Leica Digilux 2
Remember these relics: shutter-speed dials; metering-mode switches; and mechanical rings for aperture, zoom, and focus control? Stone Age technology, sure, but here's an amusing factoid: they work a whole lot better than the motorized, menu-ized, electro-fantabulous cybercontrols that dominate new digital camera design. Enter Leica and its 5-megapixel, 3.2X zoom Digilux 2, which boasts all of those Stone Age controls. It thereby outclasses nearly every other consumer digital model, but alas, it ends up falling far short of being the old-school enthusiast's dream digital camera. Plus, it costs as much as a higher-resolution, entry-level digital SLR with a couple of lenses, which will rightly be a tempting alternative for many. If you're willing to give up that swanky, red Leica badge, you can find the nearly identical for about $250 less. The Leica Digilux 2 is big--too big. It's especially too thick--1.5 inches--and too heavy (1 pound, 5 ounces with battery and media installed). That said, the Digilux 2's analog-inspired design adds up to quicker, more intuitive operation than any other fixed-lens digicam we've used.
Its two-tone silver-and-black styling evokes classic Leica rangefinder models just well enough that we can forgive the camera's too-boxy shape. With an exceptionally solid magnesium body, its fit and finish are excellent, and it's easy to get a comfortable and very secure grip on this camera.
A simple spin of the aperture ring to its A position puts you in shutter-priority autoexposure mode; move the shutter-speed dial to A and you're shooting with aperture-priority mode; set both for A and you're in Program mode. This method was first conceived by Aristotle, we'd guess, and it's still the best.
Other design details are more conventionally digital, but Leica executes them well. You can quickly access crucial settings such as white balance and ISO sensitivity through the Function button on the camera's back. The menu system, which you navigate via a four-way controller on the rear of the camera, is quick to use and logically organized.Central to the Leica mystique are the company's famous lenses, and the Digilux 2 sports a 3.2X Vario-Summicron Aspherical zoom that covers the range from 28mm to 90mm (35mm equivalent). A gold star goes to Leica for the decent wide-angle capability of this sensible zoom range. The lens is also fast, opening to f/2.0 at its wide end and f/2.4 at its telephoto setting. It's threaded to accept 69mm accessories, such as filters, and Leica offers an optional adapter ring to convert to the more common 72mm size.
Advanced shooters will be pleased to find comprehensive exposure controls on the Digilux 2. These include well-designed implementations of all four main exposure modes, three light meters (multifield, center-weighted, and spot), and exposure compensation to plus or minus 2EV. There's also a live image histogram. It's usable but smaller than it should be, and it disappears when you're setting exposure compensation, which is silly. White-balance options include auto, five presets, and custom. You can adjust the CCD's sensitivity from ISO 100 to ISO 400.
The Digilux 2 saves images to an SD card. For JPEG photos, you can choose from six resolutions and three compression levels, as well as record 5-second sound clips that are associated with particular photos. Adjustable image parameters include in-camera sharpening, contrast, and color saturation.
The camera will also record raw-format still pictures, which you can convert to standard formats with the included LaserSoft Imaging SilverFast DC SE software for Windows and Mac. SilverFast DC SE offers pro-level color and tonality controls, making it significantly more powerful than the raw converters we're used to seeing with consumer digicams.
In movie mode, the Digilux 2 records 320x240-pixel QuickTime (M-JPEG) video with sound at 30fps. Clip length is limited only by your storage card capacity.
In addition to its clever design, the flash has more common features, such as flash exposure compensation adjustment (plus or minus 2EV) and second-curtain synchronization; the flash fires at the end of the exposure, rather than the beginning. Finally, a hotshoe lets you mount external flashes, such as Leica's SF 24D dedicated flash.