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Customer Review

213 of 217 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite a Leica., May 25, 2010
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This review is from: Leica V-LUX 20 12.1 MP Digital Camera with 12x Wide Angle Optical Zoom and 3.0-Inch LCD (Electronics)
I am inclined to agree with reviewer RT about the V-Lux 20. I too own the D-Lux 4, and also a Nikon D3S. I was looking for something of Leica quality, but with the added reach of the extra zoom lens. I bought my D-Lux 4 a year ago with a then-in-place rebate from Leica, so I paid exactly the same for my D-Lux 4 as I just paid for the V-Lux 20, so they are worth comparing.

What I have found upon trying the camera out for a few days:

1) GPS: Tags all your photos with place, date and time. Handy if you travel A LOT. Otherwise, a novelty and major battery suck. The GPS draws power even when the camera is off, unless you put it into airplane mode. Presumably this is to have current coordinates on hand when you power it up. The GPS can be slow to 'latch on' when taken out of airplane mode. It took 10 minutes to triangulate the signal with an unobstructed 360-view of the sky in the San Francisco area. If this were a car navigation system, you'd have arrived at your destination by then.

2) Lens: amazing range with significant extra reach over the D-Lux 4. However, the picture quality suffers. Noticeable softness when compared to the D-Lux 4. Not significantly better than Canon Powershots, which run half the price. (I own two Powershots as well.) However, color rendition and contrast are superior to Canon point-and-shoots. See the focal length sample photo I uploaded to to the V-Lux 20 product description here on Amazon. [UPDATE: I ran some side by side comparisons with my Powershots, and the Leica lens is not as soft as I first perceived. It is noticeably sharper than the Canons, and does not suffer from much edge softness at very wide angles. Also, the optical zoom in this camera is very impressive for a point-and-shoot. However, you have to be in the right mode otherwise you invoke a little extra (digital) zooming, which is not great.]

3) No RAW. May be a non-issue to some, but I always shoot RAW with my D-Lux 4 and there have been a few amazing shots that I was glad I was able to post-process and get the most out of them. The V-Lux 20 has two JPEG modes: compressed, and less compressed, and you can also choose the aspect ratio and image file size. The lowest appears to be a 'notepad' image size of about 2 mpx.

4) Slower lens: more image noise and less options for shooting in low light than the D-Lux 4, which sports an f2 lens.

5) Build quality. As RT said, definitely not up to the quality of usual Leicas, including the D-Lux 4. It feels flimsy and lightweight. The controls do not feel as smooth and precise as the D-Lux.

6) No hotshoe or viewfinder. Probably not an issue for most people, like me. I never used the external Leica flash and I don't know anyone that ever used the external viewfinder on the D-Lux 4, especially as a fixed viewfinder is fairly useless with a zoom lens. But these might be important for you.

7) Integrated hand grip. Unless you've used the D-Lux 4 without a hand grip, you won't know how important this is. On the D-Lux 4, it's an expensive option; here, it's designed into the body.

8) Integrated lens cover. Very useful.

9) Movie mode. Seemingly the same as the D-Lux 4: 720 HD. One nice touch is there is now a single dedicated button on the back of the V-Lux to start recording a movie. Handy for candid moments. Also, the full focal length of the zoom works during movie mode, which is great. The D-Lux 4 cannot zoom while shooting movies. And the zoom on the V-Lux is dampened, meaning you cannot jump from widest angle to maximum telephoto quickly -- this is a good thing in my opinion as it paces the zoom to be more pleasing to the viewer. Lastly, it seems like the maximum continuous length of movie you can shoot in HD is about 8 min 30 sec. At this point recording will stop and whatever's left in the buffer will be written to disk. Once this is done, you can start another 8 min 30 sec of movie taking. In theory this is fine, but when I was shooting my kids in a 20 minute play, I lost some in the middle. I expect the V-Lux is not being positioned as a replacement for a dedicated movie camera. Also, if you are a Mac user, the movies created with the V-Lux can be imported into iMovie and Final Cut Pro without conversion as they are Picture-JPEG format. (My Nikon D3S, on the other hand shoots 720 HD as .AVI files which cannot be used in Mac editing software without conversion.)

