Monday, April 12, 2021



Leica Digilux 2 with custom grey leather covering

By Heinz Richter

With the introduction of the Leica SL, Leica entered the mirrorless digital camera age with a vengeance. But it is not the first mirrorless digital camera with an electronic viewfinder from Leica.

For that we have to go back over 17 years to 2004, when Leica introduced the Leica Digilux 2.  It pointed solidly into the future, what digital cameras eventually would become.  No mirror to flip up for each picture taken, no complicated view finder relying on that mirror combined with prisms.  Just an electronic viewfinder.

One might argue that the Leica M with its many variants is a mirrorless camera as well,  but most will agree that the true meaning of a mirrorless, digital camera is not only centered on the camera being digital, but digital with an electronic viewfinder.

As such, the Leica Digilux 2 was the first mirrorless camera from Leica.  It was first introduced in February of 2004, over 17 years ago.  As a mirrorless design, the camera featured an electronic viewfinder besides the standard LCD screen in back of the camera.  A great part of the rather good performance of this camera is, of course, the lens.  The Leica DC Vario-Summicron ASPH 7-22.5 mm f/2.0-2.4 lens is a gem, a definite Leica lens.  Because of the relatively small sensor of the Digilux 2, the lens could be designed as a 7 – 22.5 mm lens which corresponds to a full frame equivalent of 28 – 90 mm.  Here is actually an example where a smaller sensor does have some definite advantages.  To have a 28 – 90 mm lens with a full frame sensor at a maximum aperture of f/2 would make that lens gigantic in size and weight and, with the same performance level, extremely expensive.  The sensor has a resolution of 5 megapixels which, by today’s standards, is low.  But the low resolution belies the actual performance of this camera.  Even by today’s standards, the camera is capable of delivering results that easily point to a substantially higher resolution.  This goes to the credit of the amazing Vario Summicron lens.   It can easily be said that the Leica Digilux 2 is by far the best 5 megapixel camera ever to appear on the market. The camera has long since been discontinued, but it still has a large following of people that refuse to give it up.

Besides the outstanding performance, the camera was obviously designed for former manual camera users. Thus it should come as no surprise that the entire layout of the camera is reminiscent of a Leica M camera. The Digilux 2 features a conventional shutter speed dial as well as standard f stop and focusing rings on the lens.  Especially for Leica rangefinder users, the camera is immediately familiar.  Even the feel of the camera is very similar and does not require very much getting used to.

Of course there are a few modern concessions like autofocus, but manual focus ability is maintained.  As a matter of fact, it is possible to activate a magnifying feature which will give a greatly magnified view of the subject matter the moment the manual focusing ring is moved.  It is possible to select this feature either for a rectangulr area in the center of the viewfinder or for the entire viewfinder image.  After focusing, the image quickly returns to its normal magnification for viewing and composing  This greatly facilitates the overall accuracy of manual focusing.

The camera does have a built-in flash which pops up at the press of a button.  But unlike most other cameras, this is a two position flash with the first position being for bounce flash.  Here the flash is pointing upwards in about a 45 degree angle.  A second push of the button will position the flash with the reflector facing forward.  There have been numerous instances where the bounce flash enabled me to get very naturally looking results which in no way revealed that on-camera flash was actually used.  This is a feature that was not to be found anywhere else until the introduction of the Digilux 3.

The ISO range of the camera runs from 100 to 400.  That might seem inadequate by today’s standards, but considering the rather fast f/2 lens, a camera with an f/4 lens would require ISO 1600 to equal the Digilux 2.  With other words, one would have to go to much more recent and more expensive cameras to gain any advantage.

In practice the camera has proven to be a very handy, relatively light camera capable of tackling just about any subject matter.  It is no wonder that the camera still enjoys a rather loyal following.

Full frame image at ISO 100

Left eye cropped from the original above

ISO 100

ISO 100

Vice President Walter Mondale and wife Joan
ISO 100

Burg Braunfels, Germany
ISO 100

Weilburg, Germany
ISO 400

Children's Day Minneapolis Institute of Arts
ISO 400

Minneapolis Institute of Art
ISO 400

I entered the digital age with a Leica Digilux 2 in 2006, a time when I was still very skeptical of digital photography.  But it had become obvious that traditional film photography was quickly losing interest by professional photographers. The idea of not having to buy film and pay for processing has a lot of appeal.  After all, lowering overhead is always a good thing when running a business.

