Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. Review

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Pros
  • Outstanding sharpness
  • Low distortion
  • Low CA
  • Fast and silent AF
  • High contrast for punchy results
  • Dust and splash proof
Cons
  • Can be susceptible to flare
  • Fairly expensive

Panasonic Leica 8 18mm Front Oblique View

This new ultra wide to wide standard 8-18mm lens has a useful “35mm equivalent” of 16-36mm. Designed for Micro Four Thirds (MFT) format cameras, it is reviewed here using the 20mp Panasonic Lumix GX8 camera body. Carrying the prestigious Leica name, let’s have a look to see if it lives up to that stature in terms of performance and how it handles in practical use.

Handling and Features

Panasonic Leica 8 18mm Vertical View

The quality of finish is not in doubt, the controls of the lens all being as smooth as silk in operation. If we start at the front of the lens, the first interesting feature is the deeply recessed front element. Although the lens moves in and out whilst zooming, it is totally enclosed in an outer casing. This means the actual physical length of the lens does not change. There is a standard 67mm filter thread, plus a bayonet fitting for a very well made lens hood. The hood has a locking catch.

Moving along the barrel, we reach the manual focusing ring. This is electronic in operation and has a firm but smooth action. As a wide angle zoom has plenty of depth of field the use of manual focus is not the easiest option, but whatever focusing aids a camera can provide will make it a little more viable. For this review, the AF system was crisp and efficient and the need for manual focus was never felt.

The zoom ring has an equally pleasant feel and the various focal lengths are marked clearly, with the engraving being of very high quality. Closer to the camera body, there is just the one AF/MF switch. We then reach the electronic mount, which has additional water resistance in the form of a rubber sealing ring. The whole lens is “dust-proof and splash-proof”, fast becoming almost a required feature for any outdoor use.

Nano coatings are used and the lens construction comprises 15 elements in 10 groups. This includes 1 Aspherical ED (Extra Low Dispersion), 3 Aspherical, 2 ED and 1 UHR (Ultra High Refractive Index) elements. There is a 7 bladed diaphragm with a rounded design to the blades.

Panasonic Leica 8 18mm With Hood On Gx8

Focusing is silent, down to 0.23m (9.06 inches), a maximum magnification of 0.12x. Weight is a reasonably light 315g. This is a varifocal zoom, meaning that the lens should be refocused after any change in the zoom setting.

With no depth of field scale, no distance markings and the bare minimum of controls, the lens abdicates control of most parameters to the camera. The interface is clear and with the GX8 it offers an efficient way of working. It is interesting that although the maximum aperture varies with focal length, from f/2.8 to f/4, the minimum aperture remains a constant f/22. This is probably a wise choice as diffraction will soon set in with such a small format as MFT, taking the edge off sharpness at those smaller apertures.

It is, without a doubt, a very useful lens, with a commendably wide 8mm making quite a difference compared to the more usual standard zooms. The long end of 18mm encompasses the traditional wide standard, 35mm in full frame terms. This makes the lens a candidate for street photography. It may be a little wide for conventional portraits, but very usable for environmental shots of people.

Panasonic Leica 8 18mm Rear Oblique View

Performance

The resolution tests make for some impressive reading. At 8mm, centrally the lens shows outstanding sharpness from f/2.8 to f/4. It is excellent at f/5.6 and f/8, very good at f/11 and, as diffraction really starts to kick in, still good at f/16. Results are soft at f/22. The bokeh sample shots show this quite clearly. The edges are excellent at f/2.8 and f/4, very good from f/5.6 through to f/11, good at f/16 but again becoming soft at f/22. It is sensible design to limit that smallest aperture to f/22.

At 10mm, the centre shows outstanding sharpness from f/3.2 to f/5.6 and excellent results at f/8. It is very good at f/11, good at f/16 but soft at f/22. The edges are very good from f/3.2 to f/4, rising to excellent at f/5.6 and f/8, very good at f/11. f/16 is good and f/22 soft.

14mm gives excellent central sharpness at f/3.6 and f/4, outstanding at f/5.6, again excellent at f/8 and f/11. f/16 is very good and f/22 soft. The edges are very good from f/3.6 to f/5.6, excellent at f/8, very good at f/11, good at f/16 and soft at f/22.

