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Leica Digilux 2

Part Two of a Three Part Review
Field Test 

By: Sean Reid

Leica Digilux 2 @ ISO 200, converted from RAW 

As I see it, an exceptional camera needs to be successful both in terms of its design (it's usefulness to the photographer as a tool) and it's image quality.  As I discussed in Part I of this review,  Leica's analog controls for shutter speed, aperture, focus and focal length are among its greatest strengths.  Together they make the camera fluid and quick to work with.   The very large and bright 2.5" LCD screen also adds to the functionality and usefulness of the camera, as does the very effective metering and live histogram display.  For the most part, the camera allows one to work without delay or distraction.   In this respect, the camera mostly lives up to the Leica tradition of making functional tools for serious photographers.  The two aspects that do interfere with making pictures are the EVF and the lack of a RAW file buffer.   The EVF limitations can be bypassed with accessory finders but Leica really should have equipped this camera with one of their superb rangefinders, even if that increased the camera's price.   The lack of a RAW file buffer is also a design weakness but the cycle time between exposures can at least be minimized by using fast SD cards and I've include test cycle timings for these below.

In terms of overall image quality, the Digilux 2 creates the best RAW files I've seen yet from a small-sensor camera.  Despite a grain-like noise at higher ISOs, discussed in detail below, converted RAW files from this camera are sharp and have beautiful color and tonality.   The camera's very fast F/2.0 - 2.4 zoom lens is made in Japan by Panasonic, according to Leica's specifications, and it is outstanding.  It is the best lens I've seen yet on a small-sensor camera and it lives up to Leica's reputation for producing exceptional lenses.

Leica Digilux 2 @ ISO 200, converted from RAW 

JPEG File Quality — Digilux 2 and Canon 10D

At $1,800 the prospective Leica 2 buyer may well compare it to cameras such as the Canon 300D and the Nikon D70, both of which can be purchased with good zoom lenses for less than $1,800.   Since I don’t have a 300D available to me right now, I’m going to instead put the Leica up against Canon’s impressive 10D which uses the same sensor as the 300D.   


Files Captured in JPEG, maximum resolution mode with all parameters for sharpness, saturation and color set to "normal".

Full frame files below resized to 300 pixels height and sharpened for the web using Photokit Sharpener

Captured as JPEG at ISO 100 by Leica Digilux 2

Captured as JPEG at ISO 100 by Canon 10D with EF 35/2.0


Croppings below are from original size files, not resized and not sharpened

 

ISO 100 
JPEG
Mode

 ISO 200
JPEG
Mode

ISO 400
JPEG
Mode

Digilux 2

Canon 10D

Digilux 2

Canon 10D

At ISO 100, there’s little to complain about in either camera’s JPEG files.  The 10D files have virtually no noise to speak of and what little noise the Leica files have is very fine grained and found mostly in the shadows.   All of the files in the table above are cropped from 100% view of the JPEG files as they came from the camera (with all parameter settings at "normal") with only minor levels adjustments to done to compensate for the slight changes in ambient light as the shooting progressed.  The Leica’s default in-camera sharpening is more aggressive than the Canon’s and so the latter files are softer.  It's important to note that this softness in the Canon files is only a reflection of the camera's very mild internal sharpening.  Sharpen any of the 10D files using USM in Photoshop to see the detail that is actually in the file.  The default settings on the Leica also favor more contrast and saturation as well as a different color interpretation than the one chosen by the Canon.   The Canon's auto white balance for this scene is a little colder and less accurate than the auto white balance chosen by the LeicaNeedless to say, the color, contrast, saturation and white balance of files from either camera could easily be refined in Photoshop.  Overall, the Leica holds its own very well at ISO 100 and it’s 28-90 zoom easily matches the quality of the 35mm f/2.0 prime lens mounted on the 10D.

At ISO 200, the Leica applies a smoothing filter (which cannot be switched off in JPEG mode) to, presumably, mask the noise in the files.  The very fine detail given to us by that excellent zoom lens is partly destroyed by the smoothing of that in-camera processing.   The file still looks very good but the detail which is lost to the smoothing cannot be recovered in subsequent sharpening.   By contrast, the 10D appears to do no smoothing at all and while its JPEG is soft, due to very mild in-camera sharpening, subsequent sharpening brings up significant detail.   To my eyes, the Canon is clearly superior in JPEG mode at ISO 200.   The Leica fares better in RAW mode, see below.

