Tools of the Trade – Leica 42.5/1.2 Nocticron

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The GH3 looks hot with the Nocticron and red Pro Dot

WOAH. This is one badass lens, is what I first thought when I first played with the Nocticron at Photo Plus…unfortunately I was not able to show the working lens online so when I was on Lumix Lounge Live at PPE I appeared with a mock up. My contacts at Panasonic were under orders from the mothership in Japan not to release the real lens out in the wild yet. I had an idea…

A Photographer Walks Into a Bar

Soooo a few weeks later I’m this awesome bar in Jersey meeting with my contact. We’ll call him “Bob” who’s been with Panasonic pre-Lumix days. We’re having some tasty craft beers, talking photography – how awesome the GM1 is (his is all black BTW), hybrid photography and some stuff I can’t mention until next year. A few brews later he passes me something across the bar. It’s the working Leica designed Nocticron 42.5/1.2, the most premium Micro 4/3 lens to date and one that is designed for a new level generation of Lumix, however since its Micro 4/3rds it works on any M43 body.

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The bottles are actually touching each other. Amazing how shallow the DOF is.

First thing I do is put it on my Gx7 and make some quick snaps of what happened to be in front of me…beer! It’s near dark in the bar but to my surprise the GX7 is able to focus quite quickly and lock onto objects with low contrast like a glass or bottle. Excited, I snapped some shots of the setup with my iPhone, even some of the GM1 with the Nocticron just for laughs. The barrel of the Nocticron is so large, when I set the camera with lens onto the bar the lens rolls to one side until the GM1 makes contact with the bar. While the GM1 on this beastly lens is cute it’s totally impractical. Speaking of the lens barrel its made of machined metal and has the text laser etched into the barrel. My contact “Bob” was nice enough to let me hold onto this amazing lens for the weekend. The test ended at Panasonic’s new HQ were I got to visit the new labs and see some stuff that you’ll see next year or two. Look for that post on Small Camera Big Picture very soon.

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This is a legit Leica and is Built Like One

Like the Leica 25/1.4 and 45/2.8 this is a Leica designed, Panasonic built lens. This means that Leica engineers design the optics and some mechanical operations while Panasonic designs the electronics like AF and OIS. The lens is built by Panasonic to Leica standards. Another difference between the Panasonic lenses with the Leica badges and without is that all optical corrections are done within the optics. There are no firmware adjustments going on behind the scenes with the Leica lenses. This means there’s less a jump in sharpness from one f-stop to another and that regardless of M43 body the optical performance is the same. These are lenses that you invest in while other M43 glass are just lenses you buy.

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High End Sharpness and Bokeh

The proof is in the pudding and the pudding is so sweeeeet! I’m not crazy about pixel peeping but for a lens that is supposed to be the best in the M43 line I had to. For my real world test I photographed my friend and fellow Lumix Luminary Rick Gerrity. Let’s look at this screen capture from Lightroom. Notice that my sharpness and noise reduction is on zero. What you see is the actual optical performance of the Nocticron and it is AWESOME.

Click for full res

RAW with no sharpening or noise reduction. Click for full res

When you can see individual hairs its plenty sharp and there’s many advantages of not having to post sharpen. Not having to post sharpen keeps away any strange file artifacts like jagged edges, reduces overall noise and if you’re photographing a female model this means less retouching. The transitions from sharp to blurred at all f-stops are smooth and silky, again a result of no firmware corrections. Wide open? OMG it’s not only sharp but the bokeh is lovely.

GX7, Natural Light, WiFi JPEG transfer to iPad, iPhoto and Snapseed. Click for full res

Pre-processed GX7 JPEG, WiFi transfer to iPad, Post-processed in iPhoto and Snapseed. Click for full res

I usually shoot at f/4 so to test I compared the same portrait at f/1.2 and again at f/4. As you can see the eyes are sharp in both but at f/1.2 the image starts to get burred just past the eye. As I stated, my preference is f/4 and in the example below the image is sharp – naturally – yet the image gradually transitions to a nice blur in the background….simply beautiful.