10) Hard-to-find case. People who spring this kind of money for a point and shoot don't want to protect their investment with a ten dollar case from China off eBay. They want the absurdly overpriced but beautifully made Leica case. However, I got an email from Leica today saying that the first shipment of cases won't be in for several weeks, and those are already pre-sold. It could be months before the case actually becomes available. [Update, 06/03/10: the V-Lux case is trickling into the channel. I managed to order one on from an authorized Leica dealer on eBay who had three in stock.]

11) Aesthetics. OK, looks matter. It's a Leica. It has a red dot. As Einstein said, "Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler." The V-Lux 20 has just enough controls, and they are laid out very well. The on-screen menu system leaves a bit to be desired, but then again I've never seen an on-screen menu on any digital camera that didn't look like it came off a DOS computer. The form factor of the body is excellent.

12) No LCD cover. The D-Lux 4 didn't have one either, but most of the back is taken up by the LCD and it WILL get scratched. Do what I did and get the excellent DuraSec adhesive screen protectors. They're made in Germany, and for a few bucks you can buy a pack of 5 that will fit both the D-Lux and V-Lux.

13) Battery life: disappointing. Leica rates it for 300 pictures. I got about 270, only five of which used flash. I suspect that the power-hungry GPS is the culprit here. Annoyingly, the V-Lux battery is very slightly different in size to the D-Lux Battery, so I cannot use my spare D-Lux battery. And the killer is that a spare V-Lux battery is a hundred dollars! Wow. My Nikon D3S uses batteries that cost about that much. But I get over 4,000 shots off one of those batteries, and it's a considerably more complex camera, powering autofocus lenses, viewfinders and 3 displays. I don't know if the V-Lux is 'chipped' -- meaning it will ONLY take the Leica batteries. The Panasonic (see below) is chipped, which has annoyed many owners.

14) Documentation: pretty much none in printed form. The manual (which you WILL need) is a PDF on a CD. I understand discount point-and-shoot makers adopting this strategy to shave a nickel off the retail price, but Leica? My D-Lux came with several printed manuals. And don't think it's Leica's effort to be more environmentally conscious... the burden of using electricity, resources and consumables is just being shifted from it to you! At this price, I expect a manual I can throw in my pocket or camera bag.

15) Camera strap: hand strap only. Leica supplies a hand strap with the camera, and that's all that will fit on the V-Lux 20. Unlike the D-Lux 4, the V-Lux only has one anchor point, so you can only fit a hand strap and not a neck strap. Unfortunately, the official Leica case for this model (Leica #18 700) also does not have a strap of any kind, and you can't add one either. It has a belt loop, so apart from (awkwardly) carrying it in your hands, you can only attach it to your belt. Personally, I like to keep a camera around my neck when I am out and about, so this decision with the V-Lux 20 is unfortunate, especially given it's aforementioned size. It won't easily -- if at all -- slip into a pocket either. Strange, for a camera aimed at the frequent traveler.

The V-Lux 20 is a curious beast indeed. It is pitched as a 'travel' camera, but it is quite big. It's about 70% larger than my Canon Powershot SD780. It's pitched as a 'family camera' judging by the 'notepad' mode and the 3 dedicated pre-defined 'scene' modes, but it's priced way beyond a family camera. It's also positioned as a 'semi-pro camera' with aperture, shutter priority and manual modes, but I doubt any pro would shoot with it due to the shortcomings mentioned above. For comparison, I have achieved results from my D-Lux 4 that are (sometimes) as good as my Nikon DSLR. Not a chance with the V-Lux.

An interesting side note: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 is essentially the same camera. It was co-developed by Panasonic and Leica, and sports a Leica lens. The offspring of this marriage yielded two cameras: the DMC-ZS7 and the V-Lux 20. My understanding is that there are three main differences: the aesthetic styling of the camera, the JPEG processor (some say the Leica is better), and the price. The Lumix is half the price of the V-Lux 20.

I was initially unsure about keeping this camera or not, but I have decided to keep it as a backup to my D-Lux 4, and as something my whole family can use. Despite its quirks, it will make a decent family camera (with occassional one-button HD video shooting), and the reach of the (optical) telephoto is quite astonishing for a point and shoot.

My advice is: if extra lens reach and geo-tagging of images is really important to you, then the V-Lux 20 is a reasonable investment. Secondhand Leicas still sell for about 90 cents on the dollar (sometimes more.) Compare that to Canon or Panasonic.