At ISO 400, the Leica’s aggressive in-camera smoothing obliterates a large amount of fine detail and creates an overall kind of “waxy” look to the file which, combined with what’s left of the noise, creates a rather ugly and artificial looking file when viewed on screen at 100%.    Reducing the in-camera sharpening (in the hopes of reducing artifacts) doesn’t help matters at all.   The Canon 10D file, by comparison, remains very nearly as good as it was at ISO 100, with no signs of artifacting, smoothing, etc.

Clearly, JPEG mode on the Digilux 2 is a bit problematic at ISO 200 and very much a problem at ISO 400.  Fortunately, the camera fares much better in RAW mode.

RAW Conversion Software

The Digilux 2 comes bundled with Silverfast DC SE which can be used to convert the camera's RAW files to JPEG or TIFF.   Silverfast has an outstanding reputation for its scanner software but I found the bundled software to be disappointing after comparing it to the RAW conversion module in Photoshop CS (which does support the Digilux 2 after a free program update is installed).   The Silverfast DC SE version does not seem to support conversion to 16-bit TIFFs and it’s white balance setting is a simple slider with no presets for different lighting conditions and no options to set WB via eyedropper sampling.    Silverfast does, naturally, offer us the option to upgrade to it’s “DC Pro” software which, for $149.00, offers greater RAW conversion control including the option to convert at 16-bit level and to set WB by eyedropper sampling.   But Adobe Photoshop CS handles the Digilux 2 RAW files very well and I can’t see any reason to go with the Silverfast option instead of just upgrading to CS (if one hasn’t yet done that).   The Photoshop CS RAW converter (formerly Adobe Camera RAW) has an excellent interface and seems to me, as of the March, 2004, to be the best way to work with Digilux 2 RAW files.   Michael’s review of an earlier version of Silverfast DC-Pro can be found here.   Photographers who are currently using Photoshop Elements may find this yet another very good reason to move up to the full version of Photoshop.  

I use Phase One’s outstanding Capture One DSLR with my Canon RAW files and it’s possible that Capture One will support the Digilux 2 and Panasonic DMC-LC1 in the future.  I have already sent them a set of RAW files to examine and I think that if there is sufficient interest in their supporting the Digilux 2, they might do it.  I urge all Digilux 2 and DMC-LC1 owners to e-mail Phase One and request support for these cameras.  One of the many things I like about archiving RAW files is that they can later be reinterpreted as new RAW software is developed and released.     

Digilux 2 and Canon 10D; Converted RAW File Quality  

In order to try to be fair to both the Leica and the 10D, the RAW files from each were converted to 16-bit PSD files in Photoshop CS using default settings except for white balance (which was set for all pictures by sampling from a uniform grey area of a sign on the brick wall).   Processed in this way, both cameras show similar color although the Canon has slightly more saturated color and stronger local contrast.  Files from either camera, however, could easily be tweaked in RAW processing or afterwards in Photoshop to match more or less saturation and more or less local contrast.    If I were working with these files for final prints, I would increase the local contrast in each but I've left these "as converted" for the sake of reference.   I believe that it's always best to start with a lower contrast file which can then be refined to taste.  

Full frame files below resized to 300 pixels height and sharpened for the web using Photokit Sharpener

Captured as RAW file at ISO 100 by Leica Digilux 2

Captured as RAW file at ISO 100 by Canon 10D with EF 35/2.0


Croppings below are from original size files, not resized and not sharpened

 

ISO 100 
RAW
Mode

ISO 200
RAW
Mode 

ISO 400
RAW
Mode

Digilux 2

Canon 10D

Digilux 2

Canon 10D

 

 

Readers who have not worked much with RAW files should note that the file, when first converted to TIFF or PSD in preparation for a final print, should normally have low contrast and minimal to no sharpening.  This preserves as much tonal information as possible, with the fewest artifacts.  From there, one would modify the file in Photoshop until it took its final form.  In other words, good RAW file conversions may initially look less impressive than JPEG captures because they are not yet at their final level of contrast, color saturation or sharpness.  Looking closely at the samples, however, one can see how much tonal and detail information is preserved.  Most significantly, for the Leica, the RAW files are not degraded by in-camera smoothing and thus they retain the full detail captured by the lens.  In the RAW conversion of these files, I selected a white balance sampling point that creates a slightly "warm" image.  Since WB is not being set in-camera when one shoots in RAW mode, WB (which is set during RAW conversion) can be as cold, warm or neutral as one desires.  The above samples reflect just one kind of WB interpretation.  Making this kind of RAW conversion is similar to a traditional process often with Kodak Tri-X film whereby one gives the film more exposure (rating it at ISO 250 or 320) and then less development, say about 8.5 minutes in D76 mixed 1:1.  This tends to yield a flat and rich negative with a long tonal scale (for 35mm at least) and allows one a wide variety of interpretation when printing because ample detail is preserved in both the highlights and shadows.

