- Feb 21, 2012
- NYC Area
- Real Name
- Napier Lopez
A few days ago, I received Panasonic’s new 15mm F1.7. While I spend the next couple of weeks trying it out in the field for a full review, I thought I’d share some immediate impressions after trying it out for a short while.
Build and Design
The PL15 shares the Leica-inspired design language of its much larger (and much more expensive) cousin, the 42.5mm F1.2. Which is to say it’s a very well designed lens. It’s pretty small, significantly smaller than the 25mm F1.4, but definitely not a pancake lens. Still, it’s somewhat jacket pocketable on a small body. I had my concerns that the barrel would be constructed with inferior materials because of its lower price point, but it feels every bit as solid as the 42.5mm F1.2, if not a bit more so thanks to the lack of an OIS element jiggling around.
Like that lens, it features a handy hardware AF/MF switch and an aperture ring around the barrel that clicks into ⅓ stops, with extra dampening between the F1.7 and Auto settings to prevent accidental changes (something that plagues me frequently on Fuji lenses). I’m still ambivalent about the aperture ring’s usefulness though. I like the functionality in principle, but I’d much rather have a clicking manual focusing ring with distance markings and hard stops like on the Olympus 17mm F1.8. The latter functionality also works on any Micro Four Thirds camera, whereas so far only Panasonic cameras support the aperture ring. Besides, with Panasonic being more video-oriented than Olympus, you’d think an option for hard stops and distance markers on their lenses would make more sense for focus pulling.
There’s an included metal hood too, and while I almost want to rant about it not being reversible, at least it's small enough that I don’t mind leaving it on. With the hood attached, the lens is still slightly shorter than the Panasonic 25mm.
The lens isn’t weather-sealed - expected but still a bit disappointing. And so, I continue my everlasting vendetta. Is it so hard for Panasonic or Olympus to come up with just one all-around lens quicker than F2.8 so I wouldn’t have to worry about shooting in light rain or the occasional unexpected storm?
But I digress. On the whole the PL15 is a finely constructed lens. The manual focus ring is dampened perfectly, and Panasonic’s new design language for its Leica line is bar none my favorite of any autofocusing lens out there.
Performance and Image Quality
Being a modern Panasonic lens, it should come as no surprise that the PL15 focuses incredibly quickly. It’s quicker than the PL25 and Olympus 45mm F1.8 I use regularly and I haven’t had issues with it hunting in low light either. And as mentioned above, the manual focusing ring and its responsiveness are buttery smooth - every bit as good as on the PL42.5 and almost rivaling a good mechanical focusing mechanism.
But how about the images? Well, first impressions are solid, depending on what you’re looking for. It’s nicely sharp - the center sharpness wide open seems excellent, with good sharpness in the corners that seems to reach peak performance around f2.8 - f4. It’s worth noting that like most wide M4/3 lenses, there is a significant amount of software correciton happening in-camera; without it the lens is slightly wider and shows noticeable barrel distortion, contributing to the slight corner softness after correction. Still, from what I’ve seen, it remains sharper than the Olympus 17mm F1.8, and I find the drop in sharpnness towards the corners wide open less distracting than on the Panasonic 25mm.
The lens does a decent job of controlling CA, but it could be better. There’s both some longitudinal and latitudinal CA, neither of which are corrected for on my Olympus E-M5, and both of which get exacerbated towards the corners. These things are generally non-issues to me as they are generally easily fixed in post, but might bother you a bit more if you primarily use jpegs straight out of camera on Olympus bodies. That said, I do think purple fringing wide open is less than on my PL25, so I don’t want to make it seem a bigger issue than it is - just not the best around.
What *is* top class with this lens is its rendering. It's hard to be a naysayer about the Panasonic-Leica partnership when all of the Leica-branded lenses feature a rendering identity that is completely unique among mirrorless lenses. Whether or not the rendering looks like a true Leica lens I’ll leave up to debate, but if you’ve spent any time shooting the 25mm F1.4 or the 42.5mm F1.2 especially, you can easily tell the 15mm F1.7 is from the same family.
The same contrasty rendering with some of the smoothest out-of-focus transitions and 3D “pop” is very present here. In fact, likely due to newer technology, I find the 15mm F1.7 renders more pleasantly than the wonderful 25mm F1.4 - technical aspects aside, it feels closer to the impeccable Nocticron 42.5mm. This especially comes as a surprise because I frankly just didn’t expect that “3D-ness” from a lens with less bokeh than the 25mm, but it’s definitely there. The bokeh it does produce is very pleasant too.
All indications are that Panasonic has another winner on its hands. Truth be told, my biggest issue using this lens will likely be its perspective. While I don’t think there are bad focal lengths, 28mm-equivalent has always been my absolute least favorite one, and 30mm isn’t far off. To me it feels neither wide enough to be particularly interesting or useful for landscapes and architecture, but not narrow enough for a lot of street photography either (yes, I know, get closer). Which is strange, because 35mm-equivalent is my absolute favorite street photography focal length, but the difference between the two is palpable.
Still, that’s more of a personal issue likely worsened due to my being so used to the 50mm angle of view, a focal length I also initially disliked. In all, Panasonic has delivered another beautifully crafted lens that renders images just as beautifully, and I look forward to getting the most out of it in the coming weeks.
The 15mm F1.7 is available from B&H for $598. Please note that we get a small commission for every product purchased through an affiliate; buying a product by following one of the links in this article or throughout the website helps keep Mu-43 going.
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