Review: The Leica D-Lux 6/ Panasonic LX7

_RX100_DSC3814 copy

There aren’t that many choices for fully-featured, pocketable compacts at the moment; in my ongoing quest to find the ideal take-everywhere companion, I’ve probably tried most of them. Current top of the heap is the Sony RX100; I’ve also used the GR-Digital series, Fuji XF1 and Panasonic LX/ Leica D-Lux series. For whatever reason, I’ve never really bonded with the Canon S-series, so that’s never made it into my pocket; same with any of the Nikon Coolpixes, though I’m really hoping the A will change that. Whilst I loved the RX100 for its fantastic sensor, the lens arguably lets the package down: it may be fast one the wide end, but for it to keep up with the sensor in the corners, you have to stop down a bit (thereby negating this advantage) and the tele end is just plain slow.

_DL6_L1000501 copy
First signs of sakura season

Regular readers will know I’m a firm believer in carrying a camera at all times; the question is, what should that camera-for-when-you-don’t-want-to-carry-a-camera be? Let’s just say the hunt goes on. As part of the quest, I borrowed a D-Lux 6 from Leica Malaysia to put it through its paces on my recent trip to Japan. Thanks to an enormous work backload, I’ve only just had a chance to finish looking through the files in detail.

_DL6_L1000118 copy
People’s park

First off: I’ve had a lot of people asking if the Leica version is any different to the Panasonic version. Physically, they are identical but for the cosmetics – the Leica has a nicer, cleaner (but also slipperier) design and square buttons. The Panasonic has a few more curves, flourishes, chrome bits and a small but welcome front grip. Menu cosmetics are different. Both have identical sensors, lenses, EVF capability, and as far as I can tell, file output. The Leica version is more expensive, but includes Lightroom and an extended warranty; in the end, it washes out price-wise. Buy the Leica if you need processing software or intend to keep the camera a bit longer; the warranty helps and it holds resale value a bit better, too. I reviewed this version because it’s what I happened to have access to.

_DL6_L1000455 copy
Yahoo! Dome and cloud, home of the Fukuoka Seahawks.

The headline spec for both cameras is the lens: a 24-90mm f1.4-2.3 (!) diagonal 35mm equivalent – I’ll explain this in a minute – Leica-designed ‘Vario Summilux’. It’s coupled to a 1/1.7″, 12MP sensor that never outputs more than 10MP; this is because the diagonal angle of view of the lens is always constant, so the image circle is slightly larger than the sensor. This means that the horizontal field of view actually gets wider as your change aspect ratios (on a handy slider on top of the lens barrel) rather than merely cropping – the 16:9 option has the horizontal angle of view roughly equivalent to a 21-22mm in 35mm terms. It is supposedly an updated version of the sensor in the predecessor (LX5, D-Lux 5). I used one of these extensively and loved the optical quality of the lens and its close focus ability throughout the entire zoom range; fortunately neither has changed.

_DL6_L1000138 copy

Shooting with easily-switchable multiple aspect ratios is an interesting experience. I’m used to this normally – my Nikons are 3:2; my Hasselblads are square; my OM-D is 4:3. I regularly compose and crop to 16:9. So in theory, the Swiss Army Knife switch should be perfect for me. In reality, I found it a little disorienting to use, because it distracted me from forcing myself to compose for the aspect ratio. It doesn’t help that if you normally crop down, then either the horizontal or vertical angle of view stays the same – this is obviously not the case with the DL6/LX7. I found my compositions were much stronger if I just picked one aspect ratio and stuck with it – for most of the trip, this happened to be square since I was also shooting with the Hasselblad.

_DL6_L1000281 copy
One of the city’s famous yatai stalls.

Physically, the camera is a little larger than its predecessor; the mode dial is a little stiffer, it’s gained another thumb jog-tab on the back to activate the ND filter or change focus distance; some of the menus are a little different, and the big change is of course the addition of a physical aperture ring. It’s also a bit larger than the RX100. It still takes the same tilting EVF, which is welcome as it improves the overall stability and low-light usability of the camera dramatically. Too bad it also adds considerably to the price and bulk of the package, too. The battery is carried over from the previous version, which is a good thing for those who are upgrading and happen to have spares lying around.