With its larger sensor, the 10D has less image noise, at every equivalent ISO, than the Digilux 2.  This is not surprising. The difference is slightly visible at ISO 100 and becomes more apparent as ISO increases.  The noise levels of the Digilux 2 RAW files at ISO 400 (converted in CS) are similar to those of the 10D RAW files (converted in CS) somewhere between ISO 800 and 1600.  That is to say, the 10D files are cleaner at ISO 800 and a little noisier at ISO 1600 and that difference holds true for both the chrominance and luminance channels.   But because, in RAW mode, the Leica does not apply the in-camera smoothing which so strongly degrades it’s quality in JPEG mode, its RAW files compete much more successfully against the RAW files of the 10D. 

Considering the significant difference in sensor size between the two cameras, the Leica acquits itself very well.   At ISO 100, the differences between them are not dramatic. As the ISO goes up the Leica files starts to look grainier but don’t lose much quality in any other respect.   Even at ISO 400, the Leica files show a distinctly grain-like noise pattern but remain sharp and detailed.   The description of the subject remains intact but the files look much the way prints from high speed negative film often look.   In my mind, the files stay honest.   The detail captured by the camera’s very sharp lens remains and what we see is visible evidence of the signal being cranked up in a small sensor, like hearing a small engine work at the peak power it can produce.   At 100% view on screen this grain-like noise is very evident, in a 8”x 10” print it is much more subtle and doesn't ever threaten to overwhelm the lens’ description.    I don’t much like the look of digital noise as it appears in many cameras – often electronic and artificial looking – like a bad TV signal.  The Leica ISO 400 RAW file noise however, has a look that I like very much.  I would not hesitate to use the camera in that mode for work that might go to exhibition just as I didn’t hesitate to use T-Max TMZ film in analog cameras when I needed to.   In fact the Leica ISO 400 RAW noise reminds me very much of the look of TMZ.  

A final caveat…I have found that the Capture One DSLR RAW conversions of my 10D files to have less noise (even with noise reduction set to low) than the same conversions done in Photoshop CS.   If Capture One decides to support the Leica, we may see similar advantages.

Leica Digilux 2 @ ISO 200, converted from RAW 

Working Quickly in RAW mode — SD cards and RAW cycle times

As I mentioned in the “first impressions” part of my review, the Digilux 2 has no RAW file buffer and has a RAW file cycle time of about six seconds.  As an aside, I should add, in fairness to Leica, that it is not alone in overlooking this crucial aspect.  The new Sony DSC-828 needs 11 seconds at best to write a RAW file and does not buffer in RAW mode.  Many other examples of compact digital cameras are as slow or slower.  Still, as my mother used to say, “If all the other kids jumped off the edge of a cliff, would you jump too?”   Leica unfortunately did choose to jump off that particular cliff and for now it’s a limitation that one must work around if he or she wants to own a Digilux 2 and get the best possible file quality from it.

Sandisk and Simpletech both manufacture very high speed SD memory cards and both companies were very prompt and professional about getting me review examples of their cards in time for the arrival of the Digilux 2.   Sandisk makes both the “Extreme” and “Ultra II” cards in sizes up to 512MB.  I tested the latter.  Simpletech’s fast card, which they sent for testing, is called the “Pro X” and it also is available in sizes up to 512MB.   The Leica includes a 64MB card that I can’t imagine anyone would consider using for RAW files so I skipped testing that but I did also test a Lexar 256MB SD card which happened to be available in my studio.

