Leica D-Lux 3 Review

Camera Reviews Leica

Leica introduced the 10.2-megapixel D-LUX 3 compact digital camera as the successor to its popular D-LUX 2. The D-LUX 3 retains the D-LUX 2′s sharp 4x optical zoom lens (28-112mm 35mm film camera equivalent), with improved digital noise at low ISO settings and a new maximum sensitivity of ISO 1600. The D-LUX 3 is SDHC memory compatible and the LCD screen size has been increased to 2.8 inches.

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Leica D-Lux 3 Studio Test Images
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Leica D-Lux 3 - Kaeppele Pilgrimage Chappel by Balthasar Neumann

    Pros

  • 10.2-megapixel sensor
  • 2.8-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio LCD monitor
  • ISO 100-1600 sensitivity range
  • Program shift option
  • Lower noise than D-LUX 2
  • Wide viewing angle for LCD monitor screen
  • MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization
  • $225 less that D-LUX 2
  • Good button layout and control access
  • Sharp Leica Vario-Elmarit f/2.8-4.9 ASPH lens
  • Selectable, 3:2, 4:3, and 16:9 aspect ratios
  • Live histogram
  • SDHC memory card compatibility
  • 13 MB internal memory
  • Wide, 8- 1/2000 second shutter speed range
  • Nifty, compact battery charger
  • Long battery life
    Cons

  • $195 more expensive than the Panasonic version (Lumix DMC LX-2)
  • Red-eye problems with built-in flash
  • Poor max. aperture (f/4.9) and aperture range (f/4.9-8.0) at maximum telephoto length (112mm)
  • Poor action photography performance
  • Too large to fit in shirt pocket
Leica D-Lux 3 - front and back


Introduction
Leica’s D-LUX 3 is an improved, less expensive version of the D-LUX 2 compact digital camera. It offers reduced digital noise, expanded ISO range, a larger rear panel LCD monitor, compatibility with high capacity SDHC memory cards, and an increase in resolution from 8.5 to 10 megapixels.

This is the third PhotographyREVIEW.com critique of the Panasonic / Leica compact digital camera platform. Laurence Chen praised the D-LUX 2, while Photo-John wrote positively about Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-LX2, basically the same camera as Leica’s more expensive D-LUX 3. The extra $125 you pay for the Leica gets you a 2-year parts and service warranty (Panasonic’s warranty is only 90 days for service, and one year for parts) and Leica’s proprietary JPEG image processing firmware. Leica also bundles Photoshop Elements 4.0 whereas the Panasonic Lumix LX2 ships with ArcSoft’s simpler and less expensive RAW conversion software.

Features
It’s impossible to tell the Leica D-LUX 3 from the D-LUX 2 unless you look at the rear panel, where the D-LUX 3′s larger LCD – 2.8-inch versus 2.5-inch – stands out. The bigger display allows full 16:9 aspect ratio images to be viewed intact. The lens, controls, weight, and shape are exactly the same. Internally, the D-LUX 3′s maximum resolution has been increased from 8.5 megapixels to 10.2 megapixels, the processor has improved low-noise performance, and the sensitivity range is quadrupled from ISO 100-1600, increasing the D-LUX 3′s ability to capture images in low light.

Both D-LUX cameras offer all the advantages of the compact point-and-shoot digital camera platform: portability and automatic exposure control, white balance adjustment, auto focus, easy ISO adjustment, video capture, and a full range of exposure modes including full manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and 18 scene modes. The LCD display offers a live histogram and a composition grid. As for size, both Leica D-LUX digitals are slightly larger than a shirt pocket camera but smaller than a full-featured prosumer compact digital like the Canon PowerShot G-Series or Kodak, Panasonic, and Sony superzoom digital cameras.

Design
The Leica D-LUX 3′s small size and myriad automatic functions make it ideal for traveling and hiking. For more creative work, it can be switched to manual operation for full exposure and white balance control, flash compensation, and RAW file capture.

