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joanie

Leica Digilux 3

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Since I’ve searched in vain for user reviews of the new Leica Digilux 3, here are some first impressions that are by no means exhaustive, and are most certainly subjective rather than scientific.

 

A mostly satisfied Digilux 2 user, when I picked up the Digilux 3 “loaner” from my friendly camera store, the impression was of the difference between an sedan and an SUV, if not a tank. This is most notable in the small increased size of the camera body and overall increase in bulk and weight from its Vario-Elmarit lens.

 

Eons ago I had switched from Nikon SLRs to Leica M4s, so had forgotten how noisy SLRs are in comparison to rangefinders. The DIGILUX 3 has a considerable “kerchunk” from the mirror when you depress the button. This makes it unlikely you will be able to capture more than one tight shot of an unsuspecting subject, at close range. The burst mode setting is, however, remarkably effective as alternate means of getting natural, if not always flattering expressions during a portrait sitting. Set to three exposures, it continues in multiples as long as you hold your finger on the release button.

 

As the first to borrow this “loaner,” I stopped off at a coffee shop to peruse the manual, to find out how to set the date and time so as to be able to take photos on the way home –

nothing happened until I entered this data.

 

I found the manual well indexed and relatively easy to follow though the screen captures of the camera’s menus are poorly reproduced and difficult to read by artificial light. A glossary, as a reference for some of the abbreviations (AFL etc.,) would save flipping back and forth from the index to the pages that define them.

 

As one who is still discovering features of the DIGILUX 2 camera I have been using for a year and a half, the additional features provided by the DIGILUX 3 are somewhat overwhelming. For instance, I noticed the colour balance of my first prints seemed “off”, cooler, and somehow flatter. They also lacked what I think of as the Leica “edge.” Not to worry – under the listing “Film,” in the manual, I found that you are given setting choices that will let you vary the overall colour cast, the sharpness and contrast, as well as settings for those of us who often choose to shoot in black and white. But I’m not sure that I’m not historically prejudiced in favour of these being intrinsic attributes of lens, and film, rather than achieved by electronic manipulation within the camera subsequent to exposure.

 

I am a natural light photographer who abominates the use of flash, so though the Vario-Elmarit’s lens maximum aperture at a 90 mm extension is only 3.5, the ability to set your IS0 rating as high as 1600 seemed as if it might compensate for this relatively high aperture value. This allegedly results in “artifacts” but these would be acceptable when used to capture a subway disaster etc. (Why, Oh, why, are cubic artifacts more distracting than the irregular grain of my beloved TRI X?)

 

 

So I was particularly interested in testing such images. Shooting Cabaret scenes at ISO 800 using center weighted metering and auto everything else, produced a couple of great candle lit shots, but the Digilux 3 was unable to handle the harsh contrast of stage lighting, even when I used spot metering to take a reading from the performer’s face.

Unlike the Digilux 2 which has a vibrant green “x” to identify the sweet spot for focus, the Digilux 3 has a faint grayish cross and circle that becomes invisible against a dark scene. However, I was able to get a very satisfactory portrait by candlelight at ISO 800.

 

On most of these test occasions I was shooting either aperture priority or shutter priority, auto everything, While the ISO and aperture were recorded I was unable to find a record of the selected shutter speed. This was annoying since I wanted it as a starting basis for future manual settings.

 

An erstwhile feelance photo-journalist, one feature of digital photography that I really dislike, is its diminished capacity to use selective focus as a tool to isolate a subject on the fly. This made me impatient to try the DIGILUX 3, with the longer focal length of its equivalent 35 – 90 mm Vario-Elmarit. lens, I hoped would restore some of this ability to minimize distracting backgrounds. I found that at full aperture and with a foreground subject, this is quite a bit improved. Not sufficiently however, to abandon the use of Andromeda’s Varifocus Filter in Photoshop from time to time.

 

Alas, tomorrow I must take the Digilux 3 back, having only scratched (figuratively, thank God) the surface of its features. Would I buy it at this point? Its principle attraction for me is the superb 13 X 19 prints I have been able to make as a result of its increased mega pixel count. But it would take longer use to decide whether the advantages gained by mastering its learning curve would outweigh my familiarity and more instinctive use of its predecessor, the Digilux 2.

