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Leica V-LUX 20 Review Based on The Panasonic ZS-7

by Chris Gampat on 04/27/2010

With the release of Leica’s new V-LUX 20 camera, it has quickly been deduced that it is really just a Panasonic ZS-7. Leica and Panasonic have a close relationship like this, as they have done previously with the LX-3 and the D-LUX 4 (the latter was reviewed here). The V-LUX 20, like the ZS-7 is aimed towards photography enthusiasts that tend to travel often and want to have a compact camera. Though I haven’t had time with the V-LUX 20 yet, one can expect that when reviews come out, they will be very similar to that of the ZS-7. That said, here’s a round-up of my ZS-7 field review postings and findings.

Author’s Note: Please do remember that these findings are based on those done with the ZS-7. I am looking more into this camera. Once again do remember that the inferences are based off of a camera very similar to it.

Hands on with the ZS-7- Getting a feel for the camera.

Night 1- Testing out the GPS feature, high ISO abilities, autofocus and image quality with flash at a get-together in NYC.

Last Day- Just some quick uses around my neighborhood, nothing extremely big that I wasn’t able to find out the previous night.

Ergonomics

As a photographer used to using DSLRs all day long, the camera is a pleasure to hold as it is very light and fits well into your hand. The button layout is very intuitive and also easy to memorize. The front grip is great for the moments where one would like to stop and take a photo in the NYC area as gripping onto it tightly can help to prevent theft when combined with use of the hand strap.

The only things that seem a bit quirky are the wheel dial up top and the zoom/shutter button placement being next to the on/off switch. Otherwise the camera is very straight foward. If you prefer to zoom with your feet the way I do, the zoom button won’t be too much of a problem for you.

Autofocus

In good light, the autofocus is snappy. In bad lighting it still isn’t terrible but can be inaccurate at times. However, these aren’t very often as the autofocus areas are large and pretty smart.

Don’t expect DSLR speed autofocus from these cameras though. One does need to keep in mind that their not as complex.

Image Quality

For a point-and-shoot it isn’t that bad. Images are pretty sharp for a camera of this type. Colors are rendered well. The only thing that I found to be problematic was the fact that I wanted a faster lens on this camera.

High ISOs

They’re not that great, but the high ISO images are not of poor quality either. At ISO 400 you’ll start to see a good amount of noise. If you want a compact camera with good noise performance then you’re better off looking for the Canon S90, Olympus EP-1, EP-2, Panasonic LX-3, Leica D-LUX 4 or the Panasonic GF-1.

Personal recommendation: Panasonic GF-1 and the Olympus EP-2. I’d pick one up but can’t justify the purchase after getting a 7D.

GPS

The GPS feature on this camera is pretty darn accurate. For best results, you should be outside. In playback mode, the GPS data will be displayed for you. Once you upload those photos to your computer, certain programs can organize the images based on GPS locations.

The major flaw to all this is that most people will not realize that it stays on pretty much all the time unless you turn it off through the menu settings. It drains quite a bit of battery as well.

HD Video Mode

Consumers will really like this feature. Image quality is on par with those of most camcorders aimed at consumers these days. For the price, one can get great still image quality and HD video at 720p 30p in a pretty tiny package.

Ease of Use

The camera is really quite easy to use for professionals, techies and enthusiasts. For the technophobes in your family, they will probably be intimidated by all the buttons. These people are best left shooting in auto mode. They’ll get great use out of this camera when doing that as I’ve seen one of my students actually struggle with it after he used his Panasonic LX-2 (the predecessor to both the LX-3 and D-LUX 4) and they really aren’t very much different.

If you’re going away this summer, the V-LUX 20 and ZS-7 are great cameras to accompany those on the recommended cameras for summer travel previously written about on this blog. And if you’re adamant about getting a dedicated camcorder, you should check out these options.

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EDIT: AFTER SPEAKING WITH A LEICA REP, THERE HAVE APPARENTLY BEEN IMPROVEMENTS MADE TO THE CAMERA.

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