Panasonic digital with Leica lenses
Here is a small surprise for all the Leica purists out there, a Panasonic 3-CCD "prosumer" digital camcorder with Leica Dicomar image-stabilzed zoom lens with ASPH elements!
The really big surprise however turned out to be that this was not a once-only freak. For in July 2001 Leica announced they were teaming up with Matsushita to create a range of digital devices.
Lumix DMC-LC1 Prototype
In October 2003 news started to dribble out that there was a "true" Leica M-type digital camera in the works:
Manual shutter speeds, manual zoom & focus. 5MPixels. No interchangeable lenses.
Leica DC Vario-Summicron ASPH zoom - with an equivalent zoom of 28-90mm and max aperture of ƒ2.0-ƒ2.4.
Looks okay - as a prototype - but will have to wait 'n' see if the final product can live up to expectations. Will be interesting to see if Panasonic have finally fixed the 400 ISO excessive noise problem they had with the LC5 (see "recall" heading below).
In September 2001 Panasonic announced the first "LUMIX" DMC digital still cameras with Panasonic bodies and chips, but Leica ASPH zoom lenses. The new DMC-LC5 is a 4 megapixel affair with Lecia DC Vario-Summicron ƒ2.0-ƒ2.5 / 7mm-21mm ASPH lens (equivalent to 33mm-100mm). With a frame rate of 4 fps for 8 images at full resolution, manual exposure and focus overrides, it has an interesting feature set, even if the external camera body design is as ugly as hell. (BTW, 4 Mpix = 1632 x 2450.)
In case you are wondering, the LC5 is the original OEM version of the Leica Digilux 1, with the only differences being the the memory card RAM size, the RHS rubber hand-grip and the software the camera ships with.
In Nov 2001 Panasonic posted a few sample images taken with the Lumix. Click here to view.
In March 2002 a Japanese e-zine also posted a page of sample photos at:
BTW, there is a bit of muttering that the Leica Vario-Summicron ƒ2.0-2.5 17-21mm ASPH lens used on the DMC-LC5 is maybe just a re-badged OEM Cannon lens(!). Click here to review the "evidence" (which IMO is pretty weak. Just because lenses look similar from the front does not mean they have identical optical designs or lens coatings!)
In May 2002, Bob Todrick sounded the following alarm about early versions of the LC5 appearing to suffer from excessive image "grain" (noise) and banding when used at ISO 400:
I have just been informed this week by our Panasonic rep that the 4meg Lumix [LC5] will probably be recalled as there have been numerous reports of heavy banding and excessive noise at the 400 ISO setting.
The first thing I did upon hearing this was to check with Leica who said that they have tested the Digilux 1 for this and it appears to be a problem only with the Panasonic. As we won't be getting any Digilux's for another week or so for sale or test it will be interesting to see what transpires.
In August 2002 there were online discussions about the LUMIX which led to revealing remarks by design engineers that they wanted to drop the 400 ISO speed altogether, but were overruled by the geniuses at marketting.
Furthermore in the same DPReview forum a few days later, Bob Kzlarek, Product engineer at Panasonic USA, called for feature suggestions and "improvements" in future Lumix models - see discussion here.
Currently the most detailed (and controversial - see below!) online review is the May 2002 multi-page effort by Steve's Digicams. Click here to read.
In late May 2002, another (poor) review of the DMC-LC5 appeared on DC Resource. Click here to read. Basically, like the Digicam's review, they find the image quality to be poor, mainly due to what they assume to be buggy firmware.
Belgian Leicaphile Pascal Heyman, provides the following summary of a Chasseur d'Images review done on the Lumix LC5, also in May 2002:
Chasseur d'Images has tested the Panasonic Lumix LC5 (also available as the Leica Digilux 1) in the May #243 issue of the magazine. They had used the Digilux 1 for a day at PMA, but now got hold of the Panasonic equivalent for full testing.
It is an interesting test. I would advise those who are interested in the camera to take a look.
CDI notes that the Vario-Summicron 7-21mm ƒ2-2.5 ASPH has similarities to the 7-21mm "Carl Zeiss" lens on Sony cameras, as well as the "Canon" lens on Canon cameras and "Olympus" on Olympus cameras.
I retain a particularly interesting passage where it is said that CDI has asked Hans-Peter Cohn what Leica's exact input into the new camera was. His answer, friendly and polite, was that the lens is not made in Solms but that Leica has suggested a number of recommendations to Panasonic with a view to ideally marry the zoom lens with the 4 megapixel CCD system. The lens is multicoated and has a 6 blade diafragm which delivers excellent contre-jour characteristics and better backgrounds (bokeh).
Plus points of the camera are: finish quality, ergonomics, full scope of photographic possibilities, powerful and practical zoom lens, size of the back LCD screen, autonomy and image quality, and rapid activation (at least, in comparison to most of the competition).
Negative points are the fact that the back LCD panel cannot be changed in position, and the use of only SD/MMC memory cards.
End result is very flattering: 5 stars (max) for optical resolution, lens+AF qualities, daylight exposure and color rendering. 4 stars for exposure with external flash. The camera gets a 5 stars cÙte d'amour.
A further word on speed of operation: while it is true that the camera is activated quickly (3.2 secs) and that the shutter lag is only 0.4 secs, the problem is that the delay between shots takes 11 secs when using JPEG/2240 output quality.
Also, the flash hot shoe only has a central contact, which is a pity since this doesn't allow the usual automatisms like TTL flash (unlike with e.g. the Canon G2 and Nikon Coolpix 995).
They were not so enthusiastic about the add-on hood for the back LCD panel for use in sunlight. When closed it the LCD panel, and when opened access to the different menus is hindered. In the end, they removed it quite often.
I note that the Panasonic LC5 looks way prettier in its magnesium body than the white/black Leica mixture. It almost looks like a Contax G2 or Konica Hexar.
LC5 user feedback
The May 2002 Steve's Digicams review (see above) provoked the following response by early LC5 user Tina Manley:
[The LC5] handles very much like a rangefinder but it is lighter than the M6. I got the silver version because that's all that was available when I got mine. I can't wait to get the black Leica version. It will seem even more like a rangefinder.
I did find the poor [Steve's Digicams] review and read it click here for link but I can't agree with any of the complaints that he had.
I only use the spot AF and that is the one that he says works fine so I haven't had the problems he noted with the wide AF.
There is definitely not the lag time between shots that he reported unless you are shooting in TIFF mode. In the highest quality jpeg mode there is less than 3 seconds between shots. You can also fire off 8 shots with no lag time and let the camera catch up.
The polarized look and mottling in skin tones that he reports, I have not seen at all. I've been very pleased with the quality of the color and the smoothness of the "grain".
I have had nothing but excellent results from my Panasonic and am anxiously waiting for the Leica Digilux 1 which Leica USA assures me will ship the first week in June. The only quality problem I have had with the Panasonic is grainy photos at the 400 ISO setting. In fact, the photos on the two review sites look like mine when I use the 400 ISO rating. The 100 ISO rating photos are excellent. I'm using the LC5 for assignments and have had no complaints.