Leica D-Lux 5 Titanium Review
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The Leica D-Lux 5 is a premium compact camera aimed at the discerning prosumer. The DLux 5 features a 3.8x, 24-90mm, f/2-3.3 lens, large 1/1.63” 10 megapixel CCD sensor and 720p HD video. With full creative control, the D-Lux 5 ships with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 and there’s a range of optional accessories including the EVF1 electronic viewfinder, CF 22 flash, handgrip and optional bags and cases. The Leica D-Lux 5 Titanium special edition set that we’ve reviewed costs £855, while the regular black version is available for £630, with the optional EVF1 viewfinder costing £270.
Ease of Use
If you are getting a sense of déjà vu from one look at this Leica, you'd be right to trust your instincts. The D-Lux 5 is its maker's near like-for-like interpretation of Panasonic's well-received Lumix DMC-LX5, which hit the shelves last year at around £450. Except that the version with the famous red dot logo we're testing here, in an 'it's Christmas so let's push the boat out' type of way, is the outwardly gorgeous limited edition D-Lux 5 Titanium. Other than that, a lot of what we've already seen on the Panasonic is replicated on the Leica - up to a point.
For example, with a steely dark grey metal exterior that takes on a slight mauve hue under artificial light, the D-Lux 5 Titanium is a head-turning supermodel among premium fixed lens compacts that makes even its step sibling the LX5 look drab. Competition for both numbers the likes of Canon PowerShots S100 and G12, Nikon P7100, plus the Fujifilm X10. The latter for us is the only one of this club that proves a match for (perhaps even surpasses) the Leica's outward flashiness.
As we all know, supermodels don't get out of bed for less than $10,000, so by contrast the Leica D-Lux 5 Titanium appears a relative bargain. Its maker's suggested price is £855, a mark up from the 'regular' unlimited D-Lux 5's £644. While the Leica won't prove to be as high maintenance as a catwalk princess, added peace of mind comes in the shape of a two-year warranty - a year longer than usual - plus one year's accident cover.
And someone, somewhere, is coughing up this kind of outlay. Leica tells us it is still receiving orders for the D-Lux 5 Titanium's long sold out predecessor two years down the line. Plus, it's worth noting that if you do want to take ownership of a Leica, this is still one of the least expensive ways of doing so. If this still has you grumbling that's OK. As comedian Stewart Lee would say, it's not for you.
So what do we get for such an investment? The answer is not just the camera but a very stylish and usefully protective leather carry case in a suitably steely shade of grey. Whilst this may seem like a frippery to some, the core headline features are a modest sounding 10.1 megapixels yet from a larger than average 11.3MP, 1/1.63-inch CCD, a wide-angle focal range the equivalent of 24-90mm in 35mm old money, or a 3.8x optical zoom - equally modest in these 'travel zoom' times but adequate - plus a 3-inch LCD bestowed with 460k dot resolution. Official dimensions are 110mmx66x43mm and the Leica weighs 270g with rechargeable battery and SD card inserted.
As with Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LX5 and the Canon PowerShot S100, some control over camera functionality is placed around the lens, here boasting a maximum f/2.0 aperture, which not only suggests the Leica as good for available light photography but that we're also able to achieve some decent shallow depth of field results; subject sharp but foreground and background attractively soft. Lens encircling switches offer the chance to alter image aspect ratios and swap focus modes, more on which later. This does however mean that the camera's profile is slightly wider for pocket transportation at 43mm than compacts with otherwise a similar body thickness yet a retracting lens. Basically it adds on around 10mm. Rather more expected at this price which is a match for a semi pro DSLR, both Raw and JPEG files can be committed to SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, and shot independently of each other or in tandem. Writing speed per image file is the expected two to three seconds.
With a dedicated red record button winking at us on the camera top plate, video resolution falls just short of Full HD with 1280x720 pixels offered, in a choice of AVCHD or Motion JPEG recording formats, the latter more widely compatible, particularly with older PCs. Both video and stills are recorded with the compositional aid of the three-inch, 460k dot resolution back screen, presented in standard 4:3 aspect ratio. There's no optical or electronic viewfinder featured, but as on Panasonic's LX5 we again find an accessory port for optional electronic viewfinder just below the Leica's vacant hotshoe. Offering a degree of protection, both this and the hotshoe are protected by a wraparound slip-on plastic cap.
