About two months ago (before I was going to embark on my Michigan to LA road trip), Chris Moore and Shirley DeSilva from the marketing division of Leica lent me a Leica D-Lux 6 to test out on the streets (thanks guys!).
I have always been a huge fan of compact cameras– for their weight, size, and easily portability. I think at the end of the day, I prefer having smaller cameras for street photography– as I generally end up carrying them with me everywhere I go (whereas my bigger cameras of the past tended to stay home and collect dust).
So how is the Leica D-Lux 6 for street photography? Read on to see my thoughts.
For those of you who don’t know the Leica D-Lux series, it a compact camera sold by Leica that shares the same internals as the Panasonic Lumix LX7. The differences is that it has nicer cosmetic touches, comes packaged with Lightroom, and commands a higher sticker price (the Leica is ~800 USD, while the Panasonic is ~330 USD).
The Leica D-Lux 6 has a beautiful design: coated with a black matte finish that feels good on the hands, and feels solid without being too heavy.
On the front of the camera, an interesting feature is that you can actually change the aperture (from 1.4 up to f8). However as I will mention later, I never found myself using this– just shooting in P mode. The dials on the camera are surprisingly solid, tactile, and give you pleasing clicks in-between settings.
Ergonomically, the camera is comfortable to hold, with a thumb grip in the top right of the camera.
Right next to the top-right grip of the camera, there is a jogging dial which you can dial left, right, or even push in (to activate the exposure compensation mode). I found this a great design touch, and used it very often.
You can also adjust the camera from Autofocus, Macro, and Manual focus on the side of the lens on-the-fly. However I rarely found myself changing the focusing settings (I generally kept it on autofocus – which was quick, reliable, and versatile). A few times I found myself changing the focusing to macro mode (when taking photos of what I was eating for breakfast).
The D-Lux 6 also comes with a leather neck-strap, which I didn’t expect myself using so much (I generally prefer wrist-straps for compacts). However I was surprised to see how comfortable it was, and I ended up using it the entire time. I’m not not a leather connoisseur, but the leather felt of great quality– it was soft, hugged my body well, and comfortable around my neck (even when using it for an entire day).
The first thing that I was quite impressed by was the responsiveness of the camera. It turns on quickly, and the autofocus is very fast to lock on, and there is no noticeable shutter delay when taking a photograph (at least of which I could notice).
The LCD screen is nice, bright, and colorful
and found it easy to compose even with bright sunlight. Probably not the best LCD screen I have ever used– but I never found the LCD to distract me from any picture-taking on the streets, and reviewing the images on the screen was accurate to my eyes.
However one thing that I found a bit annoying about the camera was the retracting lens.
The camera is very compact when turned off (could probably slip into a front-pocket). However when you turn it on, the lens extends. I don’t mind this so much, except the fact that if you want to use the lens cap, you have to always put it on and off.
The D-Lux 6 that Leica sent me had a piece of string that held the lens cap to the camera (so it wouldn’t get lost) but I still found having to put the lens cap on and off a bit of an annoyance.
EDIT: Chris Moore from Leica informed me that you can purchase a $14 attachment that solves this issue here.
Considering that the camera has a compact-sized sensor, I was quite impressed with the sharpness, image quality, as well as the colors the camera produced during ideal lighting situations (the day). Not only that, but the lens of the D-Lux 6 is quite possibly the best quality I have seen from a compact camera.
Even during low-light, the high-ISO files looked pretty solid (I found ISO 800 to be the upper limit).
The camera also comes with image-stabilization built into the camera, which I never imagined would be of much help. However after using the camera for over a month, I found myself using it all the time. This allowed me to keep my ISO low at night, shooting at ISO 400, and I was able to get sharp photos hand-held at 1/6th of a second in the dark.
On the streets
I feel one of the best benefits of using the Leica D-Lux 6 when shooting on the streets is how much of a tourist I looked like. It is an unassuming black compact camera– and I had it strapped around my neck like a tourist. The only thing I think would draw attention is the red Leica dot– but only photography nerds would recognize it.
Therefore when I was shooting on the streets, nobody would give me a second look when I was taking photos of them. They simply ignored me, and looked at me like some weird tourist (being Asian helps). It made me feel quite invisible when shooting on the streets.
In terms of settings, I set the camera to “P” mode and Auto-ISO and used autofocus and center-averaged exposure-metering. Surprisingly, the camera was very quick when shooting on the street– and I never lost any photo opportunities because the camera was too slow in terms of focusing or turning on.
I also found myself using the pop-up flash quite a bit– and embracing the close-up/macro abilities it has. I am a big fan of Martin Parr, and one of his favorite works was “Common sense” in which he photographed close-ups of ordinary things, details of people, while utilizing saturated color film to give it a hyper-real look. I found that when shooting with the pop-up flash in “P” mode even of subjects in bright sunlight, I could get a great balance of ambient light and background light.
