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Leica D-LUX 6 Preview

Posted: September 18, 2012

Earlier this year, we previewed the Panasonic LX7, one of a number of products vying for the title of top pocket digital camera, and although we've yet to complete a full review we're rather optimistic about its prospects. Our initial testing suggested a fairly significant step forward from the earlier LX5 model, and a reasonably strong showing even when compared to cameras with larger sensors.

That's good news for Leica fans, because the LX7 forms the foundation of the German manufacturer's own Leica D-LUX 6, which itself follows in the footsteps of the LX5-based D-LUX 5. Given that the Panasonic and Leica cameras correspond so closely, it suggests there will have been a similar step forward between the D-LUX 5 and D-LUX 6, offering Leicaphiles better images in a pocket-friendly package.

Of course, if you've already read our Panasonic LX7 preview, a lot of this is going to look pretty familiar! For those of you familiar with that camera, there are several key differences.

Perhaps the most significant of these externally is the D-LUX 6's lack of a handgrip, where the LX7 has a slight grip with leatherette trim piece. The result is a cleaner looking camera, but perhaps one you'll need to grip tighter for fear of dropping it. Leica has also removed the slight taper at the far left and right ends of the top deck, and changed the knurling on the Mode dial from a diamond to a linear pattern. The Mode dial icons differ, but the selection of modes is identical. The zoom ring is slightly larger with a more squared-off protrusion, and all controls except the Shutter button match the camera's body color. On the rear panel a number of buttons are changed from round to square in shape. Also, where Panasonic's four-way pad has only faintly embossed icons, Leica uses clearer screen-printed controls for the pad. And each channel of Leica's microphone grille uses six rectangular holes, rather than the 14 circular holes of Panasonic's grille. The neckstrap eyelets and hot shoe have a gunmetal color, rather than the LX7's silver. Finally, there are of course the Leica badges, front and back.

Another key difference is to be found in the product bundle. Where Panasonic includes PHOTOfunSTUDIO 8.3 PE and SILKYPIX Developer Studio 3.1 SE software, Leica pairs its camera with the much more widely-accepted Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.

Under the skin, it's a little more difficult to spot differences, but it's likely that at the very least, Leica has tuned the tone curve and color balance to provide the look its users demand.

Otherwise, though, the camera largely seem very similar. At the heart of the Leica D-LUX 6 is a ten megapixel 1/1.7" MOS image sensor. Although it has approximately the same resolution as that used in the D-LUX 5, it's actually a newer design that offers quite an improvement in noise levels versus the previous sensor. Total resolution is 12.7 megapixels.

Output from the D-LUX 6's sensor is handled by an updated image processor that, while it doesn't sport Panasonic's Venus Engine branding, is essentially the same as that in the LX7. ISO sensitivity varies from 80 to 6,400 equivalents at full resolution, and can be boosted to 12,800 at reduced resolution. There are also both Auto ISO and Intelligent ISO modes. The latter detects subject movement, and boosts ISO as needed to freeze motion.

The new sensor and image processor combine to allow full-res burst shooting at 11 frames per second, for as many as 12 frames. If tracking autofocus is enabled after the first frame, this falls to five frames per second.

On the front panel is Leica's contribution: a really bright lens with a 3.8x optical zoom range. At the 24mm-equivalent wide-angle, maximum aperture starts from f/1.4 max. aperture at wide angle, and even at telephoto it only falls to f/2.3.

The lens bears LEICA DC VARIO-SUMMILUX branding, and has a rare double-sided aspheric extra-low dispersion lens element. The optical formula includes 11 elements in ten groups, five of them aspheric, and all but one of the aspherics double-sided. A Nano Surface Coating minimizes reflections.

The lens has both an aperture control ring, and an optional neutral density filter controlled with a lever on the camera's rear panel. The lens design also includes an optical image stabilization system, retained from the previous D-LUX 5 model. The Leica D-LUX 6's contrast detection autofocus system offers 23 points, and can also operate in a single-area mode with adjustable point size. Face detection and tracking functions are included, and there's an AF assist lamp to help out in low light.

The Leica D-LUX 6 can accept an external, hotshoe-mounted electronic viewfinder. The model number is the EVF3, but it's essentially the same as the DMW-LVF2 model used with certain Panasonic cameras. It's a field-sequential design with a resolution of 480,000 pixels, which Leica describes as a "resolution of 1.3 megapixels", simply counting each pixel three times to account for the time multiplexing. Coverage is 100%, with 1.4x magnification, and there's an adjustable tilt angle (0 to 90 degrees).  Eyepoint is 17.5mm from the eyepiece lens, and there's a diopter adjustment with a generous -4.0 to +4.0m-1 range.

The D-LUX 6's LCD monitor, meanwhile, is a new design since that of the D-LUX 5. Resolution increases significantly from 460k to 920k dots, with the same three-inch diagonal. The panel has a 3:2 aspect ratio, approximately 100% coverage, and an anti-reflective coating.

On the top deck are both a built-in popup flash, and a flash hot shoe for external strobes. The built-in flash has a range of 8.5 meters using Auto ISO, at wide angle. By telephoto, this falls to 5.2 meters.

The Leica D-LUX 6's exposure modes include Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual, plus two Custom modes. There's also an Auto mode, a Scene position, and a Color mode that tweaks the look of images by automatically adjusting variables such as color, saturation, contrast, brightness, and tone curve.

The D-LUX 6's uses Intelligent Multiple metering by default, and you can also opt for Center-weighted or Spot modes. Exposure compensation is available within a range of +/-3.0EV, in 1/3 EV steps.

The fastest shutter speed for the Leica D-LUX 6 is 1/4,000 second, and the slowest shutter speed is 250 seconds. (Although Leica doesn't state this in its specifications, it seems likely that--as does Panasonic--it limits availability of the slower shutter speed depending on sensitivity. From ISO 2,000 to 3,200, Panasonic doesn't allow longer than 30 seconds, while at ISO 4,000 or above, it limits exposures to just eight seconds.) There are eight white balance modes on offer in the Leica D-LUX 6: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Flash, Incandescent, Manual, and a direct color temperature setting.

To make things simple, Leica has included what it calls Smart Snapshot mode. When enabled, the camera automatically identifies the appropriate scene mode, then selects the shutter speed, aperture, ISO sensitivity, face recognition, and dynamic range adjustment appropriately. The D-LUX 6 also includes a level gauge function to help avoid tilted horizons.

The Leica D-LUX 6's video capabilities have had a pretty radical overhaul since the D-LUX 5. Most significantly, it's now possible to record AVCHD movie clips at up to 60p frame rate at Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) or HD (1,280 x 720) resolution, and that's using 60 frames per second sensor data. You can also opt for MPEG-4 mode at either resolution, as well as at VGA (640 x 480). Audio is recorded with a stereo microphone located in front of the hot shoe, and there's also a wind cut filter.

Connectivity options include USB for data, a composite standard-def output, and a Type-C Mini HDMI output. Images and movies are stored in 70MB of built-in memory or on Secure Digital cards, including both the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types. Power comes from a 3.6 volt, 1,250 mAh lithium ion battery pack, said to be good for 330 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards.

Leica will ship the D-LUX 6 in the US market from November 2012. Pricing hadn't been disclosed at press time.