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Hands on: Leica V-LUX 20

Upon a recent visit to the offices of Leica’s PR company in NYC, I was able to play with the Leica V-LUX 20 for a little while. Not long ago, a small review was completed based upon the Panasonic ZS-7, the camera that it is based off of. However, it also warned readers that at the time of writing it, I had not actually seen the V-LUX 20. So without further adieu, here is the preview.

Handling

The camera handles exactly like the Panasonic ZS-7. Further, all of the button are also in the exact same places. It is compact, feels like the D-LUX 4 a bit, gives you the feeling that it will serve you well when you need it. It is extremely pocketable. The back has a large 3 inch LCD screen. I was happy to see the Exposure button return as it is very helpful when users want to manipulate their settings in the more manual shooting modes. Still though, I would have preferred dials.

What is really nice is the little grip on the front to help with the ergonomics. It almost (but not quite) feels like a miniature Micro Four Thirds camera if they put a fixed lens on it.

Image Quality

Due to the fact that an SD card was not on hand, I was not able to receive any images from the camera.

Features

I questioned the rep about whether or not Panasonic’s Intelligent Zoom and Resolution features were present, and she needed to get back to me. You can read more about those features here. In a nutshell though, the Intelligent Zoom feature uses the intelligent resolution feature to give the cameras a bit of a boost in zoom without loosing image quality through digital means. It’s essentially a special type of digital zoom. I’ve seen prints with Intelligent Zoom and for the consumer market, and I approve of this feature for that segment.

This all works because of what Intelligent Resolution can do and how it works. In digital zoom, one usually sees lots of jagged lines and lots of detail missing. Somehow or another, the processing fixes this all. When seeing it, I thought that perhaps it will just add image noise to get the areas more detailed. However, this isn’t what it does at all.

It digitally corrects almost any error that you may find. It’s really quite fascinating and for consumer uses I’ll take it. I’m not too confident yet about it for professional uses, but it seems to be very similar to content awareness boosting in Photoshop.

Menu

My Blind Photographers group will love the menus for the reasons that the text is big and that users of the camera will not have to squint much at the screen either. The menu system seems to be leaner than Panasonic’s. The rep is getting back to me about how much leaner it is and why Leica took this approach.

Focusing

This camera focuses exactly like the Panasonic version. 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.

Of course, don’t expect anything as fast as the class-leading Panasonic GF-1 either.

Edit: The Leica Reps have gotten back to me. Here are my questions and their answers-

1. Does the GPS tagging also occur when the camera is off and the GPS mode is on in the menu? This was the case with the Panasonic ZS-7. No

2. The menu system looks a lot leaner than Panasonic’s, why did the Leica engineers choose to go the route they did with it? Today, many products offer countless features. Leica Camera focuses first and foremost on the needs of the user. The company’s focus during mechanical and optical development of mechanics and lenses has been on providing truly relevant functions. It is Leica’s philosophy to focus on essentials.

3. Are Panasonic’s Intelligent Zoom and Intelligent Resolution features present in the camera as well? While those specific feature names are exclusive to Panasonic, the V-LUX 20 has equivalent features. The V-LUX 20 offers LEICA’s DC-VARIO-ELMAR 4.1–49.2 mm f/3.3–4.9 ASPH. zoom lens and a 12.1 megapixel resolution. The V LUX 20’s differentiating factor is its Leica firmware, which ensures an image quality superior to that of other similar cameras.

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