Another feature I found of the Leica D-Lux 6 to be beneficial is the macro feature.
One of the things I dislike about shooting with my film Leica is the fact that I can only focus up to .7 meters. In many situations, I didn’t have the ability to get closer and frame a bit more creatively because of the limit of focusing distance.
However with the Leica D-Lux 6, this was never a problem. One of the great things about compact sensors is that there is effectively no minimum focusing distance. I could stick my camera as closely to something I wanted to–and still got it into focus. I therefore found myself shooting close-ups of people’s faces, their hands, rings, and other accessories- which was a great joy to use.
Traveling with the D-Lux 6
After using and testing out the D-Lux 6 and trying to incorporate it into my lifestyle, I found it to be ideal as a travel/everyday camera. The camera certainly won’t replace your APS-C or Full-frame camera– but I find it as a great accompaniment.
I found the greatest strengths of the camera to be the size, portability, and versatility.
For example, when I went hiking and camping with my family– I took the D-Lux 6 along and found it awesome how I was able to hike with it for miles around my neck without having any discomfort. Having zoom (something I am not used to having) was ideal for shooting the mountains off in the distance.
It was also great to document my friends and family with. Once again, with the small size I always had it by my side. Even in dim lighting situations of my friends at restaurants, I never had a problem getting the autofocus to lock on– and I captured some lovely memories during my road trip from Michigan to LA.
What I would change for the next edition
I feel there are a few things that would help the next generation of the D-Lux 7 tremendously:
1. A retractable lens cover
I found the biggest annoyance of the Leica D-Lux 6 to be the lens cover– which you had to constantly take off and on when turning on/off the camera.
If it were possible to create a retractable lens cover, then the operation of the camera would be much more streamlined (not having to worry about taking on/taking off lens covers).
EDIT: You can purchase a $14 attachment that fixes this issue here.
2. Larger sensor size
The sensor is solid in the Leica D-Lux 6 for a compact sensor, but now the competition from other camera companies are heating up.
For example, Ricoh has managed to shove in a DSLR-sized APS-C sized-sensor in a compact camera (in a body slightly bigger than the D-Lux 6).
I think that the next generation of the D-Lux 7 should have a larger sensor size to stay competitive.
3. “Snap-focus mode”
For street photography, I think one of the best ways to shoot is to pre-focus your lens to a certain distance (I generally pre-focus to 1.2 meters) and then take photos at a large aperture (around f/8 and smaller).
While there is a manual focusing mode for the D-Lux 6, I think it would be much improved for street photography with a “snap-focus mode” (similar to the Ricoh GRD V).
Pretty much what the snap-focus mode is allows you to quickly and efficiently change your pre-focal distance (without having to turn the camera to manual mode, and then scroll the focusing wheel to get your desired pre focusing distance).
I think the following are the pros of this camera:
- Compact size
- Snappy autofocus and responsiveness
- Great colors and image quality (when shot in good light)
- Solid ergonomics and buttons, and superb build quality
- Great ability to focus in low-light
- Fast lens (f/1.4)
- Built-in image-stabilization
Some of the cons of this camera:
- Lens cap (annoying to put on/take off)
- Smaller image sensor (when compared to Micro 4/3rd or APS-c sensors)
After spending a month with the Leica D-Lux 6 I enjoyed the camera a lot. For my trip from Michigan to LA, I always had it by my side– and was able to document many great memories of myself and Cindy– people we met on the streets, friends, and photos of landmarks. Having the versatility of the zoom was actually quite refreshing (I generally only shoot with primes) and not having to worry about settings (getting great results from “P” mode) also was a relief.
The camera was very comfortable to always have– and the small size and weight always made it easy to have by my side. I don’t think I ever missed any good photo opportunities with the camera. I also found it as an ideal travel camera– especially when hiking, camping, or going off and doing random stuff.
In terms of street photography, while it held up in the streets admirably– I don’t think for the price it is the ideal camera for street photography. I think that the better option (if you want a compact camera) is the Ricoh GRD V
a camera that is only slightly bigger (and has an APS-C sized-sensor). I feel that Leica’s strengths are in its rangefinders (the Leica M and Monochrom) rather than their smaller cameras.
However what the D-Lux 6 does excel at is being a travel camera. If you are going to go on some foreign trip and want a camera that can do everything (shoot in the streets, take snapshots, photos of landmarks and family) it will be ideal for you. It has a great balance of weight, portability, image quality, and having the versatility of a zoom. So if you want to go off to some foreign place without having the burden of lugging around your DSLR, this is an ideal option.
If you want to purchase the Leica D-Lux 6, you can purchase it directly from the Leica Store in Washington DC.
If you also have any further questions about the camera, leave it in the comments below, and I will try my best to answer as many as I can!