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Review Panasonic Leica 12mm f/1.4

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Professional photographers with an Olympus or Panasonic camera have waited painfully for a bright, dust- and splashwater-tight wide-angle lens. For the Panasonic Leica 12mm f/1.4, that is. Micro-43 cameras and lenses are attractive for those who aim for high image quality and simultaneously want to keep the size and weight of the camera equipment limited. In comparison with full-frame cameras, the focal depth with micro-43 is, however, larger, so that you cannot play as much with background blur. That is particularly a stumbling point for advanced photographers who make deliberate use of background blur with micro-43 lenses, with a maximum aperture starting at f/2.8. The Panasonic Leica series offers dust- and splashwater-tight lenses, that are so bright that you can create a nice bokeh with them. To what extent does the Panasonic Leica 12mm f/1.4 differ from the Panasonic Leica 15mm f/1.7 and the Olympus 12mm f/2?

PanaLeica 12mm f/1.4 SUMMILUX? superiOR BUILD QUALITY

Panasonic12mm1p4

BUILD AND auto focus

Given the extremely high brightness and the high aims as far as the image quality is concerned, no one will be amazed that the Panasonic Leica 12mm f/1.4 has a complex lens design, consisting of 15 lens elements (including 3 lens elements of extra (ED and UED) glass types and 2 aspherical lens elements) in 12 lens groups. The MTF diagram that Panasonic has published gives a first clue that this lens can be capable of producing a great bokeh. The closer the sagittal MTF (solid line) and the Meridional MTF (dotted line) are to each other, the quieter the bokeh will be. At high resolution ("micro-contrast") the MTF values are close to each other across the whole image (green lines: 40S and 40M). For a 12 mm lens, it looks very promising.

The build quality of the 12mm f/1.4 is just as flawless as that of the 42.5mm f/1.2, and it is sealed against dust and splashwater. A short metal lens hood and a lens bag are included. One point of concern with a metal lens hood can be that it offers less protection than a plastic lens hood if you accidentally bump into the lens. Manual focusing with the 12mm PanaLeica is a pleasure: the ribbed focus ring is nicely broad and beautifully dampened. Just as with previous Panasonic Leica lenses (with the exception of the Panasonic Leica 25 mm f/1.4), the lens body is made of metal, and this lens has an aperture ring with which you can set the aperture, but only on Panasonic cameras. There is only one switch on the lens: for the choice between AF and manual focusing. There is no built-in image stabilization. AF is silent, fast and accurate, as we are accustomed to from Panasonic. We did not measure the AF speed, but I have the impression that this lens is a bit slower than the Panasonic 12-32mm zoom lens. That might be easy to explain on the basis of a weight difference of the internal lens element that has to be shifted during focusing. The higher brightness also creates a smaller focal depth, so that it is more difficult to focus accurately. 

Specifications
Panasonic Leica 12mm f/1.4
Image Stabilization:-
lenses/ groups:15 / 12
length x diameter:70 / 70
filter size:62
Weight:335
Lens hood:+

IMAGE QUALITY Panasonic Leica 12mm f1.4

 

Iceland2
photo: Daimon Xanthopoulos

As far as distortion is concerned, this is clearly, visibly present (-5%) if you open RAW files outside the usual RAW converters. But the in-camera jpg files and RAW files in Lightroom, Photoshop or Silkypix showed less than half of one percent distortion. For a wide-angle lens, that is a very good performance. And the sharpness in the corners has suffered little from the distortion correction. After stopping down 2 stops, at f/2.8 this lens puts on its best performance if you look at the resolution, which is a great illustration of the fact that micro-43 cameras benefit from the brightest lenses possible. If you stop down 2 stops with a less bright f/4 lens, you gain sharpness on the one hand because you are less bothered by lens errors, but on the other hand, you lose sharpness as a result of diffraction. At f/2.8, the loss of sharpness as a result of diffraction is still small (see ’50 megapixels is not enough’). Even at f/1.2, the sharpness is already very good, which is an important plus point for low-light photography. In the examples below (100% image excerpts), you can see that the center sharpness at f/4 is visible better, but there are many bright lenses that show poorer results in the corners at full aperture. For testing micro-43 lenses, we usually see more flare than when testing professional lenses on SLR cameras. We tested the Panasonic Leica 12mm too briefly to be able to give a judgement about it here. We did not encounter any flare or ghosts.
Vignetting is usually a problem with wide-angle lenses. But not with the Panasonic Leica 12mm f/1.4. In the uncorrected RAW files, we only found 1 stop of vignetting at full aperture. That is good news, since with the correction of vignetting, the amount of noise increases. In the corrected RAW files and the in-camera jpg files, you do not have any trouble from vignetting. Those are very good results. For testing 24mm lenses on cameras with a full-frame sensor, the amount of vignetting in the corners is sometimes so high (multiple stops), that the amount of noise in the corners after correction for vignetting is visibly increased. Not with this Panasonic Leica.  

