Leica V-LUX 2 Overview
Like the V-LUX 1 before it, the Leica V-LUX 2 is a fruit of the partnership with Japanese consumer electronics giant Panasonic Corp. Leica's consumer digital cameras generally mirror those released by Panasonic, and the Leica V-LUX 2 follows this trend as a rebadging of the Panasonic FZ100 with the Leica variant following its announcement right on schedule, some two months after that of the Panasonic model. The Panasonic FZ100 has been available at US retail since late August, and Leica's equivalent is expected to follow from October 2010. The Leica V-LUX 2 is externally very similar to the LX5, with the main changes being the product badging, a different software bundle, a slight reprofiling of the hand-grip, and a change to the knurling of the Mode dial.
The Leica V-LUX 2 sports a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit-branded 24x optical zoom lens with an impressive range from a generous 25mm wide angle to a powerful 600mm telephoto. The V-LUX 2's lens design features three extra-low dispersion elements intended to minimuize chromatic aberration at the telephoto end, and has a total of 14 elements in 10 groups, of which there are two aspherical lenses with three aspherical surfaces. The V-LUX 2 includes a lens-based image stabilization system, and has a maximum aperture that varies from f/2.8 to f/5.2 across the zoom range. The minimum focusing distance for the Leica V-LUX 2 is ordinarily some 30 centimeters at wide angle, or 200 centimeters at telephoto, but drops to just one centimeter at wide angle, or 100 centimeters at telephoto, when switched to Macro mode.
Behind the lens sits the V-LUX 2's image sensor, with 14.1 effective megapixel resolution. The 1/2.33-inch RGB MOS image sensor is a large part of enabling the camera's impressive speed, and reducing image noise. Analog-to-digital conversion is integrated into the sensor itself, along the edge of the array. The pixel structure has minimized wiring area, and uses a "Micro Light Tube" structure that increases transmission efficiency from the micro lens to the photo diode below, minimizing signal loss and crosstalk between adjacent red, green and blue pixels.
The V-LUX 2 also includes a three-core image processor that enables more sophisticated image processing, which should bear fruit in the form of better noise suppression, with less loss of underlying subject detail. With the V-LUX 2's processor, there's enough computing horsepower to look at luminance (brightness) noise and chrominance (color) noise both separately and together. Since chroma or luminance variations that correspond to legitimate subject detail tend to be correlated with each other -- that is, the color and tone change simultaneously -- this characteristic can be used to iron out noise without also killing important subject detail.
The standout feature of the V-LUX 2 is undoubtedly its incredible speed. Full-resolution images can be captured at a stunningly swift 11 frames per second in burst mode, using a mechanical shutter to prevent smearing of extreme highlights. Burst depth at this speed is some 15 images, for a little under 1.4 seconds per burst. Reducing the resolution to 3.5 megapixels allows the still image framerate to be boosted even further, to some 60 frames per second (for 16:9 aspect ratio -- the file size varies to as little as two megapixels in 1:1 mode for this frame rate). Almost as impressive as the burst speed is the V-LUX 2's ability to shoot at five frames per second, while using continuous autofocus to track motion between frames. This is thanks in part to the fact that the Leica V-LUX 2's lens implements a new autofocus system which doubles sensor readout speed, includes a faster-acting focus motor in the lens, and overlaps aperture adjustment and focus operation.
As you'd expect for a long-zoom camera, the Leica V-LUX 2 offers both an electronic viewfinder and an LCD display. The Leica V-LUX 2's EVF is a 0.20-inch LCD type with 201,600 dots of resolution, and yields a 100% field of view. The V-LUX 2 also includes an articulated tilt / swivel 3.0-inch LCD display with 460,000 dot resolution and 100% coverage. The Leica V-LUX 2 has a 23-point autofocus system which also includes a single-point "high speed" focusing mode. As with many digital cameras these days, there's also a face-detection function, with Leica's implementation using the information when determining both focus and exposure variables. In addition, the V-LUX 2 can be programmed to recognize the faces of an unspecified number of specific individuals for labelling purposes. The Leica V-LUX 2 also has an implementation of autofocus tracking, which can monitor a subject as it moves around the frame, continuing to update autofocus as required.
ISO sensitivity ordinarily ranges from 80 to 1,600. Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 60 seconds are possible, controlled automatically. The Leica V-LUX 2 uses Multi-Field metering, with Center-Weighted and Spot metering modes also on offer. There are seven white balance settings including Auto, two Manual modes, and four fixed presets. A generous selection of 17 scene modes let users tailor the look of their images. For the creative types there are both manual and aperture- / shutter-priority modes on the Leica V-LUX 2. A My Color mode allows the user to adjust color, brightness and saturation and preview the effect immediately on the camera's display, and there are also new Pin Hole, Film Grain, High Dynamic and High Dynamic B&W options.
A five-mode flash strobe includes both red-eye reduction and slow-sync capabilities, and has a rated range of up to 9.5 meters at wide angle, or 5.1 meters at telephoto, while a hot shoe caters to external strobes. As well as Raw and JPEG still images, the Leica V-LUX 2 can capture movies with sound at up to high definition 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution. Movies at 720p or below can be recorded using either the older, less efficient QuickTime Motion JPEG compression. In addition, 720p mode allows AVCHD Lite compression for lower file sizes. At Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution, the only option is AVCHD compression. It is now possible to use the My Color function and full manual exposure during movie recording. Movie audio is captured with a stereo microphone on the camera's top deck. A high speed movie mode allows shooting at up to 220 frames per second in QVGA resolution.
The Leica V-LUX 2 stores its images and movies on Secure Digital or MultiMediaCards, including the newer SDHC and SDXC types. There's also 40MB of built-in memory. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 High-Speed, standard definition NTSC/PAL video output, and high-def HDMI video output (although the cable for this is an optional extra). Power comes from a 7.2V, 895mAh proprietary lithium-ion battery, rated as good for 410 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards.
In place of Panasonic's software bundle, which includes PHOTOfunSTUDIO 5.2 HD Edition, and SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1SE, Leica has opted for Adobe's consumer-oriented Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements packages.
Pricing for the Leica V-LUX 2 is set at around US$850, some $350 more than Panasonic's FZ100.