_DL6_L1000212 copy
In thought

I have to be honest: there are three things I really don’t like on the DL6/LX7, and they’re all related to the mechanical operation of the lens. First is the manual lens cap, second is the aperture ring, and third is the glacial slowness of the lens to zoom. The first two are actually related; let me explain. Though I’m used to lens caps with all of my other cameras, not having to deal with one on the RX100 means that it’s possible to do single-handed grabs where you draw, hit power, and shoot all in one action. Having to remove a lens cap first and then slide a switch is akin to remembering your wadding, ramming the ball and rod, then remembering to check your flint before priming the pan. It’s just annoying on a compact. (You also have to remember to hold it out of the way so it doesn’t inadvertently get in the shot.) You’re probably thinking that there isn’t room to put a retracting lens cap in since the front element is so damn enormous, but you’d be wrong: if they didn’t have the aperture ring – which is pointless on a compact because you have zero depth of field control at these kind of focal lengths anyway, regardless of the lens speed – then there’d be room for a sufficiently large retracing lens shutter.

_DL6_L1000161 copy
They managed put a retracting roof on the Yahoo! dome…but not the DL6/LX7′s lens.

That said, I’d be willing to suffer all of this and more, simply because the lens is so darned good. This is quite possibly the best lens ever fitted to a compact, and impressive in the pantheon of greats in its own right: you get sharp corners and very little lateral CA at f1.4 and full wide, which is an impressive performance indeed. Other than those corners, there’s no loss of resolution anywhere due to chromatic aberration; at base ISO, pixel-level results are so crisp that you’re left wondering if the camera has an AA filter. Even more impressively, there’s no visible penalty in closeup performance despite the speed of the lens; the camera focuses very close at all focal lengths, and extremely close – front element nearly touching subject – at full wide. (I can’t actually think when you might use this, as perspective distortion is horrible and proper lighting is nearly impossible, but that doesn’t mean somebody else can’t find a use for it.)

_DL6_L1000240 copy
Meet us at the big yellow bottle

I didn’t see any weak spots in the range, either; the lens is easily the best part of the optical system, and complemented well by a very effective stabiliser. I still think Panasonic does the best optical stabilizers in any compact; they’re easily good for another 2 stops over that fitted to the RX100, for instance. Put it this way: it appears the camera’s designers placed so much emphasis on the resolving power of the lens that there’s a built in 3-stop ND filter to allow use of the lens wide open, the menu has an option to choose whether program mode follows a generic option, an optimal MTF option(!), or tries to keep things at maximum aperture. Speaking of aperture, the aperture ring is only active with A or M modes selected on the dial (why they didn’t make A mode a position on the ring like previous Leica digitals is unknown); in every other position, the ring does nothing. If the selected aperture on the ring is wider than possible at the chosen zoom setting, the camera will just open the lens up fully.

DL6-RX100 noise comparison low iso
DL6-RX100 noise comparison high iso
ISO comparison against the RX100: both shot raw, opened in the latest version of ACR with all settings at default zeroes. No NR or sharpening. RX100 images downsized to match the DL6 in size, with the DL6 set to 3:2 aspect ratio to match the RX100. Exposure for the beginning image was 2s f2.8 ISO 80. Full size 100% crops are available here (low ISO) and here (high ISO).

The real weak spot in the imaging chain is the sensor. Though it’s an updated design (mainly focusing on throughput speed – the DL6/LX7 does 1080p60 and 11fps at full resolution), the base 1/1.7″ unit has been around since 2008 in the LX3. Back then it was an impressive piece of hardware for a compact – offering a good-quality ISO 400 and usable-in-a-pinch ISO 800, with about 11 stops of dynamic range – today, it’s decidedly ordinary, especially in the face of sensors like the 1″ 20MP, 10fps, 14bit unit in the RX100. I don’t honestly think the imaging characteristics have improved much since then: it wasn’t bad, but it’s certainly no longer state of the art, and I think I’ve been spoiled by the Sony.

_DL6_L1000495 crop
Look at that resolving power!