JPGREZZ
The MTF50 is tested by setting the image ratio of the test camera to 2:3, so that the measurement results are directly comparable with the measurement results for lenses on a camera with an APS-C or full-frame sensor. If you use the camera in the standard 4:3 ratio, the number of lines per image height is higher.
schertevergelijking

IMAGE STABLIZATION

With an extremely bright wide-angle lens, you will not soon need image stabilization. Even so, it can be an important function when you are photographing in low light (at night, at events or indoors). The absence of built-in stabilization is becoming less important for micro-43. For lenses with a short focal length, the most benefit comes from image stabilization in the camera body. Olympus cameras are all equipped with in-body image stabilization, and the most recent Panasonic cameras (GX8, GX80) also have built-in image stabilization, so it falls in line with the expectation that in time, all Panasonic cameras will also have built-in image stabilization.

Iceland1
photo: Daimon Xanthopoulos

Bokeh Panasonic Leica 12mm f1.4

Daimon
photo: Daimon Xanthopoulos

The quality of the bokeh depends on the focal length (the longer, the better), the brightness (the higher, the better) and the quality of the lens elements (aspherical lens elements tend, for example, to introduce rather ugly onion rings). The brightness and the quality of the lens design are so high that, despite the short focal length, you actually get a very nice background blur when you use this lens. The trick is to get as close as possible to your subject, since the focal depth of 12mm is—if you focus with this lens from a few meters away—really very big. As far as bokeh is concerned, the Olympus 300mm f/4, Olympus 75mm f/1.8, Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 and the Panasonic Leica f/1.4 gives you a terribly good set that will make you (nearly) forget about cameras with a full-frame sensor. 

With bright lenses (<f/2.8) we did encounter longitudinal chromatic aberration ("color boke") at full aperture, but that is corrected really well with the Panasonic Leica 12mm f/1.4. Color bokeh is practically absent.  

 

ConclusiON Panasonic Leica 12mm f1.4 (WITH Panasonic GH4, GX8 & Olympus OM-D EM-1)

Use the Lens comparison or look in our list of reviewed lenses to compare this lens with other lenses.

WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you save the files in the camera as jpg, where you have applied all available in-camera lens corrections. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".

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Focal Length
mm @ FF
Total score
Resolution
lat. C.A.
Vignetting
Distortion
AF accur.
AF speed

12
24
8.1
7.6
8.4
9.2
7.8
9
8
Puur RAW score: This table gives you the performance of this lens if the file is stored in the camera as a RAW file. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera. If you make use of Photoshop, Lightroom or SilkyPix for the conversion of RAW files, then the RAW scores are equal to the jpg scores.


Focal Length
mm @ FF
Total score
Resolution
lat. C.A.
Vignetting
Distortion
AF accur.
AF speed

12
24
7.9
8.1
9.4
8.2
5.5
9
8

PROS

  • High build and image quality
  • Extremely high brightness
  • Dust- and splashwater-tight
  • Aperture ring
 

CONS

  • Not inexpensive

Aside from the price, there are few reasons not to buy this lens.

In the list with cons, I did not note that this lens is not equipped with built-in image stabilization. For lenses with a short focal length, the most benefit will first be gained from image stabilization in the camera body. Olympus cameras are all equipped with in-body image stabilization. The most recent Panasonic cameras (GX8, GX80) also have built-in image stabilization, so that it falls in line with the expectation that in time, all Panasonic cameras will also have built-in image stabilization. At full aperture, this lens is not as sharp as other micro lenses (Olympus 12mm f/2, Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, Panasonic 15mm f/1.7), but at f/2.8, this is the sharpest micro-43 wide-angle lens on the market. On every other point as well (absence of color flaws, distortion and vignetting) the Panasonic Leica 12mm f/1.4 is also absolutely world class. The high brightness does not come at the cost of the image quality, since that is already great at full aperture. Add in fantastic build quality and superior image stabilization (on the Olympus OM-D, Panasonic GX80), and it should be clear that in my eyes, this lens is at home in the equipment bag of any (semi-)professional photographer with a micro-43 camera.

Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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