Leica D-Lux 3 - LCD DisplayMy black D-LUX 3 has the clean lines of a classic 35mm Leica M rangefinder camera. Controls are laid out very nicely and work extremely well. The dedicated AE Lock button on the rear panel allows you to lock the exposure and recompose, preserving carefully determined exposure and focus settings. I love the unique joystick on the rear of the camera. Pressing it once brings all the key exposure controls up on the LCD screen without having to scroll through multiple menus or press lots of buttons. It also offers easy access to the D-LUX 3′s Program shift mode. Press the shutter release for 3 seconds, the camera beeps and displays the current aperture and shutter speed in a small box on the LCD screen. Then each tug up or down on the joystick shifts the aperture setting up or down, and the shutter speed changes automatically to preserve the original exposure. Physically, the D-LUX 3′s external design has been well thought out. Even though the Leica D-LUX cameras don’t have the plastic grip that’s on the right side of the corresponding Panasonic Lumix LX2, the D-LUX 3 is still easy to hold. The lens cap can be secured to the camera body with the provided lanyard to prevent loss. Button controls are easy to use, even though the camera is small and space limited. The aspect ratio and auto focus switches on the side and top of the lens work well. The lens actually offers real wide-angle capability with a 28mm (equivalent) focal length at the wide end of the zoom – but only if you’re using the 16:9 aspect ratio. Also, the full 10.2-megapixel resolution is only available at the 16:9 aspect ratio. If you don’t want to shoot at 16:9, the D-LUX 3′s resolution is reduced to 8-megapixels.

Leica D-Lux 3 - lens & aspect ratioLeft: Leica D-Lux 3 Lens
Right: Leica D-Lux 3 aspect ratio switch

Leica D-Lux 3 - pop-up flash

On the downside, the D-LUX 3′s diminutive size limits it for more serious or professional work. The camera’s 10.2-megapixel sensor is physically smaller than digital SLR sensors, limiting dynamic range and delivering more noise than a digital SLR with the same number of pixels. The lens is not interchangeable so extreme wide angle and long telephoto shots aren’t possible. The tiny body rules out an optical viewfinder, restricting the photographer’s interaction with the scene and making panning shots very difficult. The pop-up flash is very close to the lens, making red-eye problems inevitable. Finally, the tiny amount of camera surface means that some essential camera control functions are buried in on-screen menus.

Camera Experience
I’ve used the Leica D-LUX 3 in a wide variety of situations and lighting conditions. I made extensive use of the scene modes, including the food mode for deserts at restaurants, baby mode for capturing flash pictures of my granddaughter, scenery mode for pictures in Germany, and night scenery mode for a photo of the Marienberg Fortress in Wurzburg, Germany. For comparison purposes, I shot the same images with my older Leica D-LUX 2.

Leica D-Lux 3 - Marienberg Fortress, Wurzburg, GermanyAt first, I had difficulties telling the two D-LUX cameras apart. After several days of shooting, I began to appreciate the D-LUX 3′s larger LCD display. -Unlike the D-LUX 2, the D-LUX 3′s LCD can display a full 16:9 image. The D-LUX-3s Program shift mode makes it easy to quickly change the aperture and shutter speed while still benefiting from pure auto exposure. Taking landscape pictures from the top of the Marienberg Fortress in Wurzburg, Germany, I found that Program shift also made it easy to switch from high ISO settings for indoor museum photos to the low sensitivity settings required by the intense sunlight outdoors. The D-LUX 3′s live histogram also proved helpful for accurately evaluating extreme shifts in light I encountered while traveling. And the D-LUX 3 generates much less noise then the D-LUX 2 when capturing images in low light at high ISO settings.

The D-LUX 3 minimal shutter lag makes it great for candid shots. However, the shutter is noisy – much noisier than my Leica M7 35mm film rangefinder camera. The shutter sound is actually electronic and can be turned off in the Setup menu. But that wasn’t something I had considered when I was trying to take some covert shots of ceiling murals at the Residenz – a sumptuous 18th century residence for the wealthy Prince bishops in Wurzberg, Germany. Also, the LCD screen blacks out when the picture is taken, so I had to anticipate the action, something not necessary with the Leica M7 film and M8 digital rangefinder models or any other camera with a rangefinder viewfinder.

Leica D-Lux 3 - Brisbane at NightIn daylight, the D-LUX 3′s MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization worked well for me. I found that I could handhold and get sharp pictures at 1/15 second. It also allowed me to use the D-LUX 3′s lowest ISO settings – 100 and 200 — in order to minimize digital noise and ensure the best image quality. An often-overlooked benefit of mechanical image stabilization, like Panasonic’s MEGA O.I.S. system, is improved image quality because the photographer can use lower ISO settings made possible by slower shutter speeds. In the reduced light of dusk, the MEGA O.I.S. stabilization system hits its limits. Sometimes I needed to shoot as slow as 1/5 second for a good exposure. Unfortunately, shooting that slow resulted in blurred photos.

As I mentioned in the Camera Features portion of the review, I love the joystick on the back of the camera. It provides quick access to important camera controls and allowed me to take pictures quickly without fussing with too many buttons or menus. Program shift offered me creative control of my photos while still being able to use auto exposure. I could use a large aperture to blur the background of a portrait or a small aperture for maximum depth-of-field in landscape photos.

