Leica announced a new pocket camera at the end of May, the V-Lux 30. I got in touch with them immediately and got what I believe is one of the first V-Lux 30s to reach the hands of a journalist. The V-Lux 30 is the latest compact camera from the Leica / Panasonic partnership, which pairs Leica optical expertise with Panasonic’s consumer electronics design and manufacturing power. The V-Lux 30 is essentially a rebadged and restyled Panasonic Lumix ZS10 pocket superzoom – a 14-megapixel camera with a 16x zoom lens, touchscreen LCD display, built-in GPS and 1920×1080 full HD video. The specs and features of both cameras are virtually the same but the Leica costs $750 and the Panasonic costs $399, begging the question – why pay $350 more for a camera that is essentially the same? … Or is it?
To justify the V-Lux 30′s higher price, Leica offers a two-year, comprehensive warranty, better software and most important – they use their own firmware and image processing. I already had a Panasonic ZS10 for testing so I was really psyched that Leica was able to get the V-Lux 30 to me so I could make studio tests with both cameras and do a back-to-back image quality comparison.
As far as features and functionality goes, the V-Lux 30 is pretty much the same as the Panasonic. Leica has tweaked the menu a bit and classed the camera body up as well. But for all intents and purposes, they’re the same camera. Check out my hands-on Leica D-Lux 30 intro video below for a look at some of the key features and specs. You can also read my Panasonic Lumix ZS10 announcement article for complete details on the features of both cameras.
The features and zoom are super cool but we’re really here to find out if the Leica V-Lux 30′s image quality is better than the Panasonic’s. Specifically, does it justify the V-Lux 30′s $750 price tag? I’ll just cut straight to the chase here – the answer is no. And I am disappointed. A few years ago, when I compared the Leica D-Lux 3 to the Panasonic Lumix LX2, I found there was an obvious difference in JPEG image quality and I was hoping to find the same thing with the V-Lux 30. However, after shooting a full set of studio tests (ISO 100 to 1600 at maximum resolution and minimum compression) with both cameras and looking very closely at all the images, I don’t see what I consider a significant difference in image quality. There are some slight exposure and zoom differences in my tests and I can even see some color and sharpness differences. But I don’t believe they’re enough to affect image quality for anything other than pixel peeping. Both cameras produce the soft, watercolory image quality I’ve come to expect from Panasonic compact cameras. I also compared file sizes to see if the compression was different but the file sizes were nearly the same. To be fair, Leica never said the V-Lux 30′s image quality was better. All they said was they use their own firmware and they mentioned that their blues and greens were more natural. To check the color claim I shot back-to-back landscape photos with both cameras (below). The two images look pretty much the same to me.
|Above: Landscape sample photos taken with the Leica V-Lux 30 (left) and the Panasonic Lumix ZS10. There is a slight difference in exposure but other than that, they appear the same to me.|
This is a huge bummer because I wanted the V-Lux 30 to be worth the extra money. I want a Leica that fits in my pocket and is worthy of the iconic dot logo. Alas, this is not that camera. True, the Leica has a sleeker, more handsome look than the Panasonic and it comes with a much better warranty and about $200 worth of truly useful software. But if I’m gonna pay more, I want a better camera. I am a big fan of the pocket superzoom camera class and the features of the Leica V-Lux 30 / Panasonic ZS10 are excellent! I love the 16x 24-384mm zoom, the speed and the manual exposure controls. Even the touchscreen display and built-in GPS are pretty cool. But the image quality just isn’t quite there – and especially not for the $350 premium Leica is asking.
I understand why Leica has a partnership with Panasonic and I have no doubt they’ll sell plenty of V-Lux 30 cameras. Photographers who do pony up for the V-Lux 30 will have a pocket camera with a seriously great set of features and the camera is beautiful. But I am thinking it’s about time for Leica to build a Leica pocket camera. I would have been willing to pay $750 for the V-Lux 30 if the performance justified it. I have no doubt that Leica is capable of making an awesome pocket digital camera. Does anyone else remember the Leica Minilux 35mm point-and-shoot? But sadly, I’m going to have to rule against the Leica V-Lux 30. As much as I wanted it to be the one, it really does seem to be just a Panasonic with a red dot on the front.
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