Lumix Diaries: Shooting the New Leica Lumix 12mm F/1.4

Posted Jun. 19th, 2016 by Daniel J. Cox

Shooting the New Leica Lumix 12mm F/1.4

This past February when I visited the Panasonic headquarters in Osaka, Japan, I spent time with engineers discussing many ideas and features for upcoming cameras. On the meeting room table were a few things I can’t discuss, but one item that’s now been announced is the new Leica Lumix 12mm F/1.4 lens.

The lens development team with a picture gave teach of them shot with the new Leica 100-400mm zoom which I'm holding attached to a GH4.

The lens development team with a picture given to each of them shot with the new Leica 100-400mm zoom (which I’m holding) attached to a GH4.

When one of my hosts handed this lens to me, it was obvious it was part of the ongoing pro series of optics made with premium glass, metal housing, and the now common manual aperture ring that signifies Leica quality. I immediately asked, “What’s this?,” and as I rolled it over from one palm to the next, the orangish colored 12 came into view. Finally, a truly fast wide angle in my favorite range of 24mm, I thought to myself.

The new Lumix/Leica Summilux 12mm F/1.4 lens

The new Lumix/Leica Summilux 12mm F/1.4 lens

That was was about five months ago and I’m happy to announce that it’s now on the pre-order list at all Panasonic Lumix dealers. About a month ago, my contacts at Panasonic were nice enough to send one to me and I’ve been shooting it extensively,

The ever growing Leica lenses for the Micro Four Thirds Lumix and Olympus cameras.

The ever growing Leica lenses for the Micro Four Thirds Lumix and Olympus cameras.

mainly on my recent Scotland-Ireland 2016 photo tours. It’s been a great four weeks with lots of opportunities to give it a lengthy field test.

Edinburgh Castle on the ridge above the beautiful city of Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle on the ridge above the beautiful city of Edinburgh, Scotland.

As always, what I’m about to write relates to my real world experiences. I seldom do extensive lab oriented reviews since there are so many other truly qualified proper scientific labs that are in business to do an official job. My tests are from an average user’s perspective and hopefully can give an idea of what the serious pro/enthusiast can expect. I used the new lens mostly attached to my Lumix GX8 but it was also used on a GH4. Both worked extremely well, but the GX8 had the added advantage of in-camera 5 Axis Image Stabilization. Unfortunately, the new lens does not have IS built in.

General Look and Feel

Like all the Leica lenses being built for Lumix cameras, the new 12mm feels extremely solid. It’s all metal and is sealed from dust and splashed water when used with the proper camera such as a GX8. The front lens element is 62mm which is quite large when compared to the Olympus version of the 12mm F/2 lens. The Olympus is tiny in comparison, but then it’s one full stop slower in light gathering capabilities. I find it amazing how much larger a lens becomes with just one stop of additional light it lets in.

I’m going to describe the lens starting from the front and moving back toward the camera.

On the very front of the lens is a metal, twist on with a click, lens shade that feels extremely solid. It’s not long, but it’s by far the best feeling lens shade Lumix has offered in the twist on variety. I have several other lenses that have lens shades that have a similar design but all are plastic. How they figured out how to do metal with a solid click and without a lock of any kind seems like magic.

Whiskey in Edinburgh, Scotland.

This image of whiskey in Edinburgh, Scotland shows the very limited depth of field when shot at F/1.4.

Next is the manual aperture ring. Like the 15mm F/1.7 and the 42.5mm F/1.2, the 12mm aperture ring is silky smooth with solid feeling clicks in 1/3 stop increments. Clicking from one stop to the next exudes pure quality. Spin the ring all the way to the left, and the lens is set to A for Auto, which is where I place it so I can use the cameras front dial for Aperture control. The

Adding a frame to the foreground is one of my favorite techniques when shooting wide angle lenses. This image as shot hand held at 1/40th of a second at F/10 with the Lumix GX8 ISO 400

Adding a frame to the foreground is one of my favorite techniques when shooting wide angle lenses. This image as shot handheld at 1/40th of a second at F/10 with the Lumix GX8, ISO 400.

manual Aperture ring is something many people like but I personally prefer using the camera’s front dial. To each their own; either way, it’s an option that is nice for those who want it and virtually invisible for those, like myself, who don’t have any need for it. The one issue I have with this ring is it’s lack of a lock for when it’s placed in the A (Auto) mode. Since I don’t use it, I

The star burst effect with this lens it spectacular. Lumix GX8 ISO 200

The star burst effect with this lens it spectacular. Lumix GX8, ISO 200

often find it’s been knocked from the A position which then takes my camera out of the Program Mode and into Aperture Priority. To eliminate this problem on this lens as well as my 15mm and 42.5mm Leica lenses, I take a very small piece of black gaffers tape which I fix to the bottom of the aperture ring and lens barrel on the underside of the lens. This holds the Aperture ring firmly in the A position and I’m free to forget about it.

