Panasonic Leica DG 50-200mm f 2.8-4 Prologue

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

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So I bit the bullet, almost literally :p
At first I though that I could never afford it but I found a store in UK (online of course) that offered it with interest free 12 months payment that made it a lot easier for me. So here I am with my first true quality lens in my 10 years of photography as a passionate one (amateur sounds like someone making a fool of oneself for trying and failing to be good at it).

So this is going to be a prologue of, hopefully, a more detailed review of the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 50-200mm f 2.8-4 ASPH Power OIS (I think some of the 1500£ went into paying just for the bloody long name). The reason for that is I got the lens only yesterday and I didn’t have time to test it out properly so I took only a few snapshots on my way to work. But those snapshots, holy “insert your preferred superlative” the image quality blew my socks off. Now I am sure it’s not that spectacular for some (especially the full frame owners of the L lenses and f 2.8 zooms and 1.2/1.4 primes), but for someone who has used only kit and the cheap or legacy glass this is a hole new world for me.

The sharpness is amazing, the contrast is so good even without editing the RAW files. I can see what people mean by Leica look to images. I even though I edited only a handful on the images on my iPad I am still awe struck. I came from Panasonic 45-200mm which was very disappointing for me (I may have a bad copy) and even editing the file it was very hard to get anything more then decent results (often sharp-ish at only f 8 and if the subject was under 10 meters from me). The Olympus 50-200mm f 2.8-3.5 Mark I was close to this kind of results but did had other limitations like really bad CA after pushing the RAW files (purple fringing that is impossible to correct without local brush with -100 Saturation). Same issue with Olympus 40-150mm f 4-5.6 and 14-150mm f 4-5.8, horrible CA that was a nightmare to correct.

What surprised me the most is that even on very high ISO like 3200 the sharpness is so good that the files are perfectly usable, for me at least, where with the other lenses they were so soft (because if lack of sharpness and the softness from degradation of high ISO) that I would rarely be happy with them. It’s not as good as Full Frame at the same ISO values but now it’s close enough that I’m not thinking about switching to Full Frame anymore.

The build quality is bonkers good, heavy but sense and sensible, all metal feels so well built I think it will survive WW III (though I mostly likely not), the rings are a bit harder to turn but I think they will loosen up a bit after more usage. It’s hard to go back to the direction of Panasonic turning of the rings, and the reason why I hate mixing Olympus and Panasonic Zooms. The lens hood feels really good, metal most of tit but the base that mounts on the lens, I think, it’s plastic. The hood locking button is damn genius and with all the lenses had that, also the hood is reversible on the lens for storage so sweet ass portability. One thing I have noticed is when the zoom is at 50mm the density of the lens does make it a bit front heavy on my Oly E-M1 Mark I but as soon as you zoom the lens the weight is distributed more evenly, never experienced that on a lens.

The only disappointing thing about the lens is it doesn’t have a focus limiter. Now, I know it’s not that long of a zoom range but to my mind Panasonic is CDAF only and being able to limit the focus range on any of its lens it would give it a huge boost in AF since you eliminate some of the focus it might have to rack if it doesn’t lock at the first try or can focus faster by having less range to deal with. I’m sure it wouldn’t add that much to the cost of it overall, like 0.7 to 5 meters, 5 meters to full range and 0.7 to full range.

Anyways here’s a few examples I made today, edited and exported from the iPad from RAW files:
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Th sharpness is so good for a subject 10 km away

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Again, contrast and sharpness is beyond anything I ever used and I can’t wait to test the E-M5 Mark II High Resolution results

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I absolutely love the rendition of the OOF area, it’s prime like smooth

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I never tried birds in flight, I don’t have a technique at all and this is my first attempt, like just point and try and I was surprised by the result. I can’t wait to try it again and get better at it.

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I love the sharpness and the colour rendition, even blown away more after during it and cropping quite a lot actually

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Minimum focus distance is so sweet on this lens, and the background just melts away, I couldn’t be more happy for my macro needs

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Again, the background rendition is so beautiful, so smooth

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Testing just the OIS getting it so sharp at 200mm from across the street hand held at 1/13 second is amazing

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Even at night the lens does so well, great image stabilisation, great rendition and sharpness

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I was so surprised by this one, I could actually read the brand of the Fridge, the sharpness and rendition is perfect

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Very happy with results even at 1/5th of a second, though I have noticed a bit of purple fringing in very extreme situation, like the car in he left and the street lights

I can’t wait to play with it more, especially next week as I have a holiday and a couple of trips planned. Though 1500£ is a lot of money for me after seeing this preliminary results have melted away any worries I had about paying so much for just the love I have for photography, I am so excited about making images again, after my Olympus 50-200mm f 2.8-3.5 Mark I died.

