Saturday, July 9, 2011

Leica Digilux 2- Still A Contender (Updated 7-14-2011)

Leica Digilux 2 Review- Still A Contender
Leica 'Digilux 2' 5MP Digital Camera with 3.2x Optical ZoomPoint & Shoot Digital Cameras)

Ever a fan of rangefinders and rangefinder styled cameras, it was inevitable that I'd end up with the Leica Digilux 2- the sister camera to Panasonic's LC1 (to which I also have owned several samples). I've been on the hunt for one for a while now, but I've always felt the price too expensive when compared to the LC1. Both cameras hold incredible value and are still very expensive for the most part on the used market. Patience, they say, is a virtue. I tend to think patience is a decision- but that is beside the point.




Fact is, I have been patient for a D2 to fall into my lap for quite some time now, and low and behold, it was my time. I found an excellent sample at one of the major retailers (who have yet to disappoint me) and jumped on it. Why the two cameras that are virtually the same? Simple, there are differences.

The Leica it turns out has a tad different switch layout, no grip, and fancy exterior. How it feels in the hand is quite different without that grip, in fact I dare say it is more comfortable than the LC1 and I prefer how Leica have arranged the on/off and metering switches over the LC1 too. I'd be lying to say that I didn't care if it had a red dot on the front, with classic Leica looks too, because I do care. I love how the D2 looks.

Another bonus with the D2 is that Leica still stands behind them to this day, so I know I can still have it serviced if need be- and that is a load off my mind. Gotta hand it to Leica, they are the Nordstrom's of camera companies and it does indeed feel worth the extra cost knowing that I'll be well taken care of in the unfortunate event this D2 fails for any reason. Kudos for Leica backing older products, and products that were bought by 2nd and even 3rd owners. That's service!

Leica's handling of Jpegs is slightly different too, noticeable by the trained eye. Whereas Panasonic's processing tends to be more sensational, Leica's tends to be more real. It's subtle, but there is a difference. Might have to use more Jpegs out of the D2 than I did with the LC1 now, because I tend to prefer the way Leica handle their processing here.

Other than that the cameras are both similar and very familiar to me, and I'm glad I have a D2 in my collection now. My LC1's went away to great buyers, but I'm sure I'll have another at some point, either an LC1 or another D2. Nothing against the LC1, I still feel just as excited about it as when I wrote that big review on it.

Leica M vs. Digilux 2

Why not an M digital? M owners tend to be pretty good at shrugging off anything said toward the critical end of the Leica M cameras so I'm sure that when I say I wasn't all that impressed with the M8/9- it won't be taken personal. Are they excellent cameras- BAH! of course they are. I guess while handling them I expected something different, a connection that didn't happen. On the contrary, I felt immediately connected to the Panasonic LC1 and the D2. Why? Size, price, and that gorgeous zoom lens are the first reasons.


I also like the super quiet nature of the D2/LC1. Any normal DSLR would have awakened my sleeping daughter in the image above, not likely to allow for a second follow up shot. The M's are very quiet by interchangeable lens camera standards, probably the quietest of all. Yet the D2/LC1 are technically digicams behind those looks, and digicams (set with sounds off) are the quietest cameras on the market. Quiet cameras can be a major advantage to the photographer, in many situations. I find this to be true from my experience.

Since the D2 has a very decent sized sensor that performs very well, very decent bokeh, an ultra sharp lens, and great handling- I still tend to think this camera will be my favorite Leica for quite some time (unless Leica's new camera coming early 2012 is similar to the D2). I also don't have to lug extra lenses around since the D2 covers nearly all of the popular focal lengths for rangefinder cameras- 28, 35, 50, 70, and 90mm are very common lenses you'll find in a rangefinder aficionado's camera bag. D2, has it covered, and, the large aperture throughout the entire range is a serious benefit even over many Leica M lenses.

Hard not to be convinced by the D2 isn't it? Most other D2/LC1 owners know exactly what I'm talking about and that's a main reason these cameras are so popular and hard to find on the used market- even some 7 years after they were announced.


