One of the most respected brands in photography, Leica is dipping its toes back into the mainstream once again with the V-Lux 2 superzoom. The V-Lux 2 offers a 24x optical zoom, a 14.1-megapixel resolution and comes packed with both manual and automatic options. As an added bonus, it can film high-definition 1080i video. But £660 is a high price to pay, especially when there's an almost identical camera available for considerably less.
The first thing you'll probably want to do when you get your hands on a V-Lux 2 is test out its zoom. It's pretty impressive. The focal length stretches from the equivalent of 25 to 600mm in the 35mm format, meaning that you can take some great close-up shots over long distances. It's perfect for wildlife photography and hilarious candid camera snaps. A decent image stabiliser means you don't just capture a great big blurry mess, either.
Once you've got all that zooming out of your system, you may notice that the V-Lux 2 doesn't quite have that classic Leica look. Rather than the instantly recognisable two-tone black and metallic design sported by some of the company's more iconic models, the V-Lux 2 has a more conventional appearance, with little to distinguish it from other devices in its class, other than the little red Leica badge.
The V-Lux 2 is compact, not too heavy and comfortable to grip, although the texture-free black plastic that makes up the majority of the camera's body feels uncharacteristically cheap. You'll also hear the lengthy lens rattling around in the housing when it's retracted. This is normal but slightly disconcerting at first.
The camera has a 3-inch, fold-out display. Unlike the fixed screen you'll find on most compact and superzoom cameras, the V-Lux 2's LCD is more akin to something you'd find on a camcorder. If you prefer using the electronic viewfinder, you can leave the LCD display folded shut to conserve battery life, but you can also twist it around in ways that allow you to take pictures from unconventional angles.
A fusion of digital SLR and compact camera, the V-Lux 2 caters for both beginners and experienced photographers. Many features you might associate with the point-and-click brigade can be found here, including aperture- and shutter-priority, scene and full auto-shooting modes. A pop-up flash comes built-in but there's also a hotshoe for adding external accessories.
Manual mode, meanwhile, allows you to avoid having to trawl through menus by assigning the most important manual controls -- aperture, shutter speed and focus -- to a dial on the rear of the unit. You can also dabble with sensitivity up to ISO 1,600, although images get fairly noisy from ISO 800 upwards.
Video mode is less of an afterthought here than on other still cameras. A dedicated button starts and stops video capture. At the top-quality setting, the V-Lux 2 can record movies in high-definition at up to a 1080i resolution at 60 interlaced frames per second. The camera uses the AVCHD codec, meaning that picture quality is close to that of a full-blown HD camcorder.
The full length of the 24x zoom is available when filming, and audio capture is significantly better than with most cameras, since the V-Lux 2 includes a top-mounted stereo microphone. A low-resolution, 320x240-pixel, high-speed video mode is also available, letting you film at a whopping 220fps. This can be used to produce some great slow-motion footage. An HDMI output allows you to connect the V-Lux 2 to an HD television, so you can view your recordings directly off the camera.
The V-Lux 2 starts up relatively briskly -- it's ready for action in less than 2 seconds. It's also straightforward to use and capable of producing high-quality photos in a variety of conditions. Colour is reproduced well, with warm, accurate tones and only minor evidence of fringing when you crop into areas of high contrast.
The V-Lux 2 can produce raw files, although we were more than happy with the in-camera JPEG processing. Indoors, you'll have to keep an eye on image degradation at higher ISO settings. Other than that, though, the V-Lux 2 is a great all-rounder that impressed us with its adaptability.
For bargain hunters, however, there will be one big Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100-shaped problem with the V-Lux 2. Leica and Panasonic have been bedfellows for a number of years now, with Leica making lenses for many of Panasonic's cameras and the Japanese company returning the favour by manufacturing the majority of its German counterpart's compact snappers. Over the period that they've collaborated, the two companies have each produced models that are more or less the same, barring a few cosmetic and software-based divergences.
The FZ100 and V-Lux 2 are good examples of this. They're extremely similar devices, in terms of both their design and tech specs. But the V-Lux 2 has a slightly more retro look, particularly around the grip, and comes with different, Leica-produced firmware installed.
The other major difference is cost. Currently, you'll find the FZ100 for sale online for around £350 -- almost half the price of the V-Lux 2. Leica's camera comes with some added value, including full versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements, and one year's worth of accidental-damage cover. But, even taking this into account, it's still a rather hefty premium to pay for the privilege of owning a Leica camera.
The Leica V-Lux 2 is an adaptable camera that's ideal for a wide range of different situations. Add in the camera's HD video skills, stereo microphone and fold-out screen, and there are plenty of compelling reasons to make the purchase. Indeed, if the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 didn't exist, we'd probably be writing a very different conclusion. As it stands, however, it's hard to recommend shelling out so much for a V-Lux 2 unless you're a big fan of the Leica brand.
Edited by Charles Kloet