Now, readers may remember a mere 6 months or so ago, I purchased the Voigtländer 42.5mm f/0.95 lens (see that review on a new page HERE) for my micro 4/3 system setup. I’ve loved that lens, but since its announcement I’ve been curious about the Leica branded Nocticron, largely because I do really enjoy shooting two of the other Leica branded lenses for the system in the Summicron 15mm and 25mm models. The asking price for this portrait lens was always high for my taste, which was why I opted for the Voigt to begin with (which isn’t cheap in its own right, but 2/3 the retail price of the Nocti). Well, as luck would have it, an open box/like new Nocticron came up for sale at near the same price as the Voigtländer and my curiosity couldn’t be held back, and now I’m tasked with figuring out which one to hold onto.
Here are my initial impressions on this beautiful lens.
The Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens is an 85mm equivalent, optically stabilized, portrait optic for Panasonic and Olympus micro 4/3 cameras. It has 14 beautifully designed lens elements in 11 groups with two aspherical elements, one extra-low dispersion element, one ultra high refractive index element, 9 aperture blades and a whole lot of panache.
With this first look, I’m just getting a feel for this lens. I will put it through the gauntlet, and shoot it along with the Voigt and the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens to see just how each performs against each other as we have three (four including the new Lumix 42.5/1.7 or even 5 if looking to the PL45mm f/2.8 macro) portrait primes, all offering a different upside in a native, m4/3 mount. The three I own all sit at different price points, and I’m interested to see if the extra cost involved with the Voigt or Nocti are truly justified over the budget friendly, and quality performer in the Oly 45mm.
Okay, the first thing one will notice when pulling this lens out of the box is how large it is by system standards. It’s heavier and slightly bulkier than the Oly 75mm f/1.8 in the hand. The Leica Nocticron could certainly be seen as pushing the limits to the system’s benefit of size reduction. That said, it is nicely balanced, all said and done on the front of my GX7, and we all know that speed comes at the cost of size reduction. Similar in dimension to the Oly 75, it creates a much more DSLR-like mass in hand, compared to the pancakes, or smaller optics that speckle the micro 4/3 lens landscape. Certainly a bullet point for the “anti size at all cost” crowd’s argument, I’ve grown to see these tools as rather being able to be smaller, not necessarily needing to be as small as possible, and I’m okay with that, especially when you start to see shots from this Leica lens, along with “larger” lenses like the Oly 75 or Oly Pro 2.8 zooms.
Olympus 75mm f/1.8 — Leica 42.5mm f/1.2
Like the Pana-Leica 15mm Summilux before it, the Nocticron incorporates a physical aperture ring with 1/3 click stops. Unfortunately, it does not work as designed when used on an Olympus body, but I don’t see why there couldn’t be firmware updates to remedy this. The other potential downside is that it does not enable a clickless operation akin to the Voigtländer, handy for video, which Panasonic tends to see as one of its strong points as a player in this system.
With the included lens hood fastened, the overall package starts to get a bit bulky. Still, great to see a high end lens (and price point) outfitted with the proper tools. Say what you will about metal vs. plastic hoods, the included metal hood for this lens is a solid piece, and one that when fastened provides the peace of mind that your lens is well protected from not only contrast robbing flare, but bumps and the errant, greasy finger tip as well.
The Nocticron is built like a small but agile tank, and incorporates Panasonic’s Power OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) which as seen below in the first test, shooting a “dynamic” subject, it did well for me by providing 3 stops of “hand holdability” which isn’t groundbreaking, but at 1/10 second, any success with hand holding should be applauded, regardless of the lens or camera involved. Using the “1/effective focal length” rule of thumb, I started as close to 85 as I could. Click the image to see it larger:
Keep in mind, that doing an image stabilization test when shooting a breathing, carbon based subject, the OIS (or IBIS) will not be able to account for the movement of the subject you’re shooting, so in this case, while I feel I have my handholding technique down well enough to keep my movement still enough, at 1/10 second, the handshake correction might not be able to account for my movement on the other end of that focused cone of light rays.