Fading colors on the hull of a depleted old boat in the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Lumix GX8 ISO 200

Fading colors on the hull of a depleted old boat on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Lumix GX8, ISO 200

Just beyond the Aperture ring is the manual focus ring. Like all the Leica lenses I’ve mentioned above, the manual focus on this lens is as smooth and easy to use as anything I’ve ever tried. Once again, it’s a nice feature for those that want manual control

A an extremely full stream on the Isle of Mull topped off by the heavy rains we had for a couple of days. Lumix GX8 ISO 100

An extremely full stream on the Isle of Mull topped off by the heavy rains we had for a couple of days. Lumix GX8, ISO 100

but I have to say I virtually never use manual focus anymore. It’s so easy to use the touch pad AF setting on the back of the LCD, and the AF is generally very accurate that seldom do I ever set the camera to manual focus. Once again, it’s a tool for those that prefer focusing themselves and out of site for those who don’t.

Image Quality

Without a doubt this is a very sharp lens with beautiful bokeh (out of of focus areas), exceptional detail, and gorgeous colors. Being a very fast F/1.4 helps when you might want to have the background go very soft and out of focus. All Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses have more depth of field than let’s say traditional lenses on a full frame traditional DSLR. Many who prefer

Beautiful depth of field from front to back shows the rock wall surrounding this beautiful home on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. GX8 ISO 200

Beautiful depth of field from front to back shows the rock wall surrounding this beautiful home on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. GX8 ISO, 200

the much larger, heavier, and substantially more costly full frame systems from Nikon, Canon, and Sony often argue that MFT lenses and cameras have too much depth of field. I could not disagree more. Personally, I’ve never had any trouble getting my photos “out of focus.” I’ve always found it difficult to get my pictures “in focus,” so the slightly better depth of field of MFT has always been beneficial. If I do really want to blow the background out of focus I’ll use a longer lens.

Our Explorers on a tour of the underground tunnels in Edinburgh. Typically a bright light like the flashlight in this photo would create flair in a lens that has issues. but as you see there is no problem in this situation. GX8 ISO 3200

Our Explorers on a tour of the underground tunnels in Edinburgh. Typically a bright light like the flashlight in this photo would create flair in a lens that has issues. but as you see there is no problem in this situation. GX8, 12mm F/1.4, ISO 3200

One area of concern is lens flare. Because it has such a large front element, as well as the other pieces of glass within its barrel, light is easily reflected from one large glass element to another. Lumix/Leica has done a descent job with coatings to minimize

Shooting directly into the sun shows family serious lens flare. Image was shot at F/16 which may be part of the problem. Image above in the tunnel was shot wide open.

Shooting directly into the sun shows fairly serious lens flare. This image was shot at F/16 which may be part of the problem. The image above in the tunnel was shot wide open.

flare when shooting directly into bright lights, but I do feel flair in Lumix/Leica lenses is something Panasonic has to tackle in a much more aggressive manner. One of my absolute favorite lenses used to be my Nikkor 24mm F/2, and I used it to shoot scenes

Less flare in this shot at F/6.3. I definitely need to do some additional tests on flare alone to see what's the best aperture to shoot at for the least amount of lens flare.

Less flare in this shot at F/6.3. I definitely need to do some additional tests on flare alone to see what’s the best aperture to shoot at for the least amount of lens flare.

with the sun as a major element. With my old Nikkor that I originally purchased in 1981, I could eliminate all flare from this lens by stopping it down to F/8 which gave me a beautiful starburst effect. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to replicate that technique with the new Leica 12mm F/1.4.

City lights on the streets of Gallway, Ireland GX8, 12mm F/1.4 ISO 2000

City lights on the streets of Galway, Ireland. Handheld Lumix GX8, 12mm F/1.4, ISO 2000

Where this lens is really going to shine is photographing night scenes, and in particular night skies. This is really why I bought this lens, along with its ability to shoot in much lower light than I’ve been able to do with other optics. As many of you know who

An underground waterfall in Aillwee Cave. Image was taken hand held with the Lumix GX8 at 1/4 of a second at F/1.4 ISO 1600

An underground waterfall in Aillwee Cave. Image was taken handheld with the Lumix GX8 at 1/4 of a second at F/1.4 ISO 1600.

read this blog, low light photography is one of the downsides to Micro Four Thirds cameras. MFT technology just does not have the low light capabilities of our full frame counterparts. I honestly believe it will come but until sensor technology changes, we have to get more light into our cameras by way of faster lenses and the 12mm Leica  Summilux F/1.4 is one way to do this. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to photograph the night skies yet but will be doing that in the not too distant future.

