A cost-effective compact digital zoom camera from Leica almost seems like a contradiction in terms, but this is exactly what we have with the Leica C-Lux. Basically, this is a reworked Panasonic LUMIX ZS-series with all the Leica trimmings. It includes a 15x zoom lens, 20-megapixel sensor, and even has 4K video recording.
This isn’t the first compact offering from the company, as we have shown before with the Leica Q models. This model is aimed more at the more serious enthusiast who wants all the lovely optics from Leica without the usual exclusive price. Let’s take a closer look at this little compact offering and see how it measures up against the competition.
The version you see here is officially named the ‘Midnight Blue’ version, with the option of light gold if you prefer a little more bling. The body design is clearly dainty, coming in at 113 x 67 x 46mm and a lightweight 340g. A touch of the vintage has been added with a pseudo leather type finish on the front of the camera and a just-about-grabable handgrip. The front of the camera has the usual Leica sparse layout, only showing the AF assist/self timer light.
The zoom mechanics on the Leica C-Lux extend as you would expect from such a compact camera, having a 15x optical zoom, which equates to 24mm-360mm of focal length. A one-inch 20.1MP sensor is larger than expected from such a compact camera, which also features 4K video at 30fps, a three-inch touchscreen, and a reasonable 10fps burst rate. The sensor also has a sensitivity range of ISO 100-12,500 (extendable to ISO 25,600), with Auto and Intelligent Auto options.
The top plate of the camera has just the bare essentials, with the shutter button surrounded by a lever for handling zoom duties. The non-labelled dial is for things like tabbing through menu items and previewing images. There’s also a dedicated video button and a shooting mode dial, which include semi-automatic and manual settings, along with fully auto, color effects, scene mode, panorama, custom, and video modes. The dedicated video button flicks into video mode no matter the other camera settings.
The rear of the Leica C-Lux is more like what you would find from the usual type of compact camera. It has a good deal of buttons, rather than the usual sparse layout. This offers more manual control, but the buttons are small and indented, which aren’t the most convenient for chunky fingers. The three-inch 3:2 ratio touchscreen is plenty large, with a bright and clear display, accompanied by the 2.33 million-dot resolution electronic viewfinder which also has a built-in eye sensor and even a dioptric adjustment wheel for good measure.
Most of the time, you will be shooting using the three-inch touchscreen, with a button to switch on the Live Viewfinder if you want to continually swap between the EVF. A flash button is also conveniently located, which when engaged allows the user to access things like red-eye reduction.
The other rear buttons include a function button for 4K photos in either single or burst mode, with a Post Focus mode for either mode off or mode on. The other function button provides quick access to a variety of camera settings, dependent on the mode you are currently within. A display button calls all on-screen information, a level gauge, or to deactivate the rear screen. The rest of the rear buttons are clearly labelled, with the usual control dial being replaced by individual buttons.
Basically, the Leica C-Lux has just enough external controls without being complicated and instantly springs into life, ready to capture stills or video.
The Leica C-Lux In Use
The addition of the one-inch sensor starts to make all the difference once the light levels drop. Images up to ISO 6400 are relatively noise-free, much cleaner than similar compact cameras. Although ISO levels can go to 25,600, it’s not advisable to go up that high as images get too noisy, but it’s there if you need it. The camera is also a reasonable nighttime operator with a 30-second shutter speed. Noise reduction can also be applied, which makes for some extremely clear night images.
With 49 AF points, the Leica DC Vario-Elmar 8.8–132mm f/3.3–6.4 ASPH lens was quick to snap into focus, with only small amounts of focus hunting once the light levels dropped. Zooming in from the widest to the most telephoto is also quick. Not exactly a sports camera, but definitely quick enough for general use.
As Leica optics are half the reason for buying into the brand, how the lens copes with the usual anomalies still counts in a compact camera. When it comes to chromatic aberration, the lens handles high contrast areas very well, with only a small amount of purple fringing present at the most telephoto end. With a macro focus range of 5cm, the camera can get up close and personal at its widest focal length of 24mm and still capture very detailed images.
The built-in flash has features like red-eye reduction, 1st or 2nd curtain, and exposure compensation. But as with all built-in flashes, it only has a very short range.
The addition of 4K video results in lots of contrast and detail and although there are no advanced features, the basic footage makes plenty use of the one-inch sensor and high-quality optics. However, you will need a large memory card to capture this quality or output via the HDMI port.
For a dainty little camera, images and video produced are very high-quality. It’s not going to replace a full-blown DSLR or mirrorless equivalent with a bunch of prime lenses, but for an all-in-one compact solution, the resultant footage will leave you wanting.
How Does It Compare?
Leica usually stands alone with its camera offerings, but in the compact world there is more on offer. The Panasonic LUMIX ZS200 has equal features to the Leica C-Lux, like a 15x zoom lens with compatible image quality. Just as portable and compact, the ZS200 is an ideal solution as a go anywhere alternative.
On the other hand, there is the Sony RX100 VI. Equally capable with a one-inch sensor and a ZEISS Vario-Sonnar T* lens. It also has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 with Sony’s usual level of build quality. Both these cameras have excellent quality crammed into a very compact size. However, neither have that special extra something which seems to come with all Leica products.
|Leica C-Lux||Panasonic LUMIX ZS200|
As per usual with Leica products, the main gripe is over price. The Leica C-Lux isn’t exactly cheap for a compact camera. But, it has a one-inch sensor which is far better than most compacts, while also factoring in the quality of optics. There is of course the exclusivity of the Leica brand, which in the long run means the camera will hold its price far better than its counterparts.
The images produced by the camera are excellent, especially considering it’s a compact. For its price, you could easily buy a cheap DSLR, but considering the high quality, built-in lens, and all-in-one features, the Leica C-Lux makes for a fantastic solution with great quality.