional lag. In the resulting snaps, I marked how far the car bumpers had moved by the time the shutter actually exposed the picture. What I was measuring was shutter lag PLUS my reaction time - but it’s still possible to compare relative lag times.

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The diagram shows the results. Lines mark the actual bumper positions, the arrows mark the average for each group. Within each series, the variation is likely a combination of my reaction time and small changes in traffic speeds. The much larger variation for the M6 is interesting, and could be due to the mechanical linkage-chain in the shutter. The traffic was moving at 20 mph (I drove the street 3 times to check this) - which is 30 feet per second. Each foot of movement thus equals about 33.3 milliseconds.

  • With the M6 (which has a known shutter lag of about 20 milliseconds), the average total distance traveled was 7 feet. Total lag (including my reaction time) was 233 msecs.
  • With the Digilux 2 and direct viewing, the cars had, on average, moved an additional 1.5 feet, or an additonal lag of 50 msecs. Added to the Leica’s 20 msecs., that makes a shutter lag of about 70 msecs.
  • With the Digilux 2 using the EVF, the cars had moved yet another 2.5 feet, on average, for an additional “viewfinder” lag of 83 msec., and an overall lag of 153 msecs.

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Despite the long time needed to save RAW files, when shooting fine jpegs, the lag between exposures is 1 to 1.5 seconds, about the same as thumb-winding a film camera.

Camera noise

The Digilux 2 is essentially silent. When the shutter is pressed, there is a faint internal “tic-tic” (I think it’s the aperture blades shifting to shooting aperture). About on the level of the quietest leaf shutters, at most. No focusing sound - manual or auto. It’s possible to dial up one of three “Hollywood” shutter sounds (“clack”, “click”, or “cluck”) that play when you fire the shutter. But to use them you must also put up with a loud “beep” that plays when the AF locks, and EVERY TIME you press a button on the back: choosing from menus, setting functions, scrolling through pictures, deleting pictures, confirming deletes, switching viewfinders. BEEP BEEPBEEP BEEPBEEPBEEP. Obnoxious. And the “tic-tic” is enough to tell me the shutter fired. So I leave the noises off.

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Funny how often people eventually asked “When are you going to take the picture?” - after I’ve already nailed a dozen candid moments and expressions from 4 feet away. Silence is golden.

The glove test

Just for grins, I put on a heavy set of ragg-wool gloves and tried operating the Digilux. In general, it was easy to handle all the controls (analog and digital) smoothly and without affecting neighboring buttons/rings/dials. Occasionally the focus would shift a bit when turning the aperture ring. The control wheel on the back was very slippery and hard to turn with gloves, but fortunately most of its functions can be handled by the 4-way button inside it, which worked fine. And while it was easy to slide open the door for the memory card and press/release it - it was then impossible to get a grip on the card and remove it the rest of the way. If you’re going to shoot in cold weather - start with an ‘empty’ memory card so you won’t need to replace it - or bring tweezers.

Flash

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The Digilux 2 has a built-in pop-up flash. Press a button on the back once, and the flash head pops up to a 60-degree angle for bounce flash. Press the button again, and the base pops up another 60 degrees, pointing the flash at the subject. The bounce flash is surprisingly powerful. I get nicely exposed bounce shots even at ISO 100 in settings where my “film” flash (Vivitar 2800) often poops out on slide film. (Having an f/2 aperture helps, of course). Due to the 60-degree bounce angle, the flash provides a small amount of ‘kick’ light directly at the subject as well as bounce - but also sets a limit on how close you can shoot. Under an average ceiling, once you get closer than about 5 feet, the “pool” of bounced light is directly above, or even behind, your subject. Using direct flash, the huge lens shade will cast a shadow in the bottom of pictures shot at “28mm” - but the lens alone will not.

So far as I can tell, the Digilux has about every possible flash capability generally available - normal sync up to 1/2000th second (yes, 3 zeroes is correct!); slow-speed sync; sync at the beginning or end of the exposure (I refuse to call it “second-curtain-sync” when the camera has no shutter curtains); flash exposure compensation of +/- 2 stops for fill. The camera also has a standard hot-shoe, with dedicated contacts for use with Leica/Metz flashes. Other flashes with safe trigger voltages can be used, but must depend on their built-in automation rather than TTL. No PC outlet - you’d need some kind of adapter (radio, slave) for work with studio strobes. There is a physical lock/switch in the shoe that will turn off and lock down the pop-up flash if ANYTHING - even an accesory viewfinder - is mounted in the shoe. The switch also changes the flash firmware to “external-flash” mode - no pre-flash, but otherwise the same options as using the internal flash.

There is a separate “flash” white-balance setting to compensate for the coolish color of the flashtube. I “gelled” my flash for that warm “sunset light” look, and to balance with tungsten lights indoors, by the simple expedient of coloring a piece of translucent office tape with an orange marker and sticking it on the front.

EXPOSURE AND IMAGE CONTROLS

The Digilux can expose in the standard 4 modes - manual, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, or program.

These modes are set via the aperture ring and shutter dial. Set the aperture to “A” and the camera will choose the aperture as you choose the shutter speed. Set the shutter dial to “A”, and the camera will choose the shutter speed as you change apertures. Set both to “A”, and you are in program mode. The program mode can be biased towards either fast shutter speeds/large apertures or slow shutter speeds/small apertures by thumbing the serrated silver wheel on the camera back.

In manual mode you set both the shutter and aperture yourself, using the internal meter readout’s “needle” as a guide, or using a hand-held meter, or even just using the old “Sunny-16” rule-of-thumb. The meter can be set to center-weighted, spot metering, and “multi-area” patterns. The spot meter reads about 1% of the image area - roughly 2 degrees at “90mm” and 6 degrees at “28mm”. One advantage of a “shutterless” digicam is that the exposure can be metered directly from the live image sensor voltages instead of through a surrogate metering circuit/sensor.

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The Digilux 2 uses this ability to “protect” the highlights when set to multi-area or centerweighted metering patterns. It pins the brightest pixels to about a level of 245-248 on the histogram, preventing burned-out whites.

Outside of ISO speed, there are 4 main “digital” image controls for JPEG shooting (they have no effect on RAW files). Contrast, Saturation, and Sharpness can be set to “Std.”, “Low” or “High”. And apparently this is the sole difference (except cosmetics) between the Leica and Panasonic cameras - the Panasonic’s settings are all a bit ‘higher’ than the Leica’s.

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I generally work with sharpness set to “low” and the other two set to “std.” Setting contrast and saturation to “low” results in very softly toned images, with histograms that end well short of black and white, and the appearance of a freshly-born TIFF from a RAW file. An excellent starting place for some kinds of landscape work, with a long tonal range (but obviously not sharpness) that approaches large-format images.

Due to the meter’s habit of protecting the highlights, changing the contrast when using autoexposure has the effect of lightening or darkening the shadows - moving only the left end of the histogram.

There are also seven White-Balance settings: Auto, sunny, cloudy, tungsten, electronic flash, manual - and black-and-white.

Generally, I find the AUTO setting to be most reliable for daylight use. “Sunny” is generally too blue (especially here in Denver, where there is a lot of extra UV light at a mile high). Cloudy and flash go a bit overboard in adding yellow/red. Tungsten does OK, but undercorrects a bit, leaving some residual yellow under house lights.

icecreamgirls.jpg (44403 bytes)

The Manual setting also tends to run a bit on the yellow side. Looks great on the bluish LCD when reviewing pictures, but too yellow once the pictures are loaded into Photoshop. It’s the best choice under non-daylight light sources, but needs to have a lot of blue compensation dialed in if the light is short on blue wavelengths (see blue-channel issues below).

The B&W mode is interesting, and I like to use it if I am looking for B&W pictures. But it eliminates the option of playing with Photoshop’s “channel-mixer” after the fact to darken skies and such. Comparing a “B&W” shot of a Gretag ColorChecker to a color image converted via the channel-mixer, the camera’s internal channel-mix is roughly Red 35%/Green 55%/Blue 10%. JPEG files are actually monochrome RGBs, not grayscale. And the B&W setting doesn’t affect RAW files, which by their nature still contain the full color data from the original Bayer pattern of the pixels.

The blue channel has some issues, at least in JPEGS.

1) Testing color rendition with the ColorChecker, most colors are rendered quite well, but blues - especially dark “nylon sportswear” blues - and to a lesser extent, yellows, tend to hypersaturate.

2) Under lighting short in blue wavelengths - tungsten, fluorescent, sodium vapor - even when “white-balanced”, the blue channel develops large blobby noise, which shows up as an “underpainting” of yellow patches at all ISOs, but especially 400. The actual blue channel looks like a Kodalith image of out-of-focus oatmeal - no fine details, no tonality. Shooting at EI 100, manually white balancing, adjusting the white balance as far to the blue side as possible, and being generous with exposure (+1 EV) will boost the blue exposure to a reasonable level - pictures still need some Photoshop work to fix color balance and saturation, but at least the blue channel contains detail. The camera is still much happier with full-spectrum light (daylight, flash or blue photofloods).

