Over the weekend I was able to test out a rental Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2. I don’t usually follow lens news and didn’t know about this lens; I only found out when it popped up on the rental price list ;)
On my micro four-third camera body, the photos generated from this lens would be equivalent to an 85mm f/2.8 lens on a full-frame camera. For folks not too into photography, basically this lens is supposed to get a lot more light in, than most mainstream lenses. Lots more light mean a lot of things, like “less blurry people indoors” and “less blurry people at night” and “beautifully blurry backgrounds in portraits”.
So off I went to rent this baby. I was excited and a little worried about liking the lens so much. I’ve certainly heard a lot about Leica glass and the Noctilux (an $11,000 lens), and wanted to see how this felt like. (This review, comparing this lens to Noctilux, also whetted my appetite for trying this out.) I emailed the lens rental folks ahead to reserve; it’s a popular enough lens that it’s sold out at my favorite camera shop (I haven’t asked around elsewhere, though).
So I picked up the lens, got a little intimidated by its size, and attached it to my camera.
Then I did a quick test shot.
Holy ****. Pardon the sucky subject and random composition, but that had me. An automatic lens with such lovely blurring and depth of field… I practically ran out of there to buy one. Don’t get me wrong, I have an amazingly fast lens with wonderful bokeh capabilities (the manual Voigtländer Nokton 25mm f/0.95) but this is automatic. I love my Voigtländer, but I’m not good enough yet with manual focus speed to use it on, well, people. I like taking candids, but stand long enough with a huge-ass camera pointed at someone else and you’ve pretty much destroyed most of your chances for a candid shot. So it’s either 1) take a posed shot, 2) take a wild shot and hope it’s in-focus and not in the middle of a derpy face moment, or 3) bring a slower, automatic lens and higher chances of derpy blurry moments.
(I suck at taking photos of people, JSYK.)
So an utterly random, shoot-and-forget shot that charmed me to the very core when I saw it? That’s pretty much an instant win.
I went out the next two days to shoot a little with the lens. There are two caveats to this:
- I’m not a portrait person. Aside from the aforementioned suckyness at taking photos of people, I’m also skittish doing street photography. Most–probably all–of my street photography comprises of people’s backs, and sleeping people (and even with the latter, I shoot and hurry away! just in case the shutter woke them up! oh gawd oh gawd i hope not oh gawd). However, this is traditionally a portrait lens–it works best with an actual subject, as opposed to taking shots of, say, the river, the city skyline, a room full of people, etc. So I had to go out and find subjects to take photos of. (Err.)
- I’m not used to the focal length. A subject at 42.5mm in the viewfinder does look like roughly the same size to my naked eyes, but my eyes are wide angle and I tend to want that field of view. There were a couple times during the weekend where I keenly felt the absence of my usual wide-angle lens.
In any case, I did find a few subjects worth taking shots of, by heading to the ArtScience Museum’s Dinosaurs: Dawn to Extinction exhibit, and to Gardens by the Bay’s Flower Dome the next day. In retrospect, I should have brought along some other lenses for comparison (such as the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 for the focal length and aperture effect comparison, and/or even the aforementioned Voigtländer for bokeh comparisons) but one of the important things for me to test out was how it felt like to bring the lens around. If I was weighted down by too many lenses, I didn’t think I’d have an actual feel for how the lens felt like on its own.
All that said, it’s a fantastic lens for subject photography. It’s easy to be lazy with this lens, because its resulting depth of field and lens brightness is just plain pleasing. Even if your subjects are mostly dinosaurs and skeletons.
It’s a fantastic lens. Wait, did I already say that? But it is. It has character and charm. It’s expensive, but it looks like a very popular lens that will hopefully hold well in the secondhand market. Autofocus on my OMD E-M5 is quick and snappy, the colors are lovely, the bokeh is superb. Handling is just lovely–it feels good in my hands, solid and smooth.
That said, it really is a rather large monster.
That’s the Nocticron on the left, compared against my Voigtländer on the right, sans caps and lens hoods. (Not that I have a Nocticron lens hood, anyway.)
Before anyone starts complaining that, well, the original Noctilux is a lot heavier than this lens’ 425g, that it’s a relatively tiny lens in all of lensdom, etc.–I hear you. Yes, relatively speaking, this is a lightweight lens. However, one of my biggest considerations when buying gear is weight (and weight is subjective). If I will end up leaving it at home because it’s heavy, I’m better off saving my money for something else. It’s the reason I’m not interested in upgrading to an actual SLR or a full frame–it’s got lots of “cred” but a camera at home is no use to me. It’s the reason I still haven’t upgraded to an E-M1, even if it’s fantastic and I can certainly use focus peaking with my manual lenses. I’m not quite there yet with its size and weight difference to the E-M5 (which, admittedly, I also leave home far too often; makes me want to consider the E-M10 honestly).
So, size matters. The fact that I am compelled to use my E-M5 grip to feel secure with this lens, matters. Without the grip, the lens actually extends down the bottom of the E-M5, that’s how big it is. My shoulders ached after a long day carrying my E-M5, grip accessory, and lens.
But wait, the Voigtländer is almost the same at 410g! Yes, it is. However, the need to use the grip is not as insistent when I have my Voigtländer attached to my camera, which alleviates some of the weight. Because of the sheer size of the Nocticron, coupled with its weight, I’m not comfortable not having that extra solidity of the grip. And even so–well, I leave my Voigtländer home more often than I’d like, as it is.
Truth to tell, I really am teetering on the edge with this one. I fluctuate so often on whether I should get on a waitlist for this one, or not. But there are just enough things about it that hold me back: it’s expensive, it’s heavy, it’s huge, the aperture ring won’t work for my preferred body, it’s not my preferred focal length, this is just a hobby and I am still very much a newbie at it. Until one of those things change (subjective criteria included), this lens will probably stay in my nice-to-have list. Until I get better or feel more comfortable with that focal length, until this lens’ aperture ring works with Olympus bodies, until I find an amazing secondhand market deal, and so on.
(Okay, the fact that I can rent it if I want it, is also a reason for holding back.)
On a crazy, carpe-diem, you-only-live-once day, I would probably run off and get it, and I know that if I did, I wouldn’t regret it, either.
Someday, but not today. (Yet.)
I did eventually get this lens, the week after this post went up.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the lens. It’s been over a month and it’s certainly become a staple.
I don’t bring it every day (I have a lighter one for that) but for everything else a bit more “special” than everyday photography, this goes in my bag, without question. I’ve been on two trips so far and it’s been the lens that’s most on my camera in that time.
Here are some more photos from my lens trial weekend. It really is a very purdy purdy lens. If you have money to burn, just get this baby. It’s fantastic. Have I told you how fantastic it is? It is fantastic.
Focal length: 42.5mm / Comparable 35mm Focal Length: 85mm
Aperture: f/1.2 – 16
Camera mount: Micro Four Thirds
Minimum focus distance: 0.5m
Image stabilization: Yes
Filter thread: 67mm
Dimensions: 74mm x 76.8mm