Leica C-LUX 3

10.1-megapixel compact camera with plenty of style and substance.

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Leica C-LUX 3
  • Leica C-LUX 3
  • Leica C-LUX 3
  • Leica C-LUX 3
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Excellent picture quality, loads of automatic features, HD video recording, eminently stylish

Cons

  • Prohibitive price tag, it's a bit too (s)wanky

Bottom Line

The Leica C-LUX 3 is a deluxe compact camera steeped in style and elegance. Unfortunately, its premium price tag is slightly beyond reason, especially given the existence of Panasonic's similar Lumix DMC-FX38. As such, its appeal will be limited to cashed-up members of the glitterati.

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If your memory harks back to the analog era, you’ll doubtlessly remember a time when cameras were esoteric nerd-boxes bereft of any semblance of style. My, how times have changed. These days, sleek good looks are just as essential as healthy pixel counts, with the ability to turn heads high on every shopper’s wish list. This is something that the Leica C-LUX 3 has in spades.

With its curvy metal casing, prestige branding and high-gloss finish, it can be viewed as the luxury sports car of ultra-compacts — with an over-inflated price tag to match. Fortunately, the camera excels in another area prized by budding photographers; namely, the ability to take great pictures with a minimum of fuss. Sporting a 10.1-megpaixel CCD sensor, proprietary wide-angle lens and 5x optical zoom, its inner workings easily match its impressive exterior. If only it were just a little bit cheaper.

So who is this Leica mob, anyway? Anyone who regularly peruses camera specifications will doubtlessly be familiar with the Leica brand. In addition to manufacturing its own range of compact cameras, the award-winning German company also supplies lenses for other vendors, most notably Panasonic.

Indeed, the Leica C-LUX 3 is essentially a classier re-imagining of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX38. Both models share the same 25mm Leica DC VARIO-ELMARIT lens with 5x optical zoom, 1/2.3in 10.1-megapixel CCD sensor and user-friendly feature set. Unfortunately, this puts the C-LUX 3 in a disadvantageous position — at $1099, it costs nearly a third more than the Lumix model, which offers a very similar performance. What you’re basically paying for is a snazzier appearance and prestige brand name; questionable premiums at best.

With that being said, you can definitely see where the extra money went. As gadget-cum-fashion accessories go the Leica C-LUX 3 is nearly in a class of its own, rivalled only by the obnoxiously gold-plated Motorola MOTORAZR2 V8. With dimensions of 95.8x51.9x22mm and weighing just 126g, it’s also one of the smallest compacts we’ve tested. Needless to say, if you’re looking for a camera that can double as a status symbol, you won’t be disappointed. Our only gripe has to do with the prominent Leica badge on the front of the camera — it looks like a pizzeria logo from the 1950s. This retro styling clashes uncomfortably with the camera’s sleek design, though we freely admit it’s a small and petty quibble akin to complaining about the horse motif on a Porsche.

Thanks to its close ties to the Lumix DMC-FX38, the Leica C-LUX 3 benefits from all the user-friendly features found on Panasonic’s cameras. This includes custom white balance, auto ISO and exposure, face recognition technology, 25 scene modes and the all-encompassing Intelligent Auto mode (here re-branded as Automatic Scene Recognition). The camera also comes with the same Mega O.I.S image stabilisation system, which does an excellent job at keeping pictures shake-free. Another neat feature offered by the Leica C-LUX 3 — and something that its Lumix DMC-FX38 rival lacks — is high-definition video recording. This captures moving pictures in the 16:9 format at a maximum resolution of 720p, making it ideal for playback on widescreen HDTVs.

While the plethora of automatic functions is bound to go down well with casual users, serious photographers may not be so enthused. Other than manual exposure control, the number of hands-on features is pretty thin on the ground. This is especially galling given the unit’s premium price tag, though we doubt their absence will be sorely missed by most users. After all, this is a point-and-shoot model first and foremost; an area in which it excels.

Overall, we were very impressed with the quality of our test shots. Though occasionally on the soft side, images remained well-detailed and relatively crisp: if you’re interested in making large-sized prints of your photos, the Leica C-LUX 3 will be more than up to the task. Chromatic aberration levels were slightly high for a sub-$1000 camera, but they were by no means deal-breaking. Complex high-detail images — such as overlapping tree branches — retained a good level of clarity with minimal digital smearing.

Colour balance, meanwhile, was uniformly rich and excellent, particularly when it came to greens and blues. The camera was also proficient at handling noise. We noticed minimal graininess or speckling in our photos at up to ISO 800, which is pretty impressive for an ultra-compact. Naturally, the wide-angle 25mm lens is particularly adept at taking landscape shots and group photos, making it a good all-rounder.

In summary, the Leica C-LUX 3 would have been a top-notch camera if wasn’t so ridiculously expensive. Simply put, there are cheaper alternatives on the market that will do an equally good job; they just don’t look as pretty while doing it. As it stands, only the wealthiest fashion-junkies need apply.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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