As anyone would expect, the Leica D-Lux 5 Titanium impresses from the off, presenting a very crisp, clean fascia, that like the Olympus E-P3, Fuji X10 et al is likely to draw admiring glances. It's bereft of the subtly curving left-mounted handgrip that features on Panasonic's LX5 however. This subconsciously gives even more exposure not only to the titanium finish but also to the red Leica logo situated top left, exactly where the 'Lumix' letters otherwise appear on its doppelganger. Does the camera miss a handgrip? Well the smooth faceplate and only a narrow indentation for the thumb to rest at the back does mean that we found it a tad slippery in the palm if attempting to shoot single-handed. Luckily there's the customary wrist strap in the box and a clip-on lens cap that can be attached to vacant lugs provided on either flank of the camera.
The same Leica lens witnessed on the Panasonic DMC-LX5 once again dominates proceedings at the front, with that fast f/2.0 aperture backed up by an ISO range that tops out at a whopping ISO12800 (albeit at reduced resolution above ISO3200). We likewise get a chance to alter the aspect ratio of the image being shot without having to drill down into on-screen menus via the aforementioned physical switch mounted above the lens. The settings here are the standard 4:3 digital ratio slight left of centre of the lens surround, with 3:2, 16:9 and, more unusually, 1:1, being the alternatives. Slide your left hand down, and to the left of the lens surround there's a further tactile switch for swapping between auto focus, macro focus and manual focus. Again this is the exact set up found on Panasonic's close cousin.
Looking down on the top plate of the D-Lux 5 Titanium provides another flashback to the LX5. Again layout is the same, with differences subtle at best. For example, while the bottle top shooting mode dial features the same ridged edge and definite 'click' as we arrive at each of the 10 settings, the 'iA' intelligent mode of the Panasonic is a mere 'A' auto mode here. It's equally smart though. More importantly the creative settings are the same, so we get program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual nestling next to a creative video settings mode (which incidentally allows access to the same film modes as accessible for stills), plus two user customizable settings and 23 scene modes, running the usual gamut of portrait, landscape (including night scenery) and kids and pets modes.
Also found on the dial and denoted by an artist's palette icon, is the 'My Color' mode that allows different filters to be applied. Included here and carried over from Panasonic's LX5 are the saturation boosting 'Expressive' which stays the right side of realistic, plus film grain, silhouette, dynamic B&W, dynamic art, high dynamic (range), monochrome, 'elegant', pure and retro options. Incidentally, while we were writing this review Leica announced a firmware upgrade that now adds the ubiquitous miniature mode that narrows the portion of the image in focus so it appears as if we're not viewing life-size buildings but rather a model village. As with the Panasonic, Leica users also get access to the aforementioned film simulation modes via the on-screen menu when the shooting dial is turned to a creative mode, for example program, aperture priority, shutter priority or manual. Although this doesn't feature on the top plate dial, users can jump straight to film modes with a press of the slightly more hidden 'Fn' (function) button that forms part of the familiar cross keys set up on the Leica's backplate.
Turning our attention back to the top plate of the D-Lux 5 Titanium, we find a large shutter release button encircled by a lever for controlling the zoom, its ridged edge jutting forward in a lip for easier purchase. To the right of this is a small fingernail-sized but highly visible one-press video record button, and just below it the on/off switch, which is actually a proper old-fashioned switch rather than a button.
Over at the other edge of the top plate, leapfrogging the hump for the vacant hotshoe we find a sunken flash, with a lever sitting unobtrusively behind for its manual activation. Give this a slide and the flash pops up like a periscope. Incidentally, with this item raised the Leica D-Lux 5 Titanium manages to look even more majestic, rather than ridiculous.
Slide the power switch to 'on', and as long as you've remembered to remove the matching lens cap first, the Titanium Leica powers up in just under two seconds, rear LCD blinking into life and lens extending to maximum 24mm wideangle setting. A half squeeze of the shutter release button and in the time it took us to blink focus and exposure had been determined, central AF point customarily illuminated in green with an accompanying bleep of confirmation that we're able to press down fully and take the shot. Do so and a maximum 10-megapixel resolution shot is committed to memory - here SD card - in 2-3 seconds, the screen momentarily freezing to display the captured picture. Nudge the zoom lever encircling the shutter release and the lens moves through the entire zoom range in around three seconds, sound-tracked by a very low so unobtrusive buzz. Thankfully, full use of the zoom can be made in movie mode as well as in regular stills, the 4:3 aspect ratio display automatically narrowing to show a 16:9 widescreen ratio image when the record button is pressed. There's a moment's wait after said button is pressed before recording commences, so it's not quite instant video, but seeing as this won't be the main purchase drive for most this isn't a deal breaker. And of course there's still the bonus that the creative video modes allow users to fine tune their imagery in more or less the same way that stills can be tweaked in-camera.