3) Blue lights bloom excessively in night exposures (see section below on night/time exposures)

OVERALL IMAGE QUALITY

Let’s make it simple. I wanted a digital camera that could do better than the 2700-ppi scans I was getting from ISO 100/160 color negative films. I hoped wistfully for a camera that could come close to scans from ISO 100 slide films. That is what the Digilux 2 delivers. As I mentioned in discussing the lens, the sharpness and occasional moire patterns in fine details lead me to believe that Leica/Panasonic have chosen to limit the amount of low-pass filtration over the Bayer pattern - a route that Kodak, in the 14n/ProN/ProC, and Nikon, in the new D70, also seem to have followed.

(BTW, in the film/digital comparisons here, the Digilux 2 images were upsampled about 40% to match image size with the film scans. In the D2-only examples, the pixels are 100% as they came from the camera unless noted otherwise.)

redrockshousecombo.jpg (63737 bytes)

At ISO 100 the images are very smooth and clean - not quite as sharp as Velvia, but a good match for the average 35mm 100 slide film. An overall look a lot like Ektachrome 100VS with some Kodachrome and Velvia touches thrown in - and with adjustable saturation and contrast. Clearly less “grainy” noise than scans from color negs. But there is occasionally a cyan-red patchiness (Chrominance noise?) in dark grays or blue-green areas like architectural glass.

The most startling thing about digital color is that, properly white balanced, it is remarkably clean and free from color casts compared to chemical imaging/scanning. There is something to be said for working directly from the subject’s original color wavelengths, rather than an image ‘filtered’ through various stages of chemical dyes and scanner/enlarger optics. It’s scary when you open a color image and all the grays have identical amounts of RGB - 160/161/160 or 120/119/120 or the like.

On the other hand, the Digilux 2’s jpeg images are somewhat “brittle”. If you don’t nail exposure, white balance, saturation and contrast in the camera, and have to start making major corrections in post-processing, they can fall apart rather quickly.

100BWfilmvsD2.jpg (59628 bytes)

B&W pictures follow the same pattern. At 100 the Digilux is a bit ahead of “traditional” ISO 100/125 silver films in terms of grain/noise, but not TMax/Delta or ISO 50 film. Sharpness is a tiny bit lower, and the overall feel of grainless highlights and a touch of grain/noise in the shadows comes closest to chromogenic B&W films such as Ilford XP2.

Workarounds for using ISO 400

  • Shoot RAW and accept the lag between shots
  • Add some “grain” in Photoshop to fill in the ‘smoothed’ areas, and the results are still nearly as sharp as some “old technology” 400 B&W films.
  • Set the camera contrast to “high” - which increases local contrasts enough to “burn through” a lot of the noise smoothing, but drops out a lot of shadow detail.
  • Or my preferred technique when I need ISO 400 jpegs: set the camera to ISO 100, contrast and saturation settings to “low”, and underexpose 2 stops (EI 400 instead of ISO 400).

(Pause while the “expose to the right” fans stop choking and get their hearts started again).

Then I lighten the resulting dark images in Photoshop (after converting to 16/48-bits and upsampling to avoid posterizing/combing the histogram as much as possible) using curves and levels.

Outcome: almost no smoothing, at least a 4x increase in resolution over the “smoothed” parts of a straight ISO 400 picture, an increase in noise (probably to about where it would have been at 400 if Leicasonic weren’t smoothing it), and a slight increase in saturation. Nice crisp clear “ISO 400” pictures. Less grain than most 400 color negs I’ve scanned, a bit worse than Provia 400f, especially in the shadows.

100_200_400.jpg (93371 bytes)

In the image above, the bottom row shows straight exposures at ISO 100/200/400. The upper images were shot with the camera set to ISO 100 but underexposed 1 and 2 stops and lightened in Photoshop. Note especially the faint rays in the top of the label - erased in the 200/400 exposures, retained in the “pushed” ISO 100 shots.

“Pushing” Digilux images beyond 400

The Digilux 2 is limited to ISO settings of 100/200/400. For many photographers, that’s not enough. Since my “push-processed” images from ISO 100 to 400 worked pretty well, I also experimented with underexposing and “pushing” ISO 400 images to higher EIs.

Put simply - the JPEG noise reduction at ISO 400 has already fouled the image so badly that it can’t hold up to any further strain on the pixels. Even at EI 800 the results are as ugly as the average ISO 3200 film. In a “news emergency” I could get a publishable newspaper picture at 800 or 1600, but not something I’d want to hang on the wall.

If Leica sees fit to change the firmware and make the JPEG noise-reduction “user-adjustable” - or if one works from RAW originals - better results may be possible. Otherwise, once the light drops below what f/2 and ISO 400 can handle, it’s time for an f/1.4 lens - on an SLR with a bigger chip and less noise reduction, or a film rangefinder. Or flash. Or (uggh!) a tripod.

Night shots

Speaking of tripods (which I normally use about once a year) - I did try a few long exposures. The Digilux 2 is limited to an 8-second maximum exposure time, and uses a ‘dark-frame’ second exposure to map and subdue ‘hot’ pixels. I don’t see much noise beyond the normal amounts for ISO 100 or 400 in an 8-second exposure - perhaps 50 specks out of 5 million pixels that might be under- or over-corrected hot pixels. The dark-frame exposure is not user-adjustable, and kicks in at 1/2 second - which snuck up on me a couple of times when I was making hand-held 1/2-sec. pictures.

night.jpg (31174 bytes)

The wonky blue channel shows its stuff. Blue lights ‘bloom’ like a 7-pixel gaussian blur, and over the rest of the picture the blue channel is essentially black. Red and yellow lights bloom a bit, green lights the least. White lights show purple fringes - red and blue blooming combined.

The attached image is a crop, but not a 100% view of the pixels.

IN SUMMARY

As an operating tool in the hand, the Digilux 2 is almost exactly what I wanted in a digital camera. I love the silence and stillness. I like the compact, grippable ergonomics. The manual controls, quick start-up, and short shutter lag simply outperform anything less than an SLR (and even a few of those) when it comes to fast work on the street, or wherever the action is. The ISO 100 image quality is extremely good - challenging the results from film scans with twice as many pixels due to the lens’s outstanding resolution.

I could wish for an alternative to the video viewfinder, so long as it retained the manual focusing, silence, and accurate framing. Don’t see any way to do it without giving up something else, though.

I could wish very strongly for an upgrade to the camera’s software that would make it possible to turn off the noise-suppression at ISO 200/400 via a menu selection similar to the color and saturation settings. Shouldn’t take more than 100 lines of code. Leica - are you listening?

I could wish for an 8Mp sensor to capture more of the lens’s abilities. And I’ll acknowledge the usefulness of a bigger buffer for RAW shooters - though I personally wouldn’t use it much.

No kidding around, though. If I weren’t primarily an ISO 100 photographer, and willing to use creative workarounds on the few occasions I need 400, I would not be nearly so happy.

This is probably as good a place as any to say that I did not buy the Digilux 2 for the Leica nameplate. I bought it for the straightforward analog controls. If Nikon or Canon or Minolta had produced a camera as ‘manual’ as the Digilux 2, I would have bought Nikon/equipment/canon/Minolta - whichever came first.

I chose the Leica over its Panasonic twin because it was available. As of this writing (late April 2004) I have yet to see a DMC/LC-1 in the flesh, whereas I’ve already shot 2200 exposures with the Digilux. That’s 60 rolls of film - or $660 in film/processing costs. So I’ve already recovered more than the Leica/Panasonic price difference.

Another 2-3 months of shooting, and I’ll be able to slap a “Don’t laugh - It’s paid for” sticker on the Leica. At which point the Digilux will be the same price as any other well-used digital camera - free. And I will still have the analog controls, comfortable ergonomics, and really impressive Leica lens to keep using forever - or what passes for “forever” in the world of digital photography.

Strong points

  • full set of manual/analog photographic controls - even the “auto” settings are via dials, rings and levers.
  • comfortable “35mm camera” ergonomics
  • superb lens performance
  • the “wideness” of the zoom at “28mm”
  • dead silence and smoothness of shutter release
  • short shutter lag
  • compactness and light weight
  • 100% framing without parallax problems
  • extremely good “off the sensor” exposures, that protect the highlights in multi-spot mode
  • viewfinder and rear LCD separately assignable to shooting and review modes (1-switch changeover)
  • automatic ‘escape’ from most menus by touching the shutter button
  • automatic ‘escape’ from focus magnification for framing by holding the shutter button
  • built-in bounce-flash capability

Weak points

  • excessive noise-smoothing at ISO 200 and 400, with no user control available
  • long delays between shots when shooting RAW
  • viewfinder “lag”
  • the “ugliness” of EVF/LCD viewing/focusing in general
  • too much DOF (on occasion) for reliable focusing with the EVF at 90mm and large apertures in bright light
  • chip resolution that doesn’t fully support the abilities of the lens
  • long end of the zoom range a bit short
  • some often-accessed controls (e.g. focus magnification on/off) not available through the “quick set” of 4 custom functions
  • and (yes!), digital image quality that is “only” better than most 35mm color neg. films, and can’t go places that Tri-X and an f/1.4 lens can go.

