Like many filmmakers, I own several cameras, each of which have their own specific purpose. Some are better suited for narrative work, while others are better for run and gun shoots. Some can shoot in low light, while others might perform better in daylight. There’s never going to be one perfect camera that does it all, which is why for professional work most of us need to own or rent different types cameras based on the productions we’re working on.
The current lineup of cameras I own or have access to through partnerships covers the majority of my professional work – from narrative projects to commercials. That said, I still often find myself in scenarios where I simply don’t have the best camera for the job… Most often on smaller scale or guerrilla projects.
Projects and films that need to be shot on the fly, guerrilla style, or with limited time and budget are often the most complicated to get right, at least from a gear perspective. Larger productions typically have bigger crews, more money, and better resources, which means you can shoot on Alexas, REDs, and other full size cinema cameras with relative ease.
What I realized over the last few months, was that the more my arsenal of professional cameras grew, the less I was actually able to just go out and shoot. While it used to be be easy to just pick up a camera and shoot a project any time and anywhere, now every shoot that I have – even a weekend project – can easily get out of hand and become more cumbersome, simply as a result of choosing a camera system that is overkill.
Ultimately for this reason, I started doing some homework on small form-factor cameras with great video functionality. My goal wasn’t to replace any of my cinema cameras, but rather to find a new tool that would better serve smaller productions, specifically those where I am working as a one man band.
While there are tons of options out there that could have potentially worked for my needs, to my own surprise I eventually decided on a Leica point and shoot camera.
LEICA D-LUX (TYP 109)
One of the first things that struck me when searching for a low cost 4K-capable camera was the sheer amount of choices out there today. Between the DSLR, mirrorless, and point and shoot options on the market, there are now countless affordable cameras with 4K internal recording capabilities, and some really impressive video specs.
In order to narrow things down, I really had to identify exactly what it was that I was looking for in the camera, and what purpose that camera was going to serve. There were several important criteria on my list – including 4K video capture, 60p recording, and perhaps most surprisingly, a fixed zoom lens.
You might be thinking – a fixed zoom, really? And I don’t blame you… After all, I spent practically my entire working life getting away from fixed lens camcorders and looking for affordable interchangeable lens camera solutions that would offer a truer cinema experience. But as I said above, every camera has it’s place and in my search for a pocket-sized camera that could do it all, it started to make sense to specifically look at cameras that were completely self sufficient.
When I need to work on a proper narrative shoot, I have access to an abundance of interchangeable lens cinema cameras that will serve that purpose. But when I’m working on something small, whether it’s personal project or even a professional job where I need to keep a very small footprint, having the ability to work on a camera that limits my lens options and opens up the ability to focus strictly on the story, composition, and direction, and less on the technicalities of the camera, is optimal in many ways.
After a lot of searching, I discovered the Leica D-LUX (Typ 109), and picked it up last week.
Here are some of the camera’s specs to help you get an idea of why I chose the camera:
- 12.8MP 4/3″ MOS Sensor
- 3.1x Zoom, f/1.7-2.8 Leica Lens
- 24-75mm (35mm Equivalent)
- 2,764k-Dot Electronic Viewfinder
- 3.0″ 920k-Dot LCD Monitor
- UHD 4K Video at 30p/24p, Full HD at 60p
- Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC
- ISO 25600 and Up to 40 fps Shooting
- Optical Image Stabilization
- Focus Peaking
- CF D Flash and Adobe Lightroom Download
Some of the video features such as internal 4K recording, focus peaking, 60p in HD, etc. certainly helped to initially pique my interest… But what really sold me on the camera was the lens.
Leica of course makes some of the best lenses on the planet, which is why it’s no surprise that the 24-75mm (equivalent) on the D-LUX is so impressive. The lens is extremely crisp, detailed, and has that beautiful three dimensional quality to it that only the best lenses seem to ever offer. There are few (if any) other cameras at this price point that offer such high quality glass, and in the end it really was the lens that helped seal the deal for me.
What’s even more impressive though, is that this little camera uses the same sensor as the Lumix GH4. I used to own a GH4, and as many of you know I’ve shot with it extensively over the last couple of years. While I was always impressed by the quality off of the GH4, I was never a fan of it’s color science. Much like the Sony A7S II, the GH4’s colors never matched up the quality of it’s imaging sensor, in my opinion at least.
With the Leica though, it’s a best of both worlds situation. The D-LUX offers the same sensor as the GH4, but with (what appears to be) better color science, and of course an excellent Leica lens built right in. All of this is offered for less than $1100, which is pretty incredible.
That’s not to say a camera like the GH4 doesn’t offer value over the Leica D-LUX in other ways though. The GH4 has more video features, different picture profiles, better audio capabilities (the D-LUX doesn’t have a headphone jack), and other advantages. Then again, the purpose of the D-LUX isn’t to be a GH4. It’s to give shooters like myself and possibly like you, the ability to capture really great images with a minimal amount of gear and effort.
Interestingly enough, while searching long and hard for some high quality D-LUX footage, I came across this interview on the Leica blog, featuring a New York based filmmaker named Ruslan Pelykh. During the interview, Ruslan talks about his decision to utilize the D-LUX as his primary camera on many fashion/music video shoots, and his rationale is nearly the exact same as mine. After reading this, it really helped crystallize the fact that there is a market for this camera, and for shooters like Ruslan or myself, it serves a very distinct purpose.
Here is one of Ruslan’s recent films, shot on the D-LUX in HD only, with no additional crew or support:
Moving ahead, when I need to shoot a large commercial or narrative film where sync sound is involved, we have a full crew, and all the usual bells and whistles – I’ll shoot on one of my cinema cameras. But if I want to shoot an impromptu music video, short film, b-roll, or just to stay low-profile, this camera is going to be a lifesaver.
I’ve already shot quite a bit of footage on the camera (video samples to come in a future post), and I have been really impressed with the results so far. The 4K files are extremely flexible in post, even despite the camera’s lack of a log picture profile, and the clarity of the images is really quite remarkable.
If any of you are interested in this camera, it’s worth noting that Panasonic virtually makes the exact same camera for $300 less. The Panasonic LX100 shares all of the same internal components as the D-LUX (including the same sensor and lens), and is one of the best bang for your buck cameras out there right now.
While I was tempted to buy the LX100 over the D-LUX, ultimately I decided to go with the Leica for a couple of reasons. First off, I had looked at a lot of photos/videos shot on both cameras, and subjectively, the Leica seemed to have better colors. I’ll need to do some testing down the road to see how accurate this is, but again to my eye, the Leica seemed to render more organic colors which is a big selling point for me.
Also – from a more superficial standpoint, I liked the design of the Leica better. It’s cleaner looking, and the feel of the camera makes me actually want to go out and shoot. Some cameras have an ability to inspire you to work with them, and for me the Leica falls into that category.
For many shooters (myself included), the experience of actually shooting on any given camera is as important as the image quality itself. The way the camera feels in your hands, how it operates, it’s overall aesthetic, and other elements play a factor in your enjoyment while shooting, whether you realize it or not.
So in the end, for all the reasons above I am now a Leica D-LUX owner. It’s the least flashy camera I own, the smallest, and probably the least expensive – but it’s also quickly becoming one of my new favorites.
Once I have a chance to experiment with the camera more, I will post some test footage and sample clips. I might even do a video review on the D-LUX down the line as well, so be sure to check back soon for more updates!