Image Quality

Personally the D2/LC1 I think have excellent image quality from the 5.2mp 2/3" sensor. I don't need a lot of resolution- it's nice to have more, sure, but I don't need more than that. I can make due with the D2's raw files that come way of the super sharp lens that gets all the detail possible from that decent 5.2mp sensor. When I bring the D2 out with me, I keep in mind that I won't likely be making prints larger than 13x19" but that if I need too, I can squeak a good one out with some post processing work and a good printer. Fine by me.

Sascha, ISO 100, 90mm f/2.4


There is much written about getting the most out of the D2/LC1's image quality, but I'll share my thoughts on how I set these cameras up anyways.

Jpegs- Contrast I generally float depending on the range of light in a scene, but I always keep sharpness and saturation as low as possible preferring to sharpen using Neat Image or PS, and boost saturation to taste. I'm not a high saturation fan anymore, early on I was, but no longer. I tend to think more can be said from being subtle and simple nowadays :). As far as what ISO's I use, I prefer to keep Jpegs at ISO 100 to get the most quality for color shots, and I'll go to 400 for monochrome.

Raw-
There are several ways I'll shoot when I have the camera set to raw. In good outdoor light, I'll shoot ISO 100 only, and slightly over expose shots about .3-.7ev to get a pushed 50 to 80 ISO value. This tends to help keep blue sky noise down a bit more, but not a lot. Yet I'll take it. In lower light scenes, depending on how much light is indoors, I'll either shoot ISO 100 backed down to -2ev for a pushed 400 ISO sensitivity, or shoot up to ISO 400 backed off -1 ev for a pushed 800 ISO. With an f/2 setting, this equates to a very decent shutter speed indoors.

Example, a 60 watt lamp in a 12'x12' bedroom with those settings will give me about a 1/40th of a second shutter speed, plenty by my book for a sharp image even allowing for some movement (just not a lot) for subjects.

I don't object to the noise at any ISO from the D2 in raw, but I do keep in mind the dynamic range penalty suffered (about 2 stops less at ISO 400 than ISO 100). So when possible, and needed, I keep the D2/LC1 at ISO 100. With it's fast lens, it's not that difficult to do. Otherwise, the grain produced at higher sensitivities isn't objectionable. Even when I push ISO 400 it's much less grain than the Fujifilm 800 ISO speed film I shoot in my Voigtlander Bessa R3a.

For those times I need more sensitivity, I'm unafraid to process a raw file at ISO 400, as below.


Adjustments and Workarounds

The D2 and LC1 aren't perfect cameras by my standards, but they just about about nail the photographic experience for me. One wish is for an AEL lock button near my thumb. I live by aperture priority most of the time. The D2 will lock exposure with a half press of the shutter release, but it also locks auto focus at the same time. More times than not, I don't want the focus distance to be what the D2 decides its going to be based on where I lock my exposure in the scene. So this requires a work around in my workflow.

I often compensate by focusing manually for static subjects, using the shutter release as my half press AEL lock button. Another way I'll workaround the lack of an AEL button is to shoot in Manual, but this requires me taking my eyes off the subject, or to manually move the shutter speed dial on top of the camera with my forefinger, which takes my finger off the shutter release.

All Leica had to do is make the EV button a FN button programmable by the photographer in the firmware- simple, effective, done. Oh well, the universe is in constant chaos, I suppose I can get by without an AEL lock button :).

Playing back my images I prefer to use the playback button on the 4 way toggle switch, rather than switch out shooting modes, it's much quicker this way. Toggling left or right on the 4 way allows you to view other images as well. Don't worry about pressing another button, the D2 will automatically go back to shooting on its own, or a half press of the shutter takes you out of playback.

Since the D2 isn't image stabilized, to counter this, I like to use larger aperture settings and employ the use of the lens hood to steady my shot. Yep the lens hood. Its square design allows my left hand to hold it flat in my palm, or to squeeze the hood itself a bit which tightens things up nicely. 1/2 second sharp hand held shots are routine for me on the D2/LC1.

If for whatever reason I find I'm using 28mm often, I'll pull out my small little Voigtlander built Ricoh GV-2 28mm optical finder and slide it into the D2's hot-shoe. This disables the onboard flash and tells the D2 a flash is set, so you have to turn the flash setting to off to use it correctly.


