Lu­mix Leica DG Sum­milux 12mm f1.4 ASPH

ON TRIAL

Camera - - CONTENTS - RE­PORT BY PAUL BUR­ROWS

The Mi­cro Four Thirds mir­ror­less sys­tem is ben­e­fit­ting from a steady stream of ex­cit­ing lenses from both Olym­pus and Pana­sonic. The lat­ter adds to its grow­ing line-up of Leica-de­signed mod­els with a bril­liant 24mm (equiv­a­lent) fast f1.4 wide-an­gle.

An ever grow­ing sys­tem of in­ter­est­ing lenses is mak­ing the Mi­cro Four Thirds mir­ror­less for­mat in­creas­ingly more ap­peal­ing… and Pana­sonic’s tie-up with Leica doesn’t harm ei­ther. The new fast wide-an­gle prime is a mod­ern clas­sic.

It’s been a smart move for both Pana­sonic and Sony to in­volve pres­ti­gious Euro­pean brands – Leica and Zeiss re­spec­tively – in their lens pro­grams. While both have great tra­di­tions in elec­tron­ics, they were largely un­known quan­ti­ties when they first ven­tured into pho­tog­ra­phy via dig­i­tal cam­eras. In re­al­ity, both com­pa­nies also knew how to make lenses – they’d been do­ing it for video cam­eras for decades – but a lit­tle more ‘street cred’ was needed to take on the likes of Canon, Nikon and Pen­tax in the pho­tog­ra­phy world.

These re­la­tion­ships work in a num­ber of ways. Use of the name means roy­al­ties which can be very use­ful when you’re a com­par­a­tively small cam­era com­pany like Leica… and you’re deal­ing with Pana­sonic-level pro­duc­tion

vol­umes. A nice lit­tle earner. In the other di­rec­tion, there’s the value of rep­u­ta­tion and some prac­ti­cal in­put in terms of both de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing. The lat­ter is prob­a­bly more of a two-way street as Pana­sonic’s lens tech is up there with the best, but then Leica un­der­stands all about op­ti­cal qual­ity at the most ex­act­ing of stan­dards. Con­se­quently, in­volve­ment varies from prod­uct to prod­uct… Leica prob­a­bly does lit­tle more than give some of the bread-and-but­ter lenses in the Lu­mix G line-up a nod of ap­proval – fit for pur­pose, tick – but the more ‘ex­otic’ mod­els have the Ger­man mar­que’s de­sign in­put writ­ten all over them… lit­er­ally, in fact.

Like the 100-400mm tele­zoom, the 15mm f1.7 prime and the 42.5mm f1.2 su­per­fast short Sup­plied bay­o­net-fit lens hood is a sturdy metal com­po­nent. tele­photo, the 12mm f1.4 prime wide-an­gle is badged “Leica” be­fore any­thing else… we’ve added the “Lu­mix” ti­tle so you un­der­stand this is a Mi­cro Four Thirds mount lens. The name “Lu­mix” is ac­tu­ally en­graved on the bar­rel, but you’ll have to search a bit harder to find “Pana­sonic” which is there too, but in very small, greyed-out type. This is de­lib­er­ate. Pana­sonic has al­ways em­pha­sised the Lu­mix brand­ing on its dig­i­tal cam­eras and here, of course, it wants you to ap­pre­ci­ate the weav­ing of some ex­tra Leica magic. So, ex­ter­nally, the 12mm looks ex­actly like one of Leica’s own prod­ucts… en­graved mark­ing rather than screen-printed, the fo­cal length des­ig­na­tion picked out in or­ange, a raised red dot for the mount­ing in­dex, the rib­bing on the con­trol rings, and the very same type­face and nomen­cla­ture used to pro­claim “Leica DG Sum­milux 1:1.4/12 ASPH. Ø62” around the front el­e­ment. Yes, it even has the fa­mous “Sum­milux” name that Leica uses on its f1.4 speed lenses. More sub­stan­tially, this lens feels just like a Leica prod­uct – nicely weighty – but this is ac­tu­ally all down to Pana­sonic be­cause it does the man­u­fac­tur­ing in Ja­pan.

IN THE HAND

Metal bar­rel tubes and glass ele­ments con­trib­ute to the weight­i­ness – the 335 grams re­ally isn’t all that heavy – but there’s also a pre­ci­sion to the feel that’s char­ac­ter­is­tic of a Ger­man-made Leica lens.

