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Leica Digilux 2 review: Leica Digilux 2

Leica Digilux 2

Eamon Hickey

See full bio
6 min read

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.

7.6

Leica Digilux 2

The Good

Beautiful mechanical focus, zoom, aperture, and shutter-speed controls; high-quality magnesium body; fast lens with sensible zoom range; ingenious tiltable flash; excellent manual focus system.

The Bad

Relatively low resolution for an enthusiast model; big and heavy; long raw-format shot-to-shot time; electronic viewfinder isn't the best available; high-res continuous shooting limited to three frames.

The Bottom Line

This well-made advanced shooter's camera features several unique and very efficient analog controls, but it may have trouble luring buyers away from cheaper digital SLR systems.
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 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1 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.

A real shutter-speed dial sits atop the Digilux 2--right where God intended. Metering mode, too, has its own dedicated dial, but it's too easy to inadvertently change the setting.

The camera's Leica Vario-Summicron lens enhances the classic look, largely because it features three smooth, precise rings for adjusting zoom position, focus (both distance and mode), and aperture.

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.



The built-in flash merits special mention. By virtue of an ingenious design trick, you can tilt it to bounce the flash, which frequently improves flash pictures.

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.

The Leica Digilux 2 performs quite well overall, but there are two disappointing aspects. The first is start-up time, which is a subpar 5 seconds. Its shot-to-shot times for JPEG images are good--2.5 seconds with flash and 1.8 seconds without--but raw-capture shot-to-shot time is 6 seconds with a fast SD card (11.5 seconds with the included Leica SD card.) Obviously, that's a big--and frankly, careless--obstacle to using raw format. In continuous-shooting mode, the camera can capture a burst of three high-resolution JPEGs at 2.7 frames per second. And the Digilux 2 fired off a reviewer-tormenting 1,245 shots in our battery-life test.
Shooting performance
Seconds (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Shot-to-shot time (raw)  
Shot-to-shot time (flash)  
Shot-to-shot time (typical)  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (bright)  
Wake-up time  
Canon PowerShot G6
2.0 
3.0 
2.0 
0.9 
0.8 
3.1 
Konica Minolta Dimage A2
1.0 
2.5 
1.0 
0.6 
0.4 
2.2 
Leica Digilux 2
11.5 
2.5 
1.8 
0.7 
0.7 
5.0 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1
7.0 
2.5 
1.8 
0.7 
0.7 
4.6 

Number of shots on battery
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Number of shots on battery  

The autofocus system operates fairly quickly and quite decisively even in low light, resulting in a reasonably short shutter delay of 0.7 second across a wide range of lighting conditions. With manual focus, shutter delay drops to 0.2 second.

Manual focus, in fact, is one of this camera's standout features. The manual focus ring is smooth and precise--nearly as good as one of those stone-age, helical-focusing lenses. The camera will also magnify the center portion of the image (either in the electronic viewfinder or on the LCD) to help you judge focus, and this works very well. Finally, clear distance markings on the long-throw focus ring allow quick and easy zone focusing for us Cartier-Bresson wannabes. The zoom ring is just as smooth and well crafted as its focusing counterpart and, again, reminds you of a good 35mm lens.

The camera's large 2.5-inch LCD is fairly sharp and reasonably usable in outdoor lighting, and it shows close to 100 percent of the actual image. The EVF is sharper and more usable than average, but it's far short of the best (the one in Konica Minolta's Dimage A2). It, too, shows close to 100 percent of the actual image. Overall, both the EVF and the LCD are decent, but we expect a Leica--especially one that costs $1,600--to lead the field in viewing experience.

The built-in flash has an unusually good maximum range of 15.7 feet at ISO 100. The range will be considerably shorter when the flash head is tilted for bounce, but we got good bounce-flash exposures at distances of 6 to 7 feet.

Overall, the quality of our test shots from the Digilux 2 is top-notch when compared with other consumer digicams' but not with digital SLRs. Sharpness and detail are very good for a 5-megapixel camera, and the lens performs exceptionally, with good edge-to-edge sharpness, very little barrel distortion at its wide end, and essentially zero pincushioning at its telephoto setting.

The Digilux produces accurate, moderately saturated colors.

Colors are natural but vivid, and we noted good, neutral skin tones with both existing light and flash. We got consistently sound exposures and found the auto white balance to be impressive in varying outdoor light. We also experienced exceptionally few digital artifacts.



We spotted more noise than we expected in the Digilux's ISO 100 shots. Note especially the false colors on the sill of the car door.

At ISO 100, there is somewhat more visible noise in the Digilux's images than we've found in competing models, it gets worse at ISO 200, and telltale signs of noise suppression postprocessing show up in the form of slightly smeary patches here and there. The noise suppression is quite strong at ISO 400, which results in lower-than-average noise but noticeably oversmoothed, or painterly, sections in many photos.

7.6

Leica Digilux 2

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 7
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