The shallow DOF is nice with the right portrait. My preference here is f/4. Click for full res

The shallow DOF is nice with the right portrait. My preference here is f/4. Click for full res

 

At 100% you can see how sharp the lens is at f/1.2 and how smooth the transition from sharp to blurry at f/4

At 100% you can see how sharp the lens is at f/1.2 and how smooth the transition from sharp to blurry at f/4. Click for full res

Handeling and Accessories

The lens has OIS which is very welcome since this is a heavy lens. Any lens that is built out of metal and glass is going to be heavy. Filter size 67mm  which will work nicely with a Heliopan polarizer. I don’t use UV filters, more glass to pass through and increased possibility for optical aberrations. If I drop the lens its going to suck regardless of the filter. Plus if you drop the lens the glass from the filter could actually push into the front optical element of the lens which would cause damage. Best bet is to get a good polarizer to help absorb bright sun since at f/1.2 your shutter speed can easily get to 1/8000 at ISO 200 and for protection get some no fault insurance many dealers offer. Size wise it’s bigger than the Panasonic 12-35/2.8 X which I don’t think is a large lens to begin with (coming from a DSLR) but the Nocticron is going to be a bit larger.

The Nocticron is larger than the 12-35/2.8 as expected

The Nocticron is larger than the 12-35/2.8 as expected. Click for full res

Although its a big lens for the GX7, on the GH3 it fits very well which makes sense. The Lumix GH line is Panasonic’s pro hybrid cameras which is the level of body the Nocticron was designed for. The Nocticron should come with a lens hood or let me put it this way. If a lens hood is made it will be included in the lens. No need to spend upwards of $100 on a lens hood. I’m also certain it will come with a lens pouch as well.

It's a bit big on the GX7 but it's well balanced and easy to handle. Click for full res

It’s a bit big on the GX7 but it’s well balanced and easy to handle. Click for full res

Price and Availability

While I can’t say exactly how much retail for and when the Nocticron will make its debut here’s what I can say. Expect the lens to be more than the Voightlander 42.5/f.95 because of the Leica optics, AF that works identical in still or video and OIS. This is a high end pro lens made for those that make money with their photography. That said the build quality, optical performance and reliability is well worth the price. Start saving now.. The Leica Nocticron 42.5/1.2 will hit the streets the first half of 2014 and I’d say sooner than later. These are not easy lenses to make so expect the supply to be low. As soon as I can I’ll post links to preorder which I strongly suggest.

GX7, Natural Light, WiFi JPEG transfer to iPad, iPhoto and Snapseed. Click for full res

Pre-processed GX7 JPEG, WiFi transfer to iPad, Post-processed in iPhoto and Snapseed. Click for full res

The Leica Nocticron 42.5/1.2 can be described as the finest native Micro 4/3 lens with autofocus. The optical performance is second to none the AF is fast for a lens this size and the build reminds me of an old school lens. Think of the Voightlander with killer optical performance, OIS, AF and you’ll get an idea of the magic that’s in this lens. While the Nocticron is not going to be for everyone (due to price) it is a lens that will be in high demand by the growing number of working pros and enthusiasts who want the best of the best for the M43 system. I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on a final version as soon as they are available.

Want to play with Lumix gear before they hit the streets?

GX7 Handheld. RAW Processed in Lightroom. ISO 200, f/1.2, 1/1250 click for full res

GX7 Handheld. RAW Processed in Lightroom. ISO 200, f/1.2, 1/1250. Click for full res

Come to any of my events and you’ll often get to play with prototype gear before they get released. Sometimes you get to meet the talented engineers who design them as well. Panasonic wants your feedback so leave them a comment here.

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About Giulio Sciorio

Since 2009, Hybrid Photography pioneer Giulio Sciorio has been blending still + motion & sound with his photography. Giulio is a Lumix Luminary, commercial photographer and founder of SmallCameraBigPicture.com - the resource for everything Hybrid. A portfolio of Giulio’s hybrid work can be found at GiulioSciorio.com.

