Review Panasonic Leica 12mm f/1.4
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
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.
IMAGE QUALITY Panasonic Leica 12mm f1.4
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.
|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. |
|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. |
Bokeh Panasonic Leica 12mm f1.4
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)
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".