A few years ago, Panasonic had plans for a high-end 150mm f/2.8. After the appearance of the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO, the 150 mm f/2.8 disappeared from Panasonic’s plans. And then at the end of 2017, an even more spectacular professional fixed-focal length telephoto lens was unexpectedly announced: the Panasonic Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power OIS. According to Panasonic, this lens offers the sharpest image quality – from corner to corner – in the history of Lumix G cameras.
Perfect for action, nature and sports photography: Even with continuous AF, the contrast AF system of the Panasonic Leica 200 mm f/2.8 is extremely fast and highly accurate.
In terms of appearance, the Panasonic Leica 200 mm f/2.8 resembles the slightly more affordable – and 2 ounces lighter – Panasonic Leica 100-400mm telephoto zoom. The 200 mm f/2.8 is perfectly finished, has a nice metal body and – certainly compared to the 100-400 – a relatively long plastic lens hood, which can be attached to the lens backwards during transport. The lens hood is also so long that it makes manual focusing impossible if you do not turn the lens hood around before shooting. We have run into this problem before. The filter size is 77mm; the same size as the filter of the Olympus 300 mm f/4.
The Panasonic 200 mm f/2.8 is equipped with 4 switches (AF/MF, IS off/on, Focus limitation off/between 3 meters and infinity, and a memory button, which determines the function of the push button next to it. If you set the memory button to Function, you have an extra Custom/Preset button with it. You determine which function that is in the camera menu. If you set the memory button to the middle and press the round button above it, you set a preferred distance. If you then set the memory switch to the “Call” position, you can have the lens shoot at this self-chosen focusing distance at lightning speed. It’s handy – even if you still think you don’t need this button – to set the memory focus distance to the shortest distance and then set the button to Call. I’ll explain why later.
The joint Panasonic/Leica lens design consists of 15 elements in 13 groups, including two UED (Ultra Extra-low Dispersion) lenses. The use of UED lenses and the application of Panasonic’s advanced optical technology ensure high-contrast images with high image quality. You can see that in our test results: Extremely high resolution from corner to corner. Distortion and color separation (both longitudinal and lateral chromatic aberration) are invisible (ideal starting point for combining with a teleconverter). To minimize flare with backlighting, the lens is provided with a nano-surface coating.
The ultra-telephoto lens field of view (corresponding to a full-frame lens with focal length of 400 mm) and the extremely good optical performance (more on that later) make the Panasonic Leica Elmarit 200 mm F2.8 Power IOS perfectly – but not exclusively – suitable for nature and sports photography. With the included 1.4x teleconverter (DMW-TC14), the focal distance can be increased to 560 mm (35mm-camera equivalent) to get the subject even closer.
We also tested the Panasonic Leica with the 1.4x converter and are writing the review, so that review will appear within 1 to 2 weeks. The optical performance with the 1.4x converter is almost the same as optical performance without a 1.4x converter. Thanks to the bright aperture of F2.8, fast-moving subjects can be captured. The lens is robust, dust- and splash-proof and even frost resistant to temperatures of -10 degrees Celsius. (During testing in Norway, I took shots at -20 degrees Celsius with no problems), making it ideal for professional use under extreme conditions.