 

Joan Latchford

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Joan,

 

You clearly thought about this carefully.

 

I did get the Digilux 3 a while ago, and tend to agree with your assessment. In so many ways I like what it does, but its a mixed bag of tea. The "Tank likeness" not being a little part of that equation. Guess one of the reasons for the size increase in the lens is because of the bigger sensor in the camera.

 

Like you, Im dismayed with the general look of digital noise over grain, but found when I followed one of the suggestions in the forum, that setting the film setting to min noise, and almost max sharpness, did clean up the images a lot. (big thank you to DUGBY)

 

BTW... I did some shots with my nikon 50mm 1.4 it have DOF like the thickness of paper at max opening.. Im thinking that the upcoming Leica 24mm 1.4 will give you the desired shallow dof.

 

Sincerely Bo Lorentzen

 

My Leica scratch page - random thoughts , pictures and such.

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Joan,your comments on the D3 focussing..... I hope you eventually found for manual focussing-

a) a green confirmation LED in the viewfinder when the focus is "nailed"

a software switch that enables "low light" focus assist, which emits a infrared light beam

 

For an L1, to match the colours of my D2, I had to create a "Film 1" profile based on 'Dynamic' and with Sharpness set to high, and Noise Reduction set to minimum.

 

I've found on going back to my D2, it's certainly made me realise it's strengths are 'portraits' and 'landscapes.'

 

Now here's the real surprise...... I found the L1/D3 a better 'street camera'. With the L1 I always got the candid street shot that I regularly missed with my D2 (as it's too slow to shoot a shot compared with the L1). OK... yes there is the mirror clunk which alerts the subject that a shot was taken, but by then I've at least got the shot.

 

Next point the black body of the L1 is good street camouflage, from the shinny chrome 'bling-bling' of my D2.

 

For my 1st week of the L1, my colours were dreadful to the point that I thought I had made a mistake in buying the L1/D3, but after tweeking the "Film 1" settings and using Central-only Autofocus, The L1 is definately 'streets' ahead of my D2. I will keep my D2 as a backup to the L1.

 

I've posted quite a few sample photos here if you search on L1.

 

The D3/L1 is very underated currently as the outstanding M8 is taking most of the lime-light.

 

OIS is a dramaticallly superb feature and allows the D3/L1 to capture many low light shots with the limited Vario-Elmarit f2.8 to f3.5 lens.

 

Shuttter speed is displayable with every captured shot, an also on the files' property tab.

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A very interesting assessment, thank you Joan, and once again Dugby for more useful insights.

 

I'm still mulling over the potential move from D2 to D3/L1. Inherently I would prefer the D3, not least due to the improved guarantee, but I must say that the lower cost of the L1 (and I see that it seems to be reducing) makes it a more likely proposition. Getting the L1 would also mean that I could afford to keep the D2!

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Hi Brian,

 

Here's another interesting observation......D3 versus L1

 

I was in Jacob's Camera Store, on Oxford Street, Soho last week. Diagonally opposite to Tottenham Court Road Underground station.

 

I was looking at the D3 which, on the shelf looks, so much larger than the L1. The Chrome body just changes the visual size.....compared with the discrete black.

 

I kept thinking my L1 looks so much smaller. I took out my L1 just to make sure I wasn't going loonier.....!!!!

 

I have also place a discrete 'sticker' over the logos on my L1 body to try and be even more discrete...... However I had a couple photographers in Mont Marte (Paris) follow me around attempting to read the specifications of my lens. When they saw the small Leica word, they mouthed the words "good choice"......to me.

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Brian, I think L1 is the right choice. I´have seen it in amazon at 1600$, in adorama for less an in one internet shop at about 1.200¡¡¡. At this price you can also buy the Oly 11-22 lens¡¡¡¡.

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I must admit that I am gradually coming round to that point of view, Enrique and Dugby. The eBay HK sellers (yes I know about possible problems a la Giftsix but I think most of the ones listing seem to be ok) are asking around £850 - £900. But I'm going to HK in June anyway so I can wait and don't need to risk it!

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