My “RAW file cycle time” test is rather homespun but I do think it provides a useful measure of the delay time one will experience in the real world of making pictures.  I set up the camera on a tripod and zoom its lens to frame the display of a digital stopwatch.  Setting the camera to RAW mode, I start the stopwatch and make my first exposure which records “time 1”.  The moment the “writing to card” symbol disappears, I trip the shutter again (on a camera with no RAW file buffer, the shutter cannot be released until writing is complete) and record “time 2”.   Subtracting time 1 from time 2 gives me the RAW file cycle time and I repeat this test for multiple trials and average the results.   Interestingly enough, I found that ISO setting can affect write times.  Here are the results:

RAW File Cycle Times, Leica Digilux 2

 

Lexar
256MB SD

Simpletech
512 MB Pro-X SD

Sandisk
512MB Ultra II SD

ISO 100

7.80 seconds

6.21 seconds

6.27 seconds

ISO 200

8.25 seconds

6.54 seconds

6.13 seconds

ISO 400

8.46 seconds

6.65 seconds

6.11 seconds

In actual use in Daytona, the Simpletech and Sandisk cards seemed equally fast; the fraction of a second differences between them didn’t mean much in real world use.  I recommend them both.  I have no idea why the Sandisk times actually got shorter at higher ISO but these numbers came from repeated trials and the difference isn’t just a result of sampling variations.  

Leica Digilux 2 @ ISO 100, converted from RAW 

Flash Performance

I rarely use on-camera flash for any kind of work so I may not be the best judge of the Leica’s performance in this respect.  The camera does have a very innovative pop up flash that can either be positioned facing the subject or at an upward angle (to bounce light off the ceiling).   The idea of a camera having a built in bounce flash is brilliant. 

I had only a little while to test flash performance before I needed to box the camera up for return to Leica.  The system works well and the camera meters flash exposures very well.  The limitation is the obvious one; the unit isn’t very powerful and so using it in bounce mode, in particular, requires opening up to about F/2.8 for subjects that are more than a few feet from the lens.  Fortunately, the camera has a lot of DOF at F/2.8 so this is less of a problem than it might be for a camera with a larger sensor.   It is worth noting that the lens hood must be removed when using the lens at 28mm (equivalent) with the flash set to fire straight ahead (otherwise the lens hood will throw a shadow on the bottom of the frame).  As a small flash, this unit clearly can’t compete with a separate flash mounted on the camera (or with off camera flash) but it’s a nice portable solution and the bounce feature is a real asset.  Just plan to use large lens openings when bouncing the flash. I did not have the opportunity to test this firsthand but several Digilux 2 owners have written me to say that the flash in bounced position works very well as a fill light for portraits.

Leica Digilux 2 @ ISO 100, converted from RAW 

Battery Life

I did not have the opportunity to do any formal battery life tests with the camera so my comments here must, necessarily, be anecdotal.   Throughout the first of week of March I photographed with both the Canon 1Ds and the Digilux 2 daily for seven to eight hours a day.  Sometimes I used one camera, sometimes another.  From that experience I can say only that the Leica battery always had at least 1/3 of its charge left at the end of the day.  

ISO Accuracy and Depth of Field Advantages of Small Sensor Cameras 

The fact that the Digilux 2 RAW files at ISO 400 have slightly less noise than the 10D files at ISO 1600 is particularly interesting for photographers who work in existing light and need as much depth of field as they can get in those circumstances.  I haven’t seen this aspect discussed in a review before but consider the following:

First, it’s important to test what each camera believes a given ISO to be.  Photographing a blank wall with “correct” exposure, a digital camera should create a file with a middle grey tone, showing about 50% K (black) in Photoshop.  Some cameras have inflated ISO values, for example, the Sony DSC 828 set to ISO 800 actually has a true ISO of about 540 (according to my tests), my Sony DSC-V1 tested similarly.  In other words, some sensors do not deliver their true rated ISO.  A comparison of any two cameras at a given ISO can only be valid if both of them are actually delivering their rated sensitivity.   I photographed a neutral section of wall with both the Canon 10D and the Leica Digilux 2 and then converted the files to greyscale and used the “dust and scratches” filter to average the slight variance in the tones across the frame into one uniform grey.

Leica Digilux 2, ISO 400, F/8 @1/15 second – average “K” black was 59%

Canon 10D, ISO 1600, F/16 @1/15 second – average “K” black was 58%

Based on this test, we can assume that both cameras are delivering equivalent sensitivities.  Note that these sensitivities are independent of whatever metering biases a camera may have.  I set both cameras to give equivalent exposures independently of what their meters may have wanted.  