To me that's little to pay and it's worth what I gain in that circumstance when I need it. You can carry a couple of these small optical finders (from various makers) with you for varied focal lengths and they are readily available. Two of my favorites are the 28mm and 50mm finders.

The Gorgeous 28-90mm f/2-f/2.4 Vario Summicron 

Not only is the D2 equipped with one of the finest zoom lenses ever created in mankind's short history, it's also the place you'll make many of your adjustments. You'll find intimacy with the D2. With practice, its analog controls will eventually become second nature to you and you won't have to take your eye off your subject to make any adjustments. To me, that is the biggest benefit of exterior analog controls. It also just feels great making a physical connection with the tool you are using to make a photograph- in a way I feel as though making a photograph is physical exercise, not a digital rendering. And I like that feeling.



The fast aperture of this lens gives two immediate benefits, low light shooting and very good looking out of focus areas in your photograph (bokeh) if used correctly. Other benefits are a sharp corner to corner performance wide open, with little distortion or abberations to speak of ( I never give these a second thought using this lens). Build quality is top notch with the smooth action of the focus, zoom, and aperture rings. This makes for delightful tactile feedback.



The sensor size allows the lens's size to be kept down to a much smaller size than an APS-C sized sensor would, and I feel the perfect balance has been achieved here (why  2/3" sensors aren't being put into cameras today, I'll never figure out).

What the D2 has that Newer Cameras Don't 

Technically the D2 doesn't have that many unique features (bar its great flash and lens) that newer camera's don't. If you look on a spec sheet, you might not be that impressed. Speed isn't a trademark of the D2 either, nor is a long zoom lens. So what's it got?

Well the D2 can give you a sense of satisfaction that other camera's simply cannot. There is something to be said for using an analog machine that doesn't have all the bells and whistles (sometimes nutty features) that newer cameras have. Put aside it's unique quality of its images, it's handsome looks, awesome handling, and great lens - no, I'm not talking about any of that.

What I'm talking about is how you feel at the end of the day after using the D2, especially when you are viewing your images and see that you nailed a wonderful photograph. Yep the satisfaction that comes from the challenge of using a camera that doesn't have all the luxuries or speed of modern digital cameras is pure, dare I say unrivaled.

To add to that, I just simply love using the D2. The way it balances in my hand, its straight lines, simple and direct layout, all that connects you to it very personally. I find I tend to be in a different mindset when using the D2, more focused, calmer, relaxed and alert. I know what the camera is capable of, and I look for photographic situations it can handle- I don't think of much else when I use it. And occasionally, it will surprise me and capture images I thought might be impossible.

Notable Features I Enjoy

I happen to be nearly alone in the EVF bandwagon camp, yep I like it's EVF. I like the location of the EVF (upper left hand corner of the rear of the camera) because I can keep most of my face exposed to my subjects which is much less disarming than the photographer hiding behind the camera. During bright scenes I can use the EVF to shade my eye and concentrate on the composition. During manual focusing, I set the central magnification feature so that I can get precise focus without losing my composition.

I really don't care much about the resolution of the finder, or its contrast, yadda yadda. Why? Simple, because at the end of the day all I care about is getting my exposure and composition correct. I know the camera will yield good photographic results, so why do I need to see it in advance? I do my post processing after the fact, and enjoy using raw on the D2 as well (also in the minority there).

Gotta hand it to the extra appointments like video and gif animation. Although these two features don't seem to fit into the D2's simplistic and raw nature, they are buried far enough in the menu system that you almost forget about them. When you need them, they do the job.

Lets not forget that you can customize the 4 way controller to your taste. This makes accessing the most commonly used controls and settings even easier. I use the function button often enough that this happens to be very handy to me.


I'm particularly fond of the on board flash. As I've said before, having a bounce flash option built into the camera is simply brilliant,  and should be a much more standard feature in digital cameras- what a pity it isn't. I don't like to use artificial light in my images, but for family candids I find it simply invaluable at times when I don't have time to set up a shot. When you want to shoot the flash normally, it's flash does a good job of distancing itself from the camera virtually eliminating any red eye.


