Leica V-Lux Typ 114 review: one-size-fits-all?

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I. Intro

Start a Google search on the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 and you will find several sites calling it the Swiss Army knife of cameras – which, I must say, is a pretty accurate description, and this is coming from a real world user: I bought the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 back in 2015 and so I decided to write this post to share my experience using this camera.

The Leica V-Lux Typ 114 is indeed a Swiss Army knife type of camera. However, if anything, you should call it a Swiss Army knife with a Japanese accent because, in case you are unaware, this Leica camera is actually a rebadged Panasonic FZ 1000.

So why did I buy this camera?

Let’s say I’ve always had a feeling towards bridge cameras that you can literally take everywhere and use in almost all kinds of different shooting scenarios due to their versatility. This versatility is fundamentally its decent image quality combined with a lens which typically zooms from very wide to very long focal lengths.

As so the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 is a solid travel camera, for trips where you anticipate a variety of shooting scenarios, but you are not into carrying a backpack full of lenses and camera gear because you want to travel light.

Or, in other occasions, this is the camera that you will take with you when you are not sure which camera you should take with you. If, like me, you own several cameras and lenses, I trust you face this problem quite often.

There was the option of getting a Sony RX10, which is a highly praised bridge camera and spec wise even beats the Leica V-Lux Typ 114. On top of this, the Sony provides an aperture ring, which is a very important feature for me. But I ended up getting the Leica for a very simple (and foolish…) reason: the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 looks better.

Now before I proceed, let’s enjoy some camera porn.

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This camera looks cool. It’s not extremely bulky or on steroids like a DSLR, but it looks solid due to its prominent lens and the clean lines of the camera body. It’s obviously not elegant like a Fujifilm XT series camera or any other rangefinder-esque mirrorless camera. Let’s say it looks business.

When you hold it you will actually realize it’s lighter than one would expect. This is because the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 body is made of plastic, so it doesn’t feel high-end when you hold it. Even worst when you start pressing the buttons: think hard plastic in terms of tactile feedback.

So it is what it is: the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 feels plastic and plastically light, at 830 grams to be precise.

While the plastic feeling is not really a positive thing, on the other hand the camera is light for what it packs and for me this is important because, for several years now, when I buy camera gear, size and weight are important factors apart from performance and image quality. At the end of the day, it all comes down to a compromise between these main factors, and in the case of the Leica V-Lux Typ 114, you need to approach this camera as an advanced point & shoot. Don’t expect more than this.

So let’s be very clear: this is not a camera for the ultimate image quality. The Leica V-Lux Typ 114 is essentially a point & shoot camera with special features that will enhance your shooting experience.

You need to understand this first, otherwise you will never get to comprehend this camera and appreciate its qualities.

II. So what are the main features?

I’m listing below what I see as the main features of the Leica V-Lux Typ 114.

Lens. It’s pretty competent and very flexible: a 25 – 400mm zoom with a variable f/2.8-4.0 aperture. Obviously it’s not the best in terms of sharpness, but it allows you to deal with all kinds of situations. You can use the 25mm wide end for landscape or narrow/confined spaces. You can zoom to 50mm for a normal perspective. Play within the 80 – 150mm range for portraits. And then all the way up to 400mm, you can get close to whatever you want to zoom in to.

Viewfinder. I always prefer to shoot with a viewfinder as opposed to using the back screen. The Leica V-Lux Typ 114’s electronic viewfinder is not the best available, but still good enough for a shooting experience. It’s got 0.7x magnification and 2.3 million pixels. Colour reproduction and refresh rates are good.

Sensor. It’s a 1 inch CMOS sensor packing 20 megapixels. Is it a stellar performer? Obviously not, because it’s still a small sensor. But you are not supposed to compare it to medium format, full frame, APS-C or Micro 4/3 size sensor. Different league. As stated above, this camera is a point & shoot. So for a point & shoot, the sensor is good.

Video. I’m not a video guy and I don’t know much about video. So what I can say is that the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 shoots 4K and it’s quite handy when you are travelling and all of a sudden you just want to film this boxing kangaroo playing with your child. This is how I use the video for and it’s good, it’s handy and you can take advantage of its massive zoom lens.

Image Stabilization. This camera is equipped with optical IS, which is an excellent feature when you are dealing with long focal lengths. Don’t ask me how many axis IS it’s got. I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know is it works well for both stills and video.

