Leica Digilux 2
At a Glance
The Digilux 2 is a big Bradley Fighting Vehicle of a digital camera that costs $1850, more than twice as much as its predecessor, last year's Digilux 1. Made to last from premium materials, according to the company, it looks like one of the Leica M-Series models that make film-camera purists go all weak in the knees.
$1850 is still cheap for a Leica, but it's an outrageous price for a fixed-lens digital camera, and while the camera carries a big "Leica Camera Germany" label on the back, it's made in Japan with some help from Panasonic. (The almost-identical Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1 sells for $250 less.) For this money, you can get a true digital SLR like Canon's 10D and have cash left over for at least one lens. So why would you spend $1850 on a point-and-shoot with a fancy name on it?
Perhaps because the Digilux 2 has several features you won't find on any other point-and-shoot model. The big, fast (f2), gorgeous lens has rings for zoom, focus, and aperture adjustment, just like an old-fashioned SLR. They move smoothly, and you can make adjustments much more quickly than with a typical digital camera. You can, of course, set the camera to focus and choose an aperture automatically if you want.
Even more useful is the unique two-position built-in flash, which can pop up high so it'll fire over the big lens and its detachable hood, or can cock back to bounce light off the ceiling. The bounce-flash feature works wonderfully for simulating natural light in indoor shots. However, the camera has no low-light focusing aid--a glaring omission on a digital camera that uses an electronic viewfinder instead of an optical one, as the Digilux 2 does, because it's hard to see your subject in a dark viewfinder. On the other hand, the LCD is very large, at 2.5 inches, which helps a bit in dim settings; it's a treat to use in good lighting.
You can control the camera remotely via its USB 2.0 connection using downloadable Windows or Mac software (as you might with an SLR in a studio setting). The software lets you set aperture value, shutter speed, and a few image-quality parameters; it also allows you to take shots at regular intervals.
The Digilux 2's 2/3-inch, 5-megapixel CCD is unusually large; it's the same size as the CCDs in the new 8-megapixel models. Most 5-megapixel cameras' CCDs measure closer to 1/2-inch in size. The Digilux 2's lower pixel density should mean that it should not have to amplify light as much to get the proper exposure, and thus should translate into less image noise. In our test shots, the Digilux 2 did a good job suppressing noise, but not as well as the 8-megapixel Olympus C-8080 and Nikon Coolpix 8700 did.
Most of our test shots went the same way; we got some great shots with the Digilux 2, but the 8-megapixel models performed even better. In a magnified test shot of text and test patterns, the Digilux's image looked at least as sharp as what we've seen from any other 5-megapixel model, but the Olympus's and Nikon's shots appeared sharper still. However, the Digilux 2 kept up in color judging: Two shots looked a little dark, but we were generally pleased with its accuracy, especially in the way the camera distinguished red from orange in a difficult-to-reproduce floral scarf.
As you can do on some digital Nikons, you can tweak this camera's settings in fully automatic mode by rotating a ring on the back while aiming at your subject and holding the shutter release down (no, it's not easy). It has white-balance presets plus manual calibration, but you can use a menu command to further tweak those settings (choosing more red or more blue). The Digilux 2 plays back images slowly, and you can't view more than one shot at a time. The camera's speaker is located on the back left of the camera, so if you set the camera to beep, it goes off in your right ear if you use the electronic viewfinder. The manual has almost no illustrations, and the English translation is very dry reading. Leica covers the camera with a three-year parts-and-labor warranty--three times as long as most camera manufacturers offer.
The Digilux 2 has several valuable, interesting features, and it feels as if you could drive railroad spikes with it. If only it had one of those 8-megapixel CCDs--then we'd probably feel differently about its German-engineering price.