I Leica what I see
As you might expect from a Leica product, the D-Lux 5's lens is the real star of the show. The Leica DC Vario-Summicron 1:2-3.3/5.1-19.2mm ASPH zoom lens is fast, with a versatile focal range of 24-90 mm (35mm equivalent). At the wide end, the camera is great for group shots and landscapes and, while the 3.8x optical magnification isn't exactly excessive, it's enough for most situations.
The camera's low-light sensitivity is better than that of previous Leica compacts, pushing ISO figures right up to 12,800, with noise only starting to become an issue at around 800. A pop-up flash is available when it gets too dark.
The D-Lux 5's images have a curiously indefinable quality to them that's absent from a surprisingly large amount of digital-era photography. Rich colours, sharp focus, dynamic range and depth of field all combine to produce a warm, almost analogue feel. Macro and portrait shots look great, with accurate flesh tones and highly pleasing shallow-focus effects.
It's easy to get good results by just pointing and pressing the shutter button. Intelligent-auto, face-recognition, image-stabilisation and other such features are all present, just as you'd expect from a modern compact. The automatic functions are generally fast and reliable.
But there's also a great deal of scope for experimentation. The top-mounted dial switches the unit between modes. The aperture and shutter-priority modes are joined by scene modes, colour modes, custom settings and a full manual mode. There's no focus ring, but the manual controls are better on this camera than on most compact rivals, thanks to a context-sensitive thumb dial on the rear.
There are plenty of similarly specified compact cameras available that cost significantly less than the Leica D-Lux 5. But, while the D-Lux 5 is undeniably expensive, it's also an unquestionably excellent product. It looks good, feels great and produces images that are several dozen notches above those you can achieve with most cheap, crowd-pleasing compacts.
If you're looking for something to justify the extra expense, then the inclusion of the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom software should help, as should Leica's standard extended-warranty period of two years, and comprehensive customer support. The fact that Leica cameras tend to have a decent resale value may be of some comfort too.
When it comes down to it, though, you're either a Leica person or you're not. If you're someone who already uses the company's products, then the D-Lux 5 would make a good portable alternative to an existing dSLR. Alternatively, if you have a soft spot for the famous German brand but don't have the funds for, say, an, then the D-Lux 5 provides a taste of Leica for much less cash.
Edited by Charles Kloet