At base ISO – 80 – you get hints of what the lens is capable of; it’s easily outresolving the sensor by some considerable margin. Too bad you can also see traces of an underlying noise pattern, too. There’s one final fly in the ointment: be careful if you’re shooting with the sun directly in the frame; at the wrong angle, there’s the possibility of internal reflections off some part of the optical system, resulting in series of magenta blotches (see below). However, this is extremely rare and I only saw it a couple of times after deliberately pointing the camera into an exposure that was easily 1/4000s f8 ISO 80.

_DL6_L1000008 copy
Radial pattern of magenta blotches.

All that said, the lens and IS system mean that the DL6/LX7 isn’t as bad in low light conditions as you might think; in fact, it’s surprisingly good. I almost never had to go over ISO 400 thanks to the extraordinary light-gathering ability of the lens; with the RX100, I’d probably be at 3200 and wishing for a bit more. There’s no arguing that the sensor is probably three stops or so behind the RX100; however, at the long end, you’ve already lost slightly over two stops on the lens (f2.3 vs f4.9) and you can claw back another stop or more from the IS system. As you can see from the sample crops, things become a bit more complicated still: downsizing the RX100′s files result in crisper images up to a point, but there also seems to be something muddy in there eating up fine detail, too – perhaps it’s the non-cancelable noise reduction, even when shooting raw.

_DL6_L1000377 copy
Night by the river. 1/4s, handheld.

To be honest, I came away from my experience with this camera more perplexed than ever. Some of the files at base ISO blew me away; for an 8MP (or thereabouts, depending on the aspect ratio) file, the detail resolved was incredible. The lens is quite possibly the best ever fitted to a compact, and one of the most impressive zooms I’ve ever shot with (24-90/1.4-2.3 on a DSLR, anybody? M43 even? I didn’t think so). It’s fast and responsive; very nearly as fast as the RX100. It also also has superior close focus ability – handy if you’re using it on a trip to document the various objects you see and eat*. We have some operational niggles like the lens cap and slow zooming, and the disappointment in the files at ISO 800 and beyond. You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about battery life or usability; the former is excellent (I shot up to 400 frames in one day with the EVF, and the 3-segment gauge didn’t move off full) and the latter is relatively transparent – set what you need to set, use the quick menu or programmable function keys for everything else. Or just run it in RAW, program mode, and spot meter like I did.

*I used a D-Lux 5 with a couple of creatively-deployed LED panels to photograph food with great success; you can see some examples here.

As usual, the final verdict on this camera boils down to a question of tradeoffs. Do you want flexibility in the lens, or does ultimate technical image quality (sensor) matter more? I have to say that if you have no intention of printing over 13×19″, then this makes a fantastic travel companion that will do excellent macro work at a push. The RX100 will go much larger – I’ve done 20×30″ – but suffers from terrible close up performance (both distance and clearly non-optimized optics) and a slow telephoto end due to the physical size requirements of a longer focal length to cover a larger sensor at a given angle of view. I’d love to see the DL6/LX7′s lens paired with a better sensor; this combination has the potential to do some amazing things. Until then, it’s worth taking price into consideration: whilst the Sony is still over $600, the Panasonic version has now fallen to below $300 – and that makes it a heck of a lot of camera for the money. MT

The Leica D Lux 6 is available here from B&H or Amazon
The Panasonic LX7 is available here from B&H or Amazon.

Thanks to Leica Malaysia for the loan camera.

____________

Visit the Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including workshop and Photoshop Workflow videos and the customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

appstorebadge

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

_DL6_L1000520 copy
Cubist hotel

_DL6_L1000064 copy
Inside the Fukuoka tower

_DL6_L1000051 copy

_DL6_L1000040 copy
The tedium of travel

_DL6_L1000202 copy

_DL6_L1000356 copy
Sole remaining vestiges of nature

_DL6_L1000338 copy
Email girlfriend. Seriously.

_DL6_L1000267 copy

Comments

  1. > nearly touching subject – at full wide. (I can’t actually think when you might use this, as perspective distortion is horrible and proper lighting is nearly impossible, but that doesn’t mean somebody else can’t find a use for it.)