Grip. It’s large and very comfortable, hence it makes the camera feel lighter than it really is because it feels well balanced with such a good, rubberized grip. You can hold it firmly and be sure not to drop it to the floor.

Flip-screen rear LCD. You get an old school rotate-and-flip-every-direction LCD. I hate how it looks but I admit it’s very useful and practical.

Autofocus & Drive Modes. I’m highlighting both together because this camera provides manual knobs to change both settings. They are both quickly and easily accessible and for me this is a plus. If you have kids then you will know why you need to change AF and Drive Mode frequently. Kids never stay still so sometimes you need to switch to Continuous AF with Face Detection and Continuous Drive mode. The Leica V-Lux Typ 114 can shoot at a crazy 12 fps.

These, for me, are the main features that differentiate the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 from other point & shoot cameras.

II. How I use it

Most of the time I shoot the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 in full auto mode. It’s got a variable aperture lens (f2.8 – 4.0) so I won’t use it in aperture priority as I usually do with other cameras when coupled with a fixed focal lens.

I’m not a fan of variable aperture lenses because you set the aperture then all of a sudden it changes as the aperture you selected is no longer available at a certain focal length. It sucks. Unless you use it as an f/4.0 lens. Anyway, this is too much trouble so I set the camera in P mode full auto and that’s it.

RAW & JPEG

You can shoot RAW with the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 but this is a point & shoot, so why bother?.. With this camera I shoot JPEG only and that’s the attitude.

White Balance

I have it set to Auto White Balance, but it’s not very accurate though, especially in outdoors. Sometimes I have to set manually to suit sunny or cloudy weather, otherwise the colours appear washed out with a blue cast. Indoors, and sometimes even with mixed lighting, it’s quite accurate.

ISO

I have it in auto as well and I set the maximum limit to 800. I’ve read in some reviews people set it to 1600 or higher up. I’ve done my own tests and yes, sometimes it produces clean images even at 3200. But sometimes it does produce horrible noise as well. So 800 it’s an acceptable limit for me and frankly it’s good enough for what I use this camera for.

Zoom control

There is the typical zoom lever surrounding the shutter release button. As an alternative you can use the control ring in the lens, which is obviously a “by wire” mechanism, i.e. you are not turning the lens mechanically.

I actually use both: I have the zoom lever set to move from wide to tele in “step zoom”, then simultaneously I use the control ring for fine tuning the focal length. In case you don’t know what “step zoom” is, it’s actually a very useful feature that stops the lens at specific focal lengths. From wide to tele, these are the steps: 25, 28, 35, 50, 70, 90, 135, 160, 200, 250, 300, 400.

Which means that it allows you to quickly go from wide to a tele focal length simply by pressing the zoom lever a few times. Say you go from 35mm to 135mm: just touch the zoom lever four times. This is quick, easy and convenient.

Other controls

What’s worth mentioning is that the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 has many buttons so you seldom need to dive into the menu. Which is a plus, especially if like me you have several cameras and every time you go to the menu you get lost… So with the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 you don’t have to worry about this because you have several customizable buttons.

One of my favourites is the Rec button for video, it’s right behind the shutter release button and I like how the button looks with its red circle. This button is very handy when all of a sudden there is something happening and you need to start video recording.

Then, as already mentioned above, I need to highlight the Drive Mode switch on the left hand top of the body which allows you to change from single to continuous drive mode, bracketing, timer, etc. Quick access is always welcome.

Similarly, there is the Focus mode button in the back of the body, so I can change it easily. It seems like an irrelevant detail, but it’s not: one thing I hate in my Fujifilm and Sony cameras is that the focus mode switch is at the front of the body and totally NOT user friendly.

I’m not going to describe all the buttons, probably you will find detail descriptions in other websites. Anyway, if you look carefully at the photos of the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 above you can easily see all the buttons and guess what you can do with them.

III. The lens: from 25mm to 400mm

In case you are not sure what it means to be carrying a 16x zoom lens with such variable focal length and what exactly you can do with it, just check below:

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400mm

In case you missed it, I used the focal lengths of the step zoom. So this is exactly what you get across this lens’ focal length which is crazy. Just compare the first photo (25mm) to the last one (400mm) !

These are all JPEGs coming straight out of the camera, shot handheld with no tripod and compressed for web viewing. You can get full resolution in the thumbnails below if you want full resolution and EXIF data to assess the quality.

