You may be thinking that you've seen this camera before. Don't worry, you're not going crazy. The Leica Digilux 3 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 digital cameras were jointly developed by Leica and Panasonic, so the feature sets of the cameras are very similar. They have different approaches regarding image processing, with each company having their own "take" on what their users are looking for. The 7.5 megapixel Leica Digilux 3 has a Four Thirds lens mount and comes with a nice Leica D Vario Elmarit 14-50mm/f2.8-3.5 lens. It also features the Live View mode first seen on the Olympus E-330 where you can use the 2.5 inch LCD to frame your shot instead of being limited to the optical viewfinder as is the case with most digital SLRs.
[Editor's Note: The Leica Digilux 3 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 cameras were jointly developed by Leica and Panasonic. Since the feature sets between the two cameras are similar some parts of the Panasonic review have been re-used. However, the author's opinions differ slightly.]
In the Box: You’ll find the body and lens along with a very nice selection of accessories. Rechargeable lithium-ion battery, battery charger with cord, DC cable, AV cable, USB cable, neck strap, eyepiece cap, body cap, lens hood, lens cap, lens rear cap, lens storage bag, and a CD-ROM of software. The included memory card is 1gig (my review unit included 512) Also included is a set of printed operating instructions. All that’s needed now is one of those nice neoprene cases!
Design: To sum it up in one word “retro.” The shutter speed dial on the top of the camera and the manual aperture ring, zoom ring, and focus ring really give a nice “mechanical” feel to this digital camera. The camera body is pretty thick from front to back and it’s mostly covered with a textured rubber coating that provides a nice grip. The camera is very blocky, heavy and sturdy. Most people would only consider the latter of the three a good thing and I agree but you get used to it.
The back of the camera like all SLR cameras has a bunch of dedicated buttons for various settings. At the top left you have your viewfinder with diopter adjustment. On the left side of the LCD you’ll find the white balance, ISO, flash mode button, and flash exposure compensation button. One difference in the Leica and its Panasonic sibling is the live view is labeled differently-the button is the first one on the right of the viewfinder. Next is the button that opens the built in flash and finally a dial to select the focus type with a button to lock exposure or focus. On the right side of the LCD you have your Playback button (again labeled differently on the leica) and display button, depth of field preview button and delete button. The power switch is at the top right of the back of the camera, and you’ll see a command dial and 5-way control pad for menu navigation.
The top of the camera has a hot shoe for an external flash, the built-in flash, and shutter speed dial with shutter release button. Around the bottom of the shutter speed dial, there are two levers, one that adjusts the metering mode and one that adjusts the “drive” mode. Two “function” buttons can be customized to access other settings, like exposure compensation, film mode, burst rate, capture resolution, etc.
The bottom of the camera has a tripod mount and battery compartment.
The SD card slot is accessible on the right side of the camera.
The left side of the camera has a door that covers the AV out jack and USB jack.
Camera Features: When shooting with this camera, there are several resolutions, aspect ratios, and compression settings that you can use. With a 4:3 aspect ratio, there are three resolutions: 3136x2352 (L), 2560x1920 (M), and 2048x1536 (S). At 3:2 aspect ratio, you can shoot at: 3136x2080 (L), 2560x1712 (M), and 2048x1360 (S). Finally, with a 16:9 aspect ratio, there are two settings: 3136x1760 (L) and 1920x1080 (S). At each resolution/aspect ratio combination, there are three levels of compression. If you shoot with the highest resolution, a 4:3 aspect ratio, and the lowest compression level, you can fit approximately 65 images on a 512MB memory card. If you turn on the RAW mode, a RAW file is captured along with a JPEG. If you do this, that same 512MB memory card will only handle 21 shots.
Then there’s the lens. The Leica D Vario elmarit 14-50mm. This is why your paying big bucks to own this camera-and it certainly helps persuade! For a “kit” lens this thing is very sharp and fast with a maximum aperture of F/2.8 its currently the only choice you have for this body though more may be on the way (and hopefully this will be made available elsewhere also) Thanks to Panasonic the lens is also stabilized via their Mega OIS system.