Basic Specs

  • 5 megapixel 2/3rd” CCD image sensor - Bayer RGBG pattern
  • 7mm-22.5mm f/2.0-2.4 zoom lens (35mm “equivalent”: 28-90mm)
  • Smallest aperture: f/11 closest focus distance (all focal lengths): .3m (about 1 foot)
  • filter size: 69mm
  • internal electronic LCD viewfinder. Large 2.5” LCD screen on the back
  • File formats: RAW, JPEG (3 levels of compression); 2560 x 1920, 2048 x1536, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480, 1920 x 1080 (HDTV-format), 320 x 240 video
  • Memory card: Secure Digital (SD) or Multi-media (MM): 5 RAW or 15 “finest” JPEG files (approx.) per 64Mb of card capacity.
  • Connections: USB 2.0, A/V out/remote release, DC power in. Battery: proprietary 7.2V, 1400 mAh Lithium-ion (Leica BP-DC1-U, same as used in the Digilux 1)
  • Comes with: battery, charger/AC power supply + cords, 64Mb SD card, A/V cord, USB cord, strap, lens hood, hood cap, lens cap, CD-ROMs with Photoshop Elements, ACDSee, and Silverfast (for RAW processing).
  • Price: $1850.00 US

Additional functions that I don’t use, but may be of interest:

Video with sound at 10 or 30 fps, 320 x 240 resolution, about 8 minutes worth per 256 Mb of memory at 30 fps; stop-animation, (a series of “still” pictures that end up as a video file, for Claymation™-type animations); sound recording that can be appended to still pictures (news photographers could use this to have subjects spell their names, I guess); DPOF settings for ordering prints from a digital minilab; down-sampling and/or cropping of pictures in the camera; showing pictures as a timed ‘slide show’ on the LCD or a TV (camera comes with an A/V outlet and mini-plug/RCA cord); remote control from a computer via USB connection; direct printing to a USB-direct-print-compatible (whew!) printer.

Where to buy

The Leica Digilux 2 can be obtained from many of the photo.net affiliate stores listed below. Purchasing from these stores via these links helps support photo.net.

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About the Author

Andy Piper has been a medical photographer, newspaper photojournalist, graphic designer, and Assistant Managing Editor/Graphics for the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star. He is currently a Presentation Editor with the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado (winner of the 1999 and 2002 Pulitzer Prizes for news photography), and a free-lance travel photographer/writer. The Digilux 2 is his first, and only, digital camera.

All material ©Copyright 2004 Andy Piper

Readers' Comments


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Adam Eberbach , June 04, 2004; 01:52 A.M.

Nice thorough review, and it looks like a nice camera - but is it really worth $1300 more than a Canon G5? Or to put it another way, worth the same as a Nikon D70 + two good lenses and a big CF card?

R Quan , June 04, 2004; 06:03 A.M.

An excellent review of the D2 from a known Leica expert. Many accolades are already rolling in. This review has added many many new points about the D2 not mentioned previously and is a significant contribution to our understanding of this camera. 24mm equivalent? What a great revelation! I would mention, somewhat randomly, these verbose opinions:

Aethetics:

The D2 is in my humble opinion the best looking camera ever. Flame me but I think so. Clean simple lines. Bauhausian. It retains some of the classic look of M cameras. I've had strangers ask "Isn't that a really old camera?"

Not as good as this or that:

The D2 has its detractors. Almost any individual feature of a camera can be criticized as being inferior to another. The D2 is larger than camera A (your pick of P&S's), the CCD is smaller than camera B (DSLR's), the megapixels are fewer than camera C (current crop of 8MP digicams), The EVF is inferior to camera D (Minolta A2). All cameras are combinations of features that are compromises based on the designer's goals and their perceived niche for the camera in the marketplace. I discredit reviewers that negatively latch onto one or another feature and declare the camera a failure because of it. IMO the D2's compromises and combination of features are ideal for my style of photography.

D2 CCD vs the world:

The D2's 5MP sensor creates wonderful images. For my work they hold their own against my 6MP Nikon DSLR at iso 100. The iso 400 images are the best in its size class. It is not quite fair to criticize the noise level compared to a larger APS sized sensor. It has been pointed out elsewhere on the web that chip size is similar to film format size. I don't hear much bashing of 35mm image quality compared to 6x6 or 4x5 formats because everyone recognizes that different film format sizes have different trade-offs. If the D2 had an APS sized sensor then the lens would be either impossibly huge or worse - limited in focal length and/or aperture. The D2 iso 400 images have a not unappealling noise level, like film grain. Tri-X film, introduced 50 years ago in1954, has a grain size that is much more prominent than chromagenic films yet plenty of people like it and use it and refrain from bashing the grain level as unacceptable. Would critics who declare the D2 at iso 400 unusable similarly say that Tri-X is unusable as well? I haven't yet gone to the trouble of acquiring in RAW partially because the quality of the .jpg's is for me quite good.

Not as good as a DSLR:

The D2 has more noise than a larger format DSLR. It doesn't have a usable iso 1600 or available iso 6400 setting. Of course the D2 can't mount a 10.5mm fisheye, 12-24 zoom, or 28f1.4/50f1.4/85f1.4. It can't shoot real macro, or sports or VR zooms or 300mm f2.8 teles. I own these lenses and when I need them I happily pull out my DSLR. In the meantime for my travel, family, street shooting the D2 is a much welcome relief from a DSLR and big bag of lenses. Since the D2 arrived the DSLR has seen very little use. Compared to a DSLR the D2 is smaller, lighter, MUCH quieter, more discrete, less attention getting. It just plain fits into my life much more compatibly than any DSLR. Sounds just like RFDR vs SLR debates for film cameras. My DSLR can't provide real-time histograms. For me the greater DOF is an advantage.

B&W:

I love this option which is lacking on my DSLR. It is much easier to visualize real-time B&W on the LCD screen compared to the DSLR's always-in-color viewfinder. I hear that one can visualize and shoot B&W in RAW mode and retain the option of color images later using the RAW file. Even at iso 400 the B&W .jpg's look quite good and seem to me to have less noise than color .jpg's.

Viewfinder:

The EVF is easily the D2's weakest feature. I was sure I would hate it but I found that while not great it really wasn't that bad. Deal breaker for some but not for me. My street shooting style is to hold the camera to eyelevel for the briefest amount of time to frame the shot so the quality of the EVF image is less important. The large lovely LCD makes up in good measure for the deficiencies of the EVF. I wish that a third push of the EVF/LCD button would turn both off to save power. I am wondering if a Hasselblad Reflex Viewfinder RMfX can be rigged to view the LCD from above.

Lens:

It is simply unbeatable. Nothing like it anywhere. For travel, personal, street shooting it is the perfect range and speed. The bokeh is quite beautiful. I would not give up any of its attributes to obtain a bigger CCD and modest image quality gain. It seems to me to offer 28/35/50mm Summicrons, 90mm Elmarit, and 28-35-50 Tri-Elmar lenses all rolled into one. No Leica M or DSLR has a single lens like this available. I don't miss changing lenses or missing shots because I had the wrong lens on the camera. I am considering pairing up the D2 with a 4MP Panasonic DMC-FZ10's Leica designed 35-420mm (equiv) f2.8 - what a light weight killer combo that would be...

Cost:

I don't complain about the premium cost of the D2 compared to the other digicams because I don't think any other digicam is comparable. The D2 lens is worth a fortune in equivalent Leica M glass. This fact alone was enough for me to go with it. No other digicam has a lens this valuable and Leica is renown for premium quality premium priced optics. Leica M's don't compete on price alone. I am not dismayed that a Leica is very expensive. I expect it. Few by now bother to criticize Leica M prices compared to VC Bessa, Hexar AF, or Minolta CLE. If Sony/Olympus/HP/Fuji/Canon/Nikon had a similar digicam for far less I might buy one but for now D2 is unique and I am able and willing to pay for it. To many photographers owning a Leica is worth the price. If you are unwilling to pay that price go for the Sony/Kodak/etc but you don't need to criticize Leica cameras as not worth it. They just are.

Filters:

A big blunder is offering a sophisticated and costly lens with bizarre 69mm filter threads and not even offer filters for sale at the time of the camera's introduction. I luckily purchased my D2 in April from a seller who included a 69mm Panasonic MC filter (as well as a Panasonic remote release and Sandisk Ultra II SD card for cheap). Heliopan filters are only now starting to trickle in.

Ergonomics:

I agree with everyone that egonomics are superb. I would concur that many controls can be manipulated by feel alone such as the metering pattern switch. I do wish that the on/off switch was in the locaton of the meter pattern switch and vice versa since all my Nikons have the power switch around the shutter release button. The on/off switch on the Panasonic LC1 verson of the D2 is more ergonomic as it lies closer to the thumb than the D2 plus pushing the lever up for on and down for off makes more sense. The D2 is also missing the power-on LED of the LC1.

Function button:

I have mine set for WB, ISO, cine, and (playing with it for now) digital zoom. One excellent feature is that with the functon button the ISO and WB settings can be set with little practice without looking at the EVF/LCD. I would have liked custom settings as in some other digicams where I would combine B&W/RAW/ISO400 as well as A-color/jpg/ISO100, etc.

Focus:

In manual focus I agree that MF2 (8x) setting works better for me. Zooming in to 90mm to set focus and then zooming out for framing also works well. I wish there was focus confirmation in manual focus and a distance read-out would be useful. In manual focus the lock release button can be used to set the distance by feel without looking, similar to tabbed Leica M lenses. For zone focusing street shooters this is a big advantage further reducing the lag time and making the D2 feel even more M-like. Like others I sometimes find that the focus ring slips from AF to AF-Macro accidentally.

