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Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm F1.2 Review Part 1 - First Impressions and Comparisons to 45/75m

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by napilopez, Mar 12, 2014.

  1. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Part 2 of this review, focusing on real-world usage, can now be found here.

    Well, it's finally here. Met with much anticipation since its original announcement over a year ago, the Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm F/1.2 (just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) has finally started shipping. Unfortunately, along with the announcement of availability came a bit of sticker shock; at $1600, the Nocticron is most expensive native Micro Four Thirds lens at the time of writing.

    So is it worth the price tag? I've only had the lens for a couple of days, but I've done a bit of casual shooting and test shots to get a feel for it and its performance. Only after I spend some more time with the lens will I really know how I feel about it, but so far things are looking good. Very good.

    Build and Operation

    Your first impression of this lens will be that it's relatively heavy. But that heaviness inspires confidence; the Nocticron is, in my opinion, the best built AF Micro Four Thirds Lens available. It's short of matching the Voigtlander F0.95 primes, but is surprisingly close. The 75mm F1.8 and 12-40mm F2.8 are also excellently built, but the PanaLeica's added density makes it feel just a little sturdier. My only small knock on the build is that you can feel something moving inside the lens when it's not attached to a camera, likely the image-stabilizing element. Nothing to worry about, but it's noticeable.

    Your second impression will be that it's also quite large for the system. With a 67mm filter diameter, the lens is both taller and wider than the 75mm F1.8. The tiny 45mm F1.8 is positively dwarfed. Interestingly, however, the front element is noticeably smaller than that on the 75mm, with the barrel around it being thiceker, whereas the front element on the Olympus goes almost all the way to the edge. It makes me wonder how much smaller the Nocticron could be if it had been built without OIS (particularly considering my E-M5's IBIS does a noticeably better), or even if it were designed as an MF-only lens.

    Speaking of focusing, the focus ring on this lens is wonderful. In my opinion, it's the best fly-by-wire focusing ring I've used; it's perfectly damped and action is smooth. More importantly, it feels incredibly responsive to my movements, with virtually imperceptible lag when using my E-M5 in high refresh rate mode; it might be the first time I'd be happy shooting moving subjects with MF on a fly-by-wire lens. The 75mm's focusing ring feels well damped also, but seems to behave a bit more jittery in response to quick turns of the focusing ring. Furthermore, the 75mm heavily exhibits the "turn acceleration" aspect of fly-by-wire mechanisms, where a same length turn(say, a quarter turn) does not always change the focus plane by the same amount. The Nocticron behaves much more like a mechanical lens. Still not as good as the mechanical Voigtlanders, but as someone who uses MF as much as AF, I was impressed.

    The lens also features an aperture ring with solid third-stop clicks, as well as an automatic setting. As a nice touch, the click between the automatic setting and F1.2 is both stiffer and further, to make it more difficult to accidentally switch the ring from wide open to auto and vice-versa. Unfortunately, this ring only works on newer Panasonic bodies; otherwise it just defaults to listening to the camera's dials.

    The lens also features switches to turn OIS on and off, as well as toggle AF/MF. Unsurprisingly, autofocus is fast. Slower than the 45mm F1.8, but on par with the 75mm F1.8.

    Preliminary Image Quality impressions

    Disclaimer: The sharpness samples are all RAW imports into LR with no adjustments other than slight exposure changes to match images between lenses. These tests aren't meant to be exhaustive, just quick observations for reference.

    Pretty much everyone reading this probably already knows the lens is excellent, and at this price tag, I don't think anyone ever doubted that. Instead, like me, most of your are probably wondering whether the Nocticron is worth its premium over the much-lauded 45mm F1.8 or the more expensive but even-better 75mm F1.8.

    First off, the difference in perspective. As you would expect, the 45mm is just a little narrower than the 42.5mm, whereas the 75mm is in a completely different category.

    Next up, a comparison with the 45mm f1.8, the Nocticron clearly shows its advantages. Sharpness here was set to an amount of 40 with a radius of 0.5 in order to maximize fine detail.

    First, wide open. There might be a very slight focal plane difference here, as the branches appear sharper in the Nocticron image (more apparent in the uncropped image), whereas the gate is a bit sharper on the Olympus. Still, factoring the difference of magnification in the subjects, it's apparent that the Nocticron is already starting off essentially as sharp as the Olympus. Also, despite the wider aperture, note how the PanaLeica shows significantly less purple fringing. Contrast levels are also starting better on the Nocticron.

