Leica V-LUX 4 Preview
by Mike Tomkins
Posted: September 18, 2012
For quite a few years now, Germany's Leica Camera AG and Japan's Panasonic have had a partnership in the consumer camera market. Leica supplies its know-how regarding the lenses, while Panasonic provides the brains of the camera behind the lens. The cameras appear first under Panasonic's Lumix compact camera brand, and arrive some months later with a Leica badge and some subtle differences.
The Leica V-LUX 4 is the latest example of the tradition, providing much the same feature set as Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ200, but catering to photographers who prefer Leica's tweaks to the design. If you've read our Panasonic FZ200 preview much of this is going to be familiar, so we'll get the differences out of the way at the start.
Perhaps most obviously, there's Leica's badging on the front of the camera body, and on the reverse side of the LCD panel. There are a fair few changes around the camera body itself, as well, though. The front of the popup flash housing has been squared off to accommodate the Leica logo plate, and the slight lip around the autofocus lamp removed. The knurling on the Mode dial has been changed from a diamond-cut to a linear cut. The zoom ring that encircles the shutter button has also been restyled--it's a little wider and the protrusion at the front more angular. It's also been changed to match the camera's body color.
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.
Much--indeed, most--of the camera is essentially identical, however. That includes the mighty Leica DC Vario-Elmarit branded lens on the front deck, one we found mighty impressive when we first looked at Panasonic's camera earlier this year. We've not yet had a chance to look at a production-level version of that camera, but as shown in the reduced-res samples in our FZ200 gallery, the preproduction camera offered stunning sharpness and detail, especially when one considers the focal lengths.
Even more impressively, the lens offers a constant f/2.8 aperture, all the way across the zoom range from a healthy 25mm-equivalent wide angle to a man-that's-close 600mm-equivalent telephoto. The V-LUX 4 and FZ200 aren't the first long-zoom cameras to feature a bright constant-aperture lens like this, but it's certainly been a long time since we've seen one. Nor have any past such lenses offered anywhere near the same zoom range. Seems like that partnership with Leica is a very worthwhile arrangement for Panasonic!
The lens' optical formula is not surprisingly quite complex, with 14 elements in 11 groups, of which there are five aspherics--four of them double-sided. We know from Panasonic's variant that the design also includes three ED lenses, and we presume that Leica's version also retains the nano surface coated element. As you'd expect given the zoom reach, the V-LUX 4 includes an optical image stabilization system. A 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.
Panasonic certainly does its part in the design too, though, providing Leica with a great deal of electronics expertise. The Leica V-LUX 4's 1/2.3-inch, 12.1 megapixel High Sensitivity MOS image sensor is a new design for the camera and its Panasonic twin. Total resolution is 12.8 megapixels, and although it doesn't sport Panasonic's Venus Engine branding, output is handled by the same image processor as in the FZ200. ISO sensitivity varies from 100 to 6,400 equivalents. There's also an Auto ISO mode.
The new sensor and processor combine to allow full-res burst shooting at 12 frames per second, for as many as 12 frames. If tracking autofocus is enabled after the first frame, this falls to 5.5 frames per second.
Befitting its SLR-like form factor, the V-LUX 4 sports a built-in, electronic viewfinder. It has a 100% field of view, and is time-multiplexed to show red, green, and blue sequentially at every pixel location. Resolution is around 437,000 pixels, which Leica describes as a "resolution of 1.3 megapixels", simply counting each pixel three times to account for the time multiplexing.
Beneath the viewfinder window is a three-inch LCD panel with 460,000 dot resolution. The panel has a 3:2 aspect ratio, approximately 100% coverage, and an automatic brightness adjustment.
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 13.5 meters using Auto ISO, and can throttle down for subjects as close as 30 centimeters at wide angle.
The Leica V-LUX 4's exposure modes include Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual, plus two Custom modes. There's also an Intelligent Auto mode, a Scene position, and a Creative Control mode that tweaks the look of images by automatically adjusting variables such as color, saturation, contrast, brightness, and tone curve.
The V-LUX 4's uses multi-segment 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. Shutter speeds for the Leica V-LUX 4 vary from 1/4,000 to 60 seconds in still image mode.
Leica describes a selection of six white balance modes on offer in the V-LUX 4: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, and Manual. The V-LUX 4's creative options include several multi-shot modes, merged automatically in-camera, including high dynamic range, panorama, and 3D photo modes.
The V-LUX 4's video capabilities look impressive, especially given that powerful, bright, stabilized lens. It's 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 capture 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, using Dolby Digital Stereo Creator technology, and there's also a wind cut filter.
Connectivity options include USB for data, a PAL 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 7.2 volt, 1,250 mAh lithium ion battery pack, said to be good for 540 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards.
Leica will ship the V-LUX 4 in the US market from November 2012. Pricing hadn't been disclosed at press time.