Unfortunately, even with its many improvements, the D-LUX 3 still can’t capture action scenes any better than the D-LUX 2 did. The limited maximum aperture settings and mild anti-shake technology made it a challenge to freeze action. And the lack of an optical viewfinder makes it nearly impossible to pan accurately. Even at ISO 400, the largest telephoto aperture (f/4.9) wouldn’t allow me to increase the shutter speed enough to freeze cars on the track during a Porsche Club of America event at Lime Rock Park. While some of the images had very good color, resolution, and dynamic range, I couldn’t pan well enough to freeze the action.

No, this relatively tiny compact digital camera can’t match a digital SLR with a 300mm telephoto lens for motorsports action photos. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. I agree with the recommendation Lawrence Chen made in his Leica D-LUX 2 review: set the camera for burst mode and take a bunch of shots with the hope that the action will be centered and the MEGA O.I.S. anti-shake system will help you get a couple of good, sharp images.

Although the D-LUX 3 body is a bit too large for a shirt pocket, I didn’t mind the size because I carried it in a Cordura nylon Leica belt case. The case allowed me to effortlessly carry the camera all day, something I can’t claim for my Leica M8 digital rangefinder or Canon EOS 5D digital SLR. Walking miles through German cities, or hanging out at Lime Rock on track days was a breeze. I’m confident that most users will find the D-LUX 3 an ideal camera for travel and hiking.

Camera Menus

Leica D-Lux 3 - LCD Display
Leica D-Lux 3 playback mode with image info and histogram displayed
Leica D-Lux 3 - LCD Display
Leica D-Lux 3 during capture with image info and histogram on
Leica D-Lux 3 - LCD Display
Leica D-Lux 3 Exposure compensation
Leica D-Lux 3 - LCD Display
Leica D-Lux 3 Playback main menu
Leica D-Lux 3 - LCD Display
Leica D-Lux 3 Scene modes main menu
Leica D-Lux 3 - LCD Display
Leica D-Lux 3 Image Stabilizer function


Image Quality
The D-LUX 3′s digital noise levels are much lower than the D-LUX 2′s. I took pictures of my wife at ISO 400 in a dark restaurant with both the D-LUX 2 and D-LUX 3. The D-LUX 2 image shows considerable noise in the shadows. But there is no noticeable noise in a photo taken at the same time with the D-LUX 3. Good work, Panasonic and Leica!

The D-LUX 3 produced the best results shooting landscapes, candids, and macro photos in RAW mode. The sharp, contrasty, Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens allows for some cropping, which helps for landscapes when you need more magnification. The combination of 16:9 aspect ratio and 28mm-equivalent wide-angle produced pleasing and natural landscapes. It also allowed for cropping with enough detail to read a German hotel sign in a photo taken from quite a distance. However, the 119mm (35mm equivalent) maximum telephoto focal length proved inadequate for capturing action or performers on a stage at a distance from the camera, as I found out when I tried to photograph my daughter receiving her MBA degree at Berkeley.

The D-LUX 3′s color rendition and white balance accuracy are excellent. Only the slightest presence of purple fringing is noticeable when viewing backlit objects at 100% on the computer. 8×10 prints made from well-focused photos are tack-sharp and have real color depth.

Leica D-Lux 3 - Town of Wurzburg, Landscape Leica D-Lux 3 - Statue of Pan in Garden of the Princes, Marienberg Fortress Leica D-Lux 3 - German Dining

Leica D-Lux 3 - Wurzburg Flower Leica D-Lux 3 - Wurzberg Guide Leica D-Lux 3 - Daughter on stage to get diploma

Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.

Conclusion
The D-LUX 3 one of the best- point-and-shoot digital cameras I’ve used. The large LCD monitor, rich feature set, and uncanny ability to secure good candid, landscape, reportage images under a wide variety of lighting conditions make it a pleasure to take pictures with. However, the D-LUX 3 does not do so well with action shots. This should be no surprise from a small camera without an optical viewfinder and a limited aperture range. Its built-in flash is prone to red-eye in portraits. It outperforms the D-LUX 2 with greatly improved digital noise control, a lower asking price, increased resolution, extended ISO range, and larger rear panel LCD. The new Venus 3 digital imaging engine can capture images in lower light without generating excessive digital noise. Even so, ISO 100 and 200 will still deliver the best image quality.

Anyone who uses the Leica D-LUX 3 must be willing to study the manual. The nifty Program shift mode is difficult to learn by simply picking up the camera and clicking through the on-screen menus. Reading the manual will reward D-LUX 3 users with stunning, richly detailed, saturated, high contrast images not possible from most compact digital cameras.

Who Should Buy It
The D-LUX 3 is a good choice for amateur photographers learning to use manual controls but not ready to invest in a digital SLR system. The DLUX-3 will also make a good, compact backup camera for travel, or even more serious photography.