At that time I was doing a lot of architectural photography, mostly with a Rolleiflex SL66.  Could this relatively small digital camera really be considered a replacement for the medium format Rollei?  There was no doubt that the Rolleiflex was a superior camera in the final analysis.  But I also had to consider that many of my clients began to ask for digital files, and I was more and more in need of having the negs from the Rollei scanned to accommodate them.

I shot my first assignment with the Digilux 2 on a cold, Minnesota January day and evening.  It was about 10 degrees and I was wondering of this all electronic piece of equipment was even able to function properly under those conditions.

 ISO 100

Well, it did, not only did it function properly; it rendered results which I had no hesitation to give to my client.  From that day on I did most of my professional work with that camera.  The Rolleiflex has long been sold.  As a matter of fact, I don’t recall when I shot my last roll of film, but I am sure it was shortly after the appearance  of the Leica Digilux 2 as part of my camera outfit.  I still have that camera and yes, I still use it.  It still is a fun and extremely well working camera.

ISO 100

ISO 100

ISO 100

ISO 100

One aspect that drew me to this particular camera was the fact that it operated very much like my Leica M6 at that time.  The layout was very similar, and most of the controls were very much the same.  No need to punch a bunch of buttons and to look at LCD displays to set shutter speeds and apertures, this was all done in a very familiar manner.

Of course there was a bit of a learning curve.  Instead of turning a dial for the film speed, I now had to go into the camera menu to set ISO speed and a number of other, formerly unnecessary things like white balance, for instance.  But this was all done on the display screen in back of the camera. 

I was actually a bit concerned about that screen.  I had seen a lot of such screens that became difficult to use in bright light.  Not so with the Digilux 2.  To my surprise, it functioned every bit as good, even in direct sunlight, as it did in a darkened environment.  To this day, I consider the Digilux 2 screen one of the best I have ever used, better than even the screen on my Leica M240.

Another aspect of the camera that did require some getting used to was the viewfinder.  Even though it looked outwardly very similar to the viewfinder on my Leica M6, it proved to be entirely different.  The viewfinder on the Leica Digilux 2 was one of the first electronic viewfinders ever used.  It has a bit of a lag when used with rapid camera movements and it is difficult to use under very dark lighting conditions.  But I have never felt that I was missing out on shots because of it.  Once used to it, I was able to use it like most any other viewfinder as well.

Unfortunately, the camera does not have a PC outlet.  Instead I use a hot shoe adapter to be able to use the Digilux 2 with studio flash, or I use a wireless trigger in the hot shoe to set off the flash.

So Far I have had no reason to eliminate the Digilux 2 from my list of cameras.  I still use it and I still like to use it.  There definitely is little chance that I will ever get rid of it.  Besides, my wife has been using it for a while now, and she likes it just the same.  I guess that makes it her camera now, but I still borrow it from time to time.

After a while of using the camera, my wife found that the 28 to 90mm range of the lens was somewhat limiting, that at time a bit more of a telephoto and wide angle would be advantageous for her.  Being that the Digilux 2 has a fixed lens, the only option was the addition of an add on tele and wide angle converter.  I found a rather reasonably priced set made by Vivitar.  That has increased the zoom range from approximately 21mm to 135mm.  The wide angle converter has the additional advantage that its rear element group can be removed and used as a relatively powerful close up lens for macro photography. Of course one has to accept a slight drop in performance, but the resulting images are definitely useful and with the extended range there is little left to be desired.

Leicda Digilux 2 with added Tele (left) and Wide Angle (right) converter



Closest focusing distance with Macro Adapter.
Area covered 1 1/2 inch wide
The fall off toward the edges  is due to lack of depth of field for the curved surface

More sample images taken with the Leica Digilux 2:

 Frankfurt, Germany
ISO 100

ISO 100

 ISO 100

At "Josephs Ristorante" Weilburg, Germany
ISO 400

Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis

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