While I’m sure one could further improve the final results in post processing, I guess you are not supposed to expect stellar results coming out of it anyway because the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 is a small sensor camera. I’ll further analyze this in the III. Image Quality section below.

Oh, one thing: in the photos above the air pollution certainly didn’t help. So can’t really blame the camera for the blurry and soft images, especially on the long end of the lens.

While the weather was good – clear sunny days are rare in Macau now – the air was full of suspended particles so visibility was affected. It’s becoming a normal scenario in this part of the world, unfortunately. You actually get the best visibility after a heavy rain fall as it settles all the dust in the air. Sounds stupid but it’s a fact.

Back to the lens. Below another example, now with a subject which is closer and thus unaffected by the air pollution:

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400mm

It’s impressive and quite fun to get so close without having to move your feet. Now if you care to zoom the file to 100%, this is actually what the camera sensor captured:

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You can see the perforations of the steel plates which is pretty amazing. While image quality is debatable and, again, not comparable to what you get with larger size sensor cameras, this is very good for such a small package.

When you have this kind of magnification power on hand, it actually allows you to take photos you wouldn’t be able to take under normal circumstances. What I mean is, you will probably not invest on a 400mm lens, whether it’s fixed focal or a zoom that goes that far, unless you are very serious about a specific type of photography that requires it. Lenses with such long reach don’t come up cheap.

But if you own the Leica V-Lux Typ 114, you can actually experience what it means using a lens that goes all the way to 400mm, never mind if it’s not prime or razor sharp.

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See how close you can get? Both photos were taken at the Macau Grand Prix from the famous Lisboa Bend stand. I’m not an official Grand Prix photographer nor a die hard fan who would invest on a prime 400mm lens to get these shots, but once a year I take my Leica V-Lux Typ 114 to the Macau Grand Prix and have some fun shooting race cars and bikes.

If motor racing is not your cup of tea, you can check the animals below as well. All possible taking full advantage of the 400mm long end of this zoom lens.

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III. Image Quality

The image quality is usable for what it is. This may sound underwhelming, however you need to understand the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 is not a pro level camera. Remember, this is a small sensor camera. It’s not even Micro 4/3, so you have to see it from this angle and accept that the results are actually pretty good.

If you compare it with other larger sensor cameras though – and my eyes are used to the quality of the Leica M-E, Fujifilm X series, Sony RX1R II and the likes – then you will say the images lack character, are flat and digitally uninspiring.

Images look sharp at first, but look carefully and you will realize what you are getting is digital sharpness, as opposed to optical sharpness.

If you are into pixel peeping, zoom to 100% and you will see there is actually some sharpness, but no micro contrast. But then again, this is no prime zoom and you are not supposed to compare it to other prime lenses coupled with larger sensor cameras.

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Pixel peeping? This is what you get zooming in at full resolution.

Under certain conditions the colours are vivid, but usually I find them to be dull. On the other hand, there is no richness. The colour gradations are everything but smooth or subtle and sometimes there is too much saturation and density. Not sure how to describe it, you can look at the photos I’m providing and take your own conclusions.

So every time I look at photos from this camera, I just feel they are… meh. There is no punch, no wow factor.

What you get is what you get, and the reality is that you are not to expect or demand more from a bridge camera like the Leica V-Lux Typ 114. Hence I say the image quality of this camera is usable for what it is.

IV. As a travel camera

This is what makes sense to me and the reason I keep this camera. I’m very much a family man and lucky enough to be able to afford short trips with my kids and wife quite often. Several times a year we take a short break and travel to destinations in Southeast Asia just a few hours from our hometown Macau.

These are not “cultural trips”, i.e. not the kind of trip where you walk around a city to experience its atmosphere, visit museums and landmarks, getting to know the history, the cultural intricacies and this kind of stuff. Nope.

We mostly spend our time at the resort, enjoying the pool, the beach, play with the kids and recharge our batteries. We may get a day tour to visit something, yes, probably some kind of family oriented tourist attraction, like a theme park, go to the zoo and play with animals, or something nature related.

So the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 is my perfect camera for these family trips. The photos I take are just casual shots to record the event and save the moment for posterity, probably to look back with nostalgia one day when my kids are grown up. Not meant to be keepers to produce a large print to hang on a wall or whatever.

In other words, casual family trip photos that most people would take with their smartphones.