Readers who would like to review some of the principles that govern depth of field (DOF) may be interested to read Michael Reichman's discussion of this topic here before going further into this next section.   When subject  size, as it is projected on a sensor or piece of film, remains the same, all lenses will give the same depth of field at a given aperture   When a small sensor is used in a camera, the lenses needed to give a field of view from wide to telephoto must have shorter focal lengths than the lenses used to project the same field of view on a larger sensor.  The smaller the sensor or film frame, the greater the depth of field it will register at any given aperture.  Film photographers who've worked with small and large format cameras know that F/5.6 on a normal 50mm lens of a 35mm camera gives much more depth of field than F/5.6 on a normal 150mm lens of a 4" by 5" view camera.  It is for this reason that many large format lenses stop down to F/64, they need such small apertures to have deep DOF.

Depending on what one wants to accomplish, the generous depth of field inherent in small sensor cameras can be either a detriment or an asset.  Photographers who regularly use shallow depth of field for their pictures are generally better off using the largest size sensor digital cameras they can afford.   Photographers like myself, however, who regularly look for as much depth of field as possible, even in dim existing light, will find a real ally in a small sensor camera.   A 35mm camera with a 50mm lens set to F/2 will have a very shallow depth of field.    A 2/3" sensor camera such as the Digilux 2, using a lens set to 12.5mm (equivalent to a 50mm lens on a 35mm film camera) set to F/2 will have much greater depth of field.  SThe Digilux is an particularly good position to take advantage of the 2/3" sensor's extensive inherent depth of field because it's lens has a maximum aperture of F/2 - F/2.4 which is about a stop faster than the lenses found on many small sensor cameras.   The extra stop of lens opening of course means that it needs one stop less ISO compared to cameras, such as the Minolta A2, that have lenses with a maximum aperture of F/2.8.o

The following scenarios assume, as examples, equivalent exposure levels, equivalent fields of view and the primary subject seven feet away from the focal plane.

Canon 1Ds or Leica M6: 35mm actual focal length, ISO 3200 (theoretical for the 1Ds, as it doesn't go that high...yet) F/5.6 @ 1/250: DOF is 5.42 - 9.87 ft.
Canon 10D: 22mm focal length, ISO 1600 (possible) F/4 @1/250: DOF is 5.26 - 10.5 ft.
Leica Digilux 2: 9 mm focal length, ISO 400 (possible) F/2 @ 1/250: DOF is 4.93 - 12.1 ft.

Note that the Digilux 2 has greater DOF at F/2 than the 1Ds or M6 has at F/5.6.  For a given depth of field, the Canon 10D must be stopped down two stops more than the Digilux 2, from F/2 to F/4.  The 1Ds or Leica M6 need to be stopped down three stops more than the Digilux 2, from F/2 to F/5.6.   In both cases, even with the aperture reductions described above, the 10D, 1Ds and M6 can't quite match the DOF of the Digilux 2.  A decrease in aperture of course requires a corresponding increase in ISO to maintain a given exposure level.  So the 10D will need an increase in ISO of two stops, to ISO 1600 and the M6 will require an increase of three stops, to ISO 3200.   So if one wants to maintain a certain amount of depth of field at a given shutter speed in existing light, it's entirely valid to compare the file quality of the Digilux 2 at ISO 400, the Canon 10D at ISO 1600 and a scan of ISO 3200 35mm film.   When depth of field must be maintained, the larger the sensor, the greater the need for increased ISO.

Note: Calculations above were done at: http://dfleming.ameranet.com/dofjs.html (for the Digilux 2 numbers, I used the Sony DSC-717 measurements because the Sony has the same size sensor as the Leica)  Those of you who are have a good knowledge of lens terminology should know that the "circle of confusion" assumptions for these calculations are as follows  (obviously, the CoF has to become more stringent as the sensor size goes down):
35mm film or 1Ds - .03 mm
10D - .019 mm
Digilux 2 - .008 mm

Leica Digilux 2 @ ISO 400, converted from RAW 

Thoughts on Digital Formats and Conclusion

I think that there may be some merit in considering the three major sensor sizes as formats unto themselves.  This is unusual of course because we're accustomed to thinking of camera formats in terms of film cameras with the most common sizes being 35mm, 120/220, 4" x 5" and 8" x 10".   Right now, sensors that are 24mm by 36mm and smaller are generally considered to be small format.  The reason that we might want to redefine these categories is that cameras of each sensor size (1/1.8 - 2/3", APS size and 35mm film size) each have their own pros and cons.   The smallest format, which includes the Digilux 2 with its 2/3" sensor has three primary advantages.  The first is that its very compact size allows the camera to be lighter and smaller.  The second is that it allows a live video feed which in turn makes it possible to have a live histogram and live LCD view which is somewhat like composing on a ground glass.  The third, which is of most interest to me, is that the sensor is paired with very short focal length lenses that give it deep depth of field even wide open.   The primary drawback of the small sensor is that it tends to have more file noise than is found in larger sensors, but as described above, it also requires less ISO for a given depth of field.