Power Optical Image Stabilizer
100% image crop from a shot made with a shutter speed of 1/20 sec, f/2.8, 3200 ISO
The Panasonic Leica Elmarit 200mm F2.8 Power IOS lens is compact and very light, allowing you to shoot easily and for a long time without a tripod. That delivers truly unique images: extremely sharp at full aperture, with a beautiful bokeh. If you have a Panasonic Leica 42.5 mm f/1.2 and/or an Olympus 75 mm f/1.8 in your photo bag for the same reason, then you will definitely want a Panasonic 200 mm f/2.8. But this telephoto lens also offers fantastic image stabilization. The Power OIS (Optical Image Stabilizer), as Panasonic’s image stabilization is called, compensates for vibration blur extremely effectively. This makes it possible to take pictures with a shutter speed of 1/20 seconds without a tripod or in low light conditions. Then your shot is no longer just as sharp as a shot made from a tripod, but if you take a few shots in quick succession and you have a somewhat steady hand, you’ll have a shot in there at 1/10 second and 200mm shooting by hand with which you can be satisfied. The combination of a 400mm field of view (full-frame equivalent), f/2.8 and 1/10 second makes it possible to use low ISO values even in extremely low light conditions. If you were to take simultaneous shots with an SLR camera at 400mm f/2.8 1/100 sec ISO 12,800 (assuming a situation without a tripod and in-lens image stabilization of 2 stops) and a Panasonic Leica 200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, 200 ISO, f/2.8, 1/10 sec, you’ll prefer the 200 ISO shot, made with a shutter speed of 1/10 second (if your subject doesn’t move too much, at least).
The Panasonic Leica 200 mm f/2.8 can be used with the latest Panasonic cameras with the Dual IS (e.g. Panasonic GX8 and GX80) and the Dual IS 2 system (Panasonic GH5, G9 and G80). By combining image stabilization in the camera and in the lens, vibration blur is very, very well suppressed. According to Panasonic, the gain with Dual IS2 is 6.5 stops. That is just as good as with the best Olympus lenses on an Olympus camera. If you use the Panasonic Leica on an Olympus camera, you will have to choose between in-body image stabilization (IBIS) or in-lens image stabilization. With telephoto lenses, you get the most benefit from in-lens image stabilization, so that you can still benefit from a large part of the 6.5-fold profit due to image stabilization on an Olympus camera. To finish the story about image stabilization of Panasonic lenses on Olympus cameras: At short focal lengths, you benefit most from IBIS. So with Panasonic lenses with a short focal length on an Olympus camera, choose in-lens image stabilization.
This lens is equipped with a triple linear stepper motor, which can be adjusted up to 240 times per second. This makes fast and accurate continuous AF possible. The contrast autofocus of Panasonic is very quiet, very fast and extremely accurate. This applies for both photo and video. The fantastic AF performance of the Panasonic Leica 200 mm f/2.8 is also ideal for making 4K videos, because accurate focusing with 4K video is more critical than with Full HD video (since the resolution of 4K is twice as high as that of Full-HD video). The drive system with microsteps makes it possible to quickly adjust the aperture to changes in brightness when panning.
What f/2.8 super-telephoto lens focuses from infinity to 1.5 meters in 0.2 seconds?
The AF motor is extremely fast thanks to the 240 fps driving frequency and the internal focus of a lens element with as little mass as possible. This extremely fast adjustment – in combination with Panasonic’s unique DFD (Depth from Defocus) technology – ensures fast AF in both single-AF and continuous AF modes. This was also apparent during our tests in practice (both single-AF and continuous AF, but in particular continuous AF) and in the lab (single-AF). Because there is not a dedicated processor for AF, as there is with professional Nikon cameras, there is a chance that other tasks that cost computing power, such as image stabilization and video, can slow the AF process. When taking pictures with the image stabilization on, this lens focused from infinity to one and a half meters in 0.2 seconds. That is unbelievably good for a telephoto lens with a very small depth of field. Absolute top class. Comparable to or better than 400mm f/2.8 on a professional SLR camera and faster than the Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro on an Olympus OMD EM1 mk2. For the sake of fairness, I have to add that the Panasonic 100-400 mm and the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO (even without DFD on a Panasonic camera) are also that fast.
