Last updated on March 31st, 2017 at 04:52 pm
The collaboration between Panasonic and Leica is taking to the market some amazing lenses and the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 12mm f/1.4 ASPH is another awesome example.
I was delivered this lens just 2 days before a travel photography trip I planned in North Queensland.
I usually travel with 3 lenses (a wide angle, a 50mm and a 24-70mm). I take with me the 70-200mm only if I am planning to shoot a sport event or a local show (rarely nowadays).
I have been always curious to see if I could do a photography trip with just one lens. Probably a wide angle lens. Surely a quick one to use not only for landscape but also in markets, streets, shops and darker environments.
Why not trying some astrophotography as well?
In my hand I had the Panasonic 12mm lens, the widest and brightest lens for Micro Four Thirds (MFT), together with a GX8 camera.
Call me crazy but I decided to leave my Nikon gear at home and start the Queensland trip with only the Panasonic GX8 + 12mm f/1.4
I could feel a great advantage from the first moment. My luggage was 3kg lighter.
But could the lens deliver the quality I am used to?
If you have been following this blog, you know that I like small and light gear for travel photography.
The Panasonic Leica 12mm f/1.4 is not that light at 335gr however there is a good reason for that.
This lens is made of 15 elements in 12 groups. Without going too much into the details I can just say that there is lots of glass inside this body. Add the 9 aperture blades for an improved bokeh and you may actually be surprised it’s only 335gr LOL
The lens body is full metal and dust/splash resistant. And this is great news for travel photography.
When together with a Panasonic GX8 you have a full weather proof package, although I would not use it in heavy rain
This is a professional lens and in this respect I actually believe the 12mm f/1.4 is light and small (70mm diameter x 70mm long). This lens should be compared to a full frame 24mm prime lens and not a pancake lens.
The aperture can be controlled directly through the external ring, which is great. No need to go through menus.
I find that the aperture ring a bit too smooth for my like, I missed that sturdy click feeling when I rotated the aperture ring. In multiple occasions I had to double check if it was the f-stop I wanted, especially because you can go through ⅓ of stops as well.
The lens has also a MF/AF switch (Manual Focus/Automatic Focus). That’s quite handy to have.
That is why.
My landscape photography (especially using tripod for sunset, sunrise, or night photography) usually follow these 4 easy steps:
I could set Manual Focus using the menus however I prefer to use a switch, just quicker.
This is where the 12mm f/1.4 is a real winner and surely it is setting an high bar for any micro four thirds lens.
Let me explain.
Usually any lens, independently from the brand name , tends to reach 100% sharpness one or two stops above the minimal focal length. Only a few, unfortunately very expensive ones, are sharp across the full range.
The Panasonic 12mm gives some incredible results already at f/1.4, very sharp in the centre and slightly soft on the edge.
Add one stop and you won’t notice a difference in the sharpness between the center and the edge.
I could not notice any particular distortion, again quite impressive. It has to be said that Panasonic applies an in-camera distortion and correction algorithm to both JPG and RAW files.
As a side effect, I took few portraits during my trip and the images were so sharp that the faces were showing too many details (I mean some of the face imperfections LOL). That’s something easy to soft in post production, if needed of course.
This is indeed a great MFT portrait lens, but don’t get too close to the subject otherwise the lineaments may become a bit distorted (typical of equivalent focal length below 35mm).
If you are interested to check a 100% sample photo to verify the sharpness down to the pixel you may want to click here.
This lens has an equivalent focal length to 24mm on a full frame sensor camera.
The equivalent focal length is just a measure to identify the angle of view based on the lens and the sensor in your digital camera.
As the sensor size may be different in the cameras (full frame, APS-C, MFT, etc) we need a unique value to compare apples with apples.
There is an easy formula to obtain the equivalent focal length (EFL)
EFL = your Lens Focal Length x (Diagonal Distance on Full Frame Sensor/Diagonal Distance on your camera sensor)
The diagonal distance is calculated on the imaging area.
As an example, with our Panasonic Leica 12mm f/1.4 and the MFT Pamasonic GX8 camera we have:
EFL = 12mm x (43.27 / 21.6) = 24mm as we anticipated few rows above.
For a quick and easy calculation of the EFL just remember to multiply the focal length of your lens by:
Things now become tricky as we talk of equivalent aperture.
This is a very controversial subject and I could write a post just for that.
I remind that the sensor on the MFT cameras is a quarter of the size of a full frame sensor.
You may read on some blogs, or reviews, that the equivalent aperture of an f/1.4 MFT lens is f/2.8.
This may refer to the fact that you will have the same quality bokeh (out of focus region, usually in the background) of the f/1.4 MFT in a f/2.8 full frame sensor.
However if you are not after the bokeh but just the light entering in your lens then f/1.4 is just f/1.4, that’s it.
As an example, I was this morning walking in a small Canyon here in Queensland. The tropical plants were so dense that there was hardly any light. I set the camera between f/1.4 and f/2.8 and I had no problems with any of my photos to find an acceptable shutter speed for hand held photography (still using ISO 200).
If you are into astrophotography, or you want to give a try, this is a great lens too.
That is why
You need two components for astrophotography:
In a city it is virtually impossible to do astrophotography. But, hey, I am now in the tropical Queensland and almost no city lights around.
Great environment to try a few photos
By the way, if you wonder where is a good site next to your home or hotel, check the Dark Site Finder website.