Flash:

Built in bounce flash - who would have thunk it? Brilliant and pioneering. Works very well except if subject is too close to fall under the bounced light. In that case I put my left hand in front of the flash to bounce the light more vertically and off a nearby wall behind me (I've only tried this so far in B&W to avoid potential color casts).

Remote:

The remote cable threaded down my shirt sleeve and switch in left hand combined with 1930's AUFSU waist level finder makes a very stealthy outfit. Good of course for vibrationless shutter release.

User Manual:

The Panasonic LC1 manual is available for download on the web and is far more useful compared to the Leica D2 manual

http://im2.onecall.com/Image_Products/Panasonic/DMCLC1_man.pdf another interesting link: http://panasonic.co.jp/pavc/global/lumix/lc1/index.html

D2 and M3:

The M3 was, in 1954, a revolution in rangefinder camera design and ergonomics. The D2, on the 50th anniversary of the M3, is a similar breakthrough in the way serious photographers interact with their digital cameras. Leica has done it again.

Peter Smirnoff , June 04, 2004; 08:32 A.M.

I quote: "...I wanted a digital camera that could do better than the 2700-ppi scans I was getting from ISO 100/160 color negative films..."

What a joke. How about a 4000-6000ppi scans, huh?

JON GUSS , June 04, 2004; 11:29 A.M.

I have been an M-6 user for the past 10 years. I have never been able to adapt to gadget cameras very well. They have always been somewhat confusing for me and seemed to take away most of the personal touch in photography. I have waited to buy a digital camera until someone manafactured a camera much like my Leica. I do not have a lot of time to sit at a computer and use programs like Photo Shop (I lack the computer skills anyway.)being that I travel quite a bit in my work. Judging from the review, The camera will cover my need for great pictures while still retaining the basic feel of my M-6. It looks like the time has finally arrived to buy my first digital camera although I will feel guilty about leaving my M-6 behind.

Jim Simmons , June 04, 2004; 01:45 P.M.

Jon Guss, I think you'll still need to spend some time with Photoshop to get the most out of these D2 images. If you shoot Leica, your standards are high, and to reach those standards, you'll need to tweak the images in photoshop to make them be the best they can be. It's not hard to learn, as you'll only be using a small portion of all that photoshop was designed to do, but once there, you'll love the things that you can do that you could never do in traditional silver/dye photography - regional contrast control, manipulation of particular colors within the image, etc.

Jamie W , June 04, 2004; 03:40 P.M.

Here is my summary of the D2. It's a good camera, but shame about the price. But hey that's also my view of every Leica M camera.

Seriously though. I think Leica completly missed the boat. They should have built a camera with a built in lens that used an APS sized digital sensor and a digital rangefinder. Since it is all digital anyways they should be able to have digitally projected infinatly variable frame lines, and a digital range finder "cam" system to go with the zoom. Hell with a setup like this they could even make a new digital mount for lenses designed with digital cameras in mind. Then when they fix the issue with w/a lenses they could have the new cameras use a mount that accepts both lenses, even if the M lenses needed an adaptor (kinda like the M can use screw mount lenses via an adaptor).

Oh well. Did I mention it's a shame about the price...

Stephen W. , June 04, 2004; 09:03 P.M.

Andy,

As expected from your history within the Leica Photography Forum, your's is a great review; probably the best review I've read anywhere. However, digital of any kind is not my cup of tea and despite what some other people say regarding the availibility of processing outlets and Photoshop, I just don't like the PROCESS. I just prefer mechanical to digital, just me. BTW, my first computer class was in 1975.

Thanks for a look into the future, just not my future. I don't like menus and not in your face composition of viewscreens or bulk of the high quality systems. I absolutely HATE planned obsolescence being an engineer and designer. I know you mention "Paid For", but where's the pleasure of the process? I hate testing; thanks for doing so for the community.

Best Regards,

Steve

Dan Barthel , June 05, 2004; 09:17 A.M.

EVF's THANK YOU, NO WAY. It will be interesting when the Epson ships with a real optical viewfinder and Leica lens mount compatibility. That concept tempts me greatly.

Dan

John Falkenstine , June 06, 2004; 03:13 P.M.

The camera reminds me strongly of English cars of years gone by...rationalization is required to oversee the fact that its an overpriced, outdated dud. Nonetheless it will have its fans. I predict that it will have a very short life. By making massive repetitive errors like this, Leica shows some classic business mis-steps that could lead to its demise.

Adam S , June 07, 2004; 01:06 A.M.

Great Review !!

The Digilux 2 or can I say Panasonic LC1.... is a great camera. I have had them all. Pictures have a quality to them that is special. I can't put my finger on it but it's there. I know it depends on what you're using the camera for, but for me, the Digilux/LC1 works.

Advantages (my opinion): Fast lens with lots of DOF. It might not be as easy to throw a background out of focus but you won't get blurry photographs like those taken with some DSLRs with fast heavy lenses attached. Also, it's hard for a DSLR to take shots in low light with as much DOF. You could use a tilt & shift lens on a DSLR but there is more weight in your camera bag and you don't have the zoom. I took a low light shot of a band and a large crowd all inside a tent that came out amazing. Try that with a DSLR.

Lens is permanently attached to camera so you won't get dust on the sensor (can be costly to fix on DSLRs).

Professional feel. Sorry but I am tired of holding cameras that feel like a plastic toy. I know this won't make you a better photographer but hey, if I feel good about my camera, I will be using it more and should statistically end up with more good shots :)

You don't need an external flash to get shots that look like they were taken in daylight (fantastic bounce flash feature).

Controls are in the right place. Let's listen to the engineers of the past.

Has hot shoe and tripod socket that's located on same axis as the center of the lens (good features when you are trying to take panoramic photographs).

Huge screen. Great for previewing image while analyzing the histogram. Some people are saying it's like looking into view camera.

In high continuous shooting mode, you subject will ask if you have taken the picture yet while you've already grabbed a dozen shots (read that somewhere). Of course, sound has to be turned off.

Disadvantages: EVF, poor performance when camera is set to higher sensitivities, no RAW buffer. Can't win them all but I can wait till the next model comes out.

Things to think about: Can you really see the extra shadow detail in your prints (i.e. matte prints from an Epson 2200)?

On a trip, who want to carry a big backpack with a bunch of equipment (DSLR and 2.8 lenses along with tripod that will support them both). Also, think about all that extra glass you are carrying that your DSLR's sensor isn't utilizing.

Small cameras are winning photo competitions. It's the photographer and not always the camera.

You can get close to medium format results with stitching software.

Not necessarily a Digliux 2 issues >> Who wants to pay for film and processing? Who wants to look back at all those angry people waiting while security has to hand check each roll of film at an airport?

Camera is small enough where people don't get intimated. See what happens when you pull out that DSLR with a big lens attached. Also, can you say "steel me".

What did I miss. Sorry for the long post and the bad grammar.

Graham Welland , June 07, 2004; 04:55 A.M.

Thanks for a balanced review that actually gave me some valuable user advice (iso 400 shooting technique). Thanks - I learnt something today!!

I've had my D2 for a couple of months now and it is definitely my favourite 'real' digital rangefinder camera vs digital appliance. Despite the following I really enjoy using mine.

For me, there are three issues with the D2: 1) auto-macro mode on lens. Like others I find that this moves too easily. 2) Focus/zoom feel - not as silky smooth as I'd like and a little lightwieght for my taste. 3) EVF - enough said!! I do like being able to compose in B&W mode and still shoot colour RAW though. This helps.

The filter situation is unforgiveable. I only want a step-up ring and even this is still not generally available. Polarisor is mega bucks and unobtainium too.

Dean G , June 07, 2004; 05:03 P.M.

So much is made out the "big DSLR and BAG of LENSES". If you bring a "BAG of lenses", it's only because you want to, not because you have to, for crying out loud. A 10D with a 24mm 2.8 prime for instance, is a nice compact camera. The D2/LC1 sounds nice, but this size thing.. it's just splitting hairs. I know it depends on what you're trying to do, but there seems to be nothing the D2/LC1 can do that a 10D or other DSLR can't do as well or better, but the equation doesn't necessarily work out the other way around. The D2 is not that much lighter, it is not that much smaller, and though the lens is fast, a camera like the 10D can gain 2-3 stops simply by having useable ISO 200, 400, 800, and sometimes 1600.. or 3200 in a pinch. I have a 18-50mm Sigma DC zoom lens, compact and designed for APS sized sensors, barely larger than the 50mm 1.8 prime. Gives 28mm-80mm equivalent 3.5-5.6 (slow..but per above, so what?), and it works really well despite being.. er cheap. So it's not a magical Leica lens, but it's working with the magical Canon CMOS sensor, it's a tradeoff until I want (if ever) to buy an "L" lens. And I can just use a light weight and sharp prime if I want. This isn't really a vs dslr thing, but it keeps coming up, and I don't see the point. Better that the Leica D2 be compared to other upscale Point and Shoots, or perhaps the Oly E1 2/3 camera, but the APS sized DSLRs are in a class by themselves IMO.

Simon Lamb , June 09, 2004; 07:09 P.M.

I find the most interesting part of the review is the fact that there is a tutorial on how to take acceptable ISO 400 images (that circumvent the in-built shortcomings) with a 1300 UK Pound camera.

I think that says all that needs to be said about the overpriced D2.

Simon

Randall Shafer , June 15, 2004; 11:52 A.M.

