The Good Fast, 12x optical, image-stabilized zoom lens; raw capture; sensitivity to as high as ISO 1,600.
The Bad Big camera body; auto white balance is bad with tungsten lighting; expensive.
The Bottom Line Leica's version of Panasonic's DMC-FZ50 has slightly better JPEG compression, slightly slower performance, and a much higher price tag.
Leica V-Lux 1
Each year, Leica releases a handful of digital cameras with specs almost identical to a handful of models in Panasonic's line. Among this year's batch is the Leica V-Lux 1, which corresponds to Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ50. If you're going to relabel a product, the DMC-FZ50 is certainly a good choice. This superzoom sports a 12x optical, 35mm-to-420mm, f/2.8-to-f/3.7 zoom lens and a 10.1-megapixel CCD sensor; and it has a body that's as big and heavy as an SLR's. While this last part may scare off some users, more seasoned shooters, who value image quality over small size, will appreciate what this camera has to offer. As usual, the Leica version of this camera carries a significantly higher price tag, but it does come with Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0, a $99 value. So, if you don't count yourself among the family of photographers who find value in the classic Leica red-dot logo and the service and support that come with it, then you may want to look at the Panasonic version. The Lumix did perform slightly faster in our tests, but it also had slightly worse JPEG compression. Given my frugal, proletarian upbringing, I know what I'd do, but you'll have to make that decision for yourself. Leica's V-Lux 1 is large, but if you can get past that, you can enjoy some of its nicer features. For example, it includes a rotating, flip-out LCD screen to make extreme high- and low-angle shooting easier, as well as a hotshoe so you can add an accessory flash should the camera's built-in, pop-up flash not be powerful or versatile enough for you. Unfortunately, the LCD screen measures only two inches diagonally, but flip-out LCDs tend to be smaller, so it's on a par with the competition.
Its electronic viewfinder (EVF), like most EVFs, is bit coarse to look at, but again, is roughly equivalent with its competitors'. In continuous-shooting mode, it doesn't go blank as some EVFs do between shots. Instead, it shows you the last image shot, which doesn't help if you want to recompose or try to follow a subject while shooting a burst of shots. This makes burst shooting something of a crap shoot and much less useful, though this is true of all EVFs. If you haven't ever shot with an EVF camera, we suggest you try one out in a store before you make your final decision.
Since the camera is styled like an SLR, it's no surprise that you'll likely want to use two hands, especially since Leica put the focus controls on the left side of the lens barrel. We found this convenient when switching between AF modes, choosing a focus point, or making a quick switch to manual focus. All other buttons find their home on the right side of the camera, and all are within reach of either your thumb or your forefinger. The focus/autoexposure lock button would've been more comfortable to use if it was a bit further to the right, but it wasn't out of reach.
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