You never forget your first time, a rather infamous liquor ad from long ago once suggested, and much the same could be said, in a far more positive sense, for using a Leica V-Lux 2, the recently launched digital camera from the famed German maker. In the photography world, Leica carries the kind of cachet that, well, Porsche carries in automobiles: high quality, tons of good features and superb performance.
The $849 V-Lux 2 lives up to these standards — and then some. In a compact and lightweight package, you get a camera that delivers 14.1-megapixel images that can be printed easily at the size of a sheet of legal paper or perhaps even larger under certain conditions. It will shoot those images quite rapidly, and its 24-times optical zoom allows its Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 4.5 - 108 mm f/2.8 - 5.2 ASPH lens to offer an enormous range of focal lengths equivalent to 25 to 600 mm in a 35-mm format.
Translated into English: You can do a whole lot with this camera.
I found that out the other day in a range of situations. Going to an outdoors site in Emmitsburg, Md., which features a range of statuary, monuments, flowers and trees, I was able to zoom in to the top of one high-mounted statue from ground level, achieving a close-up I never could have accomplished with my Nikon D-40X and large zoom lens. (To be fair, the Nikon's lens wouldn't equal 600 mm in focal length.) Shooting on the ground, I got "in" on some flowers and other small objects. Turning back to higher objects, I was able to quickly get a nice shot of a very tall tree.
The subject matter isn't as important, perhaps, as the ability to shoot things other camera lenses might not get. Yes, I suppose I could use one of my more traditional cameras and then process the image in Photoshop or some such to "zoom in" more, but surely it has to be better to be able to fill the image "frame" with as much of the desired close-up as possible. This is something the V-Lux 2 allows me to do, and with spectacular ease. Settings are, or should I say can be, automatic. They also can be handled manually for the more technically creative photographer.
At this stage of my photography, I prefer letting the camera do the work for me. In testing the V-Lux 2 on the "automatic" setting, I got very good to superb results every time. Taking a shot of the more finicky and flighty of our cats, the camera got its subject quickly and in a rather charming pose, thanks to the one-fifteenth-second shutter speed and f/3.8 aperture setting.
More than enough data were in the photo to allow Apple's iPhoto software to let me retouch the picture to remove some reflected light from the cat's eyes. Result: a portrait I believe is worthy of a professional studio, without the hassles of, well, herding a cat to go there.
I generally appreciated the 3-inch LCD display, which can fold out from the camera and be positioned to allow for shooting from a variety of angles. I wish it were easier to switch between the digital viewfinder and LCD display — there's a button to press, true, but the response sometimes seemed a tad sluggish. The built-in flash, by contrast, responded quickly and easily.
Time did not permit a testing of the V-Lux 2's much-advertised capability of shooting video in "1080i-AVCHD Full HD," a format that Leica says requires a special version of Adobe's Photoshop Elements to best edit and export. But digital SLRs shooting HD of some stripe is a coming trend, so I'll take Leica at their word for now.
All told, the V-Lux 2 offers a lot of power for the money — other, tonier Leica models cost double and triple this camera's price — and those who value both quality in photography and the cachet of the Leica name are not likely to be disappointed. More information is available online at http://bit.ly/enHGTD.
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