Sharpness holds well even at 18mm, where some zooms can become relatively weak in performance. The centre is excellent at f/4, outstanding at f/5.6, excellent at f/8, very good at f/11, good at f/16 and soft at f/22. The edges are very good at f/4 and f/5.6, excellent at f/8, very good at f/11, good at f/16 and again soft at f/22.

The high contrast of the lens also helps the overall crispness of the image and pictures show a real zing about them.

MTF Charts

MTF@8mm

MTF@10mm

MTF@14mm

MTF@18mm

How to read our MTF charts

Distortion is extremely well corrected, especially for a zoom lens. At 8mm we have -1.4% barrel distortion. By 10mm we find near-perfect drawing, with just +0.01% pincushion distortion. The Pincushion distortion gradually increases as we zoom, measuring +0.06% at 14mm and +0.54% at 18mm. Further software correction can be made, but for most purposes, this won’t be necessary.

Bokeh is not perhaps the primary consideration with wide angle lenses, as so much is in focus anyway with the large amount of depth of field. Together with the smaller format, which also results in more depth of field, out of focus backgrounds are not much in evidence. However, such as they are, there is no raggedness and the rounded diaphragm blades would appear to be doing the job well.

Focus is fast and silent, internal in operation so there is no change in lens extension. The AF system locks on every time.

Sample Photos

Floral Colour | 1/60 sec | f/8.0 | 10.0 mm | ISO 200

Adlington Hall | 1/400 sec | f/8.0 | 8.0 mm | ISO 200

Adlington Hall Garden | 1/320 sec | f/8.0 | 13.0 mm | ISO 200

Close Up Double Daffodil | 1/60 sec | f/8.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 200

Closest Focus On 13cm High Dalek | 3.2 sec | f/22.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 400

Portrait | 1/40 sec | f/8.0 | 15.0 mm | ISO 200

Aperture range

Bokeh At F2,8 | 1/4000 sec | f/2.8 | 8.0 mm | ISO 200

Bokeh At F4 | 1/2000 sec | f/4.0 | 8.0 mm | ISO 200

Bokeh At F5,6 | 1/1000 sec | f/5.6 | 8.0 mm | ISO 200

Bokeh At F8 | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 8.0 mm | ISO 200

Bokeh At F11 | 1/250 sec | f/11.0 | 8.0 mm | ISO 200

Bokeh At F16 | 1/125 sec | f/16.0 | 8.0 mm | ISO 200

Bokeh At F22 | 1/60 sec | f/22.0 | 8.0 mm | ISO 200

Value For Money

The Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4 Asph Lens is priced at £1049/$1573, making it the most expensive of the close options available.

The alternatives could be the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO (£999/$1498), the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm f/4-5.6 (£479/$718) or the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4 (£759/$1138).

The new lens does offer a faster aperture than most of these, and more zoom range as well. It also offers a very high standard, so there are a few things to weigh up when considering value for money. It remains a very tempting option, at a price that may initially seem high but may well be justified.

Specifications

Manufacturer Panasonic
General
Lens Mounts
  • Panasonic Micro Four Thirds
  • Olympus Micro Four Thirds
Lens
Focal Length 8mm – 18mm
Angle of View 62° – 107°
Max Aperture f/2.8 – f/4
Min Aperture f/22
Filter Size 67mm
Stabilised No
35mm equivalent 16mm – 36mm
Internal focusing No Data
Maximum magnification 0.12x
Focusing
Min Focus 23cm
Construction
Blades 7
Elements 15
Groups 10
Box Contents
Box Contents No Data
Dimensions
Weight 315g
Height 88mm

Verdict

The Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4 Asph. is a pleasure to use, but the greatest pleasure is arguably in the outstanding sharpness, giving a real punch to images. The pleasure extends to enjoying fine engineering as well, because there is the high quality of the construction and finish to enjoy for its own sake.

In summary, a lens that lives up to its Leica tag and should serve very well for many years of use.

(ephotozine.com, https://goo.gl/ZD0c5V)

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