The fo­cus­ing col­lar is su­per­smooth in its ac­tion – although it’s ac­tu­ally an elec­tronic ‘fly-by-wire’ con­trol rather than a me­chan­i­cal drive – and the aper­ture ring has nice, meaty de­tents. Bet­ter still, they’re at one-third stop in­cre­ments which en­ables much finer con­trol over ex­po­sures (and depth-of-field).

On the in­side, the op­ti­cal con­struc­tion com­prises 15 ele­ments in 12 groups. Two of these ele­ments are as­pher­i­cal types and three are made from op­ti­cal glass with ex­tra-low dis­per­sion (ED) characteristics (two of these Pana­sonic calls ‘Ultra Ex­tra-Low Dis­per­sion’ or UED ele­ments). The as­pher­i­cal ele­ments cor­rect for dis­tor­tion and spher­i­cal aber­ra­tions – also sav­ing weight be­cause they do the job of mul­ti­ple ele­ments – while the ED types min­imise chro­matic aber­ra­tions… a colour fringing that can oc­cur along high con­trast edges, es­pe­cially to­wards the edges of the frame, which com­pro­mises sharp­ness.

The fo­cus­ing group is lo­cated within the op­ti­cal line so the bar­rel length doesn’t change and nor does the front el­e­ment ro­tate which is im­por­tant if you’re us­ing

MORE SUB­STAN­TIALLY, THIS LENS FEELS JUST LIKE A LEICA PROD­UCT – NICELY WEIGHTY – BUT THIS IS AC­TU­ALLY ALL DOWN TO PANA­SONIC BE­CAUSE IT DOES THE MAN­U­FAC­TUR­ING IN JA­PAN.

ori­en­ta­tion-sen­si­tive fil­ters. The screwthread fil­ter fit­ting, by the way, is 62 mm which is a much smaller di­am­e­ter than it would be on a com­pa­ra­ble full-35mm for­mat lens. A sturdy metal hood is sup­plied with the lens and its bay­o­net fit­ting is recessed a lit­tle so it doesn’t add much to the lens in terms of over­all size (while still pro­vid­ing ef­fec­tive shad­ing). The prac­ti­cal ben­e­fits of the smaller Mi­cro Four Thirds for­mat con­tinue with the 12mm’s over­all di­men­sions… it’s just 70 mm in length and about the same for the max­i­mum di­am­e­ter. That’s a pretty com­pact pack­age for a fast wide-an­gle with a 15-el­e­ment op­ti­cal de­sign.

The min­i­mum fo­cus­ing dis­tance is 20 cen­time­tres giv­ing a mag­ni­fi­ca­tion ra­tio of 1:5 (35mm for­mat equiv­a­lent) which is OK, but ob­vi­ously nowhere near macro at this short fo­cal length. Of course, the ef­fec­tive fo­cal length on the Mi­cro Four Thirds sen­sor is 24mm which is nicely wide-an­gle, but not so wide as to be more of a spe­cial­ity lens. Land­scapes, ar­chi­tec­ture, in­te­ri­ors, night skies, street pho­tog­ra­phy and even closeup ac­tion are all within the scope of this lens.

The di­aphragm has nine blades to give a rounder aper­ture and hence smoother out-of-fo­cus ef­fects which is im­por­tant when the max­i­mum aper­ture is f1.4 and the re­sult­ing depth-of-field is so shal­low.

Se­lec­tive fo­cus is a use­ful cre­ative tool with a lens like this, so the iso­la­tion of the sharp from the blurred is very im­por­tant in terms of its ef­fec­tive­ness.

PER­FOR­MANCE

We tested the 12mm f1.4 on a Lu­mix GX8 body and it par­tic­u­larly com­pli­ments this cam­era’s clas­sic rangefinder-type styling. They also work very well to­gether in terms of their rel­a­tive sizes and weights, cre­at­ing a nicely bal­anced pack­age. We reckon it would also look pretty good fit­ted to Olym­pus’s even more clas­si­cally-styled PEN F.