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If you look at it from this perspective, it all starts to make sense. You are still travelling light but instead of an iPhone or a regular point & shoot, you are carrying a camera with  a very useful zoom and 4K video with decent image quality.

Plus, you don’t need to be too worried with damaging the camera. I mean, it’s still a nice piece of equipment and not utterly cheap, but it’s not an expensive Leica M or any other system camera with a prime lens that will have you concerned if you leave it at the pool side when you are running around playing with your kids.

So for me this camera is perfect to record my family trips.

As an alternative, and just a thought… You can travel with a prime camera AND the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 as a back-up.

This is actually what I’m thinking for a trip I’m planning now where I will probably require a bit more on the image quality side. I’ll take a small mirrorless camera, say my Sony RX1R II as my main camera so I get the image quality I want, then I can use the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 for sporadic situations when I need a different focal length.

Just like carrying a system camera with a main prime lens and several zooms, but instead of the several zooms I take this bridge camera to cover my needs. At least I won’t have to deal with the trouble of changing lenses on the run, which is something I used to do in the past but I hate doing now.

V. How does it rate as of 2019?

Obviously the question is: does this camera still make sense now in 2019, five years after it was launched? That’s a fair question because, in the mean time, Panasonic had already launched an updated version of this camera – the Lumix FZ 2500 – and Sony did the same with its RX10 IV. I’m sure these updated products are technically superior to the Leica V-Lux Typ 114, at least on the spec side.

Interestingly, Leica decided not to update its V-Lux lineup so as of today there is no Leica re-branded Lumix FZ 2500. In fact, just recently they launched a “Leica V-Lux Explorer Kit”, which comprises the same Leica V-Lux Typ 114 sold together with an explorer type canvas bag and a nicely designed camera strap in red colour. It all comes inside a special box set. You can check in detail here, in case you are interested.

So if you are into getting a bridge camera, is up to you if you want to have the most updated product – and get the latest Sony or Panasonic – or prefer to stand from the crowd and hold a Leica in your hand instead, even though it’s not a “real” Leica, i.e. is a re-branded Panasonic.

This may sound superficial because ultimately a camera is a photographic tool and we should decide based on its specs and image quality… But hey, it’s also about having fun and if you feel the Leica looks better than other models, then just go for it as I did.

And spec-wise, even now in 2019, I wouldn’t say the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 is outdated. It’s still got a 1 inch sensor, a decent lens and 4K video, so as of 2019 it’s still a solid and capable camera. So I’m keeping it and happily using it.

VI. Final thoughts

With this review I hope I was able to convey the message as to why this camera is useful for me and why it is still part of my collection, even if in the image quality front is not the best I can get.

The reality is, even though I keep saying image quality shall be the priority when selecting your gear – as opposed to useless specs that some camera reviewers like to highlight – depending on the situation sometimes you have to take sacrifices.

Mobility and portability is a priority for me because I’m no longer into carrying heavy gear. When I was young I’d even carry two camera bodies, two film SLRs, just to avoid having to change lenses. That’s the past and now that I’m older, my body is not taking it because I’m not as fit as 20 years ago… Been there, done that.

So, like everything in life, it’s a compromise. You have to find the balance to see whatever fits your needs in a specific occasion, and from this perspective the Leica V-Lux Typ 114 plays an important role in my gear collection.

It’s my perfect travel camera.

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For full resolution and EXIF data please click thumbnails below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Thank you for your honest review on the camera, and my favourite is when you said Leica looks better not necessarily better in performance, I’m having the same predicament , few days ago i saw a Type 114 in a pawnshop selling for $492.50 US dollars, and now I’m thinking of selling my 2set of Nikon 5200 which serves as a back up camera to my sony A7III, which Im not using anyway, thinking that type 114 will serve as my third cam because it has 4k video, hope you can give me your 2cents.

    • Well, the Leica V Lux Typ 114 is a solid all-rounder, so as a backup camera is a good choice. It’s a very flexible camera that you can use in any occasion. Probably in terms of image quality it’s not as good as your D5200 which has an APS-c sensor, but then again it’s a backup camera and you have an A7III anyway which is hard to beat.
      So, all in all, I can say the Leica is a good backup because you can use it in any occasion and don’t have to think what lenses to take with you or whatever… it’s a camera that you can grab anytime and be sure it will be useful.
      I’m not a video expert, but the 4K it’s useful and the camera has OIS, which is very good as well. I make some videos from time to time and the results are satisfactory.

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