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Panasonic Leica Summilux 15mm F1.7 Brief Impressions / Review

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by napilopez, Aug 4, 2014.

  1. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Panasonic Leica Summilux 15mm F1.7 Brief Impressions

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    Determined to sell some food, isn't she?

    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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    First Thoughts

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    Rulebreaker.

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

    val Mu-43 Top Veteran

    548
    Dec 19, 2013
    Australia
    William
    excellent first impressions, I myself find 30mm to be neither wide enough or zoomed in enough for my liking but this lens, whether how it's designed or how it renders, just makes me want to use it.
     
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  3. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    So far, I think that's how I feel about the 15mm too. It's essentially how things started off with the 25mm for me too. I actually never feel like I fully jive with the 50mm equivalent focal length - I love 35mm and 40mm. But the rendering on that lens made me want to stick with it. Same seems to be happening here. Hopefully I'll learn to take advantage of the focal length more as I get more used to it.
     
  4. drd1135

    drd1135 Zen Snapshooter

    Mar 17, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    Steve
    That first shot is wonderful.
     
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  5. Art

    Art Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 13, 2011
    San Francisco, CA
    it will be interesting to see how it stacks up against Panny 14mm f2.5
     
  6. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran

    775
    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    I've been shooting with this lens for a few weeks now. I've got the 25/1.4 and 42.5/1.2 and I agree the rendering seems quite similar. I've shot with the 17/1.8 for quite awhile as well and I agree there is something I personally like more about the 15/1.7 rendering so far.

    I've never really had a favorite focal length, probably because my background is in landscape where I always use zooms. I've never found "zoom with your feet" to make any sense at all in landscape composition, zooming with your feet changes perspective and landscape composition is very sensitive to perspective. If anything "zoom with a crop" seems the more composition neutral approach. As a result I've never had a focal length preference I've been aware of.

    But now for the past couple of years it has almost all been kid photography and heavy use of primes. The 25/1.4 the mainstay around the house even though I have a large stable of other primes. I've liked the 17/1.8 when out and about both because it is much smaller than the 25/1.4 and because I'm usually indoors, close up or trying to get some sort of "environmental portrait" and need the wider field of view. Because of that I find I like the 15/1.7 field of view even more - I can always more tightly crop in post if I need to but I frequently have found the 17 to be just not quite wide enough.

    Anyway, so far I'm really enjoying the 15 and probably the 17 is going to go up for sale some day (though it has served me admirably while I've had it).
     
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  7. mjgraaf

    mjgraaf Mu-43 Regular

    53
    Feb 9, 2014
    Netherlands
    Menno
    Just wondering, m4/3 is the only system I know where lens corrections are applied by the camera, pre-raw. When testing lenses, what are we then testing? The post corrections done by the camera or the glass???
     
  8. Jacquesass

    Jacquesass Mu-43 Regular

    55
    Feb 17, 2014
    My only issue with this lens after reading multiple reviews (and the awesome samples on this board)? I'm too cheap to pay $600 for it.

    I can't wait for the GM1 + 15mm kit to hit the market so some de-kitted lenses can drive the price down some...
     
  9. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran

    775
    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    Corrections are not done pre-raw. Correction data is provided in the RAW file but the RAW pixels are not corrected. The RAW converter applies the corrections after demosaicing.

    Other mirrorless systems do it. And many, many fixed lens cameras do.

    In general, the only sensible way to test a lens is to test it being used as the lens designer intended, which is also typically how users will use it. With m43 lenses that means testing them with corrections applied. Testing without the corrections is a pretty meaningless exercise.
     
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  10. Serhan

    Serhan Mu-43 Top Veteran

    533
    May 7, 2011
    NYC
    • Like Like x 1
  11. drpump

    drpump Mu-43 Regular

    154
    Oct 28, 2010
    Likewise.

    They have hit in Oz at least: http://www.digidirect.com.au/slr_ca..._g_-_leica_dg_summilux_15mm_f17_lens_-_silver (unless they're splitting to create the kit, but probably not). Unfortunately, the price is at AUD$1250, which is $450 over the retail price of the 12-32 kit. Ouch!
     
  12. T N Args

    T N Args Agent Photocateur

    Dec 3, 2013
    Adelaide, Australia
    call me Arg
    All the more reason to do it IMO, unless you have perfect pre-visualization.

    Zoom with your feet to explore perspective, then choose lens for framing. :2thumbs:
     
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  13. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    As a note, I'll be doing my usual process of adding images to the Sample Image Thread for this lens throughout my review period. Just finished posting a set:

    https://www.mu-43.com/showthread.php?t=65845&p=677174#post677174

    I think I'm quickly getting used to the focal length for street photography, which somewhat surprised me. Great for shooting from the hip.
     
