This is a review that I've been looking forward to writing for quite some time. Back in November 2008 I reviewed what is, in my opinion, the best digital compact camera currently available, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. I gave it a well-deserved 10/10 and Editor's Choice award, and also chose it as my compact camera of the year in our annual awards for that year. I wasn't alone in my admiration for the LX3; it went on to win an impressive array of top awards from many other photography magazines and websites. The reason I bring this up is because today I'm taking a look at the Leica D-Lux 4.
As some of you may know, Panasonic and Leica have a partnership deal whereby Panasonic makes digital cameras for Leica, while Leica provides its legendary optical expertise and prestigious brand name for the lenses. As a result there are several cameras for which there exist both Panasonic and Leica versions which are virtually identical. The C-Lux 3 is essentially an FX35, while the V-Lux 1 shares many features with the FZ28. The D-Lux 4 is the Leica version of the Panasonic LX3, and I was keen to see if there was any significant difference in performance or picture quality between the two cameras.
There are a few differences that are obvious, most significantly the price. The LX3 isn't a cheap camera, and is still selling for around £320 even 18 months after its launch. However that looks positively cheap in comparison to the Leica D-Lux 4 which will set you back anywhere between £510 and £595 depending on where you shop. That's the price of a good mid-range DSLR with a kit lens, so what does the D-Lux 4 offer to justify that sort of price?
Like the LX3 the D-Lux 4 has outstanding build quality and a simple classic design, but here too there are a few minor differences. Leica is one of the oldest names in photography, having invented the 35mm rangefinder camera format in 1923, and unsurprisingly likes to trade on this impressive heritage. Modern Leica film and digital cameras look very similar to their 90-year-old forebears, and the D-Lux 4 also has a distinctly retro look and feel. While the overall body shape is virtually identical to the LX3 there are a few minor differences. The ends of the top panel are flat, rather than rounded off as they are on the LX3, and the D-Lux 4 lacks the comfortable front handgrip of the Panasonic version. The front panel of the camera is flat and plain, so as not to detract from that small but very expensive red logo in the upper left corner.