So when you get right down to it, it's a $600 Sony 717 with a $1200 Leica price sticker added and without the innovative features like laser AF assist and nightshot.

I'm underwhelmed. But at least the country club set will no longer have to be embarrassed hauling around a Canon, Nikon or UGH--- HP.

David Kieltyka , June 16, 2004; 10:14 P.M.

I find it amusing that so many people see this review as an opportunity to polemicize about a camera they don't own and have never used. Why attempt to discuss when you can pontificate instead!

The D2 isn't a camera for me (I have used one) but I certainly appreciate the thoroughness of Andy's evaluation. Thanks.

-Dave-

Jim Koral , June 17, 2004; 11:43 P.M.

I can't wait to buy an improved, better version a few years from now. Once they resolve the snaggles of bad high ISO in-camera JPEGS and the truly, truly sad unacceptable spec of a 1 frame RAW burst rate... Are you kidding me? Is this a $200 fisher price toy camera for the kids? Leica, dudes: Get with it.

Phil Shima , June 18, 2004; 04:58 P.M.

Andy - Great and thorough review. I'm glad I bought the Olympus C-8080. The money I saved will go towards a Leica MP body.

Phil

Dan Wajnman , June 25, 2004; 08:29 A.M.

"The Digilux 2 body is a basic Bauhaus "form-follows-function" box" The original Barnack's Leica was a functional design, it accommodated two film-rolls and between them a lens, in a smallest possible shape. The lens was collapsible, making the camera wonderfully pocketable. Leica followed this design in all later models and although modern lenses could not be collapsed, the design reminded functional and the styling great. The D2 is a digicam camouflaged as a film camera. A bit like early cars, which looked like horse carriages. The styling is nice and everybody can recognize it as a horse carriage - sorry, as a film camera, which it is not. All this would not be important in the least, but the camera lacks functionality, it needs a grip and a movable LCD. This, I think, was sacrificed for marketing reasons, a pity. My other comment is concerned with the camera's small sensor and the resulting lack of DOF control. Great DOF is good for some situation but it cripples the camera for others, when one needs BOKEH and the 3D effects it creates. The resulting images are very different to the ones captured on film or large sensors. This difference is in my opinion far more significant that the minute differences in noise and definition. Dan

John Falkenstine , June 25, 2004; 04:03 P.M.

My original posting was accurate. Prices on the Digilux are already tumbling=no buyers.

S G , July 12, 2004; 09:22 A.M.

Very helpful review by Andy. I have had the opportunity to handle the D2's in person, clearly the EVF is the biggest negative to me. That does not mean I won't buy this camera (wife's approval pending). I, for one, would like to state that I will buy this camera for the Leica brandname and the accompanying legend and quality. Same concept applies to exotic cars, timepieces, and other fine items - there are always cheaper and high quality items available. I doubt if the D2 bashers are not not guilty of succumbing to some premium brand name items. The premium demanded by Leica was not earned in one day. If the D2 is disappointing in quality, then Leica will have much to lose. There are obviously disparate views on the Digilux 2. I do have a question that perhaps someone could answer. The D2 won the DIMA contest. Does that lend some credibility to this camera or are the DIMA judges just nincompoops? Also, for those in favor of film Leica cameras but not the D2, can't you take good photos with other fine, cheaper film cameras (Nikon, Canon, etc., ) -- why Leica? I have never owned a Leica before but I do understand its appeal. My main reason for buying the D2 is that I know each photo I take with this camera will feel special...a word I would hardly use for cameras such as Nikon D70, Minolta A2, etc. etc.

Kevin Parratt , July 27, 2004; 11:14 A.M.

This is the year 2004. The viewfinder of the Leica Digilux 2 is lousy. Whilst the camera has many other impressive qualities, it is this first major drawback which compels me to hang on to my money. As a Leica M user, am I really meant to be seduced by the Digilux 2 styling? The lag time finally closes the books. Next please...!

S G , July 28, 2004; 03:45 P.M.

After my earlier comments (see above), I actually did purchase a Digilux 2, tried it for 2 weeks and then returned it. I did use the camera extensively for the 2 weeks so here are my comments / observations: - the design is beautiful and the camera just has a unique style to it - Exposures for the most part were fine, 90% of the time as I would want them to be although some results were very disappointing - Focus was the most disappointing for me, since of the more than 200 or 300 photos I took, about 75% were not focussed. This, of course, is due to handheld photography and varying light conditions; HOWEVER, when I have taken similar photos with a 35mm Contax SLR with 100 speed film, almost all photos were tack sharp. I do realize I could somehow improve my technique and 'learn' to work the D2, however, there was just this nagging disappointment in this otherwise gorgeous camera. The spot AF also did not always seem to find the targeted spot. - Bottomline was that I was perhaps happy with just 5% of the results, which is not what I would expect from such an expensive camera. - Other points: EVF is not so bad as people make it out to be, but I did find myself using the LCD to compose photos a fair number of times since it is just awesome. The digital zoom is okay for amateur use and can be used on some rare occassions. Black & White photos come out great in this camera, which I have found to be generally quite difficult with film cameras.

I did my best to really like this camera and even thought of holding on to it, but in the very end I just could not convince myself to keep the camera. I was almost considering the purchase of a Canon EOS 10D, but since the good lenses are way too expensive and the whole kit makes for a heavy load, I have decided to get a Minolta A2, which is about 1/2 the price of the Digilux. I hate the look of the A2, but it seems to have top-notch features. Well, this was my first experience with Leica and not a very memorable one at that. Here are some sample photos I took with the D2:

http://www.pbase.com/sxgautam/leica_digilux_2_gallery

Steve Bingham , August 10, 2004; 09:29 A.M.

What a great review. Of the 3 reviews I have read, this is the most complete. That said, however, I think Henri Cartier-Bresson would have disliked this camera - as I do.

It is sad to see Leica produce such an inferior product. Beautiful it is, as are all Leicas (including my old but still functioning IIIc). Slow raw processing, slow and unsure focusing, and an electronic viewfinder really should not exist on a camera in this price range - digital or not (for another $5 they could have quadrupled the size of the buffer). In my opinion this camera will probably not do well for the Leica legend of excellence. Sad.

David Haynes , August 12, 2004; 12:02 P.M.

Excellent Review!

I bought the D2 in April and it paid for itself (2 times over) the first job I used it on.

I use both DSLRs, the D2 and film cameras (35mm, Medium Format and Large Format) in my business. Like other tools, it is appropriate to use the D2 in situations where it's strengths will be apparent. I have yet to see the perfect camera for all situations.

This business of dogging the D2 for its weaknesses is akin to saying that my Deardorff 8x10 is no good because it cannot be hand-held, or that a Hasselblad is no good because its lenses aren't as fast as a 35mm or DSLR.

The fact is that all cameras are tools and have both strengths and weaknesses. We wouldn't expect to use a clawhammer to remove an allenhead screw, would we?

That said, in my opinion the D2 has been of great value to me. As a long time user of the Leica M system, I knew going in that any Leica camera would carry a premium price. That's just the way it's always been with Leica.

I can only speak for myself, but for me the price seems fair. After all, I'm getting a Leica-designed Vario-Summicron that covers the fields of view of a 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm and 90mm, plus a camera that produces magical image files in both JPG and RAW formats, for less than the price of a current M6 or M7 body (or most single lenses for the M system).

Other than its twin (Panosonci LC1) the D2 is the only digital camera I'm aware of that allows the photographer to set all the shooting controls (aperture, zoom, focus, shutter speed, etc.) without powering on and entering various levels of level. In fact, there have been times when I've set up for a shot by feel alone, without even looking at the camera controls.

Bottom line for me is that the D2 has let me get photographs in situations when I would not have otherwise gotten them with other available equipment.

Dave Leung , August 16, 2004; 02:21 A.M.

Thank you, Andy, for such a concise and well written opinion of Leica's latest digital camera. Following three months of shooting with the Digilux 2, I find myself sharing many of the same conclusions. If I had to name one aspect of the camera which most needed improvement, it would be one which was expressed earlier by S.G., namely, the focusing. I am unsure what malady plagues my Digilux 2, but I have had more than my share of misfocused pictures. I own and believe I know how to use autofocus cameras. I would have a difficult time believing that the out-of-focus shots are primarily due to operator error such as not properly aiming at the intended subject or forgetting to pre-focus while composing. Spot focusing helps somewhat, but it's not easy to judge until the image is viewed on a proper computer monitor. On the other hand, the biggest positive I take away is that I find myself taking more pictures again. The Digilux 2, for all it's imperfections and idiosyncrasies, is a joy to use. It's size, shape, and weight are ideal and thus, makes it very versatile. The low compression jpegs are remarkably detailed. Combine these with it's well placed controls a seasoned photographer would feel immediately comfortable using, and the Digilux 2 is without comparison in the digital realm. It's a tool which does nothing perfectly, but most things well. It is the Ideal Compromise! I've used DSLRS and other digicams, but this is the first digital camera which I enjoy using and find myself wanting to use. As I wrote earlier, I am taking more pictures again.

Some Digilux 2 Images

Andy Piper , August 19, 2004; 02:45 A.M.

Just thought I'd add an update RE the focusing problems mentioned.

I have had no problems, but others have mentioned them here and elsewhere, so they're real.

