Leica Digilux 2 comes out of winter hibernation
Having taken my Leica Digilux 2 out of winter hibernation the other day I decided to check the web to see if there was any more comment on this 2004 “compact” digital. I came across Mike’s article on Macfilos from 2013 (see link below).
I was struck by his “forget the specs, this camera is a joy to use" comment and I certainly cannot disagree. Indeed, reverting to my "DE" additional factor (“Delight in Equipment”) for Wayne Gerlach's equation in his recent article, I would say that that factor is very high indeed with the Digilux 2.
It's so tactile, so clear — and is there any other 5MP (yes, five megapixel) camera that produces such crystal clear images? I actually prefer the shooting experience to that of its descendant, the X Vario, although the latter allows more room for cropping, of course. Even so, I've done 50% crops from the Digilux with success for printing to A4.
It’s worth looking again at this camera that, if anything, has become a classic digital. It’s a clunky beast and no mistake, but it is possessed of a lens that is truly one of Leica’s finest achievements. If that lens were not firmly attached to a geriatric digital body it would be in rare demand.
As a combination, however, the excellence of the lens helps overcome the obvious shortcomings of the small 2/3in sensor and the paucity of pixels. However, while 2/3in is small by today’s standards, it was seen as more than adequate in 2004, certainly far larger than the tiny sensors featured in point-and-shoot digitals of the day.
When Mike did his article five years ago there was still a healthy market for the Digilux, almost ten years after its introduction. It was still fetching upwards of £700 in London — for a good example — and there was a steady demand. Inevitably, though, digital bits wear out and it is now difficult to find a replacement sensor should one be needed. It’s a common problem with all digitals.
Pick up an LTM Leica III from 1935 or an M3 from 1955 and a competent technician can fix most things. There are even stocks of spares for these mechanical cameras, way back to pre-war models.
With “ancient” digitals such as the Digilux, there was only so much stock of spare sensors and other electronic gubbins that the factory was able to keep. We’ve seen a similar problem with the later M8, the first rangefinder digital from Leica. While thousands of examples are still going strong, supplies of some spares — notably the rear screen — have dried up and this has dampened demand. The screen of the M8 has a reputation for “coffee staining” and, while it still soldiers on thus blemished, replacements are now virtually impossible to find.
As a result, it is now difficult to find M8s and Digilux 2s in stock at authorised dealers and you may have to look to the private market for a good example.
Unfortunately, this digital obsolescence is something we have to learn to live with. It’s particularly troublesome when it comes to lenses which, in the past, have weathered the decades and are still perfectly usable. I’m thinking in particular of M glass. But all modern autofocus lenses are full of electronics to control the motor, the stabilisers and other functions. Without working electronics, these lenses will become nothing more than paperweights. Meanwhile, an M3 with 50mm Rigid Summicron will soldier on for the next few hundred years in the right hands.
Aware of the sensor difficulties with the Digilux 2, I actually bought a second camera with a Leica-replaced sensor to have in reserve should the worst happen! Absurd, of course, and perhaps especially so since both cameras are going strong, as strong as on the day they were born.
Yet my fascination with the Digilux 2 burns strong. How can this be after all these years in such a fast-moving world of technology? Simply because the DL2 is a remarkable camera which is still a delight to use and which represented a milestone in Leica’s digital compact range. It is virtually the same camera as the Panasonic LC1, which is also still quite popular if you can find one, but it has a clear Leica influence and resembles more a Leica rangefinder than any of the then-current digital cameras of the early century.
With its chunky angular body and bold LEICA branding, the Digilux 2 still looks the part and no one outside our tight circle of aficionados would realise that it isn’t the latest from Wetzlar. Long live the Digilux 2 is all I can say. May its electronics survive just a little bit longer.
All images by John Nicholson with the 2004 Digilux 2
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