And last but not least I like that the Raw format of the D2 is DNG format. Since I do all of my post processing in ACR  opening and adjusting my raw files is a snap. Since the file sizes are much smaller than other cameras I use, processing time takes nearly half the time to do as well. It's just kind of a breath of fresh air that one might normally take for granted.

Shooting with the Digilux 2

There aren't too many photographic opportunities that the Digilux 2 will miss. Thorsten Overgaard said it best when he claimed the Digilux 2's lens would capture about 90% of the images you'd need it too.  If there is anything I'd want a bit more on this lens it would be two requests: Slightly wider angle lens to 24mm, and a bit better magnification (macro performance). But at the end of the day I'm very happy with the lens as is, delighted in fact.

The Digilux 2 is just fun to shoot with. It's slower overall speed in comparison to DSLR's in a way is a benefit, because those inclined to overshoot will be forced to think a bit more before they press the shutter. Yet it isn't so pokey that it can't grab an occasional action shot either- the shutter lag is more than adequate for that task, the rest is up to the photographer.

Here are some recent images I made with the Digilux 2. One of the greatest strengths of the D2 is landscape photography- low distortion, sharp images. It has great depth of field which can be obtained at relatively large aperture settings, a benefit that larger sensor cameras cannot offer. I don't have to worry about taking a tripod with me like I would with a DSLR which would require very small apertures to get the same depth of field.
The first is a landscape image in Dana Point's Biological Refuge in Southern California, against 200' high cliffs. ISO 100, f/3.6.


Another area that the D2 shines is architecture photography. It's low distortion lens either requires very little adjustment post process, or none at all. If you shoot on correct angles, likely it will require none, as in the image below. Shot at the Dana Point Oceanic Institute, CA.

Another image of Architecture, the Marriot Resort in Dana Point, CA. No adjustments were made at all to the geometry here, lines are straight and even. Hand held, ISO 100, converted from ACR. Light dodging and burning, and saturation adjustments. This would make a wonderful 13x17" print.


Even as an action camera I'm not shy to try and make the opportune photograph, I don't seek them out but when they are presented to me, I'll give it my best shot. The image below is heavily cropped and slightly resized in ACR. The resulting image initially was 1.3mp in size, but I re-sized it to 4.5mp and did some sharpening in CS2. The equivalent focal length of that sized crop is nearly 350mm, and as you can see, plenty of detail is retained because of the ultra sharp lens. Note the location of the volleyball, see the shutter lag is indeed minimal in order to pull that off.


Am I Happy I Purchased the Digilux 2?

Well, yeah. But in terms of the subtle differences between it and the LC1 it might be hard for some to quantify, and I too have been in that camp. After holding and using one though, I think I'd say yes it's worth the extra wait to get one for a good price (if you can) as long as the differences appeal to you at all. If not, the LC1 remains as I stated before in my review of that camera. These are excellent photographic tools, both to the professional and amateur learning how to use proper external controls.

Leica's Digilux 2 is still a contender when you have a look at the photographic marketplace, its lens, handling, build, classy design, and image quality are hard to beat. In fact, I dare say that any digicam on the market today besides the Fuji X100 could give the D2 a fight on looks. Also factor in the fact it holds its value better than about 99% of cameras produced today, and that it's highly sought out even after nearly 7 years since it's inception- and you have a keeper photographic tool here.

Addendum 7-14-2011- Since writing this article I have acquired another Digilux 2. I liked the first one so much I found another one by stroke of pure luck in mint condition with the original box, I just had to go for it. Also, Leica returned my email and are glad to service my Digilux 2 for any reason. That kind of service unfortunately was not, and is not, available for the LC1. So I guess you could say I'm happy I purchased a Digilux 2- I had to have twins.


-Carl

p.s. If this article was helpful to you and you feel like you're in the mood to spread some cheer, please feel free to donate any amount (even .25 cents is not unwelcomed!) to my PayPal Donate account here: CLICK ME 

Leica Digilux 2 Images

17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review, Carl. I feel the same wau about this camera as you do!!

July 10, 2011 at 8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the D2 as you do and have 2 so far, which occasionally beat my M9 or 5D2 out the door.