    Ha, just did so, w/my battered (hit-by-truck-while-on-bike (ME! &…)) LX3 :: a fairly small, spitting spider, up close & personal, so to speak. You can’t get nearly such macro shot at longer focal lengths w/LX3 because of increased distance req’d. (used man. focus) Can’t say that I notice distortion, but then even at this nearly touching (1cm) distance, the spider is quite small.
    No, this isn’t my pic, just my variety : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Scytodes_thoracica_(aka).jpg

    • I suppose the lens also acts as quite an effective shield from anything potentially toxic at that distance. With organic subjects, you won’t really notice the distortion anyway.

    • I had the dlux 4 and sold it, wish I still had it, It’s image look was unique and it seems that subsequent models lost that look, which, for most is considered an improvement. A multi-perspective approach to image quality doesn’t of necessity require the HD look trending with current models, and I , for one, appreciate the “tri-x” tinge as an example of a pejorative appearance held in esteem. Others might appreciate the Holga look. The point is, that as image quality improves in the conventional sense, departures from that look might regain a favorable cache as departures from orthodoxy require those alterations.

  2. adam monaghan says:

    Really interested to read this. I’ve loved my Leica D Lux 5 but it’s broken in 4 different ways in 18 months (flash, zoom, selector wheel and some electronic thing that means the menu pops up and rotates constantly when shooting in manual). This time they’re refusing to repair it under warantee, despite it being one of the same faults. (The rear roller selector broken). A 200 euro repair bill that is not going to get paid.
    I originally bought a Leica because I wanted to be a part of that history, even though the Panasonic version was 200 euros cheaper. So this time around Leica can go jump and i’ll get a Panasonic. (I’m well aware that it won’t hurt their coffers at all since they’re still making money from me). So the LX7 looks a good option…

  3. Many people who read reviews of cameras on the internet naturally compare the Japanese made Leica’s with the “sister” “doppelganger” Panasonic model and fail to understand why the Leica’s cost a lot more, there are many reasons, here are the main and most important ones.
    (a) The lenses take 40 minutes for each element to be individually ground, polished and tested, made on German imported machines to Leica tolerances and use Leica lens coatings. (The Panasonic Lumix ones are mass produced on their own machines to a basic Leica spec. and use their own “Nano” coatings).
    (b) The CCD’s are individually tested to Leica manufacturing tolerances and are made by Kodak, Sony etc. (Panasonic Lumix ones are not).
    (c) The Panasonic made Leica’s are ALL sent in to Leica AG, Solms, to be inspected by hand/eye then wired to a computer to have the firmware (digital only) customised so each image gives the “Leica look” and European skintones and other colour rendition and LCD menu changes, then tested again.
    (d) Boxed and packaged in Germany.
    (e) Appropriate Adobe® /Photoshop®/ Lightroom® / Premiere®/ Elements® software added
    (f) 2 year unconditional guarantee and Leica Passport (covers accidental damage) instructions and other documents added.
    (g) The distinctive “Red Dot” Leica logo is added.
    (h) Many models have different outer bodies often made of aluminium or even titanium and different switches/dials and buttons.
    (i) Higher resale values, for example a mint Leica DIGILUX 3 sells on Ebay for £799, the Panasonic equivalent DMC-L1 £224!
    (j) Leica Passport, A Leica passport protects your treasured Leica against all accidental damage for the first year from purchase date. During the period of cover, if you drop and break or water damage, any camera protected by the passport, Leica will either repair or replace the item with a new one free of charge

    • Jay, the main reason they cost more is because Leica has to buy the base cameras off Panasonic at a slight discount to retail, add their own custom/ small volume touches, and then make their own internal hurdle rate of 28+% margin.
      a) No. Does not apply to compacts.
      b) Again, no – look at the M8/ M9/ S2 CCD debacle: they might have been tested to Leica standards, but frankly that instills little confidence as I haven’t heard of any other manufacturer’s cameras suffering from cracked CCDs with anywhere near the same frequency.
      c) No again. The menus are identical, as are the RAW files.
      d) Quite possibly, it isn’t specified anywhere.
      e) Yes, but it’s a download code on a license fee nominally paid to Adobe.
      f) j) Yes, the extended guarantee is definitely worth something. But the passport doesn’t apply in all countries.
      g) Cosmetic badging is not a good reason to charge substantially more.
      h) The ‘titanium’ cameras are titanium coated not solid titanium. Confirmed by Leica themselves.
      i) Yes, that’s true. But there is absolutely nothing about the underlying difference in image quality to justify it. The fact that most of these rumours perpetuate is a testament to the Leica marketing machine…

