Mar 20

Review: Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 DG Nocticron OIS

As the Micro 4/3 lens lineup becomes more mature, there are fewer and fewer gaps left.  While there are several good Micro 4/3 lens options in the short telephoto range, one thing that has been missing a bit is a high-speed 85mm equivalent lens with autofocus.  Voigtländer released the excellent 42.5mm f/0.95 last year, satisfying the super shallow depth of field niche, though it’s a fully manual lens, and therefore more difficult to use for certain types of photography.  Panasonic has responded by creating the Leica-branded 42.5mm f/1.2 DG Nocticron OIS. This super-fast lens has a premium build and premium optics, but can it rise to legendary status, or is it all bluster?

The Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron on the Olympus OM-D E-M5, with the included metal hood

The Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron on the Olympus OM-D E-M5, with the included metal hood

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective.  You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here.  There are plenty of other sites that cover those.  I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool in real-world shooting. 

Build Quality and Handling

When you see the Leica name inscribed on a lens, you think premium, and unlike the other plastic bodied Panasoinc Leica lenses for Micro 4/3 (the excellent 25mm f/1.4 and 45mm f/2.8 Macro), this lens truly feels Leica-like.  The lens body is solid metal with a gorgeous matte black paint finish.  It truly looks and feels premium.

The aperture ring has nice ribbed grips along the side and very positive clicks.  Given the position of the ring and the firmness of it, it is difficult to accidentally dislodge.  The detent at f/1.2 is very solid, making it nearly impossible to accidentally switch the aperture to the ‘A’ setting.  Unfortunately, the aperture ring is only functional on Panasonic bodies.  Olympus bodies do not have firmware that enables use of the ring at all, so using this lens on an Olympus camera makes the aperture ring simply a decoration.  While I love aperture rings on lenses, I really don’t see a need for one on this lens, since it only works on half of Micro 4/3 cameras and it changes how you typically operate your camera.

Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 DG Nocticron OIS

Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 DG Nocticron OIS

The focus ring is beautifully smooth and reasonably well damped.  It feels excellent to use.  The switches for AF/MF mode and toggling the optical image stabilizer on or off are minimalist and easy to operate but hard to move inadvertently.  Overall, there is absolutely nothing in the construction of the lens I would change.

Panasonic includes a very well made and quite attractive solid metal hood with the same black finish as the lens.  The hood attaches with a screw clamp and reverses for storage.  While the hood is gorgeous and works very well, you need to be really careful with a metal hood on a metal body when reversing it for storage, as metal on metal can scrape the finish off the lens.

However, the sheer size of the lens does pose some problems.  It is quite large for a Micro 4/3 prime, and moderately heavy, though I found the balance was just fine to handle.  The reason the size poses a problem is simply because of the girth of the lens.  At 74mm in diameter, it’s currently the fattest Micro 4/3 lens in the system.  This normally wouldn’t cause that big of a problem, except for the fact that many Micro 4/3 camera bodies weren’t really designed for lenses this large in diameter.  As such, the lens actually causes some handling issues with certain cameras – in my case, the OM-D E-M5.  With the Nocticron mounted, I can’t use the horizontal accessory grip that essentially lives on that camera. With the grip mounted, there is not enough room between the grip and the lens body to fit my fingers, unless I painfully wedge them into the small gap.  As such, I had to use the lens with my horizontal grip off the entire time, which affected handling a bit given the larger size and weight of the lens.

Focus and Stabilizer Performance

The hangup with a lot of fast lenses is in autofocus performance, but the Nocticron is an exception to the rule.  Focus is extremely fast and exceedingly accurate.  In most lighting conditions, focus locked on nearly instantly, and I can’t say I ever had the lens misfocus during the testing period, unless it was due to fault of my own.  A truly outstanding performance here.  The 42.5mm f/1.2 also focuses as close as 0.5m, which is very close for an 85mm equivalent lens.  The result is the ability to capture extremely tight portraits and allows the lens to be useful for capturing shallow depth of field close-ups of things like flowers.

