By no means a definitive test, but at least a hands-on view of the difference between the
People often ask the question "is there any difference between the DMC LC1 (by Lumix / Panasonic) and the Digilux 2 (by Leica)?" There are many differences, but there is little difference. Let's take a look.
The two obvious differences are that the Panasonic is black. All black. While the Leica has a traditional silver and black finish reminiscent of the legendary Leica rangefinder film cameras. And, of course, the Leica Red Dot.
Looking closer, you'll notice the Panasonic has as ergonomic handgrip built in to the front right side and a subtle difference in the shape of the top of the body. Whereas the Leica goes straight across the top and drops with just a bevel (about .25") , the Panasonic has a bit gentle slope (slightly radiused) to where the shutter and metering controls reside. Both retain the very clever self contained pop-up/bounce flash, although Panasonic has chosen to brand that realestate with a rather garish looking LUMIX logo.
Upon even closer inspection, we see the shutter dial of the Panasonic is a little softer in shape, and the lever side of the meter selector switch is set inward to the body. The Leica's lever slightly protrudes from the front of the body. The "On / Off" switch on the back of the body is consistent with their reversed orientation. Again, the Panasonic's turning inward and the Leica's outward.
Beyond that, the remaining cosmetic differences are limited to lettering and icon markings, and a slight softness to the shape of switches, levers and dials. Almost insignificant.
As far as operation of the cameras, there is absolutely NO DIFFERENCE. With respect to image quality, there is absolutely NO DIFFERENCE. I'm going to repeat that... there is NO DIFFERENCE. The lens is the same, the sensor is the same (Sony) the internals are the same... and in case you missed it the first two times, the image quality is the same.
Where is the difference? It's in the firmware. Specifically, how the firmware handles the JPEG output. To this photographer, that is not about image quality, it is about taste.
If you shoot in RAW, you will not see a difference in either camera's files. If you shoot in JPEG, you will see subtle differences in color and overall "look." Is one better than the other? No. It's a matter of taste. Leica would have us believe their firmware produces a JPEG with a more "film-like" look. Of course they would say that.
Look... for the most part, the effect firmware has on the output of a JPEG is about the same as you processing your RAW file and me processing my RAW file. We're both going to process that image to suit our taste. That is what each manufacturer has done in designing their version of the firmware. They developed their formula to suit what they believe best represents the taste(s) of their respective customers.
For the purpose of this discussion, I took both cameras for a run around the yard. Seriously.... I spent several grueling minutes running around the yard gathering sample images. (If you must know, from the time stamp of the first image to the time stamp on the last... it was exactly 10 minutes.) I made every effort to take the same shot with each camera. Same settings... 100 ISO, Automatic White Balance and Best JPEG Quality. Shooting Shutter Preferred, I let the aperture do it's own thing. The focal length was matched according to each shot. Other than my physical position and the clouds playing slightly with the light, everything was the same.
The results? You didn't really think I'd tell you, did you?
In all honesty, I don't know that I could pick one camera over the other. Both put out beautiful images. And, to be honest, I'm going to tweak the image in post processing anyway.... Leica and Panasonic firmware be damned. I like my taste better... and I'm guessing you like yours better too.
As far as in my hands, the Panasonic wins hands down. It's more comfortable. And, I can't ignore the intelligence behind the layout of the on / off switch and the metering selection switch. It is without question a subtle difference, but a brilliant one none-the-less.
Cosmetically, I like the Leica. I love the retro look... and I'm not embarrassed to say, I'm a sucker for the Red Dot.
In conclusion, if I could find someone who could skillfully and perfectly reproduce a black Leica with Panasonic switches, I'm quite sure I'd part with some coin.
Anyone who owns these cameras will tell you there is something emotional going on with the ownership. And, it directly relates to the quality of images and the work YOU produce. It feels good, it looks good and it's a pleasure to shoot with. In the end, that enjoyment will come through in your photos. Ask anyone that owns one.
I've set up the sample image gallery with the Leica image first and the Panasonic image second. The files starting with an "L" are Leica and with a "P" Panasonic. I purposely did not do any side-by-side comparisons since, as I said, I really think this is about taste, not image quality. Study each image on its own merit and make your decision from there... if, in fact, that's what is important to you.
• Leica / Panasonic Test Gallery
[Note: All camera photos were shot using the Leica Digilux 2 with a Leica ELDPRO-D E69 close up lens.]