The 2.5 inch LCD has 207K pixels of resolution. If you switch on the Live View mode, you can use the LCD to frame your pictures, just like a point & shoot. If you’d rather use the optical viewfinder, it offers a 95% field of view and has a diopter adjustment. When in Live View mode, the mirror that provides the view to the optical viewfinder is locked up, so you can’t use Live View simultaneously with the optical viewfinder.
The Digilux 3 accepts SD, SDHC, and MultiMediaCard (MMC) media.
The camera is powered by a 7.2v 1500 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery. If you want, you can also use the included DC power supply that has an adapter that plugs into the battery compartment. According to Panasonic/Leica, battery life is approximately 450 pictures (according to CIPA standard). Charging time for the battery is about 2 hours. That’s fine but not as good as some competitors.
The lens can focus as close as 0.95 feet. The focus assist lamp helps out a bit in low light conditions. The focus mode can get set to single AF (focuses at the time of the shot or at a partial press of the shutter), continuous AF (the camera attempts to focus constantly) and manual focus (use the manual focus ring on the lens to achieve focus). The camera has 3-point AF system. You can let the camera choose which one of the three points to use (auto) or you can choose which one of the 3 points to use.
There is a self-timer mode, which can be set to either 10 seconds or 2 seconds (a custom option would have been nice). There are two “burst” modes – a high speed one that does 3 frames per second or a low speed one that does 2 frames per second. These “drive” modes are set using one of the levers at the base of the shutter speed dial. The other option on this lever is to access the bracketing mode that takes either 3 or 5 shots with different exposures.
The built-in pop-up flash is pretty cool since it provides a “bounce” mode of operation. A button on the back of the camera deploys the flash. If you press the button lightly, the flash pops up at an angle so that when it fires, it will bounce off a ceiling. Press the flash button further and it deploys fully, pointing straight forward.
Camera performance, as expected, was very good, with quick start up times, minimal shutter lag, and great shot to shot times. The one area in which shutter lag is much higher is when you’re using the Live View mode. The mirror starts locked up (so the image can be seen on the LCD) and when you take the shot, the mirror has to cycle twice – once to get exposure information and once to capture the image.
Handling. This is the controversial side of this camera, you’ll either love it or hate it so I highly recommend trying one out first. I would recommend using two hands almost always (especially if you have small hands). It's definitely thick and heavy which can be a problem, and even fatiguing, but didn’t stop me from enjoying it.
Flash performance is good at about 19ft in auto mode and the bounce flash is nice to have.
Auto focus performance was good but at times could take a bit longer than I’d like.
Image quality as expected of a leica lens especially one this nice is fantastic. Exposure is nicely handled, just make sure you have everything set just right.
The Digilux 3 can shoot at ISO values of 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600. At ISO 100 and 200, noise is not visible. You can start seeing some at ISO 400 and it’s pretty noticeable at ISO 800. ISO 1600 is very noisy and if you can avoid it, then don’t use it!
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Overall I am very impressed with this camera. The image quality is excellent and the camera works well. As far as lenses go this is by far the best in class (kit lenses) I also liked the ergonomics/styling of the camera for the most part. I like the retro controls, so much more fun than pushing buttons and navigating menus. So much more Leica, gives it a somewhat mechanical feel which I love. However I will also admit that it was a bit heavy/bulky requiring two hands to operate and even then could be tiring to use for prolonged periods but probably partly because of this, it’s built like a tank! This is the SLR for Leica fans or for anyone wanting top of the line equipment the only place this camera falls short is battery life (somewhat) lens choices (just the kit thus far) and price. And to be picky the noise could be improved. However if I had to choose between this and a Canon or Nikon I would strive to get the Leica. (or its Panasonic sibling for less $$)