Sunday, January 1, 2012

Leica V-Lux 3 Review

Last day of 2011 and I went out shooting armed with just one camera with an assortment of focal lengths. No, I didn't haul out my DSLR and heavy bag of lenses. I was on my motorcycle so for this outing it made more sense to keep it light and simple. A perfect opportunity to try out the latest offering from Leica, the V-Lux 3 which we now have in stock at Camera West.

Back in 2006, Leica introduced the V-Lux 1. It was what we refer to as a bridge camera. Smaller than a DSLR, but larger than a typical point and shoot. It's main feature, a 12X zoom. The perfect camera for photographers who wanted the ability to shoot with a long telephoto, but didn't want to haul around a DSLR and a heavy bag of lenses. In one small camera, you had the ability to zoom from 35mm to 420mm. The camera was a hit and in 2010, Leica introduced the V-Lux 2, adding a longer zoom range, a larger LCD, a CMOS sensor and more megapixels (from 10 to 14.1 MP). Just last month, Leica released the latest in the V-Lux series, the V-Lux 3.

Based on my experience today, it's going to be a very popular camera.

What impresses me most about the V-Lux 3 are two things - the incredible super zoom and the very fast frame rate. A wide zoom range from 25mm to 600mm (35mm equivalent) is packed into a small, light body. Even when zoomed to 600mm, the lens only protrudes another 2 inches. Combine that with a 12 frames per second, full rez frame rate and this camera will satisfy most shooters who are like me and spoiled by DSLRs.

For my outing, I got up early to catch the last sunrise of 2011 and it was a beautiful one. Well worth the 6 am start. For this image, I wanted to zoom in enough to get rid of some power transmission towers off to the right and see just the hilltops and unique clouds. This was shot at 210 mm and an aperture preferred meter setting. (I shot aperture preferred and auto white balance for all the photos for this review, just to see how the camera reacted to the various conditions. - it did well with no issues)

Next I went up into the Altamont Pass area near Livermore, known for it's large collection of windmills. Found this blackbird perched on an old windmill and waited for it to take off. Here, I had the V-Lux 3 zoomed in to only 400 mm as I wanted to make sure I caught the bird and the windmill in the frame. This is where the fast frame rate really helps. It was set to 12 frames per second, so I'd have plenty of frames to choose from when the bird finally took flight. Nice to have those choices. Also, since my subject was stationary, I was able to lock focus so there was no delay when the bird took off. The auto focus on this camera is improved from earlier models, but it is important to remember that this is not a sports shooter's camera. The focus will not keep up when you are in a fast frame rate.

Up at the top of Patterson Pass, looking east towards the San Joaquin Valley, the early morning clouds were still impressive, now showing just a hint of pink. No wind however which was disappointing as it would have been cool to have just a bit of movement in the windmill blades.  It was nice to have such a varied zoom to play around with my composition. 25 to 600 mm - so many choices however I narrowed it down to 140 mm for this view.

Next up, a ride up Mt Diablo where I shot this view as the early morning light was painting the ridge tops along the foothills of the 3,864 foot mountain. 220 mm

Mt Diablo is covered with blue oaks. I find them fascinating with their shapes and colors and love shooting them, especially in backlight.  260 mm

Moss and new growth on an oak. 600 mm at f 5.2 (wide open)  produced a nice bokeh.

Just to show you the incredible zoom range of the Leica V-Lux 3, here are the two extremes - 25 mm and 600 mm. Shot on the summit of Mt Diablo looking east towards the transmission towers on North Peak and the delta beyond.

This camera is the perfect camera for light traveling,  Will it replace my DSLRs? Of course not. It still has a smaller sensor and a slight delay in focus and subject tracking. But, the Leica V-Lux 3 is a camera you can take with you at all times and feel confident in almost any shooting situation you find yourself in.

A Few Specs
  • Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 4.5 - 108 mm f/2.8 - 5.2 ASPH lens.
  • A newly developed 12.1-megapixel CMOS image sensor (down from the V-Lux 2 14.1 mp).
  • Full-HD video in AVCHD format with 1920 × 1080 pixels and 60 full frames per second.
  • An integrated stereo microphone with an electronic wind noise filter.
  • Burst rate of 12 frames per second at full resolution, or 60 frames per second at a resolution of 3.5 MP.
  • 3" articulating LCD display with 460,000 pixel resolution.

The Good and the Bad
  • The design of the V-Lux 3 is nicely thought out with the most often needed functions readily available without having to jump into the menu. If you do need to enter the menu, it is very intuitive to navigate. My only difficulty with the button layout is that I would often inadvertently hit the ISO button by mistake with the base of my thumb. Wish there was a way to lock the buttons to prevent this.
  • The video mode has one very impressive feature. It records 1080P video at 60 frames per second. Most cameras, even video cameras only output 60 fps at the smaller 720p. At this rate however, It records in AVCHD format - great for viewing, not so great for editing although possible with the included Premiere Elements software. (Just a note for those of you who don't know why 60 fps is important. If you enjoy slow motion footage, shooting at a higher frame rate makes for smoother slow motion.)
  • When shooting at one of the high frame rates, focus, exposure and white balance are locked to the first exposure.
  • At 25 mm, you get a fast f2.8 maximum aperture. At 600 mm it is f5.2 - still fast for a 600.
  • ISO range from 100 to 3200. Images shot at 800 to my eye looked good.
  • In macro mode, at the 25 mm setting, you can get as close as 3/8" from the lens.
  • The camera comes with a nice bayonet style lens hood, protecting the front element from unwanted glare or finger prints.
  • The lcd is articulating, allowing you to compose your image easier at times.
  • You can compose with the lcd or switch to the electronic viewfinder.
  • A free copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements is packaged with the camera.

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