Indeed, as we found when reviewing Panasonic's version, the creative movie mode is where technologies converge and the D-Lux 5 becomes an intriguing prospect for would-be videographers, providing access as it does to the same creative exposure P,A,S,M modes selectable when taking photographs. Users likewise get access to all the film simulation modes when filming video, including the ability to shoot in black and white. ISO settings, white balance and AF tracking are additionally all accessible when shooting movies. So this is a digital stills camera where video seems more than just an afterthought, or an exercise in box ticking.
At the back of the camera the button line up is again identical to Panasonic's LX5. This means that while operation is familiar, the buttons are still tiny and require fingernail precision, with most of the backplate unsurprisingly taken up by the 3-inch LCD display. It's here we have echoes of Panasonic's plainer Lumix point and shoots; except, that is, from the enthusiast enticing giveaways of an AF/AE lock button and DSLR-like command/jog dial top right, which we found was easily overlooked. With a prior press of the relevant command button, this can be utilised for controlling the size of the AF area (enlarging or contracting).
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The other near microscopic D-Lux 5 Titanium backplate controls include the familiar playback button, and, just below this, a quartet of cross keys for tabbing through and selecting menu options, or scrolling through captured images, with a central menu/set button falling under the thumb in their midst.
The top key of the quartet is marked 'focus'. Press this and, as previously mentioned in tandem with the command dial there's the ability to adjust the expansiveness of AF area, or alter its default position of dead centre of the frame to off-centre instead, with a subsequent press of the surrounding cross keys. To the right, at three o'clock, the next key is given over as a shortcut to accessing ISO settings on the fly. At six o'clock we get a 'Fn' (function) button as another short cut - providing instant access for example to the film simulation modes instead of having to wade through the menu to get at them. The fourth and final key is for the D-Lux 5/LX5's self-timer options: here either the standard two or ten seconds.
Beneath this again we get the final two buttons on the camera back, for self explanatory display - a press of which turns of the operational icons or brings up a nine-zone compositional grid - and, secondly the Q.Menu or 'Quick Menu' button bringing up the toolbar of key shooting settings. This is a very useful addition maintained from Panasonic's operational arsenal, acting as a shortcut and avoiding the need to otherwise tab back and forth through menu screens. Again, should the user already have the top dial turned to one of the creative shooting modes, via this toolbar sthey have access to a film simulation mode setting (choice of vibrant, nostalgic, standard black and white, dynamic B&W, Smooth B&W, My Film1, My Film2, multi film, standard or dynamic, nature and smooth), flash settings (auto, auto with red eye reduction, forced flash or slow sync with red eye reduction), burst shooting on/off, metering mode (multi, centre weighted or spot), AF area (face detection, AF tracking, 23-area or 1-area AF), white balance, stills resolution, and even three options for video recording quality; from HD down to an email friendly 320x240 pixels. Finally there's the ability to adjust the power mode of the LCD itself. Quite an array of choices then that should satisfy (without over-awing) anyone trading up from a fully auto snapshot for the first time.
As on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, the right hand side of the Leica - when viewed from the back - features a terminal door covering separate HDMI (cable optional) and AV/USB out ports. As noted, there are also vacant lugs on the left and right hand flanks of the camera for attaching the provided strap and clip on lens cap. The base of the camera meanwhile features a slightly off-centre screw thread for attaching a tripod, the other under-side feature being the compartment housing the battery, good for 400 shots according to CIPA standard from a single charge, and SD/SDHC or SDXC media cards. And as we found on the Leica V-Lux line of point and shoots, although this is Leica Germany, we get a hint at its shared Panasonic parenthood with a 'made in Japan' inscription on the camera base.
While up until this point we have a largely positive impression of the D-Lux 5 Titanium, what of the pictures the Leica produces? Do they, as one might reasonably expect from a model with this sort of price tag, transcend what we expect from what is, at the end of the day, 'just' another snapshot camera, albeit a very good one? Read on to find out.