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Leica D-LUX 4 Notes

"Son of M8"?

Released in October 2008, the Leica D-LUX 4 is a re-badged version of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 compact P&S digital camera. Same lens, sensor, pixel-count, controls and hardware features. Not "similar" mind you, but identical.

Which has been the cause of a lot of tut-tutting and wisecracks at the D-LUX 4's expense, usually centred on the 2x price premium for what is basically a Lumix with a Red Dot.

Ho hum. Okay the marketing hype trying to pass off the D-LUX 4 as the "son" of the M8 is OTT, but "grand-nephew by remarriage" isn't too wide of the mark :?)

D-LUX 4 and DMC-LX3 Differences

Handling

Shooting RAW

The D-LUX 4 is famous for its 24mm (equivalent) Summicron ƒ2.0 lens (the Leica DC Vario-Summicron 5.1-12.8mm ƒ/2.0-2.8 ASPH). That's the good news, the bad is that it has significant barrel distortion at its widest zoom settings. Which makes RAW shooting difficult because most RAW converters — eg. RPP — won't automatically correct for it, along with any attendant Chromatic Aberration.

If you shoot JPEG however, barrel distortion and C/A are fully mostly corrected by the camera's firmware. So you face a bit of a dilemma: (1) buy RAW converters like Capture One Pro or Adobe Lightroom to gain full access to geometric image correction or; (2) RAW develop and then hand-correct in Photoshop using (say) PTLens or; (3) Download the (currently) free version of Hasselblad Phocus, which has built-in support for D-LUX 4 image correction or; don't shoot RAW but stick with JPEGs.

Since early 2010 I have used Hasselblad's Phocus to convert my D-LUX 4 RAW images. It does a good enough 16-bit TIFF job — for free!

Using Adobe DNG to archive your RAW images

A word about the DNG's created via Adobe DNG Converter: don't use them for archival storage as they are in an intermediate "linear de-mosaic" format which Adobe will change (see the DNG Converter read-me warning). Instead archive the camera's unprocessed "RWL" files or the converted 16-bit TIFFs.

Image Quality & Impressions

Claims about the D-LUX 4 images being "almost" as good as those from a M8(.2) are… wildly exaggerated. Even carefully processed RAW images exhibit too much softness and highlight blooming. IMO there is no way you will get high-quality A3 sized prints out of this thing: the 2µm pixel-pitch really suffers when compared to the M8's 6.9µm. While we are at it, the decision to fix the barrel distortion in software after-the-fact is also a mistake. Practised eyes can see "moustache" distortion on horizontal lines running parallel to the frame edges. Nikon and Canon WA's have suffered from this for decades … Leica, what were you thinking?

Most importantly, how will you ever get a decent shallow depth of focus from a 5-12mm lens?…

So keep expectations within reasonable bounds. The D-LUX 4 is not a replacement for a professional digital camera, and the images (still) fall a long way short of properly scanned film. Even the cheapie 10MP Olympus E-520 has a better I-Q, although E-520 package is twice as big, suffers from a 2x cropping factor and has a viewfinder which is hopelessly reverse-telescope small.

Where the D-LUX 4 does shine is for quickie P&S stuff. It is compact enough to always be with you, so it is the camera to use for "any shot is better than nothing" pix. Me, I use it for what I used to use a Polaroid Camera for: proofing; social snaps; fun stuff; "photo sketching"; shots of the girlfriend, kids or pets. I'm afraid that (for me) it's still the Big Expensive Gear for more serious work.

Finally, the Panasonic "bugger the lens aberration and fix it later in software" attitude doesn't appear to be a one off. See the DPReview interview with Panasonic executives at PMA 2009.

Links

A note about possible broken links

This FAQ has over 900 external links. Over time it is inevitable some of them will break. If you are bothered by this, see this detailed topic elsewhere in the FAQ.

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