    Stop down just a bit, and the Nocticron leaves the Olympus in the dust throughout the entire aperture range, with both lenses starting to max out at F4. In fact, I'd say the Olympus never really surpasses the sharpness of the Nocticron at F2 or so. Also note how much more contrast there is in the Nocticron images.

    You can inspect more parts of these images by going here: Samples and Crops, but as a quick reference for how well the Nocticron handles edges wide open, here's a 100% crop from the extreme right of the frame.

    And here is an extreme corner crop at 100%:

    Note the fine detail in the backpack visible even in a shadowy area, wide open. The above image also shows how well the lens retains contrast shooting directly against the sun.

    You're not going to find many lenses that perform that well at F1.2.

    When it comes to blurring the background, I feel people tend to overestimate the value of aperture and underestimate the impact of focal length. Upfront, you're generally going to get more bokeh from the 75mm f1.8 than you will on the Nocticron. This was already true when comparing the 75mm to the even faster Voigtlander, so it doesn't come as a surprise. Also, because the 45mm is just a little longer than the 42.5mm, the latter's DoF advantage is not as pronounced as it would be if the two lenses were the same focal length. Indeed, in some shooting scenarios it's hard to tell a difference between the two wider primes.

    ***Additional notes on bokeh/DoF***
    Given the discussion that has transpired in the comments here, I feel I need to clarify what I meant above. First, let me make the distinction between DoF and bokeh. DoF refers to the size of the "zone" where the image will be acceptably sharp. Bokeh, on the other hand, has more of a malleable definition, but is generally used in the context of the quantity and/or quality of the background blur. If a lens creates a larger circles of confusion than another (the typically circular shape that forms around blurred highlight points), I will generally say it has "more bokeh". For example, I don't think anyone would deny the 75mm F1.8 creates "more bokeh" than the 45mm F1.8 (or 25mm F1.8, for that matter) even if you match the size of your subject in both images by standing further back with the 75mm. This is despite the fact that both lenses have the same aperture value and, technically speaking, DoF remains the same for both images.

    The issue therefore becomes muddled when you compare two lenses of different focal lengths and apertures. Having a larger aperture will of course also increase the size of the bokeh circles (while also narrowing DoF). However, in my experience, the added background magnification from using a longer lens tends to outweigh the increase in bokeh amount (as measured by the circle size) provided by a larger aperture and accompanying shallower DoF. This is not at all always the case; if your background is closer to your subject, the wider aperture lens will possibly win out due to its narrower depth of field. But in most real world scenarios, particularly outdoors with ample space between your subject and background, I find this to be true. I do most of my work with the 75mm F1.8 and the Voigtlander 42.5mm F0.95, an even faster lens than the Nocticron reviewed here, and there are many times the 75mm works better to isolate my subject by creating "more" bokeh. Indeed, it's very apparent in the hat images below.

    It's also important note though that creating larger bokeh circles isn't the only way to isolate your subject, and sometimes the shallow DoF of a faster lens just looks more appealing!

    For more in depth reading, check out this great link: Depth of field

    All the following are shot wide open.

    In others, however, the difference is much more pronounced (although the 75mm still emerges the clear victor). As your subject gets closer and your background further, the differences between the 42.5 and the 45 become much more obvious.

    That being said, these bland test images don't do the Nocticron justice. While sheer background blur does help isolate a subject, the width of the focus zone and rendering of the transition from sharp to blurry are also important parts of being able to isolate you subject. My brief time with the Nocticron so far has shown me time and time again that images from this lens just 'pop'. I know that some people think that Leica has no real influence in making these lenses, but if that's the case, I don't really care; Panasonic's Leica-branded lenses render beautifully.

    The contrast of this lens gives it a very three-dimensional character. It's great for shooting in black and white.
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    And often ignored is foreground blur, which this lens handles wonderfully.
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    The transition from sharp to blurry is exceedingly smooth.

    Preliminary Thoughts

    For all the testing I've done, I won't really be able to judge this lens until I've been able to shoot more portraits with it, which is the obvious primary role for this lens. Still, if my experience so far is any indicator, I'm going to end up loving it.

    But is it wise spend $1600 on a lens only a stop faster than the Olympus 45mm, which is already a great optic? Does it perform that much better than the similarly built $900 75mm f1.8? Do you need that much sharpness wide open? Do you need this much bokeh or light gathering? Honestly, that's up to you to decide. As I've always said about Micro Four Thirds, the strength of the system lies not in just portability, but rather in versatility. You can choose to go cheap, light, and small by going with the 45mm, or go all out and approximate full frame rendering by choosing the Nocticron. The wonderful thing about this system is that virtually all of your options, regardless of their price bracket, are excellent in their own right.

