Leica Digilux 2- Still A Contender (Updated 7-14-2011)
Leica 'Digilux 2' 5MP Digital Camera with 3.2x Optical ZoomPoint & Shoot Digital Cameras)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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