The Nocticron is also unique in that it is an f/1.2 lens with a built-in image stabilizer.  To my knowledge, it is the fastest stabilized lens in the world.  The optical image stabilization works relatively well.  I was able to consistently get sharp shots at around 1/20 second, and a reasonable number at 1/15 second.  This equates to approximately an extra 2 to 3 stops of handholdability.  Having recently acquired a Fuji 56mm f/1.2, I’ve been shooting a lot of shallow depth of field portraits in natural light over the past few weeks, and I have to say, the stabilization came in very handy for quick shots, keeping camera shake out of the images.

Continue: Image Quality

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad


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  1. Val

    Jordan – thank you for the review, pleasure reading it and only reinforces my initial perception about this lens!
    Quick question regarding your comment about the inability to use the E-M5 accessory grip. Can you please describe how or maybe provide a pic if possible? This could be a big concern for many especially since it’s not really that obvious when visually judging the HLD-6 with this lens mounted.

  2. Nobuyuki Sakamoto

    I’m glad to see that Panasonic has found its way back to Leica-branded lenses that seem very Leica-like.

    It’s interesting that this Nocticron is larger than the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 for Four-Thirds. It only uses a 62mm filter. I use it on my GH3 and the GH3 doesn’t sit flat, so I can imagine how the 42.5mm lens changes things. The images are so good with the Four-Thirds lens that I was surprised when Panasonic decided to go so small with the micro Four-Thirds version of the 25mm lens.

    I hope that every one of the 42.5mm lenses is incredibly good. I expect a lot of wedding photographers would buy one in an instant.

  3. Stéphane

    I must say that I’m very tempted by this lens but, like Val, I’m really concerned by the hld-6 issue. The only lens I feel happy using without the extra grip is my tiny Pana 20/1.7, so a couple of pics with the camera, with grip and lens in hand would be great.

    While I’m not sure I can justify the price tag of this lens I’m also looking into replacing (or ideally complementing) my E-M5 with the E-M1 (or it’s successor if I can/have to wait) so any insights on this lens fitting comfortably on that camera would be wonderful too.

    1. Jordan Steele

      I don’t have the lens any more. I had it for a week for review and that’s it, so I can’t provide a picture. To describe, with the HLD-6 mounted, there is only about a quarter inch of clearance between the lens and the inside of the grip. I CAN fit my fingers into that gap, but it’s not comfortable at all, as I need to actually wedge them in….it’s somewhat painful. It shouldn’t be an issue on a camera like the E-M1 or GH3.

      1. Chris

        I can confirm there isn’t any issue with em-1 and this lens, with or without the grip. And I have large hands.

  4. Steve

    So glad to have this real world review!! Also, thanks to the commenters as I have an EM1 and got my question answered about the grip.

  5. Max

    Thank You for this review! I have one specific question. In your review of the voigtlander 42,5mm f/0.95 you observed a “busy” bokeh at longer distances. How does the bokeh of the Leica look compared to the Voigtlander at longer distances?

  6. Dale

    Thanks for another wonderful review. I have the Voigtlander 17.5mm and 25mm and have been contemplating a 42.5mm to use with my E-M1 and at present my GH3 (although I may upgrade that to the GH4 at the end of the year). Fortunately, the MFT community have three really outstanding lens in the 42.5mm to 45mm category to choose from and use. I presently own the Olympus 45mm, but have been eyeing the Voigtlander 42.5mm and this new Panasonic Noctigon. Both outstanding, but both also very different along with of course, a meaningful cost factor too. Although I thoroughly enjoy my current Voigtlander lenses, I am surprisingly being more attracted to the Panasonic 42.5mm lens. Much like the Olympus 75mm, everything I see and read about the lens is nothing short of a great great lens to shoot with and own. In your opinion, when you compare the pros and cons of each of these two lenses, am I crazy not to just buy the Voigtlander 42.5mm and enjoy it and my $600 savings, or crazier not to go for the automatic focus, the stabilization and what seems like overall a slightly better lens for the extra money it costs? You have used both lenses, how would you decide on a decision to buy either lens weighing the pros and cons of each? Several of my friends have the Voigtlander 42.5mm and are encouraging me to go the same way and enjoy the Voigtlander lens and the savings, but I quite frankly presently lean a little more closely towards the Panasonic.