      • I couldn’t agree more Ming. I think the fact that we see so many reviews where people talk about the camera under consideration creating photos that are “Leica-like,” or the camera having a “Leica-feel,” is further proof of what you rightfully calls the ” Leica marketing machine.” Why can’t a well-taken photograph or a well-designed camera stand on its own merits without comparison to Leica? You recent series of articles, “Shooting With the Legends,” shows there have been many outstanding cameras that weren’t Leica. And as you mentioned, quality issues of late are a problem, and leaves one wondering if Leica is even the “gold-standard” anymore.

        • Actually, it’s more fundamental than that – strip away the EXIF, and I bet most people won’t be able to tell what camera/ lens combo was used 99% of the time.

          • I think that the Leica-mystique aspect deserves one further jab : that, in order to get a better **operating** device, one must pay additional for a grip!! (As though the original, gripless, Red-Dot’d device is some sort of work of art, to be admired on a shelf!)
            And “higher resale value” needs to be equated with overall transaction : pay $800 to resell at $500, say; vs. $350 to resell at $250 (not claiming to know actual prices –just illustrating the point).

            • True; ergonomics leave something to be desired, but that’s what wrist straps and a little square of gaffer tape on the front are for. Good poing re. resale value…

              • Still adding stuff to the Red Dot to get it to work (while having the privilege of being –quoting Adam– “part of that history”)! (-;
                Adam’s troubles of malfunctioning DLux-4 beg the question Why …? My LX3 has been dropped twice (onto hardness), and was on me when run over (it looked better than I) which added a ding and broke whatever locks the battery in place –thus, I now use a shim of 4-ply paper against the door. And it does have some, um, new *features* (the ol’ buggy software euphemism), which recently included not seeing the card and losing a pic into built-in memory (just found, copied to computer and then to card (I’m still learning)).
                So, YMMV? I don’t recommend the knocks (esp. being run over), but it’s still clicking (orig. battery up to 21k+ pics, and fading).

                I get a kick out of all the discontent about a lens cap, though. I *solved* that issue by somehow losing mine a few years back, and since have ported it either bare (actually using a shirt pocket, at times) or in a soft case. And for me, I LIKE the GREAT DoF, so hardly care that the world doesn’t go out of focus to match M9′s with a Noctilux attached. (Too many photos seem to result from “because it can ” rather than that being a Good Thing in the circumstances. IMHO!)

                I’ve been on the fence over replacing LX3 with good-condition one, or … LX7. There’s not a lot of Net chatter to compare, but I think that the LX7 is gonig to be the better course –with good respect to the LX3 : it’s not nothing, no matter current cameras!
                Thanks for the reviews & edification!

  4. So…LX7 equal to D-Lux 6…diffrent only its prices…..is that rite?

  5. My hunt and search for a high end compact ended with the D Lux 6.
    I went from X10 to X20 to RX100M2 but ended up the keeper was the D Lux 6.

    Even though there r many naysayers saying why pay for a rebadged Lx7 , I realized that the OOC Jpegs for the DL6 is much more beautiful that the LX7. Shooting raw does produce the same results.

    The inclusion of a ND filter was also another plus over the other models.

    Why not the RX when it’s well known for its huge sensor ? Usability. Subjective , yes but somehow the DL6 with its design, placement of controls and software works for me while I had difficulty handling the RX. The much slower aperture on the telephoto end also frustrated me at times compared to the f1.4-2.3 on the DL6.
    Many users only focused on sensor size , forgetting it’s the whole package that matters. Having a much brighter lens on the DL6 made it not much weaker than the RX M2. Good fast glass compensated for the smaller sensor size I’d say.
    Of course my aim was for a high end P n S; which the DL6 performs excellently.