I enjoy testing telephoto lenses in practice by photographing kingfishers from up close. (They’re not very big). I have seen in recent years when testing telephoto lenses from several brands that the AF carried on to infinity (and stayed there) if I wanted to focus on a kingfisher a few meters away. I then have to focus manually on the shortest focusing distance, to give the AF a second chance. Sometimes it went wrong again. With some telephoto lenses (such as the Olympus 400 mm f/4 PRO or the Nikon 400 mm f/2.8), you can set the focus limit on the lens so that the maximum focusing distance is limited to 10 meters or less. That’s the best solution for this problem, and then you aren’t bothered by this phenomenon. But the focus limiter of the Panasonic 200 mm f/2.8 can only be limited from 5 meters through infinity. Earlier in this review, I indicated that I explain why you need to set the Memory focus button in advance on the shortest focus distance, even though don’t think you’ll need that button. Precisely because this lens has a remarkably shortest focusing distance of (a little more than a meter, while a ‘normal’ 400 mm f/2.8 often starts around four meters), you’ll be glad that you can then focus from the shortest focusing distance “with 1 click of a button”. Also handy if you notice that the AF shoots past a subject at a short distance.
For cameras with a full-frame sensor, the shortest focusing distance of a 400 mm lens is often around six meters. With a 200mm lens on a micro-43 camera, you have the same field of view, but a shortest focusing distance of 150 cm. That makes the Panasonic Leica 200 mm f/2.8 suitable for portrait or macro images with a beautiful bokeh. And that means this telephoto lens is more versatile than its full-size colleagues.
The resolution is indeed already very good from full aperture, corner to corner. In terms of resolution, it’s a trade-off with the Olympus 300 mm f/4 PRO: if you use files without sharpening and without image corrections, the Panasonic 200 mm f/2.8 beats the Olympus 300 mm f/4, which is already very good. Because Olympus applies more sharpening to jpg files than Panasonic, the roles are reversed when you compare standard jpg files stored in the camera for the Olympus 300 mm f/4 PRO + OM-D EM1 mk2 with the Panasonic G9 + 200 mm f/2.8. Any lateral chromatic aberrations (like distortion and vignetting) are automatically corrected in jpg files or in RAW files that you open in Photoshop or Lightroom. But that’s not necessary for CA: as far as chromatic aberration is concerned, the Panasonic Leica 200 mm f/2.8 can compete with the very best: even in uncorrected RAW files, no lateral chromatic aberration can be detected.
The distortion is less than half a percent barrel-shaped. That’s also a value that corresponds with that of the best 400mm f/2.8 lenses.
PS: Not all functions of the H-ES200 can already be used in combination with the GH5 according to Panasonic. The firmware with which the GH5 will be fully compatible with the H-ES200 is expected to be available at the end of March 2018. We tested the 2000mm on a Panasonic G9, so we don’t know which functions are involved. Everything works perfectly with a G9.
CONCLUSION: REVIEW PANASONIC LEICA 200MM F/2.8 (TESTED ON A Panasonic G9)
- Fantastic image quality
- Fantastic build quality: dust, splash-water and freeze resistant (to -10 degrees Celsius)
- Lightning-fast AF
- Best image stabilization
- Includes 1.4x converter (and an optional 2x converter (DMW-TC20) is available)
- List price (including the 1.4x converter) almost 3,000 euros
- At 1200 grams, a relatively heavy telephoto lens in micro-43 terms (and feather light compared to a 400 mm f/2.8 for a camera with a full-frame sensor)
Uncompromising build and image quality is never cheap, but thanks to the Panasonic Leica 200 mm f/2.8, it’s now compact and portable.
Photographers with a micro-43 camera can consider themselves lucky with the range of high-quality telephoto lenses. On the one hand, there are two high-quality telephoto zooms from Olympus (40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO) and Panasonic/Leica (100-400 mm). On the other hand, there are now two bright telephoto lenses with a fixed focal length: the 400 mm f/4 Pro from Olympus and the Panasonic Leica 200 mm f/2.8. Both Olympus Pro lenses and the Panasonic 300 mm f/2.8 can also be combined with a teleconverter, to extend the range even further. Both the build and image quality of this lens are fantastic. An absolute must for those who can afford it. Should this Panasonic Leica exceed your budget, then the Panasonic Leica 100-400 mm zoom is an attractive alternative.