Now, in this next test, take into consideration that I shot at a constant ISO setting, and adjusted both the aperture and shutter speeds a single stop in opposite directions to maintain proper exposure, and give me my stop by stop increments. I say this because at the faster shutter speeds, I’m shooting at larger apertures, hence the shallower DOF. Find the area in focus in this first shot (1/80sec) and this is where the point of focus was for all shots (click to see larger):
I shot the above scene twice through, starting from 1/80th of a second through 0.4 seconds, a 5 full stop swing, and I found that both times through, I got better results at 1/10 and 1/5sec than I did at 1/20sec. Whether that has something to do with me, with the lens, the camera or just my technique, I do not know, but found it interesting.
Shooting a static subject, I feel I was able to get closer to 4 stops of image stabilization compensation versus shooting a living, breathing subject where the camera could only account for my handshake, not necessarily stabilizing the movement of the subject it was compensating for, which coincidentally was also me in this scenario. If your dynamic subject can sit very still, and you’re also capable of doing so, I think you could get 3 usable stops worth of compensation, while complimented by a good shooting technique, you can probably get more than that for static subjects.
So, depending on your subject and technique, I have found that this lens should be capable of providing between 3 and 4 stops of compensation as a best case scenario, and would probably be more realistic to expect 2-3 stops, with the potential to squeeze a stop or two more out under more complimentary conditions.
ISO 125 – 1/125 – f/5.6
What is there to say, really. This is the best lens that I have shot for the micro 4/3 system. Any lens this fast is going to have a challenging depth of field to work within. While it exhibits an 85mm equivalent field of view, it still has the same DOF as any other 42.5mm f/1.2 lens would have. Instead of trying to put it into terms of a portrait focal length, look at it as a standard f/1.2 lens. This lens, while cropping to a narrower field of view, has roughly the same shallow DOF capabilities as say the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L lens does, nearly.
Due to what I can only assume to be some amazing optical engineering, I’ve seen next to no chromatic aberration, even when shot wide open. In areas of extreme contrast by way of a subject being backlit, there can be a very, very slight shift, but it is as well controlled as I’ve seen on a lens, especially one this fast.
ISO 200 – 1/400 – f/1.2
ISO 200 – 1/5000 – f/1.2
Bokeh? Well, while it does tend to produce the more oblong, cat-eye out of focus bokeh balls the further out toward the edges you go, it renders out of focus areas and points of light beautifully, smoothly and easily.
ISO 125 – 1/125 – f/2 (using a 3 stop ND filter)
It is sharp wide open, and this is where I’ve shot it most of the time. I have rarely stopped down past f/2, even when out in bright light, or shooting portraits aided by the use of a 3 stop ND filter, and it has been wonderful. Of course, as it is stopped down, it gets remarkably sharp, and at about f/4 is at the very least, as sharp as any other lens for this system. If needing the depth of field, rest assured that you can stop this lens down with remarkable results. I am so pleased with the sharpness wide open, than seeing shots with the lens stopped down brings with it a certain level of amazement. The only m4/3 AF lens that I’ve seen that is close is the Olympus 75mm f/1.8, so far. I will be comparing the Nocti to the Voigtländer 42.5mm f/0.95 and Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lenses in a portrait shoot out soon, and I’ll try to throw some Oly 75 shots in there too, but regardless of how other lenses stack up, this Leica branded optic is stellar.
ISO 200 – 1/3200 – f/1.2 (using a 3 stop ND filter)
ISO 125 – 1/80 – f/1.8
ISO 200 – 1/2000 – f/4
ISO 125 – 1/640 – f/1.2
I dismissed this lens upon its release because of its price. It is very expensive by system standards (by any system standards!), and I’d like to see this lens drop by a couple hundred dollars to make it just slightly more accessible (and justifiable) for those of us who may not be able to use this lens to immediately recoup the investment. As luck would have it (perhaps I’m not the only one feeling this way) There is a $200 rebate on this lens currently, dropping the price down to $1398 at Adorama HERE and B&H HERE.
I say this not becuase I feel that this lens isn’t worth what it was initially priced at, but because it is a lens that brings out the best of what this system can offer on the image quality front, and for a system needing to scratch and claw its way up the food chain, if more m4/3 shooters have access to this type of quality, the benefits of this system will be better realized. I’m not saying that Panasonic should give away the farm, but with perception and marketing prowess seemingly against mirrorless systems in general, if more folks could shoot with the best this system has to offer, those perceptions are going to change much more quickly and this lens is as good as I’ve seen for this system, even up there with most any lens I’ve ever shot on any format. As we see advancement in sensor technology and output for the system, this lens is one that will get better and better I feel. It’s an investment, no doubt, but an investment that will continue to realize results and benefits moving forward.
