It was about the size of a deck of cards, a tiny wee thing, and she explained that as she was going to be living out of a backpack for the next twelve months, she couldn’t spare the room or the weight for something a bit bigger. Such as my chunky Olympus OMD EM-1.
Fair enough. Her Sony RX100 is the sort of camera with a cult following, and I looked seriously at getting one for myself. In the end, a few details such as the paucity of controls and the lack of a touchscreen decided me against it.
On the tour in Iran, I paid attention to the cameras of other tourists. Sorry, but you won’t impress me with a big DSLR, no matter how many long white lenses you have slung about you. I’ve tried that, I don’t like carrying so much heavy, bulky, and expensive kit around, nor finding room for it in my carry-on bag.
One chap had a Sony RX100, and I knew he’d do okay.
One lady had a Leica, and that impressed me. Not that I had any Leica experience. I knew that they are superbly designed and made in Germany, the lenses are exquisite, and they cost enough to make my hair stand on end.
They also tend to be quirky and difficult to use. No autofocus, rangefinder style, manual modes, smooth bodies without handgrips, and lenses that cost as much or more than the camera itself.
See that little red dot, you know you’re dealing with someone who put more than a moment’s thought into their last camera purchase. And is interested in making good photographs.
Like a Leica
On investigation, I discovered that she was wielding a Leica D-Lux 6. Not a “proper” German-made Leica, but a rebranded Panasonic Lumic LX-7 (although to be fair, Leica had some design input into the Panasonic model, as well as their clone.)
My research online – yes, even in Iran, there is plentiful internet; just don’t expect Facebook or Youtube – revealed that the small “Panaleica” had an excellent lens, good controls, and generally favourable reviews.
My first Leica
When I returned home, I bought something similar off eBay: the Leica D-Lux 5, the prior model in the range. Lens not quite as nice, one fewer control wheel; the D-Lux 6 has an aperture ring on the lens, the D-Lux 5 assigns it to the rear control wheel or requires fiddling around in the menus.
I put it through a round of testing as an “everyday carry” camera.
First off, this is a camera that slides nicely into a trouser pocket. The lens collapses (though still protrudes a centimetre or so from the body) and the body is usefully compact. Not quite the teeny-weeny pocket performer of the Sony, but still a lot smaller than most serious cameras.
On firing up, if you haven’t removed the lens cap, it prompts you to do so before extending the lens. Nice touch.
There are a couple of mode switches on the lens. One is for focus: auto, manual, and macro. This thing can macro focus down to 1 centimetre from the front lens element! The other switch controls the image aspect ratio, from 1:1 square through 4:3, 3:2, and a panoramic 16:9.
The top deck has a pop-up flash, a “hot shoe”, a standard PASM dial, shutter button with integrated zoom control, an on/off switch and a movie record button. Included with my camera was a tilting electronic viewfinder which clipped onto the hot shoe, making up for the fixed rear screen, which can be hard to see in bright sunlight or odd angles.
The rear of the camera has a control wheel, a four-way arrow and set combo, and four buttons controlling features such as review, AE/AF lock, and the menu.
The rear screen is the low point of the deal. It doesn’t move, it is very low resolution, it has no touch capability, and it is clunky in the extreme. I soon learnt not to trust it for review; it would never show an image as good as the lens had captured. Best to review images at home on a good computer screen.
Connectivity was via cables or slipping the memory chip into a card reader. No wi-fi.
Not quite the thing
A small and handy camera, my little Leica produced some excellent photographs, but gaining full control over that very capable lens proved difficult. Too many functions assigned to the menu screen, and trying to see what the lens was seeing via the fixed low-res screen was very hit and miss.
For a travel cam, the size and weight is good, the lens zoom covers a handy range (from 24mm to 90mm, with digital zoom taking that even further), the lens is fast at ƒ2.0 on the wide end (giving good low-light capability, or shallow depth of field to separate subject from background) and there’s a pop-up flash to help out.
And there’s that undeniable red dot Leica cachet. This is a cool camera.
In the end, I liked the thing, but not enough to keep it. I have something similar but more advanced lined up, and I’ll review that when it arrives.