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Leica C (Typ 112) Digital Camera with EVF, review by Dale
This review covers my use of the new Leica C Typ 112 ('C-112' hereafter) camera for general-purpose photography, shooting JPEG format images only. Note that a large part of the approximately $700 USD price for this camera is for the Lightroom software included with the purchase (and free to use perpetually), downloadable from the Leica C-112 registration site. The C-112 isn't directly comparable to other premium pocket-size cameras, primarily because of the built-in electronic viewfinder with diopter adjustment, but also due to the combination of features such as Wi-Fi with NFC (Near Field Communication), the 200 mm effective zoom of the Leica Summicron lens in the tiny camera body, the advanced photographer options using the control ring around the lens, and so on.
The C-112 lens has a maximum aperture of f2.0 when the zoom is at minimum, and f5.9 when the lens is at maximum zoom. Some small premium cameras like the Leica D-Lux6 have a brighter (f1.4) lens that maintain much of that brightness through the maximum zoom reach, but the maximum zoom reach in that case is 90 mm while the C-112 goes out to 200 mm (35 mm camera '135' effective focal length). The differences between these and other camera types should be clear enough for prospective customers to determine which camera best suits their needs. It does bear repeating that the C-112 is uniquely small given its quality and features, i.e. about half the size and weight of the D-Lux6. Note: I don't use the electronic viewfinder, but it works well for framing and composition and shows enough detail so you know what is being captured in the image. But if you're focusing manually and want to make sure that the focus is critically sharp, it would be better to use the LCD screen.
Manufacturing of the C-112 is done mainly (or entirely) by Panasonic under a long-time partnership that allows Panasonic to use Leica lens technology (and possibly other technologies), while Leica takes advantage of Panasonic's high-volume manufacturing capacity for small cameras like the C-112. Those cameras that are created jointly by Leica and Panasonic are priced much higher than the typical consumer Panasonic camera, and when comparing not just the internal features but the appearance, build quality, and external controls of these premium pocket cameras, the reason for the price differences is apparent. Note also that the higher price of the C-112 as compared to Panasonic's own version of this camera is due to the inclusion of the Lightroom software with the C-112, which would have to be purchased separately for the Panasonic camera.
I've been posting images from the C-112 camera to my dalethorn website, and there are currently about 20 photos posted there. I think these images will speak for themselves, but bear in mind that these were shot as JPEG's only, so if you're willing to work with the RAW-format images that the C-112 produces when the RAW option is selected on the camera's menu, you can get even better results than I have posted there. It's clear to me that the C-112 is consistent in getting sharp images with good color rendition, and my experience so far says that the C-112 is better in those respects than any previous pocket-sized cameras I've owned, including a few premium-class pocket cameras.
The C-112 has a full complement of manual controls to go with the automatic and enhanced-auto settings that most casual users enjoy. Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual control are on the main selector dial, and everything else is found via the Menu/Set button, the circular selector around the Menu/Set button, or the programmable 'Fn' button. One of the really handy features with the C-112 is the 'Step-Zoom' setting, especially in situations where you need to shoot at one of the discrete focal lengths supported by the camera. The minimum macro focus distance is 3 cm, or slightly more than one inch. Note that the 'Zoom Macro' feature is an electronic (not purely optical) enhancement, and will reduce the image quality proportionate to the extra magnification it provides. The C-112 has a separate video button on the back at the top right, and before those separate buttons became common on digital cameras, important beginning parts of videos could be lost from having to switch the dial to video mode.
C-112 videos are recorded in best format as '1080p', or 1080x1920 pixels per frame with stereo sound. Since the videos are widescreen, composing the video ahead of time on the camera's monitor may not match the actual view captured by the video. In the Setup menu the Video Recording Area setting can be enabled to visually verify the view captured by C-112 videos. Most users who purchase the C-112 will shoot still photos one at a time rather than use burst mode. I prefer to use bursts since many times it increases my chances of getting a perfectly sharp image, especially at the slower shutter speeds in lower light situations. As with most digital cameras the C-112 does not come with a memory card, which is necessary to record photos and video. Although the slower cards might be satisfactory for still photos, a 'Class 6' or 'Class 10' card is better for HD videos, to prevent interruptions while the camera writes the large amounts of video data to the card.
The C-112 comes with a nice small wrist strap, and while that wrist strap works well for most users, it can slip off of the wrist in some situations. Leica makes a larger wrist strap as an optional accessory for the C-112, which I recommend since it doesn't fall off of the wrist easily. The C-112 battery is charged by plugging the camera into a computer USB port, or using the USB AC mains adapter that comes with the camera. Outboard charging of the battery is not provided with the C-112, although outboard chargers are available from third parties. I would urge caution to anyone using such a charger, to make sure it comes with a strong guarantee against damage to the battery or other problems.
I've read complaints about the tripod socket being on the end instead of more centered, but the obvious advantage is that it leaves the battery and memory compartment free so the tripod attachment doesn't have to be detached when there's a need to change the battery. Some camera manufacturers warn about attempting to use a tripod mount with a thread that's longer than the tripod socket is deep. Checking my own tripods, none of their threads exceed 4.5 mm in length, so anything longer than that must be uncommon.
Camera forums are rife with complaints about the price of replacement batteries, and I always recommend carrying at least a second battery so shooting can continue if the first battery runs down. Contrary to what many people suggest - saving money with third-party batteries, I consider the price difference and if it's huge, I need to know why. Before I could even consider a very cheap battery, I would need several independent reviews that affirm the quality of that particular battery as well as the reliability of the manufacturer of that battery. On top of that, I would need to know that if their battery damaged my camera, they would pay to replace my camera promptly. Lithium-ion batteries can be very dangerous. If the price difference were less than my expenses in replacing a defective battery (packaging, shipping, time wasted, loss of battery for a period of time), I would certainly get the camera manufacturer's battery.
Summarizing, the C-112 should be a great camera for a person who wants high image quality, simple design and operation, and isn't greatly concerned about the high-performance features most professional users (i.e. mostly DSLR users) demand for their tasks. Those might include ultra-fast auto-focus and shot-to-shot times, large data buffers to allow for bursts up to dozens of images at a time, ability to deal with fast-moving subjects, and so on.
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Leica T/18-56, D-Lux(109), D-Lux6 (G-Star Raw); Panasonic ZS40.