Lo-fi Deluxe

Archives, Gear, Photography

Although I have used cameras of all kinds and sizes, I consider myself a “lo-fi” photographer. I am a perfectionist in daily life (exhausting, most of the time), but I like to embrace imperfections and happy accidents in my photography.

Hence my strong preference for plastic Holga cameras and mobile photography. However: today’s smartphones are actually not that lo-fi anymore. They have evolved into sophisticated devices, with the latest technological innovations in the field of photography. Right now, brands are apparently working on camera phones with 5 to 9 lenses.


So what to do, as a self-proclaimed lo-fi photographer who does not have the budget to go back to 100% film?

Back in 2004, I bought my first digital camera: a Leica D-Lux compact, launched one year earlier. In every aspect a hi-tech camera, at least for those days. However: 3.2 megapixels. Brutal, compared to today’s cameras and smartphones.

I loved this first generation D-Lux. I loved the 35mm as a starting focal length. I loved the tiny viewfinder and the petite flash. I loved the anodized aluminum Leica design. But most of all, I loved the photos. The beautiful colors. The deep blacks in B+W photos. The “film-like” output. And, due to the obvious limitations, the impressionistic lo-fi images it produced. Well, lo-fi from today’s perspective.

All photos in this post are made with my first D-Lux. I kept shooting with this camera, even when I got “better” ones like the D-Lux 3 version and a high quality Canon dSLR. Until this D-Lux suddenly died in 2009.

Fast forward to 2018. As Dan wrote on his blog, we have now come to the point that we might consider some digital cameras as classics. So, why not go for a digital classic that gives the same feeling as a film compact, looks as beautiful and takes – more or less – the same kind of images?

Earlier the week, I hit the “Buy Now” button when I came across another first generation D-Lux on eBay. I am looking forward to take the camera to the streets again, and to restart experimenting.

And yes, the electronics might die any moment. But that risk is also very “lo-fi”, I guess.

Update 2018-07-10: Unfortunately, the “new” D-Lux is on its way back to its eBay seller. Same power issues as I had with my own camera ten years ago: with a full battery I could shoot for 10 or 15 minutes at its best. So unusable for me. These classic digital compacts certainly have a charm in terms of lo-fi images, but due to the technical unreliability it is a route that I would not choose again.

4 thoughts on “Lo-fi Deluxe

  1. Robert, love this post, and your D-Lux images. Do you remember if you did much with the colour ones, or they were straight out of camera? Does it shoot RAW or JPEG only? I’ve made some early experiments with an old 4MP Sony DSC-L1 and am finding a similar look – more grainy and lo-fi than today’s clinical digital images, but still plenty sharp enough to satisfy me. Plus it seems to have all the controls I need (a little contrast and saturation adjustment, exposure comp, a b/w mode) and nothing extraneous or buried in complex menus. And it’s super tiny, the size pre-touchscreen phones were but with more depth to the body which makes it handle very well. Weird how this camera – new to me only a week ago – makes me feel kind of nostalgic for simpler digital photography times.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Dan. For this post I have reworked the photos, basically with my usual Snapseed recipe. However, the D-Lux colors SOOC are already amazing. So it was more like strengthening what was already there (slightly more contrast, etc.). It is significantly less work than getting the same “look” in – for example – smartphone photos.

      The D-Lux shoots JPEG only, you can just choose between “standard” and “low” compression. You might want to check the detailed technical data in the official Leica brochure (PDF): http://www.overgaard.dk/pdf/leica_d-lux_brochure_2003.pdf .
      Menu is pretty straightforward (as I like it), but there is a lot to adjust to personal preference: saturation, metering, exposure compensation, etc.

      The Sony seems a nice camera, and a Carl Zeiss lens obviously does not hurt. There are more interesting cameras, the digital Olympus Mju mini being one of them. And the Contax TVS digital, but that one is still ridiculously expensive on eBay. For the moment I first wait and see what I can do with my “new” classic D-Lux. We have to be careful, Dan – before you know it, we are starting a new hipster trend 🙂

  2. Oh the Contax TVS Digital is something I’ve had half an eye for a couple of years, but yes there seem to be very few around and very expensive. I had a number of Contax film cameras (SLRs) which I loved. Very classy and beautiful to use.

    There really are so many digital classics (talking only about compacts, of course there are many DSLRs too) that it would be very easy to get out of control with spending. Which is exactly what I did with old film cameras, so need to be careful.

    Loving the little 4MP Sony, it’s seriously making me wonder if I need anything else…

  3. For me, this should really be the future setup: Holga for film and the D-Lux as a digital lo-fi alternative. With a smartphone as a backup, just in case. I have already sold everything else, and I do not want to build up another collection again.

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