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A review of the Leica d-lux (typ 109) compact digital camera



In 2002 I bought my first digital camera. I purchased the best model I could afford at that time; a Leica Digilux 1. I have been delighted by its performance for the past 15 years, but in 2017, I finally decided an upgrade was overdue. The replacement model I chose was the Leica d-lux (typ 109). This review is an attempt to explain why I bought this camera, and what I like about it.

My choice wasn't based on facts and figures (sensor sizes and mega-pixels); there where features I desired, and others I didn't want. I like a day-to-day, out-and-about camera to be small, light-weight, and not too flashy. This drove me towards a fixed lens compact.

Also, I really wanted something operationally old school. I'm not keen on shooting modes (action, landscape, portrait, etc.); these are just a means for the uninitiated to prioritise shutter speed/aperture size combinations. Neither did I want post processing creative filter effects (like sepia, and soft focus, etc.), or other gimmicks. The d-lux typ 109 does have a bank of filters, but they lurk out of the way, under a little F button. Additionally, I'm not a lover of set-up menus.

So, here are some of the key things I really like about this camera.

  • When there is no need to tweak exposure, both aperture and shutter speed controls can be set to Auto, and the camera takes over with programmed combinations selected automatically.
  • It has a shutter speed dial on the top plate, just like a 35mm SLR, and all you need to do is select a preferred speed and you get shutter priority auto exposure.
  • Similarly, it has an aperture ring on the lens barrel, just like a 35mm SLR, and all you need to do is select a preferred aperture and you get aperture priority auto exposure.
  • It even has an exposure compensation dial, just like a 35mm SLR, which is +/-3 in 1/3rd stop increments.
  • For times when programmed exposure is not enough, and perhaps you are feeling lazy (or having a senior moment) there's an Auto everything button for snap shooting. This evokes scene detection, face detection, backlight detection, auto white balance, ISO sensitivity control, etc.

The lens is a very fast f/1.7 to f/2.8, with a versatile 24mm to 75mm zoom, and this too has some features reminiscent of a 35mm SLR.

  • Information both on the lens barrel, and view screen/finder displays reference 35mm equivalent focal lengths. This camera speaks my language.
  • In addition to the standard zoom toggle switch in front of the shutter release, there's a zoom dial on the lens barrel, just like a 35mm SLR.

The view-screen is big, and the information display simple and relevant.

  • I like using a screen because they allow you to pull back, and better consider the framing, like you might with a TLR.
  • A fab feature is a switchable level line (like a spirit level), and this is something I'll use a lot.

The usual downside of a view-screen is bright light can make it difficult to see, but there's also a viewfinder for such occasions.

  • This is electronic, but the image is so good it performs like an optical finder. It provides SLR performance - what-you-see-is-what-you-get.
  • It has a snazzy eye detection feature, which means the viewfinder switches on, and the view-screen switches off when you put the viewfinder window to your eye.

There is no in-built flash, but the camera has a hot-shoe, and is supplied with the smallest, dinkiest little flash gun I've ever seen. Once fitted, all the usual stuff is available; red-eye reduction, slow sync., etc.

The Leica has many more features (described in the 300 page manual), and there are quite a few of these I'm not too interested in - but that's the way it is with modern cameras - and the whole point of this review is to describe the features I really like and will use most. The Leica (Panasonic) designers and I seem to be on the same page: the features I want have one-click dedicated controls (like a 35mm SLR), while the stuff I don't need (often) is accessed through the menus.

The camera does have one little trick I've always desired; a panorama function. In the past I've laborious stitched images in Photoshop, so this will make such shots simple.

In some ways, the camera isn't a million miles away from the Digilux 1, but it's smaller, faster, smarter, better.

I know I could have got a Panasonic LX100 for less money, but just as when I opted for the Digilux in preference to the Panasonic DMC-LC5 back in 2002, I still believe the Leica badge counts for something.