Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm F/2.8 – F/4 Aspherical Lens. Wow that’s a mouthful. From here on out, its the Leica 8-18.
This is the latest wide angle zoom for the M43 system. Three aspherical elements, two ED elements, one asphereical ED element, and one UHR element. Rounded aperture blades. Splash and dust proof. Widest field of view is 107 degrees, and narrowest is 62 degrees. This is basically the Micro 4/3 equivalent of the Canon 16-35mm lens that has been a staple for many photographers over the years. Except…this lens has some wonderful character. (I never quite got along with the Canon lens…) This lens slots in just underneath the Olympus 7-14mm PRO lens. It is a definite step up from the Panasonic 7-14 and Olympus 9-18mm lens. I did not have the Olympus Pro lens side by side for comparison, but having spent time with both I feel fairly confident in my findings. This review won’t be a direct comparison…but I will bring up any differences that are noteworthy as I feel most people will be deciding between these two when making a purchase of a high end wide angle zoom.
The Leica 8-18 has some features that actually come in very handy. Most notably is a removable hood. The hood is reversible for stowing. The zoom and focus ring feel nice. Construction felt good. The lens is deceivingly light weight. In fact against the Olympus 7-14 you almost wonder how this is possible. The 8-18 is REALLY light. It is slimmer than the Olympus Pro lenses for most of the body. It feels very comfortable on an E-M1mkII and doesn’t get tiring to hold. The lens also does not get too front heavy when zoomed out to 8mm. You can see below in these two pictures how the front element moves when zoomed.
This brings us to our next awesome feature…front threaded filters.
You can use 67mm filters with no problem, even at 8mm. The bulb does not hit the filter at all. Wide angle lenses that have removable hoods and can take front filters without much vignetting are not too common. This is the major functionality difference in contrast to the olympus 7-14. That does have a fixed hood and no threads. Sure you can use a filter adapter…a big one…but sometimes that is not practical if you are trying to keep the system compact.
Here is a quick size comparison. The 8-18 and 12-40 pro are about the same length without hoods. The 8-18 notably narrower around the waist and much lighter even. Regardless, the lens feels good. In hand the lens is very compact feeling despite being large than most of the primes. The zoom ring turns opposite of Olympus lenses too. Keep that in mind if you find it hard to switch back and fourth between lenses that zoom in opposite directions. Olympus zooms counter clockwise, Panasonic zooms clockwise. I am used to counter clockwise…but this did not bother me. When I used this lens I was almost always at 8mm.
Before we dive into some examples, I want to go ahead and get the obvious out of the way. Yes it is just as good as the 7-14 Pro. The extreme corners were not as resolved…but in practical use it was negligible. I took this lens right into a high level architectural shoot and no issues with corners at all. Detail and resolution is great across the frame. The corners hold up incredibly well. (The 7-14 is just amazing in the corners even beyond…but you pay a price in weight and no filters) What was really amazing to me was the lack of distortion at 8mm, the lack of vignette at 8mm, and the general aesthetics of the rendering. This lens just straight out makes good looking photos. To me they were every bit as good as the 7-14 with a slightly different look. The 7-14 to me is a wide version of the 12-40. They look identical image wise to me. The 8-18 is different…maybe its a little of that Leica magic? Who knows.
Quick note…my EXIF data says a few of these shots were at 9mm. I thought I was zoomed all the way out…must not have been. Regardless, most these architectural shots have keystone correction applied as well, so the furthest corners have been cropped.
This shot of a conference area is shot with a circular polarizer on. I also had two strobes to my far left and far right beyond the frame, gelled and bouncing as fill. Aside from some small retouching colors and capture look pretty much straight out of camera. With ceiling grids, glass, door frames, floor lines, etc… a lens with distortion is out for me. I need a lens that delivers a straight image. I don’t care if distortion is “fixed” in camera as long as my raw file looks good and is straight. This lens delivers. Even at its widest setting it was straight enough that I never felt I needed to correct.