1) Some D2/LC-1s apparently have poorly aligned sensors, so that pictures shot at "infinity" or elsewhere on the focusing ring are not actually focused there. A warranty fix, and easy to test for.

2) There is a conceptual flaw in the D2/LC-1 AF indicator. Correct autofocus is indicated by a green dot that lights up in the viewfinder. INCORRECT or FAILED AF is indicated by a green dot that lights up -and then flashes.

This means that if you shoot as soon as you see the green dot, you may be shooting an unfocused picture. You have to wait an extra moment to see if the dot remains steady - or flashes.

A red dot for "no focus" would have been a better warning than a flashing green dot, which can look like a "good focus" indicator for the first .5 second.

Since I don't use AF much, I missed this potential problem in the original review.

Other than that - no significant additional news. Except that I've quit shooting SLOW color film. The Leica M6s live on B&W and the once-a-year roll of 400 color - the Digilux gets the rest. I weep trying to scan my few "legacy" color slides. "Darn - I wish I'd had the Digilux to shoot this with" is what usually springs to mind.

REALLY looking forward to the digital back for the Leica SLR coming this fall - as a preview for how the Digital M will perform.

Georg Nyman , August 20, 2004; 12:44 P.M.

Well, first I must admit, I did not read all comments before I started writing mine. But I was surprised how good that camera performs regarding image quality compared to the Leica M6 with the 1,4/35mm lens. Maybe some of the details of the film image are not visible on the web, but overall, having seen these comparison photos, I am asking myself why spending thousands of Dollars for the Leica M6 lenses if that digital camera can do it almost better. Another reason why I shoot more or less everything on 120/220 film - there is no digital camera (yet) available which can beat roll film performance. Overall a very interested review and very well done ( I do review myself as well ) - thanks for that excellent review! George N. Nyman PhD. http://www.gnyman.com

Paul Reading , September 04, 2004; 07:25 P.M.

There is one flaw with the D2 which has not been discussed. the D2 has an AF lens and to move to or from manual focusing you need to depress a small button, this is a good feature. however, when you move from manual to AF, the ring can easily be turned one more step to AF-macro. On many occasions I have used the camera only to find that the AF mode has slipped into the macro mode in error. It should require another press of the small button to move to macro mode in my opinion.

Jay Dougherty , September 23, 2004; 12:08 P.M.

The price tag is a joke, a bad joke. The brunt of the joke is unfortunately Leica itself.

Leica will not sell many. Back to the drawing board, folks.

Anthony Brookes , September 30, 2004; 04:40 A.M.

Having looked at a number of cumbersome large digital cameras the prospect of having one near M6 size with more conventional controls is attractive. Normally I am wary of new products but yours is the second review I have read which suggests the Digilux 2 is well worth looking at. If its resale value holds up when the inevitable 10mp version arrives then the initial cost of the D2 may be acceptable. I am now going out to try one as a result of your comprehensive review. Many thanks.

Joseph Coalter , October 20, 2004; 10:03 P.M.

This is a great review, just what I've been looking for. After reading the review, I purchased the Panasonic version for under $1,100. I use three Fuji medium format manual cameras, and I hope this digital will be a perfect companion to them. They will work in similar ways with similar capabilities. I hope to use the Panasonic to do test shots to support the big Fujis, and I should be able to do less bracketing after going through a learning curve. This camera fills a gap for me, and should be a good carry around camera for general use.

Gianfranco Ceccolini , October 31, 2004; 05:09 P.M.

First of all, I'd like to say that's a very good review of the camera. I've bought mine in April 2004 and till that date, had only found one single review which was good, but focused a bit on the good side. Reading a review that points both sides is a real pleasure. I agree with most of the points. Raw buffer inexistence is the common complaint in all I've read and I can't disagree with that. I despise it so much...

The motive I'm writing this is because, albeit is a great review, it lacks the same point all others do so: The LCD screen. The big-light-high definition-etc LCD screen. I love it and it really changed my way of photographing.

One of the reasons I bought a digital camera with fixed lens in place of and DSLR (I used a great Canon A-1 that belonged to my father since 1979 and was given to me in 2000 and my first idea when moving to digital was getting a DSLR, probably Rebel or D70)is because I can't stand the idea of having to clean the sensor once a year or so. Of course, there are other reasons I chose the Digilux 2 (desing, retro style, manual controls, Leica lenses, etc) but the "sealed body" was a strong point in my decision. Being used to the A-1, the Digilux 2 manual operations made the decision easy, even with the high price compared to other cameras. As told in the review, I could have bought the Lumix LC-1, but I live in Brasil and there's no authorized Lumix dealear that sells that model. I've been the second brazillian to get a Digilux 2 in the authorized Leica Dealer.

As I started to use it, I got really impressed with some attributes and disapointed with others. It is my first digital, so I was kind of a newbie in the subject. Really expected the autofocus to be faster, for example. As the A-1 is manual focus, it doesn't matter. I continue on manual. I am able to focus quickly and I have a pre-focus technique using the numbers on the focus ring :-)

As I got used to it, the thing that got me really in love with it was the LCD screen. I've seen previous digital cameras from friends, but the LCD screen thay had were really bad. Just served for picture identification while in play mode and framing when shooting. With the Digilux 2, things are different. I've got a Rolleyflex from a friend for some time and was realy interested in seeing the picture that would be taken on the unpolished glass. I have the same feeling with the Digilux 2, but in a better way. The LCD gives me the opportunity to see the picture BEFORE it is taken and that is something marvellous. The LCD quality is very good. Don't know if it's the best that technology permits to be done, but is the best compared to any digital camera. Being able to see the image prior to taking the shot, and not just an authopsy of the picture taken as with any DSLR, is really a bonus I didn't expect. Of course it isn't perfect and even doesn't work well in all conditions. The image seen in my computer's monitor is way better, but my eyes are learning to see the real photo through the LCD.

This is a point that I've never seen anybody talk about and it's a real good thing that the digital world has given me. It changes drastically the approach to photography, the way the photographer interacts with the subject and widens the possibilities a lot.

One more thing is about the resolution. I know that 5MP is less that the lenses "deserve" but RAW mode makes this a minor problem. Using Photoshop you can increase resolution to 5120x3852 pixels with minor losses. That is more resolution anyone could ask. I don't know if the quatilly loss it gives is a problem for professionals, but it solved my needs as an amateur...:-)

That's it. I love Digilux 2. Don't regret to spend the 1850 USD in it at all. Since April, I''ve taken 22000 (yes, twelve two tousend) photos and for sure it really paid for itself...

Peter Bilitch , November 10, 2004; 03:20 A.M.

For me this review was especially interesting, since it came out at the same time as I posted my Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1 for sale on eBay, which is in turn about five months after I originally purchased it.

I decided upon the LC1 largely from reading the personal experiences of people on the dpreview forums and seeing the images that they displayed. I also compared the images and musings visible on the forums for the various 8 Megapixel offerings, such as the Minolta A2, the Olympus C-8080 and the Canon Powershot Pro1.

The deciding factors for me to buy the LC1 were largely two-fold. One being a technical [theoretical] consideration, while the other was an more aesthetic [subjective] approach.

The technical theorising concerned the speed and range of the lens, i.e. f/2 was faster than any other digicam offering and I was happy that the 28-90mm could provide a general purpose range for what might be termed as a 'normalised' field of view.

My criteria for aesthetic concerns, were won over by the colour rendition that I could see in the images I had seen. These images consistently displayed the warm tones of the familiar Leica hue.

What failed to satisfy after almost half a year of daily use, was the frequent presence of noise, even in images that had been brightly lit at the time of exposure.

I had seen examples of this before I bought the camera, but the vast majority of images posted, whether on the forums or on website reviews, were shot with the CCD exposure rated at 100 ISO, so I incorrectly assumed that the f/2 lens overcame the need for such a frequent use of higher ISO rates.

I could obtain noise free images from exposures recorded by the CCD at ISO 100, but everything else displayed a level of grain that I did not wish to see and more to the point, was something that I never learned to accept.

There are users who say that the smooth gradation of the speckled grain from the noise produced by this camera, lends an air of character to the final image. Maybe so, maybe...

It is interesting to note that despite the high level of manual operation available with this camera, even when the aperture ring is turned to the f/2 setting, that the user is very often comprimised [forced] by the camera into accepting a f/2.4 aperture rating.

The zoom range became something of a limitation, but this was the lesser of any issues for me. I simply find that I am becoming more interested in creating wider angled images and therefore want to explore beyond the field of view provided with a 28mm lens. Although this is currently a mute point with my new DSLR, because I have an f/2.8 20-35mm zoom lens which is transformed into an effective 30-52.5mm lens due to the 1.5x factoring by the CCD.

So now that I have mentioned my new venturing into Digital SLR territory, I will satisfy the curious about which model of DSLR I purchased. It's the Nikon D70.

To add just one comment about the D70 and why I chose this model. It does satisfy my search for less noise and yet I am quite sure that it will be replaced within two years from now, due to the current trend of digital SLR camera production to bring out new models every two years, which in turn is due to the relative immaturity and rapid advances in the digital technology. In other words, I wanted the Nikon D2H, but I decided to save myself 2000 Euros, at least for now that is...

Here is an admittedly unfair comparison of noise results, but I think that they are interesting representations, and anyway I currently have no other more relevant images stored here at photo.net:

Panasonic LC1 @ ISO 100

Nikon D70 @ ISO 1600

Peter

Robert Schellhammer , December 06, 2004; 08:00 P.M.

