Hi all. Sorry for the lack of activity on the blog. Lots of things happening in the Robichaud camp of late, many of which have required a large amount of time, energy and emotional involvement. All’s well, and one thing I’ve been really wanting to share is a quick look at this new micro 4/3 gem. The (Panasonic) Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 aspherical micro 4/3 lens is the fourth Leica branded lens for the micro 4/3 system, and much like the others I’ve shot with, brings with it a unique signature. Boasting a fast f/1.7 maximum aperture setting, and a 30mm equivalent field of view in a solidly built little package, it should prove to be another success for the system. An odd focal length, but one that if embraced, can give someone a unique wide angle that moonlights as a semi-standard a-la the more traditional 35mm focal length. I have always been a 35mm lens fan, and not a fan of the 28mm lenses, rather opting for a 24mm as my wide angle and the 35 as my semi-wide/standard focal length of choice for all around shooting, this lens has forced me to reassess my past comforts, but to be fair, the Oly 75mm falls into that same category, and I love that one, so I’ve found room in my heart for odd focal lengths in the past. (*If interested, you can now read my review and comparison piece using the Leica 15mm HERE) Okay, let’s take a quick look at this little lens… Leica?! That’s not a Leica! Well, no it isn’t, but yes it is. If you mean that it wasn’t manufactured in Germany, than, no it’s not a Leica lens in the purest form of the word, but it is a proprietary optical formulation, co-designed and approved by Leica in conjunction with Panasonic, and is then manufactured by Panasonic in Japan. To me, it is the best of both worlds in that it has a bit of that Leica magic without the ridiculous price tags, and if we’re to follow this same logic, much of Leica’s own products shouldn’t then be “Leica” as much of their own product line (non M lines) are basically rebranded Panasonic cameras anyway. All that said and done, ignore the name on the front, and have a look at the lens on its own merits. For reference, I’ve shot everything you’ll see here in RAW and processed in Aperture, exported to size as a JPEG. I’ve not done anything to the shots where I’m showing CA, distortion or the like. Obviously for the shot above, I converted it to black and white, but really if I’m mentioning the lens’ performance in a particular area, I’ve not corrected, nor adjusted anything in post to give you the same image I’m seeing straight out of the camera.
- Build quality?
As solid as anything for the system so far. Metal, glass and a confident heft that lets you know you’re shooting through a quality optic. The manual aperture ring is great, and while I question its long term usefulness for this system (it isn’t click less which would be good for video) and so often I’m going to shoot it wide open anyway, it can be seen as potentially surplus for a majority of micro 4/3 users. That the manual aperture control doesn’t work on Oly bodies as of now is kinda annoying for those who do want to manually control it (you control the aperture as you would any other lens when on an Oly body) but that could feasibly be a firmware fix. Regardless, this feature might be a boon, or for those who don’t really care, or happen to shoot with Oly bodies, you set the lens to it’s “A” (auto) setting, and it operates just as any other lens will. No it is not weather sealed, which very few lenses for this system (or any system) are, and that isn’t too surprising. One nice thing that I do appreciate with most all of the Panasonic lenses I’ve purchased (aside from the pancakes), it has a lens hood included!!! It also comes with a nifty little bag. I do wish, that to employ the lens hood, one would not need to remove a ring on the front of the lens as I then have to keep track of that little piece, but what it does do is give you plenty of room to use filters with the hood on, and I guess decreases the diameter of the hood where it attaches to the lens, keeping it lower profile. You can see a shot down near the bottom of the post where I have the lens with and without hood for comparison’s sake.
- Image Quality?
So far, so good. I will be pitting this lens against a couple other of the system lenses in the same general focal range to see if it can be a replacement for the other two Panasonic lenses in that semi-wide/standard neighborhood, namely the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 and the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancakes. I’d love to compare it to the Oly 17mm f/1.8 lens, but I don’t have one. If anyone wants to send me theirs, I’d be happy to do a comparison 🙂 From the week I’ve been shooting this lens, I can say that it delivers as I’d assume a lens with the reputation it has already developed would. It is priced high, but does that high price equate to higher quality? That is going to be measured in very small increments if I’m being honest from my initial feeling, but as far as image quality goes, this little lens does very well for itself. It is a fast and accurate focuser that enables a micro 4/3 shooter the ability to shallow up the depth of field decently for such a wide angle lens. The color, saturation and contrast all have a bit of the Leica magic which I like to pump up the Pana-Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens for having, and while the 15mm lens doesn’t quite have the same level of almost 3D like punch to the images that the 25mm has, I feel it is more to do with the substantially wider angle of view coupled with a half stop slower max aperture comparatively. I will have a closer look at pure sharpness and the like at a later date, but to my eye, for the casual carry around, it has been sharp, contrasty and renders color well. It has a similar signature to the PL25/1.4 to my eye as far as color and contrast, and that is a really good thing.
Yep. It’s a wide angle lens, and when shot from a non-leveled angle, you will see converging lines and bowing pretty quickly. I will try to do a more thorough test on this with optical correction via in camera JPEG processing, or even in post correction processing, but I see most wide angle applications as story telling where square lines are less important. Where I feel the distortion will be most annoying will be in interior or landscape situations where you’re dealing with straight lines. Again, I’ll compare it to other lenses, and see what the in camera processing may do for it. Distortion though, especially with lenses wider than standard, is common. Even for longer focal lengths, if you get down low and tilt your camera upwards, you’re going to have to deal with perspective distortion, keystoning and converging lines as well. It’s part of the photographic reality, it just becomes much more quickly evident the wider the angle of view, especially near the edges of the frame. Keeping the camera level, this lens does well though most of the frame (again, I’m shooting in RAW) as you can kind of see below.