In traditional silver halide photography, photographers have chosen to use 35mm cameras because of their compactness, depth of field, greater number of exposures per roll and other advantages over medium and large format cameras.  It's common knowledge that medium format and larger cameras create negatives and slides with less grain, greater tonal range, etc. than 35mm cameras but many chose the small film format nonetheless.   Moreover, many photographers, myself included, chose to own several cameras of various formats so that they have the right tool for each kind of task they face.

I think there’s a place for small sensor cameras such as the Digilux 2 just as there has long been a place for 35mm cameras (even though medium and large format options abound).   I currently own digital cameras in two different formats: the APS-size sensor Canon 10D and the 24 x 36mm-sensor Canon 1Ds.  They’re both very good cameras and I use both extensively.   But there’s certainly a place in my bag for a lightweight camera with a silent shutter and a live histogram that has extensive depth of field even at F/2.   And if one agrees to consider small sensor digital cameras as belonging to a unique format, the Digilux 2 is the best small-sensor format digital camera I have ever tested.   It has the best lens I've seen in this format, the best access to key controls via its analog dial and rings and the best overall image quality I've yet seen in its class.

I imagine that some photographers may make much of the Digiliux 2’s grainy noise at ISO 400.   Although I haven’t yet tried it myself, I’m told that the files respond very well to Neat Image and Noise Ninja noise-reduction software.   I myself, however, don’t plan to do much filtering beyond reducing the chrominance noise a bit.  The fine grain one sees in an 8” x 10” print from a Digilux 2 ISO 400 RAW conversion is much to my liking.   While grainy, it retains the sharp detail provided by the camera’s excellent lens.   If one looks at much of the best photography done with Leicas and high-speed film, the film grain is quite evident in the prints and reproductions.  Examples of this include pictures in: “The Americans” by Robert Frank,   The Exiles” by Josef Koudelka, and “The Man in the Crowd: The Uneasy Streets of Garry Winogrand” among many, many others.   There’s a long tradition of sharp but grainy Leica photography.   Large format film is somewhat transparent  in that its fine grain and subtle tonality call little attention to the medium itself.  In pictures made with small format fast film, by contrast, the medium makes itself clear in the presence (in the print) of the spaces between the film grains.  The same is true of the grain-like noise in the Digilux 2 RAW files. Neither the large nor the small format look is necessarily better, per se.   It depends of course on what kind of print one wants to make.

The camera’s primary weaknesses, in my mind, are its EVF and its lack of a RAW file buffer.   The only way to work around the buffer, to some extent, is by using a fast SD card.   Using accessory finders instead of the EVF, however, proves to be an enjoyably old-fashioned way of working that I quickly adjusted to.   At $1850.00 the Leica costs nearly twice as much as many other competent compact digital cameras.  Certainly, I’d prefer to see it sell for closer to $1000.00 but there are many photographers who are willing to pay the steep price of entry to own a camera with the Digilux 2’s advantages.   Panasonic has it’s own version of this camera called the DMC-LC1 and it's not yet clear as to what image quality differences, if any, might exist between these two cameras.  

Both cameras include a battery, battery charger/AC adapter, lens hood (with special cap), AV cable, USB 2 cable and neck strap.   The silver-bodied Leica has a three-year warranty and includes a 64MB SD card as well as Silverfast DC-SE, Photoshop Elements 2 and ACDsee software.   The black-bodied Panasonic DMC-LC1 retails for $1599.00, has a one year warranty and includes a 16MB SD card, a dedicated wired remote shutter release, a multicoated UV filter, Panasonic’s “SD Viewer” and “USB Remote Control” software and the following software from Arcsoft: Photoimpression, Panorama Maker, Photo Base and Photo Printer.  

Expensive as it may be, the Digilux 2 is, overall, the best camera I've yet seen in the small-sensor class.