- end -

Contents of the Leica D-LUX 3 Box

  • Leica D-Lux 3 Digital Camera
  • Compact Battery Charger with built in AC plug
  • Battery Pack (BP-DC4-E/U/J)
  • AV Cable
  • USB Connection Cable
  • Hand-loop strap
  • Battery Carrying Case
  • Lens cap with Lens cap string
  • SD Memory Card (64 MB)
  • Built-in Memory
  • CD-ROM with Adobe Photoshop 4.0 (PC) / 3.0 (Mac), Quicktime Movie Viewer


Other Resources:
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Leica D-Lux 3 Camera Specs >>
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Leica D-Lux 3 Sample Gallery >>
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  • Zapi says:

    Take a sight to the pics I´ve made of my Leica D-Lux 3…

  • Mack Morden says:

    lThe Leicas together with the Nikons are still very much in the vanguard of todays photogaphers. This liitle cam still shows why it still costs to get real quality.

  • belsha says:

    Sorry, but the sample shots you’ve posted look TERRIBLE! Noise,no detail, washed out colors…

  • buxtehude says:

    does the leica nylon cordura case include a belt loop? Is the strap detachable?

  • stuart says:

    You’re paying for the Leica name more than the quality. The sample images here look devoid of detail and full of horrible noise. I can think of at least 20 compacts that do a better job than this one..and for a hell of a lot cheaper too!

  • d says:

    i agree with belsha’s comment – u’ve taken terrible sample shots n my d-lux 3 shots look nothin like urs!

  • Photo-John says:

    For those of you criticizing the samples, there are two types of criticism – criticizing the camera and criticizing the photographer. Either one may or may not be warranted. The D-Lux 3 came out last year and I’ve found that compact cameras introduced in 2007 have much, much better image quality than those from 2006 and before. Personally, I’d like to see a new version of this camera with 2007 or 2008 image quality. As for the samples that Larry provided, if you have better D-Lux 3 photos, that’s great. Post them in the gallery for everyone to see. This review links to all the D-Lux 3 photos in the gallery so that we can have the broadest possible variety of samples.

  • Leopold Lysloff says:

    There will never be the perfect camera for some of us. The perfect picture is always there for you to take……if you can see it.
    The Leica has historically always been the leader in miniature photography and this little D-LUX 3 is keeping that tradition alive and well. (we are not talking M-8 here)
    Yes there are many fine P&S cameras out there that do splendid jobs. And so they all should. The competition is fierce and that is good. But we have a choice of finding what we think is best for us at whatever price we are willing to pay. So you people who have too much to find fault in, find the good instead and enjoy the ride. The D-LUX 3 will give it to you. The camera is just a tool to record what you perceive to be so beautiful.
    You can get a haicut for 20 bucks or you can get one for 200 and most people will never know the difference. My point is, take your best shot with whatever you have . I think Leica is still my king of fine photography and I am very happy that I could afford one of their fine cameras.
    My big problem is how to take a picture of everything I ever wanted to in this lifetime.

  • michael stout says:

    check out the shots this guy took. Amazing.

    http://www.boxedlight.com/dlux3/

  • Ben says:

    Do not pay any attention to the pics shown here as they are totally unrepresentative of what quality this camera can achieve.

    take a look at these links, these are portraits in B&W I HAVE TAKEN. bear in mind I have only had the camera for 3 days! so you could get even better quality pics but these are pretty dam good.

    http://www.photoanswers.co.uk/Community-Landing/Media/Media-Gallery-Detail/?mediaItemId=89177

    http://www.photoanswers.co.uk/Community-Landing/Media/Media-Gallery-Detail/?mediaItemId=89124

    http://www.photoanswers.co.uk/Community-Landing/Media/Media-Gallery-Detail/?mediaItemId=89121

    http://www.photoanswers.co.uk/Community-Landing/Media/Media-Gallery-Detail/?mediaItemId=89115

  • FeliciaF says:

    Thank you very much for your article. I was considering the Leica D-Lux 3 and this review was a big help. I admire and appreciate your dedication.

  • Pingback: Leica D-Lux 4 Digital Camera

  • Tamara says:

    I actually own this camera, and have used other high end digital cameras. I’ve yet to find a digital camera that does not produce images that require color correction in photoshop. I’m a graphic designer, so I bring all my important images into photoshop and color correct them, for more contrast and saturation. To me, however, the resultant images taken with the Leica — without correction – are far better than most other cameras I’ve used, which tend to be dark, yellowish and flat right off the bat.

  • Tamara says:

    and by ‘high-end” I mean… high-end consumer level digital cameras. Obviously, with a professional digital slr, the experience is at an entirely different level.

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