  6. Keith Walker says:

    Hi Ming. Another excellent and helpful review. On a point of fact, do you know for sure the lens design is by Leica, as I have read somewhere Leica has no input whatsoever to design or manufacture of any aspect, it is all pure Panasonic. I ask as a owner, who thinks these issues are anyway irrelevant and the camera should be judged on its merits with the badging a subjective and value (to you) decision.
    Keith (UK)

  7. I have tried the LX-7 on hands, albeit without the ability to view the raw image on a proper monitor. The review image behind the screen was terrible, especially after zooming in. The raw image on a monitor will be as bad as the screen, right?

  8. Thanks for the great review. I’m a big fan of Panasonic LX series. I used to have LX1 and LX3. I’ve been thinking about getting a new compact, tried the Sony RX100 but didn’t like it. Maybe I should get the LX7 after all, especially when the price is so low.

    Would you mind telling me a bit about how you process the images in this post?

  9. Congrats for this beautiful blog! Should I buy the LX7, the RX-100 II or to wait for the LX9? As you imagine, I prefer a top image over a top compact but I cannot afford the price of a Leica. Regards !

  10. Michael Buchmeier says:

    There is a filter adapter available for the LX7 and polarizing and other filters available. Fits on LX7 and D-Lux 6.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Ming Thien's review of the D-Lux 6 Review of the D-Lux 6 by Ming Thien. Great independent review. Review: The Leica D-Lux 6/ Panasonic LX7 – Ming Thein | Photographer [...]

  2. [...] Source: http://blog.mingthein.com/2013/03/25/leica-d-lux-6-panasonic-lx7/ [...]

  3. [...] Go here to see the original: Review: The Leica D-Lux 6/ Panasonic LX7 – Ming Thein … [...]

  4. [...] Panasonic LX7/ Leica D-Lux 6 Pros: Standout lens – 24-90/1.4-2.3 that delivers excellent performance at all apertures; true multi-aspect ratio sensor; EVF port; buffered RAW shooting; excellent near-focus limits and optical performance; very effective image stabilization Cons: The sensor could be better, and in some aspect ratios is limited to just 7MP; high ISO performance is so-so; lens very slow to zoom; aperture dial on lens is pointless and just adds to the bulk of the camera; a bit too thick to be pocketable; review images look terrible on LCD; focusing is slow enough to be frustrating at times [...]

  5. […] of the more interesting compacts I reviewed recently – the Panasonic LX7 – is now on sale to $299 again. You can find it […]

  6. […] veel wikken en wegen heb ik besloten om te kiezen voor een compactcamera. Ik kwam uit bij een Panasonic LX7: voor mij de beste balans tussen prijs en mogelijkheden (het binnenwerk van de LX7 is hetzelfde als […]

  7. […] Dlux6 vs LX7 Don't laugh Review: The Leica D-Lux 6/ Panasonic LX7 – Ming Thein | Photographer First off: I’ve had a lot of people asking if the Leica version is any different to the […]

  8. […] these last few years. Great problem to have [deciding between these fine cameras]. Ming Thein did an excellent comparison of the LX7 and DLUX6. I'll miss having filter threads on these though. Hard to imagine doing landscape travel […]

  9. […] Leicasonic action now with a new photographer priority review of the Leica D-Lux 6 (“inspired” by the Panasonic LX7) by Ming Thein. […]

  10. […] on the Panasonic Lumix LX7, 10.1 megapixel, f/1.4 3.8x optical zoom lens. – Reviews: ePHOTOzine, MingThein, RedDotForum. Leica V-Lux 4 – ultra-zoom based on the Panasonic Lumix FZ200, f/2.8 24x […]

  11. […] is history … I finished off my trip with a D-Lux 6. I’ll leave the camera review to Ming Thein and Eric Kim, two professional photographers experienced in reviewing cameras to give you a […]

  12. […] Lumix LX7 (From $299 up, depending on where the wind blows; review | Amazon | B&H) – Getting a bit older now, but still an excellent compact with a standout lens […]

Thoughts? Leave a comment here and I'll get back to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 23,788 other followers

%d bloggers like this: