alan little’s weblog

oops, maybe i don’t

4th December 2003 permanent link

A few minutes’ fact-checking reveals that Leica’s Digilux 2 announcement may not be as impressive as I thought after all, and teaches me a valuable lesson about not being impressed by press releases.

First, and worst, it uses SD cards for storage. These are the little postage stamp-sized things used in smartphones. Compared to the microdrives used by all serious digital photographers, they’re expensive and pathetically small. The largest SD cards available seem to be 512MB, and they cost over $300. A basic 1 gigabyte microdrive goes for about $150; 2 gigabytes aren’t much more and 4 gigabyte drives are either already out or will be soon.

It may be that SD cards have some great compensating technical advantage – let’s assume for the sake of argument that Leica’s engineers aren’t completely stupid. Perhaps they are much faster, or have much lower power consumption, or something. I don’t know. It certainly seems a reasonable bet that the mass market for smartphones will improve their price/capacity rapidly.


The people who are going to appreciate the benefits of speed and handling in a digicam are serious photographers, many of whom already have or are considering digital SLRs. And this Leica starts to look like a seriously expensive second camera if you also have to buy a whole second set of non-standard storage cards. Unless the Leica’s speed and image quality are really, stunningly better than the competition – which seems unlikely – SD cards could be a fatal mistake.

Sensor size. Not as exciting as I thought. The so-called 2/3” sensor size that Leica are using gives about 50% more area per pixel, for the same pixel count, than the standard digicam sensor size. But Leica aren’t the only people using this size, and it’s still only about a fifth of the area per pixel of a typical 6 megapixel SLR. Useful tutorials on digital camera sensor sizes by Bob Atkins on, and, for some reason, on this Bangladeshi website (scroll down).

Leica digicams are, I now know, actually manufactured by Panasonic. Which means that this one’s cast magnesium body will probably be well made, but no better than lots of other also-magnesium-bodied cameras from Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc. etc.

The Leica M Series is the Porsche 911 of cameras, but Leica’s other efforts have always been a decidedly mixed bunch. Michael Reichmann of Luminous Landscape, who is a Leica M Series fan and has probably also used and/or tested more high end digital cameras than anybody else, says of the Digilux 2:

… it could well be an attractive digicam. A digital M series Leica it's not though, regardless of the cosmetics.

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