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Site last updated:  Sun, 12 Dec 2010

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Four-Thirds Digital Leica(s)

If you can't make chips to fit your lens,
then make lenses to fit your chips…

Leica Digilux 3 (2006)

In February 2006, Olympus welcomed Leica to the "Four Thirds System Standard". The occasion was the announcement of the 4:3 Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm lens for the Panasonic DMC-L1 DSLR.

Nine months later Leica released its own 4:3 camera, the Digilux 3.

Digilux 3 Features

The D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm is available separately for use with other 4:3 cameras, but only after the Digilux 3 and DMC-L1 shipped.

Leica Digilux 3 links

Lumix DMC-L1 Links

General 4:3 Links

Why bother?

The 4:3 sensor has a diagonal length of 22.3mm, making it roughly one quarter the size of a full-frame 35mm and resulting in greater noise at higher ISOs. Furthermore, there are big questions about the format's future viability, especially following the release of affordable APS-sized chip DSLRs like the EOS 400-D or Nikon D300, or the full-frame-at-a-realistic-price Canon EOS-5D.

Nevertheless, in Feb 2006 Nels Olvin provided the following rationale:

I can see the appeal here. There's a need for a compact and relatively quiet operation camera that is portable and relatively lightweight but produces excellent results, better than most P&S digicams, and at the same time, allows for some control of DOF. This camera with one killer "walk-around" image stabilized zoom glass may just be the ticket, if in terms of size and weight [and lower price! - AZN] it proves to be a significant advantage over a DSLR + zoom combo such as 5D + 24-105L IS.

Digilux 3 / DMC-L1 difference?

2004's Leica Digilux 2 was based on the Panasonic Lumix LC1. Since both were basically the same, (granted the Digilux was better finished and had custom firmware), what is the difference between DMC-L1 and Digilux 3?…

Again, not much. Nicer external finish, better firmware, Leica badge. That's about it. Quoting from Terry Sullivan's Sept 2006 Extremetech overview:

When asked about the differences between the Leicas and the Panasonics, the Leica product manager said that physically they were identical, but that the firmware on the Leicas is more sophisticated. Also, the included software, which includes Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0, is more robust and the Leica warranty is longer.

Leica 4:3 lenses

According to the "4:3 lens model roadmap" (see link below), the following Leica 4:3 lenses are due to be released:

Aside from the above, nothing more is known about price, performance or availability. Expect more information in Q1 2007.

4:3 lens links

Leica R lens + Olympus EVOLT body

Introducing the "Leicympus"

Why not? The combination appears to work well. For example the 10 MP Olympus E-510 EVOLT DSLR has pretty good specs and is cheap — mount a 50mm Summicron-R and you get a portrait shooter with killer smoothness and bokeh :?)

Leicympus mount adapters

Leicympus usage notes

Leicympus URLs

A Return to Normalcy

You wish to avoid the bulk and conspicuousness of the zoom(s) and instead shoot with a compact 50mm equivalent. Due to the 1.94x cropping factor, you will have to use 24mm lenses to get a comparable field of view. In which case, which are your best options?…

Leica D Summilux 25mm ƒ1.4
Announced during Photokina 2006. Leica / Panasonic co-design, made in Japan. $US 800 (street)! Due to the 4:3 lens-mount, it has full support for AF and AE. Supposedly part of Leica's "4:3 lens road-map", the few who have managed to buy one report it is spectacularly good. PopPhoto USA did a review of the lens in Oct 2007 and likewise gave it a positive review, although they also balked at the price.
Olympus Zuiko Digital "Pancake" 25mm ƒ2.8
Very nice lens this. Originally bundled in 2008 with the 4:3 Olympus E-420 body, the ZD 25mm is also (supposedly) available separately. Yes the max aperture is two stops too slow, but it is sharp, super compact and has very nice bokeh. The price? Currently uncertain — B&H quotes $US 700 for the E-420 + 25mm kit while the Mushroom & Gadgets blog says £190 for the lens itself. Meanwhile for sample images taken with the "pancake-25", see Four Thirds User.
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM AF
Choke, cough, gag, splutter… right? Maybe not. It is almost half the price of the Leica-D 25mm and, aside from some barrel distortion, is not too awful. It has been around since 2005 in Nikon and EOS mounts, and in 2006 it was also made available for 4:3.
Nikkor 24mm ƒ2.8 AI
A famous full-frame lens in the Nikon lineup. Choose the older "AI" version rather than the more recent (and therefore popular) "AIS" — both share identical optical designs, but the AI has a longer focus travel, making it easier to fine-adjust. Both use easy-available 52mm filters and hoods. Some may argue whether the Leica or Zeiss 24's are "better", but it is safe to say there isn't much difference. Certainly not enough to justify a 4-5x price differential: eg. KEH "bargain" grade is currently $US 100 for the Nikkor 24mm versus $US 530 for the 24mm Elmarit-R or $420 for the 25mm Distagon!
Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/25 ZF
Announced prior to Photokina 2006, the 2.8/25 is the latest addition to the Zeiss ZF (Nikon F Mount) lens line. The Photozone.de review is enthusiastic, so it definitely looks "interesting" (if perhaps a little bulky and €700 Euro expensive).
Leica Elmarit-R 24mm ƒ2.8
Adapted from a 1974 Minolta design, the Leica 24mm R (#11221/11331) is not in the same league as the 2nd version R19mm (#11258/11329) or latest R28mm (#11259/11333), and certainly nowhere near the performance of the current 24mm M ASPH! That aside, it is on par with other high-end manual full-frame SLR wides, with arguably better construction, half-stop aperture clicks and focusing smoothness. On the down-side however, it uses Series 8 filters and requires a special made-for-the-R24 hood. Second-hand prices can be steep as well.
Contax Zeiss 25mm ƒ2.8 T* Distagon
Ditto the Leica R24mm remarks. Beautiful lens and well made, but its performance doesn't reach that of the more famous (and huge!) 21mm Distagon T*. It doesn't massively out-shine cheaper manual 24mm alternatives either…

 

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