The Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH. POWER O.I.S. lens has an incredible reputation among Micro 4/3 users. It is one of the more expensive lenses, but it is capable of gorgeous images. Sharpness is outstanding on this lens, as is the bokeh which makes it an excellent choice for portraits or situations where you want to knock out the background. This lens has a beautiful 3D feel to it.
Depth-of-field is a challenge with Micro 4/3 cameras because of the smaller sensor size. Panasonic and Olympus both have developed lines of f/1.2 “professional” series lenses to max this out as much as possible. 42.5mm becomes an 85mm equivalent on a full frame system and longer focal lengths tend to help with subject/background separation. I think Panasonic have made something very special with this lens. The downside is obviously the cost, but if you’re serious about having the best image quality this is the lens.
Optics and Image Quality
The Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH. Features 14 elements in 11 groups. There are 9 diaphragm blades in a rounded configuration which is suited to the beautiful, rounded spherical highlights you see in the out of focus areas of the image. Bokeh has always been a difficult idea for me for many reasons. Its a term that’s become part of the photography vocabulary in recent years and it refers to the pleasing quality of what is out of focus. While I understand the obsession, I think many photographers over use it to compensate for their lack of compositional skills and its easy. Just shoot wide open and forget about it.
Photography is about contrasts, its about give and take. And “bokeh” is also dependent on what is in focus in the image. I’m fairly sure the MTF chart is theoretical and not taken from a production lens, but I feel that after using this lens extensively its a good indication of the performance. Sharp areas are sharp. This is the key to a great “bokeh” feel – you need the balance of sharpness against the out of focus areas.
Color rendition is exceptional. I didn’t find much issue with fringing though this is hard to gauge on Micro 4/3 cameras since they do a lot of corrections in-body.
The Nocticron 45mm f/1.2 is designed with one ED and one UHR element. Panasonic combine this with their nano surface coating which minimizes light reflections across the visible spectrum. This reduces ghosting and flare dramatically. I’ve seen no images where these were a problem. In fact when you shoot into direct light, the lens handles it quite well.
Vignetting and Performance
At f/1.2 there is significant vignetting. This cleans up by f/2.0. This lens performs well across all apertures up to f/11 without any diffraction. The sharpest points are between f/4 and f/5.6.
Build Quality and Autofocus
The Nocticron 42.5mm features a metal lens barrel and is quite hefty as you would expect from an f/1.2 lens. It comes with a massive, metal lens hood that attaches with a simple twisting knob. There is also a physical aperture collar which is really nice to have. Though it should be noted that the aperture collar only works with Panasonic cameras. Olympus doesn’t support this feature – aperture is adjusted from the camera only.
Panasonic have designed this lens with a newly developed stepping motor for autofocus. It is fast and silent. I did have some issues with the autofocus. If the lens was focused near infinity which is the default when you power on the camera – the lens couldn’t see out of focus objects that were closer to the camera. I found myself switching over to manual focus quite a bit and just used focus peaking from the camera. Not a big deal, but its enough of a problem to miss a shot.
The lens also has built in optical image stabilization. The “power OSS” works with the Panasonic internal in-body stabilization to give you a 5-axis “steady shot”. It is incredible and is one of the major features of the newer Panasonic cameras. It works great for video and stills alike. For stills I can hand hold at 1/4 sec shutter speed easily.
I love this lens. This particular model is a loaner from B&H who were kind enough to send it to me. I’m going to do some further testing with some other lenses in this focal length, but from my experience here – this might be the lens I end up buying.
The ergonomics are fantastic. I mounted this to both the Panasonic G9 and the Panasonic GX850 – both handled extremely well. The GX850 is a smaller, economical camera from Panasonic and doesn’t have the built in in-body image stabilization, its only 16 megapixels etc… but I love this camera because its so small. Its a great travel camera. I love using it for candids and street style photography because of the size – it becomes stealth. Its like a big lens cap that shoots photos.
My favorite aspects of this lens is the way it renders focus. Its such a beautiful contrast between sharpness and bokeh that it competes well, even with its bigger full frame siblings. The proof is in the images. Highly recommended!