    The Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm F/1.2 is available for $1600, and steep though the price may be, I personally feel it's worth it if you shoot enough portraiture or just want that "look".

    However, the proof is in the pudding, so stay tuned for my final review when I get to take it out on the field! I'll also be posting some photos and thoughts as I go along in the sample archive thread for this lens, if you want to follow along (start on page 12).

    ***Edit: Part 2 now available: Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm F1.2 Review Part II - Real-World Results***

    Please note that purchasing any products by following the sponsor links in this article or throughout the forum provides us with a small commission to help keep Mu-43 growing. Any help is appreciated; your price remains the same.

    Additional Samples:

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    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 21, 2016
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  2. phl0wtography

    phl0wtography Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 15, 2011
    Another great real-world review. Thank you! Although I would've preferred some close up portraits. Then again, with nice portrait shots it would be even harder to skip this gem :wink:
    As much as I like this lens, and adore the rendering of the 2 other PanaLeica lenses, 1600 is a hard pill to swallow, and for my photographic "needs" a price I cannot justify. I'd keep the already excellent O45, and get something different say like the O75, which finally has come down to reasonable prices on the used market.
  3. nagual

    nagual Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 25, 2012
    Some disadvantages of using it on E-M1 plus it can be somewhat easily matched, performance wise, with some adapted lenses ... it's indeed hard to overcome that price tag and also the size of it.
    I would really like to hear the opinion from Amin especially knowing that he sold his beloved Voigtlander 17mm and Olympus 75mm !?
  4. Livnius

    Livnius Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Jul 7, 2011
    Melbourne. Australia
    Nice work Napier, I look forward to reading your final thoughts once you've really put the lens through its paces.

    Based on the results i have seen thus far from this lens have serious doubts that the Nocticron can be 'easily matched' by an adapted lens, of ANY sort...but out of curiosity, which lenses do you speak of that could do this.
  5. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    Nice little review, although in parts (especially the comparison images, taken without the accompanying text) it's being a great advert for the mZuiko 45mm!
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  6. taz98spin

    taz98spin Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 13, 2011
    Thanks for the review!

    The Nocticron is an impressive lens!
    I'm glad that I have the Olympus 45/1.8 and the 75/1.8 though :smile:
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  7. homerusan

    homerusan Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 25, 2012
    izmir, TURKEY
    thank you very much for your effort.
    IMO oly 45 is a better pick if you think the price.
  8. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Agreed 100%, on both accounts!
  9. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    Thanks for the review, and good point on the front out of focus areas. Often those are rendered harshly but it looks like the Nocticron does a very nice job with them as you mention.

    This probably isn't the lens for me, I have a 45/1.8 and 75/1.8 that get very little use right now. The 25 and 17 are my workhorses for now, but in a few years I can see the longer focal lengths becoming more used and maybe the 42.5 price will have dropped a bit by then :smile: (Shooting a toddler at the moment so closer working distances typical, expect them to get longer when she is a bit older).
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  10. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Haha this is true! As I said, I'm not sure test shots do the lens justice, and I probably glossed over some IQ advantages of the Nocticron(such as corner performance at all apertures, but particularly wide open, as well as contrast and certain bokeh contexts), but there's no denying the 45mm is a great value and that diminishing returns are in full effect here. I can't wait to do more real portraiture with it. Looking forward to what Amin has to say too!

    I'll probably start posting images in the sample archive thread for this lens as I write my review Part 2, for anyone wanting to follow along.
  11. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here Subscribing Member

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    I was looking forward to this Napi, you seem to be quite impressed with it. I can't wait to see more portraits done with this...
  12. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, USA
    I'd love to see a comparison against something like a Nikon D610 & 85mm 1.8 G lens. If anything to see how the PL lens does against full-frame!
  13. macalterego

    macalterego Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 10, 2012
    Lawrence, KS
    Jeffrey McPheeters
    Nice review. Thanks. About this statement you made; it confuses me:

    "When it comes to bokeh, I feel people tend to overestimate the value of aperture and underestimate the impact of focal length. Upfront, you're generally going to get more bokeh from the 75mm f1.8 than you will on the Nocticron. This was already true when comparing the 75mm to the even faster Voigtlander, so it doesn't come as a surprise."

    Focal length has nothing 'directly' to do with depth of field. Depth of field is a function of lens aperture and distance to subject, not lens focal length. In fact, if the subject image size remains the same, then at any given aperture all lenses will give the same depth of field. (numerous explanations online can demonstrate how DOF is affected by aperture and distance, in attempts to dispel the myth that longer lenses "create" bokeh better than wider lenses.) Are you referring to the quality of the bokeh, which is somewhat subjective, I assume? Or are you noting the difference in working distance between different focal lengths to get the same perspective, which, due to different distances, will generate different depth of field and thus different "fields of confusion" in a given background?