I bought the Panasonic version for cosmetic reasons. The price difference is non-existent if you factor in the need to increase the warranty to 3 years and buy RAW conversion software for the Panasonic.

Gavin Sterrett , December 24, 2004; 01:14 A.M.

Wow! I've read the review twice now and can't imagine why anyone who doesn't have money to burn would by such a hunk of junk. I liked the one commentator's analogy comparing it to a British car! The only redeeming factor I can see in this overpriced, outperformed dinosaur is its lens, which appears to be fabulous (as are all leica lenses). But I am afraid that doesn't come close to justifying its cost or shortcomings. I would rather spend $600 on a used Canon EOS D60 (which, from what I've just read and seen, outperforms this camera by a mile) and then spend the difference in price choosing from the vast array of fantastic EOS lenses available. But hey, I guess I just wouldn't look as cool walking around with my Canon as I would with a Leica!

Jurgen Banda-Hansmann , January 02, 2005; 11:50 A.M.

Andy, great article. I appreciated your balanced review. It helped me a lot in my decision process, buying my digital camera. I ended up with the LC 1. The better price and included accessories made the decision for me. The areas of critique are valid, though I got accustomed to the electronic viewfinder. Sure, with a DSLR, I wouldn't have to worry about the slow RAW recording and limited ISO, but the smaller size gave me oppurtunity to take pictures, I would not have been able to do with a bigger DSLR. At the end of the day, it is decision of personal preferences and style. Thanks for the really good review. Jurgen

Brett S , January 02, 2005; 05:04 P.M.

here's my attempt to throw a little more kerosene on the D2 vs. DSLR flame war...

I've owned a Nikon D70 for about 4 months. I think it's a great camera that takes very good photos. I bought it with the 18-70mm kit lens, and have purchased a few other lenses and filters to round out the package. I've probably taken about 1200 shots with it so far, and find that's it's pretty easy to use once you get acclimated to its setup. I have found that the only way I can get acceptable photos is by shooting in the 'M' manual mode, setting all controls myself. Autofocus is fairly good and fast, but in low light situations, the camera often is unable to focus at all, forcing me to switch to manual mode, and often causing me to miss shots entirely. I would have been better off with a $50 P&S camera in those cases. Still, it has a great memory buffer and basically no lag time, even in RAW mode.

So my feelings about my Nikon D70 are mixed. And when I factor in the accessories and glass that I've accumulated, the Nikon is no cheaper than the Leica. And is much more expensive than the Panasonic LC1. Altho it has more versatility.

But I digress. Before I bought the D70, I borrowed a coworker's Panasonic LC1 for some quick photos I needed. I wasn't familiar with his camera at all, and wasn't aware of its pedigree. So I had low expectations for the results. However, I found the camera incredibly easy to work with, and the photos were clearly better than ANY I've ever taken with my Nikon. Which is why I find myself reading this review. I intend to keep the Nikon around for telephoto and macro work. But I'm planning to purchase either the Panasonic or Leica for all my other needs.

Anybody who tells you that their DSLR takes better photos than the Leica/Panasonic has never compared the results. The photos you get with the Leica/Panasonic really ARE special. Compare specs all you want. But for me, it's all about the photos.

Denis Waugh , January 21, 2005; 11:50 A.M.

After the disappointment of seeing the silver 'metal' finish being rapidly worn on my Leica Digilux 1, I had hoped for an improvement with the Digilux 2 finish. Alas, it too is already showing signs of the metallic finish wearing through to a very unattractive white underneath. Plastic, surely not, not for Leica, not at this price! I've had Leica M6s for years and they do not wear. Come on Leica, make you digital cameras with a better finish than this. A Leica should last forever! Is this the Panasonic effect?

Brian Edwards , February 19, 2005; 06:32 P.M.

I wonder who would be willing to pay for a camera body that will last for 50 years but whose technology (i.e., sensor) will be essentially obsolete in one or two years. Unless the camera comes equipped with user- or factory-upgradable sensors (now there's an idea), I am not sure if I would be willing to pay through the nose for such a "durable" camera.

John Falkenstine , March 07, 2005; 12:52 A.M.

My June 6 2004 observation was correct "Leica ist Kaputt" now going into receivership as credit has been withdrawn from the company. When you sleep through a technology change, you pays the price. If you have a good name, you've got to keep it good. Making junk and hoping the good name will obfuscate that its junk just doesn't work in the technology world. Philips, the Ostrich from Eindhoven is next...

Andy Piper , March 09, 2005; 02:09 A.M.

John's post regarding Leica's financial position has several inaccuracies that need correcting (it must be those almost-spring breezes off the Santa Catalinas making him dizzy):

"My June 6 2004 observation was correct...(June 6 quote: "I predict that it will have a very short life.)"

OOOPS!

The Digilux has been out over a year, with no replacement on the horizon - hardly a "short life" in the digital world (where, for example, Leica's partner Panasonic went from the FZ1 through the FZ10 to the FZ20 in a year).

-------

"Leica ist Kaputt" now going into receivership as credit has been withdrawn from the company."

OOOPS!

Leica is NOT even close to receivership. In accordance with German business law, banks have frozen SOME credit lines because Leica expects a big loss for 2004-05 (Euros 10 million against assets of Euros 83 million), and the banks want to know how Leica plans to stem the losses (to be revealed in a stockholders' meeting May 1). Sort of like a parent calling the kid at college and saying "We aren't sending another check until you tell us how you spent the last one."

In Leica's words (3-Q report March 1, 2005): "These reductions of credit lines do not as yet endanger the Company?s solvency."

------

"Making junk and hoping the good name will obfuscate that its junk just doesn't work in the technology world."

Leica suffered a 35% decline in income from sales of its interchangeable-lens ("system") 35mm film cameras, i.e. the M and R lines. Leica had a GAIN of 40% in income from sales of compact cameras - which includes the Digilux 2.

In others words - it was the high-quality lines with the "good name" that went into the tank - and it's the so-called "junk" Digilux 2 that's saved Leica's bacon - or at least slowed the decline.

OOOPS!

To quote Leica again: "Sales of the Leica compact cameras, among them the digital LEICA DIGILUX 2 model, grew by 40.2 % to Euros 13.7 million. From the point of view of the Company?s Board of Management, these facts prove Leica?s ability to offer attractive digital solutions. The sales volume of such solutions, however, could not make up for the declines in the analogue business."

None of which affects the capabilities or limitations of the camera as described.

Seamus Phan , March 14, 2005; 12:59 P.M.

I bought the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1 (the cousin to Digilux 2) a month back, after a long deliberation, and lots of "jeers" from other users who insisted I should spend the same amount and get something like a Nikon D70, or simply go for the much cheaper cousin, the FZ20.

However, there is an innate charm to the LC1 (or Digilux 2), with all the manual or auto controls you need in 3 rings around the lens, and the build quality is the most refined in any digital camera I have seen (DSLRs included).

Needless to say, the images are great, and like many other reviewers and users acclaimed, the image is the key, and a bit of noise can always be cleared up with a variety of tools, including Noise Ninja, Kodak GEM Pro, and others.

As for the slow RAW processing without a built-in buffer, I use the RAW mode primarily for stills and scenics, and so the slow processing means nothing, since I shoot with a tripod and the cable release (remote), and take my time. For motion and action shots, the JPEG high works rather well, and the pictures always retain that illusive and hard-to-explain Leica quality.

A great camera, a great pal to travel with, always loved.

Jens Evensen , March 20, 2005; 07:48 P.M.

I think this is a very good camera! I have been using it (the Panasonic LC1) since sept. 04. The colors are very good!

John Falkenstine , March 27, 2005; 12:13 P.M.

yup, yup I'm wrong on everything right? BTW my German is fluent, I read the company's financial report as well...I re-iterate what I said above. The company's income is not sufficient to support its continuing operation..It's late to the digital dinner table, its offerings are nothing special. Banks withold credit for a reason, and Leica's ability to manage itself financially have a poor track record. I don't exactly see folks standing in line to buy the company, and there's a reason for that..soon it might be much, much cheaper to buy Leica..

Juan Monino , May 23, 2005; 02:08 P.M.

Well, after reading this excellent review and all its critics, I still went and bought the D2 for $1279 including tax and s/h.

I could buy the Panasonic version or even a Nikon D-70 for much less, but I decided to purchase a Leica D2, and I will tell you guys the reason why:

The same reason I bought a Rolex watch instead of a SEIKO or a TIMEX: Even thought the SEIKO or the TIMEX watch offer better features than a Rolex and they are even more precise...a Rolex is a Rolex. And a Leica is a Leica, and I carry my Leica around the same way I carry my Rolex: with great pleasure, because I like it, and because I feel good ...and because I have the dough to afford it.

John Falkenstine , May 29, 2005; 05:14 P.M.

God bless the marketing of a myth....and those who need the myth to be wyth.

John Kelly , May 29, 2005; 08:10 P.M.

On another forum its said that Pansonic is now going entirely 4/3...

About time.

4/3 will enable much smaller lenses (far smaller diagonal than 2X3)and in turn a much smaller body...presumably 8mp, like Olympus.

I sure hope they do it soon. They'd sell a zillion D3s at 3X Canon's price if they just managed to equal Canon G6.