One criticism of your blog: not a fan of the white text on black background because when I look at your great photos I can't see them properly as there are lines ghosting across them, which is the residual effect of white text on black.

July 11, 2011 at 4:34 PM  
Blogger C.GARRARD said...

Right on and thank you for the feedback on the text. What color do you suggest I should use otherwise?

I just won another D2 on ebay, this one is better than the sample I just bought, came with the original box, and Leica Macro lens as well. Terribly excited!

D2 x 2!

Carl

July 11, 2011 at 11:17 PM  
Blogger Robin Garma said...

As soon as the Digilux 2 was announced I knew I wanted one, but I did have to wait a few years for the price to come down to my level; £400. I had a great summer with it before the sensor failed, so I took it to Red Dot cameras in Old St who kindly posted it to Leica for me.
As well as sorting out the the sensor, Leica took it upon themselves to replace some missing screws, re-etch the focus ring numbers, replace the rubberised cover and clean the whole camera. Their bill?
No charge.
Does that make Leica the Tammy Wynette of Camera manufacturers?

Robin Garms

July 13, 2011 at 3:06 AM  
Blogger Cristi said...

Excellent review Carl and congratulations to your new D2 cameras!

I love my LC1 and have been even more impressed after using it in Scotland together with the GXR A12 28mm module. Not only did it survive pouring rain and spray from a waterfall without a problem, the images did not stand at all behind the new 12mp APS sensor and were in parts even more detailed.

Keep shooting and enjoy your new D2 cameras!

July 13, 2011 at 3:11 PM  
OpenID timelockin said...

Hi Carl, congrats to your Digilux and to your nice review.
If you are lookig for a case, the one of the LC1 fits perfect on my DL2.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/category7/sets/

And the wide converter of the LC1 is realy big ab heavy, but the results are excelent
http://timelockin.wordpress.com/2008/03/10/29/

My last recommendation is using the DL2 for time laps.
I made some nice takes with this camera
http://vimeo.com/27285400

And here are some photos of my time lapse setup
http://issuu.com/timelock/docs/timelock010

Best regards and a realy good time with this nice camera

Martin

August 7, 2011 at 1:07 PM  
OpenID timelockin said...

Sorry, first link to the case is http://www.flickr.com/photos/category7/sets/72157622161977431/

August 7, 2011 at 1:33 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

hi Carl,

nice addendum to your thorough LC1 review, which I read at least 5 times.
I had 3 D2 and one LC1. I have sold all the leicas to finance my M8 and kept the LC1. It is funny that I feel more bonded to the LC1 than to my M8. I am currently abroad on a business trip and only brought the LC1 with me. depending on the experience, I might buy at least another D2 and perhaps sell my M8, which does not see much use lately.

I found curious that you can actually see a difference on the output between the 2 cameras... I did plenty of testing when I have both of them and could not spot any difference whatsoever in image quality. at least in RAW. they both put out he same raw file. so if you shoot raw, here is no difference.
even the jpegs are quite similar.... you might take a look on John thawley's side by side comparison between the two: www.johnthawley.com/journal/2009/7/8/leica-digilux-2-panasonic-dmc-lc1-tete-a-tete.html

October 14, 2011 at 1:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I learnt quite a few tips (holding by the hood !) : thanks. Has anyone done or would create an Adobe profile (cf Adobe lens profile creator) ? PTlens does the job (barrel-pincution) but it would be nice not to create a tiff and remain in LR or PS. I don't feel up to and can't afford to print the charts..

merry christmas

December 25, 2011 at 4:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very true! D2 is still amazing @ 2012. I enjoy every minute shooting with D2.

April 21, 2012 at 10:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed reading this, Carl. Thankyou!

