First, I want to say HAPPY NEW YEAR to all photographers out there! Especially those micro 4/3 users because this review, and my very first in 2014, is the very famous Panasonic Leica Summilux 25mm (many refer them as the PL 25 lens).
Well, if some of you have read my previous reviews of my much loved OM-D and the also super famous Olympus M Zuiko 12mm lens, then you will probably remember that I would very much like to acquire a fast standard prime! Technically, I am not a dedicated M4/3 shooter but I love using the OM-D because of its compact size and superb image quality. It’s been nearly 18 months now since I bought the “Camera of the Year 2012” and I am more than happy to continue using it, both personally and professionally for sometime to come. I had only two M4/3 lenses before my PL 25, it’s the standard kit lens (which is quite cool for video with the power zoom feature) and the M Zuiko 12mm. But for photography, I was pretty much stuck with the 12mm for the past 10 months. I have use this one-lens-combo in my travel, photographing my kids at home and even to my wedding jobs! This combo doesn’t disappoint, not at all!
So why this lens?
Well, I am a photographer and I always think that regardless what format you choose, APS-C, M4/3, 1-inch, Full Frame or even medium format, I always think it’s good to get a good, sharp and fast standard prime (equivalent 35mm format). If you are a visitor to many great reviewers and photographers, then you will know that they often recommend a good 50mm, even at school. It’s versatile and more natural to human eyes though many perceive 50mm has a viewing angle that’s closer to human eyes but the fact is that if you want something that’s closer to what you see, you are better off getting a 40mm or 45mm. Don’t take my words for it, just Google it 🙂
So here I am, my PL 25 arrived just in time for Christmas.
Despite the ‘Leica’ name on the lens and box, this is no Leica in terms of construction. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s a very very well made lens. The smooth metallic polycarbonate lens barrel is very comfortable to hold and the rubberized focus ring is very smooth indeed. In fact, there’s chrome plated metal mount for securing the lens to the body! Nano coating reduces flare, ghosting and reflections in extreme environment. I’ve been told that this PL 25 also satisfies Leica’s strict quality control and they have a dedicated person in Japan to ensure they are ‘better’ than the standard Panasonic lenses. I don’t know about it but it seems like any other ‘high quality pro level’ M4/3 lenses to me.
Using it in practice, good and bad
Right this is the big question that anyone who reads my reviews right? How does it perform in real life? TWO WORDS – BLOODY BRILLIANT! Just a word of warning before you read further or look at my pictures in details, even though this is a 1.4 lens, you don’t get the same shallow depth of field in full frame terms. It acts more like a 2.8. However, you can isolate subjects by carefully position yourself and the subject. This is perhaps the ONLY downsize for any small sensor cameras.
Now, here’s the deal. This PL 25 is brilliant in almost all situation. I have had the lens stuck on my OM-D for the pass three weeks and despite my busy father duty, I managed to get out and had some good time with the lens. I believe the best part of using M4/3 is that now there are many (and I mean MANY) different options when it comes to lens choice. Both Olympus and Panasonic make compelling lenses and with the Olympus starting to make ‘pro’ lenses, I can’t wait to try some of them out. Olly has been quite good for primes since the 12mm was launched and now they have a range that many lens manufacturers envy. Panasonic has a different approach in terms of lens development. They seem to concentrate on zooms rather than primes, though they have a brilliant 20mm 1.7 which is adored by many. Before I ordered my PL 25mm, I was tempted to get the 20mm 1.7 because of its stellar performance and tiny size. But at the end of the days, I still prefer faster lens and that 1.4 light gathering capability.
In use, this lens performs superbly on my OM-D. Fast, accurate and quiet. People complaint a lot about the noise when mated to Olly cameras but I didn’t notice much during the whole time apart. The only noise I heard was the opening and closing of the aperture which didn’t bother me that much. This lens focuses effortlessly on my OM-D body and I now, from reading reviews from others, that it works brilliantly on any M4/3 bodies.
About sharpness? Well, you will not be disappointed. It’s sharper than many lenses that I’ve used. When shot wide open, the PL 25 is sharper than my beloved Sigma EX 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM on my full frame 5D. Stopping down the lens can only increase general sharpness and contrast but it kind of tops out around f/5.6 when diffraction slowly creeps in but generally usable all the way to the smallest setting. The amount of details this lens can resolve is outstanding! I believe that it out-resolves the camera sensor, just like the M Zuiko 12mm. I love it and it means this lens will last at least a few generations of M4/3 cameras!
During my use, there’s only a tiny bit of distortion but virtually undetectable. and the saturation is neutral (to me). Straight out of camera colours are good and natural, which is good for taking portraits.
Oh.. bokeh??? Yes super delicious indeed. The smooth transition combine with round bokeh balls all make the pictures look a bit nicer. There isn’t any ‘onion’ rings as the Sigma but that’s their signatures. Just plain smooth.
Right, of course everything has its down sides. Despite being a top performer on M4/3 platform, I want to tell you that this lens is not too great when you are a fast manual type of street shooters. The original 4/3 PL 25 had an aperture ring where you can set aperture manually on the lens, very much like a standard Leica lens or old manual SLR lens. Everything is adjusted using the dials on the camera body. Not that I am bothered but the most annoying thing is that this lens doesn’t have a distance scale. So if you are used to zone focus, forget it. The original PL25 has it and hence it’s still commanding extortionate price used.
Size? Yes, I have no complaint here but I know there are people who said this lens is big for what it is. But let’s face it, I am coming from the SLR background and am used to large glass. This 25mm is tiny when compare to my Sigma 50mm. Ok, that’s not fair because Sigma 50mm is one of the largest around but even when compare to the old Nikor 50mm 1.8 AIS, the PL25 is still tiny. It may be double the size of Panasonic’s 20mm 1.7 but that’s a pancake design which is totally different anyway.
Oh, lastly, the hood. It looks nice but it’s huge!!! I can’t reverse mount it so it can be a pain in the butt during transit. As I don’t use filter for this lens so the hood is there to protect any unnecessary knock.
Overall, this lens is bulky (for M4/3 apparently), very well made, refined and versatile. A little like Vin Diesels rather than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Umm.. that’s a thought.
There’s a reason why people are crazy about this lens. I am one of them. Steve Huff is one of them, many professional M4/3 photographers are also in the club. The Leica name may help but I am looking at the performance only. I am a shooter and I don’t like having equipment sitting around. I use them and my OM-D now has another stellar companion. I am not going to get anymore lenses unless I need to use them. Ok, Leica-Panasonic, you have won me over this lens. I do like it to be made of metal, just like Olly’s M Zuiko prime lenses. I would have paid more for it. Now I know that Leica Panasonic has the NEXT big 42.5mm Nocticron. Umm.. more to think about. Well, let me get my Leica M first!
Anyhow, I have a thumb up and recommend it to any M4/3 shooters out there!
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