Cost

With such high quality glass, weather sealing, and fabulous metal build, the new Leica Summilux 12mm F/1.4 is not cheap. Some might even suggest it’s fairly expensive. But once again I have to refer back to my Nikon system I shot for so many years to put it into perspective. Nikon also makes a fabulous 24mm F/1.4 lens. I actually thought about buying one in the past year but I just didn’t want to put the cash out and then carry it to boot. For the Nikkor 24mm F/1.4 you’ll be paying just a few dollars short of $2000US. The new Leica Summilux is listed at $1299US. As far as weight goes, the Nikkor comes in at 1.36 pounds; the new Leica Summilux is 11.82 ounces. Obviously a big difference on price and weight.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m very impressed with this new lens. It’s a great move on Panasonic’s part to continue working with Leica to bring Micro Four Thirds users the best optics possible for our smaller MFT sensors. I love the amazing details that are easily seen from the center of the lens all the way to the extreme corners, even when shot wide open. Its build feels as robust as any lens I’ve ever handled. As much as I love this new wide angle option we’ve been given, it really is a specialty lens for most photographers. The Lumix Vario 12-35mm F/2.8 also covers the 24mm range. Having a zoom can be a big advantage, especially one as sharp as the 12-35mm Vario. But if you want to shoot the Milky Way or any other scenes after the sun has gone down, this is by far the best lens we have for Micro Four Thirds users. How lucky we are to have so many great lens options in the short time since Micro Four Thirds came on the scene. Thank you Panasonic for your continued development of truly professional optics that are smaller, lighter, and less costly than the traditional DSLR lenses of the past.

Full size JEPG’s available for download for review purposes only.
Password: leica12mm

These images are straight from the RAW file with no sharpening or processing of any kind.

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There are 21 comments on this post…
  1. Allen BluedornOn Jan. 25th, 2017 (11 months ago)

    Daniel,

    Have you had a chance now to photograph night skies and/or the Milky Way with this lens? I currently use micro four-thirds version of the excellent Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 for such photography and have had excellent results. But the Panasonic’s f/1.4 aperature would give me one additional stop, hence twice the light gathering power, which would be an advantage. So I would like to know what your night sky experiences have been with the Panasonic.

    Al

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Feb. 16th, 2017 (10 months ago)

      Allen, I have shot the 12mm F/1.4 on night skies and have found it to be exceptional! The biggest disadvantage is the smaller MFT sensor that does not do as well a s larger sensors during long exposures which is why one of the big benefits to the F/1.4 aperture.

    • Allen BluedornOn Feb. 28th, 2017 (10 months ago)

      Thank you, Daniel. That is very encouraging. Given the price of the lens, though, I think I will rent it first to try it.

  2. Louis BerkOn Aug. 10th, 2016

    Thanks for a great review. I would like to look at the full size samples but when I use the link in the article I am asked for a password. Can you provide this?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 10th, 2016

      Louis, sorry about not having the password attached. Amazingly nobody has asked for this until now. I’ve added the password which is leica12mm. Thats for stopping by the Blog/Corkboard.

    • Louis BerkOn Aug. 10th, 2016

      Thanks, Daniel. The samples are wonderful and thanks for sharing them. Definitely on my shopping list as I need a faster indoor wide angle lens for times I can’t use a tripod.

  3. Ms. Shawn BaileyOn Aug. 1st, 2016

    Hello,
    I am starting to get into real estate photography. I own an Oly OMD-EMR Mark II body. Width and low-light capabilities are the top priority. Which lens covers both? The new 12 mm? Or is there something even better?
    Thank you,
    Shawn

    I have done a lot of research on lenses. I find you blog to be the most helpful in the end. It is informative and practical. I love that you choose to present actual photographs of high quality and high interest. I plan to follow your blog.

  4. JeromeOn Jul. 15th, 2016

    Hi Daniel,
    I recently entered the world of MFT with a purchase of the GX85 along 12-32mm kit zoom. After reviewing my initial images I decided to add the Leica/Lumix 25mm 1.4 prime and the Olympus 7-14mm 2.8. For my next purchase I’m looking at a lens to cover full frame equivalent to around 70-200mm f2.8. Would you mind making a recommendation? I would also like to heard your thoughts on using Olympus lens on Panasonic cameras.

    Thanks for you time.
    Jerome

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 16th, 2016

      Jerome, glad to hear you’re one of those on the cutting edge. For a full frame equivalent of a 70-200mm I highly recommend the LUMIX Vario 35-100mm F/2.8. It’s extremely sharp, very small and light as a feather without comprise in build and durability. Have had mine for probably five years now and never a single problem. Equally impressive is its sharpness which I consider equal to my Nikon 80-200mm.

