Every year, Leica and Panasonic collaborate on a few camera models that get branded under each company's name. If you can't tell them apart, just look at the price tags. Leica generally throws in about £60 worth of perks -- usually better software and an SD memory card -- then charges about £200 more for the bundle. In the case of the Leica D-Lux 3, the perks over its twin, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2, are Adobe Photoshop Elements 4 and a 64MB SD memory card (you can get the latest version, Photoshop Elements 5, plus a 64MB card for about £80).
Like the DMC-LX2, the D-Lux 3 comes in both black and silver and is packed with amateur-oriented features, including raw file support, a variety of focus modes, all of the essential metering and semi-manual exposure options, a wide-angle lens and an overstuffed information display.
At 215g, the metal-clad, sturdily built Leica D-Lux 3 is no pocket lightweight, however it will fit more comfortably in your jacket pocket than the smallest digital SLR. The camera's interface is reasonably well-designed. There are a few settings which we'd prefer on the outside rather than in the menus -- white balance, ISO sensitivity, metering and autofocus (AF) mode spring to mind -- but most shooting options can be accessed from the well-laid-out array of buttons, dials and switches.
You will want to skim through the manual settings, though, or you'll encounter some mystifying options. For instance, there are five different AF modes: nine-area, three-area high speed, one-area high speed, one-area and spot. They're pretty hard to figure out from the icons if you don't know they exist. Thanks to the bright, large, 71mm (2.8-inch) wide-aspect LCD, though, they're pretty easy to read. But no matter how good an LCD is, we still miss having an optical viewfinder.
The D-Lux 3 uses a 10-megapixel sensor with a native 16:9 (widescreen) aspect ratio, rather than the 4:3 aspect ratio more commonly used in compact cameras. To produce photos with a 4:3 or 3:2 aspect ratio, the D-Lux 3 camera simply uses the centre of the sensor. When you take a 16:9 image, you get all of the sensor's 10 megapixels. If you tell the camera to crop off the sides and give you a 4:3 image, the resolution is reduced to 7 megapixels.
Unfortunately, these are extremely small pixels, which equal extremely high noise. From a measurement standpoint, the D-Lux 3 fares much better than the DMC-LX2 at all ISO speeds, with the gap widening as ISO sensitivity increases. That, however, seems to be caused by Leica's more-aggressive filtering, which reduces sharpness. The good news is that they print better than they look on-screen, though you'd be well advised to avoid serious crops.
In all other respects, the D-Lux 3's photos are quite decent. The white balance is slightly cool, though exposure, dynamic range and colour saturation are about the same. There are few optical artefacts -- we saw less fringing and lens distortion at the wide end of the 28mm-to-112mm-equivalent, 4x zoom lens. Movies don't quite measure up, though. They're full of compression artefacts, and you can't zoom while you're shooting.
Unsurprisingly, the D-Lux 3 performs similarly to the DMC-LX2, always taking a fraction of a second longer than we could spare when photographing animals and children. A 0.7-second lag in typical lighting is just a fraction too slow, and 1.7 seconds in dim light is not as good as its twin. It takes 2.3 seconds between shots under the best conditions, and the flash recycling adds little overhead -- a mere 0.4 seconds. Raw shooting takes a relatively slow 5.2 seconds between shots. And though the continuous-shooting speed is a decent 1.3fps to 1.5fps, it can take only a few shots before stopping to process.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
||Typical shot-to-shot time||
||Time to first shot||
||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
||Typical continuous-shooting speed|
Additional editing by Kate Macefield