I will be making a review after I use it for about a month and compare it to the Panasonic 45-200mm Mark I (a bit unfair as the price discrete is about 250% more). I wish my Oly was still working to compare it as well but alas if it wasn’t broken I wouldn’t have bought the Panny Leica.
 

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

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Forgot to add this one, it’s the same subject but, unfortunately, at different days so the light looks different but it still shows a world of difference between Panny 45-200mm Mark I and 50-200mm (though I would say that the old Panny had an advantage of better light and still couldn’t pull it off even at f 8, on the Leica you can actually see the individual bricks on the monument where the Panny they are more smeared)

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Panasonic Leica 50-200mm

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Panasonic 45-200mm
 
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I will be making a review after I use it for about a month and compare it to the Panasonic 45-200mm Mark I (a bit unfair as the price discrete is about 250% more). I wish my Oly was still working to compare it as well but alas if it wasn’t broken I wouldn’t have bought the Panny Leica.

Looking forward to your complete review. I used to shoot my son's soccer games, starting with a O 40-150 R. I got a used P 45-200 for more range and was quite disappointed with it. I replaced it with a ZD 50-200 SWD and was very satisfied with it. A big jump up from the 40-150 R and 45-200. I'd be more interested in a comparison with the O 40-150 Pro+MC-14 vs the PL 50-200. I know you may not have that lens. If I didn't have the 50-200 SWD and could afford it, I'd try switching to the PL 50-200. :)
 

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

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Looking forward to your complete review. I used to shoot my son's soccer games, starting with a O 40-150 R. I got a used P 45-200 for more range and was quite disappointed with it. I replaced it with a ZD 50-200 SWD and was very satisfied with it. A big jump up from the 40-150 R and 45-200. I'd be more interested in a comparison with the O 40-150 Pro+MC-14 vs the PL 50-200. I know you may not have that lens. If I didn't have the 50-200 SWD and could afford it, I'd try switching to the PL 50-200. :)
I have been contemplating that one as well, among every single option I could think of. If my Oly 50-200mm wouldn’t have died on me I would still use four thirds lenses (I still have the Oly 14-54mm). Alas I don’t have the lens to compare. But I have read many posts of comparison between the two and the consensus is that although the Oly 40-150mm Pro is sharper then Panny 50-200mm, especially at the 40 to 90mm, at 150mm they are pretty equal but at 200mm (210mm with TC on Oly) the Panny is significantly sharper. Add that you can put 1.4 TC on Panny and extended it even more with not much of a penalty in image quality I went with the Panny, I value the versatility for wildlife and you get slightly smaller and lighter as well as compact lens.

I really want to love the Olympus Micro Four Thirds offering but I can’t find them as appealing as the Panasonic ones (maybe with the exception of Olympus 12-40mm Pro, and I wouldn’t mix Oly and Panny zooms because if the opposite turning of zoom rings that can be very distracting at times.

Now the thing is I like the shape, size and weight if Olympus cameras more then Panasonic (G9 is getting ungodly weighty and big to my first love, Panny G1, and it’s all video features fault, with all the 4K 60p and 6K 30p require lots of heat sinks to vent, and they said it’s a photography oriented camera). For now I am not upgrading until GX8 Mark II comes out (I want me a compact travel camera) and/or when we get a cheaper model with handheld high res (like E-M1X) and Sony like Eye AF for humans and Animals (if the ask for 2000£ for a camera they better bring in the kitchen sink and the bathroom toilet.

For now I’m happy enough with E-M1 Mark I for speedy action/birding and E-M5 Mark II for high res landscapes and street/travel photography
 

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

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Another update, I tried it, briefly, on the E-M5 Mark II this evening. The light was not as good as yesterday. The AF seems to be slightly slower and more unsure compared to E-M1 Mark I, be it AF-S or AF-C. It is still usable but if you have the E-M1s I would advise to use on that camera for moving subjects if possible.

