Leica D-Lux Typ 109 is a compact shooter from the legendary brand.
The camera is easily available to buy from e-commerce giant Amazon India.
The Leica D-Lux Typ 109 is priced at Rs 85,000 and comes with a wide array of accessories.
Steve McCurry, Barbara Klemm, Nick Ut, Thomas Hoepker, Ara Guler, Joel Meyerowitz, Gianni Berengo Gardin and Rene Burri. These are names of some of the finest photographers in the world. Nick Ut’s picture Napalm War and Steve McCurry’s picture Afghan girl are not just iconic pictures, they serve as inspiration for a number of budding photographers. These pictures not just capture the moment but rather portray the emotion and difficulties in this world.
If you have to connect these photographers with one common thread, then it would be their camera gear. All the photographers mentioned above have been inducted to Leica’s Hall of Fame and their gear of choice for all of their iconic picture has been a Leica. When I started reading about photography, I came across two distinct brands – Leica and Hasselblad – mainly for their unique offerings. Leica’s story, in particular, is a phenomenal one. It started its journey building microscopes and then added another vision to what turned out to be binoculars. In 1914, it launched a 35mm camera and went on to change the world of photography, for good.
While Leica made photography easier and simpler for a lot of folks in the early 2000s, it did come at a huge premium. In countries like India, Leica cameras were not easily accessible but that is set to change. Leica has partnered Amazon India to sell its mid-range compact shooters and has also commenced direct retail in the country. The journey for the legendary German optics maker starts with the D-Lux compact shooter priced at Rs 85,000. The question here is – should you pick a Leica over a similarly configured camera from a Japanese manufacturer and secondly, is the premium price justified at a time when our mobile cameras (including the Leica-branded ones on Huawei smartphones) have become so potent. Let’s answer that in this review.
Design and Build Quality
There are supercars and then there is a flaming red Ferrari. It is a supercar, no, it is a Ferrari. Same rule applies here. There are cameras and then there is Leica. The design is so distinct that people will notice the moment you start taking pictures with a Leica camera. The D-Lux, despite being the cheapest offering from Leica’s expansive product portfolio, has all the trademark design elements that the Leica M type is known for. I went for a photowalk with the D-Lux and to my surprise, my fellow photographers were gasping at the fact that it was a Leica.
The Leica D-Lux is crafted with the same precision that one would expect from the M type. It has an angular design with the lines meeting the surface when seen from any direction. The sides of the camera is curved for a superior grip. However, some of my fellow photographers found the grip on the front missing. For this review, Leica also sent us a premium leather cover so it was mostly a non-issue for me. It needs to be noted that the camera feels secure when the strap is attached and considering the humid and sweaty conditions in Mumbai, I would prefer not to carry the camera without the strap. You expect something out of a really good camera and I must say that the D-Lux does not disappoint.
Leica does few things different from every other camera manufacturer in the world. The idea with their design hinges around the fact that every control should be at reach when the photographer is seeing his/her subject through the viewfinder. In the case of D-Lux, that same design principles mean that every control is at the reach of your hands every time. The top right hand side of the camera gives you quick toggle for shutter speed, exposure compensation, zoom and image filter. Right next to the LCD display there is the full-fledged menu option to change the ISO, white balance, metering and shutter mechanism.
The aperture ring marked in whole stops is around the lens and it registers a click whenever it is rotated so you clearly know when the adjustment is made. The manual focusing ring follows the aperture ring, which also works to change zoom in program mode. However, what makes the design really unique is the next dial on the lens barrel that allows you to change aspect ratio with the flick of a switch. As a tech writer, I can very much appreciate having an option to switch from 4:3 to 16:9. There is also an option to shoot in 3:2 and 1:1 aspect ratios.
The camera can bet set to program mode by switching the aperture ring and shutter speed to ‘A’ setting. Setting either of the two toggles to ‘A’ will let you shoot in aperture or shutter priority mode but the real joy with a camera like this is to shoot in full manual control mode and set every parameter according to your own choice. Depending upon your configuration, the focal length can be adjusted using the sprung lever on the top plate or the lens ring. The shutter release button is embedded within the sprung lever and you eventually get used to it.
While the controls are well laid out and easy to access, the exposure compensation dial is prone to getting knocked off from the set value. The zoom ring works works electronically so it doesn’t stay adjusted when you turn off the camera. The lens can zoom automatically to focal length it was at when you turned off the camera by selecting “Zoom Resume” option in the custom menu setting.
There is also a nifty switch to change focus mode between automatic, macro and manual on the side of the lens and is accessible with the thumb of your left hand. Considering you will use the ring for manual focusing, a half turn takes the lens through its entire focus range and a focus scale appears in the viewfinder or the LCD display as soon as you move it. There is also a focus peaking display which is useful in some circumstances to accurately focus on your subject.
The whole experience is complemented by a 2,764,000-dot electronic viewfinder which provides a nice and clear view. It is especially useful in bright conditions where the 3-inch LCD screen suffers from reflections. As I wrote before, there is a button marked ‘F’ at the top that allows you to apply 22 different filter options to your photos. Yes, there is a monochrome mode, which is particularly useful. As you would expect from any modern camera, the D-Lux (Typ 109) can be connected to your smartphone via Leica’s Image Shuttle App and it lets you remotely control the camera and transfer images.
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With basics right out of the way, it is time to talk about the most important factor: image quality. Simply said, the D-Lux captures very high quality images with lots of detail and impeccable color accuracy. The images captured in daylight offer natural color, good dynamic range, high sensitivity and low noise. The D-Lux (Typ 109) has results that tick all the boxes for an ideal camera result.
The Leica D-Lux achieves this result by using a large Four Thirds-type sensor as opposed to APS-C sized sensors found on most cameras in this segment. The sensor made by Panasonic uses only 12.5-megapixels in the 4:3 aspect ratio and the pixels lie outside the area used by the camera in 16:9 aspect ratio. The result is that you don’t get crop effect, which is the case when you change aspect ratio on a regular camera.
The D-Lux has native sensitivity range of ISO 200-25,000 and can be expanded to ISO 100-25,000. It uses a Leica DC Vario-Summilux 24-75mm (equivalent) with f/1.7-2.8 lens. It lacks a built-in flash but there is an hotshoe so you can connect an external shotgun to illuminate the scene.
I found that the best images are captured when you set the sensitivity to moderate range of ISO 1600 and at peak sensitivity of ISO 25,000, the pictures seem to be smudged and not ideal for prints. The best results came with lower ISO setting since the noise is controlled well and the details are preserved extensively. Among the settings I never found a need to change was the metering mode but pictures do tend to be bright, which can be adjusted by reducing the exposure compensation. The lens also manages to produce nice bokeh effects but the result was not always consistent.
I know a few photographers who use more premium Leica cameras like the M-type and SL and the general consensus was that D-Lux captures great pictures that stick to Leica’s color science. While I could not run these images through analyzers for sensitivity and noise ratio, I was more than impressed to see that a compact camera could capture such level of detail. You can also shoot in raw and then compensate for color with your own preset.
The Leica D-Lux costs Rs 85,000 and it is a huge premium over a camera like the Sony RX100 V but what you getting for the cost is not just a compact shooter. In fact, you are getting a camera that adheres to Leica colors and capture pictures in a wide array of conditions. The D-Lux Typ 109 is not for amateur photographers but it is for those professional photographers who know what to expect from a premium camera like this in terms of color accuracy, dynamic range and most importantly, performance.