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11 Responses to Tools of the Trade – Leica 42.5/1.2 Nocticron

  1. Michael Ward January 6, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

    There are so many good m/43 lenses from 30mm (equiv) and up, but when are we going to get a wide rectilinear prime and a decent ultra wide somewhere between say 15 and 28 mm. At the last Photokina Schneider Kreuznach promised the latter by 3rd qtr 2013 along with a macro and a 30mm Xenon. But we still wait and wait…
    The only thing we have at the moment are fish eyes (the Rokinon is cheap and excellent) and zooms one of which might as well be a fisheye and the other which seems not to have made it to Australia…

  2. otto rascon January 6, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

    This lens looks amazing and I would love to see it compared to the 45mm Olympus lens. I’ll assume this one kicks the Olys button regards to IQ, but I’m sure it’ll cost a lot more. Off topic a bit, but what is that really cool red strap you have on the GX7? That’ll work perfectly for my GM1. Thanks!

  3. T N Args January 8, 2014 at 12:26 am #

    “Another difference between the Panasonic lenses with the Leica badges and without is that all optical corrections are done within the optics. There are no firmware adjustments going on behind the scenes with the Leica lenses.”

    Hello Giulio, can you please double-check and confirm this? You are being quoted on the mu-43.com forum, and some members are saying this is definitely not true for the PL25 and PL45 Panasonic Leica lenses.

    It is certainly a very interesting issue and one that Micro Four Thirds users would find valuable to be sure. It would be a very significant point of difference for the Panasonic Leica range, and your post above is the first time we have heard it mentioned.

    thank you,
    Arg

    • Giulio Sciorio January 8, 2014 at 10:45 am #

      Hi Arg,

      I get my info from the top and most of the time it’s in person. The lenses in talking about are the 24,45 and 42.5.

      Hope this helps,

      G

      • T N Args January 8, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

        Thank you for replying Giulio. I was wondering if you could check with your sources, so the doubters would be silenced?

        Like I say, it is a significant point of difference for the Panasonic Leica range. It should be mentioned more widely. Regards, Arg

        • Amin Sabet January 9, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

          Arg, this isn’t about silencing critics. No one is criticizing. It is simply a fact that the Panasonic Leica 25mm DG Summilux has software corrected optics. Lenstip showed it here: http://www.lenstip.com/314.6-Lens_review-Panasonic_Leica_DG_Summilux_25_mm_f_1.4_ASPH._Distortion.html

          And I can independently corroborate their findings. That lens has software-corrected barrel distortion. It isn’t bad – far less than most wide-normal MFT lenses – but it is moderate for a normal and gets corrected by the JPEG engine.

          I do recall Panasonic sources saying that the PL45 macro was not software corrected, and I’ve not seen any indication otherwise.

          As for the 42.5, we wouldn’t expect a telephoto lens to need software corrected distortion. On the other hand, they probably all get software corrected for color fringing and rightfully so – no shame in that.

          I’d like to see someone from Panasonic state, on the record, that these lenses are designed by Leica Camera AG. To my knowledge, they have never made such a statement officially.

          Early in their relationship with Leica-branded lenses for small sensor Panasonic digital cameras, they did have a spokesperson say that the designs were done by Panasonic and approved by Leica (or in some cases not approved by Leica with Panasonic designers having to go back to the drawing board). However, they’ve never said (officially) one way or the other when it comes to the PL glass for MFTs.

          It is only a curiosity to me, not of any importance, because I have lots of respect for Panasonic as a lens designer. The Lumix 20mm f/1.7 has as much magic in it as a 35mm Summicron M v4 (aka Bokeh King) as far as I am concerned.

          • T N Args January 9, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

            Thank you Amin.

            I look forward to Giulio’s further input, if he would be so kind.

  4. leftnose January 9, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    Any word on whether/when a black GM1 will be released for sale in the US?

  5. Frank Lepisko January 19, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    Guilio you converted me from lugging my monster Canon 1ds and “L’s” to the gh-3; loving it!

    Now I’ve gotta’ dump them for glass money. The last color pic of rick has a very nice grittiness(“your style” …Is it done in the gh-3? Could you open up about your technique for this look?
    (guessing: iso >3200? +nr-5?+ natural?)
    I’m not familiar with “snapseed”, instagram or any other post processing options.. Thanks, I enjoy your take on the m43 world.

    • Frank Lepisko January 19, 2014 at 8:52 am #

      Please disregard the above :
      Gx-7! Guess I should read the captions before rattling off at the keyboard.
      oops. :)

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