Leica's newest pocket digicam ships with an impressive software package and
2-year warranty, but is it worth the price?
Leica's 7.2-megapixel status symbol, the C-LUX 2 ($499 street), is certainly an attractive camera, with its sleek metal design and Leica's easily identifiable red dot logo. But at nearly $500, the camera's performance is more comparable to those in the $250-$350 range.
The 5.4 oz camera is virtually identical to Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FX30 ($250 street). Available in silver or black, the C-LUX 2 packs a 3.6x zoom f/2.8-5.6 (28-100mm 35mm equiv zoom) Leica Vario-Elmarit DC lens with a true wide-angle setting of 28mm. The sharp 2.5" 207,000 pixel LCD screen is large and bright and easily viewable even in direct sunlight when gained up. Menus are easy to navigate and a button on the rear of the unit activates the camera's function menu, providing easy access to image stabilization, frame rate, white balance, ISO and resolution settings. Like many compact digicams, no optical viewfinder is provided, so images must be framed using the camera's LCD screen. A High Angle setting decreases LCD contrast while increasing brightness, making the display visible from higher angles, a handy feature for grabbing shots over a crowd of people.
The C-LUX 2 offers higher resolution and slightly improved high ISO performance than Leica's 5.1-megapixel C-LUX 1, which it replaces. The C-LUX 2 also comes with Panasonic's Venus III processing engine while maintaining the slick, lightweight size and styling of its predecessor.
The C-LUX 2 is identical to Panasonic's $250 FX-30 with few exceptions. Leica has replaced Panasonic's firmware with its own, but with the exception of the Leica logo, it's difficult to determine if any other changes were made. Leica confirms that the C-LUX 2 uses the same hardware as the FX-30.
The shooting mode dial near the camera's shutter release allows the user to select from several shooting modes. SCN activates the scene mode menu, prompting the user to select from one of 21 scene modes. Available options range from a party mode that activates the camera's optical image stabilization and slow-sync flash to a baby mode which allows the photographer to input the baby's birth date to be imprinted on the image. The mode dial also offers a movie mode, which records 30fps VGA video with sound, along with a macro mode, normal, easy mode and an intelligent ISO shooting mode, which bumps up the ISO speed in low-light situations.
Though Leica's much pricier interchangeable lens rangefinder models, such as the M8 give users complete control over every aspect of imaging, the C-LUX 2 does not provide a full manual mode -- typical for an ultra-compact, though not one costing $500. The camera offers exposure compensation in 1/3-stop increments to +/-2 from the camera's meter -- ideal for tough lighting situations or when the camera's meter reading doesn't match the photographer's personal vision. Exposure compensation, flash settings, timer function and playback mode are all activated using the multi-button array on the rear of the camera.
The C-LUX 2 also offers two optical image stabilization modes based on Panasonic's Mega O.I.S. lens stabilization: While active, Mode 1 provides image stabilization visible on the LCD preview even without shutter depression. This mode shortens battery life while reducing shutter lag. Image stabilization in Mode 2 is only activated when the shutter button is fully pressed, though results are superior to Mode 1 as Panasonic's O.I.S. lens block is able to adjust more quickly from a dormant state. However, Mode 1 image stabilization is also available in video mode.