British weekly photographic magazine Amateur Photographer last month published a retrospective review of the Leica Digilux 2. It has become, AP rightly says, a digital classic. And it isn’t the only classic in the Leica range.
The ground-breaking compact Digilux 2, manufactured in cooperation with Panasonic, was the forerunner of the current D-Lux series. It combined a superb high-performance and fast Summilux lens combined with a then-respectable 5MP 2/3 sensor.
Launched in 2003, it was a milestone camera for Leica, coming as it did some four years before the first M digital, the M8, and six years before the first full-frame Leica digital, the M9.
The Digilux 2 was something of a triumph for Leica in its day. It certainly looked like a Leica and is decidedly more handsome than its Panasonic LC1 sibling. And it is the first Leica digital that deserves the tag of classic.
I’ve been banging on about this for years. I believe that certain Leica cameras, assisted by the brand name perhaps, are candidates for collecting. In 2013 I owned a Digilux 2 for a time, mainly to write this short review. It was already ten years old but still had a faithful following. Foolishly, for no real reason, I sold it on and now wish I hadn’t. But, as a candidate for nurturing as a collectable, the Digilux 2 is top of the list.
Received wisdom has it that no digital camera can be a classic because electronics gradually wear out and there is little repair prospect. While a film camera is largely mechanical and can be repaired, as is the case with almost any Leica film camera from the early 1930s onwards, collectors are wary of the real possibility of ending up with an expensive paperweight when they consider buying an older digital.
The Digilux 2, though, is still loved and I know a couple of owners who keep two, one for spare parts in case the primary camera needs a tweak or two. Old it may be, but nothing can be taken away from that wonderful Summilux lens.
Any old M
There is always a buyer for a used Leica digital, even after 18 years as in the case of the Digilux 2. Any M digital is worth a punt, even the M8 which has the known problem of the so-called coffee staining on the rear screen. You can live with it, although there are no stocks of replacement screens. But it’s still usable and, again, I know owners who swear by this 13-year-old design.
The M8 is unique among M digitals in not being full-frame; instead, it has an APS-H size sensor with a crop factor of 1:1.33. It is thus larger than APS-C but falls short of the 1:1 full-frame size. As a result, the focal length of M lenses is nominally increased by 1.33x. It’s one reason the little 28mm Elmarit enjoyed a new lease of life in 2008 because it stood in for the popular 35mm focal length.
But the arrival of the full-frame M9 in September 2009 set the Leica world alight. For the first time, the classic M rangefinder had been combined with a full-frame sensor. It became the last M to feature a CCD sensor, without live view, and many aficionados still claim that the CCD is the one to go for.
But from the M9 onwards, there is a ready market for the digital rangefinders which have retained their value much better than DSLRs from the same period. Leica Monochroms, in particular, are sought after, from the original 2012 version onwards.
But back to the topic of Leica classics. The Digilux 2 definitely fits the bill. It’s a fun camera to use and, once you get your head around the small sensor and rather rudimentary electronic viewfinder, it is still capable of producing good results. It’s no light monster, of course, with its ISO 400 maximum, but in the right conditions this is still a great little camera. It’s a chunky little beast, though, and the depth will shock anyone used to a modern digital equivalent.
There are other contenders for digital classic. Macfilos has been boring for years on the subject of the X1, Leica’s first real attempt to produce a small, compact camera with a fixed lens of 36mm. It preceded the more successful Fuji X100 series of cameras, but it has timeless appeal and continues to produce images that can stun.
Yet all these desirable Leica models of yesteryear are likely to be eclipsed by the camera of the teens decade, the Q. When introduced in 2015, the Leica Q was seen as a bit of a gamble. Following in the fixed-lens footsteps of the APS-C X1 and X100, it introduced the full-frame sensor but widened the focal length of its only competitor, the Sony RX1, to 28mm. Many people thought that was a widening too far, and condemned the camera out of hand because of this. They didn’t realise, though, that thanks to the smartphone, 28mm was about to become the new go-to focal length.
Much to the surprise of everyone, including Leica I imagine, the Q has turned out to be a blockbuster. It is the most successful digital camera the company has ever produced. With its derivative Q-P, Q2 and Q2M models, the Q brand is now firmly established. I love my Q2 and, although I own a digital M body, I seldom now use it for any focal length under 50mm. The Q is just so handy to pick up and carry for the day. It never fails to impress with the quality of its output.
There is another reason why this camera will become a classic—price. Currently, a new Leica Q costs under £4,400 in the UK. That’s a chunk of dosh, of course, but it is Leica dosh which exists in a parallel universe to other dosh. However, when you compare it with the £12,000 you would need to spend on an M10-R and 28mm Summilux, it begins to make sense.
The Q2 is cheaper than the M lens, never mind the camera. I know you could argue that the 28mm Summilux-M is a better lens. It is. And it is faster, at f/1.4, than the Q2’s f/1.7. But it ought to be, at a price. The fact remains that the Q2’s lens is as much as you probably need; it is a wonderful optic and so versatile, with its easy switch between AF and MF and that truly excellent macro function. It is also marvellously comfortable to focus manually if you wish.
All this serves to create an enduring niche for the Q and Q2. It is a complete, well-rounded package that will stand the test of time. And, because of all these factors, the percentage depreciation will be much less than with almost any other camera on the market. That’s true even if you buy new. But the Q has been on the market now for nearly six years. You can pick up a good used example for under £2,000, perhaps a little more if you want the protection of buying from a reputable dealer.
The Q will hold its value better than other volume-produced Leicas. It will still be around in ten years’ time and is already attracting a cult following. Mark my words. The Q is likely to be the most classic of all Leica digital classics.