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
- The price — $US 850 vs. $US 420 for the LX3 (B&H, Nov 2008).
- A longer warranty (2-3 years, depending on country).
- Better re-sale value (? wishful thinking?…).
- The D-LUX 4 has a nicer styling and finish. It has also omitted the LX3's built-in hand grip. If you want a grip then you have to buy one as a Leica accessory.
- Leica claim they use the "pick of the litter" when making the D-LUX 4. This doesn't mean the rest of the LX3's are duds, but rather that there is a greater likelihood of the D-LUX 4 lens, mechanics and electronics being in the middle of the Q-C sweet-spot — see the Jan 2009 discussion at <L-camera-forum.com: #75735>.
- RAW files created by the D-LUX 4 use a different filename suffix: ".RWL" as opposed to Panasonic's ".RW2". (There are also internal EXIF tag differences, but otherwise the actual CCD image data is byte-for-byte identical.)
- The included RAW developer software for the D-LUX 4 is Capture One v4, whereas for the LX3 it is Silkypix. This is a bigger difference than you think, because Silkypix can fully correct for barrel-distortion and chromatic aberration automatically, whereas C1 only does basic barrel correction. To get more robust correction you have to pay extra for "C1 Pro" (see also the discussion about RAW shooting below).
- The image firmware for both cameras is completely different — many claim JPEG colours created by the D-LUX 4 appear to be more "natural" and "Leica-like".
- The (much) cheaper LX3 is difficult to buy as few stores ever have any in stock — see this April 2009 blog entry by Mike Johnston.
- Slippery external finish — stop whining about it and add a few strips of self-adhesive non-slip tape or skateboard grip-tape.
- Focus — some find the auto-focus too slow and random. I keep the camera on MF and then either pre-set to 2m for candid work, or use the joystick to bring up the focus-patch to focus more precisely. Tip: use the "MF2" Setting Menu option to fill the entire LCD with the region you focus on. Otherwise for quickie work I use the tiny "focus" AF-button to the RHS of the shutter release. Another important point: using MF also reduces the shutter-lag.
- External Finders — many swoon over the accessory shoe and the ability to use bright-line finders on a digital compact. Realistically however you won't need it as the LCD works just fine (maybe even better!). Instead the flash shoe is very useful for different things: a single or double axis spirit level, or my favourite AUFSU waist-level finder :?)
- Optical Image Stabilisation — it works so well that many leave it on all the time. Choose "OIS option 2" to cut down on battery drain by only enabling stabilisation during exposure.
- Auto ISO — why not? Set an upper limit of 400 ISO, which combined with the fast lens and OIS, lets you shoot indoors without a flash or too much image noise.
- The dreaded lens-cap — M shooters know the answer to this already: Get Over It.
- Filters or lens-hood — not directly. See however the appropriate "Lensmate" adapter, or other third party LX3 adapters available on (crim)eBay.
- Zoom Setting Focal Lengths — currently the camera doesn't indicate the numerical value of the zoom. What if you want to set it to an intermediate value of (say) 35mm or 50mm? Guess? After a bit of detective work, an English D-LUX user found a way to infer the value - see the Apr 2009 discussion at <L-camera-forum.com: #79843>. Interesting stuff, but unfortunately it only works when the camera is set to Autofocus. On manual the distance-setting string is not displayed, so you are back to guessing again.
- Fantasy-Land LCD playback — notice how good you photos look on the camera's LCD screen? They will never look this good on a computer monitor or in a print. Ever.
- Battery — it is the same "S005/BCC12" battery used by the LX3 or Ricoh GX-200, so conserve your valuta by not buying the Leica OEM version. Search (sleaz)eBay for "panasonic LX3 battery" or "Ricoh GX-200 battery" and expect to pay @ $US 10.
- Snapshot mode — really useful at parties or get-togethers when you wish to socialise rather than being The Camera-Fiddling Nerd.
- Macro close-ups — very cool and you can get in super close (10mm!). Only really works though when the lens is at its widest focal length.
- Cable release — no electronic release appears to be available, but for $US 22 there is a way to attach a mechanical cable release. Mind you, why bother? Just use the built-in self-timer.
- Sensor Size Dimensions — appear to be a Military Secret. Leica say it is 1/1.63", whatever that means. Referring to the DPReivew sensor size glossary and doing a bit of interpolation, I estimate the D-LUX 4's sensor to be roughly 8.5mm X 6.5mm (!) Whatever it is, it's roughly twice the surface area of typical 1/2.5" compact cameras — see the Wiki entry on sensor sizes. That's the good news, the bad is that it is only 20% the size of the sensor in the Sigma D2 :?(
- Case — why fork a 1½ C-note for the official leather case when you can buy a $20 cheapie? (Eg. the Case Logic "Medium Digital Camera Case QPB-2", fits like a glove and even has an internal pocket to store the pesky lenscap when camera is being used.)
- Memory storage — works with SDHC cards; I use a Sandisk Extreme III 8GB.
- LCD Screen — takes up so much of the camera's rear that it's a fingerprint and scratch magnet. 3x ScreenPatronus LCD protector screens to the rescue, for @ $12.50.
- Firmware updates — occasionally yes, although not as frequently as for the LX3.
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.
- Leica Website "D-LUX 4" link (see also their Accessories page)
- Luigi Crescenzi "Leicatime" Leather cases (scroll down the page about half-way)
- Sample D-LUX 4 images (courtesy of Jim Radcliffe)
- How to use a D-LUX 4 as a slide copier (courtesy of Harold Kelley Wood)
- D-LUX 4 vs LX3 - A:B image comparisons (courtesy of Malaysian "FotoKrazy" forum)
- Sample images showing differences between the D-LUX 4 and LX3 (courtesy of Ian Ho)
- Sample RAW files (courtesy of Serious Compacts blog)