Leica D-Lux 3 review: Leica D-Lux 3

The Good Great lens; nice design; lots of manual controls.

The Bad Generally soft photos; mediocre movies; no optical viewfinder; expensive.

The Bottom Line A good choice for an enthusiast looking for a powerful camera that can fit into a jacket pocket; however, the Leica D-Lux 3 has a price only a Leica aficionado could love.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

Leica D-Lux 3

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.