alan little’s weblog

more on leica digicams

11th March 2004 permanent link

A while ago I wrote about a new Leica/Panasonic digital camera announcement that looked good at first sight, but maybe not quite so great after a bit of consideration. There’s been a lot of interest in this camera. It’s now available in the shops in both Leica and Panasonic-badged versions (Panasonic several hundred dollars cheaper), and there are a couple of preminary reviews on Luminous Landscape - Panasonic version, Leica version.

They’re impressed by the ergonomics - the Panasonic guy says “the LC1 is the best handling camera I have had in terms of ergonomics, weight distribution (balance) and ease of use.” Image quality is apparently excellent. On the other hand, it’s very slow shooting uncompressed image files and the viewfinder isn’t very good. The Leica guy’s conclusion: “It’s not perfect and it is expensive but it’s very well designed, very useable and produces excellent files”

I still have no intention of buying one(*). For a nice-but-flawed camera with some serious limitations, it’s just too expensive. Or, as somebody on the Luminous Landscape discussion board put it a little more harshly:

$1800, useless finder, slow AF, 6 seconds between shots...  oh, but it’s got a badge-engineered Leica lens and it looks a bit like an M6, so its a great camera.

Come on, this is crazy.

In related news, Epson and Cosina have announced a camera with some pretensions to be a real digital Leica - their own exchangeable-lens digital camera that takes Leica lenses, called an R-D1. My first reactions: it’s ugly. Same silly SD cards as the Digilux.  Your wide angle lenses suddenly aren’t any more(**). It will be even more terrifyingly expensive than the Digilux, though that that will not deter hard core Leica fans. On the other hand: although they do have too much of a cult status, some of Leica’s rangefinder lenses are among the best lenses in the world, and all those lovely Leica 50mm lenses suddenly make very nice 75mm (equivalent) portrait lenses.

(*) Personally, I have the new Nikon D70 on pre-order. But I’m still considering whether to get a Fuji S2 instead - a bit more expensive and inferior handling in many ways, but better image quality. Or whether to hold off and not buy anything for another year or two.

(**) As with most current digital SLRs, the sensor size is smaller than a piece of 35mm film. This increases the effective focal length of lenses by about 50% and so does away with one of the prime advantages of rangefinder designs. Rangefinder wide angle lenses can be better designed than SLR wide angle lenses because the back of the lens doesn’t have to be a long way away from the film to make room for a mirror flapping about, and some of Leica’s wide angles have especially stellar reputations. But the widest Leica lenses as far as I know are about 20mm, which on the R-D1 will equate to about a 30mm lens. Just not that wide any more. There are wider rangefinder lenses by other manufacturers - but let’s face it, the main reason people will be willing to pay for this thing is because they already have a big investment in wonderful Leica lenses.

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