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The Leica Digilux 1 – ten years on by Phil Coomes

It is square and boxy, lacking any real beauty and is hardly compact, but the Leica Digilux 1 that hit the shelves ten years ago in 2002 was the start of Leica’s digital conversion. Yes, there was a rebadged Fuji camera prior to this, but this was the first one by Panasonic and the start of a relationship that continues today.

I bought one early on and have to say that at the time it was a revelation. Sure the Nikon D1’s that were my everyday cameras had far more to offer, and the D2X and Canon’s of the time were on a different level, but so was the cost.

The Leica was a compact and as such should be compared to similar cameras of the time. Those early digital cameras suffered from many issues and were very much poor relations to film compacts. Yet the Digilux 1 offered a real alternative and a great way to get instant results and the camera itself was a delight to use.

Why? Well it avoided overcomplicating photography by offering vast numbers of modes and options that are just not required. The Digilux 1 used standard settings, with Manual, Aperture and Shutter priority as well as slightly fiddly to use manual option. Focusing was of the auto variety, a little slow by today’s standards that is for sure, but back then it did pretty well. It also offered a macro option as well as manual focus, again not the swiftest in practice but it could be used for critical work.

The menu’s are easy to navigate and once set rarely need to be changed. Yet its greatest strength was the lack of shutter delay, something all other compacts I used back then suffered from badly. The Digilux was a fast camera to use and proved its worth in a number of situations when the SLR was not available.

Indeed, when shooting using the optical viewfinder as you would a standard M it felt very lively. Of course looking at it today then it is fairly basic in terms of image quality, iso noise and indeed the general speed of operation is sluggish.

Yet mine is still in use, indeed it is the only digital Leica I own, and that simplicity is probably its strongest point. Today you can pick one up for virtually nothing so my advice is to grab one and experience the early days of digital photography once more.

Leica Digilux 1
Sensor: 1/1.8" 4 megapixel CCD sensor
Lens: LEICA DC VARIO-SUMMICRON f/2-2.5/7-21 mm ASPH
Zoom: 3x, 33 - 100 mm (35 mm equiv.)
ISO: Auto, 100, 200, 400
Winder: 3.8 fps max 4 images (FINE) or 8 images (STANDARD)

An original review by DPReview can be seen here