Landrum Kelly , June 11, 2005; 07:50 A.M.

To Juan Morino: You may have the dough to buy a Rolex, but if you think that a camera with the capacity to save one (1) RAW file at a time is the photographic equivalent of a Rolex, then by all means spread the wealth around. There's a sucker born every minute, not to mention two con men ready to take advantage of him.

None of this is express disrespect for Leica. It is to say that this camera is not up to the standards that we have come to expect of that great company. Great optics and intuitive analog controls do not by themselves make for great shooting.

Arthur Yeo , August 25, 2005; 12:45 A.M.

Andy,

The Japanese website of Panasonic seem to indicate that all the so-called Leica lenses in the Panasonic cameras are actually designed by Panasonic and quality-controlled using Leica standard equipment and processes and that the designs of the lenses are approved by Leica AG.

In other words, Leica did NOT design the Lumix lenses at all, let alone manufacturing them.

When you have a chance, I would appreciate if you can clarify this point. Thanks!

Philip Clarke , August 29, 2005; 07:28 P.M.

One thing that should be noted is 28mm f2, no other digital that I know of does this, Canon G5 goes down to 35 f2 but then you have to add a supplementary lens. Taking into account the average Digital SLR (or the Epson rangefinder) magnification of 1.6 one needs a 17.5mm f2 err, which doesn't exist so for the wide angle digital user this camera is unique. One can buy a Sigma 20mm f1.8 which gives about 30mm but it's massive and it's a Sigma.

So while others are shooting at f2.8 (with a 17mm) at iso 400 the Leica shoots at iso 200, or as the article suggests iso 100 and pulled a couple of stops with the lens no longer at open aperture.

Now whose going to test this out for the group them ?

Steven Chen , November 16, 2005; 04:10 P.M.

Sample shot at Halifax, CANADA. Using Leica Digilux-2 JPEG mode, no editing, 50% scaled.

Image Attachment: Nova_scotia_2 043a.jpg

Dave Leung , February 13, 2006; 08:04 A.M.

Having spent nearly two years with the Digilux 2, I've come to find that with all it's perceived shortcomings, this camera is still a joy to use. Though my 20D is probably technically superior, the Leica sees far more playing time.

Digilux 2 Gallery

Richard Clark , January 11, 2007; 03:20 A.M.

In April 2005 I sold my Venice Beach house and took off looking for Zane Grey's America, I had all my Digital Video cameras but wanted a reasonable digital still camera with a good lens, singular, didn't want digital and dust, so bought the Digilux 2 from Samy's in Venice. I shot JPEG before I discovered RAW and posted shots to my Blog at kiwicafe.com. I had a ball, loved the camera for it's point and shoot, me not being a pro. Fast forward to 2007. I am now in New Zealand I used the Digi2 today, I love it. I bought a Nikon D200 plus ALL the lenses and gear but for me, I would get rid of it all and keep the Digilux2. I dropped it in a NZ river, on rocks, dried it off and it worked fine, seriously, but then I noticed a water spot in the centre of the lens where it dried, bugger! I am not a techy so decided NOT to dismantle but sent it to Germany where after 2 goes thay got it right. It's as good as new. There is now a new version with interchangeable lenses or the new M8, beyond my range today but if I hadn't bought the D200 I would be an M8 sort of guy, so there, bugger me but Leica is good.

Andrew Bamji , September 10, 2007; 08:54 A.M.

Digilux vs Panasonic? The camera(s) may be the same but the backup is different.

I fell over with my Digilux 2 (composing a shot, missed a step but got the shot in the end). The CCD dislocated itself and the camera had to go back for a new one.

Cost? Nil. had it been a Panasonic I would have paid a substantial sum for a re-do which would not have been covered by insurance. So you might save by buying cheap in the first place, but will end up paying for it in the end!

When I can afford it I will go for a D3, not least as it takes M lnses, of which I have several!

Brian Wright , February 03, 2008; 04:27 P.M.

I,m just getting back into photography after 20 odd years...used to be a big Canon man A1,AE1-PROG..FP4 user. To be honest...i have always been mesmirised by the little red dot...so i have been doing some research and i have managed to locate a mint unused digilux 1 and 2...there is 300 pounds difference between the two...iam familiar with the 1 and think that it takes good shots at 100asa...so the question is since im just getting back into it..is the extrs for the 2 worth it as really all i need is auto with option for manual.From what i,ve seen the 1 does take natural 35mm type shots...iam not an experienced digital user. Cheers Brian

jeff chen , July 11, 2008; 11:07 A.M.


France_Provence_ Taken By D2

Simply to say~!I love the camera, Bring me back to the old day. I have use one Digilux2 and 4 Panasonic lc1, there were all sold, but I just miss the camera so much, and also bought one 2nd few days ago. I was so happy with it. the Iq quality is very close to the film, also the operation is good, few weakness, but as old says "if I can live with it". and they really don't make things like this camera anymore. It's hard to find the D2 and Lc1 on the net,( I am from Taiwan ). I may getting the D2 as will. they are the sam camera, if there is any differences, but if you can't see the differences on the IQ, what's the point to care the "differences", I just love both of them. get one. and does lots photos for commercial work, like print out on the large wall...People always amazed the photo's were taken by this old and only 5mg pix camera. The lance is really very good quality, see what it does to the 5mg IQ, I really don't know what to complain about. and it's so cheap now as 2nd in the turn's of the overall quality. Jeff from Taiwan

jeff chen , July 11, 2008; 11:16 A.M.


very one should know where it is_taken by D2

I love the density of the camera, really love it

jeff chen , July 11, 2008; 11:18 A.M.


No ND filter

Was taken some where in Nice_ I didn't use any ND filters, use the Raw to save lots detail back from the sky and the shadow, The Raw was very good at the time, but the raw is better now in any cameras, but still good enough, I can live with it and happy.

Robert Schellhammer , October 05, 2008; 05:23 P.M.

It has been almost 4 years since I purchased the Panasonic version of the Digilux 2. The camera is still in use, since I haven't found a suitable replacement and it has certainly paid for itself. I love the 4:3 format and despite the modest 5 MP resolution, no one has complained about the file size since the quality of the lens and the spectacular quality of its jpeg rendition. I hardly ever shoot raw. This greatly reduces post-processing & tweaking. I am considering the Digilux 3 or the Olympus E-3. For me the major issues are quality in the optics rather than post-process correction and the simplicity/user-friendliness of the tool. P.s. I shoot mostly architecture and have been quite happy stitching together several images when I need either more resolution or wider perspective. I have always enjoyed "limitations" as the fuel for creativity (or - is there some other way I can get there?). Keep on clicking!

Robert Schellhammer , October 05, 2008; 05:25 P.M.

It has been almost 4 years since I purchased the Panasonic version of the Digilux 2. The camera is still in use, since I haven't found a suitable replacement and it has certainly paid for itself. I love the 4:3 format and despite the modest 5 MP resolution, no one has complained about the file size since the quality of the lens and the spectacular quality of its jpeg rendition. I hardly ever shoot raw. This greatly reduces post-processing & tweaking. I am considering the Digilux 3 or the Olympus E-3. For me the major issues are quality in the optics rather than post-process correction and the simplicity/user-friendliness of the tool. P.s. I shoot mostly architecture and have been quite happy stitching together several images when I need either more resolution or wider perspective. I have always enjoyed "limitations" as the fuel for creativity (or - is there some other way I can get there?). Keep on clicking!

Richard Clark , October 07, 2008; 03:07 A.M.

it was 11th january 2007 when I wrote about my love of the D2 . . . . and so time marches on, the older I get the less I am prepared to buy crap, no more Nikon, my Digilux2 has converted me to Leica big time, now I have the D2 and also an M8 with 3 lenses. Just held my first exhibition in New Zealand, Leica photography. Even sold a few. I have read all the reports as to what the Leicas can and can't do and my position today is that they give me a sense of image capturing where what I see is what I get, not what a camera/computer interprets. The lenses, awesome; 16/18/21, 50, 90 and now I am looking for an M6 body and a 28mm Lens, after that maybe a Noblex, maybe. Got rid of my D200 with all the lenses, whew!

John Thawley , February 05, 2009; 09:22 P.M.

I'm head over heels about this camera. Even with it's quirky technical shortcomings, it is a camera that makes me want to go out and take pictures. While I make my living shooting with Canon kit, my Digilux 2(s) are never out of reach. The Leica Digilux 2 puts the fun back in making pictures.

These pictures show my personalized pair. The leather treatment was done by cameraleather.com and the bags by m-classics.com. I also keep a native version and a Pansonic LC1.

More about the Digilux 2 on my blog at http://www.johnthawley.com

Great review... though I think times have changed. This camera has come into its own and time has revealed some genuine Leica DNA.

Image Attachment: fileZb33tC.jpg

joe book , August 03, 2012; 07:17 P.M.

I own an LC1. First date, out of the box, I pointed and shot. Two portraits, a few seconds, no frills. I can only say this camera in incredibly flattering and dishes up images you haven't made before. Skin tone reproduction was absolutely arresting, with a quality you can see but can't put a finger on; it's an aura born of an intrinsic quality; the photograph is alive. Fabulous. Never owned a life-capturing instrument like it before or since, apart from its twin sister. You can believe the hype or the unhype, just be sure to pick one up sometime and take a couple of quick portraits and make up your own mind.


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