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  14. T N Args

    T N Args Agent Photocateur

    Dec 3, 2013
    Adelaide, Australia
    call me Arg
    But we are waiting for you to answer the most important question of all: does it look best in silver or in black??
     
  15. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran

    775
    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    Absolutely, that is exactly what I do. When I had heavier gear I'd set it all down, get out my little black piece of card stock with a 4:5 aspect hole cut in it and then walk around to find the perspective and framing I wanted. Then pickup the camera and get out the right focal length to match the framing I did with the card. A key point was setting down the gear first - you'll find all your shots are composed from eye level if you try to compose with twenty pounds on your back :smile:

    These days all my gear fits on my belt so I don't set anything down, but I still use my little black framing card and the camera stays in the bag until I've got the perspective and framing I want.
     
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  16. MayaTlab

    MayaTlab New to Mu-43

    7
    May 20, 2014
    I was mostly hopping for better quality control : their copy is obviously decentered, the plane of focus is tilted towards the user on the right side. It's easy to spot on shots like these : http://pliki.optyczne.pl/pan15/pan15_fot11.JPG

    Unfortunately only Photozone seems to be willing to slam lens manufacturers for having such poor quality control, Lenstip, otherwise quite severe, doesn't seem to report decentered lenses (and they have already received others, their copy of the Panasonic 14mm f2.4 is decentered too).
     
  17. Dave Reynell

    Dave Reynell Guest

    How do you find the 12/2 ? Next question: How would you rate it vs the 15/1.7 ?
     
  18. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran

    775
    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    The 12/2 is one of my least used lenses. I probably should sell it. It is certainly a great lens if you are someone who likes to shoot landscape or architecture with a prime - but I shoot those things with my 7-14. My copy is nice and sharp well into the corners and stopped down still outclasses the 12-32 and 7-14 by a little bit. But in the end, when I go landscape shooting I just don't bother bringing it along with me as the improvement stopped down isn't worth the constraint of a single focal length. I've seen reviews and posts from people who like prime shooting such subjects and they really like it for that. At least early on there were some QC issues as well, de-centering and what not. Two reviewers who I respect quite a bit had to try multiple copies when it first came out and I think one of the in the end got a lens that while not having obvious decentering really seems to exhibit more field curvature than my copy. Having read about those issues I waited a bit to buy and got a refurb copy instead with the assumption a refurb might have undergone more testing and calibration than a new copy (I have no knowledge to justify that, but it has been my experience with other refurbed tech gear). Be sure to use CA correction in your RAW converter - it does have uncorrected lateral CA and apparent corner sharpness is significantly improved by correcting that. General rule of thumb - never bother doing corner or edge sharpness evaluations without doing lateral CA correction first - it is one of the few free lunches out there! Really dumb that Olympus did not bake that feature in the way Panasonic did.

    I have it primarily for low light wide angle of kids, bought around when our daughter was born. WA actually does work well with kids, you can get in real close and suck up the environment they are in and facial distortion goes just fine with some of the goofy looks they are going to give when interacting with a camera up close. In the end I rarely use it these days. She's now at an age where she really likes to walk right up to the camera, so maybe I should break it out again.

    Compared to the 15/1.7? Well, I certainly find the 15/1.7 more useful for my shooting. Also if you are going for out-of-focus rendering so far I really feel the 15 has that extra something that the 25/1.4 and 42.5/1.2 have as far as microcontrast and rendering go. The 12/2 does out of focus nice, but I'm one of those people who likes what the three Leica branded lenses are doing.

    So, nice lens, test your copy if you get one, personally I'm not using it enough to justify its price. Also, I think a lot of folks find its utility diminished now that the 12-35 and 12-40 exist. Not sure I agree with that, for me zooms and primes sit in very different places in my head but that might just be me.
     
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  19. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez

    Agree with the note on lateral CA - although its also worth noting that I believe the E-M1 and E-M10 now automatically correct for this. Perhaps the E-P5 too, can't remember. Or maybe I'm making that up. Fact check, anyone?

    Also agree that the 15mm f1.7 does have something with its OoF rendering. I somehow feel like I can isolate my subjects better than I did on the Panny 20mm F1.7(still my favorite lens for the system, even if I no longer own it), despite the fact that the 15mm should theoretically have "less" bokeh in most instances (yes, I know, depth of field remains the same blah blah)
     
  20. I think that CA correction only occurs in cameras with the Truepic VII processor (E-M1 and after), whereas the E-P5 (released before the E-M1) has Truepic VI.