The D-Lux 4's overall performance is, not too surprisingly, exactly the same as the LX3, which is to say pretty impressive. It starts up in a little over two seconds, and in single-shot mode at maximum JPEG quality mode it has a shot-to-shot time of approximately 1.7 seconds. When shooting in the Raw mode it can maintain a shot-to-shot time of 1.8 seconds, and even in the Raw + Fine JPEG setting it can manage a shot every 2.3 seconds, which is very fast performance by compact camera standards.
The AF system is also just as impressive, extremely fast and accurate with exceptionally good low light performance. It has the same powerful pop-up flash with a useful range of over eight metres. As for the picture quality, I'll let the sample shots speak for themselves. If you go and read my review of the LX3, everything I said about that camera also applies to the D-Lux 4.
So the big question still remains; is there in fact any difference at all between the D-Lux 4 and the LX3 apart from the price and the lack of a handgrip? With both cameras sitting in front of me, and a large number of sample shots taken on each I have to confess I cannot see any difference at all. I have been told that the D-Lux 4 uses a different JPEG processing algorithm, so to test this I carefully shot exactly the same scene on both cameras. I've included these two shots in the sample images for this review, so you can see for yourself if you can detect any difference, but to my eye there's nothing between them. The image files are within a few kilobytes of being the same size, and there is no discernible difference in overall quality. There might possibly be a tiny bit more sharpening in the D-Lux 4 image, but to be honest it's too close to call.
So if the D-Lux 4 is simply a Panasonic LX3 with a different brand name on it, is it worth paying over £200 more just for that little red Leica badge? In truth, for most people the answer is probably no, but there will always be those for whom the heritage and prestige of the Leica name are important factors, and it's difficult to put a price on these insubstantial qualities. What is beyond doubt is that the D-Lux 4 is a superb camera, and more than worthy of the prestigious name that it carries.
There is also another consideration; the Panasonic LX3 is no longer in production. Stocks are selling out fast, and Panasonic has stated that it has no immediate plans to replace it with an LX4. As far as they are concerned the GF1 compact system camera replaces the LX3. The D-Lux 4 is still in production however, and is available in several different finishes with a range of matching accessories, so if you want the best compact camera in the world it will soon be the only choice.
The Leica D-Lux 4 is the ultimate luxury compact camera. It is extremely expensive, and some of that price is paying for the legendary Leica name, but nonetheless is is a superb camera, with a simple but classically beautiful design as well as outstanding build quality, handling, performance and image quality. It may be a Panasonic LX3 in all but name, but for some that name is worth paying for.