However, if picture quality and shooting in low-light are more important, I would spring the modest extra money and get the D-Lux 4. Know that you will still need to buy the hand grip and dedicated case for it, so whichever route you choose, it really is an investment.

I be interested to hear from anyone with hands-on experience of the Lumix sister camera to the V-Lux 20.

Update October 2, 2010:

Well, I said in my original review that I had decided to keep this camera, but I didn't. After more extensive real world testing, I decided that my D-Lux 4 was just so superior in image quality, and that a much smaller Canon PowerShot was more convenient for my family, that I had no real reason to keep the V-Lux. So, I reiterate: if image quality is your top priority, I would forego the GPS and extra reach of the zoom (heck, just move closer or farther away to frame your shot differently!) and spring the modest extra for the D-Lux. There's a reason it's been around for a couple of years and still sells for top dollar and is generally out of stock! Or, you could wait to read the reviews of the forthcoming D-Lux 5 which sounds very impressive and promised even better image quality with a new CCD.
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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 5, 2010 8:52:28 AM PDT
FloridaBoy says:
What a great review--thorough and thoughtful, and a big help in making my mind up to go for the D-Lux 4. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 5, 2010 9:22:29 AM PDT
Beemer903 says:
You're very welcome. I can honestly say in my 30 years of photography that the D-Lux 4 is one of those rare gems. I think it will be remembered as a 'classic.'

Posted on Jun 30, 2010 2:38:27 PM PDT
Scorpion E says:
Awesome review! I too would like to hear some comparisons between the Lumix and V-Lux 20.

Posted on Jul 21, 2010 6:54:37 AM PDT
Studi O'Jack says:
Thanks for the review. I understand that the V-lux20 has a tripod mount but the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 does not. That is a deal breaker for me and Panasonic.

Posted on Aug 5, 2010 5:10:00 PM PDT
J. Goldberg says:
Thanks for the review.
I do not see the need for this camera. I shoot with an M6+M7 plus a Dlux4.
I am fortunate since where I live it is inexpensive to have film scanned on a Hasselblad Immacon scanner with great results. When I see the value derived only from extra reach, I can only think of the image quality of my prime lenses. The Dlux4 zoom is enough reach for me given the IQ. Some need extra zoom but I prefer to live by the Robert Capa quote, "If your pictures aren't good enough, then you're not close enough".

Posted on Aug 23, 2010 9:41:55 AM PDT
Oliver Yang says:
Thanks! One of the best reviews I've ever seen here in camera category!!

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 10, 2010 8:15:35 PM PDT
fCh says:
I concur with other comments, excellent review.

Your statement "I can honestly say in my 30 years of photography that the D-Lux 4 is one of those rare gems. I think it will be remembered as a 'classic,'" and the fact that the equivalent Lumix LX3 has come down in price, makes me ask what you think of the newest Lumix DMC-LX5.

Has Panasonic upstaged that classic?

Thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 17, 2010 8:54:03 AM PDT
Beemer903 says:
Hi,

As I've never used the Lumix, I cannot comment on it. However, I did just return from a 2-week overseas trip and took my D-Lux 4 with me as my only camera. The results continue to be stellar. In my opinion, it's the combination of the spectacular lens in that camera (sharp at every focal length) AND the ability to shoot RAW and edit in Aperture. The colors that camera captures are genuinely amazing. And, of course, the D-Lux is built like a combination between a Porsche and a tank!

Posted on Oct 16, 2010 7:02:53 PM PDT
E. Lee says:
Too late, too late!!!
I had a Lux-4 and just bought Lux-20. But I found the samething: Lusx-20 is really not worth its price - i meant: It is really not worth the money! The quality is so such normal, I ndon't know why they charged $700? Because picture quality (really not satidfied after I used it for several weeks)? Solid body (plastic)? More founctions (No)? More advanced software (I don't know)? Made in Germany (actully made in Japan just like Lux-4)?

Posted on Oct 16, 2010 7:12:33 PM PDT
E. Lee says:
I think the only reason is their Red Dot - Thier good business stratege and advertisement always make people think the "Red Dot" means luxury and top quality - I learnt a lesson this time: Never trust the Old Saying, it doesn't matter what they are, it is all about business, all about making money. There is no difference between Red Dot or Black Dot...
I hope I could read yr review earlier, and return Lux-20, but it has past over one month. Too sad!
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