I've just acquired my first Digilux 2. I wouldn't say it's in mint condition, but in a way that's better for me - if it was absolutely pristine, I'd be worrying around every speck of dust that dared to alight on it & not going at it from the point of view of what it can do. Naturally, I'd draw the line at any damage to lens etc..but a scratch or two to body - well, that's just ' character '. Debatable if character in this context is little more than a kind way of saying the previous owner was a careless **** :)
I began my search a while back as the camera ticked all my boxes with combination of old and new, sheer unbeatable quality, and mostly the lens. And mostly the design. And mostly again the fact that it's Leica. So one reason becomes a list already.
These are selling currently for pretty reasonable prices. I happened upon German Ebay and found a saving of nearly a third over those in the UK; it helps that the Germans have this aura of total functionality and efficiency, so I was expecting the camera to live up to its description, which it more or less did. I'm happy with my purchase and my new Digilux was working straight out of the box.
I also have an LC1 which differs, as already covered widely, hardly at all. This was perhaps my finest hour in terms of bargain acquisition: I bought it for a song with a dead sensor. Camera itself is in beautfiul condition. I had the sensor replaced which cost me twice the price of the camera yet still the deal was excellent. And this flies, my how it flies: I rattled off a couple of candids of my other half and everything immediately fell into place: the whole reason for having such an instrument was there in those images. I've never owned anything that's sold itself as a pencil and proceeded to do a Leonardo for me into the bargain. I simply couldn't believe the difference, the tonal reproduction, the reality and ' there-ness ' of the shots. These images were alive in a way I've not seen before. I got a bargain, sure, but even my meagre outlay was recaptured in a few quick and unprepared-for frames.
I like the difference between the two cameras. They are both stunning, they both stand alone and they both hold their own in any company. Unfortunately for the Pannie, the other camera was first in the wardrboe and got the Leica dress and a tweak or two different in the make-up department. That's all.
Anyone looking to buy, I'd have little advice because I am not a patient person: I see, I want, I fall over has been the usual rule. I am older now. If you can hang back just a little bit, you'll find a good one at the right price.

Joe

May 15, 2012 at 2:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have one for about 7 years now.
look at some of my digilux 2 photos at:
WWW.PBASE.COM/AMI33/

July 19, 2012 at 3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, great writeup on the Digi 2. As I write this, mine is sitting next to me along with my Nikon D7000 with a 70-300 VR lens sitting on it. While in technical terms the Nikon wipes the floor with the D2, I rarely enjoy shooting with it unless it's for sports. It's large, it's heavy and it has no real character. It does make fine pictures, of course, but that's only when I can be bothered to take it out. The Digi 2 is so light and convenient that I take it pretty much everywhere. Keep the ISO low, shoot in acceptable light, postprocess well and you get simply excellent images.

October 20, 2012 at 4:36 AM  
Blogger Gary Perlmutter LBPPA said...

Just found your article on google after recently purchasing a Digilux 2 on eBay. Enjoyed reading your very thorough article. Like you I agree such a wonderful camera that still stands the test of time. So much so that I wrote a little piece for Steve Huff's website http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2012/10/19/leica-digilux-2-did-fuji-base-the-x100-on-this-by-gary-perlmutter/

October 30, 2012 at 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice review. You have captured many of the 'intangibles' that influence the making of a photograph - that are not normally found in the technical reviews. I have had a D2 for about 4 years and I love it. It helps me take good pictures. A lot of that is tied up in the heft, the control layout, that great piece of glass. Sure, it's only 5MP. Who cares. This camera has gestalt.
- Steve T, Connecticut, U.S.

December 17, 2012 at 5:09 PM  
Blogger Yael said...

Hi Carl!
I have two of the Digilux 2s and three of the LC-1s (in excellent condition) that I got for a song before people started buying them and driving the prices up. Of course, they are bright light cameras which are better shot at ISO 100 thanks to the noisr, but I find that I don't mind BWs shot at IS) 400. Still love these cameras (of course the magical Leica Lens) and have two copies of the L1 with the Vario Elmarit Lenses. (I shoot that lens on the OMD-EM5 as well and love the results.)
Thanks for your reviews and information!
Cheers,
Yael

June 18, 2014 at 6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Carl. Thanks for your reviews of Digilux and LC1. I got my LC1 from Germany earlier this year after reading Thorsten's article on the D2. I'm trying to figure out why I keep getting drawn to this camera when I have a pristine D700 with a suite of matching Nikon & Sigma lenses? The sublime photographs say it all really, but your review also helps me get a handle on the timeless magic and the essential simplicity of the LC1. Kind regards, Paul
essential

August 17, 2014 at 1:06 AM  

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