Lumix Leica DG Summilux 12mm f1.4 ASPH
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.
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.
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.