    Any more thoughts you have regarding choosing between the two lenses? Appreciate your input.


    1. David Shapiro

      HI Dale. ‘m making the same choice between Voigt and PL 42.5s for use with E-M1 alongside the Oly 75 and the Voigt 25 (which I’ve recently bought, and love). Did you decide? Any further comment? I suspect I’d benefit from consistency of handling as well as results between the two Voigt lenses, but the PL does seem technically superior as well as bringing AF. The redundancy of the focus ring with Oly body would I guess be a trivial irritant. Thanks, David

      1. Dale

        No final decision as of yet, but as much as I like and enjoy my 3 Voigtlander lenses (17.5mm, 25mm, & 75mm), I am leaning more towards the Pany Noctigon for the slightly superior qualities and advantages it will provide (automatic focus, stabilization which would be good if used on my GH3 or another Panasonic body, and I suspect just a tad sharper across the range of settings than the impressive Voigtlander 42.5mm).

        Voigtlander also threw a monkey wrench into the mix with their recent announcement of a new 10.5mm F0.95 lens that also has more than perked some interest on my part. Quite frankly, this new lens announcement caught me (and others I’m sure) so once I am ready to buy another lens for my system, there will be another lens that might create the GAS fever too. Never a dull moment in the camera/lens world these days.

  7. Gonzalo Broto

    It took me a few months of ‘yes vs. no’ (I already had the Olympus M Zuiko 45, after all, and didn’t use it that much), but in the end, a hot deal in the camera store where I usually buy made me jump and buy it. All I can say is: it was definitely worth the wait, and the price!
    This lens is, simply put, at the top of the class in the m4/3 world, no doubt about it, and the images it can produce are full of character. I have used my GH3 again a lot since I bought this lens, after months neglected at home, as I used the easy-to-carry GM1 wherever I went. Not so anymore!
    You can read my full impressions and see plenty of images I captured in Bangkok at my blog:

  8. Harold House

    Sharpness. I really like it sharp for my insect and bird photo hobby. It can’t be too sharp so lenses like the one you reviewed here and my Oly 60mm Macro really appeal to me. Which leads me to this perhaps odd question. If you took some Nocticron pics back in time, say the early 1970s, and showed them to that time’s professionals, what do you think they would say about that level of sharpness? Would they want it? Would they be put off by it? …just curious what their reaction would be. Thanks for the reviews.

    Harold House

    1. Jordan Steele

      Well, I think you’re assuming that lenses this sharp didn’t exist then. And in a way, that’s correct. f/1.2 lenses that were this sharp didn’t happen back then, but there were plenty of optics out there with insane levels of resolution. Also, in the early 1970s, a lot of working pros were still using medium format cameras as their daily driver, and there is some incredible glass (and crazy resolution in medium format film that is only just recently being pushed by digital cameras) that, at say, f/4, would easily produce the level of detail and sharpness that the Nocticron produces. Even if you restrict it to 35mm film, A 70s Leica 50mm Summicron as well as the Contax/Yashica 50mm planar lenses are up to snuff at fairly wide apertures.

      Needless to say, I think most professionals of the day would be very impressed by the lens, especially with such great resolution at f/1.2. Great sharpness at extremely wide apertures is a very recent phenomenon, really only taking hold in the past decade or so, but it’s not AS far off as you might think. My Canon FL 55mm f/1.2, which is from 1968 or so, is surprisingly good wide open…providing quite good resolution at f/1.2, even on a modern digital camera sensor. It’s not as sharp as the Nocticron at f/1.2, but it’s not like it’s light years behind. Modern lenses are great, but there is some REALLY impressive glass from the film era that still holds up. I still use a fair bit of it today. I have a lot of Canon FD lenses that I use, a Contax G 90mm f/2.8 (Which is simply brilliantly sharp, even on a 24 megapixel APS-C or FF sensor), and others. It’s really remarkable how good a lot of the old designs are. The biggest improvements have come in chromatic aberration and spherical aberration correction.

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