Stars will also be more visible on a night without moon. You can check the Moon Phases here.
The Panasonic 12mm f/1.4 is definitely a quick one.
Why do we need a quick lens?
Because that would allow to use a lower ISO.
I need to introduce here a quick rule, the so called 500 Rule.
This simple formula determines the recommended shutter speed (RSS) to capture the sky without having any star trail (basically freezing them)
RSS = 500/EquivalentFocalLength
With the Panasonic 12mm f/1.4 I have:
RSS = 500/24 = 20.8sec or about 20sec
This is an approximate value, that may change slightly based on the environment (shoot and check). As an example, if you have a bright foreground you may want to use 10sec shutter speed or decrease your ISO one step down.
The last value to set is the ISO which is usually:
Unfortunately there is a point where the ISO noise is too high. That is why it is suggested to have a quick lens. You may do astrophotography also with an f/4 lens however the quality may not be as expected.
The setting for my astrophotography with the Panasonic 12mm f/1.4 was mostly:
20sec at f/1.4, ISO 800
What about the photos I made?
I was very happy once again with the result. I noticed only a touch of chromatic aberration (the profile of the star is not well defined on one side) at f/1.4, but getting better at f/2. I am here more of a pixel peeper 😉
I was so eager to try this lens in astrophotography that I went out in a night with wind and few clouds passing by. Probably not the best conditions although I quite like the palms moving on the left side of above photo.
At f/1.4 the Panasonic Leica 12mm is quite a low aberration lens. At 1:1 zoom-in, I could notice a touch of chromatic aberration.
At f/1.6, just a first of Aperture stop up, the lens is performing very well. I could see an almost unnoticeable chromatic aberration on the corners. An I am here really pixel peeper.
An aperture of f/1.4 introduces a new world of creativity.
The bokeh you can add is lovely and it can be used not only in portraits but also in many other type of photos, especially when you want to highlight your subject against the background.
I made the same photo of this flower at different aperture to see the different result.
At f/16 and f/1.4 the lens is performing well but not as exceptional as at the other apertures. Some softness is noticeable.
This lens is not technically made for macro, however with the closest focusing distance of 20cm you can still have some great shots.
I tried few photos 10cm away from the subject and, beside some vignetting (you can improve it in post) I was please with the result.
Here is the 1:1 zoom in of the shell
At f/1.4 the depth of field is pretty narrow. Having the subject in focus is not an easy task and it needs practice.
As an example, if you take a portrait and you focus to have sharp eye pupils, than the eyelash will be already out of focus.
Just a slight movement of your camera and your focus will be moved to something else.
In the photo of the shell above I missed the centre of the shell for about 2-3mm.
In saying that, this is something that 99% of the people probably would not notice on a print, even up to A4 or A3 size.
The Panasonic 12mm f/1.4 comes with a metal lens hood which is easy to mount/remove when needed. The filter thread is 62mm.
The autofocus engine is quick and quite, comparable with any high performing quality lens. I have not missed a single photo.
I took some sharp photos down to 0.6sec with this lens, without using any tripod of course.
Last thing I noticed on this lens is that I had occasional flare, even with the lens cap on. It happens in rare occasions though.
I got some nice shots even facing the sun, like the one below in the beautiful Cairns Botanical Garden. However I experienced flare a few times with the sun in front of me (somehow expected) and also on my side.
The most common question I get asked is
What camera do you suggest?
I decided to write a post on the best travel camera in the market, which I update on a monthly basis.
However very rarely I get asked about lenses. I find that quite strange because the glass on front of the camera is as important as the camera itself, if not more.
My answer is to budget as much for the camera as for the first lens.
Is it good value?
I believe this lens delivers big time, no questions about. Fastest aperture in the market with an amazing sharpness from the centre to the edge. The body is full metal and water/splash resistant, which is perfect for any photography trip.
The lens market is probably for the advanced photo enthusiasts and the professional photographers. And this is a niche that is becoming bigger and bigger.
This is a premium lens that may be hard to budget in. It’s not that cheap.
This is a lens however that, once mounted, makes you forgetting and forgiving the price tag. It makes questioning yourself why you haven’t bought it sooner rather than later.
I talked in this review about sharpness, about bokeh, about distortion, about construction.
And this is all great.
But remember that people react to light, color and emotion. The lens, and the camera, may help to achieve that, however do not concentrate too much on the technical details 😉
I don’t like to be a pixel peeper and I don’t think, as photographers, we should. Of course, just my personal opinion.
And what about my trip in Queensland with a single lens?
Much better than I anticipated.
I missed my zoom lens in rare occasions
Overall I was very satisfied with my decision and I promised myself to downscale in future with my lenses.
One wide angle lens is able to cover most of the travel photography needs
I have not tested the Olympus 12mm f/2 lens so I can only compare it on paper.
My thinking is that the Olympus lens is more dedicated to the traveller on the go that appreciates a lighter lens (just 130gr compared to 335gr) however compromising on the focusing speed, solid construction and that nice bokeh typical of an f/1.4 lens.
I would have to test it to see how they compare in sharpness, however the professional construction of the Panasonic 12mm f/1.4 (15 elements in 12 groups) should be already an indication of better performance. I said “should’ 😉
On the other hand the Olympus lens is cheaper than the Panasonic lens, a third cheaper.
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.