As typical, last weekend I went birding locally and as usual, I carried the Leica V-Lux (typ 114) camera with me to preserve digital memories along the way. I’ve said on numerous occasions, „this is the best wildlife camera we have ever produced“ and I mean it. Why?!?… the simple answer is: it’s lightweight, compact & fast and I get fantastic images every time I use it. However, below I will expand on this by explaining the features I like for wildlife photography, the settings I prefer, and share some field craft. There will be wonderful images of course as well!
A point and shoot camera weighing less than a pound with an amazingly fast 25-400 mm lens zoom range (F/2.0 – 4.0). The sensor is an oversized 1″ MOS sensor offering 20.9 MP of resolution. I realize to the uninitiated this may not mean a lot, but to simplify, let’s just say this allows you to effectively stop motion & capture more detail with less distracting pixellation or „digital noise“. The Leica lens delivers the truest colors imaginable – a Leica trait and expectation since we invented the 35 mm camera over 100 years ago!
It’s boring and I know some of the advanced shooters out there will hate this, but when using the V-Lux (typ 114) camera, I simply shoot in Automatic mode. It’s not that I don’t know how to use the many other manual settings (of which there are many for those that want to dabble), but it’s just that the camera gets it right 99% of the time! „If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!“ This allows me more time to concentrate on my exposure and framing if the camera’s doing the heavy lifting. I’ve often compared images side by side taken with larger, heavier, and more expensive DSLR images by photographers standing right next to me and the V-Lux images REALLY hold up! The only areas where I stray from the default settings honestly, is by switching the default shutter rate to the continuous 12 frame per second burst mode.
As I do with most sunset images, I used the „exposure compensation“ feature to slightly under expose the image above, giving more depth to the colors and ensuring bright areas didn’t get „blown out“. Even with the camera in automatic mode this feature is immediately accessible by utilizing the intuitive thumb dial at top right on the rear of the camera. I don’t have to fumble to find this as it is placed precisely where my thumb falls while gripping the hand grip anyway. A quick press and roll to the left and I’ve made the image instantly darker. Roll it right and I can brighten my subject… very easy!
You can shoot viewing the bright rear screen or the crisp electronic viewfinder depending on preference. I use the latter, and a sensor in front of the viewfinder automatically switches from screen view to viewfinder when I place the camera up to my eye. If I rotate the screen in to protect it, the viewfinder becomes the default view. Being a high resolution electronic viewfinder, the image I see is the same as what the sensor sees so I can instantly asses metering very accurately in the field AS I’m taking the image (rather than after) or back to the days of film weeks later when you got your images processed!
In the extreme late evening light this adult male Osprey (above) was washed with a strong golden hue that I couldn’t resist. While not typical coloration for an Osprey that is indeed the way it appeared to my eye in this final bit of low-angle lighting!
Typically, I and others have always suggested disabling digital zoom features on cameras. One of the understood „Golden Rules“ in digital point & shoot photography. However, in „auto“ mode, the V-Lux (typ 114) camera has a surprisingly usable 2x digital zoom that I use often. Both the images above and below were taken at this perceived 800 mm focal length, which often provided better exposure on the larger subject that fills more of the screen.
In more typical, direct lighting this adult female Osprey showed her true expected colors. The image above is the untouched original precisely as it appeared out of the camera. However, with plenty of resolution (20+ mp), I can easily crop the image for differing effects/perspectives without losing fine detail.
As example, here I’ve cropped the original image so that the bird nearly fills the frame top to bottom in a horizontal „landscape“ mode image.
Or I can crop in even tighter for a vertical „portrait“ mode image. Look at those sharp, curved talons and the feather details.
The camera’s autofocus synchs instantly, effectively allowing capture of birds in flight. Note the Swallow-tailed Kite images here frozen in flight and note the wing molt and wear in the adult male Snail Kite’s wing below. You can easily see the differences in the fresh new feathers from the worn older flight feathers here.
In macro mode the camera will focus as close as 3 cm, although I am usually able to focus on even small subjects from distance when needed as well. As example, on this same AM when a watery ditch sat between me and the Garden Orbweaver below, I was able to get close up imaging from about 12-15 feet away. If I’d used the macro though, I would have seen much greater detail here and filled the entire frame with this spider but you are not always able to get within centimeters of a subject and the Arichnophobes probably wouldn’t want to either! 😉
As previously mentioned, I use the camera’s amazing 12 frame per second continuous burst mode to allow maximum opportunities when that subject is framed in the viewfinder. Below is a GIF made from 9 consecutive still image frames showing a Crested Caracara taking off. It gives a very real idea of just how quick each successive image is captured. These again are not cropped or edited, so are exactly as they appeared from the camera when downloaded. Basically, when I get that rare photo op, I depress the shutter button half way and listen for the distinctive focus confirmation beep and green bracket (instantaneous), then hold that shutter button down, rattling rapid-fire frames.
Once again, the above is not a video but a series of 9 consecutive images played back one after the other! The V-Lux (typ 114) does offer multiple onboard video capabilities as well though, allowing me to shoot sharp 4K video with dual stereo audio input at the touch of a single button. My favorite though is the high speed video to show details and behaviors in extreme slow motion.
The handheld video above shows Least Terns in flight shot with the the Leica V-Lux (typ 114) in high-speed (slow-motion) video mode. For those not familiar with the rapid wing beats and speed of this smallest American tern species (compares to similar Little Tern in Europe) note how slow the motor boat on plane passes in the background! These little birds are the true hummingbirds of the tern family, zipping and darting around very rapidly.
The V-Lux (typ 114) also comes equipped with a built in flash that is powerful enough to illuminate wildlife at night, but also includes a separate hot shoe for addition of an external flash(es) as well. As you can see the built in flash had no problem illuminating this Eastern Screech-Owl in full darkness though.
As if all of this wasn’t reason enough to love the V-Lux (typ 114) there is also the fun wifi connectivity features. Utilizing the Leica „Image Shuttle“ Application I can remotely operate the V-Lux from a distance using a tablet or smart phone. Above is a screen capture of the app in action showing camera controls and a live view, note I can zoom in and out adjust the view and capture stills or video remotely.
By switching to the „Playback“ capability on the bottom of the app screen, you can view & select images still on the camera and upload these directly to your device for immediate sharing on social media, text messaging or e-mail straight from camera to phone to the web!
So as you can see, in the case of the intuitive V-Lux (typ 114), I take the description „point & shoot“ camera VERY literally. When the camera always gets it right who am I to argue. Great news for all who want a sophisticated yet simplistic solution that offers incredible results. Less so for my friends and colleagues trying to make a living selling images though!… Technology is making this increasingly difficult, I’m afraid.