This next shot is another from the same photoshoot. I had a circular polarizer on to minimize glare on the wooden surfaces. I had three strobes to the far right firing into this lounge lighting different parts. Notably the foreground wood and chairs, second was the game table, and third was the bookshelf. I spent a lot of time shooting into bright sun windows and never had an issue with flaring. Outdoors the lens is a bit more prone, but overall I never had to worry about it. It manages very well.
Here again is another shot that shows the lack of distortion. A polarizer was used again to control reflections on surfaces. Did I mention I LOVE using a polarizer on this lens? Especially indoors it was very controllable even at wide angles. Outdoors you need to watch out for uneven skies…but that is the nature of a polarizer on a wide angle.
You know a lens that renders colors as beautiful as the previous images is going to look great in black and white. These two images were quick snaps while out with some family. Wide open the lens is still nice and crisp without being harsh. Close focus is fairly good at 9 inches (23cm or so). Getting close with a wide angle is always great for exaggerated perspectives.
Below is a landscape style image show the deep perspective of getting close to the foreground. Especially stopped down just a bit you can get nice focus from front to back easily. I’ve actually never been a huge fan of ultra wide angles for landscape. They have their place, but I gravitate towards tighter and closer views when I’m in nature. Being weather sealed, light weight, and having a filter thread makes this lens idea for nature. I did not get to try any astrophotography with this lens, but flare and aberrations were well controlled. Anything minor that came up in extreme situations could easily be worked with and adjusted in lightroom. Details however never failed to impress. Rendering of fine details was great but never harsh.
I set this lens up with my panoramic gear from RRS, and it was a joy to use. You can do a 360 degree panorama in 8 shots going around at 8mm. That provides adequate overlap with the camera in vertical orientation.
Since the lens took filters, I decided to give it a shot with an infrared filter. This filter blocks visible light at the expense of long exposure in order to capture only the infrared spectrum. I have also swapped the blue and red channel in photoshop. This gives the modern “blue sky false color” infrared look. No hot spots. The lens does great with infrared. The image was made at ISO 400 for 8 seconds. That is pretty quick for an infrared filter. On full frame cameras I was usually at F/11 or F/16 to compensate for IR backfocus and ISO 100. That would send my exposures into the minute territory usually. The greater depth of field in M43 totally helps in IR photography. Then again, you could always easily modify you camera to shoot IR only and then exposures become normal length. And with a mirrorless camera viewing and focusing is accurate! If you do an IR conversion I recommend Lifepixel. I’ve used them in the past to convert cameras and loved the work.
Here is one more infrared in black and white this time. ISO 400 again with 15 seconds of exposure.
All in all…I am really tied for my favorite wide angle. That is hard to believe since there has never been a wide angle lens I truly loved before. The heft and build of the Olympus 7-14mm Pro is nice. I especially love the manual focus clutch and the Lens Function button. I missed those two features. I use them often when I have them. However, the lighter weight and front threading really won me over. Especially the filter thread. This was more in line with the way I use a wide angle. The 2mm zoom difference and the variable aperture really made no difference to me on this kind of lens. With a lens this wide I am almost always after a deep depth of field anyways. The difference between 7 and 8mm is also negligible in my uses. I loved the rendering of the Leica. Maybe i’m just a sucker. At the moment, the Leica 8-18 is my top choice for ultra wide angle lens. It pairs so well with the E-M1 and high-res. I only had this lens for several weeks…but it was my busy season and was back to back with clients. Using this lens next to medium format tech camera and lenses…I actually preferred this lens. It was a real joy to use and look forward to owning my own copy at some point.
It is lenses like these that make M4/3 system so desirable. This is winner for sure. I honestly found no faults that were not just honest nitpicking and relative against the 7-14. This is an excellent lens. In fact, I produced some of my favorite images of late with this lens. So as usually…Leica wins the heart. (they seem good at that…)
What do you shoot with such wide angle lenses? What has been your experience?