The Leica D-Lux 4 is a premium compact camera, with a wonderful f/2.0-capable lens. But with the prestigious Leica brand name setting you back some extra pounds, is the D-Lux 4 value for money? What Digital Camera's Leica D-Lux 4 review...
Leica D-Lux 4 review – Features
The D-Lux 4’s pièce de résistance is its high-quality wideangle 24mm Leica DC Vario-Summicron lens, with 2.5x optical zoom extending the zoom range to 60mm. On the inside the 10.1MP 1/1.63in CCD sensor is larger than those found in most compact cameras. This means each pixel is some 45% larger, enabling the Leica to gather more available light and, in theory, therefore produce higher quality, more detailed images with less image noise.
On the rear is a 3in 460K-dot LCD screen for live preview and reviewing of images and, thanks to 720p HD movie capture, any videos shot with the camera. It’s also possible to capture Raw files and Phase One’s Capture One 4 is included in the box for professional-standard post-production.
Although the particular model on test is the standard black, other limited edition ‘Titan’ and ‘Safari’ models exist with their respective titanised-aluminium and olive green finishes. Of course, you’ll have to pay the extra for the pleasure of owning one of these. And so the Leica brand, like designer-labels the world over, is clearly built on an ethic that’s as much about collectors’ items and prestige for photo-enthusiasts as it is about quality and the final image; there’s desire to buy into more here. The D-Lux 4 is, on paper, almost identical to the lower-priced Panasonic LX3, so what makes it worth the extra cash?
Leica D-Lux 4 review – Design
The D-Lux 4 is an undeniably attractive camera; its retro-styling is simple and elegant. Far from appearing ‘boxy’, its striking appeal is further enhanced by AF and format ratio switches on the lens akin to the traditional aperture rings of cameras old. The exterior harks back to days gone by, while inside it’s all up-to-date technology, processing, high-quality optics and easily navigable menus. With firmware 2.2, a new 1:1 format ratio feature is included, though the format ratio switch on the lens (featuring 16:9, 3:2 and 4:3 options) fails to provide a quick-select setting for this – which is a shame, but would require a whole new camera release.
Controlling the D-Lux 4 is easy thanks to the Q-menu toggle button and array of other quick-access buttons that feature around the standard d-pad control. The Q-menu doubles as a control toggle that can be used to thumb through options beyond the usual d-pad – some may find it a bit fiddly due to the small size, but it keeps controls immediately accessible. Menu systems are comprehensive yet simple, with most of the controls readily available without the burden of menu-digging. The focus control switch on the side of the lens – providing AF, Macro AF and MF options – also makes for nippy changes when in use. In addition to this, a new ‘lens resume’ feature auto-recalls the lens’ position and focal length, even after switching off – perfect for those who have a standardised way of shooting and don’t expect to re-tweak upon a later power-up.
Performance, Image Quality & Value
Leica D-Lux 4 review – Performance
In use the D-Lux 4 is a pleasure to shoot with. The three autofocus options are easy to jump between and the manual focus – although there’s no focus ring on the lens – is easy to adjust with the rear buttons and optional on-screen auto-magnification options. Those hoping for a viewfinder will have to fork out around £200 extra for a fixed 24mm optical viewfinder that, while delightful for the fixed wide focal length, is otherwise a great expense for relatively limited use beyond the widest angle setting. The AF itself, considering the speed at which cameras are being tweaked and updated these days, isn’t above and beyond the usual order. It’s good, but it will hunt a bit before attaining final focus due to the contrast-detect system employed.
The lens is excellent, with notably sharp results that outperform a considerable number of rivals. With an available aperture of f/2.0 at the wide end (down to f/2.8 at full extension), the creative control is there for shallow depth of field control (enhanced beyond the average compact thanks to sensor size) or making the most of low-light scenarios. The lens isn’t lightning-fast, though. Transition between focal lengths is smooth, but an extra kick of speed wouldn’t go amiss. Also, for some, the limitation of 24-60mm may be outside the work ethic that’s of interest. Of course, many traditionalists will be used to using a fixed 50mm or wideangle lens, in which case the D-Lux 4 provides ample coverage, though won’t satisfy all prospective buyers.
The clarity of the LCD screen is considerable, with punchy colours and relatively low-lag response when moving or panning.
It’s hard to find much to complain about overall, though slight improvements and enhancements would help the D-Lux 4 raise its game above and beyond some of the competition elsewhere in the market.
Leica D-Lux 4 review – Image Quality
Many traditionalists will be happy to keep to a low-mid ISO sensitivity setting, with ISO 80-100 providing very smooth results. ISO 200-400 is still successful, though above this colour image noise creeps in incrementally. From ISO 1600 and above, luminance noise becomes quite significant too, limiting the ability to reproduce detail as successfully due to interference – though this is much like other competitors’ high-end compacts. Quality is still of a high-level, though.
One contentious issue many photographers raise is the comparative image quality between the D-Lux 4 and Panasonic’s LX3. Many users suggest that the Leica’s different processing algorithm sharpens images better when processing Jpegs. However, in this test, images revealed themselves to be nigh-on identical, and the high lens quality of both cameras means that the images are successfully sharp anyway.
For Raw file processing, the excellent Phase One Capture One 4 software comes boxed up with the Leica, a further nod towards its pro-level spec and respect for quality from conception, to build quality, right through to the post-processing stage.
Leica D-Lux 4 review – Value
Leica is akin to the ‘designer label’ of the camera world. Some people may regard them as overpriced where others are immediately sold on the badge alone. Either way, the D-Lux 4 isn’t a devastating bank-breaker, nor a casual purchase. It draws a lot of comparison to Panasonic’s LX3 which is, for the most part, the very same camera for around half the price. Of course, Leica products do have extended warranties, and higher re-sale values than competitor brands should you happen to ever sell on. Not monetarily accessible to all, yet undeniably gorgeous and, on the badge alone, worth the money to many buyers.
Stylish, compact, and capable of yielding impressive results, the D-Lux 4 is a joy to use for the most part. Some of the smaller yet still powerful features – such as 1:1 ratio shooting – will see traditionalists kept happy, and the 24mm wideangle lens is of excellent quality. On-camera switches, toggles and buttons mean it’s simple to use. The only major issue is the price tag, but then if you want that designer red dot on your camera you’ll have to take the bite from the bank.