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Leica V-LUX 3

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Leica V-Lux 3 Overview

Posted: 12/10/2011

The Leica V-Lux 3 is the company's new flagship fixed-lens camera. Leica doesn't actually build its fixed-lens models, but instead opts to rebadge designs from other manufacturers, with Panasonic having been the partner of choice since 2000. (The sole exception being 2009's Leica X1.) To be specific, the Leica V-Lux 3 is a rebadged variant of Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ150.

Panasonic's FZ-series models--and thus the V-Lux 3--have styling reminiscent of an SLR, but replace the true optical viewfinder with an electronic viewfinder. Often called bridge cameras, these are typically aimed at the photographer who feels limited by a standard compact model, and wants ergonomics more akin to what you'd typically find on an SLR, but without the bulk, complexity, and cost of an interchangeable-lens camera. The V-Lux 3 looks to be particularly well-suited to sports fans, thanks to zoom reach that will bring you right into the action, and a relatively swift burst-shooting rate.

The core of the Leica V-Lux 3 is a 1/2.3-inch MOS sensor with an effective resolution of 12.1 megapixels, from a total of 12.5 megapixels. MOS sensors are usually faster than their more common CCD brethren, and the V-Lux 3's sensor bears this out with a swift full-resolution burst shooting rate of 12 frames per second if autofocus is disabled, and a still-commendable 5.5 frames per second with autofocus active. It also allows for progressive scan Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel, aka 1,080p) video at a rate of 60 frames per second, saved using the AVCHD Progressive (MPEG-4 / H.264) format. The quad-core processor plays its own part in this speed, as well as in allowing an ISO sensitivity range of 100 to 3,200 equivalents (expandable to ISO 6,400 equivalent in High Sensitivity Auto mode).

The V-Lux 3's sensor sits behind a powerful 24x optical zoom lens with a 35mm-equivalent focal length range from a useful 25mm wide angle to a powerful 600mm telephoto for stills, and 28mm to 672mm for videos. Of course, with this much reach, mechanical image stabilization is a must, as you'd otherwise need shutter speeds in the region of 1/600-700th second or faster for blur-free images, which would restrict use to only ideal lighting conditions. The V-Lux 3 doesn't disappoint, not only including true optical image stabilization, but also providing what Leica refers to as an "Active" mode for video shooting, which takes advantage of the lower resolution with respect to still imaging, and thereby provides a greater degree of correction.

As is pretty-much standard in fixed-lens cameras, the Leica V-Lux 3 relies on contrast detection autofocusing, but this too offers improved speed thanks to the quad-core CPU. Leica's partner Panasonic rates the system as offering approximately 50% faster focusing than in the previous FZ100 model, which was also sold as the Leica V-Lux 2, with a focus lock possible in ~0.1 second. Panasonic also noted that the performance improvement is also prominent in its autofocus tracking function, which now has a sampling frequency double that of previous models.

On the rear panel of the Leica V-Lux 3 is a n articulated 3.0-inch LCD panel with 460,000 dot resolution, as well as a 0.2-inch color electronic viewfinder. As well as Program and Intelligent Auto shooting modes, the Leica V-Lux 3 caters to more experienced photographers by providing both Aperture- and Shutter-priority shooting, as well as a fully manual mode. A variety of Scene modes allow less-experienced photographers to get the results they're looking for, without the need to rely on entirely automatic operation.

The Leica V-Lux 3 stores images and movies on Secure Digital cards, including the newer SDHC and SDXC types. There's also 70MB of built-in memory, enough to get you out of a tight spot with a few of the most important photos, should you accidentally leave your flash card at home. Power comes courtesy of a proprietary 7.2V, 895mAh lithium-ion battery, rated for 410 shots to CIPA testing standards.

Pricing for the Leica V-Lux 3 digital camera hadn't been disclosed at press time, but availability was slated for January 2012.