Ultimately, it was convenience that swayed me to purchase a small point and shoot digital camera. After looking at reviews of the Leica D-LUX 3 I finally decided to make the plunge and go digital. And how happy I am that I did. Not that the Leica is without its flaws, although it has only a few, nor am I giving up my Canon F-1 and stop bath, but I am glad that I found a small point and shoot digital camera that has the quality optics and numerous features of a digital SLR.
Now granted, the Leica D-LUX 3 is not, by any means, a full feature digital SLR. It doesn’t have a view finder, you can’t change lenses, manual focus is practically useless (more on that later), but what this pocket camera offers as a digital PAS more than makes up for its flaws.
Let’s begin our feature list with the operation. Many small digital PAS cameras offer two modes, on and off. If you want to make adjustments (to say, the ISO setting) you go into the menu system and make your changes. Often there are no settings for aperture or shutter speed. There are some cameras that offer aperture or shutter priority modes, where you can set either the shutter or aperture while the camera sets the other. On those cameras there is usually also a manual mode, where you set both, and an automatic mode, where the camera does everything.
Most people that purchase a PAS want, and only use, the automatic mode. However, I happen to know what the aperture and shutters do, and I want to be able to control them. The D-LUX 3 offers SIX modes: manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, automatic mode, scene mode, and program mode. The most limited of these modes is the automatic mode, where the photographer only has the choice of turning on or off the “backlight function”, which adjusts for when the subject is backlit (who would have thunk it?).
The scene mode offers 16 differnt “scene modes,” such as portrait, beach, party, starry sky, candle light, and landscape. It also offers two “baby modes.” The scene modes adjust the camera’s settings to meet the needs described in each scene. For example the party scene assumes you’re shooting indoors in lower light so it changes the ISO, and white balance, and then boosts the gain so that the shutter speed can be increased to reduce blur. The two “baby modes” allow you to put a birth date in for a baby (or two), then, whenever you take a picture while in that mode, the baby’s age is recorded in the file info.
The real strength of D-LUX 3 lies in the program mode. Using the joystick on the back of the camera the photographer can quickly and easily make changes to the aperture/shutter speed and you can easily over or under expose by 1/3rd steps. You can also turn on auto-bracketing, up to a full step in both directions and set an over/under exposure for when you use a flash.
When shooting in program mode I feel I have full control over all aspects of the composition.
On top of the different modes there are also many internal settings. The D-LUX 3 supports ISO settings of 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600, plus two auto settings; one that adjusts only to the amount of light, and one that adjusts to light and movement. The camera comes with 5 white balance modes: auto, sunlight, overcast, shade, halogen light, and flash, plus two presets for the user to set. You can also manually adjust the white balance.
There are three formats, or picture sizes: 16:9 (widescreen), 3:2 (35mm), and 4:3 (standard screen). Leica put a 16:9 CCD in the camera, so when you shoot in that format you reach the maximum pixels, 10 megapixels. When you lower the formats to 3:2 or 4:3 you go down to 8.5m and 7.5m, respectively. This is significantly different than most cameras, which often use the more standard 3:2 CCD and reduce the pixel count when switching to 16:9, if that format is even offered.
The range for the aperture is 2.8 to 8.0, which is fairly limited, and the range for the shutter speed is 8 seconds through 1/2000th of a second. However, in the starry sky scene mode you can select shutter speeds of 15, 30, and 60 seconds.
The camera has three image quality settings, high compression jpeg, low compression jpeg, and raw. There are three metering modes, five auto focus modes, digital zoom, digital color effects, (black and white, sepia, etc.), auto stabilizing, flip book animation, and there is an option to record audio with each image.
Another great feature is the adjustable auto-focus/auto-exposure lock. The lock button is conveniently located on the back of the camera where the thumb naturally sits. On many cameras you have to press and hold the shutter button down halfway to lock in the camera’s focus and light settings, and then continue to hold the button while you compose your shot. On the D-LUX 3 you press and hold AF/AE lock button and the camera will set and lock the focus and exposure. You can then make adjustments to the white balance or flash setting, you can over or under expose the image, change the ISO, picture quality, picture format, or a number of other things. You can’t adjust the aperture or shutter speed or change modes.
The LCD display is bright and large. The information displayed is useful, intuitive, and not too obtrusive (and can be turned off if you find it annoying). There is a button on the back of the camera, which allows you to turn on the LCD’s power mode, which brightens the screen considerably, or high angle mode, which is useful for when you need to hold the camera above your head and still see what you’re shooting.
The lens is fantastic, especially for it’s size. Of course, what else would you expect from Leica? A friend of mine put my new camera to the test. We setup a shoot in a controlled environment, shooting a number of objects off a tripod in macro mode. His Nikon SLR with a macro lens vs my Leica. We both shot in a 3:2 format, in raw (the Leica has 8.5m to the Nikon’s 6.5). The images were compared on a computer screen and in print outs. The Leica performed as well as the Nikon SLR: both produced rich, detailed, and sharp images.
Now, the downsides! This camera is TINY! I have large hands and it took me a short while to figure out how to hold it without CRUSHING IT. Well, how not to put my finger in the way of the lens or the LCD anyway. (I had to fight my natural instinct to hold the lens.)
I’ve read other reviews that say the Leica is like holding a bard of soap (presumably dry soap), which is somewhat accurate. The camera is about the size of a bar of soap and has a smooth finish, which some find difficult to maintain a grip on. I have figured out how to successfully hold the camera, as I’m sure others have also. There is a world of tiny cameras out there, and while it is pretty small, the D-LUX 3 isn’t the smallest by any means.
One feature I would have liked to see is time-lapse. This is a feature that I feel is often overlooked and very easy to implement on a digital camera.
The biggest letdown is the manual focus. This was a important feature for me and I’ve basically had to accept that there is no “real” manual focus on this camera. Manual focus works by using the joystick to focus. The image on the screen is blown up so you can see fine detail and then you adjust the focus by moving the joystick up and down.
This is clumsy at best. It’s almost impossible to see what you’re really focusing on and too jumpy to fine tune. It’s only useful when the camera is having obvious difficulty focusing because of lighting conditions. However, two of the auto focus modes are for high contrast situations, which is often what throws the auto focus off. I’m going to have to trust that the camera will do a good job focusing.
Of course it is very difficult to offer true manual focusing on a non SLR camera. Especially when the lens is self retracting, which is very common on digital PAS cameras.
Overall, the camera is wonderful. It’s quick, quiet, light weight, and cute. It has a standard tripod mount, lithium-ion battery, built in memory (enough to support 1 low compression jpeg or 4 high compression jpegs) supports SDHC cards, and films motion picture at 10, 15, and 30 frames per second.
All in all this is a wonderful camera with tons of professional feature in a tiny little package. I am thrilled to be shooting with Leica D-LUX 3, and look forward to uploading my first Leica image gallery!