Be that as it may it still is not a slouch even with AF-C and Tracking. It took me about a year but I finally managed to get an image of this bird (I don’t know the name of he bird):
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Now I think I got very lucky because I was actually trying to shoot rabbits in the field and I had the smallest AF single point on dead centre on AF-S and I noticed the bird being scared off so I turned about 25* to my right and switched to AF-C Tracking with a flick of the AF 1/2 switch (I wish that it changes and saves the AF area and size but it doesn’t) and I tried really hard to keep up with the bird panning towards the right. Still happy with the result from someone who hasn’t shot AF-C and birds in flight, at all.

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I am very happy with the sharpness and colour rendition of the lens, just outstanding

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The contrast is excellent as well, the files are so much easier and fun to work with

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Another thing that I have noticed is shadow recovery is a lot better because the details and colours are better preserved with this lens, where as with cheaper lenses there little to gain from shadows as the details are lost in a mush if noise and softness of lower sharpness quality

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The depth of field control of the f 4 is outstanding, smooth bokeh, sharpness of in focus elements is great even as you go up in ISO

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As a matter of fact I was never happy with the ISO above 1600 performance of Any Micro Four Thirds until I realised now that it was the lenses that dragged down the image quality. I never though I could get so much sharpness at high ISO, while no, it’s not Full Frame sharpness of an Zeiss lenses. The only other lens that brought such clarity (I think that’s a better word then sharpness in such context) in images at ISO 1600, 2000 and 3200 was my Sigma 60mm f 2.8 but I didn’t realised why until this lens.

Every time I used the Panny Leica 50-200mm I am excited and amazed what it can do. And it single handedly killed any desire I had (struggled with recently) about going Full Frame Sony or Nikon. Now I am excited about adding the Panasonic 12-35mm f 2.8 and possibly Panny Leica 100-400mm, or see if the 1.4 TC and some cropping will be enough.
 
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I am somewhat lucky that I go to work on sunset and go home on sunrise, so I do get some fantastic light sometimes. Can’t wait to add a TC 1.4 soon.

Looks like you are getting some very nice results.
If you get he TC it will be good to hear of the results as I have seen mixed reviews of it with the 50-200. Some say it works best on the Pany 200, f2.8.

If the results are sharp with the TC it will be a very good combo.
 

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

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Looks like you are getting some very nice results.
If you get he TC it will be good to hear of the results as I have seen mixed reviews of it with the 50-200. Some say it works best on the Pany 200, f2.8.

If the results are sharp with the TC it will be a very good combo.
I would have a hard time believing you would get worse results then Panasonic 45-200 or 100-300mm at the long end with the 1.4 TC on the Panny Leica 50-200mm. Though I might be wrong, but maybe people are more demanding or have higher expectations then me. I’m not looking for Nikon or Canon 500 or 600mm f 2.8 or f 4 level of performance, I mostly webshare so most websites and most devices are 1000 to 2000 pixel wide or tall. Even printing, most that I could print is A3 size so even cropping from 16MP is sharp enough.

If people want to go balls to the wall there’s medium format and military grade bazooka sized spy satellite optics options out there :p
 
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I would have a hard time believing you would get worse results then Panasonic 45-200 or 100-300mm at the long end with the 1.4 TC on the Panny Leica 50-200mm. Though I might be wrong, but maybe people are more demanding or have higher expectations then me. I’m not looking for Nikon or Canon 500 or 600mm f 2.8 or f 4 level of performance, I mostly webshare so most websites and most devices are 1000 to 2000 pixel wide or tall. Even printing, most that I could print is A3 size so even cropping from 16MP is sharp enough.

If people want to go balls to the wall there’s medium format and military grade bazooka sized spy satellite optics options out there :p

I would say you are correct with regards to getting better results than the 100-300, I have not tried the 45-200.

If it does work out well I could be tempted to swap it for my Oly 40-150 & TC if I go fully Panasonic. I am waiting to see what the upcoming Oly zooms are first.
 
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Thanks for sharing your initial impressions and photos. I recently purchased one from eBay - barely used and the seller worked nearby so I was able to pick it up in person. I'll try to post some pictures as well. I recently took pictures at an Indian classical music concert - the range and the fast aperture make it a lot of fun to use.
 