Leica Digilux 2 @ ISO 400, converted from RAW 

Some Requests to Leica

As I mentioned in the first section of this review, Leica plans to introduce a digital version of their M series rangefinder design in about two years.  I don’t know if, in the interim, there will be a Digilux 3 (or whatever the name might be).  If there is such a new model, however, I’d suggest the following changes in particular:

1. Add a RAW buffer to the camera that will allow it to capture several RAW format pictures in succession.

2. Remove the smoothing processing of JPEGs or at least make it an option that photographers can switch off.  

3. Give the camera a good, accurate, optical rangefinder that is matched to the excellent 28 –90mm zoom lens.  Given your longstanding expertise in this area, I’m sure the company could produce a first-rate rangefinder for the Digilux.  

4. Design a moveable 2.5" LCD so that the image can be viewed when the camera is held above the head or at the waist (like a twin lens reflex camera).

Leica has already discussed some of its plans for the digital M camera.  It will presumably have a traditional Leica rangefinder and will accept as many existing M mount lenses as possible.   The sensor and associated processing will be based on the components currently being developed for the Leica  Digital Module R” back which is a 10 MP CMOS unit with a 1.37 magnification factor (similar to the current Canon EOS 1D) and an expected sensitivity level of, at least, 800 ISO.   The development of the R back is a cooperative effort between Leica, Imacon and Kodak.   I’d suggest the following be considered in the development of the “Digital M” camera.

1. Weather/dust seals: Traditional Leica rangefinders have a reputation for remaining reliable even in extreme weather.  Even though moisture and dust may enter the body, the camera continues to function.  Needless to say, a digital camera cannot function with moisture and dust entering the body.  The only way  (to the best of my knowledge) to make a digital camera that is reliable in challenging weather is by designing it with seals such as are used on the Canon 1D and 1Ds professional SLR bodies.   Although existing M series lenses are not weather sealed, future M lenses with weather seals could be developed and sold to professionals who need all weather capability.   Without a sealed body and sealed lenses, the new Leica M will be a “fair weather only” camera which would not at all be in keeping with Leica’s reputation.

2. Be sure to design the camera with an ample RAW buffer.

3. Allow the camera to record JPEGs that have not been smoothed or otherwise processed any more than is absolutely necessary.   Allow the photographer to specify what processing will be done in-camera, for JPEG creation, so that photographers who prefer to capture in JPEG mode can have control over the look of the files.

All pictures and text © 2004 Sean Reid/Northeastern Imaging,
and may not be used or reproduced without permission.

Part One of This Review is Found Here

Part Three of This Review is Found Here

Sean Reid, an American, has been a commercial and fine art photographer for over twenty years. He studied under Stephen Shore and Ben Lifson and met occasionally with Helen Levitt. In the late 1980s he worked as an exhibition printer for Wendy Ewald and other fine art photographers. In 1989, he was awarded an artist-in-residence grant from the Irish Arts Council in Dublin, Ireland. His commercial work is primarily of architecture, weddings and special events. His personal work is primarily of people in public places. Having worked mostly with large format and rangefinder cameras for many years he now works primarily with Canon DSLRs and Epson R-D1s. Many of his newest reviews and other articles can be found at http://www.reidreviews.com

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Concepts: Raw image format, Camera, Film speed, Digital camera, Leica Camera, Adobe Photoshop, Digital single-lens reflex camera, Digital photography

Entities: Dublin, the Leica, the Canon 1D, Digilux, Leicas, Sony, Panasonic, Phase One, Sandisk, Nikon, Leica., Simpletech, Canon., AV, Kodak., Japan, Ireland, ISO, JPEG, auto white balance, LCD screen, Remote Control, ISO., Irish Arts Council, Michael Reichmann, Digilux, Stephen Shore, Helen Levitt, Michael Reichman, Sean Reid, Kodak Tri-X, Wendy Ewald, Garry Winogrand, Epson, Robert Frank, Josef Koudelka, Panorama Maker, Ben Lifson, D70, R-D1s, Photoshop, Adobe Camera, Digilux 2, DMC-LC1, SD

Tags: cameras, Digilux 2, raw file, Leica, sensor, Canon 10D, digital camera, raw conversion, RAW file buffer, small sensor, Leica Digilux, RAW mode, JPEG, focal length, 35mm, white balance, small sensor cameras, Leica Digilux 2, large format, card, JPEG mode, sd card, Photoshop CS, canon 1d, larger sensors, Leica files, RAW file cycle, in-camera, grain-like noise, sensor size, smoothing, Leica ISO, flash, image quality, rangefinder, file cycle time, reviews, 35mm film, traditional leica rangefinders, zoom lens