You set the aper­ture col­lar to its ‘A’ po­si­tion for pro­gram or shut­ter-pri­or­ity ex­po­sure con­trol and there’s an AF/MF se­lec­tor on the bar­rel to set the fo­cus­ing mode. AF op­er­a­tions on the GX8 are ex­tremely fast and, im­por­tantly if you’re shoot­ing video, very quiet (although there is a very faint whirr from the fo­cus­ing drive). Switch to man­ual fo­cus­ing and the flyby-wire fo­cus ring au­to­mat­i­cally en­gages the fo­cus as­sists – a mag­ni­fied im­age or a peak­ing dis­play. Cen­tre-to-edge sharp­ness is pretty good even when shoot­ing at the widest aper­tures, but there’s even bet­ter uni­for­mity from f2.8 to f8.0 with the cor­ners stay­ing nicely crisp. Dif­frac­tion causes a slight re­duc­tion in over­all sharp­ness at f11 and f16, but the Lu­mix GX8 has ‘Dif­frac­tion Com­pen­sa­tion’ pro­cess­ing which pro­vides pretty ef­fec­tive cor­rec­tion. There’s some slight vi­gnetting – bright­ness fall-off at the frame’s cor­ners – be­tween f1.4 and f2.0, but it’s gone from f2.8 on­wards. How­ever, again, the GX8’s ‘Shad­ing Com­pen­sa­tion’ in-cam­era cor­rec­tion pro­cess­ing can be ac­ti­vated to deal with the is­sue.

The lens’s cor­rec­tion for dis­tor­tion is ex­cep­tional so it’s non-ex­is­tent vis­ually and ab­so­lutely min­i­mal on the test chart (which only shows the tini­est amount of bar­rel-type bend­ing). Chro­matic aber­ra­tions are also es­sen­tially non-ex­is­tent while both flare and ghost­ing are well sup­pressed. This is good be­cause it would be a shame to com­pro­mise this lens’s typ­i­cally ‘Leica-look’ high con­trast which gives im­ages a nicely punchy look.

THE VER­DICT

It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that, as we progress fur­ther down the track with mir­ror­less cam­era, it’s the lenses that are start­ing to do the flag-waving for the dif­fer­ent for­mats. Mi­cro Four Thirds is par­tic­u­larly well served be­cause it’s sup­ported by both Pana­sonic and Olym­pus as well as most of the in­de­pen­dents. How­ever, it’s these two main pro­tag­o­nists who are pro­duc­ing the most in­ter­est­ing lenses at the mo­ment, lever­ag­ing the ad­van­tages of the smaller sen­sor size to the full.

If Pana­sonic’s 100-400mm tele­zoom (ef­fec­tively a 200-800mm that you can eas­ily hand-hold) hasn’t got you in, then the 12mm f1.4 is pos­si­bly the lens to do it given, again, its com­pelling com­bi­na­tion of com­pact­ness and ca­pa­bil­i­ties. It’s beau­ti­fully made on the out­side and bril­liantly de­signed on the in­side; with a com­bi­na­tion of fo­cal, speed and min­i­mum fo­cus­ing dis­tance that’s a lot more ver­sa­tile than you might ini­tially imag­ine. This is topped off by an ex­cel­lent all-round per­for­mance in terms of op­ti­cal qual­ity, com­pli­mented by very at­trac­tive vis­ual characteristics. OK, so it could be con­sid­ered a fairly ex­pen­sive lens, but this is re­ally all rel­a­tive… have you priced Leica’s own M-Sum­milux 24mm f1.4 ASPH re­cently? Enough said.

IT’S IN­TER­EST­ING TO NOTE THAT, AS WE PROGRESS FUR­THER DOWN THE TRACK WITH MIR­ROR­LESS CAM­ERAS, IT’S THE LENSES THAT ARE START­ING TO DO THE FLAG-WAVING FOR THE DIF­FER­ENT FOR­MATS.”

Op­ti­cal con­struc­tion in­cludes as­pher­i­cal ele­ments to cor­rect for dis­tor­tion and ex­tra-low dis­per­sion (ED) types to deal with chro­matic aber­ra­tions.

Man­ual aper­ture col­lar has one-third stop in­cre­ments. The Lu­mix 12mm’s styling mim­ics that of Leica’s own primes, in­clud­ing the fo­cal length des­ig­na­tion picked out in or­ange. A switch on the lens bar­rel se­lects fo­cus modes. Man­ual fo­cus col­lar is fly-by-wire. Bar­rel tubes are metal and the lens is weather sealed, in­clud­ing a gas­ket around the mount.

Made for each other – the DG Sum­milux 12mm f1.4 looks right at home on Pana­sonic’s retro-styled GX8. It’d prob­a­bly look just as good on Olym­pus’s PEN F too.

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