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Every year, Leica and Panasonic collaborate on a few camera models that get branded under each company's name. If you can't tell them apart, just look at the price tags. Leica generally throws in about $100 worth of perks--usually better software and an SD memory card--then charges about $200 more for the bundle. In the case of the Leica D-Lux 3, the perks over its twin, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2, are Adobe Photoshop Elements 4 and a 64MB SD memory card (you can get the latest version, Photoshop Elements 5, plus a 64MB card for about $120). Like the DMC-LX2, the D-Lux 3 comes in both black and silver and is just packed with amateur-oriented features, including raw file support, a variety of focus modes, all of the essential metering and semimanual exposure options, a wide-angle lens, and an overstuffed information display.
The D-Lux 3, also like the DMC-LX2, uses a 10-megapixel with a native 16:9 aspect ratio instead of 4:3. To produce 4:3 or 3:2 D-Lux 3 photos, the camera simply uses the relevant fraction of the sensor. This enables the DMC-LX2 to produce higher-resolution 16:9 images than would be possible with a standard 10-megapixel sensor. (It would require a 13-megapixel 4:3 aspect sensor to generate 10-megapixel 16:9 images.) Conversely, the resolution of the D-Lux 3's 4:3 images is only 7 megapixels.
Unfortunately, these are extremely small pixels, which equal extremely high noise. From a measurement standpoint, the D-Lux 3 fares much better than the DMC-LX2 at all ISO speeds, with the gap widening as ISO sensitivity increases. However, that seems to be caused by Leica's more-aggressive filtering, which reduces sharpness. The good news is that they print better than they look on-screen, though you'd be well advised to avoid serious crops.
In all other respects, the D-Lux 3's photos are quite decent. The white balance is a bit cool, though exposure, dynamic range, and color saturation are about the same. There are few optical artifacts, I saw less fringing and lens distortion at the wide end of the 28mm-to-112mm-equivalent, 4x zoom lens. Movies don't quite measure up, though. They're full of compression artifacts, and you can't zoom while you're shooting.
Unsurprisingly, the D-Lux 3 performs similarly to the DMC-LX2, always taking a fraction of a second longer than I could spare when photographing animals and children. A 0.7-second lag in typical lighting is just a bit too slow, and 1.7 seconds in dim light is not as good as its twin. It takes 2.3 seconds between shots under the best conditions, and the flash recycling adds little overhead--a mere 0.4 second. Raw shooting takes a relatively slow 5.2 seconds between shots. And though the continuous-shooting speed is a decent 1.3 to 1.5fps, it can take only a few shots before stopping to process.
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|
|Typical continuous-shooting speed|
At least the camera's interface won't slow you down so much. There are a few settings which I'd prefer on the outside rather than in the menus--white balance, ISO sensitivity, metering, and autofocus (AF) mode spring to mind--but most shooting options can be accessed from the well-laid-out array of buttons, dials, and switches. You will want to skim through the manual, however, or you'll encounter some mystifying options. For instance, there are five different AF modes: nine-area, three-area high speed, one-area high speed, one-area, and spot. They're pretty hard to figure out from the icons if you don't know they exist. Thanks to the bright, large, 2.8-inch wide-aspect LCD, though, they're pretty easy to read. But no matter how good an LCD is, I still miss having an optical viewfinder.
At 7.6 ounces, the metal-clad, sturdily built Leica D-Lux 3 is no pocket lightweight, nor is it as light on your pocketbook as the DMC-LX2. But if you're looking for a compact camera that fits more comfortably in your jacket pocket than the smallest digital SLR will, it's an attractive alternative.