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.
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.
This is a legit Leica and is Built Like OneLike 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.