    One thing regarding the lens that makes me a tad nervous is the weight/diameter with regard to the tiny mount diameter and how sturdy that connection can be. Having used 85mm and 50mm f/1.2 lenses in the past on Canon, I can appreciate the low light advantage even over 1.8, especially as the smaller m43 sensor changes the DOF characteristics for a given aperture and distance to an advantage when needing greater DOF in low light situations compared to a FF sensor. But I wonder how sturdy that small mount plate is and how much stress it can take compared to the much larger diameter mounts on lenses designed for a FF sensor?
  14. godwinaustin

    godwinaustin Mu-43 Rookie

    Feb 23, 2014
    Jackson, WYO
    cool review.

    that first shot is awesome.
  15. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here Subscribing Member

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    I'm sure they put that into consideration when designing a $1600 lens. Besides the Voigtlanders are heavier still and I have never heard of an issue with those.
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  16. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Happy to clarify! That quote was meant to be pretty straightforward. If you note, I specifically talk about bokeh, not depth of field. In almost every scenario(basically assuming enough separation from the background) 300mm F4 lens will have more bokeh than a 12mm F2 lens, despite technically having a wider depth of field. My statement was simply meant to suggest that you will usually get blurrier backgrounds from the 75mm than you will from the 42.5mm, despite the wider aperture of the latter.

    Also, I have no worries about the mount. Of course, only time will tell, but as Vince said above, the Voigtlanders are still heavier.
  17. macalterego

    macalterego Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 10, 2012
    Lawrence, KS
    Jeffrey McPheeters
    Okay, well comparing 300mm to 12 might be a bit extreme. I'm thinking of the 45 and 75, since that's what I use and I know that shooting a portrait where I move further away with the 75 to get the same framing as I would up closer with the 45, using the same f/stop, I'll get very similar bokeh, although different perspectives. It's the physics of how any lens works. Though the two lenses might render the blur differently creating varying levels of "pleasing" bokeh. We rely on this DOF principle when shooting sports. If the 70-200 2.8 puts me too close to the action, a 300mm 2.8 or 400mm 2.8 will give me the exact same out of focus experience assuming I'm at a distance that frames the subject the same as it would have been with the 70-200 2.8 assuming I don't mind the difference in perspectives. Your original statement that I was asking about sounded to me that you were suggesting if I needed to choose between the 42.5 or 75 to shoot a waist up vertical portrait, that the 75 at f/1.8 would have more blurred background than the 42.5 at f/1.2. But if I frame the model the same (standing closer with the 42.5), I don't see how it's possible to not have a softer, more out of focus background with the f/1.2 aperture than with the 1.8 aperture.

    As for the strength/durability of the lens, I imagine you are correct. I've found that the more expensive lenses are heavier for a reason. (also, when I'm carrying around a lens that cost $$$$ I'm somehow a little more careful! :) 
  18. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    Jeffery. I agree with you. I know what the OP is trying to say, although I'm not convinced as to his usage of the word bokeh, when it comes to photography. The OP would probably be better using the direct derivative, boke (no H) to describe blur (as an object), whereas bokeh is accepted to mean the quality of the blur. He could have also called it background blur, just as easily. Far less confusing. But a lot of people confuse blur with DOF.

    What's actually happening is a result of the change of compression and perspective from using a longer lens and from a further shooting position. Essentially the background is magnified more and appears closer with the longer lens. The blur (DOF) is the same but because it's magnified it can give the appearance of being more blurred. The closer the background is to the subject the more pronounced the effect is when changing lenses and shooting positions.

    DOF is "apparent" and that leads to common misunderstandings what actually constitutes DOF.

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  19. brera13

    brera13 Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 20, 2012
  20. jloden

    jloden Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 15, 2012
    Hunterdon County, NJ
    Seeing the head to head comparisons I came away with two conclusions at first glance:

    1) Just goes to show the 45mm f/1.8 quality compares very favorably, and the DoF difference is actually pretty small in practice. This is probably a case of more than 80% of the performance at 25% of the price :smile:

    Having said that:

    2) Wow, does that ever show off the rendering and contrast of the 42.5mm f/1.2 lens! The edges and contrast and details even at f1.2 are gorgeous, focus fall off is fantastic, and the OOF areas look really nice and smooth. :clapping:

    I said it before in another thread, but I'm even more convinced after this quick look - I think purchases of this lens are going to be as much or more about rendering differences than they are the extra step of aperture the 42.5mm offers.
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