A few years ago I bought a Nikon D1 digital camera. At the time, this was the only "affordable" digital SLR. Affordable, of course, is relative to the rest of the market, not to what you or I would consider a good value. In this case, the D1 weighed in at about $5000.00: half the price of the nearest competitor, but a kings ransom in anyone's book.

There are a lot of things I love about the D1. Even though it is old and less than three megapixels, it still holds its own with higher resolution cameras. I've printed pictures all the way up to 11"x17" and been unable to tell they came from a digital camera. It's also fast, and very flexible. I can turn it on and it is immediately ready to take pictures. It's focusing and metering are top notch. To this day, I haven't found another camera on the market that offers enough of a benefit over the D1 to merit the investment.

Then I saw the Leica Digilux 2. It's small. It's fast. Most importantly, it behaves like a real camera. If I want to manually focus, I don't have to run to the menu. If I want to adjust the aperture I don't need a menu there either. In fact, the Leica is so easy to use it even puts my D1 to shame. Simply adjust the focus or aperature ring like any old manual camera. The only difference is the ring contains a little "A" at the end. Moving the ring to the "A" makes that function behave in full auto. The Leica is also fast to turn on and has a pretty quick recycle time. It's faster to recycle than the D1, but I can put the D1 in a burst mode and it will buffer up to 21 shots to the card in the backround. The Leica doesn't have that, so the D1 wins there. In all, the Leica is a great camera for any place that doesn't require a vast array of interchangeable lenses. Sure, if I go on another safari the D1 will be with me. But for vacations that aren't quite as demanding, the Leica will work great.

Another really cool feature of the Leica is the flash. Unlike the D1, the Leica has an integrated flash. I'm not a big flash fan because they always overexpose a frame, but sometimes you need one. When you do, it's great to be able to strap on the D1's beefy SB28 and bounce it off the ceiling. The only problem is the SB28 is huge. It's about the size of the entire Leica minus the lens. The Leica's built-in flash has a really cool feature, however: you can adjust the angle and bounce it off the ceiling. It's not as configurable as the SB28, but it is built-in and very easy to use.

The Leica has a unique approach to the viewfinder. It's not a SLR camera, so the viewfinder does not look through the lens via a prism. This allows the camera to be smaller, have fewer moving parts and make almost no noise when you take a picture. Unfortunately, it makes it pretty hard to manually focus. Leica film cameras either have complex mechanics in the optical viewfinder that mate with the lens so you can see what you're focusing on, or they may even leave it entirely up to you to figure out how far you are from your subject. The first is complex and expensive, the second is not very user friendly. Instead, the Digilux 2 has a very high resolution LCD monitor inside of the viewfinder. Several reviewers have complained about this because the resolution on the monitor is not sufficient to do manual focusing. Leica's answer to this is an automatic zoom that takes place whenever you adjust the focusing ring. It's better, but it makes it hard to compose the picture. The electronic viewfinder does have one huge advantage for me, however: it allows you to see the exposure before you snap the shot. Several shots in Chicago would have been underexposed due to me forgetting about a light background if it weren't for this viewfinder. I, for one, am a convert.

So, what's the picture quality like? Well, the Leica has almost double the pixels of the D1 (5MP for the Leica vs 2.8MP for the D1). The Leica's censor is smaller than the D1, however, and has a bit more noise. When shooting in color, the Leica has a bit of chroma noise in the shadows. It's not bad. I'd say it's better than just about every other point and shoot camera I've seen. But, it just can't compete with the complete lack of noise from the D1. The Leica sensor is also not as sensitive (ISO 100 default instead of ISO 200). This also introduces more noise in low light. In black and white mode, however, the Leica is really just fantastic. In black and white, that small amout of chroma noise turns into a very natural looking film grain in the deep shadows. Don't get me wrong, 8"x10" color shots from the Leica look outstanding. But the same shot in black in white has a contrast and tonality out of the camera that you usually have to spend a lot of time on a darkroom enlarger to get with film.

So there you have it. If you were expecting a really in-depth review and found this lacking, you should check out www.dpreview.com. Those guys always have fantastic product reviews with all the gory details.