A lens that carries all the glamour of the 85mm f/1.2, but with the ease of construction of the 50mm standard is an exciting prospect. Damien Demolder tests Panasonic’s Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Asph Power OIS
Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Asph Power OIS review – In use
Image: Shooting at f/1.2 allowed a shutter speed of 1/400sec for this night scene, at just ISO 3200
Once attached to an appropriate camera, the Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Asph Power OIS is a complete pleasure to use. It feels good in the hand and its weight is a constant reminder that we have wide apertures to play with. It seemed a shame to use the lens in its A setting to control the apertures through the camera body, so I made the most of having a manual ring to turn. Leica M users will know with their eyes shut that this isn’t a Leica aperture ring, as the clicks are deeper and less smooth, but it is very nice all the same. There is a four-click gap between f/1.2 and f/2 to allow for f/1.4, f/1.6 and f/1.8, and then we roll into 1⁄3-stop increments all the way to f/16.
While it is wonderful to have such a wide aperture on a lens like this, the compact system camera market has yet to fully develop the infrastructure to make the most of it. Many CSC bodies are restricted by minimum ISO settings of more than 100, and top shutter speeds of 1/4000sec or longer. On a reasonably bright day it is common to run out of the short speeds and low-sensitivity settings that allow the lens to be used wide open, so then we have to close down and miss out. Some progress is being made on this front, and I hope that soon we will be able to work free of these limitations. In night-time street scenes, however, the wide aperture allows us to work handheld without resorting to resolution-damaging ISO settings of 6400, for example, which is a great relief.
A principal issue with using any narrow-angled wide-aperture lens is that of focus shift with recomposition. Traditionally, we might use a convenient point in our camera’s AF array to find our desired focus area, hold the shutter release or AF lock, recompose and then shoot. In close-distance subjects, when a shallow depth of field is in play it is common to discover that the focus shifts behind our desired point, because the actual distance between the lens and the subject has changed. In normal-distance subjects that rarely matters, but for close head-and-shoulders images with a 85mm-type focal length and an aperture even of f/3.5, the shift is great enough to make a practical difference to sharpness. This is the reason Hasselblad developed its True Focus in-camera yaw-correction function. DSLR users have to rely on off-centre AF points that often are not far enough away from the middle zone of the screen to be useful for interesting compositions, such as where the subject’s eye is close to the extremes of the frame.
Image: Despite the aperture being fully open, the detail in the eye is still extremely sharp
Cameras that use touch-focus systems via the live view screen overcome this focus issue very neatly, and both the GX7 and GH3 that I used this lens with allowed extreme-position focusing without having to use the AF-lock and recompose technique.
The manual-focus option of this lens is more than usable. Although I’m not a great fan of systems in which the focusing ring is connected only to wires and not a physical helical mechanism, once I became used to the direction of travel I found manual focusing reasonably quick. The GX7 offers a peaking service that makes edges bristle with offending colours once focus is found, and which proved more useful than the usual ‘judging by eye’ in an optical finder or a split-screen.
Although with such a wide maximum aperture the requirement for long shutter speeds is much reduced, when we do shift up to the better-quality apertures, such as f/8, the supplied Optical Image Stabilisation system proves useful, allowing an additional 3EV of longer shutter speeds. I found that with the weight of the lens, and so long as it is the lens you are supporting and not the camera, the claims are true enough, and I was able to hold the lens very still and be assisted to at least 1/30sec in safety.
While all is supposed to be unified in the micro four thirds system, the Pen E-PL5 and OM-D E-M5 I tried this lens on refused to acknowledge the aperture ring at all. The body-aperture controls work as normal, so the lens is as usable as any other, but you just don’t get to do the clicky thing with the traditional ring.
Image: The shallow depth of field at f/1.2 can help lift a subject from a distracting background