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These are fine shots and the review is really informative. I wish you could take some close up shots of birds in better light. It is hard to evaluate the sharpness of a telephoto lens from landscape photos.
 

PanamaMan

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I'm also getting spectacular results with my 50-200 in 4K video with my G9. The microcontrast gives the video a look that I haven't seen before and my RAWs are a source of great satisfaction and remind me of what I was getting with a Canon 7D and L glass before their weight became a serious issue.
 

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

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I would say you are correct with regards to getting better results than the 100-300, I have not tried the 45-200.

If it does work out well I could be tempted to swap it for my Oly 40-150 & TC if I go fully Panasonic. I am waiting to see what the upcoming Oly zooms are first.
I was paying a close attention to Olympus as well, hoping to give us a moderate size and weight telephoto zoom with good IQ (higher then the consumer lenses) so basically a successor to the trusty Olympus 50-200mm. While I am curious about their 100-400mm f 4.5 Pro I am less inclined to buy it not because of the size or weight but price, I can’t see it cheaper then 2000£ in the next 3 to 5 years and I can’t wait that long. I would have rather a 100-250mm f 4 under 1.5 Kgs and 2000£ (or a limit variation of that). I have yet to regret buying the Panasonic Leica 50-200mm

Thanks for sharing your initial impressions and photos. I recently purchased one from eBay - barely used and the seller worked nearby so I was able to pick it up in person. I'll try to post some pictures as well. I recently took pictures at an Indian classical music concert - the range and the fast aperture make it a lot of fun to use.
Happy to hear that, can’t wait to see your pictures. I haven’t gotten the opportunity to use it indoor or with people but I can’t wait to do that at some point.

These are fine shots and the review is really informative. I wish you could take some close up shots of birds in better light. It is hard to evaluate the sharpness of a telephoto lens from landscape photos.
Very true and I’ve been working on that for about a month now. Almost every day I get some interesting opportunities for pictures and I got a wide range of subjects, distances to the subject, light conditions and performance variations and I wish to share all I have learned so far very soon. (Life has been getting a bit hectic recently and it leaves me with less time to do the things I wanted, like editing hundreds of images gathering for the last 30 days and getting back to drawing portraits).

I'm also getting spectacular results with my 50-200 in 4K video with my G9. The microcontrast gives the video a look that I haven't seen before and my RAWs are a source of great satisfaction and remind me of what I was getting with a Canon 7D and L glass before their weight became a serious issue.
Yus, the microcontrast is so amazing (for me) that I found myself dodging and burning locally and selective editing elements in the pictures so much that I spend a lot more time editing and getting even more amazing results then before. When I get exception to even good enough light I have a lot more latitude of recovering or extending contrast, details, and sharpness.

Not sure if Full Frame or L glass could give better results (I never had experience with any of them) but the results for me feel up there in my own expectations and desires.
 

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

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I have a few hundred images backlog, especially for one amazing morning that gave me an experience I never had before: a bird of pray hunting before my very eyes.
I will try to make a new post about how that went by next week because it went very high to very low in expectations and results. I got around 800 shots that morning and ended up with around 200 that felt worth keeping but all of them need extensive local adjustments so it takes a bit of time.

On a different note, I’m at work right now (my usually downtime) so I don’t have a lot of pictures on my iPad but I will share what I do have right now:
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Found this little guy trying to run away from me as I tried to get as close as I could (I was about 2 meters away). Even though it was a bright sunset that evening he was in the shade, the reason for ISO 1600. I’m finding more and more I am less bothered but high ISO with this lens because the sharpness and contrast is so good. The image was edited quite extensively in terms of exposure and local adjustment , try ping to separate the little birb from the background. I can even see the reflection of the clouds in his/her eye.

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This little guy was just hanging around about 100 meters from where I live, just when I got out to go to work. It was a bright sunset behind right side of him/her. At first he/she was on the grass but by the time I got down there to get a better perspective he/she ran up on the tree. I had the smallest AF point with centre weighted metering and it was a fast acquisition in AFS. I was about 3 to 5 meters away (I’m not very good at guessing distances) and I got about 10 images but 5 were out of focus. Besides the pulling the shadows and highlights I had some warmer white balancing with sharpening, texture, dehaze, clarity local adjustments on the squirrel.

