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Monday, January 22, 2007

Hot New D-SLRs

How seven recently introduced models stack up

Leica Digilux 3Leica Digilux 3
With the Digilux 3, Leica joins Olympus and Panasonic as manufacturers of Four Thirds System digital SLRs. Actually, Leica has been producing compact digital cameras for quite a while, along with a digital back for its 35mm SLR film cameras, and has even introduced a digital version of its famed M-series rangefinder cameras (the new M8), so it's not too surprising to see a D-SLR come from the legendary German camera maker.

Sharing basic specs with Panasonic's DMC-L1 introduced earlier in 2006, the Digilux 3 looks like a Leica rangefinder model, but is actually a D-SLR with an eye-level porro-mirror TTL viewfinder as well as a 2.5-inch, 207,000-pixel LCD monitor that can display the image live before shooting. While live-view monitors are found on virtually all compact digital cameras, among D-SLRs, only the Digilux 3, Olympus E-330 and Panasonic DMC-L1 provide the feature. It's a plus to be able to check the image, white balance, exposure comp and even histograms before capture!

The 7.5-megapixel (7.9-megapixel gross) LiveMOS sensor produces images 3136 pixels wide. You can choose among three aspect ratios: 4:3 (3136 x 2352 pixels), 3:2 (3136 x 2080) and 16:9 (3136 x 1760). Images can be stored on SD, SDHC or MMC media as JPEG or RAW files.

Like all Four Thirds System D-SLRs, the Digilux 3 will accept all Four Thirds System lenses. These are currently offered by Olympus and Sigma, ranging from a 7-14mm ƒ/4 Olympus super-wide-angle zoom to a Sigma 300-800mm ƒ/5.6 super-telephoto. Leica offers the D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm ƒ/2.8-3.5 ASPH zoom lens, which incorporates a MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer to reduce camera shake in handheld shooting; both the Digilux 3 and the Panasonic DMC-L1 are sold as kits with this lens. Taking into account the Four Thirds System's 2x focal-length factor, users of these cameras have access to 35mm-equivalent focal lengths of 14mm to 1600mm. Like the other current Four Thirds System D-SLRs, the Digilux 3 has a built-in anti-dust system that uses ultrasonic vibrations to shake dust off the image sensor each time the camera is switched on. Other Digilux 3 features include convenient analog controls (a shutter-speed dial and focusing, zooming and aperture rings on the lens), superb build and a great warranty. Estimated Street Price: $2,499. Contact: Leica, (800) 222-0118, www.leica-camera.com.


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