I’ve been critical of lens prices for this system in the past, most notably the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens going for $900. The Oly 75 oozes quality, but I always felt that it should be at least partially price determined, based on design and material where there are quite a few, good quality lenses in the portrait/85mm f/1.8 range (in the DSLR world) that are less than half that price. If we’re to use my logic here on this Pana-Leica lens, comparing it to a standard (~50mm), f/1.2 lens, the Pana-Leica makes more sense at it’s initial retail price of $1600 going by prices of 50mm f/1.2 lenses, than the 75mm f/1.8 does at $900. When I compared the Olympus 75mm to the Canon 135mm f/2 L lens (see that comparison article on a new page HERE), I felt that Olympus took the “price it to the equivalent” strategy in that the Oly closely resembles that 135mm mid tele stalwart in quality and price. If we are to look at the Nocticron this way, continuing to use Canon, their 85mm f/1.2 L II lens goes for around $2k, so by this argument, the Leica Nocticron is a steal. Regardless, both are expensive, and both are of a very high level of quality and it may sound like I’m slagging the Oly 75mm off here, which to be fair, it has always been a great lens and I love it. As far as pure value, that is more a personal determination, and I must say that for me, this Nocticron’s got it going on.
There are few lenses for this system that I’ve shot that have really made me feel that it could satisfy 99% of my needs in a professional manner. Granted a single prime lens will not handle all necessary jobs in a professional scenario, but for portraiture, this lens could certainly do it for me. I’ve purchased, owned, and used many portrait primes over the years, and have never settled on one. I’ve used 85mm f/1.8, f/1.4 an f/1.2 lenses and while I’ve enjoyed them, none of them are still with me. For years with the micro 4/3 system I used an adapted Contax G Zeiss 45mm f/2 lens and was happy, until I found the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 on sale. Then I realized I wanted a faster portrait lens, in came the Voigtländer. After a few recent shoots with the Voigty, I realized how important AF was for me in certain situations as I realized after the fact that my focus was slightly off on a couple of key shots. I’d always kept my eyes open for any sales, or used Nocticrons that might come across my path. When one did at just over what I paid for the Voigtländer, I felt I needed to at least give it a try to see if it could supplant the Voigty in my bag.
Is it worth the asking price? The quick answer to that is that it is a personal decision. Those who want or need this type of lens will probably have no problems justifying it. For those of us with other areas that our hard earned money goes toward, there are certainly ways to get a good quality portrait lens for less money in the m4/3 system. But again, if looking at equivalent lenses by way of material, size and speed, yeah, I think the price is justified. If looking at equivalent tools in terms of crop and aperture, we can debate the light gathering vs DOF, but honestly, if I can shoot wide open at f/1.2 in open shade or low natural light portraits and get an entire eye in focus (compared to needing to stop down on a full frame 85mm f/1.2 for instance), then I see that as a benefit, not a hinderance. There’s no problem shallowing up your DOF with this lens, and it is remarkably sharp for an f/1.2 lens when shot wide open. Stop it down to f/2, it’s even sharper and at f/4 it is probably the sharpest lens for this system, hands down.
What is the price you’d be willing to pay for that type of quality? For me, it wasn’t $1,600 but now that I’ve shot with it, I don’t know if I would argue quite as strongly with that price now. Seeing as the price is seeming to adjust a bit, with $100 and now $200 rebates, I think it is coming into balance a little bit, and to me, is easier to justify that pricing considering that it is optically the best lens for the system right now. For event shooters, and any system shooter that does a lot of work creating people pictures or portraits of any type, while spendy, the quality is undeniable.
Thank you for making it all the way through. If you’re shopping for this lens, and have made it all the way through this rambling article, hopefully you’ve found some value in my review. If you do choose to buy, doing so through the following links would kick me back a small commission through Adorama or B&H. It costs nothing more, but helps folks like me out, so thank you for the consideration. If not through my links, please find a hardworking photography blogger to support because it helps lend some credence for those of us asking for review units, or income to help provide content like this, so thank you… from all the photo-bloggers out there I guess.
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