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This little guy was highly active, jumping from one spot to another picking insects from behind the tree leaves. If you look closely there’s an insect in his/her beak. The scene was strongly backlight and in a few other shots it did struggle the AF to be accurate. Even at ISO 200 the shadows can be very noisy in recovery. I think I need to rethink and relearn my exposure judging and method with small subjects like this. It was a lot harder then I expected to properly balance this image in edit even with local adjustments. But in contrast with all my previous (telephoto) lenses such an image would have been a loooooooot worse in IQ then this (would have huge chromatic aberration issues, softness, wrong colour balance and accuracy and a lot less contrast.

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Now this is a very special one. Made the picture about 3 hours ago just before arriving to work (almost late I might add). It’s the first time I saw a fox in the wild (yes, I don’t get out all that much :p ) though I knew there are some there. I was a bit worried that he/she was sitting in my usual wild bunny spot, he/she was very patient and still even as I tried to get as close as I physically could, but there was still about 20 meters between us (a big gate stopped me, as well as running late to get to work). I still managed to get 7 images though 3 are soft because it missed the focus (smallest point, AFS). There was a grass or a flower covering one of the eyes and I just couldn’t get a better position. I am still happy with the result after editing and I could even see the colour in the foxes eyes at that distance.

The more I use the Panasonic Leica 50-200mm the more I have to learn to adapt, while previous lenses (Olympus 50-200mm, Panasonic 45-200mm, Olympus 40-150mm not Pro, Olympus 14-150mm Mk. II) I felt limited in what I can achieve or forcing me to jump lots of hoops to get what I wanted (stopping to f 8 for sharpness, avoiding backlight subjects to avoid chromatic aberration, getting as close as I could because sharpness beyond 10 meters was nonexistent, have to either sacrifice sharpness to avoid high ISO with low shutter speed or vice versa). With this lens quite often it feels like I am letting down the lens and system itself because my skills are not good enough (yet) but with better results and sometimes amazing results when I do manage to keep up with the lens.

I have given this lens a lot of praises but there are some limitations and problems, I won’t be mentioning them in this post because I want to make a longer conversation about them and with some examples (show and tell not just blabbering). And the way I want to approach this lens is less as a review because I do not feel qualified to make such a definitive judgment, my skills are not good enough yet to squeeze 100% of IQ and performance out of it, and I don’t have a long history with telephoto lenses (I had the Olympus 14-150mm for 6 months and I hated it, I sold it), had the Olympus 40-150mm not Pro for 4 months, I liked it a bit more but had the same issues as the previous one, I gave it away to my best friend, had the Olympus 50-200mm for about 6 months and I loved it to bits, so much that bits staring falling off of it :p ) to make a better judgment of where this Panny Leica would fit. I think I will approach this as a more personal experience and but the lenses downside that I noticed as long side my own limitations and learning process of using it.
 

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

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PS. I have only one RAW file with me right now so I am going to use that one as an example (it’s not the biggest subject in the frame though):
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Before editing the RAW file

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After edited to the level I am happy with the result

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Somewhere between 200 and 300% zoom (not sure, mobile Lightroom doesn’t specify exactly how much it is) before making any changes

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After editing, same changes as the overall picture. I can see clearly the eyes which is amazing to me (though I may be easily astonished from my very modest results in the past).

The fallowing changes have been made to the file:

Circular gradient filter on the Fox with outer section selected for the fallowing changes:
+0.5 EV
+25 Contrast
-100 Highlights
+100 Shadows
-10 Blacks
5600 Kelvin with +10 Tint
+25 Clarity
+25 Dehaze
+15 Vignetting Correction
50 Sharpness, 1.5 Radius and 50 Details with 10 Masking.
Then used brush to select only the Fox and applied the fallowing changes:
+0.5 EV
+25 Contrast
-100 Highlights
+100 Shadows
+25 Texture
+15 Clarity
+10 Dehaze
5700 Kelvin with no tint changes

The last changes I made was make another brush selection of both eyes and pushed +1 EV to be able to get light and colour into the eyes, -25 contrast to keep the blacks black and the highlights +100 to make them glisten a bit (gives it a better spark of life) and +50 Noise Reduction to reduce the noise from the extra stop of pushing.
 

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