Panasonic-Leica Nocticron 42.5mm
In August 2013, Panasonic announced the fastest autofocus lens ever produced for Micro-Four-Thirds, the Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH Power OIS. The Leica-branded lens is optically stabilized with a focal length that is equivalent to 85mm on a full frame 35mm camera. Hence, it offers an attractive proposition for mFT-shooters interested in portrait and available light photography. The lens has been available for purchase since March 2014.
The Nocticron is 76.8mm (3.02") long, has a diameter of 74mm (2.91"), weighs 425g (0.94lb), and takes E67 filters. The lens is thus substantially bigger and heavier than, for example, the Olympus 1.8/45mm. The Leica lens has a metal barrel and is constructed from 14 elements in 11 groups, which includes one extra-low dispersion element, one ultra-high refractive element and two aspherical elements. It features Panasonic's Nano Surface Coating to reduce ghost and flare, and its nine circular diaphragm blades are designed to create nice out of focus Bokeh. A stepping-type autofocus motor provides smooth and silent focusing for still and video recording. The close focusing distance amounts to 0.5m (1.6ft) for a maximum magnification of 0.1x, so that the lens is not particularly well suited for close-ups or macro photography.
In good Leica tradition, the optical corrections have been thorough, so that the lens is performing well not only on Panasonic's mFT bodies, but also on Olympus cameras that do not apply in-camera corrections of optical aberrations. For example, in his review of the lens, Gordon Laing at cameralabs.com concluded that the Nocticron provided uncompromised performance for both portraits and detail shots. The Nocticron has an aperture ring, and comes with Panasonic's Power OIS optical image stabilization system, which the company claims is substantially more effective in reducing handshake movement than the company's earlier Mega OIS. There are switches on the lens to turn both OIS and autofocus off, if desired.
The lens is the third Leica-branded optic for mFT, and follows the collaboration between Panasonic and Leica on the earlier released Leica DG Summilux 25mm/f1.4 and Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm/f2.8 Mega OIS. The designation "Nocticron" makes its first appearance and hints at Leica's Noctilux series of large aperture lenses. However, the lens designers apparently thought that the f/1.2 maximum opening of the 42.5mm lens did not quite justify the Noctilux label, which had in the past been assigned to lenses with an aperture of approximately f/1.
The Nocticron provides low-light exposure performance comparable to a 1.2/85mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera (and in addition offers optical image stabilization). Due to the smaller image receptor of Micro Four Thirds cameras, however, it will not offer the same possibility to control depth of field as a 1.2 / 85mm portrait prime. Instead, the DoF characteristics are equivalent to a 2.4/85 lens on Full Frame. Yet, mFT lenses tend to achieve their maximum level of sharpness already at or near fully open aperture, so that it is often not necessary to stop the lens down to achieve sharp images, and the optic's maximum aperture opening can be put to use in order to realize nicely blurred backgrounds.
Concerning pricing, the premium Leica lens started to sell for $1,599, but the price will hopefully come down over time (check here for the latest pricing on amazon).
Leica Nocticron FAQ
Does the Nocticron come with a lens shade?
Yes, Panasonic includes a metall lens hood with the lens (Panasonic item no. VYC1132) that attaches via a fixing screw and can be reversed on the lens for storage.
How effective is the optical stabilization on the lens?
The Power-OIS provides stabilization worth 1-2 f-stops (compared with 3 f-stops of the five-axis IBIS system in Olympus cameras) [gl].
Is the aperture ring on the lens effective for controling exposure with all mFT cameras?
The mechanical ring makes it possible to adjust the aperture with Panasonic Lumix cameras, but has no function on Olympus cameras.
Does the Nocticron handle well with smaller camera bodies?
At 74mm in diameter, the Nocticron has a relatively large girth, so that it is, for example, difficult to use it combination with the horizontal grip on the E-M5 [js].
Is the Nocticron weather-sealed?
No, the lens is not splash or dust proof.
What is the order number of the lens?
The Panasonic item number for the Nocticron is H-NS043.
Even though there are already several portrait lenses in the Micro Four Thirds catalog, the system continues to develop and new optics are regularly added to the line-up. You can check on what is in the pipeline by navigating to the respective mFT compendiums for Olympus and Panasonic. Also, in case you wonder how a particular lens and camera combination will look like, you can run a simulation at four-thirds.org.