      Regarding using Olympus lenses on LUMIX cameras. There are some downsides. One is, as you probably know, all but one Olympus lens does not have Image Stabelization in the lens itself. Currently only the 300mm F/4 has IS built in. That’s a downside for any of the other Olympus lenses. However, LUMIX is now building IS into their newer bodies which negates the no IS issue in Olympus lenses.

      That’s one issue. Another problem I’ve just recently discovered and I’m currently working on a blog post about, is the fact that Olympus telephotos, the new 300mm F/4 and the 40-150mm F/2.8 will not allow the LUMIX GH4 to shoot at its maximum 12FPS in AF-S. The maximum FPS rate drops to somewhere around 7-8FPS. I’m told by Panasonic folks this is due to LUMIX updating their camera AF system to the new AF specs where the LUMIX cameras and lenses can control AF at 240 FPS. The Olympus lenses do not have this feature and probably won’t get it since this is a processor change in the camera. So in short, LUMIX lenses are going to perform better in AF on LUMIX bodies. Not great news since I love my two Olymous telephotos. Will have to see how this all shakes out. Stay tuned for more details here on the Blog.

  5. KoyaHDOn Jun. 21st, 2016

    We need a low light UWA at least 7mm, prime or zoom such as the 7-14 2.8 Olympus which has been extremely popular – but has no OIS for Panasonic bodies!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 21st, 2016

      KoyaHD, sorry, I don’t agree. The Olympus is a big heavy lens and the newest Lumix bodies, the GX8 and GX85 do have IS built in to the body if you do decide you want o use that lens on a Lumix body. I’m personally very happy with the Lumix 7-14 F/4 as far as it’s size goes but would love to see them update this lens with better coatings to reduce flair. I have my doubts Panasoinc will replicate what Olympus has already done so well.

    • Mike GOn Jun. 21st, 2016

      Daniel, I’d love to see an ultra wide zoom from Panasonic that can take filters. I currently use the Olympus 9-18, but would like a little wider (say 8-18) and ideally a touch longer (say 8-20). I almost always shoot with two cameras, and my normal set up is with wide angle and telephoto zooms attached, which are in my camera bag with the lens caps off, UV filters on, and ready to shoot at a moments notice (often the camera I think that I’ll be using is in hand). A lack of filter thread means that I can’t do this, which is why both the Olympus and Panasonic 7-14s are not viable options for me. While there can be a very minor loss of image quality due to the UV filter, it means I get more shots than if I had to take the lens cap off.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 22nd, 2016

      Mike, I agree with your idea of getting rid of your lens caps. I don’t use them myself for the exact reason you mention, missing a photo when it was happening and you’re busy extracting a lens cap. I also use protective filters, Hoya HD3 skylights and find there is no discernible difference in image quality. Thats for your input and adding your voice.

    • KoyaHDOn Jun. 22nd, 2016

      True, however it would be nice to have a “Panasonic size” UWA that rivals the Olympus in low light with dual IS capabilities and OIS for older bodies (GX85 was only released a few months ago and is the only Panasonic body that has adequate stabilization for non-native lenses in both photo & video). I guess I’ll be purchasing the Olympus 7-14 for now until Panasonic decides to update their own. Or maybe I should hold out until their next big announcement which will surely be within the next few months? 🙂

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 22nd, 2016

      Either way I think you would be happy. I just don’t feel that IS is essential in this super wide range. That said, if we had it, it certainly can’t hurt and I wouldn’t complain if we got an updated version with IS built in. Lets cross our fingers. Seems the MFT is starting to gain steam and many are seeing the huge benefits of two camera companies working together to make things happen fast. Thanks for adding your voice.

    • KoyaHDOn Jun. 22nd, 2016

      I second Mike’s statement about filters. Weatherproofing would also be a huge asset in an update!

  6. DeanOn Jun. 20th, 2016

    Another great review from “one in the know!” I like to get really close with my wide angle lenses. Did you by any chance put the new lens to the test of close-up focusing?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 20th, 2016

      Good question Dean. I did not but will make a point to try that soon and report back.

  7. EricOn Jun. 20th, 2016

    Awesome, but I’m going to hold out for a 17.5mm 1.4 Summilux Aspheric for my MFT camera. I hope I don’t have to wait too long! My Leica M6 was almost always carrying the 35mm Summilux Aspheric. My go-to lens for about 80 percent of my non-sports newspaper work.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 20th, 2016

      Eric, lets hope it happens and with the direction Lumix is going, I would think it very well may.

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