Rob van Keulen: The New Leica V-Lux 4 On A Cemetery

Last weekend I was given the opportunity to try out a pre-production sample of the Leica V-Lux 4. The weather wasn’t great, but I managed to capture those very short dry and sunny moments. On Saturday it was grey and rainy, but at the end of the day the sun broke through the clouds for about an hour.

I took the camera and went to the historic Groenesteeg cemetery in Leiden near my house. I have been there before on many occasions, and it is an amazing place with lots of photographic opportunities. Founded in 1813, it has many large old trees and very old and special graves. The mother of Vincent van Gogh is buried here.

I love the fact that the V-Lux 4 has a super 25mm wide-angle lens, and, combined with the flippable LCD, you can get nice shots low from the ground. Normally when you use a wide angle lens, you have to be careful with shots with bright sky or the sun in view, it gives underexposed results. On the V-Lux 4 you get, out of the camera, good results because of the evaluated exposure measurement system and because of the i-Exposure option. I mostly put this to “standard” so it automatically lightens up the shadows. The results are quite impressive as you can see on this image which was shot directly against the sun.

The camera is so light and compact that it is easy to forget that you are actually taken pictures with an amazing 25-600mm F2.8 zoom lens. For a DSLR you would need a a whole range of large and heavy lenses like a 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, 300+ 400mm f/2.8 and a 600mm f/2.8. Also a good sturdy tripod is needed. The Leica V-Lux 4 has a very well-performing build-in image stabilizer which makes it possible to use the entire zoom range without tripod. Walking on the cemetery I took a lot of handheld close-up images of gravestones and statues and later found out I had taken them with 400 and 600mm focal length.

None of them was blurred of camera shake! The bright f/2.8 lens opening makes it possible to take shots with the background nicely out of focus. Because of the small sensor size you need to zoom in strongly and get close to your subject to create a nice bokeh. The statue of an angel is a very decent example.

The Leica V-Lux 4 also has got a super macro mode, which can focus down till a couple of centimeters in the 25mm position. A nice sample is the photo of the water drops on the autumn leaves.

You can also take a macro shot at 600mm from about 1 meter distance, I used it to take the image of the small plant in the pot. Pretty close to the entrance of the cemetery, there is a monumental grain factory. I took several images of that building to test the telephoto abilities of the V-Lux 4. This image does not only illustrate the enormous zoom range, but is also a good example for the excellent image stabilizer and bright f/2.8 aperture, which allowed me to take also this photo without the use of a tripod.

For most of the shots, I have used the electronic viewfinder. It is much sharper and with less lag then in the previous Leica V-Lux 3. The Leica V-Lux 4 has all the options to get a very good out of the camera JPG file. You can use the numerous scene modes or adjust colour, contrast, sharpness and NR according to your individual preferences. I’ve mostly used the camera on A-mode and f/2.8, set the noise reduction to “0″ and let the rest on standard. The I-resolution setting provides an intelligent sharpening of the image and can be very useful to display the images on the internet or your television screen. For more serious work it is often too much sharpening. Personally I always shoot in RAW and edit the files in Lightroom 4, which is included with the Leica V-Lux 4. To my surprise, the RAW files of the V-Lux 4 have great potential to obtain many details in the highlights and overall, vibrant colours and strong shadows. You can use Highlight recovery very well. I also use often the black setting to get an overall more powerful image. After a while with that camera I figured out that using the two Lightroom presets for portrait or landscape work surprisingly well to sharpen the V-Lux 4 files effectively. The screenshot of the settings is from the image of the Angel.

 What I noticed in a very positive way was the very short shutter lag and the fast and accurate autofocus from 25-300mm. In the 600mm position the focus was slower, but this is quite normal for extremely long focal lengths. The short shutter lag made it possible to capture some great action moments, like the black cat which was running around all the time and came close towards me as soon as I tried to take a picture.

There is however one drawback of the huge zoom range of the V-Lux 4 and that is the usability for medium range macro shots. As mentioned before you can get extremely close in the 25mm position, but this is unusable for subjects on a distance of about 10-20 centimeters. The moment you start to use the zoom in the macro position, the minimum distance is extended to 30cm and 1m in the 600mm position. The result was that I could not take nice close-up images of leaves and tree parts. I’d suggest to simply stand further away from the subject and zoom in to get your shots. The great steady shot is a good help here. I managed to take some great detail shots that way.

I liked working with the Leica V-Lux 4 and the mega zoom gives you a very wide range of subjects, which you can take pictures of. Architecture, travel, nature, close-ups and even sports will do quite well, though I haven’t tested it myself (maybe this would be a good approach for another V-Lux 4 review). The camera is very responsive and good for action shots. The build-in stabilizer makes it possible to take sharp and detailed images without a tripod, even in the 600mm position. The creative possibilities are endless and in combination with the supplied Lightroom 4 software also RAW files can be edited. So is this the camera for all purposes? No, although very good, a camera with a huge zoom range like this is still a compromise. The sensor size is small and gives noise at the higher ISO’s above 800 and also the level of detail is less than that of a APS-C camera. I have relatively big hands and it happened every now and then that I pressed a function button with the palm of my hand.. So in handling such a compact body you have to be careful how to hold it, but this will be different for each person. Would I personally buy this camera, probably yes. However, rather as a multi-talented back-up to my full-frame DSLR. Though, especially when traveling with a light package, this camera might be a great choice due to its incredible versatility and overall performance.

You can view more images taken with the Leica V-Lux 4 on my Flickr stream.

- Rob van Keulen

Rob van Keulen is a product specialist for Transcontinenta, a Dutch company and importer of top brands in the field of photography, video, print and interactive educational products. To connect with Rob, visit Facebook, Transcontinenta website and Flickr account.