Yep. The hood helps with cross light or reflection, but when the sun, or any strong source of light is in frame, flare shows up. Not unique to this lens by any stretch of the imagination, and certainly more of a reality for wider focal lengths again as you’re introducing a much greater angle of view, and the optics to allow for that, but I’m kind of surprised it flares quite as much as it does. I will say that it seems very cinematic in its flare though. I haven’t seen the aggressive magenta or color bleeding flare that plagues other lenses for the system quite as badly, so to me, it is more a situation where I can work around flare by keeping the sun out of the frame, or stop down a couple stops and it is much better controlled. There is a bit of the magenta and green flaring, but is pretty confined and I moved the camera around here to get it to show up as much as I possibly could. One thing I’m impressed by here though is that it has not robbed me of my contrast and saturation to a great extent. I don’t see a big desaturation or loss of contrast in the shot above, and for that I’m happy. The shot above was taken at f/2.2, and the one below is wide open at f/1.7:
- Chromatic Aberration
CA normally shows itself at wider apertures in situations where there is extreme contrast and/or substantial backlighting where the light essentially bleeds over the edge from a point where the highlight information merges back into the measurable scale of your histogram. Normally you’ll see magenta/cyan shifts, or sometimes yellow/blue shifts. This lens seems to do well to control CA within reason. Below is an example of this extreme contrast with severe lighting and highlight clipping where you can see a little cyan fringing along the window sill and his hair where the light hits him. Usually, this is easy to correct, and for a CA shift this mellow, it can be very easy in most any image processing software.
- Shallow DOF, Bokeh?
Wide angle lenses, inherently (mathematically) exhibit a deeper depth of field, meaning it is both easier to keep an entire scene in focus and more difficult to separate a subject from other elements in the scene by way of a shallow DOF. Bokeh is a popular catch phrase right now, and an attribute that many of us are curious about in regards to a particular lens. Bokeh is a result of depth of field, and more accurately, how your plane of focus interacts with the scene you’re shooting. The definition varies, but is basically the subjective quality of the out of focus areas in an image. Bokeh is probably most linked to the rendering of out of focus points of light, or what many like to call, bokeh balls. If you have a larger aperture, combined with a close focusing distance, it is easier to separate your subject from back ground elements and throw any points of light in the distant background into the globulous light we all seem to enjoy. Can this little lens do this? Yes, yes it can. Pretty easily actually. One nice feature of this lens is its very close minimum focusing distance of about 8″ which very quickly narrows the depth of field if shooting at a wider/faster aperture such as f/1.7 or f/2. Now, can you include your subject or subjects in the frame at this close a focusing distance? Not if it is a large group of people, no, but for head shots, or even full body shots when any background elements are far enough away, you bet. A fast semi-wide angle lens can be a lot of fun. While you won’t get the background obliteration you’ll find with the longer portrait or telephoto focal lengths, you also don’t have to be a hundred feet away to take a group shot. For close in shooting, and what I see as an “everyday” type of documentary lens, this general focal length does very well. When you have the ability to shoot in lower light and more easily shallow up your depth of field, then it’s all the better.
As I’d mentioned above, I see this lens as a story telling lens. The type of lens that will work for a day to day, documentary lens. It’s wide enough to allow for quite a bit of your scene making for a good environmental portrait lens, and allows you to focus very closely to allow for a shallow depth of field if wanted. The relatively fast maximum aperture, combined with this wide angle of view will do me very well as a handheld, low light lens for times out and about in the darker hours. I want to get it out to shoot some live music, and it will most certainly become my go to lens for time spent out with friends and the like. It’s light weight and small for a non pancake lens, but has a solidity and heft which contradicts its seemingly feathery profile. While it may take someone a bit to get used to the arguably odd focal length, my eye has quickly adapted and I feel it could very well be replacing both my 14mm and 20mm pancakes making it about a wash financially. The included metal hood is nice, and while this lens is obviously built to fit the GM1 and future iterations, it doesn’t feel in anyway wrong when using it on the larger GX7. Like I said, I will do a comparison soon so stay tuned for that. I also have a comparison article with the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 which I’ve also been enjoying immensely of late, so lots of lens based stuff in the works. Thanks as always for the read. I’d forgotten how much I’d missed writing about photography and photographic gear which has been a wonderful escape from the crap life has been throwing at us of late, so I appreciate you humoring me and my rambling. Here is a shot of the lens with the hood on the GX7, and without the hood on the GM1. No, I do not own two copies of this lens, just a few minutes of spare time and a legally purchased license for Photoshop CS6.
The Panasonic-Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 Aspherical lens is now widely available. You can click the links below to see it at both B&H as well as Adorama in both Black (available now) and Silver (currently only available pre-order). These links are connected to my affiliate account, and if purchased through these, gives me a small commission, so if you do choose to buy this lens and do so through my links, thank you very much in advance 🙂 Black Leica 15mm f/1.7 at Adorama HERE and at B&H HERE Silver Leica 15mm f/1.7 at Adorama Pre-Order HERE Anyone new to the blog, we have a growing community on Flickr here, or find me on Facebook or Twitter to stay in touch. If you’d like to receive articles via email, just enter your email address at the top right of this page. Happy shooting everyone, Tyson