Ever since its announcement, Leica’s new V-Lux 4, the successor of the much loved V-Lux 3, has been turning heads. The super-zoom “SLR-type” compact camera boasts a 25-600mm lens with a constant aperture of f/2.8, an incredibly fast and versatile combination. Earlier this month the V-Lux 4 began shipping in the US, and as soon as we got hold of one, we started putting it to the test.
Highlights of the V-Lux 4 are:
- Newly developed 24x super-zoom lens (25-600mm equivalent) with a constant aperture of f/2.8 throughout the entire zoom range.
- High-resolution integrated electronic viewfinder (EVF) with 1.3 million pixels (as compared to the V-Lux 3’s 202,000 pixels)
- Shutter speed range increased from 30 seconds – 1/2000th second to 60 seconds – 1/4000th
- Additional integrated function buttons for quick customized access to camera controls
- Expanded flash range of 13 meters.
- Panorama shot mode for stitched images
- New battery with 25% longer life.
- Faster start-up time (less than 1 second), faster auto-focus speed, and overall faster performance.
- Now comes with Adobe Lightroom 4.
- Redeveloped 12 megapixel CMOS sensor and new processor.
- High ISO capabilities up to 6400.
Even before powering on the V-Lux 4, you can already see several physical changes in the camera body. Overall, the V-Lux 4 has a much cleaner, more modern appearance compared to its predecessor. The button labels no longer “hover” over the buttons, but rather, are placed neatly inside each button. The zoom lever around the shutter release has been “blacked out.” In addition, several features have been rearranged or modified including the flash lever, speaker and power switch.
Although the V-Lux 4 is cleaner and simpler in design, a few convenient buttons have actually been added over the V-Lux 3. The V-Lux 4 now has three custom function buttons as compared to only one on the V-Lux 3. Additionally, a White Balance button has been incorporated into the thumb pad of the V-Lux 4, making this setting far more accessible. On the V-Lux 3, in order to access the WB you had to fumble through the Quick Menu to find the WB. For someone like me who generally shoots manually and likes to have quick access to all the basic functions such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO and WB, this was a much-appreciated improvement.
If you go to power on the V-Lux 4, you notice immediately the improvement in speed of the camera. When powering on both the V-Lux 3 and V-Lux 4 simultaneously, the V-Lux 4, with less than a second start-up time, drastically outperforms the V-Lux 3. While the V-Lux 3 is still starting up, the V-Lux 4 is already on and focusing on that pitifully cute little puppy you’re trying to photograph. Also improved in speed is the autofocus, which responds in less than a tenth of a second. Even zoomed in, focusing is practically instantaneous.
Aesthetically the V-Lux 4 menu screen is much nicer. The text is cleaner and more professional – less “80’s” looking. Although the text is smaller, it is much easier to read. The all-caps lettering of the V-Lux 3 is a bit garish. Similarly, the quick menu screen of the V-Lux 4 has been modified and is more pleasant to navigate; the drop down menu now extends horizontally rather than vertically.
For those of you who like to take advantage of the on-camera flash, you will be pleased to know that the flash is physically smaller yet more powerful than its predecessor. The flash range has been increased from 9 meters to 13.5 meters. The V-Lux 4 also has a new burst flash mode. You can take up to 5 JPEG images in burst mode with flash. This in convenient for low-light situations in which you want to freeze action. Keep in mind, repeated use of this feature will rapidly drain your battery!
The absolute winning factor of the V-Lux 4 is the redesigned 25-600mm (equivalent) lens, an optical masterpiece. The V-Lux 4’s new lens makes for a much more flexible camera. You can now shoot fully-zoomed in at 600mm without sacrificing exposure and depth of field. The V-Lux 3 only opens up to f/5.2 when fully extended at 600mm, nearly two stops less than the V-Lux 4. This may not be such a big deal if you are shooting in broad daylight and do not need the extra stops for exposure. However, f/2.8 at 600mm gives you less depth of field, creating more separation between your foreground and background. This brings the experience of using the V-Lux 4 closer to true SLR photography than any compact camera before it.
Along with the fast lens, the redeveloped CMOS sensor with high ISO capabilities makes the V-Lux 4 a low-light master. Even at 3200 and 1600 the noise, while it isn’t particularly beautiful, it’s not offensive. At these high ISO’s you can still produce a pretty darn good image both for digital viewing and print.
All in all, I am pleasantly surprised with the V-Lux 4. I’ll be honest, as a professional, I hardly ever shoot with a compact camera and I was reluctant to pick up the V-Lux 4. However, its intuitive interface, incredible zoom and light weight won me over. I have to say, it took a little readjusting to go back to my fixed-lens M9 after being spoiled with such a generous zoom.
Just for fun, here is a video of our company mascot Scottie taken with the V-Lux 4's 240 frames per second high speed video mode.