Leica D-Lux 3 vs Canon G9

Leica D-Lux 3
Canon G9 L
it comes to point-and-shoot (P&S) cameras offering manual control and able to provide access to the RAW files, the field is a rather limited one. Two of the most promising are the Leica D-Lux 3 (essentially the same as the Panasonic LX2 with the addition of a red dot and some pretty trivial software tweaks) and the Canon G9. As a number of people have asked about comparisons between the D-Lux 3 and the G9, I thought I should provide some initial impressions having recently obtained a G9 to go with the D-Lux 3.

They are both excellent cameras and well made. Each has distinct advantages and each has distinct disadvantages. They also both suffer from the same limitations inherent with a small sensor.

That being said they will suit photographers differently depending upon their intended purpose. I should state at the outset that this is not meant as a review nor does it in any way pretend to provide a test of the respective cameras' abilities. These are just my observations, nothing more, nothing less.

To begin with the D-Lux 3, I really like this camera but have two major gripes. The lack of an optical viewfinder (OVF) means that in bright sunlight (I shoot mainly outdoors) I often find myself unable to see the subject on the LCD screen and simply pointing and hoping. The G9 is much better in this regard for my purposes: not only does it have an OVF (not the best - but certainly useable at a pinch) it also has a hotshoe allowing attachment of a Voigtlander viewfinder or similar. The other concern I have is that the Venus III engine smears fine detail (even on raw files, even with noise reduction [NR] set to low) in its attempt to deal with noise. This is most apparent in adjacent fine details like hair - see 100% crop below (ISO 100, f3.5, 1/40). The example is from a portrait that to all intents and purposes is otherwise fine. This is something that many reviewers have noted and why Leica/Panasonic did not give the user the option of switching all NR off is beyond me!

The G9 by comparison is, in my opinion, much better for the likes of portraits. At ISO 80 the detail captured is on a par with a DSLR, with the likes of hair rendered naturally and not smeared. I have not taken many images at ISOs higher than 80, but my impression is that by ISO 200, the advantage that the G9 enjoys over the D-Lux 3 with respect to detail is gone.

The archilles heel of the G9 is dynamic range (DR). It has a tendency to clip highlights (as does the D-Lux 3), so one has to be very careful with exposure. I am still getting to know the G9 but I have -2/3 stop exposure compensation routinely dialled in. Note: I also use the D-Lux 3 at -2/3 and that has substantially improved output from that camera too. I think it is just something we have to accept about the small sensor sizes of these cameras that DR will be reduced. Nevertheless, in situations where there is not too much variation in the lighting of the scene and if the ISO is kept at 80, the G9 is capable of taking portraits that are very close to those of a DLSR. I also find that skin tones are GENERALLY rendered more naturally by the Canon than the Leica. There has been much said about the change in the quality of the Canon lens from the G6 to the G7 and G9 (the G7 and G9 have the same lens), but I have to say that I find the lens on the G9 to be surprizingly sharp and I have no complaints in that department.

So to sum up this bit, I would recommend the G9 for someone wanting a P&S camera that can deliver very high quality portraits at low ISOs.

When it comes to landscapes, the D-Lux 3 really does have an advantage in that it goes to 28 mm (the G9 is widest at 35 mm) and has that lovely 16:9 format - which suits many landscape subjects. Auto white balance (AWB) on both cameras seems very good, but in my experience is more reliable on the D-Lux 3. The Leica lens on the D-Lux 3 is excellent and gross details in images are very sharp: by gross details I mean things like rocks, fences, cars etc. In fact I'd go so far as to say that when the D-Lux 3 is zoomed in to the equivalent 35 mm focal length, its 10 megapixels resolve as much detail as the 12 coming from the G9. But here's the sad contradiction: when it comes to fine details such as foliage and grasses, the Venus engine of the D-Lux 3 once again smears them in a misguided attempt to cope wth noise and it does this even at ISO 100 and even in raw files. For me, whether to use the G9 or D-Lux 3 for landscapes is a toss up and neither is ideal: the G9 doesn't go as wide as I would like in many instances (although you can adjust your photography to suit) and the image quality (IQ) of the D-Lux 3 is compromised for very large prints or where needing to display at anything near 100%. Throw in the limited DR and neither camera is really a substitute for a DSLR.

I recently went on a very exhausting four-day hike and opted to take the D-Lux 3 to save weight. It was a decision that I later regretted as I would have been much better served by taking a DSLR like the Leica Digilux 3. For backpacking where weight is an issue but IQ is too, I suspect that the best compromise is an Olympus 410.

So to sum up to here: I'd recommend the G9 for portraits and probably the D-Lux 3, because of its unique perspective, for landscapes. Although, all this comes with the rider that both cameras produce best results when used at low ISOs. Of course, both are just tools and in the right hands both are capable of extraordinary images – and for average print sizes and web-based display either the D-Lux 3 or G9 are certainly capable of doing the job.

For me, I primarily use the cameras as work tools: documenting things and places in situations where I cannot take a DSLR or cannot be bothered taking a DSLR. In those instances I am usually after accuracy not fine art. Resolution is important. Detail is important. The G9 also has a couple of trumps up its sleeve that assist me here: the macro facility on the G9 is simply amazing (the D-Lux 3 does not even come close in this regard), and it has a voice record mode that is readily useable as a voice recorder to make notes. I haven't used the hotshoe for flash photography yet, but I anticipate that there will also be situations where this will prove an advantage too.

So to sum up finally: while I like both cameras and appreciate their individual strengths, the G9 is proving to be more suitable for MY needs and I find myself reaching for it most often.