Whereas most tiny cameras have been annihilated by the best camera phones, the Leica C-Lux has two major advantages over its smartphone competitors: it has a bigger sensor (1-inch in size) and delivers 15x optical zoom. Modern features such as optical image stabilization and 4K video, as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, help to justify the C-expensive Lux’s price tag.
However, given that this is a Leica – one of the most prestigious camera manufacturers – the pricing is actually fairly cheap. That is until you realize the C-Lux is nothing more than a re-skinned Panasonic Lumix ZS200/TZ200, which costs up to 30% less than the C-Lux.
- Sensor: 20.1MP 1″ MOS sensor
- Lens: Leica DC Vario-Elmar f/3.3-6.4, 24-360mm equivalent zoom range
- ISO range: ISO 100-25,600
- Max image size: 4,864 x 3,648
- Video: 4K 3840×2160/30p (100 Mbit/s), 1080p, 720p
- Viewfinder: 0.21“ LCD viewfinder, approx. 2,330,000 dots
- Memory card: SD/SDHC/SDXC
- Max burst: 10fps (28 shots RAW, 85 JPEG)
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB 2.0 Micro B
- Size: 113 x 67 x 46mm
- Weight: 340g
The C-standout Lux’s feature is its 20-megapixel, 1-inch sensor. The C-Lux sensor is nearly four times larger than the 1/2.3-inch sensor size in a typical compact camera or the primary camera sensor in many camera phones. In theory, this makes each sensor photosite (pixel) four times more light-sensitive, resulting in considerably improved image quality, with higher detail capture and reduced image noise.
A big sensor can often limit a camera’s optical zoom range, but while the C-Lux lacks the 40x zoom range of certain superzoom compacts, its 15x zoom is more than adequate for most situations. The maximum lens aperture ranges from f/3.3 at the 24mm-equivalent wide-angle setting to f/6.4 at the maximum telephoto reach of 360mm. This maximum aperture range isn’t very impressive, but it’s adequate for a camera of this size. The lens also has optical image stabilisation, which helps to keep both picture and video capture stable, reducing the requirement for a big lens aperture.
Other premium features include 4K video capture, an electronic viewfinder with a huge 2,330k-dot resolution, and a 3-inch 1240k-dot touch screen. The C-10fps Lux’s continuous shooting makes it useful for shooting fast action, and its 370-shot battery life is rather good for this market. Wi-Fi connectivity makes it simple to send photographs from the C-Lux to a smart device using the Leica FOTOS app, and it also allows you to remotely control the camera if you want to conceal it for wildlife shooting.
Build and Handling
If you’re familiar with Leica cameras, you might assume the C-Lux seems like it’s been carved from a single piece of metal and, as a result, will last for decades. This, however, is not a Leica M-series camera. For many years, Leica has worked with Panasonic, basically rebranding Panasonic equipment in order to obtain a foothold in the mid-range camera market.
Though the outer design of the C-Lux differs from that of the Panasonic ZS200 on which it is based, it still feels plasticky in the palm and far more like a normal Panasonic camera than a classic Leica. The top-plate zoom ring on our (admittedly well-used!) test camera had also stiffened. The thick, textured ring surrounding the lens barrel, thankfully, may also be utilized for zooming.
However, if you can get over the Panasonic saga, the C-Lux is a nice enough camera to use. The sculpted front and rubberized rear thumb grip make it feel reasonably solid in the hand, and while the EVF (electronic viewfinder) is relatively small at 0.21″, it is at least clear and color-accurate. Given the C-tiny Lux’s size of 113 x 67 x 46mm, the inclusion of a pop-up flash is also welcome. The latter causes some of the physical buttons to feel small and cramped, but the touch screen is touch-sensitive, minimizing the need to utilize some of the buttons in the daily shooting.
The C-Lux takes a few seconds to extend its lens before it’s ready to shoot, but once it’s up and running, it’s quick to focus and shoot. Autofocus and automatic exposure metering are both accurate and dependable, and photographs look fine when viewed at standard image sizes. However, if you’re used to the eye-popping HDR-like contrast that newer camera phones are capable of, the slightly subdued contrast of photographs captured by the C-Lux may leave you disappointed.
The 1-inch, 20MP camera captures detail well enough, although even a sensor this size won’t guarantee provide considerably better image quality than a phone. While most camera phones have considerably smaller sensors, there is a growing breed of flagship phones with primary image sensors that are approaching the 1-inch threshold in size. As a result, viewing an image shot with the C-Lux at 100% image size may not be as crisp as the ‘1-inch’ hoopla may lead you to believe.
It doesn’t help that the C-3 Lux’s inch screen, while the standard for a camera in this category, pales in comparison to the 5+ inch panels on other camera phones, not only in size but also in brightness and color saturation. When compared to the bold, big-screen sense of shooting with a decent camera phone, it all adds up to a somewhat outmoded shooting experience.
Fortunately, the C-Lux makes a strong case for itself in terms of focal length versatility, as the 15x optical zoom allows you to get close to the action while sacrificing minimal image quality. While some phones can provide up to 10x optical zoom, this is only possible by switching to a lower resolution, smaller sensor camera, therefore image quality suffers when compared to the primary wide-angle camera.
- Relatively large sensor
- Versatile zoom range
- Feature-packed, with 4K video
- Just a re-skin of a (much) cheaper Panasonic
- Image quality barely beats a camera phone
- Screen doesn’t articulate
On paper, the C-Lux appears to have it all: a tiny camera with a big image sensor that promises good image quality, paired with a 15x optical zoom. When you combine excellent video specs with niceties like Wi-Fi and a high-resolution EVF, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
The problem is that you can get all of these benefits from the almost identical Panasonic ZS200/TZ200 for a lot less money. If you absolutely must have the Leica red dot kudos (as well as a gold or midnight blue paint finish), the extra cost may be well worth it. If you’re not concerned with brand snobbery, the Panasonic is the better buy.
If you currently have a modern flagship camera phone or even a mid-range model, the C-Lux may not provide the image quality improvement you may anticipate from a dedicated camera at this price point. The sophisticated, advanced picture processing available in the latest Android phones and iPhones provides their shots more visual punch than images captured with the C-Lux. The C-Lux, on the other hand, remains a capable all-around travel camera, thanks to its wide zoom range.