Upon being informed of the Leica V-Lux 20's price tag, you'd be forgiven for spluttering: "Nearly £500 for a point-and-shoot compact camera?" But the Leica brand is to cameras what the Bentley brand is to cars, and this is a premium, 12.1-megapixel trophy model with a 12x zoom. A fancy badge doesn't necessarily mean it's any good though.
Like for Leica
As Panasonic and Leica have a co-development deal, it's no real surprise to find that the V-Lux borrows heavily from Panny's Lumix cameras when it comes to looks, feel and handling. Most notably, it resembles the Lumix DMC-TZ10. The V-Lux has a similar 12x optical zoom, offering a respectably broad 25-300mm focal range in 35mm film terms. That means it's as adept at shoehorning in landscapes and group portraits as it is pulling far-away subjects closer. Like the TZ10, it also offers GPS photo tagging.
The zoom can be deployed when shooting 720p videos, as well as stills. A dedicated video-record button will start filming, whichever shooting mode is selected on the shooting dial.
On the shooting dial, there's not one but two 'my scene' modes, which you can customise with your preferred options from a scene mode proper. There's also a further custom setting, program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual shooting options, plus a 'clipboard mode' for those who want quick access to a picture of, say, a map or train timetable. Finally, there's a 'snapshot mode', which is essentially a standard intelligent-auto mode.
The shooting dial itself feels rather loose, but not so loose that you'll accidentally jog from one setting to another while drawing the camera from a pocket or handbag.
The quick and the red
Flick the top-mounted power switch and the camera readies itself for action in just over 2 seconds. The V-Lux feels reassuringly robust when gripped in the palm, courtesy of its mostly metal body and subtly rounded grip, which is fetchingly topped off by a red and silver Leica badge.
The camera weighs a manageable 218g with an SD/SDHC memory card and rechargeable lithium-ion battery inserted. It also boasts pocket- and handbag-friendly dimensions of 103 by 62 by 33mm.
Flip the V-Lux over and you'll see the small and plasticky buttons on its back. The layout is almost identical to what we'd expect to see on a Lumix compact, complete with a quick-menu button on the bottom right. A press of that button calls up a time-saving toolbar of essential shooting settings, including white balance, ISO, picture size and recording quality.
In the absence of an optical viewfinder, V-Lux users will be fully reliant on the 3-inch, 460,000-pixel LCD screen for picture composition and review. It's very capable.
Under the default picture settings, the V-Lux offers the sort of vivid colours you'd expect from a Lumix camera. The problem is that the V-Lux is much more expensive. In fact, its images generally resemble those you'd expect to get from one of the better sub-£300 snappers. It's easier to justify the extra expense in the case of a camera like the Leica X1, because it offers superior image quality, but that's not the case with the V-Lux.
The Leica V-Lux 20 is a responsive, capable and reliable performer. But it's too expensive. If you really care about your photography and want to spend this sort of money, then more fully featured compact cameras, like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 or Nikon Coolpix P7000, would be a better bet.
Edited by Charles Kloet